May Day or International Workers Day?

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Taking the U-Bahn, this time on the U2 just pulling into Alexanderplatz and I notice a news article on the train’s TV screen.
Today is ‘Tag der Arbeit’ (International Workers Day) and the DGB (The German Trade Union Organisation) are holding marches to commemorate this fact.
In Great Britain however, you would probably see pictures of people dancing around a maypole and celebrating with the May Queen in a far more rural affair. So why the difference between Britain and Germany?
Well, it began over a century ago when the American Federation of Labour adopted a historic resolution which asserted that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labour from and after May 1st, 1886″. International Workers Day is widely seen as the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, where numerous workers and police died in a riot, and the first Workers Day was set in 1890 as an act of solidarity for the victims.
In Germany, it ironically first became a national holiday under the Nazi regime in 1933 and the emblem for the day is a red carnation.
In Britain Workers Day is virtually ignored. Old pagan traditions die hard and May Day descends from pre-Christian times, as the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers (May Queen). The only tenuous connection with workers day in Great Britain was due to the reform of the catholic calendar with May 1st being the Feast of St Joseph the Worker, the patron saint of workers. In rural areas seeding was completed by this date and it was convenient to give farm labourers a day off. But the most significant of the traditions on this day has always been the festivities of the maypole around which traditional dancers circle with ribbons.
This also incidentally happens in the Baden, Bavarian, and Swabian regions of Germany and maypoles are decorated with either flowers or emblems of the local trade.
So be it Workers Day or May Day on May 1st, the emblems that seem to be consistent between Germany and Great Britain are either the maypoles or the flowers.



We have ways of making you talk..

We have wats of making you talk

Taking the U-Bahn and getting off at Kochstrasse on the U6 near to Checkpoint Charlie, I noticed the attached poster for the Berlin School of English. It made me smile, remembering the British cliche of the German interrogator in WWII films saying in a clipped, teutonic accent ‘Vee have vays and means of making you talk..’ The thing is this maybe amusing for me but would it be amusing to the people the school is trying to attract i.e. Germans wanting to improve their English?

Probably not. The sentence may not be complex, but its implied message is likely to be lost on a German audience: the familiar ring of ‘We have ways of making you talk’ is not heard by an audience who see their movies dubbed into their own language. They may have heard the sentence as many times as their English counterparts, but only in its German wording. What may be amusing to one culture, may, for very good reasons, fall flat in another. Germans don’t lack the humour (that other, well-worn stereotype) to understand it; it just doesn’t mean the same to them.

Simon Anholt, an expert in international communications, observed in his excellent book ‘Another One Bites the Grass’ (the German equivalent of the saying another one bites the dust) that advertising is not made of words, but of culture. This poster ad is made of British culture, and needs a British audience (or someone familiar with its tastes) to decode it – which is hardly its intended audience. Communicating in a culture different from your own requires awareness of the all-important differences. Otherwise the message risks becoming muddled, confounding, or even offensive.

Anyway, I understand from a good friend who has worked at the school as a teacher that they do good business, and have done so for many years. So it would seem that they do, in fact, have ways of making people talk.