Is America Really Full of Fatties?

The Famed Golden Arches

Photo by Vacacion

In the past two weeks, I’ve done an America-centric lesson in about eight classes. Each time, I opened the lesson with a mind map on the board; I wrote ‘USA’ in huge letters, and asked my students what came to mind.

“Fat people!” was the first shout-out every. single. time.

And McDonald’s was the second.

Even today, when I did a lesson about Great Britain, two different classes thought of “fat people.” By the end of today, I was sick of hearing the word “fat” on my students’ tongues.

Alright, cool. Americans (and Brits, apparently) are fat. The thing is, I could look out into the class and see the same shapes and sizes that I would in any, random, American class… I do have to admit, however, that Austria does have more fit youngsters, even if they do smoke and drink more often and freely than their American counterparts.

These experiences got me thinking… Does America really have that many more fat people than the rest of the world? Sure, we constantly hear about the rising rate of obesity and incidence of Type II diabetes in America, but for my English as a Second Language students to blurt this out as the first thing they think about the USA? Come on. What about Obama? Freedom? New York City? The War on Terror? Angelina Jolie? … No? Alright.

So, naturally, I turned to Google.

First of all: obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30. BMI is calculated by dividing one’s weight by the square of one’s height.

After a bit of tricky Googling, I came across this article, Obesity: in Statistics, from BBC. The tagline blares: “People are getting fatter almost everywhere in the world.” …not just in the United States. The article goes on to call obesity a modern problem, naming fast food to sedentary jobs as the sneaky culprits. After numerous, fancy charts, I found what I was looking for: a list of the top countries with adult obesity problems. And guess what? The United States is not #1, but rather, #5 with 32.2%. Nauru claims the top spot with a 78.5% adult obesity rate and the United Kingdom rounds out the top 10 with 24.2%.

But, that wasn’t all that I found. This Daily Telegraph article betrays Australian women as having the fastest growing obesity rate, warning that they are “close to matching America’s obesity level.”

Additionally, the LA Times reports that Mexico, once a hungry country, is now battling an ever-increasing childhood obesity rate “behind only the United States for highest in the world.”

Apparently, obesity is not just America’s problem — fat people exist everywhere, even in exotic, beachy locales. From these three articles, it seems that while the United States does not have the highest obesity rates in the world, it is a useful scale of measurement for the rest of the world’s obesity. Furthermore, I can’t blame my students for thinking that all Americans are fat. Afterall, 3 in 10 Americans are, in fact, obese. Meanwhile, Wikipedia claims that Austria had an obesity rate of only 11% in 2000.

Thanks again, Google, for answering my pressing questions.

What do you think? — Are all Americans fat? What’s your view of America + obesity? Do the stats surprise you?

Until next time…

Untranslatable Concepts: The Wonder of Studying Languages

This week, one of my teachers asked me to do a lesson on “English as an international language.” As a traveler, I know English is important, but I also know that other languages are, too. So, with this lesson I didn’t want to say “YEAH! English is awesome, etc.” and I chose a different approach.

A while back, I had read a great article, “Should English Be The World’s International Language”, on Brave New Traveler. In this article, the author argues that the world definitely doesn’t need one international language, instead we need greater cultural exchange. I decided to take a break from Wikipedia and random news articles and give my kids an interesting blog post to read. As German speakers, I knew the kids wouldn’t want to hear how important English is, so this was a good alternative.

The thing that struck me most, and which easily connected in with the lesson, was this following excerpt:

“Our entire concept of everyday reality is shaped around language. If you speak multiple languages, you start to see things in many more shades because some concepts just cannot be translated, directly or indirectly.”

Truthfully, I hadn’t thought to include this aspect in the lesson until halfway through, when we actually came to this quote in the article. And a thought struck me instantly: What concepts cannot be translated from German and vice versa? I posed the question to the class.

The German words Kindergarten, Doppelgänger, and Schadenfreude came quickly to my mind, and I shared this with the class. (These are also some of my favorite German words, perhaps for this reason.)

On LEO (the German-English online dictionary I always use) these words translate as…

der Kindergarten: Kindergarten – chiefly for children between four and six years old.
der Doppelgänger: look-alike
die Schadenfreude: gloating, mischievousness, spiteful joy

But each word means so much more, and cannot be easily translated into a single word in English. These three examples are so not easily translated into English that the German word is actually used.

For example, kindergarten. We all know kindergarten, that school we spent a year or two in before we passed on to elementary school, learning the alphabet, numbers, how to read. We don’t call it pre-school (that’s something different), nursery school (also entirely different), or school-for-four-to-six-year-olds, we call it kindergarten in English.

Doppelgänger is a less oft used word in English, but it is used. A few weeks ago, there was something called “doppelgänger week” on Facebook where many of my Facebook friends changed their profile picture to a famous celebrity he/she had been told he/she resembled. It wasn’t look-alike week, it was doppelgänger week. A doppelgänger is more than a look-alike; a doppelgänger is someone who looks exactly like you and usually goes around causing mischief and ruining your life. Not quite a look-alike, is it?

Schadenfreude is a word that can absolutely not be translated into one word, or even a few words in English; what LEO gave me doesn’t seem right at all. When I was home over Christmas break, I read an article in the December issue of Marie Claire. This article defined schadenfreude as:

“Taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others — esp. boastful friends, unscrupulous colleagues, billionaire bankers, and celebrities who are famous for no good reason.”

Little bit more than simply “gloating” or “spiteful joy”, eh? Needless to say, I was surprised to see this article in Marie Claire, especially as I had just learned this word in German! (Read the rest of the article here.) When my German teacher had explained this “very German” (as she said) concept for us, I recognized this feeling. One of my classmates laughed, and said she knew a song from a musical which poked fun at this feeling. Next week she played it for us. Check it out below, make sure to listen along closely — the lyrics are hilarious.

When I told my students that we use these words in English, they were surprised (especially about Schadenfreude and Doppelgänger). I posed the following questions to them — do you know any German words we use in English? Are there any English words you use in German? Some of the winners were:

German in English — Sauerkraut, Blitzkrieg
English in German — babysitter, “chillen” (the verb meaning to chill)

For me, this is one of the exciting things about studying a foreign language; what is shared, what is different, what can’t be explained or translated.

What do you think? Do you enjoy studying another language? What are your favorite word(s) in another language?


Life, oh Life!

Today has been an interesting day. After having a great class in the morning and OK class in the middle of the day, I was oh-so-happy to end my day with the WORST CLASS I HAVE EVER HAD. I’ve had these kids nearly every week since I started, but they’ve never really warmed up to me.

For the past 3 weeks, I’ve had the whole class together (it usually splits in two) two times a week. So, today, while the kids refused do what I specifically asked them to and they talked back to me, the teacher sat there and did nothing. Absolutely nothing. In fact, she seems to think it’s funny when the kids don’t pay attention and talk among themselves. It was wonderful.

On my walk home, I decided, once and for all, that I never want to be a teacher. Sure, I love teaching the classes full of kids excited to learn, who ask questions and listen when I talk (like the class I started my day with), but the bad classes, full of little shits, just ruin everything. Today has even led me to question whether I want to stay in this position next year, (that is, if I’m offered a job). Anyway, I’m going to have to give these kids a verbal beat-down auf Deutsch when I have them next week — nothing else has worked.

Further, to make this day better, I received an email from a hotel that I thought would hire me (Frankie had referred me, and is working there this summer). Turns out, they have nothing to offer me. So, it’s looking more and more likely I’ll be home in Michigan this summer, which, thankfully, is also seeming less and less horrible.

I’ll admit: I miss Michigan. I miss my family and friends and dogs. I miss having money in my bank at the end of each pay cycle. I want to have a place/home that I will live in for  more than 8 months and I want to start a “real life.” But I know most of these sentiments will change once a plan of action is in place — so functions my tiny, flighty, fickle brain.

Blah. Just blah. It’s one of those days where I question everything going on in my life. Maybe one of these days, everything will make sense and there will be a big lightbulb and angels singing. Until then, you’ll get to read about all of my messes here. 🙂