Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hi everybody! So many events in the summer--street fairs, rock n roll bands, and everything else. Americans eat cotton candy (spun sugar), funnel cake (fried batter dusted with sugar), big soft pretzels with lots of salt and mustard, ice cream, and hot dogs. The best hot dogs are made with beef, not pork, and are branded Shickhaus, Thumanns, Hebrew National (kosher franks--slaughtered according to the Jewish laws of kashrut), and Sabrett's.

One of the greatest places to be in America on a day like today is New York City. Immigrants from rural areas are often almost overwhelmed when they come to New York--it is a huge bustling city where almost anything goes.

Important cultural tip for business travelers: It is not unusual or unacceptable for a woman to travel alone in the US, but she needs to be careful. Stay near groups of people, try not to be in isolated areas alone, if you are staying alone in a hotel make sure that you use the deadbolt and the draw lock to lock the door. Don't open the door to anyone without checking the peephole.

That said, many men will go out of their way to be solicitous and well mannered to a woman alone on business, particularly a foreigner. You have to be careful and use your judgement. Most American men are conscientious and not dangerous.

If you are meeting someone you don't know for a business dinner, pay attention to the conversation he makes, the questions he asks, the amount he drinks, and so on. Trust your gut; if something seems wrong or if a man seems dangerous, he very well could be. Let the hotel security guards and front desk people know. If worse comes to worst, the national telephone number for emergencies to summon the police in the US is 911.

Don't give anyone else a key to your hotel room under any circumstances, even if they ask for it directly.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hi everybody! The weather outside is sweltering. The word
"sweltering" means "very hot and sweaty and humid". We had a fast
moving thunderstorm this afternoon that overturned some of the small
sailboats at the Belmar Marina. The kids are all right, though, thank

Today I am going to talk about a point of American business culture.
In American business, particularly in the tech and the IT sector,
people often keep in touch with people they've worked with over the
years--not just bosses, but co-workers.

This is why you sometimes will get e-mail invitations to reunions for
companies that you worked for five years ago that have since been sold
or folded or absorbed. It happens for two reasons. One, in America,
getting a job has much more to do with who you know than what you
know. Two, Americans often tie their identities up with their work.
Let me give an example.

When a Hindu makes the folded hands gesture and says, "Namaste" the
literal translation of that word is, "I recognize the self in you" or
"I recognize your eternal spirit".

An American's "self" is tied up in his work, what he does for a
living. It is part of how he derives self value.

Thus we have the concept of a "work spouse" is an American idiom for
someone who fulfills pseudo-spousal duties while at work--someone of
the opposite gender who makes sure your collar is tucked in if she is
female or compliments you on how you look if he is male. We need work
spouses because in America, our work is our lives, to a large degree.

You would never have relations with your work spouse! First of all
it's usually against the law and qualifies as sexual harassment, and
second of all, it's often against corporate policies. The term "work
spouse" is gender nonspecfic and is IDIOMATIC ONLY!

Hope I kept someone out of trouble with that blog post, because
believe you me, you can get yourself in SERIOUS trouble if you
misunderstand the concept. :-)

Today's accent reduction lesson is an easy one.

For those of you who speak the languages of the Indian subcontinent, I
want to show you the difference between the /w/ unvoiced fricative and
the /v/ voiced labiodental sound and the /f/ unvoiced labiodental
sound. It's a very common mistake for all speakers of subcontinent
languages to mix these up when speaking American English. I've
included a podcast you can listen to and some written examples are

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Today is the Fourth of July. It is the day of the announcement by the First Continental Congress that the 13 American British colonies were formally independent from the British Empire and were in fact a separate nation.

Although the Declaration was officially adopted on July 2nd 1776, no public announcement was made until July 4th.

The Declaration of Independence built its ideas partially on the Virginia Declaration of Rights, partially on the Magna Carta (the idea that kings did not have a "divine right to rule" that could not be challenged came from the Magna Carta) and from other thinkers of the time.

Some Americans have stated that the Founders believed that the rights of man came from God; some have suggested that they believed that those rights came from "natural law" (a more humanist concept).

Still others have said that when they said, "these rights come from God" they were thinking in line with humanist philosophers of the day who ascribed human rights as springing from God without a specifically religious overtone.

Even others believe that the Founders of this nation were Calvinist Christians and believed that the rights that they termed "inalienable" sprung from a God that was the God described by Martin Luther and John Calvin.

This is a question that is far from settled in the United States today (and in fact when discussing America with Americans on July 4th, it's probably best not to get into the conversation of whether America is a "Christian nation" or not unless you know that you are among people who think the same way you do, whatever that is. It's not good beer talk, and AMericans drink *lots* of beet, eat *lots* of hamburgers, Italian sausage, hot dogs, potato salad, cole slaw, and ice cream.)

It's very hard to explain the stirrings that even the most extreme politically leaning American feels on the Fourth of July. It is the day that America became America, and Americans became Americans, as opposed to subjects of the British Crown. The morning of July 4th is often solemn--some even go to church to pray for God's guidance for this country. Pretty much everyone celebrates and is in a festive mood.

And yes, we shoot off fireworks. John Adams felt that fireworks were an integral part of 4th of July. Several state legislatures disagree. Shoot 'em off with care.

Good artists to listen to on the 4th of July are Frank Sinatra, John Mellencamp, Lee Greenwood, Toby Keith, Louis Armstrong, Bruce Springsteen, and others. These are all people who wrote and sang about America and the nature of America and Americans and who embody the American spirit.

So enjoy your Fourth here, remember not to drink and drive (to "drink and drive" means to drink beer or hard liquor or wine and then get in a car and drive--the alcohol in these things makes it difficult to drive safely, besides the fact that hundreds of drunken driving accidents happen on the Fourth and many fatalities. Be safe and know that drinking and driving is not legal and they will arrest you and put you in jail if they catch you!)

Enjoy the day! And don't forget! If you have any questions about American culture or if you want to set up a lesson to learn to speak American English or to reduce your accent, give me a call at (732) 776-7964, hit me up on Skype at david.berlin.esl, or drop me a line at david.berlin.esl@gmail.com.

Have a happy Fourth of July!