Tag Archives: English

The Language of the Holidays

Tis the season of festive lights, warm spiced wine and Christmas markets galore. In an earlier post, I sketched out a typical holiday celebration here in the land of three Christmas days (well, two-and-a-half).

As a tip of the Santa hat to the season, this time around I will introduce the language of the holidays in search of clues for how the German  language puts its singular stamp on the festive vernacular.

plaetzchen
Christmas Cookies–or Plaetzchen–are taken VERY seriously in Germany. This bad boy has almost 300 pages of recipes.
  1. Plaetzchen

    Anecdotally, I know that Christmas cookie baking is as robust a tradition in the States as it is in Germany. I have seen the scrumptious photos on my social media newsfeeds (stop it, by the way–my waistline grows an inch with every view). Which is why it is a bit curious to me that the American English language hasn’t bestowed these special treats with their own name, as the Germans have.
    I learned very early in my time here that “Plaetzchen” is the name for the hundreds of varieties of Christmas cookies that start appearing at holiday parties throughout the country this time of year. How did I learn? The same way I learned many an important word back in the early days here–I heard a friend use it (in this case, she asked if she should bring some “Plaetzchen” to a Christmas get-together I was organizing), was too afraid to lose face by asking what it meant, cooly played it off as if I already knew (surely it meant plates, which I already had plenty of) and–ruefully, so very ruefully–learned too late what I had turned away. Oh, the humanity. I’M SO SORRY JUTTA!

    vanillekipferln
    My own little Dr. Oetker, making his great-grandmother proud by baking his first-ever batch of Oma Julie’s Vanilla Crescents (“Vanille Kipferln”), a family favorite.
  2. Bescherung

    No need to bless me, I did not just sneeze. Rather, I cyber-articulated the very special word used to mean the act of giving and receiving Christmas gifts. As I mentioned last Christmas, the Bescherung takes place on what Americans call Christmas Eve.
    Fun Fact #1: “Gift” means “poison” in German. Please, no gift-giving here. Germans are swell folks.
    Fun Fact #2: “Eine schoene Bescherung!” is an ironic expression that translates to “a fine mess!”, or, as my dad might say, “a fine how-do-you-do!”

    gluehwein
    No holiday / winter season is complete without Gluehwein, best enjoyed in a dedicated mug and–of course–freshly-baked Plaetzchen.

    3. Gluehwein

    On a winter trip to Austria years (and years and years) ago, my underaged self somehow managed to nip a sip of this very traditional cozy winter drink at a Christmas Market. My taste for fine libations being unevolved as they were at the time, I thought it was disgusting. In fact, the steaming, sweet wine-y taste became a thing of lore, so nasty it was, and I was glad to have thousands of safe transatlantic miles between myself and “that stuff”. Ha!
    For perhaps the specific purpose of schooling me to appreciate Gluehwein (which has nothing to do with glue, rest assured), the universe blew me across the ocean a decade later for a more permanent stay–smack dab in the middle of German wine country, no less. Now, of course, I savor the stuff and how it warms me from the inside out.
    Ah, the mysterious ways of the world.

    4. Silvester

    Let’s take a stab at how many Americans know what this refers to, with the clues that you can already eliminate a certain Boxer-playing Italian-American actor as well as a Warner Brothers cartoon character. Anyone…anyone….?
    Now I’ll ask Germans a similar question: though you obviously know the holiday this refers to,  do you know WHY it is called this? Anyone….anyone…..?

    Time to break out the bubbly and claim your place at Times Square or the Brandenburg Gate…New Year’s Eve is upon us. As to the origin of the curious nomenclature embraced by Germany as well as several other European nations, I will quote Wikipedia directly, as there are big words and several numbers involved, and I’ve already had my first Gluehwein:
    Silvester (also spelled sylvester, szilveszter, or sylwester) is the day of the Feast of Pope Sylvester I, a saint who served as Pope of the Catholic Church from 314 to 335 and oversaw both the First Council of Nicaea and Roman Emperor Constantine I’s conversion to Christianity.[1] The feast day is held on the anniversary of Sylvester’s death, 31 December, a date that, since the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, has coincided with New Year’s Eve.”

    new-year-sparkler
    Silvester (New Year’s Eve) in Germany means a multitude of private firework displays, sparklers  in one hand and sparkly in the other, and raucous revelry. Just don’t plan on driving anytime soon after the stroke of midnight–thick smoke renders visibility to near zero.

    As we head down the home stretch of the Advent season and of the year 2016, wherever in the world you are, I wish you peace, prosperity and many Plaetzchen.

    If you want to avoid turning away delicious baked treats– and other language-barrier induced snafus–start 2017 off with an English Language course. And if you’re in the States, make this the year to learn a new langauge or freshen up what you learned in high school…it’s good brain training!

    adventskranz

Delivering Culturally Sensitive Presentations in English

Global working teams are an increasing reality in today’s business world. It is no longer unusual for members of the same project or even departmental team to be located simultaneously in California, Germany, Singapore and Ireland. Likewise, as companies seek to expand their reach beyond national borders, global customer acquisition is becoming standard operating procedure.

Presentation

Clearly, doing business globally presents complexities on many fronts. In this blog, I will zero in specifically on presentations, and how cultural awareness of your audience can ensure you get your message across as you intended.

1. Accomodate each other on the emotional – factual spectrum: German audiences like facts. Lots of them. A convincing presentation lays out the background as well as every data-supported aspect of a problem, building to the introduction of a sensible and well-grounded solution. The facts are the star of the show, the presenter is merely a vehicle for the message.

In contrast, American audiences are impatient with detailed background analyses and an abundance of data. Even if copius data are relevant for decision making, they will prefer to receive and digest this separately; an effective presentation moves the audience on an emotional level first and a factual one second. The central message can be bold, creative and risky. The American audience prefers presentations that are less about analysis and more about a call to action. A charismatic presenter with a big personality and a dramatic touch is looked upon positively.

A German presenting to a mixed or American audience will need to strive to make a bigger emotional impact. Data and facts need to be kept to a minimum, and the main message needs to come sooner rather than later in the presentation. Involving the audience is another strategy for keeping attention and inspiring action. A good place to start to see how presenters play to emotions to get the message across can be found here.

Americans presenting to Germans will need to reign in the charisma and come to the presentation armed with factual details. Starting the presentation with a bold or risky proposal will strain credibility and not inspire the way it would with an all-American audience. German audience members will ask detailed questions and look critically at your conclusions; keep in mind that this is a sign of respect for the subject matter. Do not become flustered or discouraged and answer the questions as thoroughly as possible.

If you are German or American presenting to a mixed audience, bring detailed data in the form of a handout while keeping the presentation itself concise and the slides clean and easy to follow. Strike a balance between emotional and factual; avoid being too charismatic or too dry.

2. Accomodate each others’ attention spans: As you might guess, Germans—with their thirst for background and data—have a longer attention span for detailed presentations This attention dissipates quickly if you come across to them as a „Selbstdarsteller“ (self-promoter) and will be difficult to win back. Conversely, an American audience needs to have their attention grabbed quicky, and a business presentation needs to be as concise as possible while still covering the essentials clearly. Americans love TED talks —presentations by speakers who are well-known in their respective field or who have compelling stories. The talks clock in at under 20 minutes and use visual media sparingly.

3. Use clear, non-idiomatic language: Since this post deals with English-language presentations, obviously this point is directed to English native speakers. We often use idiomatic expressions in private and business conversations without batting an eyelash (did you catch that?). Loading your presentation with idioms—consciously or not—will confuse your audience and cloud your message. If you are not sure how infiltrated your language is with expressions, record yourself rehearsing your presentation and play it back. If you find yourself usings these expressions, make sure you find more clear and concrete alternative phrases.

Knowing how to tailor your presentations to meet the cultural expectations of your audience is an indispensible step to doing successful international business. Schedule a presentation training to make sure your message connects with your audience.