Expat/Immigrant Qs

When I ran across this Q&A post earlier today on the very enjoyable blogs of Bev and Ami, I thought “that sounds like a good topic for a rainy day.” Turns out, it was a rather lovely day here but I’m home alone and have watched everything new… so there’s no time like the present!

Some people call me an expat, some may call me an immigrant, but either way I’m an American in a place that isn’t the United States. Let’s talk about it, shall we?

1. WHERE WERE YOU BORN, WHERE DID YOU GROW UP AND WHERE DO YOU CURRENTLY LIVE?

I was born in Menomonee Falls, WI, lived in Milwaukee until I was seven, then we moved to Eagle, WI. Eagle is mostly known for its smiley-faced water tower, and that’s about it. After a stint in Prague, I moved to Nuremberg in 2011, and eventually here to the ze Dorf outside Nuremberg in 2013.

Our village has a castle, and the castle has this cool gateway.

2. WHAT MADE YOU LEAVE YOUR HOME COUNTRY

Floating in a sea of “what now?” post-college, I decided that my best bet to travel while still making money was to get a TEFL certification and try to teach English. I had no idea how long I wanted to do it for, and where I would end up going, but nearly nine years on I guess it has worked out okay for me.

3. WHAT TYPE OF REACTIONS DO YOU GET WHEN YOU MEET NEW PEOPLE AND TELL THEM WHERE YOU ARE FROM?

This has definitely shifted in the last year and change. It used to be an “okay, cool, where in the U.S.?” and now it’s a decidedly less relaxed conversation, thanks to 45. Germans have been pretty used to an American presence in most places since the end of the Second World War, so we aren’t really anything that new and exciting here. I do find the reactions of military-affiliated Americans funny sometimes, in that they’re confused by what I’m doing here of my own volition.

4. WHAT WAS THE EASIEST/HARDEST PART IN ADJUSTING TO YOUR NEW COUNTRY?

After coming from Prague, a lot of things seemed really easy. The paperwork had some sense of order to it, whether or not everything was being done correctly, was something I wouldn’t get into trouble with for a couple years though. The hardest part was not being surrounded by a group of built-in friends right from the get-go. I’ve found people here but it took some time, and if you’re not the most outgoing, social person in the world (introverts unite! Separately!) making friends here can be tricky. The good news is that once you are friends with someone here, they are sticking around. To me, that’s invaluable.

One of the first girls I met here six years ago got married in June. It was lovely.

5. IMAGES, WORDS OR SOUNDS THAT SUM UP THE EXPAT EXPERIENCE YOU’VE HAD SO FAR.

In Prague it was the sound of the tram. My bedroom window overlooked a stop where six trams stopped during the day and four at night. The drivers ring the bell every time they start so that sound is inextricably linked with Prague in my brain. In Germany, it’s a lot of things… Red trains. Red trains for days. Alpine bells, or the sound of the rooster next door crowing. The smell of roasted almonds at the summer festivals, or that smell mingling with the scent of Glühwein at the Christmas markets.

Red trains > other trains.

6. YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD OR DRINK ITEM IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY

Käsespätzle is life. Not to mention a frosty glass of whatever local beer is on tap (minus Tucher, that is).

Kirchweih libations.

7. WHAT’S THE ONE THING YOU SAID “YES” TO IN YOUR NEW CITY THAT YOU WOULDN’T SAY “YES” TO, BACK HOME?

Probably spending as much time on public transportation as I do here. First of all, where I grew up there was no public transportation. If I wanted to find a public bus, I’d have to drive 30 minutes in Waukesha, and get on a bus there. Doesn’t make much sense, really. I took a Greyhound one time in college and that was enough to freak me out on the Greyhound experience. The only times I can remember taking anything like public transportation was a shuttle bus down to the Milwaukee lakefront for Summerfest, a Brewer game, or some other sort of special event. Otherwise it was all cars, all the time.

8. ARE THERE ANY CULTURAL NORMS/PHRASES IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY WHICH YOU CANNOT STAND?

Sometimes I’m amazed that Germans are able to get anything done when they spend half of their lives shaking hands. I now know that if BV and I have to leave a family gathering, it’s necessary to start that process about an hour before we actually plan to leave, especially if we have to catch a train. Give me an “Irish Exit” any day of the week, because to me, that’s better than demanding people’s attention, interrupting conversations, etc. in order to have a formal goodbye.

Additionally, I’ve found that since a good deal of my classes have taken place in more technically-oriented companies, I’ve had to hear a fair amount of “women be shopping” sort of jokes (or half-jokes) from my mostly male groups. My usual strategy is to laugh it off and give them a bit of shit for that attitude, but I’m really not a fan. I have also tried out the tactic of switching the discussion to their hobbies because guess what? All that specialized sporting equipment, all those electronic toys and gadgets you have at home? Those are not cheap, buddy. Just because you only have two pairs of shoes does not mean you are a supreme example of fiscal responsibility. Most of these guys would say that women and men are equal in their companies, and in Germany as a whole, but they have a long way to go on a lot of things here.*

9. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST DOING IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY?

Any frequent readers of this blog can answer this one, I think. Get me south to the Alps and I am a happy camper.

Hiking in Austria this August.

10. DO YOU THINK YOU WILL EVER MOVE HOME FOR GOOD?

That is a question that I have a hard time answering. Never say never is usually a good philosophy for me, but the chaotic way that things seem to be unraveling at the moment makes me lean towards no way. If something should happen that means I do have to go “home” for a period of time, that’s one thing. But after nearly nine years gone? In those nine years, I think I’ve seen enough of this way of life to make me confident that this is what I want, and what fits the life I want to live best.

The water of the Eibsee is as refreshing as it looks.

 

*Not that the U.S. is doing much better at the moment.

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31-Day Challenge: Day 25

Today was Father’s Day in Germany, but since it’s conveniently paired up with the Ascension of Christ holiday, pretty much everybody has the day off.  Most men, fathers or not, typically spend this day dragging wagons of beer around while they gallivant with their friends. The ones that do spend time with their families are almost deserving of a special reward, or at least so says the internet.

Last year I remember spending most of the sunny day laying out in the garden with a book. At some point during the day, a literal tractor full of youths starting circling the village, blasting music as they drank their way up and down the streets. This year it was much quieter, so perhaps they decided to drive their tractor on over to another town.

We’re still in recovery mode from vacation, and were in thorough need of a real day off. I did a little bit of cleaning and sorting of things, and BV did some more work out in the garden. He’s now made a permanent spot for the tripod, but we’ll still need to make a real fire circle to go around it. But, baby steps. He’s also got the day off tomorrow, and the weather is supposed to be glorious for some more weekend barbecue action.

As far as I know, I have two classes in the morning, and it seems that myself and my two students will be the only people working in the country. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, as we haven’t met in a few weeks due to my vacation last week and their schedules prior to that. Also this is the same company that asked for a trial lesson during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. In my nearly six years in Germany, that has only happened once. Still weird.

The good news is though, that I’ll be done at noon, home by one, and can relax after that. I’d like to take a crack at getting the garden in order this weekend, but that would involve driving to the Gardener, and I’m not sure BV plans on starting the car again until Monday. There are worse ways to spend the weekend than not doing anything. And given how packed June and July are, we’ll be rather short on relaxation time.

As of right now, we’ve got a friend’s party, a Polterabend, and a wedding in June, then one free weekend before we leave for vacation. Chances are though, that the last free weekend will be filled with either an invitation to BV’s parents, or them wanting to come to us for grilling, and then that’ll be shot too. I know time flies when you’re having fun and all, but this girl needs her quiet time. Classes are pretty much running as scheduled as well, so not much chance of a break there. But vacation is looming and that’s what I’m shooting for. Last week was fantastic, like a little appetizer. We can get there.

31-Day Challenge: Day 14

Mud room organization tips.

***

Oh, writing prompt app. You are so funny sometimes.

I think I’ve made this observation at least once on Twitter, but I’ll take this opportunity to elaborate.

When we were visiting my parents over Christmas, my mom handed me a ‘Parade of Homes’ brochure to flip through. They’re looking at moving sometime in the somewhat-near future, so they had toured a few of the show homes on offer this year, mostly to get some ideas of what has changed since they last house hunted back in the late 80s. As BV and I have been (very) casually looking at places for awhile now, it was quite the eye-opening experience.

To be fair, these are high-end show homes in the south-eastern Wisconsin area, and I am well aware that this brochure is not really representative of what the average person has in their homes but GOOD GOD is there a huge difference to the market here. There’s a reason that when I did House Hunters International, Courtney and I continually joked about me possibly being the only person ever to appear on that show and NOT demand granite counter tops. Or whatever it is that people seem to think they need in their houses these days.

Mud rooms were just the tip of the iceberg with these houses. Three-car garages are now “small,” and there were so many bedrooms in some of them that I wondered if the Duggar’s religion has become more popular than I thought. My personal favorite was one house that featured a “family command center” with set ups for school/sports equipment storage (thought those went in the bedrooms or garage?), an office area (in addition to the actual office), and a dog washing station. Again, isn’t a stationary tub in the basement, a bathtub in one of the six bathrooms, or the garden hose pretty much sufficient on that front? Guess not.

BV and I are looking at the “cheap as possible” price range of the German market, and it is a little bit different to say the least. I know that it is possible to get a house that is move-in ready here, but so far in our price range, there haven’t been too many of them. So what have we seen?

For starters, I have learned that the trend in German bathrooms over the years has hit every. single. possible. shade. of the rainbow. So many colors. So many bathrooms that haven’t been touched or renovated since the 70s at best. So many of these houses that have, just that one bathroom. That means if we buy it and want to redo it, that’s got to happen before we move in. A second bathroom is fairly rare, but in my opinion that is almost a non-negotiable. At some point in time, if we decide to procreate, I am not dealing with more than two people in a house with one bathroom. It’s already questionable enough when we have guests at our place now. Not into it.

It’s often been noted that rentals here don’t come with light fixtures. If you decide to move, you better take your old ones with you, or you’ll spend the first few days in the dark. Since we have been looking at fixer-uppers, we’ve also seen a fair amount of places with unfinished plumbing. That means that in addition to the wires hanging from the ceiling, there are sometimes the ends of pipes sticking out of the walls. What happens after that is up to you! The excitement!

Lots of the older places also don’t have things like heaters. Or heating systems. Or a fireplace. Sometimes there was  a fireplace, but it’s long since been removed. Sometimes there is a person (or people) living in these places, and I just have so many questions. Our current place was built in 1928, and added to over the years. Where we are in the upstairs probably dates from the 1950s or so, and it doesn’t hold heat worth a damn. How people are living in these old houses with no heating is just beyond my comprehension. We don’t have Wisconsin cold temperatures here but I don’t think anyone ever described a German winter as balmy.

I’ve occasionally flipped through the real estate listings for higher price ranges and while there are a lot less brown or orange bathrooms, there still are no dog washing stations. How the Germans survive in their cold houses with all the dirty dogs running around? Perhaps that’s a secret I will never learn.

***

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.

31-Day Challenge: Day 10

Today I bought a notebook, as all mine have random scribbles inside and I wanted something nice, fresh, and pristine. I took it to a cafe in the city, where I planned to grab some lunch, a drink, and write my 15 minutes for the day.

I learned something.

I have the complete and utter inability to concentrate in public.

Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but I was trying! The pen was out, the book was out, and I had nothing. I thought I’d try to switch gears and so I pulled out something else, a travel book in German for our summer vacation, and was trying to skim through that, when I heard the sweet, sweet sounds of English being spoken nearby.

Not only were a few girls sitting a bit in front of me speaking English, but then another girl biked up, chatted to them for a moment, then joined her friends at a different table nearby. Now I had English in stereo. Next to me were two men who called their colleague to taunt him about still being in the office, which led to him showing up about 15 minutes later. On the other side of that table was an older man, sitting alone with a glass of wine.

Nothing wrong with that, but over the course of my lunch he rotated chairs 4 times, went into the restaurant for 15 minutes and sat at a different table alone (without his wine), talked to himself, talked to the sky, talked to the people next to him (who determinedly stared at me for the duration), turned his chair around and straddled it like the cool teacher in high school, and finally, pulled a crinkled five-Euro note out of his pocket and held it aloft until the server came and collected it.

How could I possibly concentrate with a veritable show happening around me?

In short, I couldn’t. Instead, I perused the book as best as I could, while snippets of English conversation were blown into my ear. I watched bikers go past, and admired the impossibly high heels of a girl who seated herself at a table in front of me. I don’t know how the Euro women do it, but the few pair of heels I have here are only brought out for special occasions, preferably weddings that take place in a cobblestone-free location. Personally, I’m all about the flats.

If, 10 years ago when I first had this harebrained idea, I had asked myself what I thought life in Europe might have looked like, it might actually have looked rather like today. Sitting in a sunny cafe with a book, watching life go past, that’s the dream, right?

It is.

It’s not the dream every day, because I’m not independently wealthy and so sometimes I have to work and all, but sometimes… it’s cafe time.

***

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.

31-Day Challenge: Day 9

I just popped onto social media for a moment to see what new catastrophe has erupted in the world (stop it, U.S.), when I saw the first Eurovision hashtags appear. Oh, glorious day!

BV and I are fully planning on tucking in here on Saturday night to have our own watch party, which we mentioned to the Villagers when they were here last weekend. Though VillageGal is German and is all-too-familiar with the absurdity of the Eurovision Song Contest, VillageGuy had no clue what we were talking about.

I’ll give him a bit of a pass for being an American, but he’s been in Europe for about 10 years, if not more. Given his job, he’s surrounded by Americans 95% of the time though, so I guess that environment insulates him a bit more than someone in my circumstances, for instance. Add to that the fact that they, like us, don’t have satellite or cable, and that doesn’t lend itself to too much time in front of the tube. We tried to fill him in on the appeal of the kitschy glory, but he didn’t seem too convinced. If all of us hadn’t already had full weekends booked, I think we could’ve gotten them up here again, but perhaps we can convince them to join our watch party next year.

While I haven’t indulged in the glory of Eurovision every year since moving to Europe, I do vividly remember the first time it came up.

Marit, a gorgeous, dread-locked, Swedish med student had begun dating one of the gents from our TEFL course when we were all still getting ourselves settled in Prague. A group of us were out one night and she was excitedly outlining plans that she and some of the other foreigners at Charles University had begun making for a Eurovision party.

Cue confused looks from the Americans in the group.

What the heck is Eurovision?

She and some of the other Europeans tried to explain it to us in terms that we Americans could understand, namely “reality show” type singing competitions… American Idol or whatever else was on TV circa 2009. But Eurovision is nothing like that, in my opinion. Eurovision is like a bunch of countries got really drunk, were given keys to every costume department on Broadway (or at a circus), and then paid a laser light show/pyrotechnic enthusiast to just go crazy all over the stage behind them. It’s sheer madness.

Add to that a fair amount of political jockeying and countries that are literally thousands and thousands of kilometers removed from Europe being thrown into the mix (hello, Australians!), and it’s full-on insanity. Semifinals are going on all this week but BV and I are saving the glory for the big finale. On the final evening of the contest (this Saturday, get your drinks ready), the top acts will perform again, and then reports come in from all the voting countries to determine the winner.

Is it weird? Yes. Is it kitschy as f*ck? Yes. Does it feed into BS stereotypes? Yeeeep. Is it completely worth watching? YES.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wash some dishes, including our light-up plastic ones from Las Vegas, which are completely Eurovision appropriate. Lasers!

***

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.

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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Weekend Photo Challenge: The Reveal

Vorbau: (n), buttress, projection, front end, front building, etc, etc, etc. Or, could also be interpreted as “balcony.” And therefore we have…

Constructive construction?

While perhaps shoes or dry-cleaning services were a more obvious answer, the closest guess goes to JoSch, who thought it might have something to do with construction machines.

In fact, this lady these ladies are advertising for a company specializing in balcony renovation, and building facade repair. While the jokes may be a bit obvious… it clearly gets attention so well played!

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.

A Few Thoughts Around the Playground

I’m currently between some classes and have had much more free time for long, meandering walks around the village. On most of my walks, I end up going past the playground of the elementary school in the neighboring village. I have a major love for most of the German playgrounds I’ve seen, and this one is no exception.

I grew  up going to a school that had a pretty epic playground. It was mostly built out of wood and old tires, and thus is one of the many playground that has now been deemed a complete deathtrap. Most of the places I see now in my friends’ Facebook feeds are 100% plastic, or whatever other artificial material is now deemed a ‘must-have,’ lest the Kinder injure themselves on anything natural. Splinters, run away!

The playground that I walk past laughs at such notions. Behold, one small corner….

So many rough edges!

So many rough edges!

In addition to being covered in trees, brush, stones, steps, and all manner of tripping hazards, there is at least one small pond with a railing-free bridge, and one of these bad boys…

Yep, an insect hotel. Can’t imagine too many public schools in the U.S. with open water on campus, or ones that encourage bugs to shack up.

But up until last week, these were just idle thoughts. Then I saw other things.

Thing Number One: a mom (who I had seen earlier on my walk, pushing her stroller with two twin girls all dressed in pink), holding her girls balanced on the ledge of the tower in the above picture. They weren’t infants, but they were certainly big enough to squirm the wrong way and fall out of the tower easily. Why were they up there, you might ask? Well the train was coming through, and they wanted to wave, of course! I thought it was cute, but since parents in the States can’t let their kids play in their own backyards unattended, it looked like something that CPS might get a call about if we were in a different country.

Thing Number Two: next to the elementary school there is a smaller building that houses a Kita, or nursery school. They also have a sweet little playground full of wooden toys, and yes, more water. There’s also a nice terrace and last summer I often saw the kids playing or snacking outside. Last week we had a few relatively nice days (nice for February, that is), and on one of them, I came around the corner and saw something funny out on the terrace. At first I thought it was just a big basket, but then I got closer. Not just one basket, but three, and two large pillows next to them. They were full of blankets, and yep…. sleeping kids. Five kids, napping away in what appeared to be dog beds out on the terrace.

For the record, I’m on board with this. It was a warmish day, the kids were piled up with coziness, and let’s be honest… who hasn’t looked at their dog or cat curled up in their bed and thought, ‘damn, that looks cozy!?’ But the part of me that has read far too many STFU Parents columns immediately thought… a Sanctimommy would lose. her. shit. if her Child (capital C) had to sleep in a bed for a DOG. If the kid climbed into the dog’s bed in the house? Oh so funny! Put a whole album of it on Facebook immediately! But if the school that she PAYS forces her Child to sleep in a Dog Bed! Aw, hell no.

I have no idea if this is standard practice at the average Kita, but I do love how much time the kids around here seem to spend outside. They run, they play, they get dirty. Heck, some friends even sent their kids to a so-called ‘Forest Kindergarten,’ where they spend the entire day outside, rain or shine. They did have a small shelter in the woods, but according to VillageGal, she only saw it in use once, when there was a freezing rain thunderstorm. It all just seems so much healthier, and less sterilized than so much of what school in the U.S. seems to have become.*

 

Editor’s Note: shortly after I published this post, I saw this article pop up in my New York Times feed. It is completely relevant to what I wrote here. Enjoy.

 

*Disclaimer: I am not a parent, I do not want to pass judgement on how people choose to raise their kids, these are just some observations I have had recently.

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New German Level Unlocked: Members Only

Unfortunately, there are no jackets involved. Not yet, at least.

One of the first curiosities that I learned about in Germany was the incredible variety of clubs. Far beyond the usual fitness centers and sport clubs, there are clubs for every hobby under the sun, from dogs to crafts to Tracht. That’s right, if you enjoy sporting your Dirndl or Lederhosen at every available opportunity, you can join  your local Trachtenverein or ‘Society for Traditional Costumes.’ And joining a whole pile of different clubs (regardless of your participation level), seems to be pretty standard practice.

I’ve never been much of a joiner, but there was one club that I have been eager to join for the last couple of years… the Alpenverein, or Alpine Association. BV has been a member since he was a kid, and ever since we started dating we have discussed getting me a membership. Those long-time readers will know that we’ve done a fair few hiking trips in our 4+ years together, but so far we hadn’t gotten me a membership. The yearly fee varies between €45 and €90* per year, depending on your section, and with his school schedule the last few years we weren’t sure we could make the price worthwhile for both of us.

On Wednesday though, he came home from work and presented me with an envelope. Inside was…

Plus bonus gift!

Plus bonus gift!

I. Am. So. Excited.

That tricky dude went and signed me up as a surprise. We had talked last week about making a more solid plan to get down to the mountains at least once a month this summer, which would definitely make membership for me worthwhile, so having this in hand means we are ready to go. Plus, I get a free night at our section’s Hütte. Score!

Needless to say I am already looking forward to summer. And since a picture of a membership card is not the most exciting thing in the world to look at, let’s all look forward to a whole lot more of this in the near future!

de-os-border

Hiking along the German-Austrian border in August.

*A membership in the Nürnberg section currently costs €66, but BV was able to add me on as a family member for only €38. Look out for discounts!