English German

  Edition # 3  
San Francisco, den 06-01-1997

Figure [1]: On the beach of Kauai/Hawaii

Hi there, friends!

Angelika A few weeks have gone by and I'm finally ready to start my third newsletter. Michael has been in San Francisco for a good six months now and I've been living here for almost five months. Despite this time, life is still new and exciting for us, and we still enjoy discovering the country and its people. We have also just overcome our first major crisis.

Company in Financial Crisis

Blaxxun, the company for which Michael works, has recently closed its office in San Francisco. But I have to give some background information, otherwise nobody will understand me.

First of all, one must know that Blaxxun is funded by an American investor, both the office in Munich and the office in San Francisco. Since Blaxxun is a relatively new and small company and develops completely new software, the financial situation is not as secure as with global companies such as Siemens or Microsoft (Michael would now be pulling his hair out at my examples, since he is not exactly a fan of these companies). In plain language, this means that it needs to turn a profit at some point. Unfortunately, Americans are not currently interested in the things that Blaxxun develops; the Germans, however, are. So the American sponsor decided on the spot that the office in San Francisco would be closed and all his hopes would be placed on the office in Munich. The consequence is that all employees in San Francisco were dismissed on May 15th. For us, this would have meant that we would have had to pack our bags immediately (and I had just finished unpacking everything and hanging the pictures on the wall), since our residence permit and Michael's work permit are completely linked to the company America.

Figure [2]: Michael gives the evil eye because he was interrupted while working.

Now, you are probably wondering why we are still here. Don't worry, I'm getting to it, I just wanted to make it a bit exciting. So, we have just been incredibly lucky. Michael and his colleague Peter are the only ones still working for the American company. This is possible because the American headquarters still exists. The company in America now only has two employees instead of 30. The finances are secured until the beginning of 1998, but since there are some projects running in Germany, it is very likely to be even longer. So, if you were paying close attention, you are probably wondering where Michael is working now since there is no office in San Francisco anymore. The office is now, so to speak, in our apartment, i.e. Michael is working from home. You can imagine it like this: in our bedroom there is a huge desk with two computers and an additional laptop. I really hope that we don't get in each other's way in our small apartment, but as long as we can stay here and I don't have to play Michael's secretary, I'm fine with it.

Michael will now calmly wait out the situation. Everyone of course hopes that the company will make a big breakthrough. But if the situation continues to worsen, Michael will try to find a new job here in San Francisco. That is not easy though. There is plenty of work, but a new company would have to obtain a new work permit for Michael, which can take two months. An American company is usually used to the new employee being able to start immediately due to the lack of notice periods. It doesn't help that Michael has already worked here. The case would be treated completely new again. Long live bureaucracy!!!!

I hope you were able to follow my somewhat lengthy explanations and for those who found my explanations too long, I will quickly write Michael's brief summary of the situation: "Everything remains the same, except now I can even work from my bed!"

Despite having more luck than sense in hindsight, the situation was still quite stressful. The problem is that you can lose everything along with your job here, health insurance being the most critical part. As a foreigner, Michael wouldn't have been able to get unemployment benefits anyway, and even for Americans it's barely enough to get by. We really wouldn't have had any other choice than to go back to Germany, and we didn't want to do that because we had just settled in. A sure sign that we had become real Californians is, for example, that we had already slept through the last minor earthquake of magnitude 3.4 and only heard about it because my friend Sylvi called in a state of excitement to ask if we had noticed anything and if we were all right.

Vacation on Kauai/Hawaii

Figure [3]: At the beach on Kauai.

After these uncertain and exciting times, we spontaneously decided to fly to Hawaii for a week. We had chosen the island of Kauai, as it is not so touristy. And it was really paradise: long white sand beaches, great weather, an ocean with warm water and good waves, lush green vegetation, a fantastic landscape, a nice hotel and friendly islanders. Michael of course tried surfing, but failed at the waves, which frustrated him especially since the twelve-year-old boys took the waves with ease. I, on the other hand, was glad that I didn't have to call David Hasselhof from Baywatch to rescue him. And I tell you, it sometimes looked pretty dangerous when Michael was thrown around by the waves.

Figure [4]: Gebirgsformation auf Kauai: Der Waimea Canyon

Figure [5]: Nebel zieht auf

Figure [6]: Laster einer Zuckerrohrverarbeitungsfabrik

Figure [7]: Auch auf Kauai: Stommast mit Landschaft

Figure [8]: Participants of the English course at City College

My Dream -- by Maria B.

A 15 year-old dating a U.S. citizien in Nicaragua? Oh, yes! How we dream when we are 15! I had a yellow moon, shining stars and red hearts. I had a marriage, a white picket fence, a pink and blue pastel-colored home, some children, all the necessities of life. It didn't matter where -- here in the US or in Nicaragua. I had the perfect, loving, hard-working husband, the perfect, well-cared-for house, the perfect income, the perfect children -- and the perfect me: the wife, mother, housekeeper. Yes, everything! ... A dream ... Well! I got married to that old windbag, had two children. After a lot of trouble, I found out my mother-in-law did not like the idea of what had already happened with her son (a 48 year-old by this time). Well, no step back! He brought us to San Francisco -- two baby girls and me. By this time I was nearly 18. My first address was his mother's house. It was pure hell: a possessive mother who did not have one millimeter of desire to share her son with anyone and the man who enjoyed every bit of this relationship and the situation that brought such disastrous consequences to my children and me, because this man cared more about his egocentrism than the family he had created. My children and I almost drowned in the rage of jealousy and selfishness of these two people. Well, today -- 20 years later -- my children are alive, married, each one with two children. My daughter and I are still dealing with the painful consequences of the past. It seperates us; and, as a result I cannot see my grandchildren. Today my pain has been eased by the death of the mother-in-law and the adulthood of my children and the relief of having done the best I could. Well, as for me, I will grow. Now I have come into a new era of life. I'm taking classes in Introduction to Computers and English as a second language, and I'm finishing my General Education Degree, which I'm about to get.

And here's my text:

My Dream -- by Angelika Schilli

Thinking about a very special dream of mine, a lot of different things come to my mind; for example, to live in an old Victorian house at the beach, to study medicine, to write a famous book or to be a popular photographer. Although some of these dreams are very unrealistic, it is good to have them, because perhaps some day a dream will come true. You never know. So I like to play with my imagination; for example, if I go to the beach, I'll look for a niece place for my dream house. If I read a book, I'll think about my own book. But most of all, I want to be a photographer. I love to take pictures, so you often see me with a camera wandering around and looking for a good subject. It's the play of the light and the colors that are fascinating to me. In my opinion, a picture tells you a lot about the feelings of the person who took the picture. That means you can express your feelings with a photo. When I came to San Francisco, the first thing I did was to take pictures of my new neighborhood. I've learned a lot with the help of my camera about my new surroundings. For me, San Francisco is a very good place for photography. It's a colorful city with interesting people and dramatic views. So in a way my dream to be a photographer has come true. I'm not a famous one, but I can enjoy my hobby every day, and the pictures I've taken will always be a memory of my time in San Franciso.

Speaking English and Comprehension Skills

With respect to speaking the language, many people keep asking me if my English is already perfect. I would say that many things are easier for me now (e.g. making phone calls), as I understand more complicated things and I don't have to think so long when I want to say something. Nevertheless, I still come across my language limits, especially when it comes to having a conversation at a higher level. It is also quite difficult to be funny in another language. However, I think this is normal; after all, I have been speaking German for much longer than English. What I have noticed is that many things I learned in school come back to me (e.g. grammar). I can also write short texts quite well again. Speaking, however, is still the hardest part for me, but it was like that in school already. Another big problem is that I often don't dare or want to express things too complicated. Well, I still have a lot of time to practice. Starting Monday, I will attend a four-week English summer course at my City College and then everything will be closed here due to the summer break. Starting June 26th I will be visiting in Germany. I will first land in Munich and stay there until July 5th. From July 5th to 22nd I will be in Oldenburg. So if anyone wants to see me, remember these dates.

Of course, this newsletter wouldn't be complete without a few comments on everyday life in America:


First off, there's the always puzzling topic of tipping. If you travel to the United States, you should always be carrying a bundle of one-dollar bills with you, as the bellhop at the hotel, the housekeeper, etc. will make sure that this bundle keeps shrinking as quickly as possible. But it is also an absolute sin not to give a tip. This is because, for example, the waiter or hairdresser earn such a low base salaries that they cannot survive without the additional tip. So, if the service is good, which is usually the case in America, you give at least a 15% tip, if the service is great, even 20%.

I tell you, in America they rely on the good old mental arithmetic when it comes to tipping. In California, there is a very simple trick, since the sales tax (i.e. what is called value-added tax in Germany) is 7.5%, you just have to double the sales tax and you have already calculated your 15% tip. But beware; since the tax in each US state is different (e.g. in Hawaii it is only 3%), you cannot blindly apply this trick everywhere. The sales tax gets always added to the purchase price when you're paying for something, which leads to the situation that you struggle to calculate the exact amount required and thus never have the right change ready, which means you walk around with a lot of small change that you can't get rid of for the reasons mentioned above.

Seasonal Sales

Regarding sales, there is another natural law, namely that there are always some special offers and something like clearance sales happening, which then have the funniest names and occasions. Macy's department store, for example, has the so-called "White Flower Sale" at regular intervals. It is not, as the name suggests, white flowers on special offer, but all sorts of things. I still haven't found out if the name has a deeper meaning. Americans are quite inventive in general to attract or retain customers. If you buy certain things in a store again and again, you get something like bonus points. For example, I get a stamp for every greeting card I buy at my stationery store. When I have collected 25 stamps, I get a 5 dollar discount on my next card purchase. But I find the coupons the funniest. These are usually found in brochures that come with the daily newspaper or you get entire coupon booklets in the mail. A coupon usually applies to a certain product, e.g. Colgate toothpaste. If you present the coupon at the supermarket checkout when you shop there next, you will also get a discount or you will be encouraged to buy two tubes of toothpaste to get one free. There are really the most wonderful variations.

Anti Smoking Campaigns

Figure [9]: Anti Smoking Advertisement

Another inexhaustible topic here is still the topic of "smoking", which has now developed into a real war between smokers and non-smokers. Smoking has long been prohibited in public buildings such as airports, as well as in offices. That, I think, is still comparable to German conditions. But now there are no longer any smoking areas in restaurants, which means that smoking is no longer allowed anywhere food is served. Smokers can only escape to bars or the street, but in San Francisco, attempts have already been made to prohibit smoking in bars as well, which has caused smokers and some more liberal non-smokers to protest, so that the ban has not yet been enforced. Some politicians are even seriously discussing banning smoking on the street. Meanwhile, there are even various counter ads to tobacco advertising, such as a poster with the Marlboro cowboys, where one tells the other about his lung edema. Smokers in San Francisco are usually nowadays only seen standing in hidden corners. This often reminds me of teenagers smoking secretly. Although I am a non-smoker myself and enjoy the clean air in restaurants very much, I am amused by the vehemence with which the topic is being discussed.

Lawsuits for damages have been brought against cigarette manufacturers because smokers have become ill. I think this is a bit exaggerated, since no one is forced to smoke. In general, I cannot understand how in a country where there are huge protests when the freedom to bear arms is to be restricted, on the other hand, smokers are almost treated like second-class citizens, who will bring us certain death. I would even say that here more people become victims of a weapon than victims of passive smoking. With regard to weapons, the old cowboy mentality seems to prevail again. And to conclude this topic, here is a quote from the pilot during our landing in San Francisco after our trip to Las Vegas. He informed us that smoking is not allowed in San Francisco. Of course, he meant only the airport, although his statement hit the nail on the head. So, these were today's everyday stories. Before I end the letter, I would like to entertain you with two more things:


First off, I have to report that Michael discovered golfing. That's of course because golf is a sport for everyone here and doesn't cost astronomical amounts to play. Anyway, he now goes golfing every week and loves it. Last week he came back with calluses on his hands. Now he's trying to get me to play too, but I'm not quite sure how to feel about it yet. I just don't understand what's so great about shooting a ball across a green field and eventually putting it into a hole. To each its own!

Glide Memorial Church

Finally, I would like to tell you briefly about our visit to the Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. The church is located in a rather poor neighborhood. But that didn't stop us from going there one Sunday. And you really can't imagine what the service was like. First of all, they had an exalted gospel choir singing, while the worshipers clapped and danced to the rhythm. The black pastor's sermon was interrupted several times by enthusiastic interjections such as "Amen" or "Yes, he is right!" and was also quite lively and modern. The worshipers had all kinds of skin colors, came from different educational backgrounds and religions and every age was represented. I'm not sure if everyone would like this kind of "show", but we felt comfortable. All of San Francisco was represented in the service, which Michael and I especially like: "Liberal, lively, colorful!" By the way, the congregation is not only known for its extravagant services but also for its social engagement. Since the neighborhood in which the church is located has a very severe problems with homelessness, drugs and violence, the congregation not only provides three meals a day to up to 3,500 people, but also has a day care center for children, computer courses to improve job prospects, programs to battle drugs and AIDS, projects to reduce violence in families, etc. The congregation works a lot with volunteers (up to 5,000 per year) and I am strongly considering signing up for the pre-school area, where children from difficult families are cared for daily. But first of all, my visit to Germany is coming up.

So, now I have reported enough. We are thinking of you!

With love!

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