Link to Profile Semperoper, Dresden Sieg (auf dem Siegesäule), Berlin Brandenburg Tor, Berlin Skyline, Frankfurt am Main

Friday, March 31, 2006

Skylines ...
(no points for originality)

Hamish linked to my Photo of the Frankfurt skyline at sunset, an honor indeed. If you haven't seen his post yet, take a look as it will send you in a couple of other directions for other Skyline items worth taking a look at.

In the meantime, I have revamped the template to work the picture in. Now, if I get off my a** and dust off my Photoshop and coding skills (I've been in finance too long ... I forgot a lot of the css syntax, but HTML seems to stick in the brain longer)., I might actually make it look like a real web page ;~()

It's been a quiet week ...

I didn't see any interesting job opportunities in the various quarters in which I looked, but interestingly enough a couple of unsolicited indications of interest arrived in my mailbox. Rotterdam and Seattle.

Go figure. I don't know if Rotterdam is worth pursuing, although it would keep me in the neighborhood, which is good for the Partnerin. Seattle, on the other hand, looks quite interesting (job wise, though it is also a pretty city) ... the Partnerin liked what little she saw in "Sleepless in Seattle" and the lovely Frankfurt weather has conditioned her for long stretches of rain, but I don't know if this is something she is up to.

As for the irons in the fire with German companies, the one that rejected me based on my exorbitant salary expectations has yet again reposted the same job, but this time with somewhat lower experience requirements, which is lending a lot of credence to my hypothesis that they would prefer cheap and German rather than going for experienced and foreign.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Russian #2 has a Plan

Russian #2 has it all figured out. First I marry the Partnerin. Then, after three or four years I become a German citizen. Then I divorce the Partnerin and marry Russian #2 so she can become a German.

This was disclosed to me in somewhat awkward German during last night’s Mittelstufe German class. I think she meant it as a joke, as it was whispered with a smile and a giggle, but one never knows for sure with these pretty Russian girls.

The exercise was for each person to state a problem in their life, followed by the person next to them giving them a solution. I had the misfortune to start the round. My life is pretty good, so it wasn’t a lack of German that made it difficult to cook up a problem. So, staying in the character I had assumed in the previous round (in which I declared that I want to be a Pirate … you had to be there), I said, “I have no right eye.” OK, I realize that doesn’t explain Russian #2’s plan, but it at least gives some context.

Fast forward a few characters later, and our fellow-student from Pakistan declares that he wants to study in Germany, but can’t because he is an Ausländer. So Mr. Nepal says, “Study harder.” Not much of an answer. So I chip in my two cents worth with “Marry a German girl … then you can stay and study.” Laughter from all.

Then Russian #2 leans in and asks, “Is that true?” I say, “I believe so, but I don’t know.”

Then she asks, “How old are you?” I decline to answer, and ask “Why do you ask?”

“Maybe I am interested in you.” This is getting interesting, and mind you it is all in German, which is really our only common language because she speaks no English and most of the russian I speak is military-oriented or of the "I want to buy a Samovar" type.

Then she gives me the plan.

So I counter with, “Why go through all of that bother when we can simply marry now and you can become American?” But she wants to be a German. How cute is that?

Paying the Price

Pound, pound, pound, dig, dig, dig, sweep, sweep, sweep, and all the while talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. This is the second day that they have been at it since 07:30 ... What’s the point of being Arbeitslos (sorry, Arbeitssuchend) if you can’t sleep in? My neighbors have decided to totally revamp the side yard with a new tree, what looks like 100 forsythia-like bushes, and a few paving stones and gravel.

Why this is taking two-plus days, I don’t know. Martha Stewart could have done her entire Connecticut estate in the time my neighbors have spent thus far on what is essentially a mere postage stamp of real estate.

Wait a minute, I figured it out. It’s all the damn talking. Why do these people need to discuss things to death? It’s one thing I do not miss from my professional life. Americans do, Germans discuss. Both approaches have their problems when taken to the extreme, which friends and colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic seem to be very good at.

As for the tree, you would think my neighbors would think twice about that. The last tree sent roots seemingly in only two directions; the villa next door nearly collapsed when the roots tore through its foundation. Our own house has also developed a few cracks as our foundation subsides. But the neighbors must have their shade. Can you say litigation?

The neighbors themselves are an interesting pair: She spends nearly every day sweeping and washing her patio. Makes the replacement tree seem an even odder choice, since it will rain leaves on her patio. Maybe she just missed having something to do every day. He sneezes so loud, and with such a classic “AhhChoo” that it seems like a parody. If he didn’t sneeze so often, I would think it is a ruse, but sneeze he does, loudly and frequently. So the choice of forsythia-like bushes also seems odd. Maybe he just likes to sneeze. Probably covers the sound of her sweeping all day. She is German. He is French.

When they are not filling their primary roles of Sweeper and Sneezer, they also take their turn playing the Garbage police. I have been dutifully separating my garbage since I’ve been here, but I once made the mistake of throwing an old rug in the Restmülltonne once day, and the next thing I know the Partnerin is being called at the office to be informed of this transgression. They also had my office number, but for some reason seemed unable to muster the courage to complain to me.

It seems every move the Ausländer makes is watched, and when he crosses the line, any line, it is the Partnerin who has to pay the piper for choosing to live with him.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Sometimes it looks like a real city ;-)

It has a certain charm in the right light.

YAZ ... Yet Another Zeugnis

I didn't have much to show for the fact that I have spent several years in Germany ... well, aside from a nice Partnerin, a little money, a lot of good memories, and stuff like that which will get you no-where with a prospective employer.

So I sat for the Zertifikat Deutsch (baby steps here ... couldn't get the school to sign off on me being up to ZMP without at least pretending to have studied for it and giving them a bit of cash).

And true to German form, the Zeugnis arrived 8 weeks to the day it was promised. They actually told me to expect it in 6 to 8 weeks, and I was hopeful that it would take only 6, so why am I surprised that it took the full 8 weeks? They can teach you to speak like a German (sort of), but not necessarily how to think, act, or wait like one.

But hey, now I have documentation that shows I can do Deutsch if I really have to. And the German companies have to believe it because it has a nice, raised seal that makes it official.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Germans Optimistic About the Economy

OK, so this wouldn't seem like such big news if you didn't live here ... after all, many people in first and second world nations are upbeat about their economies from time to time. But when you are on the ground, it just seems so ... un-german. Here's the blurb from the Dow Jones Newswire:

"The euro gained ground on Tuesday after German business sentiment unexpectedly climbed to a 15-year high ... The Ifo business climate poll in Germany rose to 105.4 in March from 103.4 in February, against expectations of a decline. Though German manufacturers has long seen the impact of an improving global economy, the Ifo noted that retailers also were reporting an improved current situation, leading to hopes that the German economy could also be bolstered by internal demand."

The upbeat German economic outlook is being fueled by consumers like Mausi, doing her part by buying a new fridge. You go girl!

We bought our Ami Fridge last summer, but seemed to have no effect on the economy. Probably because we didn't spring for the automatic ice maker/dispenser. Also bought a Mixmaster, since I decided to start baking a lot of bread. Still nary a blip on the economic radar. Oh well ....

But the big bonus of having such a large fridge that can't or shouldn't be hidden behind Schränke, as is the custom with most micro-fridges in German kitchens, is that those lovely fridge magnets that you picked up from around the world can finally be proudly brought out to hold love-notes, shopping lists, calendars, and kids pictures ....

OK, I've digressed a bit here. Suffice it to say, do your part for the economy and buy a new Fridge.

So, business sentiment has rarely been higher since the fall of the Wall. Good to hear. Notice, however, that this development was "unexpected."

Reminds me of a saying I learned while having coffee with a German friend, when I asked if he wanted cream and sugar: "No, we Germans like our coffee like we like our lives ... dark and bitter." And one would ostensibly believe "without ice," although one look at the Frappucino's going out the door at Starbucks last summer would have one wondering when Germans would catch on that these things are made with ice.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Woo hoo !!! my cable's being upgraded !!!

From roughly 34 channels to ... roughly 34 channels. Why do they bother to post big announcements at my door telling me they are "upgrading" my basic cable when all they are doing is moving around three channels? And they tell me I get 40 programs, but when you look at the chart at least six of them are time-shares. For example, they count CNBC as an english ("global") channel, but it shares its slot with GIGA, NBC's lame channel for Gamers in germany ... really cool watching people play video games on TV, not!

Yes, perhaps they have slotted in a few more digital programs, but I'm not going to shell out another EUR 7 per month for the basic digital to get television I won't watch, and another EUR 3 per month to get the Global packet of "english" channels we are all dying to see, like Turner Classic Movies, National Geographic Channel, and Boomerang (I guess if you are desparate for english programming, these might do, but you really have to be desparate).

Bottom line is, if you can get a Sky digibox and subscription, do so.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Does Anybody Really Know What Time it is?

This is that special time of year when the US is out of step with the rest of the world ... think what you want gentle reader, but I mean merely that we in DL have moved our clocks forward a week ahead of our loved ones back in US. What this ususally means is that people who would dare, due to being 6,7, or 8 hours distant from you, to call as late as 01:00 now call as later as 02:00. And for some reason this is the one week of the year when they actually do.

Actually, if I read the news last fall correctly, this will no longer be such a unique time ... St. George the Wise signed the new energy bill into effect last Fall, meaning that the US would be out of step twice a year. Go figure.

At least we don't live in St. Johns, Newfoundland in Canada or Darwin, Northern Territory in Australia (among a few others) who set their clocks yet another 30 minutes plus or minus to the hour ... "What do you mean, it's 4:00 ? It's only 3:30!"

Bonus question for those under 35: The title of this post comes from a song by what pop group?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The "Form over Substance" & "Unrealistic Expectations" Syndromes

Want to know why people ... even native Germans ... find it so hard to find a job in Germany ? There are two "syndromes" prevalent in the German job market: "Form over Substance" and "Unrealistic Expectations".

The "Form over Substance" syndrome is exhibited largely by employers, but also to some extent by the applicants. A good example of the latter is when many applicants address their "Bewerbung" to the head of HR ... that is a joke, since the head of HR is rarely the hiring manager. As to the former (by the employer), it manifests itself in many forms.

First of all, the person who seems to hold the life and death power over a Bewerber's fate is a Secretary or Assistant. The first thing she (rarely he) determines is whether or not your application is complete. Anschreiben (cover letter), Lebenslauf (literally translates to "Life's run, but is essentially a Curriculum Vitae or CV), Foto, and Zeugnisse (certificates and letters of recommendation) are all there. If, like me, most of your prior experience is undocumented because US employers no longer give letters of recommendation, the going starts to get tough. Again, I'm not the first American to apply to some of these larger, mult-national companies, but from the responses I get about the Zeugnis issue one would certainly think that I am.

If you get past the "completeness" stage, then you get into the "suitability" stage. You are still often at the mercy of the Secretary or Assistant, who will look first at the Foto on your Lebenslauf . If you are ugly or look old, your CV lands in the circular file. This person might also actually look at your "qualifications," which to them means things like age, gender, and nationality. Being an American is not an automatic disqualifier, but being over 35 or 40 might be. The Secretary or Assistant might not conciously judge you on being male or female, but a lot of unconcious sorting takes place at this stage, with women mysteriously finding more opportunity in the lower grade jobs and men magically finding more opportunity in the higher grade jobs. There are many reasons why American firms do not ask for fotos or such personal data on resumes any longer, and this is about the best summary of why. The point is, Germans still do these things despite the blatant waste of Human Capital that these things lead to. In a survey of German employers experience with applicants, they state that 37% have "Personlichkeit" that does not fit the job/company. Appearances do matter, so get a good foto.

The "suitability" stage also includes an anal editorial review of your documents to see if you have caught all of your own errors. One typo and you are history. My own documents are perfect, but the one and only Zeugnis I have from a former employer does have typos. I'm not sure if that counts against me, but I have gently asked my former employer to correct the Zeugnis, because it probably does.

The "suitability" stage is repeated later as candidates are actually reviewed against "unrealistic expectations." You will often see ads seeking people with at least 8 years of experience in a managerial role who, by the way, should ideally be 35 or younger. Considering that most Germans are barely out of school by the time they are 28, this is somewhat paradoxical. How could someone have been a manager for 8 years when they were barely entering their peon years at 28? The truth is that youth is more prized than experience, so faced with a 45 year-old person with 15 years of stellar experience and a 34 year old who might have mismanaged a project or two, the natural bias is to go for the "better looking" young person, who obviously has the energy to continue to drive projects. I am blessed to look fairly young for my advanced age, but that doesn't always matter since your date of birth is right there next to or below the picture. German employers surveyed indicate that 7% of applicants are too old for the position. I have actually heard an employer tell a 29-year old, "Good. That's the right age!" If you are over 40, for example, you better look young and engergetic, because the assumption is that you are not energetic and are probably stuck in your ways.

At this point, if you have reached this point, you might be called in for a Vorstellungsgespraech (pre-employment interview). Your "qualifications" are deemed to be worthy enough to merit further consideration. Here it is good that you have a good conversational command of the Language, but they do take some pity on qualified Auslanders. I've been told that large German companies love to hire Americans, but I think that was more 1990's than now, and as the fall of the Wall grows more distant in time, the Germans are perhaps still fond of Americans, but do not see them as the lofty business types that they are eager to hire. If you could get away with speaking poor German ten years ago, you probably won't today. Here it is handy to have another Zeugnis in the form of a ZD (Zertifikat Deutsch) or ZMP (Zentrale Mittelstufenpruefung) to show officially that you have been schooled ... best that it show at least "Gut" or "Sehr Gut".

If you have made it this far, then we can talk about the job. Oops, maybe not ... Chances are you have already been asked about money. German employers surveyed state that 37% of applicants have too high an expectation for compensation (it is tied with Personal presentation as the numbers one and two disqualifiers of applicants). This presents me with an interesting paradox, since the jobs I have been competing for all involve having global experience, which means that I should be globally priced ... my global price is about 175% higher than a German employer would be willing to pay for a local. The paradox is that at least one of the companies wanted someone with global experience who also had experience in integrating an American acquisition into its new German parent. Very few locals have real, hard experience in this, much less doing it well, but even then the employer has re-posted the job four times in the last three months after rejecting me for unspecified reasons despite me having successfully done this sort of thing (how did they think I decided to move to Germany?). Besides, Germany is not so much cheaper than New York or London that I am so willing to take a pay cut, especially since it would kill my re-entry to either New York or London.

OK, now we can talk about the job. If you actually have experience, congratulations, because you are not one of the 16% who are underqualified. But be careful, because you might be one of the 5% who are overqualified. Also be sure you are not one of the 16% who have unrealistic expectations, like working only half-days in a full-time job. Motherhood is not supposed to count against you, but it can if you want to be anything more than a receptionist. Finally, 35% do get knocked out of the box for a dearth of job knowledge (yes, Virginia, it is possible to have experience and still not have the knowledge to do the job).

This was an interesting week ...

I stumbled across five (five!) interesting job opportunities after three weeks of seeing nothing. Two in Germany, two in the UK, and one in the US (not Arkansas!).

One of the German companies responded, but only to tell me that I did not apply properly ... They advertised in English and prompted me to an online tool that, even though I input a German address, only prompted me for barebones information and said nothing more about attaching Zeunisse, etc.). They responded with a curt e-mail in German that I must also attach a Anschreiben, Lebenslauf, Foto, and Zeugnisse before they will further consider me. I find it hard to believe I am the first American to apply to them, but it seems they figure that when in Germany, the applicant must apply like a German (yes, more on that some other time) even if the english-version of their system says nothing of the sort. The other German company wanted the "Full Monty" auf Deutsch via snail-mail, so I don't expect to hear from them for some time.

In the same space of time, the Brits are actually getting down to short-lists and arranging to bring me over for interviews. They haven't seen a foto, and they've only seen an American-style resume (rather than the Brit-style CV they would prefer), but despite those failings they have seen past the form and looked at the substance.

Haven't heard from the American company yet, but the usual response from US companies is that they will gladly talk to me once I am back in the US, so I am not holding my breath.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Maybe I should move to Arkansas ?

A couple of years ago a couple of Swedish economists put out a paper comparing the EU to the US. In the area of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, they concluded that if the EU (yes, the whole EU) were a US state, its per capita GDP would make it one of the poorer states. Lest one think that poor places like Spain and Portugal are dragging down the whole lot, I should tell you that Germany on its own just edged out Arkansas, which would suggest it would be somewhere around the 5th poorest US state (ahead, from top to bottom of Arkansas, Montana, West Virginia & Mississippi).

The third quarter 2005 unemployment rate for Arkansas is approximately 5% (source: St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank), while the overall rate for the Federal Republic of Germany was 9.2% (source: OECD). Of course many Germans will complain that the former eastern Länder are dragging down the country, but some of the data I've seen lately shows falling unemployment in the east (need to look at more data to speak authoritatively).

I never thought of Arkansas as a hotbed of economic growth, but maybe I should give it another look ;=)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

How I (Really) Spent my Winter Vacation

OK, its not like I've been sleeping 24/7 ...

1) I've baked a lot of bread. In the past six months I have only bought one loaf of bread, and that was to stuff the Thanksgiving turkey. The homemade stuff is just too good to "waste." All sorts of bread, including the dark, grainy ones like Bauernbrot, Vollkornbrot, Mehrkornbrot, etc. to keep the Partnerin happy. And the sinful ones like baguettes, ciabatta, etc.

2) I have taken a couple of German courses. Even though I have lived here a few years, I never formally learned German, so the net result was that I speak a combination of very technical "Berufsdeutsch" and very informal "Umgangssprache" ("street talk" or very common speech). I also now have a couple certificates saying that I have actually studied and can do German, which is handy for job applications and interviews ... Germans love certificates, and expect you to provide them for nearly every aspect of your life.

3) I started learning Chinese ... might not seem very useful in Germany, but learning a third language through a second language has the salutary effect of focusing you more on the second language. Nevertheless, the assigned course books are Chinese to English, so some of the benefit is lost on me, but my classmates have the salutary effect of improving their English.

4) Looked for work. To do that, I had to learn to apply like a German, which is another story in itself. More on that some other time.

5) Cleaned the house. A few times, but not as much as the Partnerin would like.

6) Started walking a lot more. Had to give up the company car when I left, but this was probably not such a bad thing since I have gained more than a few kilos since moving here.

7) Went to the gym a little more often. But I just dropped membership in the fitness center across town (it was just around the corner from the office, but now that it was across town it was a pain to get there), so it is a good thing I'm walking more.

8) Re-discovered the geek in me. I built a new gaming computer to run my flight simulator. Tiny, quiet little XPC barebones with an Athlon64 3500+ and 2GB of memory and XP Professional x64 (boy was that a headache, but it is faster than regular XP pro). I rebuilt the family computer with a Sempron 3000+ so that the Partnerin would stop crashing it when she was processing pictures for the family.

9) Flew a couple hundred simulator hours. I'm a pilot in real life, but my US license only gives me limited opportunities to fly in Germany, and even then it is quite expensive (much cheaper to fly when on holiday in the US).

10) I baked cookies a few times, but fortunately only a few times. Don't need the calories.

... and probably a dozen other little things. Suffice it to say, it has actually been nice to see some daylight, which is something you don't see much of when working from 8 to 8.

Friday, March 17, 2006

How I Spent my Winter Vacation ...
(ala Cheech & Chong)

On the first day of my winter vacation, I woke up. I went downtown to look for a job. Then I hung out in front of the drug store.

On the second day of my winter vacation, I woke up. I went downtown to look for a job. Then I hung out in front of the drug store.

On the third day of my winter vacation ....

Six months ago, I took a deal. They gave me cash, and I went away. German companies have discovered downsizing with a vengeance, but they haven't quite figured out how to actually accomplish it since very few german employees are willing to actually walk away from a job, regardless of how much cash is on the table.

In my old company, they planned to lose at least 200 people in the general area in which I was working. I believe they actually succeeded in getting 85 to take a deal. When I said yes, the HR person on the other side of the table said, "You Ami's seem to be a lot more comfortable with leaving your job. I admire you for that."

Well, the deal was pretty good, far better than it would have been if I had repatriated to the US and then taken a deal. Probably because they assumed that it would be a long time before I worked again. I suspect, in fact, that they figured I would never work in Germany again.

I figured I would. In fact, my Partnerin repeatedly told me (and she still does) that German companies love Americans with my abilities and experiences. Of course, I have been the one slogging in the streets for the past six months, and I am not quite picking up this sentiment. In fact, in discussing this with a few other Ami expats who have been here since the early 1990's, they suggest that way back then German companies did love Americans, but that is no longer the case.

It has been an amusing trek through the winter, and I am still working on finding a new job here in Germany (aside from pushing a broom around, which is what any skilled foreigner can expect if his or her documentation is not up to German standards ... more on that some other time). In the meantime,

On the fourth day of my winter vacation, I woke up. I went downtown to look for a job. Then I hung out in front of the imbiss and had a bratwurst.