31-Day Challenge: Day 3

I was sitting in my hairdresser’s chair today, enjoying my cup of cappuccino, when I heard her make a familiar phone call. I very often make an appointment for the late morning, or early afternoon, which means that she normally times her lunch to coincide with the thirty minutes or so that it takes for my hair color to process.

No, she doesn’t use an app to order a burger or pizza, she doesn’t even use the newly-popular Foodora to order from various restaurants around town, instead she calls a little place up the street and asks for the daily specials. Then usually right around the time she’s finishing with the foils (or the cut, in today’s case), a waiter from the restaurant comes through the door laden with a dish or two containing her order.

What’s so unusual about this, you may think? To an American who is shocked that people are allowed to drink with glass bottles in public without adult supervision around here, so much.

When I say a dish is delivered, I mean an actual dish. A restaurant plate, sometimes even with a snazzy domed lid, is delivered to her salon. The waiter also collects the plates from the day before, before wishing us both a good afternoon and skipping back up the street. It’s so goddamned civilized I can’t stand it.

Okay, so she has a preexisting relationship with this restaurant, right? They’re both local businesses, she’s a loyal customer, so she gets special treatment. Perhaps. But it’s not the first time I’ve seen such a thing.

Cut to a few years ago, at the fantastically amazing Arezzo antique market. We were wandering through stalls of treasures around lunchtime, when we noticed a curious sight. The vendors at one stand appeared to be getting ready for lunch, but instead of them unpacking wrapped sandwiches, or even pulling paper-wrapped burgers from fast food bags, there was a waiter coming over from a nearby restaurant. But he wasn’t just delivering food. He was delivering plates, cutlery, wine glasses, a tablecloth, napkins (cloth as well, of course)… you get the idea. And in a few minutes, there was a full table setting from the restaurant on this little card table in the midst of the market. Because why take a lunch break when you have treasures to sell?

These things just amaze me, even after all these years. Coming from a place when damn near everything is now served in plastic, where people can’t be trusted with real knives on an airplane or at a picnic table, the fact that people here can act like adults is just so. Nice.

It’s also worth noting that this same principle applies even in motion. Now that fest season here is coming up, I expect to see the usual groups of people in Tracht riding the trains on their way to whatever festival is happening that day. Very often these groups also take the train ride as their opportunity to do some pre-gaming, and once again, they often do it responsibly. Even teenagers can be seen quaffing from wine glasses and sparkling wine flutes in the train. When their stop arrives, the glasses are packed back up into backpacks and handbags, and off they go to their next adventure. Cases of beer are carried on and off trains, stashed in lockers and retrieved (I assume they remember) for the trip home. I’m not saying I never see garbage in the trains, but I ride A LOT of trains, and their cleanliness, and the personal responsibility taken by the passengers never ceases to amaze me.

When Germans laugh that I find this so impressive, I always like to trot out this little anecdote.

Being from Wisconsin, one of the things that I miss the most about the summers is Milwaukee’s Summerfest. It’s a huge festival, sprawling along the lakefront for about two weeks every summer. There are about ten stages and hundreds of acts to see, for only the price of admission. On a warm summer night, there’s nothing better than heading downtown for a show of a one-hit wonder, some festival food, and, (it being Milwaukee), a couple of beers. Those beers are served in plastic cups, and Wisconsinites are world class beer drinkers. That, plus a combination of sheer laziness, hard-to-locate garbage cans, not wanting to lose your seat/standing place, not wanting to lose your friends in the crowd, and American entitlement means that where do those cups go? Wherever you drop them.

USA! USA! USA!

After the last chord sounds, when the police start herding the crowd towards the parking lot, one sound fills the air over the laughter, chatter, and occasional “wooooooo!”

*crunch crunch crunch*

The sounds of thousands upon thousands of feet walking over a carpet of plastic.

Since pulling out my phone to take a picture of the faces of my German students when I finished the story would be weird, here’s a fairly accurate approximation of the usual reaction.

You win this one Germany. And don’t worry about the Americans coming for you, they’re only armed with plastic knives.*

 

*Also, guns. Lots and lots of guns.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

Save

Advertisements

An Unexpectedly Awkward Monday Afternoon.

-0r-

What Happens When You Dive in and Totally Smoke the Bottom of the Pool With Your Head

*Spoiler Alert*: It hurts.

In the last few months I’ve become increasingly irritated with what I’m doing here. Not Germany as a whole, and not my life in Germany, but what is paying for me to be here. Teaching English is absolutely a great way to go abroad and see a bit of the world. I have no arguments there. My issue is what happens when you’ve decided that you want to stick around somewhere for a while. Or forever… it remains to be seen.

Some people have a love and a passion for teaching. That is a wonderful thing, God bless you, and the world needs more of you. I am not one of those people. There are some things that I have considered teaching on a more permanent basis, but English is not one of them. Some days it’s fun, and some days it makes me want to tear my hair out. Students hate grammar, I hate grammar, everyone hates grammar. It’s a necessary evil but I’m damn sick and tired of it.

A few weeks ago I had a mini-meltdown over all of this when I was deep into procrastination mode over lesson plans. It happens every 6-8 weeks like clockwork, but I never seem to learn not to put them all off until the last minute, aka right before I have to go in for a meeting with the bosses. It’s not just the paperwork though, it’s a lot of things that I don’t really want to get into at this point in time. Suffice it to say, I’m realizing that if Germany is where I want to be for the foreseeable future, it’s time to look into other options.

This is easier said than done though. Even here in the Nürnberg area, home to Siemens, Adidas, and Puma, there aren’t that many options for me. If I had a better grasp of a second language, or more business-related education I would have a better shot at a job in one of those companies. But I don’t, and I have never wanted to be an office bee. I tolerate going in and out of offices now, but it’s just not something I ever saw for myself. Additionally, if you haven’t gone through the German system of schoolings, trainings, apprenticeships, etc., it’s hard to get your foot in the door (their school system is fairly different from ours, and a topic for another day).

So what to do?

Back when I had the mini-meltdown, I started trolling German job websites looking for something, anything that I might have a shot at. Even better, I found something. I found something that lined up with what I studied, and what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. I debated for a week or so, checking the listing every day to see if it was still there, and then I sat down and wrote one of the more earnest letters that I’ve ever written. I enlisted BV, who was kind enough to translate it into “nice” German for me. Nice German meaning German that didn’t sound like it was written by a 5-year old; “Das Auto ist blau,” etc. We did put a disclaimer on the bottom stating that I had significant help writing it, since my German is a work in progress. We sent it off and I waited.

Waiting sucks, incidentally. It should probably be banned.

I heard back from them eventually, and they requested a sample of work. They also asked if I would be interested in doing a two month internship, as I’ve never actually worked in the field.  I spent the weekend analyzing, over-analyzing, and trying to put something acceptable together. I sent it off and waited again. Waiting still sucked, and this time was even worse, as anyone who is being judged on their creative work could tell you.

A week or two later, I got a response, and they asked if I would still be interested in an internship. I responded that I most certainly would be interested, and we scheduled an interview for two weeks time. That was yesterday.

To be honest, I don’t know what I was expecting as far this interview went, but it was a very confusing experience for me. Not only was it my first interview for a job abroad that was not conducted entirely in English, but it was just kind of odd overall.

I arrived about ten minutes before my appointment time, and was directed to take a seat at a table in the studio. At the table was a jug of water, some Easter chocolates, and seven places neatly set with water glasses, blank sheets of paper, and pens. My mind immediately jumped back to the first days in drawing class in university, where we were directed to draw the people sitting across from us, and then we all got to critique together. What fun, am I right? I sat down very gingerly, and tried to not break the skirt that I had repaired for the occasion. Over the next ten minutes, four other girls trickled in. The oldest was 28, and the others were all in the 21-24 range. They were dressed fairly casually, three in jeans and one in black outdoor pants of some kind. My American self was feeling very over-dressed, out-of-place, and out of my damn mind already. I briefly considered just leaving then and there, but sucked it up.

The studio owner came in, greeted us all, and first asked me (in German) if I understood her. I said yes, and she continued on. She said that we were the last five chosen out of 18 applicants. Or 80. I was a little fuzzy on that. Damn numbers. Either way though, that felt pretty good. She first introduced herself, and explained that she liked to have these little sort of “meetings” in interviews, to ease people’s nerves, and also keep her from having to repeat herself multiple times. That’s understandable, right? She then asked us to introduce ourselves.

Fuck. Me.

Two of the girls went before me, giving the usual information: names, ages, school/training, experience, and why they were there. Then it was my turn.

I’m pretty sure I blacked out at this point. Whatever German I know completely left my brain and I muddled through an introduction in a shitstorm of grammatical chaos. Wonderful.

The next two girls went, and I couldn’t tell you anything they said because I was having an internal meltdown and wondering just how purple my face was. I’m guessing it was somewhere between Barney the Dinosaur and those grapes on the Fruit of the Loom logo.

Thankfully, the introductions were over then, and the owner started talking again. She kept talking for at least the next hour, with my either understanding everything perfectly, or being very confused. Some things were perfectly clear, and others were much fuzzier. For example: I thought the position I was there about was a 2-month internship, which was what had been discussed via email. However, she was talking at one point about a 3-year position, with three weeks of the month in the studio, and one week in school studying various subject. I know that is a normal step in the German school system that a lot of students do, but I didn’t really think that was on the table in this case. I’m still not sure if that is an option that we could take, or what the deal was there. Like I said, there was a lot of confusion, especially compounded by the fact that you miss so much when you’re trying to puzzle out what someone just said.

After she wrapped up her talk, she asked each of the girls a few questions. each time telling me that she’d talk to me on my own later. Fiiiiiine with me. When they had finished with all the questions, she asked me and another girl to stay. She thanked the others for coming, and told them that if they got the position, they’d hear something from the studio in the next few days. If they didn’t hear anything, no dice. I was confused again here, as I thought at the beginning she said that she’d be speaking to each of us individually, but apparently that wasn’t the case.

The other girl was invited into the second part of the studio, and the owner gave me a book to look though. I flipped somewhat absentmindedly, trying to decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing that I was still there. After a few minutes she came back in, and invited me into the other room.

Now, on their website it says that she spent some time in the States, and they do have English-speaking clients. A lot of people don’t get the chance to use English in their daily lives and get really excited to break it out. This was not one of those times. Again, I can’t be upset about this because obviously if I want to work in Germany at an actual company that is not a language school, it’s not unreasonable to want me to speak German, and for a foreigner, this was a test as much as anything else in an interview. So yes, the remainder of the interview was conducted in German.

To be clear, at no point was she rude to me. She was just very direct, one of the things I appreciate the most here. She told me that I was in the same boat as the other girl, and we were really both being let down easy. She said that some of my work was good, but for their purposes, it was not where it needed to be. She also said my German was not up to par to work there. This was not a surprise to me, or anyone else I daresay. I tried to explain that for my work now, it’s not necessary, so I understand that it’s not where you might expect it to be, especially after three years. However, when I came here I spoke about five words; now I can make myself understood (albeit awkwardly), have a conversation, read and understand fairly well. I consider that pretty darn good for not having had a single lesson. For this situation? No, not good enough.

She told me that I should work on what I need to work on, if I’m serious about this, and I can always try again next year. I did appreciate the constructive criticism, and I’m afraid that I came off badly because I couldn’t really express that to her. I also tried to explain that I just wanted to take the chance, even if it seemed silly with my current language level, because this is something I really want to do. Not sure if I got that one across either… plus her baby farted really loudly and that distracted both of us. This may be a ‘thank-you’ note situation. We shall see.

I went back out into the sunlight, and took a long walk to the Bio-market to buy fancy cheese and a decent wine; two things scientifically proven to dull humiliation. Was it as bad as it could have been? Definitely not. But it was the most foreign situation I’ve found myself in for a looooong while. It’s horribly uncomfortable to not be able to put together a coherent thought in an interview, when normally selling yourself is something you are darn good at.

If I want to be here in the long run, and I want a job here that falls more into line with how I want my life to be, this had to happen. I had to take a leap into the pool, and yes this time I definitely thwonked my head on the bottom. It sucked, but now it’s out of the way. I got some decent advice on what I need to work on, and I have every intention of following through on that.

Has anyone else braved the German job market? Got any tips for the rest of us?

That was a lot of words, so here's a mountain.

That was a lot of words, so here’s a mountain.

A Quick Walk Around Thalia

Who doesn’t love a good bookstore, right? I’m not picky, I’ll take a cozy indie bookstore, or a big chain with a Starbucks, it makes no difference. If I can browse books and waste a couple of hours, I’m a happy camper. One of the biggest bookstores in Germany is called Thalia, and I have been a frequent shopper of theirs since I arrived here (see this post on Chillin’ Mit Jesus).

A few weeks ago I was wandering the store, when I saw a few things that I thought were entertaining enough to share with the blog world so… here we go!

ImageThanks to the interwebz, even child-free people like myself know what ‘Helicopter Parenting’ is. Personally, I’m of the school that says, “do whatever you think is best” when it comes to your kids, so I don’t really want to get into any debates about it. But I cracked up when I saw this cover. I’m 30 and could still use a protective bubble some days. Helmets for everyone!

ImageAh yes, now a gender-specific boy toy about cooking. Leave little Sally/Sophie to her kitchen set while little Johnny/Johannes can learn to man the grill like a big boy.

Kidding.

Again, do what you want with your kids. Personally, I thought this was adorable and promptly whipped out this picture in class the following week when one of my students proclaimed that he didn’t cook anything but meat on his grill. He didn’t believe me that 1) this was an option or 2) that it would come with little plastic vegetables. Because vegetables do not go on the grill. Ever.

Image

Image

Oh, this one. This may have surpassed the “black” music section in electronics stores as my new favorite. I just love that the American dictionary offers not one, not two, but three languages! Amazing! Not to mention a quick flip through the book had me wondering just how many people have actually tried out some of the phrases offered in the sections on “our barrio, our hood,” or “Fiesta sin bebidas?” Oh good lord. I think you’d find better accents and pronunciation in the average Taco Bell order. Maybe that’s in the section on “TexMex-Küche.” Is this any different from the phrases offered in the average Lonely Planet phrasebook? No, not really. But I was still fairly dismayed that there were options. What do you think, is it weird, or is it just me?

5 Things I’ve Learned In 5 Years Abroad

On January 8th, 2009, I touched down in Prague. It seems like a minute ago and a thousand years ago, all at the same time. I think it’s been magnified as well, because my sister is actually in Prague right now. She’s doing the same TEFL course that I did, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the first weeks here in Euro-land. There have been major ups, MAJOR downs, and a lot of nights on the couch watching bad TV. Through all of it, I’d like to think that I’ve learned at least a couple of things and I’d like to share some of them with you wonderful internet people. As a disclaimer: of course these are my opinion only, and others may have totally different experiences. And I might ramble. That’s why we blog… to share our experiences. This is what I think, and you can feel free to disagree.Disclaimers aside though… here we go: five things I’ve learned in the last five years…. at least, I hope so.

1. Drop the “plan.”
I’ve done so many things, met so many people (not that they were all good), that I wouldn’t have ever met if I had done what is “normal.” If I had graduated college, got some job, met some guy, etc., etc., none of these things would have happened. Gott sei Dank. That’s “Thank God,” for all of you playing the home game.

Via

Let go of the fact that some people think you “have to do” this, or “must do” that. Do what you want to do. Go where you want to go, say what you want to say. There is no script for life… it’s what you want it to be. And to be honest, I have been feeling a little too comfortable these days. It’s true, my life hasn’t been too crazy, I have no major plans at the moment, but it’s okay. I’m much more settled than I was in Prague for example, but I don’t remember the last time I said, “I’m bored.” I’m looking for new things to see and do, but I’m not bored with what I have now. It’s not a life I ever could have imagined, but I think that’s the beauty of it. 
 

Anything is possible with giant strudel.

2. The only obstacles are the ones you make for yourself. 
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about being afraid to do the strangest things. Some I can agree with; for example, I never risked a haircut when I lived in Prague because I didn’t want to sport a mullet, or purple hair, and both of those are pretty popular in that city. To me, that wasn’t a risk worth taking. But some of the stories I’ve heard about supermarket anxiety for example, just baffle me. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You buy the wrong kind of vanilla?

If you build these things up as impossible tasks in your mind… then sure, you’ll have problems. I got a little anxious just this evening trying to figure out how I was going to climb over people to get off of the crowded train. But when the pivotal moment came, I high-stepped over a backpack and got myself out the door. That’s small potatoes, but it’s the same principle. If you decide that you can do something, you’ll do it. Done and done. 

3. Just because we’re from the same country, doesn’t mean we have to be friends.

I’m not sure, but I think RZ took this picture. If so, thanks RZ.

This one is harsh, but it’s true. And guess what? Not everyone is going to like you either. Expats tend to bond over their shared love of Tex-Mex, and their longing for Target; we are all in the same boat on that one. But, just like in college when there were “bar friends” vs. “everyday friends,” when you’re abroad you have to find the line. A pompous asshat in the States becomes a pompous asshat with a scarf and a stamp in their passport abroad. Again, I know this sounds harsh, and I also know that I’m not always the easiest person to get to know, but I’m at the point in my life where I want to be friends with someone because of their redeeming qualities, and not because of a geographic similarity. Wild, I know.

While I don’t feel the need to trip over myself to befriend every American I meet now… I do feel incredibly lucky to have met some truly amazing people in the last five years. Today they are literally all over the globe, which only means more places to visit in my mind. And that’s pretty sweet. 

4. People will never stop asking when you’re coming (or going) home.
I do want to check this point with some people who’ve been abroad longer (and feel free to weigh in with a comment), but I still get this question a fair amount. Thankfully, my family has never been the badgering type (though we are Badgers – sorry, bad joke), and have never been on the “get married, have babies, etc.” train, and they don’t ask this question very much. Other people abroad ask, like we’re all on some sort of kitchen timer. Students ask, and they seem surprised that I don’t have a timeline. But like I said before, no plan. If this is working for me, I’ll keep doing it. Do I want to teach English forever? No, probably not. It’s working for now though, so we’ll stick with it.

In my mind the question shouldn’t be, “when are you coming home?” because where is home? Home has so many different definitions to me, it’s crazy. Wisconsin will always be home to me, but at the same time, I feel like I am home here. Instead, I should really be asking, “when are you coming to visit?” And hey, we even have a light fixture in the bedroom now. Come on over and check it out!

5. Always carry an umbrella in Europe.
Practical advice is always good, right? If you don’t have an umbrella with you, it’s guaranteed to rain. And that means that your train/tram/bus will have some sort of a problem, forcing you to stand outside and/or walk much further than you had initially planned. You will spend the rest of the day damp, smelling like a wet dog, and annoyed. Also, umbrellas are a good defense against bears, both real and wooden. Although wooden is probably better. 

Bear fighting, Cesky Krumlov, 2009

When you read this, you might agree and you might disagree. You might think I sound like an ass, which I’m sure I do at points. But again, that’s the beauty of the expat experience. We all have a slightly different one, and they’re all equally valid. This is what I have learned, and that’s all I can say for it. I’ll raise my glass of champagne, and celebrate the fact that I’ve done something that seems crazy to so many people, and here’s hoping I can make it another five years. Scratch that, because it’s not a hope. If that’s what I want to do, that’s what will happen. If that’s what you want to do, then remove the obstacles and make it happen. To quote from the fantastic movie Empire Records, “In this life, there are nothing but possibilities.”

Cheers. 

This Old German House: Vol. 1

Perhaps the “Volume 1” title is premature, but I’m just trying to cover my bases here.

As you might recall, last month I moved over to BV’s place. This meant I went from living in a semi-modern (about 1950’s) apartment, to a house that was built in 1928. The house has been added on to quite a few times over the years, but it seems that it will need a bit more work than the last place. Considering my previous incidents in a modern apartment*, and after the two months we’ve had over here, I’m a little scared.

Let’s do a little run-down of everything that’s happened in the last couple months:
1. Water damage in the bathroom from a washing machine-related brain fart. (Not my brain!)
2. Living room heater rusted through, staining the carpet and necessitating replacement.
3. New carpet installed in the extra room. (that was voluntary)
4. Painting in the bedroom. (also voluntary)
5. Purchasing of heating oil – holy shit, that’s expensive.
6. Purchasing and installation of enormous new wardrobe.

The question is, do any of those developments answer the questions of the mystery pictures? Well…. sort of. And thanks to those of you who commented… and you got parts of it right (virtual high-five)! Here’s what’s actually going on…

Here are some alternate views from Picture Eins:

I’ve been calling this thing ‘Big Blue’ for the last two weeks, because I have absolutely no idea what it’s called in English, much less in German. I have never seen one of these before and would really prefer to never see it again, honestly. It’s been living in our bathroom and hallway and running day and night in order to dry out the floor and walls. As mentioned above, back in August we had some water on the floor (hallway and bathroom) from the washing machine. It wasn’t all that much, but according to Big Blue’s owner, the water was still in the concrete of the walls and floors around the bathroom. Obviously that’s bad, and would need to be dried out before we could fix the bubbled laminate in the hallway. 

I was a little fuzzy on what was happening when he came to check out the situation, mostly because I thought he was there to fix that laminate. Then I was less than pleased to come home from a very long day to find this monstrosity in the bathroom. And learn that we couldn’t close the bathroom door completely for the next two weeks at least. Fun! 

We did manage to work it out fairly well, but that’s a relationship road that I was really hoping to not cross ever. Much less in the first few weeks of living together.   

Picture Zwei:

Perhaps you were easily able to identify that as the underside of a boiler. You got it… in addition to the presence of Big Blue in the bathroom, we’ve been playing ‘Little House in Germany’ for the last week, as the boiler decided that it didn’t feel like working anymore. I’ve been through this horror before in Prague, when we were hot water-less for more than a week once, but it wasn’t something I was really looking forward to revisiting. The only saving grace was that it happened over a long weekend and so there wasn’t all that much that I absolutely had to do outside of the house or in a timely fashion. That’s good news when washing your hair becomes an elaborate process.

The guy came to repair it yesterday afternoon (thank goodness), but since I had to catch a 6 am train, that meant getting up at 4:30. Heating water in the kettle so I could ‘Little House’ bathe and not miss my train at that ungodly hour is not my idea of a good time. 

Picture Drei:

Oh electricity, you’re the thing that keeps it all together. Until you don’t. Monday night I was in the middle of cooking dinner, when I ran downstairs to grab some beers for the fridge. I looked up and noticed that the spiders were gathering strength above my head. Technically they aren’t in the house, they’re in the stairway, but it was getting a little extreme. Like, three enormous daddy long legs hovering above every time we go in and out. I decided that was it, and grabbed the vacuum. 

I plugged it in, turned it on, and kapew. Nada.

Yep, running all the kitchen appliances, Big Blue in the bathroom, and everything else was too much, and I blew a fuse. I grabbed my phone for the flashlight and tried to figure out the fusebox, but I wasn’t sure which one was the main and flipping things didn’t do anything… great. I went to the front window and was trying to decide if it was worth calling BV since he never has the sound on his phone turned on, when there he was, walking through the gate. Good timing and welcome home, honey. 

The spiders win this one, but I’m planning my counter-attack.

*Other ridiculous home issues in Germany:
The Time I Locked Myself Out Braless 
The Time(s) I Couldn’t Open Any Doors Without Incident 
The Time I Went On Vacation And Workers Trashed My Apartment
The Time I Ranted About Hot Water

A Quick Photo Challenge

“When it rains, it pours.” Old words, but wise words nonetheless. Sometimes it means that a person’s social calendar is action-packed, sometimes it means that they’re loaded with work projects, and sometimes it means that it’s raining a lot. The latter is pretty standard here in German fall. But I digress. 

In this case, none of the above is true for me… but there has been a lot of ridiculousness going on. In that spirit, I’d like to pose a challenge to anyone who’s still checking this blog of mine, since I’ve been a pretty craptastic blogger of late. I’m going to post three mysterious photos today, and you can leave your guesses as to what they are in the comments. On Thursday (I swear! I’m drafting it now!), I’ll reveal the correct answer and send a virtual high-five to anyone who gets them right.

First though, a pseudo-clue:

While I don’t know if I want Bob Vila to show up, I feel like we could qualify to go on
 ‘This Old German House.’ 
Picture Eins:
Picture Zwei:

Picture Drei:

Alright… if anyone is still out there reading, give me your guesses in the comments!

 

Words to Live By: A Proposal for a Bavarian Motto

In this post I’d like to put forth a proposal. While I have heard many an expression over the last two-plus years of German living, there doesn’t seem to be any “official” mottos for the state. In the U.S. of course, each state has a motto, as odd as it might be, and I think Germany should get in on this action. 

Might I present this as a possible motto for life here in Bavaria (or Franconia, at the risk of pissing off those around me)…

Translation: “A life without pleasure is like a long journey without an inn.”

I may jest, but the German (or again, at least the Bavarian/Franconian) love for the Gasthaus is unconditional. I think it’d make a fine motto. And since there’s an election on, perhaps one of the newly-elected politicians can make it happen. 

Friday Germany Expat Survey

To all the other expats out there in Germany, I have a question for you.

This week in one of my classes, we were discussing what people who are coming to Germany for business should know. I also had them come up with a list of strengths and weaknesses of Germans, and we discussed how they might be perceived by someone from a different culture. Then they gave me some homework, which was to come up with a list for Germans, and also Americans. 

I have an idea of what my list is, but it got me thinking about all the different perspectives that I’ve come across on my time in Germany, and I’m curious. So I wonder if any of you could help me out, and leave a comment about what strengths and weaknesses you would say are the signatures of people here in ze Deutschland. This class loves to talk, so a variety of opinions would be wonderful. 🙂 Vielen Dank!

Any thoughts? Leave ’em in the comments!


 

Semi-Functional Living and a Worker Warning

Bad blogger.

I fully admit it… every time I go on vacation I spend some time thinking about all the future posts that I can share from the trip, but when I get back I pretty much die. The latest U.S. trip was no exception to that. I had good intentions of posting quick pics from along the way, but when you only go “home” every year and a half, the internet doesn’t rank high on the priority list. So I find myself woefully behind on posting, responding to comments/emails, and reading all of the other fun things that I follow. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. So I do have plans to share some of the many, many, (too) many things that we did, but it might not be in the next 10 minutes…. please bear with me.

Keeping with tradition, I’ve spent the last 10 days being incredibly lazy/comatose. This trip was action-packed and there were things to do nearly every day. BV accompanied me, which was awesome and a lot of fun, but since it was his first time in the States, I wanted to make sure we saw as much as possible. That didn’t leave a lot of room for down time. In fact, the list was so long that we didn’t have time for everything. More importantly, there wasn’t time for everyone, which is unfortunate. There were a lot of people that I didn’t even try to get in touch with, because I knew it wouldn’t be possible. The expat curse continues.

When we got back, Germany was in the middle of a heat wave, with temperatures in the 90s and the humidity through the roof. The only good part was that I was so exhausted, I had no desire to do anything except collapse on the bed when I got home. My apartment was too hot to function, so the less movement, the better. A couple of days later we got a pretty epic storm that broke the heat, and since then it’s been in the 60s and raining. 

Hey, German summer? You suck. Get it together. 

Today is actually a fairly decent day, and I’m typing this on my balcony because it’s sunny and at least 15 degrees warmer than inside the house. But I’m still wearing socks, pants, and a hoodie. Less than ideal at the end of June, but at least I’m not melting. A happy medium would be great… not sure if it’ll happen but here’s hoping. 

BUT weather is not what I want to talk about. Instead, I’d like to offer a little public service announcement to all the other expats or wannabe expats here in ze Deutschland, about workers. In your house. And why you should probably babysit if you’re planning on having any repairs done.

For those of you that saw my House Hunters International episode and were concerned about my apparent lack of bathroom, I do have one.* This is what it looked like when I moved in….

Pink. Very nice, right? Honestly I didn’t love the color, but that paled in comparison to the other issues. I’m not sure whose bright idea it was to start putting wallpaper in bathrooms, but I am firmly against it. My bathroom had that lovely pink tile about two-thirds up the wall, and then a faux-plaster wallpaper up to the ceiling. My landlord knew that there would probably be a problem eventually, as the previous owner had repapered and retiled, but just put the new stuff over old paper and tiles. Great.

After a year or so, I started getting a lot of mold on the bathroom ceiling, no matter what I tried. Windows open a lot, a little, closed, shorter showers… no difference. I cleaned the mold off the ceiling, but eventually it got to the wallpaper. The final straw was when a whole corner of wallpaper fell off, and my suspicions were confirmed. More mold. This was gross. 

My landlord and I discussed options, and he decided to just go ahead and renovate the whole bathroom. After talking to an assortment of workers, he found one who was willing to do it on short notice while I was in the States. So the day before I left, I turned over the key and then flew off. 

This is best-case scenario, right? A whole new bathroom, without being inconvenienced at all! Score. There must be a catch. And don’t worry, I found it.

The last day I was at home,  my landlord called me to tell me that the bathroom was finished…. perfect! So Tuesday morning, I arrived back in Nürnberg, completely bushwhacked from 15+ hours of traveling, but excited to see my house. Oh, and to sit down and relax. 

We dragged the suitcases up the four flights of stairs, opened the door, and said. “What. The. Fuck.”

(this is kind of anti-climactic, and I’m sorry. I was too annoyed to take a picture for posterity.)

So this is what my living room looks like when it’s clean….

That’s pretty much what it looked like when we left. I had cleared out the bathroom for the workers, and put the rack full of toiletries into the living room. There was also a drying rack out, with a few laundry items that weren’t quite dry before I left. But other than that, clean. Because I hate coming back to a mess. Fail.

When we walked in, it looked like a bomb had gone off. Everything was off of the bed, and on the couch, semi-covered with the mattress protector. The contents of my hall closet (jackets, BV’s bike stuff, scarves), were thrown on the floor in the corner. The coffee table was shoved up against the desk and covered in odds and ends (some of which were not mine). The suitcases, laptop bag, and some boxes from under the bed were also thrown in the corner. The old radiator and mirror from the bathroom were sitting in the middle of the floor, along with some buckets, the vacuum cleaner, and a step stool from the kitchen. And everything, everything, was coated in a nice layer of plaster dust.

Bottom line: All I wanted to do was collapse on my couch and relax, and I couldn’t find my couch.

Apparently this is what happened. When the workers were installing my new shower cabinet and/or moving the hot water heater from one wall to another, they accidentally went through the wall between the bathroom and living room, right over my bed. That meant they had to make a bigger hole, and then replaster the whole thing. My landlord said he saw it, but I don’t know if he didn’t think the mess was that bad, or just didn’t want to mention it over the phone to me while I was on vacation. Either way, I was incredibly annoyed to come home to this. Just what everyone wants to do… spend their first three hours at home cleaning. Right? No.

When I relayed this story to my students, they all just nodded their heads and said that if you have workers in your house to do anything, you should stand there and watch them the whole time. They also said it’s standard procedure for them to not clean up after themselves. Call me crazy, but I think that’s some serious BS. Even if I wasn’t out of the country, it’s not like I could stay in the house while they were renovating because a bathroom is a pretty essential thing to have around. They were also supposed to remove everything from the old bathroom, and the fact that they forgot the old heater and mirror (which is big and heavy), is now my problem. They’re out here on the balcony with me now, so if you know anyone who wants an old-school radiator, feel free to drop me a line. 

I do think the new bathroom looks fine, if a bit (a lot) generic. It pretty much looks like every single bathroom in every single company I’ve taught in here…

Hopefully this new tile and paint job is a bit more mold-resistant. The workers also didn’t put the light fixture back on, instead they left it in the kitchen, so I only have a light bulb right now. They also didn’t install a TP holder, or any towel rods, so I’m not thrilled about that. Drilling holes in the brand-new bathroom is not on my list of things to do. 

Oh, and speaking of the kitchen… they also removed my broken dishwasher, and installed a new washing machine. My landlord had told me that he was thinking about it so he could give up my little washing machine room in the attic, but I was a bit surprised to see that he just went ahead with that too. So the kitchen was also a disaster area, and some of my kitchen towels were apparently casualties of the renovation, but at least I had a shorter walk to the washer to clean everything else. 

SO. Even here in Germany, land of order…. do NOT fall prey to the best-case scenario. If you’ve got guys coming into your house… keep an eye on them. And the next post will be of more fun, vacation-y things. Just had to get all this off my chest.

*I suspect none were shown on the show because they were all miniscule and/or claustrophobia-inducing. Trying to fit three “hunters” plus the camera and sound guys inside was pretty entertaining.

10 Reasons I Love the German Mountains

I first visited the Alps in 2001 as a 17-year old on a post-graduation France trip. It was my first time to see “real” mountains, and not from an airplane either. Initially our group had fought our teacher on the decision to do a 3-day extension to Chamonix at the end of our 17-day tour. We all wanted to go to Italy, but our teacher wouldn’t budge.

The kids last year hated Rome. It was hot and crowded.… we’re much better off going to the Alps,” she told us. We whined a lot, but it was to no avail.

We arrived in Chamonix after a hot and crowded few days in Paris. We were there for the end of the Tour de France, and so the city was packed and our un-airconditioned hotel provided no relief from the heat of the city in July. We were all country kids, we’d been traveling for two weeks, and this was so far out of our comfort zone it wasn’t even funny. But then…

Via

…and also this….

Via

I was sold. We took two cable cars and an elevator to visit the Aiguille du Midi, which gave us a view from 3842m. Far below us the brightly colored jackets of the mountain climbers stood out in the snow as they made their way up Mont Blanc. It was an amazing view, and I couldn’t believe that some of our group had opted out due to their fear of heights! 

On the way back down we took a break between cable cars and ran around the side of the mountain. There was snow in the shade of some of the huge boulders, and we went sledding in our jeans. We’d been traveling for over two weeks, it’s not like they were clean anyways. In the sun the grass was green and full of wildflowers. I wanted to change my name to Heidi, get some goats, and move on in.

Turns out, our Madame C. knew best. Just don’t tell her I said that. 

…………………………..

After France I had to lead a mountain-free existence for many years. It was sad, and sometimes I felt like Bilbo Baggins….

But then I came to Germany. 

One of my first trips in Germany was to Berchestgaden. And once again, I was hooked.

I love everything about the mountains in Germany. Here are 10 reasons why….

1) I love the rolling landscapes…

View from the Feldburg in the Black Forest

 

2) And the ummmm…. pointy-er landscapes…

View from the on the Zugspitze

3) I love getting to see the same views in summer and winter…

Both views from before heading up the Zugspitze

4) I love the picture-perfect mountain towns…

5) And the picture-perfect mountain town festivals…

All from Berchtesgaden

6) I love fields of sheep behind Alpine hotels….

In Ettal

7) And hiking through fields of cows wearing giant bells….

On the Feldburg. Shhhhh, don’t tell BV he’s on THE INTERNET.

8) I love whatever this is….

9) I love the view from the top…. oh, and the feeling of accomplishment from getting there on your own two feet….

View over the Blaueishütte, Berchtesgaden

10) And I love that you can get a beer at the top whether you took the hard way-hike or the tourist train (or bus, or cable car, or whatever).

At the Eagle’s Nest, Berchtesgaden. Shh, don’t tell my dad he’s on the internet either.
 …………………………….

Now I’m not saying that I’m looking into real estate or anything, because I’m not looking to “settle down” right now. But someday I would love to live in the mountains. I’m okay with being a city mouse for now, but in my opinion nothing would be better than waking up to this every morning…

Unless of course, it was if I was looking at that view from a house that looked like…

It’s a little close to the road for me, and a little big, but  you get the idea. Wooden shutters, geraniums, cows next door… I love it all.

And of course I’d have to go whole hog on the decor….

A little blurry, sorry.

But if you’re going to live in an Alpine-style house, you have to go all wood and floral and deer on the inside, don’t you? In retrospect I think this is all due to the fact that when I was a kid, I wanted to live David the Gnome’s house.

Via

And over a nice big fireplace, I want to hang these pictures. They are currently for sale at a nearby antiques shop, and I know this is REALLY WEIRD, but I love them. LOVE THEM.

Actually these pictures are what started this whole post off. Talk about a train of thought rerouting. Yeesh. On second thought, it might be time to leave Germany, because I’m clearly going insane.

Mountains? Beaches? Where do you want to go?