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Festive season in January?

Celebrating orthodox Christmas in Germany

“Merry Christmas” is a phrase I would typically say in December as me and my family celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December, just like every other Christian families does, right? Well, at least I thought so until I got to know my best friend. She and her Macedonian orthodox Christian family celebrate Christmas on the 6th of January. With the help of her real life experiences, I want to illustrate some background information and traditions of a Macedonian orthodox Christmas celebration in Germany.

What is the orthodox church?

The orthodox church alongside roman catholic and protestant church form the three main Christian groups. Orthodox beliefs don’t differ in many ways from the other two, but it is divided geographically e.g. to Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Church. Those do have theological differences within because this belief forms partly from traditions which differ around the world, even though the main beliefs in Jesus Christ as the embodiment of God and his reincarnation, crucifixion and resurrection, stay the same. The Eastern Orthodox church is again subdivided geographically, rather than divided by nations and all churches are either autocephalous (have their own head) or autonomous (self-governing). They still go by the Julian calendar which explains the time differences to our Gregorian calendar.

The relatively small Republic of North Macedonia shares borders with Serbia in the north, Bulgaria in the east, Greece in the south and Albania in the west and is therefore landlocked in the eastern part of Europe. The Macedonian orthodox church is a belief which about two-thirds of the North Macedonian population professes, but it isn’t recognized autonomously by all of the other churches.

What does a typical Christmas look like?

The orthodox church puts a lot more emphasis on family and Jesus than the typical German Christian family. When I was a kid, Christmas was mainly about the presents and good food, but as my friend told me, her family doesn’t exchange gifts at all on Christmas. However, food is an important part in their traditions as well. In the time before Christmas, they fast, which means in this case following a vegan diet. Fish, however, is still allowed in this diet and the fasting lasts up until and including the 6th of January, so effectively their Christmas Eve.

Another important tradition is the coin in the bread. They put a coin in the bread dough and when it’s time for dinner the bread gets separated between the family members, including a piece for Jesus and Maria and other people or things that are important and loved by the family. All the bread must be eaten or else it allegedly means bad luck and whoever finds the coin in their piece is to have good luck during the next year. If, for example, the kid gets the coin, he or she also gets a little money from the parents and if the coin is for example in the piece for their house, the family is supposed to buy or do something for the house, like giving it a fresh paint or buy some sort of accessory for the house.

A very interesting aspect of their dinner is that once a person sat down at the table, they are not allowed to stand back up or if they do and then sit back down, they are not allowed to eat anymore. Because of that, the family gathers everything they might need during dinner on the table before sitting down, which always ends in an awfully full table, as my friend states.

What does it feel like to celebrate Christmas later than all of your friends?

In this section I can only speak for my friend who told me all of this and I know that it is probably different for everyone experiencing it. First of all, she states that celebrating later has pros and cons. She never has to argue about which family dinner to attend with her roman catholic boyfriend, as they have separate dates for celebrating Christmas and can subsequently simply do it twice. Generally, she says that when it comes to the 6th of January, she is usually not in a festive mood anymore because all of the people around her already throw out their Christmas trees and are done with the festive season. It sometimes feels weird to still celebrate Christmas. Also, because it is usually the last day of the holidays, her parents have to work the next day and she has to attend to university the next day, they only have one day to celebrate and almost no opportunity to visit relatives the following day like I have when I celebrate on the 24th.

After all, please don’t forget to wish your orthodox friends a Merry Christmas on the 6th of January, I know that they will appreciate your consciousness about their culture very much!

Author: Sandra Rieger

One breath away

Endorphin-rush is guaranteed

Spit in your goggles, one last check if the air is flowing, confirm with your buddy and jump right in. Let the cold water enter your soul, taste the salty water on your lips, feel the pressure surrounding your body. If your buddy and you are ready – the adventure may begin.

You start to go down and the deep blue finally surrounds you, feeling weightless. It’s a completely different world you need to get used to. Weird noises – where do they come from? You try to touch the rock in front of you but completely miss him. Is the fish red, orange or yellow, or might it even be just brown? Humans are used to be surrounded by air. The behavior of light, sounds and movements is normal. But being surrounded by water: it is like being a child again, that needs to learn everything from scratch.

The new and unknown world

Breathtaking views, unique encounters with unfamiliar animals, a rush of adrenalin, getting in touch with nature on a new level, exploring sunken secrets, finding hidden treasures – who knows what’s behind the next rock or after the next wave. The sea is a place of innumerable astonishing, wild, raw and of inestimable value moments, which actually can’t be described in a few words. It simply has to be experienced. Where to go? The lake around the corner? Or how about a freezing cold lake in the alps? Or maybe the Mediterranean Sea where you surely won’t meet any sharks? The cyan, aquatic, turquoise blue sea is filled with exotic fishes and beautiful coral reefs. Another option is to drive with a boat away from the shore, out to the big wide ocean, not being able to see the beach or any houses – out there awaits the most precious, awe-inspiring, unbelievably, once-in-a-lifetime moment: a rendezvous with whales.

DON’T EVER STOP BREATHING!

That is the most important rule for diving. Without having internalized that specific rule, diving won’t be possible. But there are also other things that need to be taken into account. Diving is not a sport or hobby that can simply be started out of a feeling or a mood. Certain things need be considered.

Respect, appreciation, decency and concinnity are mandatory and unavoidable traits of a diver. The new world needs to be valued and secured not polluted, destroyed or treated without careful consideration. Just as important and fundamental is the proper education and qualification. A diving partner, so called buddy,is a crucial factor. Also, you may never go diving without the correct equipment, it is indispensable. (So, find a trustworthy, authentic and dependable diving-school or -club!) A sadly bitter aftertaste: none of it is super cheap.

But be sure of one fact: it is absolutely worth it, as it is an outrageous, unprecedented and pure happiness bringing experience, which will never be forgotten!

Author: Manja Klauschenz

The rise of TikTok

Lockdowns and quarantines have taken their toll on all of us – on some people more, on some people less. In the beginning, some people started doing home workouts like crazy just to give up on them the very next week. Others, apparently, got keen on cooking and baking but, eventually, they only made banana bread once in a while instead of further developing this hobby. And then, there were people, including myself, who downloaded an app out of self-isolation and boredom – an app that had been, at first, so passionately despised! The app, we tried so hard to avoid, suddenly takes up most of our screen time per day. So, what’s happening here?

Why is TikTok becoming so popular?

TikTok is a Chinese video-sharing social networking service owned by the company ByteDance. In China, it is also known as Douyin and the platform is used by tiktokers who make a variety of short videos that aren’t longer than 3 minutes. It became globally available in 2018 after merging with the lip-syncing app Musical.ly, which had already been quite popular among teenagers before.

Since then, TikTok has been downloaded 2 billion times on the App Store and Google Play and a whopping 90% of tiktokers use the app multiple times during the day. The company targets especially Gen Z (people that are born between 1997 and 2012) and this generation will tell you that TikTok is a whole new subculture.

However, as social media becomes gradually involved in our daily life, statistics show that more and more adults, especially Millennials (people that are born between 1981 and 1996), find the app for themselves. If you ask them about TikTok they either hate it or they have a burning passion for it and here is why: a lot of Millennials still associate TikTok with Musical.ly. While you could mainly find videos of underaged teenagers lip-syncing and dancing to pop songs on Musical.ly, TikTok developed a wider range of content, including lifestyle and most importantly comedy.

What you will mainly find on TikTok: Trends and inside jokes also known as memes

TikTok makes you feel like you are a part of something big and if you don’t participate in this platform, you will have the feeling of missing out on something. The difference between TikTok and other social media apps like Instagram or Twitter is significant. While users on Instagram and co follow and consume content of certain people with no fixed algorithms, TikTok is more like an engine that uses your interaction data to automatically show you what you want without having to follow anybody. The engagement among users is high and the content never ends. It’s like an artificial intelligence which is highly personalised, and it tells you: “You should watch this, I know you’ll like it” – and it is almost guaranteed that you will.

Watching a two-hour long movie? No. Spending 3 hours on TikTok? Yes.

While it sounds great to be flooded with new, refreshing content and no boredom in sight, TikTok has also faced many problems: allegations of a failing data protection system, cyber mobbing, no protection of minors and it censors content that is considered sensitive by the Chinese government. It got to the point where the U.S. feared that the app is being used for espionage and, thus, poses a national security risk. On August 2020, Donald Trump even tried to ban TikTok in the U.S. All in all, it can be said that if TikTok remains government approved in most countries, its future will stay bright and its community will keep on growing.

Author: Judith Pütz

Who’s the cats that won’t cop out?

And who’s calling out cops over catcalls?

Augsburg’s kind of a small, quiet city – if you’re going to call it a city at all. Not the place you’d think globally received activism is happening. So when a local Instagram blog somewhere in the 500-like margin suddenly receives over 10,000 upvotes for a single post, is endorsed by a New York-based blog with almost 200,000 followers and reported on by the Süddeutsche, you know things are either going exceptionally well – or shit’s hit the fan.

Sorry, I live behind the moon. Come again?

We’re pretty sure you already have some basic idea of the issues we’re going to address in this article – and if you don’t, you might want to take a closer look at your social media habits. But let’s recap, shall we? Last Wednesday, December 09th 2020, a new post was uploaded to the Augsburg-based Instagram blog @catcallsofsaugsburg. As per usual, the photo showed a catcall, an unwanted sexual statement experienced by a woman. The perpetrator’s exact words had been written on the ground in chalk in the exact place where the catcall had happened – at a very central location, the Rathausplatz – by the activists behind @catcallsofaugsburg to raise awareness. They’ve been doing this for a while now, so what’s new? Well, as followers were informed in the caption, several police officers and fire fighters came up to the scene with a fire truck shortly after the writing had been created and flushed the whole thing away with a fire hose.

So what’s catcalling?

Catcalls entail sexually charged comments, loud whistles, or inappropriate touching, usually performed by men on passing women, (supposedly) gay men or trans people. They may be paired with discrimination of people with disabilities or – as was the case in our example – POC (People of Color), among other groups. The question why far too many men engage in this heavy-handed behavior comes up a lot. Now, there are a range of explanations: on the one hand, toxic masculinity still has a huge impact on our society and seems to lead men to all kinds of inappropriate behavior, even against better knowledge. On the other hand, women are still being sexually objectified to the point where catcalling is received as some sort of twisted compliment by some: “Don’t make such a fuss and be happy about it,” victims are often told. Er, no. Street harassment is everything but a compliment. A compliment is an expression of respect and affection.

Catcalling, on the other hand, is harassment that can instill fear. Some victims suffer long-lasting psychological wounds from it. It is a severe humiliation which imposes male dominance and superiority over women and minorities, often intended to make the victim feel powerless and out of control. Catcalling is a global problem; that’s why @catcallsofxyz blogs were created, a social feminist movement that originated in New York City and has spread from there to many cities around the world. By chalking up all the rude and inappropriate comments and incidents on the street these blogs provide a platform to those who are affected by street harassment – and initiate public debate.

Take this as the trigger warning of the century – it’s getting ugly!

There had been another, earlier post published on @catcallsofaugsburg two days before – i.e. on Monday, December 7th. It showed the fire truck in action and was followed by a few paragraphs of explanatory text in the description. Apparently, passers-by had called the police because the writing was irritating them. Now, it did include some very nasty words, was evidently sexist and even contained a racial slur. However, judging from the actual photo that was uploaded two days later, the purpose should have been more than obvious all along. The writing included an anti-racist hashtag, the name of the blog and a huge trigger warning at a very prominent position. The word fuck and the n-word were both censored, using asterisks. Evidently not the kind of lengths you’d go to if you were just a sexist Neo-Nazi trying to make people feel bad, right?

To some, it wasn’t that evident. According to @catcallsofaugsburg’s Instagram captions, a climate activist camping nearby had to inform the police about the purpose of the writing and the movement behind it. Still, they proceeded to call several colleagues and, since said activist refused to remove the writing (not sure why that should have been his job in the first place), the firefighters. So far, so exaggerated. Since this kind of media attention can be very uncomfortable even to an anonymous victim and create further trauma, @catcallsaugsburg got back to the person that had experienced the catcall and made sure they still wanted it published. Two days later, the actual photo was uploaded. As of now, both posts have been liked several thousand times. Seems fair to say a lot of people don’t agree with the procedure, including, for instance, the slightly more popular @catcallsofnyc. So where’s the problem?

Mistakes were made…

Now, there seem to be several dimensions to this event, and it’s probably safe to say that more than a few people were implicated in one way or another. First off, there’s the passers-by. Let’s take a walk in their shoes, shall we? You’re walking past some writing on the ground, now you’re stopping to read it, oh look! Profanity, sexist language, a racial slur… Irritating for sure, we’ll give you that. But you’d probably read the whole thing, wouldn’t you? At least if you’re going to call the police over it, right? Do that, and you’ll find out: there’s a trigger warning. Words have been censored. An anti-racist hashtag has been added. An Instagram blog has been tagged. There’s zero immediate danger to you, so why not get out your phone for a bare minimum of research first, if you’re still not getting it? Same goes for the involved police officers, who had been informed about the purpose of the whole thing. It’s very clearly feminist activism; that should be easy enough to understand.

Of course, that’s the nice way of reading it, assuming there was zero bad will, only lack of information and poor judgment. But there’s another, more uncomfortable reasoning: maybe some passers-by simply couldn’t stand being confronted with the discrimination that women and POC face daily and felt they couldn’t just ignore the whole thing and move on. Maybe they didn’t like the idea of victims speaking up. Maybe cracks were starting to form in their bubble, but they wouldn’t allow it to burst. Why get informed about discrimination and, crazy suggestion, learn something from it, when you could just shoot the messenger instead? Better call the police and have them remove all traces of the traumatic event you‘ve just had to endure, right? Luckily, they’re ready to help.

… followed by more mistakes…

And then, of course, what’s up with three police cars and a fire truck? If you’re just going to remove chalk – crazy suggestion: use a bucket of water, not a fire truck. Literal kids use these things on asphalt or concrete, and they’re gone with the first drop of rain. So are we talking about a waste of taxpayers’ money? Yeah, but there’s also the attention a fire truck in front of the town hall’s going to create – meaning there’s the danger of attracting additional bystanders, apart from the overly large number of officers and firefighters already involved in the whole affair. All of these people will end up spending an unnecessarily long time huddled together in a mask-only zone, while a pandemic’s going on. All of that, just to show some presence? Totally worth it. A victim goes through all the original trauma of an unwanted encounter, risks bringing it all up again by contacting anti-catcalling activists, tries to make a statement by sharing their story… and then, that statement’s literally going down the gutter, because some bystander who’s probably never had to endure any of this themselves is feeling uneasy. By removing the chalk, the perpetrators are not only protected; the victims are also actively deprived of their voices! What a slap in the face.

…. and they couldn’t leave it at that, either.

And here come slaps no. 2 & 3: a reply by the police and an official statement by Augsburg’s mayor Eva Weber that are visible on @catcallsofaugsburg. Now, it was to be expected a police statement would be supportive of the police, and it’s a fairly polite and informative message overall – which is precisely why the final paragraph sticks out like a sore thumb: “the incident quoted in the writing – should it actually have taken place as described – constitutes a criminal offense that we […] would like to follow up on.” What’s with the relativization? Is that some sort of police language, some (clumsy) way of avoiding a premature assignment of guilt to a suspect who’s not yet been proven guilty? As in calling someone a suspect instead culprit to make sure everybody gets a fair trial? But there’s no suspect anyway, and there’s nothing premature in saying a “quoted incident” constitutes a crime. Calling it a quoted incident already implies you’re working with what you’ve heard, really. Why be so upfront in saying there’s (major) doubts about the truthfulness of a report that was never even filed? Could that be a cover-up for the fact that hardly any catcaller is ever punished or even identified? And by the way, maybe victims would feel safer reporting offenses if you weren’t eliminating their public statements.

It’s also a crying shame that Eva Weber didn’t have in her to dissociate herself decisively and vigorously from the police’s behavior in her official statement. Instead, she only fed the press with a half-baked statement that’ll, ultimately, change nothing. She also didn’t drop a single remark about the racial slur being used, only referring to respect for women in very general terms. Unfortunately, this further proves how too many politicians and government institutions are losing their grip on our reality and the current, modern problems of our communities.

Did we mention mistakes?

What a double standard: We can protect our concrete from chalk but can’t protect victims from catcalling. We pay attention to the sensibilities of bystanders but not to victims when they speak out. What’s up with that? If we want to address this mismatch, we need social movements like catcallsofxyz! We need people to start taking the stories seriously as well as paying attention and listening to them. It goes without saying that the solution of this problem is not reinforcing public police presence or implementing short-sighted laws. The source of the problem is deeply rooted in society: the patriarchy – you knew it had to come up somewhere. We must disintegrate harmful structural and constitutional thinking patterns by developing media and public education initiatives to change attitudes and behaviors. We need to publicly demonstrate intolerance for sexual harassment of all kinds. And we shouldn’t have to waste time justifying our anger and our activism!

A huge thanks to the activists behind @catcallsofaugsburg. You really are the cats that won’t cop down. Keep up the amazing work (that we all wish you didn’t have to do)!

Authors: Niklas Schmidt & Mariana Silva Lindner

The cultural identity of someone who switches between 4 languages every day

Many people assume that being multilingual has only bright sides, especially if someone speaks one of the languages they’ve been trying to learn for ages. And in that specific context, they might be right: the one speaking a language “naturally”, without searching for words or asking themselves if the structure is correct, might at that moment feel good about speaking that language. But that’s not the whole story.

Languages convey cultures

Conventional wisdom has it that language is related to culture, particularly if you learn it at an early age. If your parents talk to you in a different language from the one spoken in the region/country you live in, they unconsciously convey a certain sense of otherness; this aspect normally extends to other aspects of life and influences the way they are perceived.

Some might enjoy talking in a different way and having another code while others might just want not to be different, depending on their personality and on the social prestige of the language they speak.

Whatever the case, when you speak another language, especially as a means of communication in everyday life, you will adopt another culture as well. It does make a difference whether your mom tells you “du siehst heute müde aus” or “dai non fare il monello che viene la polizia” or “stai ma la un loc” or “is somebody tired today?”.  They all convey culturally different meanings, even if they are semantically similar.

“Are you more X or Y?”

Sometimes, people will ask you  which culture you really belong to, and no matter how unimportant or obvious  the answer might be to you, you are still going to wonder why you have been asked that question. For many people the answer might be obvious: a “mixed culture”; others may not be aware of having one, or be proud of having a mixed one, but it’s still going to be a special cultural identity.

Me

I don’t feel like I have a mother tongue anymore: each one of my languages has “missing parts” or “non-native speaker fields of vocabulary”. I have no answer to the question “Are you more German/Italian/Romanian?”. I was relieved when I managed to speak German well enough to not be asked where I was from anymore. My children are learning German as their first language and the other languages I speak as a sort of foreign language.  I don’t know if that was the right choice. I do know, however, that this was the best way for me to simplify the cultural issue.

Conclusion: where will your children be “at home”?

There are, of course, many cognitive advantages in learning different languages at an early age, and everybody should be aware of that. However, there are disadvantages to being multilingual as well:   sometimes it means having to decide where you want to belong – and where you want your children to  feel at home.

Author: Ana Maria Silberhorn

Language and Gender

How society changes language

Language plays an important role in our lives. It’s not just about communicating and interacting, but also about sending indirect messages through our chosen words. This can have challenging consequences in society regarding individual attitudes and lifestyles. In recent years there have been linguistic changes intended to make our language more inclusive. But why now?

The classic role allocation

Up to the 20th century there was a clear gender distinction in life. It was common that men provide for their families, go to work and manage the finances. Meanwhile the women stay at home to take care of the home and children. Back then, people didn’t think about changing common gendered expressions in the language they used. The words used just reflected the structure of society at the time. Terms like ‘manpower’ were clearly adequate to describe the workforce in that times, which consisted of male workers. But should we still stick to those expressions nowadays?

Language develops with culture

In modern society we’re more aware of these antiquated prejudices in general. Over the last century, awareness for equal rights of women and minorities has risen. Since our way of expression and communication reflects our mindsets and attitudes, it changes as our habits do. Why should we hold on to terms that exclude minorities, when we aim to include them in our society and fight for their equal rights? It wouldn’t make any sense to hold on to them because we don’t want to harm anybody’s feelings by using exclusive language. If we care about other people, we also have to choose our words wisely.

Cis men are still privileged

Regardless, there are still many situations where cis men are regarded as superior. The question is: does language change our society or does society change our language? We could say they influence each other. If people are not willing to adapt their attitudes towards modern movements, their language won’t either. But if we don’t become aware of the effect our way of speaking has on our habits, we won’t rethink how we’re living.

Make a change

We can see in political debates, that there are still problems and challenges in our efforts to be more inclusive. Raising awareness towards minorities and all the terms that could negatively affect others, seems very demanding and often difficult to realize. However, isn’t it better to try our hardest rather than to simply give up? Obviously, change doesn’t happen overnight, but if we keep trying we can improve our world one word at a time – for all of us.

Author: Leonie Kohl Xiques

Un’intervista con Tommaso Meozzi

To all the italians, italian students and those who are curious about this language: we’ve got a treat for you!

Do you remember eMag #34 with its main topic “language and identity”? If not, go ahead and check out the article “Le parole sono bombe”. This is the videointerview correlating to it.