Residence Permit Rodeo: Wait, what?

Oh residence permits… I so missed writing about you. The drama, the intrigue, the will-they or won’t-they…

But here we are. It’s been about two and a half years since I wrote one of these posts and the time has come to once again partake in the joys and wonders of German bureaucracy. Here’s what we know so far…

The Players:

H: me, still in Germany, still wanting to be here, still paying taxes, still thinking someone knows what’s going on.

BV: still helping me navigate arenas of German bureaucracy that a normal German citizen never has to deal with, and therefore often as confuzzled as I am.

Fr. C: my former Beamter*, responsible for doing all my paperwork and issuing my visa in 2014. Now onto something else, presumably, which is probably best for her.

Shiny New Herr (SNH): my new Beamter, who I will saying nothing further about lest risking a karmic smackdown.

The Scene:

Landkreis Fürth, 2014

Fr. C (paraphrased): your new permit is good for two years. If you do anything different for work, you must let us know. Since you are now registered in our system, you’ll receive all your paperwork automatically next time you are ready to renew.**

H and BV: thank her profusely and skip out door to not worry about nonsense for two more years, confident in the fact that German efficiency would deliver the appropriate documents to our door in about one year and nine-ish months.

Landkreis Fürth, mid-2016

H: my permit is up in November, so we should get something in September or so, don’t you think?

BV: yeah that’s what she said last time.

Landkreis Fürth, October 2016

H: soooo, we still haven’t gotten anything… it’s up next month, and we’re supposed to go to the States in December. That seems really short. Maybe we should email Fr. C or call her?

BV: probably, let’s send her an email.

*crafts email and hits send*

H: uhoh… guess who just got a ‘this person doesn’t exist’ auto-reply?

*checks Landkreis  website*

H: ummm… Fr. C is no longer on here. And there’s no contact info for a new person. That seems… ominous.

*a flurry of phone attempts and emails to assorted addresses that WERE listed follows*

Landkreis Fürth, November 2016

SNH (via email): we don’t normally do this by email but I will give you an appointment in December and we can discuss your travel plans.

H: we’ve had tickets to Wisconsin booked since APRIL. If there’s a possibility that we can’t go, what are we going to do?

BV: I don’t know. I don’t get this.

Landkreis Fürth, December 2016

BV: Fr. C told us two years ago that the information would be sent automatically but we didn’t get anything.

SNH: well not yet, it would have come.

BV: but her permit was up last month?

SNH: yes. And it takes 6-8 weeks to process the new application.

BV and H: ????

SNH: so we’ll give you a temporary extension for four months, you can travel with that and we’ll start processing the new application. You’ll get information about your next appointment and what you need to bring with when it’s ready. That’ll be €30.

BV: is there anything that we can do to make this easier? I mean, it would be better if we didn’t have to do this so regularly every few years (nervous laughter).

SNH: sure. If she had a normal working contract, not a freelance contract. Or get married. I’ve never had a case like this.***

*BV and H leave office*

H: is that normal advice? Doesn’t seem like they should run around recommending marriage as a means to an end here.

BV: yeah but a working contract would be nice.

H: true. And why don’t they send the stuff in advance if they know it takes that long to process? Shouldn’t it go out in advance?

BV: that made no sense.

Which brings us to…

Landkreis Fürth, April 2017 (I think you know where this is going)

H: okay, now my extension is up at the end of this month and we still haven’t gotten any new information.

BV: I’ll give them a call

*BV calls at the beginning of the month. SNH is on vacation (naturally) for Easter and won’t be back until the 18th. His colleague however, digs out my file.*

SNH’s colleague: I have her file but it doesn’t say anything. But I’ll send you an email with the usual documents that are needed for the next appointment. You can gather them and then get in touch with SNH when he’s back.

Landkreis Fürth, April 18th, 2017

BV: hi I’m calling about Frau H’s application… the extension is almost up and we still haven’t… uhuh…. uhuh…. super…. uhuh….. okay, yes let’s do that.

*BV gets off phone*

BV: okay… we have an appointment next week and we can bring all the things that were in that email. But SNH applied for the longer-term permit this time and he hasn’t gotten it back yet.

H: longer-term? Like… the permanent residence one?

BV: I think so.

H: well that explains the thing about the retirement insurance. But…

BV: permanent would be great, right?

H: yeeeeees. Yes it would. But I didn’t even really think that was an option.

BV: why not?

H: because I haven’t looked into it in ages, and it seems like every time I read the account of someone else getting it, it was like… a THING. Yeah I’ve been here more than five years but there were interviews. Copious paperwork, language tests… I don’t have any of that stuff. There’s no way he could just request it, and ta-da! That’s way too easy. I was planning on another 2-year extension and then see what happens. Plus, I’m freelance and that further complicates things. And what happens when that gets rejected? Can we just get a 2-year one instead? Or do you get one application at a shot and then I have to go?

BV: I have no idea, but we’ll see what he says.

Fin.

So that’s where we are at the moment. Would I be goddamned delighted to have an unlimited residence permit? You bet your sweet ass I would. But my pessimistic side thinks that there is no way in God’s green earth that this could possibly happen nearly completely by accident. Even writing this feels slightly like tempting fate but this is how it goes sometimes… and that’s what blogs are for. Which means that I’m just sitting over here pressing my thumbs, and waiting.

If you made it through all of that, I commend you, you trooper. And for that, you shall be richly rewarded with a picture of Marry die Katze enjoying the spring air on her personal balcony.

Marry says, “don’t deport the Bringer of the Noms!”

Disclaimer: this is merely my experience. I have never met two foreigners here that have had the same (or even close-ish) experience when dealing with this nonsense. The only other non-married, non-contracted Americans I’ve run across have had EU passports, which I only resent slightly, the lucky bastards. You can ask me for advice on these things but as you can read above, it’s basically the blind leading the blind, stubborn persistence, and a dash of dumb luck.

*Beamter = public official

**Because my previous residence permit had been issued by the city of Nürnberg, we were mistaken in thinking that my registering a new address in a new city would be relayed to the foreigner’s office. We had to call them to get my renewal started, whereas in Nbg my renewal information had come automatically after the first year. See more on that whole friggin’ circus here.

***I’m hoping that this statement was due more to his relatively young age than anything else. I’m hardly the only freelance foreigner in this country.

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Customer Service Stress

A major complaint I hear quite often living here is that the customer service is total crap. Do they kiss your ass every time you walk into a store? No. Has anyone ever been openly rude to me? No. Have I waited what felt like a thousand years to get help in stores and restaurants? Absolutely yes. So while I don’t consider myself to be one of the foreigners here who has a major problem with German customer service*, there are moments when it does scare the bejeezus out of me. This is a story about one of them.

BV and I had gone into the Karstadt department store recently to pick up a few things, and a brightly-colored spring sweater caught my eye. Since I still had a few gift cards floating around my wallet, I decided to go ahead and get it. We checked out with my sweater, and then proceeded to hunt the store for men’s socks, before checking out again and descending to the U-Bahn level to exit the store.

The bottom level of the store is the food section, and as it is at the U-Bahn level, it sees a fair amount of foot traffic. BV and I were eagerly debating what our planned dinner order would be (we were marking the end of vegetarian January/February by going out for Greek), when we heard peep peep peep as we went through the doors. We stopped, turned around, peep-ing again, and paused in the entryway. There’s no security in most stores here, and people continued to go on about their business around us. The store employees in eye/earshot didn’t blink at all, and then we heard more peeps as other people went in and out. We figured at that point that the metal detector was faulty, and since we had receipts for our purchases, we headed back out the door.

The next day I pulled out my new sweater to try it on with a few things and, you guessed it, the friggin’ ink tag was still attached. Sonofabitch. For two reasons, really.

  1. This means an extra trip into the city, because I’m usually carrying around enough stuff to class that I don’t really care to add a shopping bag to the mix and…
  2.  I can’t do this by myself. My German is serviceable under benign circumstances but just the thought of trying to explain this to a cashier was enough to scare the crap out of me. Did I have receipts? Yes. Did it warrant a lengthy explanation? No. But the American in me would like to give some kind of a justification/story to explain myself more. And my German is not good enough to do that and I didn’t want to cause a scene somehow. Or get arrested.

That meant when poor BV came home, I got to tell him that we were going to take another trip into town at some point because of the aforementioned reasons. He wasn’t thrilled about another extra trip either, but he completely understood my reasoning.

Cut to us on the S-Bahn a few days later…

BV: Yeah we have a receipt, but what if they think that we bought one and paid for it, but stole this one?

Me: Oh my God I didn’t even think of that! Why would you say that? Don’t put thoughts in my head!

We walked back into Karstadt, peep-ing again on the way in, headed to the nearest Kasse, and waited to hear our fate.

When our turn came, we stepped up, BV pulled out the receipt and the sweater, showed her the ink tag and…

Cashier: Oh mein Gott,(continues in German) sorrysorrysorry, hate it when that happens, etc.

She took the ink tag off, folded my sweater up, handed it back to us, and went to a cabinet in the corner. We thought maybe there was a “whoops something happened” form or who-knows-what, but she came back with two chocolate hearts (Lindt, not some crap chocolate), handed them to us and apologized profusely for making us come back.

All that stress for nothing.

To be fair, she did ask us if the alarm had gone off, but BV explained that we had heard it go off with other people as well so we just assumed it was faulty. So could I have explained that myself? Debatable and I’m glad he was there just in case.

However that means perhaps it’s time to set myself a new goal. To not only be able to survive a normal interaction in German, but to be able to get my own damn ink tags removed without fear of a panic attack. That seems reasonable, right?

 

*I highly recommend spending a few years in Prague. Those customer service people HATE EVERYONE. Germans seems positively cheerful in comparison.

Thanksgiving the Fifth

I know they say that time flies when you’re having fun, but I still was surprised at how quickly the fifth Thanksgiving BV and I have hosted here came along. This year has, in general, blown by, but it seems like only yesterday I was discovering the joys of the Metro and learning how important it is to order a turkey from the local butcher early… ah, to be young and naive about turkey availability again!

I was also once naive about how weirdly enjoyable this part is.

I was also once naive about how weirdly enjoyable this part is.

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A rare sighting of BV in his natural habitat.

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Bondage Bird, aka Hank.

We also continued our unintentional tradition of having a bird much bigger than what we asked for. Hank weighed in at 7.3kg, and we requested something more in the 5-6kg range. *Sigh* But BV happily packaged up turkey to freeze and throw on the grill in the coming year. Thanksgiving leftovers are the gift that keeps on giving.

Like the previous four years, we had a houseful of people and a really lovely evening. At the risk of sounding like a complete cheeseball, it is so wonderful to have people coming in, exclaiming about how excited they are, and how they’ve come to look forward to this day every year. Not to mention the fact that someone is always willing to come out early and help, bring a delicious side dish, dessert, or even a chair or two.

At times it can seem like such a struggle to find the kinds of people you want to surround yourself with, whether you are in your home country or not. And cheesiness be damned, it is really wonderful to realize that it took some time, but you have got some really damn good people here. Warm fuzzies for everyone!

Those damn good people are also great about doing things like taking pictures of the finished product, thank goodness. Usually at this point in the cooking process my brain is figuring out my next six steps and have completely lost track of my phone so it’s nice to have witnesses who are actually on top of the documentation aspect. Big thanks to N. and S. for the next two photos….

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I am straight up impressed with how clean the kitchen looks here, considering this was taken very shortly before we planned to eat. It did not stay this orderly for long though.

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Feast mode!

Ditto for the table. We started strong but ended up having to put in an extra seat for another couple who arrived a bit later. But everyone fit comfortably this year, and there was plenty for all. Plus leftovers, of course. Now if only the magical dish gnomes had shown up to deal with the aftermath for us!

 

Previous Thanksgivings here in the Dorf

One * Two * Three * Four

 

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Five.

A minor side effect of being busier than I’ve been in recent memory was that my 5-year anniversary of being in Germany came and went on June 20th without my realizing it for more than a week. Whoops.

I just went back and read my last anniversary post from the 3-year mark and it bummed me out a bit. I know I took that disastrous interview pretty hard, and was feeling exceptionally shitty about not only my lacking German skills but also the lacking work. While I don’t feel particularly fantastic about my German these days, I know it’s much better than it was two years ago. And while I still don’t see myself teaching English forever, right now I’m busy enough and have enough positive and enthusiastic students that it has made life A LOT more pleasant on that front.

So all in all, I don’t feel too bad that we didn’t mark the occasion in a more festive manner. It was a Monday and I had four classes, ran around town, and then came home to make these absolutely amazing shrimp tacos. We had a nice bottle of wine, watched The Wine Show, and relaxed. And thanks to the aforementioned shrimp tacos and a few other recent recipes, I can say that I have just about converted BV into a cilantro person. If I accomplished nothing else in five years here, at least I did that.

cornflower

No pictures from the anniversary, but I have taken a LOT of cornflower pictures this summer. Love cornflower blue.

3-year anniversary

1-year anniversary

Lest I Forget: 7 Years Down

After being abroad for so long, I tend to lose track of just how long it has really been. Luckily for me, Facebook is all over that. In mid-December, I started to get a bunch of notifications that reminded me of my 7-year friendship with assorted people in my TEFL course. In addition to the solid giggles I got at some of the pictures, it reminded me of just how exhilarating and chaotic those first few weeks were. To pack a suitcase with really no idea of just how long you are really packing for is a pretty wild sensation to say the least, and sometimes I’m still not sure exactly how I did that. But I did, and (mostly) luckily, there is photographic evidence.

To celebrate the occasion, here are a few of my favorite moments through the years. Hopefully these are all never-before-seen (at least, on this blog), so I hope you enjoy!

2009 was the year all this nonsense kicked off, so it gets two pictures. The first was on the first full day in Prague, when I met the first few people from my TEFL course and we set off to explore the snowy city. It is still one of my favorite days ever.

Petrin Hill was cooooold that day.

Petrin Hill was cooooold that day. Jazz hands for warmth!

That year I also had the summer of brothers, where I learned what it would’ve been like to have an older/younger brother. Sorry, Holly, but it was pretty fun. They even accompanied me on a madcap trip to Berlin to pick up my first Czech residence permit when it finally came in. Not that Berlin is a hard sell, but it was in stark contrast to my first solo, anxiety-ridden trip to the city when I had applied for the permit.

Karl (as pictured above) and I wander Berlin.

Karl (as pictured above) and I wander Berlin. Photo courtesy Garth.

2010 was a busy year, and I was fortunate enough to visit a lot of great places. But looking back now, this picture captured a major highlight. In Prague, there is never a shortage of things to do, and occasionally on quiet weekends here I do miss that. This particular evening we gathered to celebrate a small concert and party given  for and by our friend Kyle. This was thenceforth known as the “prom picture.” Easy to see why.

prom pic

What? Your prom wasn’t in a cave? Clearly it wasn’t in Prague then.

The people in these first pictures are now scattered from the States, to Australia, to China, and of course here in Europe. Hopefully one day we may find ourselves in the same places again for a minute or two.

2011 brought a move, but before that, it brought my family. The biggest highlight of the year had to be showing them around the place I had been living, and then giving them a taste of where I was going next on our Czech-German-Austrian circle tour. I think the beer gardens with a view may have helped them to finally get this whole ‘thing’ that I was doing.

There are few bad views in Prague.

There are few bad views in Prague.

2012 was possibly my best year so far where travel is concerned. I went all over Germany, I was in the States, London, Hungary, Greece, Austria, and ended the year in Italy. Not bad, right? Plus, BV and I got together, which has clearly worked out pretty well for both of us. But sorry honey, one of my favorite parts of the year had to be when I finally, finally got Courtney to come over here. Yeah, I had to get her on House Hunters International to do it, but those few days were a total trip. We had a ridiculous amount of fun, and didn’t look too absurd on television, so wins all around!

Just a typical day of getting some B-roll.

Just a typical day of getting some B-roll.

2013 was another busy year with visitors here, and I got to introduce BV to the glory of real burgers in the States. All of those things were great, but one of my favorite things we did that year was our last minute trip to Brussels. It may seem small compared to other trips, but that was exactly why I wanted to move to Europe in the first place. To decide to go to Brussels for a concert on a whim. And it was fantastic.

Lurking outside just before one of the best meals ever.

Lurking outside just before one of the best meals ever.

In 2014 more friends visited! My parents visited! My sister visited!* We got a cat!  We went more places, we did more things. A highlight of the year for me had to be Salzburg though. We had the perfect mix of city visit, beer tastings, and mountain hiking for me. No matter how many times I visit, Salzburg is and always will be one of my favorite cities. It just does it for me.

♥

♥ always.

That brings us to 2015. I just did a recap of the year so regular readers know how sweet it was. My picture for last year is from an indescribably beautiful place. I had zero expectations of South Tyrol before we went, and as I said before… Just go.

sud tirol

All day, every day.

What? You thought we were going to get through a whole post about the last seven years and you weren’t going to see a mountain picture? Hahahaha. Yeah right. Plus: with this post I have neatly met my yearly quota for pictures of myself. And it’s only January 8th. Good job, self.

I don’t really have anything particularly profound to say on my anniversary this year, possibly because I haven’t had any wine yet.** But on my fifth Euro-versary I wrote a list of things I had learned in the previous five years, and on reading it again, it’s all still true. Especially point one. So I guess that’s just the best advice I can give to anyone contemplating a giant, slightly insane leap of faith. Throw some shit in a bag, and just go. It’ll all sort itself out in the end. And seriously, don’t forget your umbrella.

 

*Not trying to sound jaded here. I know how incredibly lucky I have been to have had so many people able and willing to travel here to visit. Whether they came specifically to see me, or I just got thrown into the mix as part of a larger trip, I’m profoundly grateful for each and every one of them. Not every person who moves half a world away is as fortunate as I am in this regard. Keep on coming, bitte.

**We’re mostly dry this month, so still trying to decide how to celebrate properly sans a nice bottle. If you have any ideas, please let me know.

2015 Recapped

It’s a new year, so that means it must be time to look back on all the things I did the year before. Or as I like to call it, “all the blog fodder that I never got around to posting about, and a few things that I did.” But hey, there’s always the long dark of January/February. No guarantees though. Grab yourselves a cup of something warm (or spiked) and let’s get to the recap!

January:

Some readers may remember that BV and I wanted to get away for NYE 2014, but didn’t manage it as I didn’t have my new residence permit in hand yet. In the end though, we realized we had to get out of Dodge for a minute, and decided to go snowshoeing in the mountains for a few days. We revisited Ettal, one of my favorite little nooks of Germany, and had some fairly entertaining conversations (Snowshoeversations One, and Two). I left with a new appreciation for winter sports, and what a few days of fresh air and vitamin D can do for a person in the long dark of January.

Ettal, I love you so hard.

Ettal, I love you so hard.

February:

It was a good thing that we went away in January, because I’m pretty sure I went into hibernation until about mid-March. And when I did leave the house, it looked like this…

Winter mornings before 8 o'clock should be banned.

Winter mornings before 8 o’clock should be banned.

Don’t think anyone could blame me too much for staying inside trapped under a warm Marry die Katze.

Cats > going out in that crap.

Cats > going out in that crap.

March:

Things warmed up quickly (thank goodness), and in mid-March we headed down to see our villager friends, and celebrate another friend’s birthday with an absolutely enormous bonfire. The enormous bonfire was accompanied by an enormous (aka, American-sized) bottle of Captain Morgan for the birthday girl, so I think you can all figure out how that one ended. No, actually you probably can’t, because it ended with us roasting cocktail shrimp over the giant bonfire and watching the new kittens rocket around us in the darkness.

Not pictured: crazy kittens.

Not pictured: crazy kittens.

April:

Once again we found ourselves yearning for a weekend away. After some debate, we decided a night in Munich in order to try a new burger restaurant was just the ticket for our Easter celebration. Only downside was that both the burger place, AND the magical craft beer hall were my new favorite places… and they are in Munich. So close, and yet so far… and so palace-y!

Schloss Nymphenburg

Schloss Nymphenburg

Of course there are good things here too, and I was reminded of that with an evening at Nürnberg’s own Volksfest, and some more time in the Franconian  Switzerland.

nbg volksfest

May:

The first of May is a holiday here, and I got the idea to invite a friend to go visit Schloss Linderhof with us. She was planning on leaving Germany (which happily, has not come to fruition yet), and had been frustrated by the trickiness of getting to the palace by public transportation. It is doable from here, but it’s basically playing planes, trains, and automobiles. So we cut out the first two parts, and drove down for the day. We enjoyed the colorful tour guide, the equally colorful pint-sized palace, and a slightly damp walk around the sprawling grounds. After that, we headed back into Ettal to see the Kloster, and to revisit the French Onion soup (and other goodies), at a restaurant that we had found on our January visit.

Schloss Linderhof

Schloss Linderhof in the rain.

It’s a good thing that May had a lot of holidays, because the month was absolutely action-packed with activities. A long weekend in the middle of the month fell over BV’s birthday, and we packed the car and headed for some hiking in South Tyrol. If you haven’t been there, go put some shit in a bag and go. I fell in love with the place, and not just because of the food… or the lakes… or the mountains…

Chapel over Toblach/Dobbiaco.

Chapel over Toblach/Dobbiaco.

Speaking of love, the last two weekends of May were occupied by weddings, so it was lucky that we had gotten some relaxation time in earlier in the month. Both weddings were fun, lovely, not to mention the first German ones I had attended, but two in two weekends is exhausting. Wedding planners must be off their rockers, that’s all I’m sayin’.

Both photos above are from the first wedding we went to, which took place around Nürnberg. The church was one of the coolest little village churches I’ve seen, with interesting details around every corner, and its own defensive wall surrounding it. The newest thing in there is possibly older than all of America, which is always fun. The reception took place at a teeny tiny “castle” in a random village, because every random village here has a teeny tiny “castle,” or so it seems. Wedding in the Marriott Hotel Ballroom C, it is not.* Again, minor differences.

June:

After all the excitement of May, it was back to business as usual. Juuuuust kidding. It was back to business as usual for about two weeks, after which we set off for Italy again (I know, I know), for our ‘official’ summer vacation. A few days of hiking in Cinque Terre (CT posts here, here, and here), mixed up with sight-seeing and beach-laying, and then a few more days spent around Lake Garda was absolutely magnificent. I still have so, so, so many pictures from the week that I’d love to share, but like I said before… no promises. (Bad blogger. Bad.)

Lake Garda, you are pretty.

Lake Garda, you are pretty.

July:

Our vacation fell in June this year because in July BV was really supposed to get rolling on his thesis project for his Master’s program. The ball got rolling, but it started pretty slowly so at this point, it looks like he’s going to finish a bit later than he had originally planned on. In between work and study, the only thing of note we did in July was drive up to Alzenau with his mom to visit the Bavarian Garden Show for an afternoon.

Why yes, I would like one of these giant chairs to lounge in our garden and read.

Why yes, I would like one of these giant chairs to lounge in our garden and read.

August:

August was mostly about work, and working on some other projects around the house. I finally got cracking on the chair project, and spent several hot afternoons in the yard sanding and painting.

August also brought my birthday, but due to the fact that it fell during the week and sometimes I do have to work, we stayed home for the actual day this year. I dispatched BV to my favorite Asian takeaway place in the city, where he picked up dinner for us, and we spent a quiet night at home. The following weekend we took all the trains and buses humanly possible down to Mittenwald for some hiking, and a slightly late celebration trip. I also got to catch up with one of my old roomies from Prague, who stopped for a night of camping in Nürnberg on her way back from France.

Mittenwalder Hütte, home of crazy noodles.

Mittenwalder Hütte, home of crazy noodles.

September:

Fest season kicked into high gear again with an afternoon at the Nürnberg Volksfest (now with Schanzenbräu!), and a few days in Munich. An old friend from college took a break from her Paris trip to fly in for a few days with her husband, so we took them festing and Munich-touring. Things like that make me appreciate Facebook, because it was a pretty good time. Hopefully they thought so as well!

Post-fest.

Post-fest.

I also wish the Viktualienmarkt was much, much, closer to here.

I also wish the Viktualienmarkt was much, much, closer to here.

Side note regarding the above Oktoberfest photo: now normally I try not to post photos of random people because Germans on the whole are a little nuts about privacy laws. But I only took three photos during our trip to the Wiesn this year, and I didn’t even really notice this one until several days later, and then I could not stop laughing at it. So what do we think… do those two know each other? Is he just pining for a cute girl in a Dirndl? Is she actively ignoring her date? Isn’t this picture an exacting snapshot of life in 2015 (minus the Tracht, that is)?

We almost didn’t make it to Oktoberfest though, because a few days before that, BV and I took his brother M for a (difficult and pain-inducing) last hiking trip to the Tegernseer Hütte. The hiking trip was preceded by a night of poker (and whiskey) with the Villagers… not our best-laid plan, in retrospect. That hiking trip was rough, but gorgeous, and most definitely deserves its own post. It’s good to have goals, right?

En route to the Tegernseer Hütte.

En route to the Tegernseer Hütte in the mist and gathering dark.

October:

I’m pretty sure I went back into hibernation after a few months of way too much excitement. Beyond that, we did drive up north to spend a night with BV’s grandma, as we had missed her birthday party when we were both sick. Too much excitement, like I said. We also checked out the first exhibition of photos from Instagram in Nürnberg, which was pretty cool to see.

nbg instagram

November:

At the end of October, BV declared that he needed a few days away, and since he had to use the last of his holiday days, we headed down to Reit im Winkl for a perfect last (really this time) hike of the year.

After that, November was back to work, a little more work, and trying to plan our Thanksgiving that was so impossible to schedule this year, I started to wonder if people got food poisoning the year before and just didn’t want to tell me. Mostly joking there, but due to a bunch of inconvenient factors, we ended up hosting the fourth annual Thanksgiving dinner in…

December:

Since my last post was a December thus far post (and includes said turkey), feel free to just hop over to that one

As for the rest of the month, we got our things together for Christmas with one last pleasant day in sunny Nürnberg, which also included some Feuerzangenbowle (of course), and seeing Star Wars with friends.

Then it was on to the official Christmas celebrations, which kicked off here with BV’s parents on the 24th. On the 25th, we headed to his dad’s for a duck dinner with his little brother M, as well. As per usual, it was way too much food, but what’s Christmas without entirely overdoing it? No fun, that’s what.

Another positive note: I have proof this year that I do in fact have the capacity to learn, because on New Year’s Day the last two years, I have had to make an emergency run to the Shell station, which wasn’t even open by the time I got there last year. This year, BV and I stocked up for a few days at home in advance, and even remembered an industrial-sized bottle of Coke Light, and chips. We weren’t even planning on going for Greek this year, but better safe than sorry. First we wanted to go away for NYE, but nothing super appealing was still available, there’s not much snow in the mountains so snowshoeing was out, and then we just got tired of talking about it, haha. We had a few invitations but in the end, pajama pants and staying home won out.

So last night here we were, and we had a lovely evening with movies, games, a nice chat with my parents on FaceTime, and an absolutely enormous Raclette feast. We didn’t even get to the dessert course, so you know if we opted out of chocolate, it was a lot of food.

Overall though, it was the perfect way to end the year… and not just because I was wearing pants with an elastic waist. It was relaxed, it was fun, and that’s what we’ve been trying to shoot for over here. Less stress, less worry, (less wearing of pants), and maybe even a little productivity. Sometimes.

To wrap it up, I’d just like to share one last picture, and that’s my top nine pictures of the year from Instagram. I think it’s a pretty good representation of the year, especially reading back over this post. 🙂

2015bestnine

Thanks again to all of you for reading, and I hope you all had a safe, fun, and festive slide into the New Year. Happy 2016!

 

P.S. – Like last year, I’ll throw in a shameless plug for my sister Holly’s blog, which you can find here. More readers may mean more posts, or at the very least, more pictures of crazy shit in Korea.** Go visit her!

*Not that there’s anything wrong with having a wedding in a hotel ballroom. Whatever trips your trigger… not trying to offend anyone here.

**Crazy shit in Korea = pretty much everything in Korea, it seems.

Nemo Killed Halloween

Alright, this is perhaps going to be a controversial opinion, and it may make me a pariah among American expats but I have to get this off my chest…

“Hi, my name is Heather and I give exactly zero fucks about missing Halloween.”

There. I said it.

Honestly, I’ve never been all that crazy about Halloween. When I was a kid of course I enjoyed trick-or-treating and feasting on all that candy, but that was about it. In college, I reluctantly dressed up and went to parties but I was never really that into it. If it wasn’t a costume I could fashion out of stuff I already had, it wasn’t happening. I was endlessly impressed by some friends and their commitment levels to crazily elaborate costumes (for ex: recreating the entire cast of Anchorman, which was fantastic), but digging through the local Goodwill was never my thing.

Nor was I into buying one of those pre-made costumes that come in a bag and usually (if you’re a lady), should include the word “slutty” right in the description. I think this aversion to cheaply-made costumes comes from my parents, who were always very adamant that we didn’t need them. That meant being slightly jealous of my friends who had shiny new costumes every year, while I wore my two costumes from dance classes until I was far too big for them, or something that came out of our “dress-up” box.

The last time I wore a costume was to work back in 2007. The museum I worked at was having an event  for the holiday so I dressed as Tonks from the Harry Potter series mostly because the only thing I had to buy was the spray-on hair color.

tonks costume1Yes, my costume consisted of: my winter coat (very practical, as I had to be outside a lot for the event),  one of my sister’s emo kid hoodies, a cat toy stick as a wand, a stuffed owl, and purple spray that 1) barely colored my hair and 2) made it impossible to brush. Fun!

The weekend after this photo was taken, some friends of mine were coming to Milwaukee to go out for a few nights. I remember that we briefly discussed if we should dress up in costumes, but I figured, “hey, we aren’t in college anymore, who’s going to be dressed up in Halloween costumes in downtown Milwaukee?”

The answer? Everyone. We were literally the only four people not in costume and it was on that night that Halloween officially died for me.

We were out in a bar that was stuffed to bursting, including an entire horde of guys dressed as Roman soldiers. You couldn’t order a drink without being whacked by a shield, or having your foot stepped on by some chick in stripper heels, but that wasn’t the worst of them… that honor went to Slutty Nemo.

Yes, Slutty Nemo. How can Nemo be slutty, you might ask?

Answer: black tank top, black underwear, black fishnet tights, black heels, and a stuffed Nemo hat.

That was the last straw, as far as I was concerned.

Now that I live here, I quite enjoy not having to bother with Halloween. Of course, every year there is a round of parties, events, blah blah blah, to cater to the expat community, but I have zero interest in anything that involves a costume or a cover charge. The last two years, BV and I have bought one bag of candy for any possible trick-or-treaters, but there were none to be seen and we then feasted on tiny Snickers bars.

Call me a party pooper if you will, but judging from my FB newsfeed, Halloween is basically a month-long event now in the States. That is absurdly long. Most of my friends have kids now, and most of those kids seem to have been in costume 95% of the month. There are school parties, family events, and trick-or-treating on multiple days in multiple neighborhoods. This is especially perplexing as it seems that most of those kids don’t even get to eat all that candy. So what is the point?? And if they aren’t in a costume, then they’re in festive orange pumpkin sweatshirts to sit in the pumpkin patch for FB photoshoots. (Because if it doesn’t go on FB, what’s the point?)

And while some expats here are bemoaning the fact that the Germans haven’t wholeheartedly adopted the festivity of the season, I’m enjoying their steadfast refusal to care about Halloween. Besides, Carnival starts next month, so they’ll have their chance to put their costumes on then. So there.

I enjoy fall, I do. I like the colors, I like eating squash in various forms, I like getting out my scarves and boots, but Halloween? Meh.

So… anyone else not care about Halloween? Or do you want to pelt me with fun-sized candies? Leave it in the comments…

2014 Recapped

Pro tip: if you’re looking to start a diet in the new year, I highly recommend living in a town where even the Shell gas station is closed on New Year’s Day, thus preventing you from buying delicious, delicious, salty chips to sate your slight hangover.

If you haven’t guessed from the previous statement, I did not draft this post in advance before happily driving off to Italy for the holiday. Sadly any thumbs that were pressed did not help my letter to arrive in time, and so here I sit, ready to look back at the last year.

January

January was pretty quiet, except for one weekend spent in Prague visiting my sister who was on her TEFL course. We had a great time hanging out with her and revisiting some of my favorite haunts. It was a great weekend away, apart from the last couple of hours.

Holly and I in Praha

Holly and I in Praha

February

Holly visited us for a week after she finished up with her TEFL course. While she was here, we visited Bamberg, and went down to Munich to meet up with one of her friends. Holly also helped us pick out a cat at the Nürnberg Tierheim, and thus Marry die Katze joined our family. I got to spend an afternoon with a childhood friend, who stopped in Nürnberg for some lunch on her Euro trip. We hadn’t seen each other (minus on the Facebox, of course), since our epic high school French trip of 2001, and it was great to catch up a bit.

March

Spring came fairly early this year, with crocuses pushing up through the grass in March, and even late in February. We took a few drives to the Franconian Switzerland, and I got acquainted with some of the walking paths around our little village.

April

The weather continued to be lovely, so we started on our garden. We also took the first hike of the year, and took BV’s little brother along to experience his first mountain shelter stay. He learned that a Maß tastes better at the top, and that I rarely lose at Egyptian Rat Screw. I had a fairly disastrous interview, but at least I got my first interview for a German job out of the way. My sister left the US to start her own English-teaching adventure in South Korea. She has a blog, which you can find here. Maybe if she gets some more hits, she’ll update the damn thing once in a while. (Hint, hint, hint, Holly.)

May

We spent some more time wandering through the Franconian Switzerland, and enjoyed testing out our new camera. BV decided that a study break was much needed for his birthday, so we hopped the border to spend a weekend in Strasbourg. It was my first time back to France since the high school trip, and the macaroons alone made it worth the while!

June

Fest season was in full swing in June, and we visited our local Kirchweih, plus the famous Erlangen Berg, and a beer fest in Nürnberg. The US played Germany in the World Cup, and we cheered on both sides in one of my favorite beer gardens in the city. Germany of course won, and BV got a nice bottle of whisky out of the deal.

July

I lost more classes in July, but the plus side is that I don’t have to wake up at 5:30 on Thursdays anymore. Silver linings, and all. The rest of the month was too busy to be working more anyway. My parents ended their week-long cruise up the Danube from Budapest here in Nürnberg, and stayed in Germany with us for a week. We showed them many castles on many hills, and spent time in Würzburg, Cologne, and Neustadt an der Weinstrasse. We took a trip down to the Weltenburger Kloster for a little hiking on a hot day, and back to the Franconian Switzerland for more hot climbs uphill. After far too many trips to the OBI, we finally decided to build a bookshelf in the office, which Marry die Katze claimed as her personal playground. My friend E was back in Germany for a hot minute, so we got caught up and even staged a castle garden photoshoot to work on my portfolio.

August

Another fairly busy month, starting with a visit to the Oberpfalz and our village friends. As per usual, it was a house full of friends, family, critters, and interesting talks. It’s good to know that there are people who are fully prepared with an action plan for the zombie apocalypse. We did a little hiking, and rented kayaks for a trip down a river to beat the heat. A random Tuesday was spent in Munich, visiting the German National Museum and the Residenz with a friend. My 31st birthday meant a weekend escape to Salzburg (out of phone service), and a little hiking on the Untersberg.

September

WEBMU finally came to Nürnberg with a side trip to Bamberg, and I enjoyed spending a couple of days with some fellow expats. BV and I celebrated our second anniversary, and we stopped by the Altstadtfest, to see what the old farmers were getting up to this year. I started teaching a new conversation course for our local VHS, and now get to spend Tuesday evenings with a chatty bunch of folks. The third round of Residence Permit Rodeo began, and I had no idea what was coming.

October

A college friend of mine flew to Munich with his girlfriend, so BV and I took the train down to meet them and hang out at Oktoberfest for the day. They came up to Nürnberg a few days later, and we got to show them around our area. We showed them the city, and more castles on hills in the Franconian Switzerland, before they headed off to Prague to continue their European tour. We tried to go somewhere new for our last hike of the year, but last-minute plans meant that everything was already full or closed. Instead of something new, we revisited the Hochries, where we were earlier in the year. The golden autumn lasted just long enough for us to get up and down the mountain. I finally picked up some new classes from another school, and my Thursday afternoons are now in Bad Windsheim, train strikes or not.

November

BV and I hopped a train down to Munich yet again, this time to see a Richard Avedon exhibit in its last weeks. The exhibit was wonderful, and we spent the rest of the day walking through the city enjoying the golden light and warm temperatures. A friend of mine met us for dinner, happily we caught her in Munich right before she was planning on moving back to Erlangen!  The rest of the month was pretty quiet, and ended with us hosting our third Thanksgiving for a very full house of friends.

December

Another year, another busy last month. This was the first month I was officially insured in Germany, so bring on the injuries! Originally we had planned to visit the Christmas market in Dresden with BV’s mom. She changed her mind though, and now we’ll probably get up there sometime next spring or summer. Cancelling that trip gave us a free weekend though, which was much needed. Another weekend was spent back in the Oberpfalz with the villagers, making Christmas cookies with the kids, and enjoying some home cooking from Costa Rica. The weekend before Christmas, we drove down to Salzburg for the night, to visit their Christmas market, and soak up some more of the delicious Salzburg-ness of the city. Happily we didn’t have to do any more traveling for our holiday celebrations; BV’s mom came to us on Christmas Eve for some rouladen and spinach dumplings. The first Christmas Day was spent with his dad, brother, and a very delicious goose. That was it for this year’s activities, and we laid low until last night. Much like last year, we started NYE at the world’s largest Feuerzangenbowle, but this year we were smart enough to skip the extra shot, and didn’t go back there after dinner. Dinner was Greek again this year, and we left just too late to catch the last train. We wandered around Fürth, drank another beer at one of the last open bars, and finally taxied ourselves back home just about 5am.

Talking at dinner last night, we decided that the year wasn’t particularly good or particularly bad, but leaned more positive. There are a lot of things that I’d like to do in 2015, and I’m hoping that we laid some groundwork for more travel plans last night. Someone in Berlin owes me a week in Italy, that’s for sure. 2015 will bring thesis time for BV’s Master program, so I’m sure there will be a fair amount of stress to come this year, but I’m optimistic that we can find a good balance.

Here’s hoping that 2015 finds everyone reading this happy, and healthy. May I offer a virtual cheers/prost, to the year ahead. A big thanks to all of you for following along!

Residence Permit Rodeo: “Uninsured”/Insured Edition

Getting German Insurance in just 287237 easy steps. Warning: bureaucratic frustration ahead.

Part of the reason for the radio silence over here lately has been my ongoing quest to renew my residence permission. As it turns out, deportation jokes are a lot less funny when it is an actual possibility, so I didn’t want to write anything about it until it was done and dealt with. I couldn’t bring myself to pretend that everything was a-okay, la la la, when there was a very real chance that I was going to be chased out of the country by faceless German bureaucrats carrying torches made of insurance contracts and syringes instead of pitchforks.

superstitious michael scott

My dreams lately have been delightful, let me tell you. So what exactly happened, you ask? Let’s back up a bit…

If you want to live in Germany, you need to have health insurance. As I planned to work freelance, I was told that I couldn’t get into the public system, and the private system was far too expensive for most people teaching English. Since I had to buy something, I decided to buy a policy aimed at travelers, or expats, that I knew of from my time in Prague. The TEFL course that I attended had recommended it as a good choice, as people coming to Prague should have insurance as well. While I lived there, I was insured through my job, so I let it lapse until I got here. It wasn’t terribly expensive, and could be done easily online, which were my main criteria at that point in time.

When I first applied for my residence permission/freelance work permit, all they required was a copy of my insurance card. The next year, it was the same. No fuss, no muss.

Fast forward two years to this September. When I lived in Nürnberg, a few weeks before my permit expired I received a letter that detailed what I needed to do to renew it, and had an appointment date. Because I moved, I didn’t know if it would be the same here. My permit was good until the end of September, and we ended up having to call them mid-month, to see what the deal was, and only after that did they send on the info for renewal.

I sent everything in as quickly as possible, but a 2-week turnaround wasn’t possible. That meant I ended up having to pay for a 3-month extension while they process my paperwork. Okay, that’s doable.

About a week or two later, I got an email from the foreigner’s office. There was a form attached, that needed to be filled out and signed by my insurance company. The form had a list, and the insurance company had to tick off what was covered. The list included general medical care, dental care, hospitalizations, medical equipment, prenatal care, and so on. I sent it to my insurance and they sent it back right away, but as my policy didn’t cover dental or prenatal care, they left those unchecked.

I sent the form back to the foreigner’s office, and they quickly replied that if not all of the items on the list were covered, then my new residence permit would be denied.

Shit.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

The next month was a flurry of phone calls and emails between us, various insurance companies, and insurance agents. One agent that I found through the Toy Town Germany forums responded to me very quickly, and basically told me that

1) he couldn’t believe I’d gotten away with the other policy for so long and

2) as an American, there was no way I could get onto a German policy.

Great.

The main problem was that I had already been here for three years, “without insurance,” which was insanely frustrating because I did have insurance, it just wasn’t the kind that they wanted. That agent wanted to sell me another expat policy out of the UK, but the reviews online weren’t great, and I wasn’t eager to get another foreign policy and run into this problem again in another two years.

We did look into putting me onto BV’s public insurance, but they said we would have to have been married/together for seven years, and even then there would be a massive penalty for not having a German insurance before.

I spoke to my current insurance company, and it would be possible to add on dental at any renewal point. Plus, since I’d been a continuous member for more than two years, I could actually add on prenatal care as well. Unfortunately, no changes to the policy could be made until it was up for renewal in February, which would be too late.

Finally we managed to find an agent who seemed determined to make something work for us. After a few attempts with different private insurance companies, he found us a loophole that would avoid our having to pay the penalty for being “uninsured” for three years.

The loophole is pretty much this… BV had to sign up for the policy, with me as the covered person. Since he’s obviously had insurance forever, this got us out of having to pay a penalty of upwards of €10,000. Yeah. you read that right.

Private insurance isn’t exactly cheap, and the price has gotten even higher since I don’t fall into the “normal” BMI range (this is what they call “adding insult to injury”), but after visits to the doctor to make sure I don’t have super-AIDS or any other horrible diseases, I am insured.

Moral of the story: if you are coming to Germany, get your ass insured in the German system as quickly as possible. It’s not easy, and it’s not cheap, but it will save you a lot of time and stress down the road. It’s a miracle that my blood pressure was normal when I saw the doctor the first time.

I wish I had known about this three years ago, but since the foreigner’s office didn’t question my insurance the first time around, I had no idea that my policy wasn’t good enough. There was no information I could find that listed what had to be covered. But now we know.

I really wanted to close this post with a triumphant picture of me skipping about with my new residence permit, but I don’t have it yet. I thought I would get it at my appointment last Friday, but it turns out that was just the appointment where I pay €120 to stay here for the next two years. Now I just have to wait for a letter from Berlin with a code that we need to pick up the actual permit.

My agent at the foreigner’s office said that it should come in the next two weeks, so we’re crossing fingers and pressing thumbs that it comes as soon as possible, and we can pick it up without too much trouble around the Christmas holidays. We’re dying to go somewhere over New Year’s, but I’m not leaving the country until I have that card in hand. Better safe than busted at the border!

 

Breaking ze Rules: Ruhezeit Edition

Anyone that’s been here in ze Deutschland for more than five minutes knows that the Germans have a lot of rules. One of the most perplexing for us foreigners seems to be the one regarding Ruhezeit, or, quiet time. Quiet time is serious business.

This isn’t the case in every part of Germany, but here in Bavaria, all day Sunday falls into the Ruhezeit category, which is why everything is closed. At this point, I really like it. But the first few times I forgot to pick something up on a Saturday, panic! Thankfully when I lived in Nürnberg, there was the train station. Here in the village, it’s a bit more tricky. We have a Shell station, but they don’t sell toilet paper. Luckily BV and I have done pretty well at Sunday preparedness (knock on wood, press thumbs, etc.) at least, so far.

But it’s not just Sundays in Bavaria. Supposedly in the past, there was also quiet time every day from 12-2 in the afternoon, but that’s thankfully no longer in practice. Nowadays, the usual time is from 10pm until 5 or 6am, depending on who you ask. During those times (and Sunday), you aren’t supposed to engage in any loud activities that might disturb your neighbors. That can be anything from mowing the lawn, to running a dishwasher, or putting up a picture in your house. Sound inconvenient? Yep, sometimes.

A lot of this of course, depends on your neighbors, and their level of asshattery. When I had my flat in Nbg, all the apartments around me were empty, and my washing machine was in the attic. I had exactly zero problems with noise from anyone else, and no-one ever scolded me about yelling during Packer games. However, I’ve heard from plenty of other people about neighbors who complain about nearly everything. Here in ze village, BV and I are in the upstairs of a house, with no one living below us. So again, we can do whatever we want, even operating a saw on a Sunday. Nobody judges us, except the cat of course.

ruhezeit4Look at her, with her judging face. And we hadn’t even begun sawing yet. Eh, at least we have a floor in the hallway now.

Last fall, when I moved to the village, I thought I was leaving the loud city life behind me (for a while, at least). I said, “Tschüss, bitches,” to the screaming kids in the park…. the ones who were usually so loud that I questioned if they were playing or lighting each other on fire.

ruhezeit2I recorded this moment for two reasons:

1) It was lovely.

2) It was the quietest moment this park ever saw.

I also said, “Tschüss, asshats,” to the people who treated the park as an all-night party spot. Because what says “good times” like drinking on a ping-pong table?

ruhezeit1Preparing for the all-night party, I’m sure. I particularly enjoyed it when the groups of kids would gather, and listen to music. On their phones. Do you know what makes techno music even better? Listening to it on full volume from a cell phone. All night.

But the village. The village would be quiet. The village would be lovely. There would be no violation of the Ruhezeit rules in the village… because people smile at each other here and say hello in the streets. It’s all civilized and lacks the anonymous rule-flouting that comes in the city.

I’m a moron.

Every Monday, at 5:54 am, it starts.

Normally I love our convenient train station-adjacent location. But next to the train station, you find this…

ruhezeit3Yes, our friendly neighborhood recycling station. Those first five green/white bins are for old clothes and shoes. No problems there. But the six white/green/brown bins? Those are for glass. All the glasses that you can’t take back for Pfand, need to go in there. I fully admit that I have contributed more than my share of wine bottles to those containers, so they are useful. But they are emptied every Monday morning, typically starting at yes, 5:54.

That’s right, six rounds of smashing glass, at an hour of the day that should not involve anyone doing anything. Ever.

Windows open, windows closed, it makes no difference. The smashing glass bores straight into my ears. And since it’s the government taking care of this, there isn’t much that can be done about it. I’ll assume that they are in the camp that Ruhezeit hours end at 5am. Grumble.

But they are not the only ones. Here is a short list of other Ruhezeit violators, both large and small.

1) Tomcats. As in many villages, we have quite a few cats roaming about. Their hobbies include killing mice and leaving them on my sidewalk, using our garden as a litterbox, creeping on me when I’m reading in the garden, and of course, trolling for dates at 2am. There’s a particularly fat Tabby, that has one eye and an ear on the side of his head. I like to think he’s the loudest one. And in true appreciation of their talents, Marry the Cat has slept through the show every time.

2) Construction trucks. Two kilometers down the road in the next village, there is a ton of new construction going up. Since our street connects that village to the main road (and thus the highway), we are on the main thoroughfare for allllllll the trucks. So again, starting about 5-6am, there are huge construction trucks rumbling and banging past the house. Quiet time aside, this goes on all day. And it scares the crap out of the cat almost every time. This road will be in dire need of resurfacing by the time they are done with all the new homes, and I told BV that we might want to think about moving before that happens.

3) Omas and Opas. BV disagrees with me on this one, saying that they are out and about at a reasonable hour, but I disagree. Our corner is often a meeting point for the old folks of the village while they’re out on their morning strolls. It may not be smashing glass, but their Kaffeeklatsch outside my window at 7:30 feels like a violation to me.

4) All-night train station party-ers. July and August were particularly bad on this front, due to the school holidays. To be clear, our train station consists of two glass shelters, and a building that is no longer used. But the kids still hang out there and party. Then they walk home, and have long-drawn out goodbyes on our corner, which often include stuffing beer bottles in our hedge. A few weeks ago, I went to catch the train and noticed that an entire wall of the glass shelter had been smashed. No idea when that happened, but hey, at least I didn’t hear it! Maybe that was one of the margarita nights… yes, I’m night-drinking to ensure solid sleep.

and finally…

5) Martens. What’s a marten, you ask?

Via

Oh, hey… you sleeping?! Via

Cute, right? I do love a furry critter. I love them less though when they are having their own all-night parties in the forest across the street. There was one night when it sounded like there were at least 50 of them. They sound a bit like small dogs, which means that there is a lot of yapping and some squeaking involved. It seems to have tapered off in the last couple of weeks, but earlier this summer it was out of hand. If that was mating season, I shall be investing in some ear plugs for next year.

 

So, who’s the worse Ruhezeit violator in your neighborhood?