Tuesday, August 30, 2011

German Class To Start Next Week!

You'd love to be able to communicate with all these people, right?

We've finally found a day and time for our German class! It will be at the Discovery Language Academy in Palmares (that's right across from the Canela clothes store, I'm told). The class will be Fridays from 6-9 PM and the first class will be September 9th. To register for the class or for more details, call Kenia at 2453-4541 on weekdays from 2-8, or Saturday morning from 8-11. I'm excited to start this class, so I hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Different Countries, Different Names: The U.S.A.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Well, it took me longer than I imagined, but here's the second half of our series about naming customs. We recently looked at naming customs in Costa Rica, so today we'll look at names in the United States.

Generally speaking, the naming customs in the U.S. are sometimes similar to the practices found in Canada and some western European countries, such as the U.K. or Germany. Still, there are variations, especially from generation to generation. Because of that, you should only read this as a subjective explanation of names in the U.S., since it's based on my own personal observations of people that I have known and met while living there.

Names in the U.S.A.

In the U.S., most people have three names. We'll talk later about where those names come from. Unlike in Costa Rica or many other countries, there is no national ID card like a cédula. Most people do carry some form of photo identification, like a driver's license or a student ID card, but carrying an ID is generally not required by law (unless, for example, you're driving a car, in which case you'd need a license). Now let's look at an example of two typical names in the U.S., one female and one male:

Sarah Marie Johnson
Matthew William Smith

As you can see, each person has three names. They're called the first name, the middle name, and the last name. 

First Name: The parents choose the first and middle names of a baby; when they do this, the verb we'd use is "to name." For example, I can say "My parents named me Ryan." If the parents give the child the same name as a relative or any specific person, you can say that the baby is named after that person. For example, "John was named after his grandfather." or "Tina was named after the singer Tina Turner." My parents named me, but they didn't name me after anyone--they just liked the way "Ryan" sounds!

Middle Name: There are some people (but not many) who have two middle names, and there are also people who don't have a middle name at all. Still, it's most common to see people with one middle name. However, in contrast to some countries (like Costa Rica) most people in the U.S. rarely use their middle names in normal interactions. I almost never use my middle name, and I don't know most of my friends' middle names. Most people see a middle name more as a "decoration," but not a very useful one! There is a notable exception, and that's when the middle name is abbreviated with an initial, as in "John F. Kennedy," "Michael J. Fox," or "Homer J. Simpson." Perhaps some people write their names that way because they think it makes them seem more sophisticated. Or, maybe they just like the way it sounds. In any case, it's still not as common as not using a middle name.

Last Name: This is where you can see the biggest difference between names in Costa Rica and names in the U.S. As we mentioned before, in Costa Rica a person normally has two last names; the first one is from the father and the second one is from the mother. In the majority of families in the U.S., everyone has the same last name. My last name is obviously "Sitzman," and that's also my brother and sister's last name, my dad's last name, and my mom's last name. How is that possible? Well, the majority of women in the U.S. change their last name when they get married. It's not obligatory, but it's still common for a woman to take her husband's last name after marriage. If a woman does this, the children would also automatically inherit the family's last name. Let's examine this a little more:

Names After Marriage

Men: Generally, when a man gets married, he doesn't do anything to any of his names. It's theoretically possible for a man to change his last name to his wife's last name, particularly if her name is prestigious or his is "bad" (if he were named "Peter Hitler," for example). In practice, this is very uncommon.

Women: When a woman gets married, she has to decide if she's going to keep the last name she got from her parents (this last name is also called a maiden name) or if she will adopt her new husband's last name. If she does the first option her name will remain the same with no changes. If she decides to adopt her husband's last name, she can either eliminate her maiden name, or she can eliminate her original middle name and replace it with her maiden name. Using our names from above, if Sarah Marie Johnson married Matthew Smith, Sarah could become either "Sarah Marie Smith" or "Sarah Johnson Smith." From what I've noticed, the second option is more common.
A third possibility is for the woman to "hyphenate" her last name. If she "hyphenates," then she uses her maiden name and her husband's last name, connected with a hyphen. Using our examples above, if Sarah married Matthew and wanted to hyphenate her name, she'd be "Sarah Marie Johnson-Smith."

Children: As mentioned above, it's most common for the children in a family to have the same last name as their mother and father, that is, the father's last name. Using our example of Sarah and Matthew, if they had a kid, they might decide to name her "Emily Rose Smith."
Another, less common possibility is to incorporate the both the parents' last names with a hyphen. If they do this, the child's last name would start with the mother's last name first and the father's last name second (in other words, the opposite order from Costa Rican last names). So the girl's name would be "Emily Rose Johnson-Smith." This is maybe less common because it's more complicated to decide what happens to a hyphenated last name if its owner gets married. (See this article for an interesting perspective on all this.)

Ways to Address People

It's sometimes a little difficult to know how to address someone if you're talking to them for the first time. If you're asking for someone on the phone, it's usually no problem if you want to use the person's first and last name, as in "Could I speak with Emily Smith, please?" If you know a person's title (such as Doctor or Professor), you should usually include those. If you're talking to someone face to face, it's often best to use a title and his or her last name as a show of respect. You could say "Hello Mr. Miller" or "Good morning Professor Johnson." Very often, people find this a bit formal, so the person you're talking will say something like "Please, call me Jane." If the person doesn't say that, it's still best to be cautious and use a title.

Titles for Men: Titles for men are usually not as complicated as titles for women. For most men, if you say Mister and his last name, as in "Mr. Smith," you'll be OK (or he'll ask you to simply call him by his first name). There are a few exceptions. If you know that the man is a doctor, you can and should address him as "Doctor Smith," and if he's a professor (meaning a teacher at the university with a doctorate degree), then you should call him "Professor Smith."

Titles for Women: There are three main titles specifically for women: Miss, Mrs. (pronounced "missus"), and Ms. (pronounced "miz"). Here are some guidelines:
Miss: Used for unmarried and/or young women, and generally followed by the maiden name
Mrs.: Used for married women, and generally followed by the husband's last name
Ms.: Used for married or unmarried women. If you don't know if a woman is married or not, this is a safe choice. Also, some women choose to use this as their title since it's really nobody's business but their own if they're married or not, and the title "Ms." allows them to keep that information private.
As with men, if you know that the woman is a doctor or professor, use the appropriate corresponding title instead of Miss, Mrs., or Ms.

For men and women, there's really no corresponding title to "Don" or "Doña" in Spanish, since those are used with a person's first name. For example, no one would call me "Mr. Ryan," since Ryan is my first name.

One major difference that I've noticed as a teacher is how my students address me. When I taught classes at the university in the U.S., my students generally called me simply "Ryan" because I asked them to (I was only 24 or 25 at the time and "Mr. Sitzman" sounded strange to me). When I was teaching German a few students called me "Herr Sitzman" semi-ironically, but that's a different story. None of them called me "Professor Sitzman," though, since I'm not a professor (I only have a Master's degree in German). In Costa Rica, though, my students all call me either "Teacher Ryan" or simply "Teacher." It's pretty weird and annoying. I've eventually gotten used to it, but I still call my students "Student" until they address me as "Ryan." I don't even want to try "Mr. Sitzman" since my last name seems to give most people here nightmares!

So, I think that's it for now! Thanks for your patience if you made it to the end of this article! When researching for these two articles I came across some interesting statistics related to names, so I'll try to write a shorter post about that in the near future.

If you have any comments or questions, or if you're from the U.S. and your name doesn't follow these patterns, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Note For English Teachers

I know that most of Sitzman ABC is for my students, but there are a few teachers who read this, too. So, here's an announcement for 2012's National Conference for Teachers of English:

(Click on image for higher resolution)

It's sponsored/hosted every year by the organization that I work for, and it's a good chance for English teachers to come together and learn from each other.

Obviously this is mainly for English teachers in Costa Rica, but if you live in another country and teach English, you're welcome to sign up and come to Costa Rica for the conference, then stay for a wonderful beach vacation--January and February are usually the best months to visit here!

Thanks for reading. In a day or two I'm still planning on posting the second half of our naming customs series, so stay tuned! Have a nice day!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Different Countries, Different Names: Costa Rica

The Jiménez Coat of Arms. Jiménez is one of the most common last names
in Costa Rica, and it's one of my wife's two last names. Image: Wikimedia

I've been wanting to write a post about naming customs in different countries, since it's a common conversation topic with my students and also with my friends and family back in the U.S. I know that this sometimes depends on the individual person and/or family, but from what I've noticed, names in Costa Rica and in the U.S. follow patterns, but they're different in a few important ways. Today we'll look at Costa Rican naming patterns, and in a few days we'll look at patterns in the U.S. If you have any observations, comments, or corrections, or if you're Costa Rican and your name follows a different pattern, I'd love to hear from you!

Names In Costa Rica

Almost everyone in the country has four names. There is a national ID card called a cédula for people over 18 years old, and the cédula generally has a person's four names. In normal social interactions, though, people often introduce themselves with only one or two names, or even a nickname. Let's look at an example of a typical female name in Costa Rica:

María Andrea Rodríguez Campos

(By the way, I just invented that name, but I would bet money that there's at least one woman in Costa Rica with that exact name!) So, in our example, María Andrea is this woman's name/s (nombre/s in Spanish). Since María is one of the most common first names in Costa Rica, it's often not mentioned, and sometimes it's abbreviated "Ma." as in "Ma. Fernanda." There aren't many "rules" for the two names, and parents usually choose to name a child after a relative, or they just choose a name that they think sounds good (even if it often doesn't!). Occasionally parents even give their children a third name, often related to religion. Common examples are (name 1) + (name 2) + de Jesús / de la Trinidad / de los Ángeles / del Carmen / etc. Oh, and a quick note: "María José" is a girl's name, and "José María" is a boy's name. That always caused me problems at first! 

In this example, Rodríguez Campos is the woman's last name/s (called "apellidos" in Spanish). This is where it gets confusing if you're not used to these naming customs. The first last name, "Rodríguez" in this case, is from the father. The second last name, "Campos," is from the mother. If María Andrea gets married later in her life, she will almost certainly not change her last names. Occasionally, especially in the past, a woman might add her husband's last name at the end after "de"; For example, if María Andrea married John Schneider, she could call herself "María Andrea Rodríguez Campos de Schneider," but this custom is pretty rare these days, at least in Costa Rica. You may have noticed, however, that the Argentinean President, Christina Fernández de Kirchner, followed this practice, so it may be more common in other countries or in certain situations.

A note: there are some very common last names in Costa Rica, such as Rodríguez, González, Jiménez, Araya, or Hernández; these are the "Smiths" and "Johnsons" of Central America, apparently! In some cases, a person's mother and father may have the same first last name, even if they're definitely from different families. If that happens, say with two parents with the first last name "Rodríguez," then their kids would simply be named "(name) + (name) + Rodríguez Rodríguez." 

As a result of these naming practices, in a hypothetical nuclear family consisting of a mom, a dad, a daughter, and a son, there would be three different last name combinations. The father would have his two last names, the mother would have her two last names, and the kids would both have the father's first last name followed by the mother's first last name. Does that make sense, or are you as confused as I was when I arrived here?

So how do you address a Costa Rican person? Well, if you're asking for someone on the phone or in person, it's common to ask for him or her using one or both names and the first last name. In our example, you'd ask for "María Andrea Rodríguez" if you didn't know her personally. If you knew her personally and knew that she preferred to be called "Andrea," then you might also ask for "Andrea Rodríguez." If it were an informal situation and you knew her personally --and you knew that she didn't object to the title-- you might possibly ask for "Doña Andrea," but this can also lead to problems. Doña (Don for men) is a title of respect paired with a person's first name, but it often is used only for older and/or married men and women. My wife Angela, for example, hates to be called "Doña Angela." I personally wouldn't mind being called "Don Ryan," since it makes me think of The Godfather's "Don Corleone" or the legendary lover "Don Juan," but the connotations aren't as positive or interesting with Doña. So be careful with that one!

As always, there are probably numerous exceptions to these rules, but from what I've noticed, the broad majority of Costa Ricans' names follow these patterns. Like I mentioned before, no matter where you're from, I'd love to hear any comments you might have about this article.

Thanks for reading, and in a couple of days we'll look at naming customs in the U.S.A. 
Have a great day!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Vocabulary: Holidays and Vacations

August 2nd is a holiday in Costa Rica, so today I thought I'd mention a few good vocabulary words related to holidays.

First of all, today is a holiday, which means that it's a special day for some reason. It's also a holy day; "holy" is similar to "sacred," and it can be used to describe things related to religion. An example of a holy day is Easter (click here or here for more information). Some holidays aren't necessarily holy days, and some holy days aren't necessarily holidays. For example, many countries have bank holidays and national holidays such as Independence Day or Mother's Day, which aren't connected to the church. 

Today's holiday is a Saint's Day connected to the Virgin of Los Angeles. In many Catholic countries, there's basically a saint for every day of the year. The reason today is special in Costa Rica is because the Virgin of Los Angeles is the patron saint of Costa Rica. Many people go to the city of Cartago to visit the basilica (also called a cathedral or even simply a church) to see a statue of the saint. Those people are sometimes called pilgrims, and the event or their journey can be called a pilgrimage.

Sometimes English learners get confused about the differences between holiday and vacation. In American English, the word "holiday" is generally used to indicate a day when there's no school or work. "Vacation" can be used to indicate a trip (when you travel somewhere for business or tourism) or you can also say "vacation" to indicate when there's a longer period of time when schools are closed. For example, in the U.S.A. most schools have a summer vacation or a summer break, as well as a winter vacation/break and a spring break/vacation. As you can see, "break" can also mean "vacation" sometimes.

British English is a little bit different with some of this vocabulary. For example, Americans might go on vacation, but British people might go on holiday. Also, notice that in American English, "vacation" and "holiday" are almost always in the singular form; only say "vacations" if you are talking about more than one vacation.

That's probably enough vocabulary for today but before we go, let's take a look at a dialogue using some of these terms:

(The phone rings--John answers)
John: Hello? This is John.

Ana: Hi John! This is Ana. How are you doing?

John: Ana, hi! I'm great, thanks. How are you?

Ana: I'm fine. Hey, are you doing anything special today?

John: No, why?

Ana: Well, today's a holiday! It's the Saint's Day for the Virgin of Los Angeles!

John: Oh, you're right! I'm not from Costa Rica, so I forgot about that. Are you doing anything special?

Ana: Probably not. My sister and brother are making a pilgrimage to Cartago to visit the church. They're walking 10 hours to get to the basilica, but since I broke my foot on my last vacation, I can't walk that far.

John: You broke your foot?! That's terrible!

Ana: I guess I didn't tell you. Yes, last month we had a break from school, so I went with some friends to the beach. It was a great vacation, but on the last day I tripped and broke my foot while I was leaving the hotel!

John: Haha! I'm sorry to hear about your foot, but that's a little funny!

Ana: Actually, you're right. It was kind of stupid, but also a little funny. At least the rest of the trip was great. Hey, I've got to go now, but do you want to come over later for coffee?

John: Sure, that sounds great! Should I stop by your house at 3?

Ana: Excellent! I'll see you then. Bye!

So, that's all for now. If you have any comments, questions, corrections, or want to share more vocabulary, please leave a comment or contact me. Thanks for reading-- if you're in Costa Rica, have a great holiday, and if you're not, have a great day!