How big is your circle of real friends

After living in Germany for nine months, we visited the US in November for three weeks, passing through three cities. (Los Angeles, Walnut Creek, and Portland) Going to visit friends and family got me thinking about my life here 1. The vast majority of my time it’s just the four of us. Robie has four nights of martial arts split between two schools as well as her German integration class 2 each morning during the week. The kids go to kindergarten. Me,… I spend most of those times alone or with the kids.

Beyond our daily routine, our circle of friends and family is small. There’s my friend Mishi 3; we see her and her family about once or twice a month, my niece Janina, and my older sister Daniela. The latter two, we’ve only seen a handful of times, since they live in other cities.

It got me thinking, how much of a life is it to have so few people? Returning to the USA 4 prompted me to compare and contrast.

If you moved away from wherever you’ve been living and returned for a visit, how many non-family people would you make a point of visiting? 5 For me the numbers are as follows:

  • Germany – 1 – Mishi, plus I really do enjoy visiting my sister and niece
  • Los Angeles – 2.5 – Two friends from high school, Monique and Isabel. The .5 is a friend from MIT but I’m not as consistent about seeing him.
  • Bay Area – .5 An old friend from Intel, but I’m not as consistent since it’s a bit of a drive between him and my brother’s house.
  • Portland – 5.5. The .5 is due to a bit of a drive. 6

Before coming to Germany, I’d been in Portland about 15 years. 7 That translates into one new friend about two or three years. Since we intend on staying here 2-3 years, if I find one new person, we’ll be doing pretty good.

Over the last months, I’ve asked a bunch of people what there number is. I was a little surprised that it’s pretty close to my Portland number, perhaps one or two more. The biggest number I got at 15. The smallest I got was 1. 8

What’s your number?

 

Follow up

In a previous post, I mentioned that I’d been kidnapped as a kid by my dad. When visiting the US in November, I asked him about that. I wondered if he would agree with the description. He does agree but he also claimed that the way he did it was legal. He had consulted an attorney who advised him to register me with social services in the US, thereby establishing custody in the US. This sounded suspect to me but legal systems can be twisted. Still, legal or not, it was kidnapping; even he agrees with that. 9

 


  1. I consciously think of Germany as “home”. Portland is just another city I’ve lived in and will likely live again.

  2. focused mostly on learning German

  3. it’s actually spelled Michi (short for Michaela) but when writing her letters (no email!) after my first summer in Germany at age 13 (we’ve actually known each other since I was 5) my German wasn’t that good yet and Mishi is what I heard and so it’s what I wrote. It was only several summers later that I learned I’d been spelling it wrong.

  4. again, I don’t say returning home, because while we’re here, Germany is home

  5. I say non-family because family people are generally folks you’re stuck with. You’ll likely visit them either way

  6. Should probably make it 7.5. One guy is not on the list because he hasn’t shown much interest in friendship though we’re an otherwise obvious fit. A second guy I should add, because he has shown interest and I had overlooked him

  7. April 2001-Feb 2016

  8. The 1 answer came from someone with a very strong family circle. Brother, daughter, mother

  9. I still need to do a post on my broader thoughts on the topic

How to help a language learner

Part of the point of moving to Germany has been learning/improving German. Learning a new language is not easy and each of the four of us have quite different experiences. Since I have the strongest German of the four of us, it’s got me thinking about the ways in which the others help me and how others could help me.

First a short description of where each of us are.

Robie is moving the fastest, largely due to discipline and motivation. Before moving, she spent a lot of time on Duolingo. Once we got here, it wasn’t until September than she began a formal class (3.5 hours M-F). In between, she used a couple books. She is very quickly becoming able to interact with people. She can read some German kids books to our kids and mostly know what’s going on.

Malcolm doesn’t really realize that German and English are two different languages. He doesn’t say yes anymore; only Ja. For him, it seems that there are a bunch of words around him the he doesn’t know. Some of them are English and others are German.

Lydia is aware that the languages are different and it puts her at a bit of a disadvantage. When hearing someone speak German to her, she doesn’t really listen. She is happy at her kindergarten and has others she plays with including two girls, sisters, that come to our house for play dates. Still, not a lot of communication. I worry for her the most, especially since she’ll be in first grade next year. I need to do more to help her.

Me… I speak German pretty well, but to get the real me, I have to speak English 1. Since I don’t work I’m not forced into regular speech beyond the chitchat when dropping off the kids. I need to put in more effort.

All of this has given me an increased appreciation of immigrants. American’s like to criticize, but they just have no clue. I had no/less clue before I came here.

I think I’m generally pretty good about helping people improve their foreign language skills, usually co-workers with English and now helping my family with German. Here are my tips.

First, you have to realize that correcting speech doesn’t have to be disruptive to a conversation if you do it regularly. Most of the time, it doesn’t need to take more than a couple seconds. Sometimes, elaboration is needed.

Second, you have to realize than being corrected is really the only way for the person to improve. This is especially true if not taking classes. Some people are content with where they are. They can be understood and don’t care to go beyond that. They’ll usually let you know. Otherwise, I think most people welcome the help.

Now, my tips.

If someone uses the wrong word or an incorrectly conjugated word. Just say the correct one and that’s it. Much of the time, they’ll understand. They’ll often know the rules, and just forgot. So if someone says, “they teached me how to do that.” All you have to say is “taught”. This is the most common way I help Robie.

Practice reflective listening 2. I do this a lot with the kids. So if one of them tells me “they teached me that.” I’ll respond with “really, they taught you that?” 3

That’s mostly it. Lots and lots of small corrections. Even if not that well delivered, clumsy corrections are better than no corrections. Do it a lot. Occasionally, more explanation will be needed, but even then, remember you’re a resource the learner probably doesn’t have. A confusing explanation is better than no explanation.

I once had conversation with an admissions officer for some university in Oregon. We were talking about SAT scores. I was observing that my SAT score was about 200 points (out of 1600 at the time) below the average at MIT where I went to college. The man commented that they don’t really care about SAT scores, especially the verbal portion. How well one does on the SAT verbal is more a matter of how your parents communicate and not necessarily a reflection of the student. I think our kids speak English very well, thank you very much. 🙂

In contrast, years ago, I once went to a dinner party in Sausalito. I was with my girl-friend, a Wellesley student 4 at a friend of hers’ house (also a Wellesley student). I had already graduated from MIT and was working at Intel, a leading tech company. While listening to the dinner conversation, there were a bunch of times I had to ask my girlfriend, “what’s that word mean?”. The participants weren’t trying to be intellectual or anything, it’s just how they talked. I assume their SAT verbals were higher than mine.

I also learned that “dinner party” is just another way of saying “we’re having some people over for dinner”.

 


  1. I’m happy to have conversations in both, I speak English and my counterpart speaks German, but most people aren’t comfortable with that

  2. when writing this, I initially used the term active listening, but wikipedia (where everything is true) corrected me.

  3. I wish I could find a youtube example, but I think many older black women are particularly good at this. I have many memories of my grandmother basically repeating much of what someone is saying, only prefixed with “you mean to tell me?!…” You’re probably wondering, “what is Miles talking about”, and that’s fine. It makes me smile thinking about it though. So there.

  4. Hillary Clinton did here undergrad there

Interesting trivia about getting an apartment in Germany

I’ve spent most of my life living in the USA. I lived in Frankfurt, Germany from birth until age 7 and I spent 2.5 years in Israel between April 1998 and end of 2000. Otherwise, it’s all US, ranging from living with parents, college fraternity life, roommate in Silicon Valley, and finally owning. I own some property that I rent out and like anyone else who has a pickup truck, I’ve helped lots of people move.

None of that hinted at the surprises I had here.

No kitchen

About half of the apartments on the market have no kitchen. Yes, they do have a room where the kitchen will go, but… Here are two random kitchen pictures I’ve lifted off of https://www.immobilienscout24.de which is the main way people find a place.

nokitchen2 nokitchen

It seems there are some things missing. What could it be? hmm. They are very nice. Good to have a window. The tile is a little outdated perhaps, but it seems that there’s something else not quite right about these kitchens. It would be nice if they had a pantry, but still, there’s something else but I can’t quite put my finger on it. A built in microwave would be convenient.

Oh wait!!! The cabinets are missing! And there’s no stove! Where’s the fridge?!

That’s right, you get a couple outlets, some water connections and that’s it. It’s on you as the renter to put these in yourself.

Household appliances

In the US a kitchen remodel starts about probably $10k and can quickly go up from there. Stuff is way cheaper here.

Dryers are interesting. In the US, I’ve never seen anything other than a venting dryer. It heats air, lofts it through the clothes and vents outside. Here, most apartments are not able to accommodate this. Your dryer has to capture the moisture it removes and there are two main ways to do this:

Kinda like when an air conditioner drips water. According to wikipedia 1 “Heat pump dryers can therefore use up to 50% less energy required by either condensation or traditional dryers.”

Energy Efficiency matters

I believe that in my town here electricity costs about 0.25 euros per kilowatt/hour which is about double what it costs in Portland. Clothes dryers here in the EU have energy ratings ranging from C to A+++.

  • A+++ uses 172kWh/160 cycles/year. $43/year assuming the 160 cycles
  • C (only venting dryers) uses 480kWh/160 cycles/year. $120/year.

If you have kids, you can easily go well beyond 160/year. I’d guess Robie does laundry 5 days out of the week. Even for the two years that we plan on staying here, it was worth it to spring for a better dryer. We paid 411 euros for a heatpump model.

Lighting fixtures

When we moved in, I was surprised to find out that you have to provide your own ceiling lights. The previous tenants had left the light in the bathroom as well as the one in the kitchen. In the end, I had to buy and put in 12 ceiling/wall2 lights. The previous people were also nice enough to leave a medicine cabinet in one of the two bathrooms. Note that I’m not talking about just the light bulbs but the entire fixture. There are wires coming out of the ceiling and that’s it. If you’re not comfortable with 220v electricity, you need to ask a friend or call an electrician.

Voltage matters

If you get electrocuted, it’s the current/amps that matters. Otherwise, voltage is more important. In most of Europe, household electricity is 220v instead of the 110v that Americans are used to. This is important because it enables higher power stuff.

In the US, most outlets are rated for 15amps. The circuit breakers in our German apartment are 16amp.

110Vx15A=1650Watts

220Vx16A=3520Watts

Boiling water. Our water kettle dumps 2200 Watts into water, and the difference is noticeable. Much faster boil times.

Our clothes Iron is rated at 2400 Watts.

Our Dryer can plug into any outlet in the apartment. When buying a dryer in the US, you have to buy a $15 cord just to get the delivery people to plug it in.

The only appliance that you can’t plug into any regular outlet is the cooktop. Here’s a picture of the power main at my step-dad’s apartment 3

160917-img_20160917_170617640

Because of the 500V, on-demand hot water is also possible. In the US, you can only do on-demand with gas. 4

BTW, our apartment came with a kitchen. I do wish I could swap the cooktop with a induction model and we just might do that as the one we have has some things about it that are rather goofy. 5

Follow up and would like an editor

It usually takes forever for me to get one of these posts out. This one started probably 6 months ago. There are two reasons for this:

  • I don’t want to miss any fun points
  • I try to honor your time by taking my time to make my posts as coherent as I’m capable of.

I want to improve this in two ways. First, if you care to help me by being a first set of eyes, an editor of sorts, I would like to try that. Let me know.

Second, I’ll address points I missed in previous post via a follow up section. This is something one of my favorite podcasters John Siracusa has made a hallmark of his work. His shows all begin with follup up. I’ll add them to the end of my posts under the logic that only those that make it to the end of a post even care about any possible additions.

So followup:

In a previous post, I mentioned that Germany tried to draft me and that many young Germans are doing civil service instead. It was pointed out to me by my step-dad’s wife Nada that the draft ended in 2011

When talking about alcohol in Germany, I forgot to mention a funny story; a conversation I had with my aunt Sieglinde. My aunt is 83, one of my grandmother’s sisters. I was visiting her over the summer and she asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I looked around for a clock and asked if it was too early to have a beer and anyway, how late in the day does it need to be to have a beer. Her answer: “when I’m thirsty. If it’s 9am and I want to drink a beer, I have a beer.”. Then my 83 year old aunt got me a beer at 11am.

There are surely other follupups (some call it FU), but I can’t remember them at the moment.

 

 

 

 


  1. where everything is wrong, of course

  2. stairwell

  3. My sister Jovan’s dad. Also American and has lived here for over 30 years.

  4. the hotwater thing at your sink is actually a small tanked water heater

  5. to be more accurate, I really don’t like it. When you turn it on, it either goes full blast for way too long (even on lower settings) or it barely heats. You have to first turn it on high, wait a couple minutes, turn it down to 1, and then finally to the setting you want. It’s trying to be smart by taking into account that the surface has some thermal mass that needs to be overcome, but it’s often frustrating.