Archiv für Juli 2010

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

22.07.2010
Last week while visiting a friend’s house I was invited to look into bedrooms where they had new wooden floors built in.
Shock! Horror! In the 2 teenage daughters’ rooms it was difficult to see the floors. The floors were almost hidden by teenage clothes. This made me realise how easy it is in today’s fashion world, to buy and collect these things.

Firstly, the young women have more money to spend on such things, and on the other hand how much of their money was spent on cheap clothes. In this age we have large stores selling inferior quality for pennies. And the girls are just not well enough informed on what is good quality and what is not.

It got me thinking about the factors involved.

Fashion. What does that really mean? Is it there for girls to dress so as to attract the boys? It seems to me to be more a case of rivalry – not to get the right boy, but rather girls being equal to each other in their style of dressing. It’s part of this thing called ‘street credibility’. But is this new? Hasn’t there always been a need to dress in order to identify one’s position in society? Looking back I have to admit that little has really changed. It’s simply that nowadays there’s more of it.

Some older people say how the modern style shows too much bare skin. Terrible! But we only need to go back 150 years or more to be reminded of the extremely low necklines of the ladies’ dresses which was then the fashion . Again, was it to attract the opposite sex, or not to be less in fashion than the other ladies?
Of course, it should not be forgotten, that behind every change in fashion there is an army of fashion designers. I often think, that they do not develop a new style simply because it is attractive, but to start a new ‘must have’ urge in society, in order for them to make new profits. Maybe.
Well, so much for the frivolous area of fashion. There is also the more sober element i.e. the average person on the street. I have heard, more than once, non-Brits saying how easy it is to identify Brits at, for example, an airport, because they are the least well dressed. Interesting, when you think that most design experts in places like Italy or France come from London design and fashion colleges.

Glossary:
Inferior quality: lower quality, the opposite of superior quality.
Street credibility (or street cred): a colloquial term usually used by young people to refer to how impressive or “cool” they are among their group.
Low neckline: a blouse or dress worn by a woman to reveal as much of her upper body as possible.
Frivolous: not to be taken seriously.
Sober: technically the opposite of drunk. In this context it means serious.
Brits: a colloquial term for British people.

Genetically Modified Food

16.07.2010

This is a subject which seems to puzzle ‘the man in the street’. He hears so much about the dangers to health and development of the GM Food. Conversely those in favour are mainly scientists who are involved in the research, and companies which produce agriculture seeds and those producing animal feedstuffs.

Some of the arguments put forward by such companies are e.g., the world population is increasing faster than food production by conventional methods. GM crops are resistant to most plant infections, which means bigger harvests. Add to this the fact that pesticides would be no longer necessary, meaning that the risk of such chemicals filtering into plant growth would cease, as would the destruction of neighbouring natural plant-life, like wild flowers and grasses (Pesticides producers would suffer, of course)

Then we hear those in favour saying, for example, that most of the human being’s food intake is already vastly different from the state of pre-domesticated farming of both plant and animal.

We hear that the grain (corn, barley, wheat, oats etc.) we know today was once simply wild grasses. Cattle (cows), horses and others) have been much changed to suit man’s needs. Dogs, whose ancestor was the wild wolf, or similar. Today we have dozens of different breeds. (Not that we want to eat dogs).

Is the great variety of apples on the super market shelves not descended from one wild fruit? Are these arguments in favour of GM foods not enough for ‘the man in the street’? After all, we are alread consuming vast amounts of e.g. GM soya sourced foods from the Americas; and people don’t seem to have been affected.
Could the above pro-arguments be GM based as seen by the scientists, or are they a result of natur evolution? Is the general public’s suspicion justified? Or are they dangerously blocking the progress of the people of this planet? Personally, I would like some unbiased clarification here. What about you? Isn’t it time for our politicians to stop ‘sitting on the fence’, in the interest of the world population?

Glossary:
To puzzle someone: to confuse him, so that he does not understand something clearly
The man in the street: the average person with average opinions; i.e. you and me
Sitting on the fence: not giving a definite opinion about something
Pre-domesticated farming: the time before animals were kept on farms and vegetables were grown in fields. Ancient people went hunting for animals and searched for plants, etc. in the forrests.
Ancestors: the ones who lived before us, either recently or long ago, e.g. my great-grandfather is my ancestor, and so were the people who lived in the stone age.
The general public: like the man in the street: average people with average opinions


Left Hand Drive

16.07.2010
Left Hand Drive
This means that all road traffic in a given country drives on the left hand side of the road. Many drivers coming from a right hand drive country often think that having to drive on the left is crazy. ‘
Why can’t they be intelligent and drive on the right like we do?’ How often have I heard this. Having spent many years in Germany, but being a ‘Brit’ it’s never been a problem for me. Left or right, I’m used to either. But it’s easy to understand how frustrating it can be for some people.

Not only for drivers. what about car manufactures? It must bring added costs to them, since it’s not only the UK who drives on the left. Many big island countries around the world do also.

There was a lot of media talk in the 70s and early 80s about the UK changing to the right. In fact the M1, the first motorway (Autobahn) built from the North to the South of England was said to be so designed that it could be converted to right hand drive. The topic became even more heated when Sweden changed to the right. ‘If Sweden can do it why can’t we?’
A counter argument was that while Sweden had mainly straight roads and relatively few at that, inner London itself had about 14.000 Kilometers of roads, and imagine all the road signs and traffic lights to be changed. And imagine the chaos, when everything was changed, at say, the stroke of midnight.

Then of course, the government had the final say. ‘Who is going to pay for this enormous, costly change?’ Not the taxpayer. Private industry also said ‘no way’. The subject has never been raised since. So why were some countries left and others right in the first place?
True or not, the story goes that because early knights and cavalry warriors wore their swords on the left, so
as to be handy for quick withdrawal by the right hand, it was logical to ride their horses on the left of the road,
so that the sword hand would be immediately in the correct position to counter the enemy.
Some early cars had the steering wheel in the centre of the car. Then, we hear, along came Napoleon, who decreed that traffic should travel on the right side. The English were so anti-Napoleon that whatever he decreed, they would do the opposite. The North Americans of the day were anti English, so they opted for driving on the right.
There you have it. Fact or fiction. What do you think. Let us hear your views.

Glossary:

The topic became even more heated: disagreement on the subject became stronger and stronger

Traffic lights: The signs at the side of the road on in the road with red, amber and green lights which instruct drivers to stop or start

The stroke of midnight: exactly at midnight

Cavalry warriors: soldiers in ancient times who fought wars riding horses



Head of State

16.07.2010

Head of State. Which Brand?

Germany has just elected its new president. Popular with some folk, less popular with others, but that was ever so.

The German presidency, as with several others, is non-executive, being purely representative. Where as, for example, the USA president is executive. He is even the commander-in-chief of the US military.

So which is better, a president who can make political decisions? Or one who can’t? Of course, where the president is non-executive there is a chancellor or premier to make decisions. Is there
a question of democracy here? If so, perhaps we should examine what democracy really is. I propose doing just that in an future blog. Here, however, we are discussing the office of Head of State.

In Britain, as in several other countries, we have a monarch as Head of State. One of the main differences is that a monarch is generally not elected, but inherits the office. I have often heard the argument that a president costs much less than a monarch. On the surface that sounds like a reasonable point. A counter argument here could be e.g. what about all the retired presidents? They still have big pensions and many privileges. While in office a president’s costs are arguably as high as a monarch’s. In the case of the British monarchy, all the pomp and circumstance attracts enormous sums of foreign currency through tourism, TV rights, etc.

And politically? A new president every 4 or 8 years comes fully updated in the politics of the day so is able to be a more up-to-date representative of his country. On the other hand, he will have usually come up from a one-sided political party and may therefore be biased in his representation. Then again, he is more of the people and is thus better able to connect with them. True. But is he then not more easily influenced by this nearness? Perhaps not always for the best results. That will probably depend on the integrity of the individual person. Again, he can always be thrown out of office; but who would dare to take such extreme action?

The British monarchy has survived uninterrupted (except for 8 years in the 1650s) for hundreds of years. The history of it is certainly colourful. But what of its present? Well, politically, the Queen has certainly not evolved from a political party.

However, it is said that she has more overall knowledge of state affairs than most of her ministers. For example, the prime minister of the day visits Buckingham Palace once a week to discuss current political events. We hear that she often gives the Prime Minister very useful advice which is based on
her many years of experience with many Prime Ministers. She, apparently, takes this part of her job, very seriously. Fine, but will her successor (the one after she dies) be just as serious? We don’t know.

Even a monarch can be sacked. Charles I was beheaded before Oliver Cromwell ruled as a non-monarch (1650). Charles II (his son) was crowned because the British people wanted a king again.

Then there was a short period at the death of Princess Diana when Queen Elizabeth became very unpopular with a large part of the people. She could have lost the throne then. So even with a monarch there is no guarantee of continuity. Queen Elisabeth is again very popular, but there are still many Brits who would prefer Britain to be a republic.

Monarchy, executive presidency, non-executive presidency or even dictator. How do we choose the best option for our own individual country?

I suppose, we could discuss it endlessly. Preferably in good company in a cosy room, over a glass of good wine.

Glossary:
Elected: to be chosen by a group of people. For example in Germany and the UK the government is elected by the people.
Inherit: To receive something  because of the death of another person – e.g. Prince Charles will inherit the British throne when Queen Elizabeth dies Many people inherit a house when their parents die.
Retired: No longer working because of age – e.g. in Germany people generally retire at 65.
Beheaded: To be killed by the head being cut off – popular in past centuries
Crowned: To be made King or Queen by receiving the crown in an official ceremony.

Alcohol – Friend or Enemy

16.07.2010
Since time immemorial alcohol has played a prominent role in countless societies. Nearly 2.000 years ago Jesus supposedly turned water into wine. Over the years wine has often been used to seal contracts, treaties and many forms of agreements. In the Middle Ages monks’ allowance of beer was measured in gallons (1 Br gallon = 4.5 liters).

Charles Dickens (died in 1870) often wrote about the poverty of the under privileged people of London, who drank gin to counteract their hunger, when gin cost a mere two pence a bottle. (Today gin is as expensive as whisky).

During the first World War (1914 - 1918) pubs were ordered by law to be closed during the day, except for 2 hours at midday and were normally open in the evening from 6 pm – 10.30 pm. The reason being the risk of drunken munitions factory workers. Temperance societies also played  a vital role in supporting this law. The law has only recently been cancelled. In recent times alcohol has become to be seen as a big threat to organised society, especially in Britain young people seem to have enough time and money to become hopelessly drunk on the streets. It’s become a fashion for young people of both sexes to go into town for the sole purpose of becoming drunk.

Pubs are being blamed for allowing their customers to buy too much alcohol. The pubs blame the supermarkets for selling beer too cheaply. Public health authorities blame anyone they can, and politicians argue over measures they might take to control alcohol abuse. The police complain that many of their resources are being overstretched in keeping the streets clear of drunks. Hospitals complain about the
high costs of medical treatment of alcoholism, which include injuries from drunk driving.

Many organisations concerned want much higher retail prices for alcohol. The counter argument says that high prices has not prevented misuse in some Scandinavian countries and that low prices in e.g. Spain don’t produce street drunkenness.

So where is the solution of the problem? What would your effective action be? We’ll drink a glass or two to the perfect answer!

Glossary:
Since time immemorial: For a very long time, no one knows when it started
Temperance societies: Societies which are against the consumption of alcohol

Welcome to your inlingua blog

15.07.2010
Dear Reader,
Welcome to the inlingua blog. Before moving back to my native England, I spent more than forty years in Germany.
I would like to use my experiences to give you an insight into how various subjects may be seen differently – or sometimes identically, in both countries, and at the same time to be informative and to provide you with additional input for your language learning. In this blog I‘m going to talk about topics of general interest: what’s happening in the world of politics, business, technology, travel, etc., and sometimes topics of a less serious nature, perhaps An English Christmas, or Brits on holiday in Mallorca. Each blog entry will have a glossary, to help readers to understand some of the less common words.
Now something about me. My name is Keith Lewis. I was born in Somerset, in the South West of England and later did military service with the British Army before moving to Germany. I was one of the founders of the inlingua organisation in 1968 and have run inlingua centres in Koblenz, Düsseldorf, Mönchengladbach, London, Exeter, Neuss and Krefeld. I now live in Oxford, the beautiful university city in England. Because I lived in Germany for such a long time I have a very good knowledge of life there, but I always kept up to date with everything here: national and local news, politics, business, and the character and mood of people through times of change. I do want this blog to be a two way conversation.
Some of the topics will be quite controversial, and I very much welcome feedback from you, the readers. What do you think about the topic? I hope we can get some interesting exchanges going. If you have any suggestions about the blog or any special requests, just let me know.
Until next time.
Keith Lewis