Monday, August 24, 2015

Impressions of a Kentuckian living in Deutschland

Hello all!! I know I have been absent a while, but moving overseas is quite a time-consuming venture. I am officially living in Germany now. I made the move in mid-May :) I am often asked about the differences between America and Germany, so after living here for 100 days I am ready for my analysis.

There are castles EVERYWHERE. Large castles, small castles, castles on hills, castles in the woods. They're amazing pieces of history. 

People in Germany love their bicycles! In the city, you see as many bicycles, if not more, than automobiles. In fact, I would venture to guess that there are more bicycles that automobiles in Germany overall. It's rather amazing and impressive.

Speaking of automobiles, the cars are much smaller in Germany. You rarely ever see an SUV.

Rain or shine, hot or cold, Germans love being outdoors. Germans love going on walks and city strolls. And if the destination is less than 2 miles away, they shun their automobiles in favor of a bike ride or a walk.

This also applies to eating. Almost every restaurant and café has as many tables outside as they have inside; and in spring and summer almost everyone is eating outside.

The murder rate in Germany is extraordinarily low. In fact, anytime a murder is committed it becomes huge news because of how rare it is.

If you want to go shopping on a Sunday in Germany, you can forget it. Virtually everything is closed. Out of milk on a Sunday? Well, you better go find a cow ;)

Almost everyone in Germany gets about 6 WEEKS of paid vacation per year!

Also, Germans love their holidays. There are 13 paid holidays per year in Germany.

Spoiler alert: Germans love beer.

In Germany, there is a bakery or a café every 50 feet. They are everywhere. Pastries and cappuccinos galore.

On a related note, coffee is much less expensive in Germany. The average cappuccino is about 2.50 here.

Many more people smoke in Germany than in the states. So although people are in better shape physically here due to the bicycling and the walking, the smoking probably cancels it out.

Germans love their paperwork! If you want to get anything done in Germany, be prepared for a barrage of paperwork and documentation accompanying each and every task.

College tuition is free in German. All public universities in Germany allow students to attend without having to pay tuition. Universities are financed and subsidized by the state, so they are able to do this. The only exception is private universities, but there are only a handful of those anyway.

Water is almost always served at room temperature in Germany. Many other drinks are as well.

The architecture in Germany is amazing. In the states, there are subdivisions everywhere in which each and every house looks virtually identical. You never see that here. No matter how large the city or how small the village, they are full of a variety of colors, styles, and personalities.

The roads are crazy narrow in the cities and towns. It's like they were built for horse and buggy. In fact, I think they were.

Women can take A YEAR of paid maternity leave in Germany, and can even take 3 years (the last two of which would be unpaid) if they wish - and their job is still fully-protected.

Men can also take paternity leave in Germany. The labor laws are incredibly family-friendly.

The people in Germany are little more reserved than in the states. The Kentuckian in me loves to start conversations with strangers. When I do this over here, people are initially a little surprised, but then they immediately become very warm.

As far as friendliness though, there is no difference whatsoever. I find German people to be incredibly friendly and helpful.

Germans love American culture. Almost every radio over here is tuned to English music stations. And you see American flag T-shirts everywhere.

Random observation: David Hasselhoff is a God over here. For the life of me, I cannot understand that. I mean Knight Rider was a good show and all, but c'mon. 

Virtually everyone recycles in Germany. In fact, you get about 25 cents back for every plastic bottle you recycle, so there is a financial incentive!

Germans are much more open with public displays of affection. I like this.

Pastries are an acceptable (and recommended) addition to every single meal over here :)

Stores close much earlier here in Germany. Most grocery stores close at 6 or 7pm.

Most Germans under the age of 35 speak English fairly well.

German chocolate is out of this world. In fact, out of this universe. Anyone who knows me knows that this makes me very happy.

Living in the states, I thought were maybe 10 kinds of bread. However, living in Germany I've come to realize that there are approximately 2 million kinds of bread. It will take a while to sample them all.

Germans love to toast their drinks before a meal.

Germany is an incredibly advanced country in terms of environmental awareness. You see solar panels everywhere on roofs, solar-powered farms, and huge windmills everywhere utilizing wind's energy.

Overall, living over here is fascinating. There are some things I like better about the states, and some things I like better about Germany. Neither is better than the other, they are just different :-) each in their own way.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Good Ole' Days?

The "good ole days". We have all heard that phrase thousands of times in our lives. People will often hearken back to the good old days, when everything was peachy keen and when all was right in the world.

When the world is filled with as much chaos as it's filled with today, it's easy to get caught up in the mindset that everything used to be better. But when we really think about 50 years ago, who were they the good ole days for? They certainly weren't the good ole days for certain people in our society.
I often hear the claim that people were more morally upstanding in the good ole days. I strongly disagree with that. There have been immoral people since the beginning of time, it's just that 50 years ago we didn't have 1000 different forms of media to expose it all. 

Sure, things may have been simpler 50 years ago, but simpler does not mean better. The two words are not even remotely synonymous

50 years ago, the National Guard had to be called in to several states in the south just so that African-Americans could vote without being harassed. The National Guard had to be called in to make sure little black kids could go to school. 

Do those really sound like good ole days?

Perhaps this is the natural human condition of romanticizing the past. Whenever we look back at the past, it seems like we always think about the good and conveniently forget the not so good.

Do you have any thoughts that you wish to share on this? What do you think when you hear people talk about the good ole days and the way things used to be?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Irrationality of Road Rage

Frustration behind the wheel…I’ve always wondered why this phenomenon exists. What is it about getting behind the wheel that turns otherwise peaceful human beings into profanity-spewing savages? When I was in grad school, one of my professors talked about how road rage is one of the most universal of all phenomenons. He said it’s experienced by all personality types and is found in every culture on the planet.  

For some reason I found this fascinating.
Truthfully, I don’t think anyone is completely immune to road rage. I’ll bet even the Dali Lama himself, if faced with being cut off in rush hour traffic, might temporarily abandon his peaceful ways. I studied something in one of my graduate classes that I feel could ease frustration behind the wheel. It stems from a branch of cognitive behavioral therapy called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, or REBT.
Here’s the nitty-gritty: REBT basically challenges us to be cognizant of how irrational our thoughts can sometimes be. Here is a perfect example: Let’s say that we hear two people laughing about something, and then when we walk into the room all of a sudden they become quie. We might assume that they were laughing about us. Sure they may have been - but why do we automatically assume the worst? Perhaps they were just sharing a funny personal story that they didn't want anyone else to know. 

We've irrationally assumed that it was personal.  
Have you ever known people who actually take it personally when someone passes them on the road? Stop and think for a second how irrational that is. Why do we care if another person passes us? Getting cut-off is another trigger. Yes it’s annoying, but why do we take it so personally? Why do we let it make us so angry? REBT-thinking prompts us to examine how silly we're being :-) Again, I’m not immune to these feelings, so when I say “we” I am including myself. I will say though that engaging in REBT-thinking has helped me greatly and has drastically changed the way I view such incidents.
Do you find yourself easily angered behind the wheel? Have you had any scary road rage experiences? 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Optimism and Pessimism

Optimism and pessimism – two diametrically opposed personality traits. We all know people who fall into both categories. Relatedly, each of us falls into one of the two categories as well. 

Like most personality traits, pessimism and optimism exist on a continuum. A pessimistic person has moments of optimism, and an optimistic person has moments of pessimism. However, each of us leans one way or the other. Generally speaking, we each view the world through either a positive or negative lens. 

Many people become negative over time after experiencing pain and heartache in their life. However, I believe this is a vicious cycle. Negative thinking results in things that will only bring about more negativity. Furthermore, people do not want to be around negative people. It's a real buzz-kill. So when negative people alienate those around them due to their negativity, the resulting loneliness results in even more negativity. The monster has been fed. 

But the cycle can be broken. We own the cycle. 

Some of the most positive and uplifting people in history (Martin Luther King jr., Gandhi, Anne Frank, Nelson Mandela, Helen Keller) haved experienced unimaginable pain...but they did not lose their positivity. 

Positivite thinking can truly enhance one's life. Is it a magic cure for all ails? Of course not. But it can change the entire way that a person views the world
Do you believe pessimism and optimism are inborn personality traits, or do you believe that they develop over time? Can they be changed? Are you glass half-full or glass half-empty? 

Monday, February 16, 2015

What's Your Argument Style?

My sister and I practicing our argumentative skills :)

Argument style. We all have one, but I wonder how often we have sat back and analyzed ours. 

I tend to have a very stubborn argument style. I just don't understand how people can have opinions that are different than mine?? I mean what's up with that!? I rarely am able to bring myself to give in if I feel that I am right. I know that's not healthy. I don't usually raise my voice, but sometimes I must admit that I do. 
That's not very optimistic existentialist-y, is it? 
When I was a little boy, I was very introverted and rarely ever stood up for myself. Sometime during my teenage years, I resolved to never be that way again, and I think that that has molded my argument style as an adult and made me more stubborn than I should be. I need to work on my stubbornness and my inability to sometimes give in.
I will say that, after the fact, after the emotions of the argument have settled, I can always look back introspectively and realize what I could have done better. I always try to learn from my mistakes. And I am a strong believer in apologizing when I am in the wrong. So even though I am a stubborn person, I will always apologize if, looking back, I know was wrong. 
It may sometimes take me an hour or two though. Or sometimes a day or two. :)
What is your argument style? Are you passive? Aggressive? Stubborn? Somewhere in between? Or something else altogether?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Blaming of the Poor for Being Poor

This quote really touched me deeply. I have always bee taken aback by the unfair ways in which society stereotypes those in need. 

A lot of people seem to view welfare as a "handout", but legitimately poor people do exist in this country. Nobody wants to be poor or aspires to live in poverty. 

Do some people abuse the welfare programs? Sure they do. There's always abuse in any program. But that doesn't mean the people who legitimately need it should be punished because of the actions of those who abuse the system. If we did that, we would have no system for anything, since every system is abused by some people. 

Anyone can be befallen by hard times and be forced to rely on food stamps/welfare for a while until they get back on their feet. People are befallen by catastrophic illnesses that bankrupt them, layoffs, downsizing, natural disasters, etc. 

Any of us could be closer to being in this situation than we'd like to admit. It's sad to me that we lump all welfare recipients together. Those who abuse the system constitute the vast minority of recipients. 

The true measure of a nation is how that nation treats those in need.

Do you think we unfairly judge those who are poor and in need of social welfare programs? 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Moral Relativism

Tonight I am feeling rather philosophical, and I want to ask a deeply philosophical question that has been debated in philosophical circles for hundreds of years.

Is morality relative? That is, is morality a black-and-white issue? Is right right and wrong wrong, no matter what

Let's take circumstantial morality for example. Is theft always wrong? What about a person who's on the verge of starvation and shoplifts a loaf of bread from a store? 

Let's also take cultural morality into account. Something may be considered immoral in our culture, but completely normal in another. And vice versa, things that may seem completely normal to us can be considered immoral in another culture.

Is there any such thing as right and and wrong? Does everything depend completely on circumstance? What are your thoughts? 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My Experience Flying

Pre-Flight Selfie

As someone who has always had a fear of heights, flying was always something that I dreaded. I had never been on a plane in my life until the first time I went to Germany last April. 

I am a relatively calm person in general, but flying has always been one of the few things I have been anxious about. Surprisingly though, I wasn't nervous leading up to the flight. In fact, I wasn't even nervous when I stepped on the plane. My excitement was temporarily outweighing my anxiety. 

When the plane took off however, and I felt the weightlessness for the first time as the wheels left the ground, I must admit that that was an anxious experience. I was seated next to a high school kid who was calm as can be, so I did my best to maintain any shred of dignity I have left. 

I quickly put my earphones in - trying to engross myself into a movie in order to take my mind off of the fact I was climbing thousands and thousands of feet up into the air. 

Rational me was thinking: "Flying is by far the safest way to travel so there is absolutely nothing to fear"

Irrational me was thinking "Oh my God we are going to free-fall out of the sky at any second"

Once we reached cruising altitude, and the seat-belt signs were turned off, rational me began to take control.

That lasted until I felt turbulence for the first time. I don't care how many times you have read about turbulence before your first flight, and how normal it is, and how harmless it is, yada yada yada, there is nothing more unsettling than feeling turbulence for the very first time.

"This could not be normal - is the plane coming apart?? Did one of the engines fall off?!" irrational me thought to myself. 

I frantically looked around and saw everybody either engrossed in the screens in front of them, asleep with gaped-mouths, or nonchalantly chatting with the people next to them. I regained my composure, hoping nobody noticed the scared middle-aged idiot who almost just peed his pants. 

Eventually I began to get less and less nervous each time I felt the turbulence. I began to pay more attention to the movies I was watching on the screen in front of me rather that thinking about the fact that we could plummet out of the sky at any given moment. 

There was nothing so sweet as the relief I felt upon landing! I'm alive!!! 
Since that first flight back in April, I have flown 7 more times. Even though I still am not a fan of turbulence (at all), my anxiety is lessening a bit each time :)
Are you a good flyer? A bad flyer? Have you had any scary flying experiences? 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Capitalism vs. Socialism

Recently, a friend of mine and I were good-naturedly debating about the merits of capitalism and socialism.
When taken to the extremes, both economic systems of course have pluses and minuses. One could argue that capitalism rewards prosperity and encourages free enterprise, but greatly widens the gap between the rich and the poor. Conversely, one could argue that socialism greatly minimizes poverty, but discourages free enterprise and unfairly redistributes wealth. 

Many of the Western European countries have adopted a "socialist-democracy" approach: Incorporating socialist and capitalist principles in order to maximize their effectiveness in unison. 

While the capitalism vs. socialism argument has turned into a liberal versus conservative one during the last 25 years, I often wonder why we pigeonhole ourselves into thinking of it that way. Why is a conservative unable to see the merits of Socialism? Why is a liberal unable to see the merits of capitalism?

Perhaps it's because of the pejorative way in which both terms are currently viewed. For instance, many people have unfairly equated socialism to communism because of Lenin's bastardization of Marx's theories. Similarly, many people unfairly equate capitalism with money-hungry Wall-Street tycoons. 
Of course, both stereotypes serve no purpose other than to denigrate the other in the same way one middle-school child would denigrate another middle-school child. 
So I would like to open this blog post to a mature discussion of the differences between the two philosophies. 
If you dare say, which way do you lean? Do you lean toward capitalism or socialism? Or somewhere in between? Or neither of the two? This is a completely open forum :-) I only ask that we keep all comments respectful. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Can People Truly Change?

I was inspired to write this post while watching 'A Christmas Carol' last month. I have always loved Charles Dickens' classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge because it illustrates that we all have the capacity to change - that if we truly want to, we can change. 
I realize though that this goes against conventional wisdom. We are basically told, as illustrated in the quote above, that a leopard cannot change its spots. That people are who they are, and nothing will change who they fundamentally are as a person.

I however do not believe that at all. I believe that if we truly want to change, we can. People turn their lives around every single day. 

What do you think? Do you think people can truly change?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Internet Rules the Universe

Recently I was thinking about how reliant our society has become on the internet. It's amazing how the internet is woven into the fabric of every single aspect of our lives now. If the internet went down for entire day worldwide, it would have catastrophic effects on banking, transportation, security, productivity...literally everything

Isn't that a crazy thought?

What would we do if the internet went down for a day? Would anarchy ensue? Would there be rioting in the streets? Would it be the beginning of the zombie apocalypse

I gotta admit, that last one would be kinda cool.

It really makes one wonder about the days before the Internet. It's hard to even remember those days sometimes, isn't it? And it's hard for me myself to believe that the internet was in its beginning stages when I was in high school. 

Remember those days before the internet? When people actually interacted face-to-face? When kids went outside to play? 

Good times. 

I am certainly not saying that the internet is a bad thing. Heck I use it myself all the time just like everyone else does. Without the internet I wouldn't even have this blog and I wouldn't even know all of you wonderful people.

But still, the world is definitely too over-reliant on it. Don't you think? 

What are your thoughts on the pre-internet age versus the post-internet age?