English Corner – The Building Blocks of Reading Materials

“When you are first starting out in reading the English language, it’s important to incorporate reading materials into your weekly habits.”

When you are first starting out in reading the English language, it’s important to incorporate reading materials into your weekly habits. It is a necessary complement to your learning and will help flex that muscle needed to retain both the grammar and the vocabulary that can drive your overall proficiency forward. It is not so much which reading material you choose but the fact that it should be appropriate for your reading level as a whole.

For example, it would not make sense to try something very difficult because you think you will advance that much quicker. Often times, if you go beyond your reading level in English, it will often cause an unnecessary step back and you will waste precious time in trying to understand a level of vocabulary and grammar that you are not yet ready for. It is often better to be err on the side of caution in terms of selecting multiple reading materials that you find yourself comfortable with and will challenge you yet you know for sure what the material is about and you can interpret the meaning and explain it to a teacher or a colleague.

If you are a beginner in the English language, I would start off your reading adventure with short poems and short stories, not more than a couple hundred words. Even if you are an adult as well, children’s books are a great way to get more familiar with the language level that you are currently at with basic vocabulary, phrases, and grammar principles. You may also want to read fliers and short email examples as well to become aware of the structure of those forms of writing.

I would also recommend short letters written about different subjects such as sports, weather, the daily habits someone has, and about going shopping or out to eat. It is key to read these short pieces of writing twice or three times to really understand the full meaning of what is being written. You may also want to read the story, the poem, or the letter out loud to work on your own pronunciation too to feel more comfortable absorbing the vocabulary that you are learning. A beginner should not be reading anything more than a few pages in length and at a very low vocabulary level. Preferably, a children’s book, a short email, or a quick poem are best for beginners in this sense.

For the intermediate learner, it is important to challenge yourself more and depending upon one’s age level, there are different options to consider. I encourage students who are younger to choose comic books, short stories, and even short mystery novels as well. Older students may enjoy reading magazines about sports, news, and even fashion depending upon their interests. I also encourage becoming more familiar with reading current events and news articles and being able to explain them to the teacher or to a friend.

Adding on to the difficulty means reading longer reading passages as well as longer letters or poems as well at any age group. You want to make sure that the reading level is higher so instead of at a 1st or a 3rd grade level, you should try to read materials that are at a 5th or an 6th grade level and perhaps up to an 8th grade level. Perhaps most importantly, at the Intermediate level, you should be able to hold a conversation about the topic you just read and to explain the main ideas and supporting ideas of the piece you read. Lastly, with your vocabulary, I would encourage being able to explain too your point of view for an article, what you thought about it.

The advanced learner should be at the point where they can read full books, magazines, and longer-form pieces of writing of at least a few thousand words or more. They should be able to understand and interpret vocabulary at the high school level. Depending upon which English-speaking culture they would like to learn more about, they should do their best to become familiar with writers of different backgrounds and be able to read successfully in a few genres, both fiction and non-fiction.

Reading and interpreting different kinds of texts that deal with different subjects and modern-day issues is also a key part of advancing in the English language. You should be a flexible enough reader at this point to be able to handle different types of reading that is longer than the other levels. From a 500-word poem to a 2500-word article to a 100-page book, being able to handle these types of reading at a high level will set you apart from the beginner or intermediate levels that you used to be at.

Another key to this advanced reading level is one’s ability to speak and write about what you just read with accuracy and by utilizing some advanced vocabulary and phrases learned from these reading exercises. If the professor or teacher were to assign you a persuasive, narrative, or argumentative essay for you to write about your reading assignment, you should feel comfortable by this point in doing so across a number of genres.

‘Building blocks’ take time to assemble and the same goes for building up your reading prowess. Again, it is necessary to start slow with short forms of writing from poetry to a short story to a quick email and then work your way up to a long article or a magazine and then on to the full novel or book that may take a month or two to finish. Getting better at reading in English is a key skill to have and is necessary to boost your proficiency and to do so in a comprehensive manner. It is not only true that your reading skills will get better the more consistent and driven you are with each page but your speaking skills should also improve and your writing abilities will be complemented if you can analyze, interpret, and describe what you have just written in your own words.

Patience is a virtue and reading are the biggest part of that quality when it comes to developing your English language skills. You may show quicker gains with speaking or writing but the long-term success of your English proficiency will be determined about how well you read, how you understand the reading, and what you can tell others about what you have read.

English Corner – Proper Email Etiquette

“In order to write good emails for your professional pursuits or for your career, you need to be able to understand the proper etiquette that comes with this kind of writing.”

Writing cohesive yet concise emails is a key professional trait to be successful at as part of your overall English writing skills. In order to write good emails for your professional pursuits or for your career, you need to be able to understand the proper etiquette that comes with this kind of writing. If you are able to master the etiquette of emails, you will be able to do a good job in working well with others, being cooperative, and being considered a team player.

Without proper etiquette, you are likely to not be taken seriously at your work and you may not be able to have others take the rest of your email as seriously as it should be. Once you have the etiquette down, the content of your email is likely to be read and taken into consideration for whichever subject you are addressing.

The Introduction: Email etiquette starts with the introduction of any email message so if you do not get it right from the beginning, the rest of the email will suffer. I believe it is important to remember that how you introduce your email depends on if you know the person or not. If you do not know the person, you should begin your email with the following: ‘To whom it may concern,’ ‘Dear Sir’ (for a man but without a known name), Dear Madam (for a woman without a name known). These three ways are both formal and proper in terms of addressing someone at work or for business if you do not know who they are.

However, if you do know the person, it is best to address the email as ‘Dear Mr. __________ / Dear Ms. __________’, their last name should always come after Mr. or Mrs. To indicate the formality of the email and the unknown status of the woman’s marital background, it is best to use Ms. or Miss for the woman’s last name rather than assuming that she is married right away.

Lastly, I would refrain of saying ‘hello’, ‘hello there’, ‘hi’ to start off the email if you do not know who it is you are emailing. It is best to instead go with good morning / good afternoon or even good evening depending upon the time of the day that you are emailing for your work. I would say that once you have exchanged an email or two, you can be more informal by starting off your email with Hello ________, Hi __________, or just ‘Dear _________’ as you had for the first email.

Continuing on with the introduction, the first paragraph should begin with Hello and then a few following options below depending upon your preference.

Hello, I hope that this email finds you well, I hope that you are doing well, I hope that you are having a good week, etc.

You can also say the purpose of your email in that first paragraph by stating your clear purpose up front by something like:

            I am emailing you today because _______________.

            The purpose of my email is to __________________.

            I am messaging you today in the hopes that _______.

            This email is to inform you that _________________.

These are all great ways to start off a formal email and to inform your reader quickly what you are messaging them about, and it should be done in the first sentence after your salutation at the beginning. I would keep the overall introduction just two or three sentences and state the main idea of your email quickly and succinctly. You want to make it easy for the professional person or the worker to know what it is you are messaging them about and how does it involve them, all in the introduction paragraph.

The Body Paragraph(s): There is not too much to keep in mind when it comes to formality in body paragraphs but make sure you use formal words like ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘if you could’, ‘it would be great if…’, ‘we would be appreciative of…’, etc. The main thing to keep in mind is that you are using sir or ma’am throughout the paragraph(s) and to add in a Mr. ______, Mrs. _________ every now and then. If you need to ask something or request a few items of need, always use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ for any major thing that you are asking for business purposes.

In order to make the email a two-way exchange, relay what you are planning to do in response to make sure that the business relationship or the exchange of information goes smoothly. Beyond the purpose of the email outlined in the introduction, you should add the supplementary details beyond the ‘ask’ or the ‘request’ in the body paragraph(s). Towards the end of the body, make sure you list a timetable for when you might need a reply back and who else you may have CC’d or added on to the email who is pertinent to the message.

While not the main focus of email etiquette, you should be using formal vocabulary throughout this part of the email and don’t forget to use ‘could’, ‘would’, ‘when’, instead of insisting with ‘you need’, ‘you will’, which is not polite at all. Any request in the email should be made with the possibility that the person may say ‘no’ to you and you should be ready to hear that kind of answer but it can help your chances of success when you are polite not just in the introduction but throughout the heart of the email as well.

The Conclusion: The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to email etiquette in this part is to thank them above all else for their time and their attention to your message. Whatever the ask was in the body paragraph, you should thank them formally for their consideration and that you hope to hear from them soon.

You also want to say that you hope to stay in touch and to leave your contact information with them including your work phone, your best email address, and what time(s) of the day are best to be reached. It does not hurt to also say that you are hoping that they are doing well or if it’s a Friday, ‘to wish them a good weekend’, if you are writing the email before a holiday, it’s nice to also ‘wish them a good holiday’ but only best to do so when it’s a non-religious holiday rather than assume they are of a certain religion, of course.

To end the formal email on a good note, you should sign off with one of these options, which are both formal in nature and also really considerate to other people. Depending upon your preference, any of these options would be fine. It is also key to remember that you put a comma after any of these closing salutations and then write or sign your full name below it so they know who sent the email and who is making the request(s).

The following closings are good ways to end the email according to proper etiquette:

-‘Best,’

-‘Sincerely,’

-‘Warm Regards’,

-‘Kind Regards’,

-‘Regards,’

-‘Best Wishes’,

-‘Warm Wishes’,

‘Thank you,’

‘With gratitude’,

-‘Many thanks,’

The one closing that I would not endorse for a formal email of this nature is ‘much appreciated,’ because it is a little too informal in its vocabulary and would best be used instead with close friends or family members or for a business connection whom you already know very well.

After having the etiquette down well, you will be able to draft much better business or career-related emails because not only will your vocabulary improve but also your understanding of the English-speaking business culture. This kind of email writing takes time and practice but if you are willing to learn from others, practice a lot, and make a few mistakes every now and then, you will definitely be benefitting in your business or career after some time. There are clear differences between formal emails and informal emails and the etiquette that each kind of email shows makes all of the differences known. In order to write a complete email of a formal nature, you have to use etiquette properly not just for the introduction but also for all of the body paragraphs and for the conclusion as well.

From the opening salutation to the closing wish, your email etiquette must be consistent and clear for whoever is reading it. Be sure to use your best judgment, edit it before sending, and be patient in waiting for a reply. Do not be afraid to make a few mistakes because emails are sometimes hastily written, and you may fudge a word or two but that should not stop you from forgetting your overall etiquette with that person with whom you are corresponding. Writing the first draft of any email is the hardest part but once you got that part down, you will be well on your way to becoming a great English email writer.

‘Office Space’ – Film Review and Analysis

“1999 was an incredible and unique year for movies in America. In an era where Hollywood would regularly produce thought-provoking content that did not dumb it down for audience and would tackle tricky real-life topics without a filter, it may have been the golden age of film for those of us in the Millennial generation.”

1999 was an incredible and unique year for movies in America. In an era where Hollywood would regularly produce thought-provoking content that did not dumb it down for audience and would tackle tricky real-life topics without a filter, it may have been the golden age of film for those of us in the Millennial generation. While not as ‘politically correct’, these movies such as ‘Office Space’ challenged our assumptions, made us question our modern comforts, and perhaps most importantly showed us the ridiculousness of having flair as a waiter or waitress at a chain restaurant as a part of the service given.

Poking fun at chain restaurants is far from the only good thing about ‘Office Space’, one of my favorite movies of all-time. During that year of 1999, two other excellent movies placed a mirror in front of our society and made us reflect on whether ‘modern’ was really that good and whether ‘materialism’ was that spiritually enlightening. While not as complex as ‘The Matrix’ or as serious as ‘American Beauty’, ‘Office Space’ is a comedy but not your average one. It chides you with wisecracking humor but also lays bare certain aspects of American adult life that are not just unpleasant but downright silly.

Whether it is a loud co-worker talking too much over the phone, a crappy printer that just won’t do its job, meaningless reports to file each week, or an obnoxious boss who makes you come in on the weekends, ‘Office Space’ is an ode to the white collar worker who despite the good health care benefits and the steady salary is unfulfilled with his life and is not sure why.

Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is exasperated with his office job in IT (Information Technology) at a software company, Initech. He goes out of his way to avoid his obnoxious and micro-managing boss, Bill Lumbergh, who insists on him working on the weekends but also indicates wanting covers on the TPS reports, which is a mindless and meaningless task. Peter is comfortable with the job but knows deep down it isn’t satisfying him and he comes into work dreading it each day. Peter dislikes most of his co-workers including a lady who says to him, “Somebody has a case of the Mondays” to downplay his frustration of commuting to a suburban office park each and every week while dealing with traffic and the lack of purpose involved.

Probably the only reason Peter stays at his job are his two friends at work who sympathize with him, Michael Bolton (no relation to the singer as he makes clear) and Samir Nagheenanajar (who is obviously frustrated that no one in America can pronounce his last name). They are not as depressed as Peter but they also understand where he is coming from. Peter also gets sympathy from his neighbor, Lawrence, who lives next door. Lawrence does not work in an office and works on construction projects outdoors so he can’t relate to Peter so much with his drudgery at work but he emphasizes how nobody ever told him that he ‘has a case of the Mondays.’ He makes clear in a hilarious way that if somebody ever did that to him, they would get their ass kicked for that.

Peter’s unsatisfying life is also compounded by his girlfriend who is cheating on him and the fact that he is forced to go see a hypnotist who she thinks can help Peter get out of the funk that he is in. In perhaps the funniest scene in the film, the hypnotist / psychotherapist who is extremely overweight is in the process of hypnotizing Peter to snap him out of his lethargy regarding work and seemingly drops dead in front of him and his girlfriend.

Because the hypnotist died before taking Peter out of his temporary state of ease and relaxation, Peter’s whole personality changes and he stops worrying about work and his performance there with hilarious results. He starts to be honest about his work, his boss, and his forced weekend workdays and shockingly, instead of him getting fired, he gets promoted. Even though his girlfriend leaves him because of his lack of concern for the hypnotist’s death, Peter meets a new love interest shortly after.

His meeting with Joanna at an Applebee’s clone as he grabs a long lunch one day while skipping work; he is drawn to her because of her beauty, humor, and the fact that they both love kung-fu. Unbeknownst to her, she is also working a crummy job which is demeaning, and Peter starts to show her how to take control of her working life by caring less and being more honest.

After the hypnotist’s unfortunate death, Peter’s life does a complete 180 as he is more relaxed, less angry, and strangely more confident. He sleeps in more, gets a pay raise from two of his eight bosses (the Bob’s), and he devises a plan to steal a little bit of money from his company over a period of years. While not a good move on his part, Peter and his two co-workers, Michael and Samir, are also tired of the monotony and mistreatment at the hands of their bosses and co-workers. If they can get a little bit of money before quitting, they figure it won’t backfire on them.

While I do not want to spoil the rest of the movie, Peter is not innocent and bites off more than he can chew which causes him to wake up in a number of ways and to really fix his life instead of floating through it or resorting to a criminal action. He does realize that he is responsible for his own happiness or unhappiness and it is up to him alone to make his life fulfilling rather than meaningless. Peter is a likable character who a lot of people can relate to who have worked in an office type of setting. Still, what is blasé and unappealing to him, may be amazing and meaningful to others.

‘Office Space’ is not just about the negatives of office work and that kind of lifestyle but it is a meaningful referendum on a life not well lived. The film is a dark comedy by genre, but it also holds some deep truths within it. Director Mike Judge reminds everybody watching that you only get one life to live and how you really should consider spending it before time runs out. In addition to the fact that it is both a reflective and entertaining comedy, it is also of course a really funny movie worth a repeat viewing or two to catch all of the jokes.

While not very successful when it first released in 1999, it later became a cult classic film thanks to Blockbuster, DVDs, and the Internet’s growth. ‘Office Space’ is very quotable and I have myself referenced it multiple times especially when a printer I’m using is not working. The soundtrack of hip hop and rap from the 90s also makes it a true film from that decade. As many of America’s working men and women went from being in factories to office parks, this film has really hit a cord with not just Generation X but also the Millennial generation.

I would like to think that when you watch this film, you start to examine your own working life to figure out if it is ‘working’ for you or not. Maybe you prefer to be in another environment when you work or you prefer to work alone, this film probes the question of what office work is usually like and the downsides that it comes with. When this film was made, there were no remote work options and now it seems to be more popular. I like to think that one of the major effects of ‘Office Space’s later popularity in the 21st century is that it got more and more people to realize that cubicles aren’t and shouldn’t be for everyone. They just aren’t.

English Corner – Writing Formal Letters

Writing a formal letter has gone out of style with the rise of e-mails and text messages. However, it is not gone yet and if you would like to stand out as a great English writer, I really recommend you learn more about the art of writing formal letters. Writing a letter, in general, is great practice especially when it comes to developing your vocabulary and sentence structure. Being able to write down your thoughts, be truthful with your words, and hold the person’s attention singularly is not easy to do nowadays but it is not a lost art.

Simply put, it is an extremely thoughtful gesture that won’t go unnoticed by the person or people whom you write letters to. It is also a nice way for you to be able to receive letters and to work on your reading comprehension skills too as an English learner. It is also overlooked how writing a letter by hand especially will increase your penmanship and make your writing more legible. Perhaps most importantly, you are using formal language in writing letters and there are various ways you can use this kind of language from the beginning of the letter to its final conclusion.

Let’s start with writing formal letters in a general way. Depending upon the gender of the person you are writing to, it will change. In terms of greetings, your options will look like the following:

  • Dear Sir
  • Dear Madam
  • Dear Sir/Madam
  • Dear Mr Brown
  • Dear Ms Jones

Then, after the greeting and citing who you are writing to, you must state your purpose or you reason for writing your letter to them, also in a formal manner.

  • I am writing in response to your article/advertisement/letter/email/message
  • I am writing with regard to your article/advertisement/letter/email/message
  • I am writing regarding your article/advertisement/letter/email/message
  • I am writing to you about my proposal / my business / my project, etc.
  • I am writing for the purpose of sharing my findings / research / news / updates, etc.

When you come to ending a generally addressed letter, you can choose to end it formally in a number of ways and it would be fine to do so in any of these cases. Here are some of the most common examples:

  • I look forward to receiving your reply
  • I look forward to your reply
  • I look to hearing from you
  • I am, yours faithfully (if you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to)
  • I am, yours sincerely (if you know the name of the person you are writing to)
  • Yours faithfully
  • Yours sincerely
  • Sincerely
  • Warm Regards
  • Best Wishes

Beyond just writing letters for general purposes, we can sometimes write letters that involve complaints whether it is to an airline for their baggage policy, to a restaurant for unusually poor service, or to a company to request money back for a product that didn’t work, sometimes, a written letter with the right language can do the trick to help you get your money back and also help maintain your patience with that same company.

If you would like to formally introduce a complaint that is singular in nature, there are a number of ways to do so and politely since you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings unnecessarily.

  • Firstly
  • In the first place
  • First of all
  • My first complaint is
  • The first problem is
  • The first thing I would like to draw your attention to is
  • My first concern is

If the letter you are writing happens to have more than one complaint, do not worry because there are ways in English for you to make it known to the reader that there is more than one thing that you disproved of or would like to see fixed in the future.

  • Secondly
  • In the second place
  • Not only…but also
  • In addition
  • In addition to this
  • Added to this
  • ________ was also unacceptable and unfortunate

The heart of this kind of complaint letter involves demanding some kind of action on the part of the reader and you can make this also known in a polite way. If you would like to see change happen, you have to be kind about it even if you are steaming mad on the inside. A sign of a mature person is when they can make their complaints known in a polite way without using insults or derogatory language to demean the person reading the letter.

After you have made your complaint(s) known, you can wrap up the letter by demanding action and then ending it with the form of resolution you hope comes about after they read it.

  • I suggest that you replace the item
  • I therefore suggest that I be given a full refund
  • I would be grateful if my money was refunded
  • I would be grateful if you could give me a full refund
  • I look forward to hearing from you
  • I look forward to receiving a full refund
  • I look forward to receiving a replacement
  • I look forward to receiving your explanation

Beyond just your complaints, formal letters are also great ways to make suggestions to people you know on how they could improve or become better in some way, shape, or form. You can describe possibilities, options, and opportunities that they did not know existed.

  • I am writing to suggest
  • I am writing to arrange
  • I am writing to offer suggestions
  • I am writing make arrangements

When it comes to making these suggestions, the beginning of your sentences should look formally like these options:

  • My first suggestion is
  • First of all, I suggest
  • I would like to suggest
  • Another possibility is
  • A further possibility is
  • I further suggest
  • I would further suggest
  • Secondly

Giving suggestions in a letter also means not forcing anybody to act or do anything they would not want to do so part of your language used should offer a choice that they must decide upon themselves. Here is how that might look in your letter’s formal language:

  • Would you therefore mind choosing between ….?
  • Either……or
  • You might choose either ……. Or

Requesting information is another big reason why people choose to write in-depth letters so they can be made aware of a person, place, or situation that they do not know much about but would like to find out more. In terms of the English language, there are numerous ways to express your reason for writing a formal letter in this case:

  • I am writing to receive further information about….
  • I am writing to inquire about…
  • I am writing to receive more detailed information about…
  • I am writing to receive further details about…

Further on in the letter, you will ask for the details or pieces of information and there are likely to be more than one of them. In these cases, you have to phrase your sentences to the point but in a polite manner so as to get that information over to you without causing any hard feelings or distrust.

  • The first thing I would like to know is…
  • First of all, I would like to know…
  • I wonder if you would mind telling me first of all ….?
  • Could you also tell me….?
  • Could you also inform me ….?
  • Would you also mind informing me ….?
  • Would you also mind telling me ….?
  • Do you know ….?
  • I would also like to know if…
  • I would also like to know whether…
  • I hope you might also let me know about…

In this particular kind of letter, you really do have to thank the person for their work in helping you get the information you requested. It probably takes a lot of work on their part so it would be nice of you to show thanks in terms of your language used towards the end of this particular letter.

  • I would like to thank you in advance for this information.
  • Thanking you in advance for this information.
  • Thanking you in advance…

Often times, you will be writing these letters to give out information that will be necessary for business, work, or for school. There are a few ways to address the reasons you are writing to give out this information such as:

  • I am writing to inform you about…
  • I am writing to provide you with information about…
  • I am writing to let you know that…

Next, you will want to lay out your main point and supporting points regarding the information you are giving out that would help the reader out and inform them of what they need to know.

  • The first thing I would like to inform you of is..
  • The first thing I would like to tell you is..
  • The first thing I wish to inform you of is..
  • I would like to begin by informing you of…
  • I would also like to let you know that…
  • I would also like to inform you that…
  • You might also find the following information useful:
  • It might also be useful for you to know that…
  • Another piece of information that might be useful is…

When you end a formal kind of informative letter, you should conclude with asking if they need anything else or if there are any other questions that they may have regarding the information given.

  • If you require further information, please do not hesitate to let me know.
  • If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to ask…
  • I will willingly provide further information on request…
  • I am at your disposal should you require further information…
  • I am at your disposal should you need further assistance…
  • Please do not hesitate to ask should you require further information…

Lastly, you will want to write a formal letter from time to time regarding requesting or asking for permission to do something, go somewhere, or start a new project. To start off your reason for writing a permission kind of letter, it should look something like this:

  • I am writing to ask permission for…
  • I am writing to ask permission to…
  • I am writing to request permission to…
  • I am writing to request permission for…
  • I am writing to ask if I might…

Your permission or request letter might come with more than one enclosed in the letter so make sure you let the reader know that there is only one request or more than one request and what are these requests specifically.

  • Firstly, I wonder if you would…
  • First of all, I wonder whether you would mind…
  • The first request I would like you to consider is…
  • I would be grateful if you would also consider doing…
  • I wonder if it might be possible for me to…
  • I would also like to request permission for…
  • I would also like to request permission to…

Make sure you thank the reader for their permission or for granting your request(s) ahead of time and upon reading the letter. Hopefully, they will grant you permission after you give them formal reasons and good explanations as to why your requests are necessary. Here are the examples:

  • Many thanks for kindly considering my requests
  • Thank you for considering my requests

Writing formal letters is clearly an underrated skill as it has gone out of practice, but people will really appreciate it if you are able to do it for them especially for a family member or a friend. You can practice your penmanship, handwriting, and your overall writing knowledge. It is clear that with enough practice, your vocabulary and your grammar will also improve, and it will benefit you in the long run.

Whether it is a letter to a work colleague about a project, a letter to your girlfriend or your boyfriend about a wedding plan, or a letter to a friend about your next semester classes, these are all formal letter examples that you can use these sentence examples to get started.

Once you have formal letters down, you can move on to more informal topics, which are much easier and much faster to master. However, becoming an expert in writing formal letters about formal topics will put you ahead in your English language learning and give you great writing practice that will stay with you as a student into the future. It will also make you a more compassionate and understanding person to communicate by letter instead of by a short e-mail, or an even shorter text message.

View From The Top

Tired and thirsty, my friend and I had finally reached the glorious peak at ‘La Piedra’ or ‘El Peñol del Piedra’, which loosely translates in English to ‘The Stone.’ It was quite a physically taxing climb up to the top of the rock as my legs burned and my feet became sore as my friend and I ascended the 750 steps along with some steep hiking up a good-sized hill to get to the base of the ‘La Piedra’ rock.

I came to Guatepe partly after hearing from friends in Medellin on how beautiful and unique it was and after seeing various pictures of the stunning landscapes that make up this tranquil part of Antioquia. I was skeptical of the place and didn’t think that it would live up to the hype but I am happy to say that I was completely wrong. Out of all the places I’ve visited and the landscapes I’ve traversed, Guatepe is a really special place to visit. The area is made up of dozens of intertwining, clear blue lakes surrounded by the greenest forestry you could imagine with soil rich in different colors. My friend compared it to the southern United States and thought that it was similar to the state of North Carolina. To me, that’s part of the beauty of Colombia in that there are so many varied landscapes. You could sometimes wonder whether or not you’re in a different country entirely depending on if you’re in Atlantico or in Antioquia.

The landscapes were beautiful, the air was clean, the people were friendly, and the view from the top of ‘La Piedra’ was unbeatable. A 360-degree vista of all of the lakes, hills, and greenery that make up Guatepe was quite breathtaking and peaceful to behold. It helped that my friend and I had great weather to enjoy where the skies were clear blue and the bright sun was shining down on us.

It was really pleasant to take pictures, to soak up the view, and to have a cold drink after the long journey to the top. I consider myself to be in pretty good shape but walking up the steep 750 steps is not for everyone and it really is quite the challenge. While it’s not insurmountable, your feet and legs feel the pain and you wonder when the full view is going to come into play. At ‘La Piedra’, they really make the tourists and the visitors to the rock work for it. There are no escalators or elevators. You have to pay for admission and if you don’t make it to the top, you don’t get your money back. Like a lot of things in life, you have to invest yourself physically and mentally in order to reap the benefits.

Similar to many other moments in life, I reflected on those 750 steps of ‘La Piedra’ as being a necessary yet temporary struggle to reach the top and enjoy the view. For me, it wouldn’t have been as worthwhile at all to check out ‘La Piedra’ if there were an escalator or an elevator to shortcut the journey. I believe that I enjoyed the view from the top of ‘La Piedra’ much more given the fact that I was tired, hungry, and in need of a rest. The struggle was tough enough for me that as a result, the ultimate reward became more fulfilling. If the climb up had been much easier, it simply would have been less rewarding. Because the views from this rock were magnificent, I was willing to climb the 750 steps to get to the top. Sometimes in life, the struggle is worth the reward.

Whether it’s traveling to a new country, starting a new job, moving to a new place, or working on a blog, there’s going to be some struggles and setbacks involved. Sometimes, you’re going to have to decide whether the sacrifices you make and the challenges you have to overcome are enough to justify the rewards. Nothing in life is as easy as it seems and if it appears that way, you may be let down when the reward or success you’ve seen from it doesn’t feel as good as a result. It’s important to realize that working hard and trying new things can lead to failure but it can also lead to a success that’s more whole and fulfilling.

Putting blood, sweat, and tears, into a project, a job, or a relationship takes a lot of work but you can rest easy knowing that it was your labor, which brought it into fruition. If everything in life is simply handed to you, you may feel happy and experience pleasure from it in the short-term but it’s likely to make you miserable in the long-term. Being able to exert yourself in the world physically or mentally can give you a much more lasting feeling of success and contentment. While I would have been happy with the ‘view from the top’ had there been an elevator for tourists like me to go to the top, I felt much more relieved and excited from the view after step #750 because it was the sweat and the toil to get up there physically that filled me with contentedness and satisfaction.

Before I left Guatepe, I wanted to see more of the area so I rented a kayak in the morning and set out by myself. I untied the canoe, got ahold of the equipment and the oars, and pushed the kayak out into the open waters. The day before, I had viewed Guatepe from the top but now I was back on level ground exerting myself physically stroke by stroke on a two-seater kayak in order to enjoy the scenery, and the peaceful quiet of a Sunday morning.

For anybody who’s done kayaking by themselves before should know, it’s a struggle at first to steer the kayak and to move in sync with the tide. Like the day before, I was challenging myself physically and thus, I felt more rewarded when I was able to glide by the birds chirping, the local residents fishing, and taking in the sheer greenery of Guatepe. I have to say it was a good way to end my weekend trip to that part of Antioquia, which is a truly beautiful and well-preserved area of Colombia.

I hope to get across to my readers that it’s very likely in life that you’ll get the most satisfaction from those challenges you endured and personally overcome. Whether it’s that huge rock in Guatepe you climbed or that successful business you started on your own time and with your own money, these efforts will create sustainable happiness and noticeable self-confidence. It’s not easy to get to the top and that’s why you have to work hard and exert yourself in order to enjoy the view.

 

The Case Against Tipping

Tipping

A story that has captured the headlines of most major media outlets recently is New York City restaurateur, Danny Meyer’s decision to end the practice of tipping in his many well-known dining establishments in the city. Unsurprisingly, this caused a bit of an uproar as some people praised him for this decision while others fumed about how this would cause poorer service and lead to higher food prices when dining out at a restaurant. This small decision could eventually gain momentum and cause dining establishments around the country to end an outdated cultural practice here that has been prevalent since the early 1900’s but has been absent in most European countries, Japan, China, and elsewhere.

Both viewpoints hold valid concerns, however, I believe that the overall culture of tipping while helpful to servers, waiters, bartenders, hairdressers in helping them to make a living now is not the best that our society can do for them in the long run. When the minimum wage for tipped workers federally is still an extremely $2.13 per hour, and you have to fight and scrap for tips to make up the difference to crack the $7.25 per hour minimum wage that is in place for non-tipped workers, I believe we have a problem.

More and more U.S. states have taken it upon themselves to raise the minimum wage for both tipped and non-tipped workers, and I applaud those actions. However, eliminating the ‘tipped worker’ minimum wage standard along with the raising the federal wage for both tipped and non-tipped workers to between $15-$20 an hour would be the right and just thing to do. Tipped workers should be able to earn a guaranteed hourly wage that is fair and livable just like every other hard worker in the United States. Yes, with tipping involved, a server and a bartender could make more than $20 an hour especially if they provide great service but that’s not always the case and I can imagine that they could come up short of what they were expecting to make during some hours of their daily shift.

If I were a worker in the service industry, I would rather be paid a $15 or higher wage per hour than have to fight for tips each and every workday. Distribution of tips is not always equal in that not every worker from the dishwasher to the bus boy gets compensated fairly in terms of payment. Cooks and other workers at the back end of the restaurant have to compete with the servers for their tips, which could create an uneasy, and hostile work environment. Also, there are racial and gender biases that come into play as well when it comes to tipping workers that has been a problem in the past and still today.

The argument that by getting rid of tipping, the waiters, bartenders, hairdressers, etc. would then provide mediocre or worse service to their customers is a faulty one. If tipped workers suddenly found themselves making a $15 or $20 minimum wage and had a chance to advance in their business or industry through other incentives like vacation time, health care coverage, sick days off, etc. then they would feel better about their jobs. They would want to provide good service because how much better their employers would be treating them due to the changes in laws and regulations. I have traveled to countries in Europe and the Middle East where there is little to no tipping culture yet the service is still fine. The servers there may not have asked me how my meal was but I got used to it after a while and appreciated that they would let me eat and talk in peace. If I needed something from them, I would just call them over politely as well. I also left them an extra 10% on top of the cost of my meal despite the tip not being mandatory to show my appreciation for their hard work.

Lastly, when the time the bill comes, it’s often a struggle to figure about how much of a percentage out of the total to give the waiter/waitress, whether or not the service charge is already included or not, what is the amount of tax added on to the food, and/or alcohol that was ordered. To me, it’s always been a giant headache to pay the bill at the end of the meal, especially in larger groups. It’s because you end up doing the calculations on your own and you never know how much you’ll be paying in total until the end. I would prefer to have the extra costs of the service and taxes be added onto the costs of the food. This is what type of system that Danny Meyer and others will be implementing in their business. If this change gets implemented on a wide scale, every customer will know exactly what is to be paid at the end of the meal. By the time you sit down and look at the menu, you will know how much everything will cost and how much money you’ll be throwing down to pay without worrying about the added tip and tax.

As it still stands now, the culture of tipping in the United States is heavily entrenched and has been around for over a hundred years now. However, given that some leading restaurant business owners are starting to set their own policies, against using the service/tip charge than maybe a real change is finally going to happen. I believe that these tipped workers in different sectors will be happy with these changes to the industry and will still provide ‘service with a smile.’