Situatonal national identity

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To schedule an all-or-nothing World Cup match Germany vs. Sweden on Midsummer of all days is adventurous, I thought. To watch it with all my Swedes on the most crowded German party street in town is risky, I thought. I can change my situational national identity to Swedish for that night, I thought.

Let me tell you this: after Germany had scored their goal, I spent 50 agonizing minutes hoping nothing else would happen. How fun is it to watch a football match, that happens to be eventful, hoping for it to just be over before anyone does anything to change the balanced outcome of 1:1? I was terribly torn, sitting there in my Swedish jersey, being insulted by German fans (“All you can do is IKEA” [Eh, well, IKEA is pretty awesome.]) while slowly the feeling started creeping up that I really don’t want Germany to be kicked out of this tournament. But at the same time, Sweden fought so hard and come on, don’t we all love an underdog, and I was rooting for Sweden tonight, wasn’t I. Nerve-wracking! 

When the match was over, at least it was safe to go outside into the crowd. People patted our shoulders sympathically, giving us pitiful looks. “But my other team won!” I wanted to reply. It’s easy to be Swedish any other day but when it comes down to football, I guess I am still The German Girl.

Thou shalt not dance

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At regular intervals, the German media, internet or quiz shows like to inform about „the craziest U.S. laws“. Like you are not allowed to drive in a bikini in Iowa, or that cutting a cactus gives you 25 years in prison in Arizona. Aren’t the Americans funny with their ridiculous laws, the German laughs. But as we are approaching Easter, I would like to say: review the German law and think again.

Good Friday is a so called ”silent holiday“ in Germany. In 12 out of 16 of German states, this means dancing is forbidden. It seems to be that in North-Rhine-Westphalia, where I currently reside and which is especially Catholic, the laws are even stricter. The dance ban  already starts on Maundy Thursday at 6 p.m. and last still Saturday 6 a.m.. On Good Friday, is is prohibited to do circus performances and to swap stamps at stamp collection gatherings. All stores must close and it is not allowed to hold sport events, putting the German soccer league on hold. Movies may only be shown if the ministry of culture has deemed them appropriate. The state law also asserts that radio stations should in their choices be considerate of the serious nature of the day. And: you are not allowed to move house. I think that rather inconvenient, considering how all your friends would be free on this holiday to help you relocate.

So what do law-abiding Germans do during Easter? They hang out with their friends and family at home (or maybe they go to an art gallery or zoo because those are actually allowed to open). For those gatherings, they might stop by the bakery in the morning and get freshly baked rolls or braided yeast buns that are a popular Easter food. But you can only do that until Sunday – after that, there is a bake ban.

 

 

Idyllic beyond words

034 (2)Ascension Day this year is spent in a small town in the South of Germany. I was not aware of how idyllic this place is when I decided to go here and now, I’m just wandering around gazing at the charming environment in amazement. The town is a medieval one with two lakes, half an hour north of Lake Constance. In its city center, there are lots of small little shops and no chains. Instead, there is a store selling only nightwear and swimwear, a shop selling socks and stockings exclusively, a real butche shop that has German solid Hausmannskost for lunch, a book shop where they play the piano on Saturday mornings for customers.

There is the Spätzle museum, the art museum and the mobile home museum. The little movie theater by the lake called Seenema (See means lake in German) shows a good and high quality selection of films. The sun spoils the town with 28 degrees which makes people jump into the lake or get a paddleboat that looks like Herbie. Then there is the swan who also lives on the lake but I’ve heard reports that he’s friendly.

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People keep getting married in the beautiful church overlooking the village, it seems, two brides already passed me by as I was sitting on one of the squares marvelling at the fairy tale setting. It reminds me a tiny bit of Sweden, of Strängnäs or maybe Gripsholm. I would not be entirely surprised to see Kalle Blomqvist dash out of one of the tiny streets with names such as Rabbit Street or Lord’s Lane. Maybe the nicest thing is that there is a cafe, restaurant or pub wherever you turn to – but not in the touristy way. Even though this is a spa town, there are lots of young people hanging out on the squares drinking Most, and occasional obvious foreigners melt into the crowd that seems so relaxed as if there were on an endless vacation. I live in a house from the 14th century and the floor is not straight at all. At night the half-timbered walls make tock-tock sounds and to go to the bathroom, I have to climb over a 30 centimeter difference in floor level. It’s all so romantic, I might even consider coming back.

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Selfie-proof I am here and the butchery exists. #wurstsalat

Del 34 i citatsamlingen

Man börjar ju undra: varför är inte jag så sympatisk som Kim Källström?

Mein Bewerbungsbild kann ich nicht nehmen. Auf dem Foto sehe ich aus wie ein Indianer!

Jag är kissnödig. – Sa du quiznödig? Jag har gjort ett quiz om Lil’ Pesto!

Har alla i Båstad alltid Ralph Lauren skjortor?

Jag tänker mina barn kan ha tre faddrar. – Vad blir det, en gudmor, en gudfar och en gudhen?

Swedes reacting to German tax law

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My mom, who is rather up to date with the digital world, once introduced me to “Kids reacting to…”  It’s hilarious to see the kids’ faces when they are shown a rotary phone or Donald Trump’s speeches. It’s pretty much equally hilarious to see my co-workers’ facial reaction to German tax law. This all started a while ago when I campaigned for doing one’s taxes and since then, the tax topic has always been ongoing. Finally, we decided that we should host a seminar for our young professionals on how to do your taxes in Germany, deklarera mera!

On Thursday night, we invited a bunch of Swedes and Germans to a tax adviser’s office and I got to see “Swedes reacting to German tax law” in real life. Like when the tax adviser told us that you can fill in your declaration handwritten and then someone at the tax office will sit down and type it all in. The Swedes, a digital nation, burst into laughter. Or when the speaker showed us the taxes that exist in Germany and we learned that the German state generates 449 million (!) euro per year through champagne. The champagne tax, it’s a thing. That fact that 98 % of all literature on tax is about the German tax system was also met with the suitable reactions.

We crammed tax curios that night: If you have a child in Germany, you need to fill out a separate special form called “Attachment Child”, but the state might not believe you actually are a parent, the adviser informed us. “Sometimes they’re thinking, ‘Anyone can say they have a child!’ and request a birth certificate”. Because who doesn’t consider cheating on your taxes by making up a child, right? Guffaw among the attendees. We also came to know that several fields in the declaration form are without purpose (“it has no effect if you fill that in”) or serve simply to satisfy the tax office’s curiousity (like line 14 on the general form). And did you know that the amount of church tax depends on where in Germany you live? In the two most Catholic areas in Germany, you pay one percent less. I don’t think that’s very fair given that they probably get much more church service there than in the diaspora where people pay one percent more.

Also, if you have a secondary residence in Belgium you need to state that in your declaration. But only if it is in Belgium, nobody seems to care about, say, the Netherlands. In Germany, you can set off your way to work again tax liability – so far so logical. But you must state the one-way distance and multiply it by 0,30 cents. I keep wondering why you can’t get 0,15 cents for the whole distance instead.

For every job application you send by snail mail (hello, 2016…) you can set off 8,50 euro. And generally, you can just state that you spent 110 euro per year on paper and nobody will ask you for receipts. If you need to buy your own computer for your work, you can set that off. However, if your employer refuses to buy you work equipment, I fear you have bigger problems than your tax declaration, just sayin’.

Something that was new for me was that I can put down the money I have to spend for the gardener my landlord employs. It’s a service close to home and thus tax-relevant, or as a Swede next to me said, “Det är som RUT fast jättekomplicerat”.

Despite all these oddities of German tax law (and the entertaining reactions to them), all participants were very satisfied with the evening. Lots of questions were asked and I think and hope the city of Dizzel will get to feel that we have educated a bunch of tax payers that will now take back all the money the state owes them. Because if you don’t declare your taxes, they just keep your money. Yay for tax refunds 2017!

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Passed this poster this week, “Düsseldorf makes every dream come true”. Ingrid’s reaction: “Yeah, in 1981 maybe”.

 

 

Zero women

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”  Rebecca West

I remember three or four years ago, I cut out an advertisement from the Swedish newspaper. It said, “These are the 100 stock-exchange companies in Sweden that believe the best women’s movement is the one in bed”. It listed the 100 companies that had, despite 47 % of graduates at the Stockholm School for Economics being female, not one woman in their board room. The advertisement was promoting the AllBright Report by the foundation of the same name. AllBright is a politically independent, non-profit foundation that promotes equality and diversity in senior positions in the business sector. The foundation works continuously with reviewing how gender is represented in the business sector. Every year they release two reports.

This year, they started a German branch of the foundation – and gee, that’s needed! I am thrilled that AllBright now works in Germany as well and my co-worker sent me a picture yesterday morning of the first report on Germany that had been delivered to us. “You want to get to work early today!”, she wrote.

The report, which is very well designed I think, states that the best way to get to the top is being called Thomas. You should be born 1963 and should have studied economics or engineering.

Currently, there is one German stock-exchange company with 40 % women on their board. One. Then there’s 37 that have one women without coming up to 40 %, 122 companies do not have a single woman. There are even 18 companies that don’t have a woman on their board or directorate. The foundation sent out the reports to the companies in question, too. 76 %, that is 122 companies, got its report in a black envelope because they’re on AllBright’s blacklist.

If Germany proceeds at the current speed, we will reach almost-equality in work life in 2050. So shortly before I become a pensioner, I might experience 40% women in boards.

The smaller the company, the less likely/willing they are to take in women, their reasons being crystal clear: “We don’t need new board members”, “There are no competent women in our specialised field” and “Qualifications and competence are more relevant than gender to us”.

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In Sweden, companies that have 40 % of women on their boards (that is, just to be clear, not even half of the board) are twice as profitable. If you don’t believe in equal opportunities, shouldn’t you at least believe in economic effiency?

By the way, it was a man who founded AllBright. An old, white man. But his name is not Thomas.

 

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“Are you a quota woman or competent?” “Are you an heir or someone’s buddy?”

Hustysk Helen svarar: Am I a man?

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It has been a while since I last had a question to answer in this category but today your Hustysk is back! The reason is the German tax system. I know, that sounds really boring but trust me there is a lot of money to pick up from the German tax offices. Since my friend Kerstin who is a total tax pro helped me with declaring my taxes, I’ve become the person who peptalks everyone into filing their taxes, too. Actually, I started suspecting that the German state spreads the rumor that doing taxes is extremely complicated and super difficult in order to a) prevent people from demand their tax refund b) subsidize tax advisers. I mean, if half of the Germans, panic-stricken when just looking at the tax forms, decide to not take back what the state owes them, then the state has a lot of money left.

I’ve gone on about how awesome tax declarations (or rather refunds) are forever toward my co-worker so eventually, she was convinced and sat down to do her taxes. And this is where my role as your personal German comes in. She came back to work and sat, “I can’t do my taxes, there is no form for me because I am not married!”

How do I do my taxes if I am an unmarried woman?

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The German forms for tax declaration only two fields: A – the subject to taxation/husband and B – wife. The whole system assumes that you are married and that it is first and foremost the male spouse who has an income. And of course, the couple is taxed together, not separately.

German tax law also supports the houswife marriage with its Ehegattensplitting law from 1958. I find it complicated, but I guess in a nutshell, it means if one spouse earns more (which in Germany is almost always the husband), tax law rewards the couple if the wife does not work at all. It’s literally financially better for the couple if the lesser earning wife just stays home. Welcome to 2016.

If you grew up in Sweden, like my co-worker, this all is rather puzzling. Do I need to change my gender identity to declare my taxes? Am I a man now? Should I be a man to pay taxes? Are all working Germans men? The answer is, kind of, yes.

If you are a single working woman, German bureaucracy is implictly asking you why are you not married and explicitly asking you to identify as a husband until you get married and then you get to move to position B, regardless of the fact that you might be the person who has the higher income that is interesting to the tax office. Congrats, Germany just made you a husband!

***Hustysk Helen svarar – we answer your questions about Germany***book your Germanification today and receive a free Brezel***

Go East

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Leipzig’s Skyline, photo: Leizpig Tourismus

I should really be sleeping now instead of writing this. But a) I have to wait for my laundry to be done and b) I can’t fall asleep anyway. I know that. It’s been going on for weeks.

Tomorrow I have to leave the house at shortly after 5 a.m. Maybe I won’t go to sleep at all? And perhaps I will survive anyway (even though I’ve learned there is such a thing as co-morbid insomnia and I am not even too surprised.) because adrenalin will keep me awake. Why? Because I am flying to Leipzig tomorrow! It’s a business trip and I’ll look at lots of locations but I am still psyched because I have been wanting to go to Leipzig for many years. Leipzig is the ‘other city’ (besides beautiful Dresden) in the East, it’s the ‘new Berlin’ and it’s where the Fall of the Wall started with the Peaceful Revolution.

It is a university city and a city of commerce, the largest city in the state of Saxony and home to one of the most important book fairs. It’s more than a thousand years old, Bach was active in Leipzig for many years, leading the Thomaner Choir , an internationally renowed boys’ choir from Leipzig that has been around for 800 years. Eight-hundred years. Switzerland hasn’t even been a country for 800 years! That choir also produced the famous German band Die Prinzen that my generation grew up with (Du musst ein Schwein sein, anyone? Ich wär so gerne Millionär, remember? Küssen verboten, huh? Or Alles nur geklaut?)

Leipzig is young, old and different, they say. I am looking forward.

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Leipzig’s trade fair – so cool! photo: Leipzig Tourismus