Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Botanical Gardens

German Legal Term of the Day

"Akkreditivwaehrungsdeckungskonto" = foreign currency credit cover account.

I think the printers used a small size font to keep this one on a single line.  Again, there's not really any shorter way to say this in English - not an official term, anyway.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dear Germany . . .

Screens would keep the moths out of my room at night.  The moths are very large and aggressive.  Screens are also very cheap.  You are a wealthy nation capable of building electronic signs that tell me exactly how many available parking spots exist in multiple parking garages at once.  Screens, Germany.  Window screens.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The German Legacy

A little background's in order.  You may have heard the phrases "civil law" and "common law."  The UK, much of the Commonwealth, and the US are common law jurisdictions.  Continental Europe and the rest of the world?  They're civil law systems.  What's the difference?

Without getting into a ton of historical detail, the big difference is that civil law systems don't care about precedent.  In the US and the UK, precedent is huge.  The bulk of American law isn't what a statute says you can or can't do, it's in judicial decisions that build on previous decisions that build on previous decisions that build on previous decisions.  Most of your first year in law school is really spent just trying to learn how to focus on the legal conclusion (the "holding") and ignoring the rest (dicta).  Then you spend a lot more time figuring out when the nonsense isn't nonsense and when the official decision isn't really the official decision.  This is also the perpetual employment system for law professors.

In the rest of the world, the law in the statute book is actually the law.  When a judge hears a case, she doesn't care what Buzzy, J. said the week before or anything else.  What she cares about is the words in the code.  If a code isn't very applicable, it can be amended or tossed out, but the judges (in theory) just apply it regardless.

There are pros and cons to both systems, but at the heart is a very different idea of the law.  The civil code imagines the law as the idealized product of rational analysis before the fact.  Germans, no surprise here, really like this idea.  It's very thorough and exacting.  So when they published their Bunderliches Gesetzbuch (Civil Code) in 1896, it was the most modern legal document in the world.  It became the model for legal reform around the world.  Japan adopted the code almost whole-hog during the Meiji, and this is still the basis for Japanese law today.

Even the US felt and feels the influence of Germany's civil code.  A progressive minded guy in New York campaigned for a civil code in the Empire State and almost suceeded.  His brother, also enamored by the code, took a copy with him when he went west to California.  Where his brother failed, the man who went west suceeded.  California adopted a German-style civil code that remains in place today.  But a California legal scholar was not entirely sold on the civil approach and wrote an influential treatise about how interpret the new law.  Yes, it was a code but judges and lawyers should interpret it in a common-law style.  This guy's name was Hastings, my law school's namesake.

There's one more enormous German influence on US law.  The bulk of modern commercial law, especially the UCC, was stolen from Germany by a Columbia law professor named Llewellyn.

German Legal Term of the Day

Einlagsmeldungschwelle: earnings report threshold - the percentage of total shares in a company requiring reporting to the German securities regulator.

Yes, German legal terms are very long.  For those of you keeping score at home, the English phrase is 23 letters to the German's 22.  In theory, it makes no difference whether twenty-odd letters are slammed together or spaced out but, in reality, that solid block of consonants is like reading bricks.  Your eyes just stop and all you see is letters, not words.

Most of the project I'm working on right now is in English, but many of the notes are written in German, so I keep three books at my elbow - a two volume German-English/English-German financial dictionary and a GE/EG bank law dictionary.  I'm on the hunt for a German word that actually takes up more than one line.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Expat Whiplash

Succesfully navigate local German bureaucracy without a word of English spoken?  Feel on top of the world.  Then you head back to work . . . 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Flying Solo

I definitely prefer travelling with others but flying solo has its benefits.  Your schedule is yours to make, if you dislike a place there's no chance you'll need to stick around, and there is never any debate about seeing anything.  Those are the good parts.  The bad part is that you are alone, forced to initiate every conversation you want to have with anyone other than a waiter or store clerk.

This never bothered me much when I was younger.  And it hasn't bothered me too much this time around except for last night, at about 10:45 when I walked into a bar in Sachsenhausen for soul night, found it empty, and sat by myself in the corner for twenty minutes while I finished my beer.

Normally, I would have gone over and talked to the DJ, but I was already in a state.  Sachsenhausen is a big neighborhood on the south side of Frankfurt's river.  Along its main drag, the Schweizerstrasse, are big Apfelwein halls.  Apfelwein is a type of hard apple cider.  People drink it in groups, getting very loud and singing.  Looks like a great time.  Since the bar hosting the soul night was in the neighborhood, it seemed like a perfect time to try some apfelwein.

I realize that I could have worked my way into some group of Germans singing soccer songs - which I don't know and couldn't understand through their slurring - but it was the type of night when I didn't want to be with strangers.  I missed my wife.

So I went from apfelwein hall to apfelwein hall, looking for some open-looking group of people.  None to be found.  I decided to skip it and head to the bar for soul night.

Turns out that the bar was right next to part of Sachsenhausen called the Apfelwein Viertel (Applewine Quarter).  This is noted on my map by an odd-shaped orange area but the name is so small I didn't see it till I was on my way home.  The Viertel is a pedestrian zone, about five or six small blocks packed with people drinking and singing and busting the myth of uptight Germans.

Sometimes you're up for the introductory conversations - "where are you from?"; "yes, we can speak German," etc. - and sometimes you're not.  I was not in the mood for it last night.

That's when I reached the bar.  I'd expected a bar full of young people dancing but found a room with quiet speakers and one other guy who left two minutes after I got there.  I felt sorry for the DJ - you'd have no idea there was any kind of music in that bar if you didn't walk in and look around.  But after wandering around among happy, soccer song-singing Germans for an hour, I couldn't deal with it anymore.

Work starts tomorrow.  Finally.