Put Some Mustard On It…

It’s been awhile since I’ve discussed an oddity of the German language, but I learned a new phrase the other day that tickled me and thought it would make a good post.

Usually my favorite German phrases have to do with animals (notably pigs, as there are at least 48309234 idioms involving pigs in German #WurstJokes), but this one is more food-based.

BV had just sent a text to our Südtirol group chat, and I was trying to decipher it. The last paragraph started with “Mein Senf zu dem Thema,” which would translate to ‘My mustard to the topic,’ and I had to laugh. I was pretty sure I got the gist, but I still asked him to clarify, just in case. 😉

What BV said was a variation on ‘seinen Senf dazugeben,’ or to put in one’s two cents. My initial thought was along the lines of ‘in my humble opinion,’ which IMHO, means I’ve been spending too much time on ze internet. Should do something about that (…as I’m sitting here writing a blog and trying to do that more often instead of like, solving world hunger or whatever people do when they’re not lurking on reddit).

So why mustard in this expression? Because people friggin’ love their mustard in these parts. I already showed you a fairly bizarre mustard ad a few years ago, and I assure you, there have been more. The mustard shelf in the supermarket is loaded with choice, and lest you doubt me on that, please enjoy this selection of all the mustards currently open in our fridge…

Full disclosure, the sweet Bavarian mustard isn’t open yet. Guess that just means it’s time for Weißwurstfrühstück…

This is perfectly normal, right? Guess I’m going to have to start serving more of my opinions with a dash of mustard…

 

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BV Bros Down

One day last week was particularly lovely, so BV and I took the opportunity to wander over to our local Gasthof for a pre-dinner beer (and fries… dinner was small, I promise!)

While there, we chatted about a recent debate on theater-going that had happened in one of my classes. One of my students had gone to see the ballet ‘Sleeping Beauty’, and while she had really been looking forward to it, she wasn’t crazy about their modern interpretation. While most of the others had visited various productions, or even traveled to Hamburg to see a (very far off Broadway) musical like ‘The Lion King,’ none were too interested in ballet, modern or not.

Being the open-to-new-experiences sort of guy that he is, BV said that he’d really like to go to the theater to see a show sometime. Maybe not a ballet, but he felt a bit bad that the last time he was in a real theater was when he took part in an elementary school production that was put on in the Schauspielhaus (playhouse) Nürnberg.

We talked about different options to look into, and decided that going to a show might be a good excuse to get out of town and go somewhere like Stuttgart or Munich, as they might have more choices. Nürnberg has a playhouse, an opera, and other venues, but there isn’t a ton of variety, and most of the shows are in German. BV said that he’d like to see something classic that he hadn’t seen before, like ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ but if it’s Shakespeare, he wants to see it in English.*

That somehow led into us joking that we weren’t fancy enough to go to the opera in Munich… especially since most trips to Munich leave me feeling like a country mouse already.** I told BV that I was short of ball gowns, so not sure what I would do. And what would he wear?

BV: “A suit. And I’d have to wear a bro tie.”

H: “A what tie?”

BV: “A bro tie.”

H: “… it’s a bow tie, not a bro tie.”

BV: “Why not a bro tie? At a wedding, the broom and his bros wear a bro tie!”

H: …… cries laughing….

I’m just going to go ahead and blame ‘How I Met Your Mother’ for this one. And incidentally, if you google ‘bro tie’ there is some really weird stuff that comes up. Not counting the actual company, because of course that exists.

 

*Thanks, honey!

**Dirndl– wearing trips excluded of course. Munich’s population is well-dressed, if you haven’t been there. Most of the gents appear to have come directly from the shoeshine stand.

Playing Favorites

When you start teaching English in Germany, you immediately become familiar with a few key words. One of those words is Streber (or Streberin, for ze ladies), which translates to “teacher’s pet.” This word usually gets trotted out when some students feel that one of the others has overdone it on the homework front – or God forbid – requested more homework.*

"I am NO teacher's pet; only a little bit." Via

“I am NO teacher’s pet… only a little bit.” Via

Any excuse for a reference to The Office. Like most teachers though, I look at it less as a case of someone being a teacher’s pet, and more like this…

“Hey, I asked you all to do something, and someone actually did it! Let’s all mock them now!”

On the whole though, my students and groups are pretty well-behaved. And last week, one of them became my official new Streber, without doing a darn thing.

I was already pretty excited about my new Thursday groups, strictly based on location. If any other teachers out there are not based directly in a city, you might know what I mean on this one. My old Thursday commute involved three trains to get to my final destination, and my new commute is right off of my main line. Now it’s just ten minutes on the train and a 2-minute walk. For someone who lives in the ‘burbs, this is nearly unheard of, and therefore fantastic.** But then the deal got even sweeter.

Our first lesson was pretty much a getting-to-know everybody kind of thing, and of course the students wanted to know where I was from.

“Wisconsin,” was met with the usual blank stares and assumptions that it is in the U.S., somewhere in the middle. Which is more or less accurate. Oh, to be from New York, California, or Florida… how much easier life must be!

But one guy had a very concentrated look on his face, and when I asked him if he knew anything else about my home state, he responded with four little words…

“the Green Bay Packers!”

My response to that was a fairly undignified, “OH MY GOD YES! How in the world do you know that?”

So it turns out that the first NFL game he had ever watched was a Packer game, and therefore he is a big fan. And just like that? Instant Streber.

 

*It happens more than you’d think. Overachievers.

**So amazing that I am extra motivated to make sure they love me. Or at least, like me a lot.

BV on Aging

Last week, BV and I were driving home from lunch with his parents and we were discussing the idea of maturity levels. I was saying that today, at the ripe old age of 32, I do not necessarily feel like the same person I was at age 18 (and thank goodness). While some things have not changed, in other ways I am a vastly different person. Whether or not I’m more mature is debatable, as I still laugh at videos of people falling down, or the occasional dick joke, but in other ways, my worldview is miles away from when I left home and went to college a week after I turned 18. Also, I’m crankier in crowds.

youths

This is how I feel when I ride the train at school times. Via

I went on to say that I would imagine that most  people feel somewhat the same way, and I anticipate feeling different at 60 than I do today. In the next 28 years, I fully expect to learn things that will affect the way I look at and feel about life, and those experiences will continue to mold me (at least to some extent).

In response to this rambling speech, BV thought for a moment and responded,

“I don’t know. I was always premature.”

After I stopped laughing myself nearly into an asthma attack, we then got to have a discussion about ‘premature’ vs ‘mature for one’s age,’ which is of course what he meant. Hopefully telling him that ‘premature’ is usually tied to either babies or ejaculation, he can remember the difference.

I recounted this story to a fellow English teacher friend of mine at lunch yesterday and after she finished laughing, she had to tip her hat to BV’s flawless use of logic in coming up with premature to describe the way he felt at 18. If you think about it, it should make perfect sense in that way. Buuuuut, as all of us English teachers know, that is not the way our lovely language works.

So… did you also feel premature? Or do you think we always change? Let me know in the comments!

 

Gingerbread Rules & German Tales

When  you live in Germany, you learn that they have a lot of rules. There are rules about recycling, and there are rules about driving. There are rules about being quiet, and not being quiet. There are rules about what you can eat and when you can eat it. For example in this area, a very common and well-known rule involves Carp, or as I like to call it “one of those gross, bottom-feeding fish.” Carp is extremely popular here in Franconia, but it can ONLY be consumed during months with an ‘r’ in the name. So if you like Carp, you better get your fill of it in April because you won’t find it in a restaurant again until September. Not happening.

As a non-German living in Germany, you have to take a lot of things on faith. This means that when someone tells me something that seems slightly odd, but says it’s a rule, I just go with it. Because who would tell me stories? That would be weird and pointless, right?

This brings us to gingerbread. In Nürnberg, it’s known as Lebkuchen and woo boy, is it big business this time of year. The city is famous for it, which means that once the Christmas market opens, you can’t swing a cat in this town without knocking over a display of it. Lebkuchen can of course be purchased all year round, and in fact, there was a whole Lebkuchen Week market set up in the middle of the city back in October. I thought that was a little strange, but BV assured me that it was mostly for the tourists.

Because you see, there was a rule about Lebkuchen.

For the three years that we’ve been dating, BV has been telling me that real Germans, and especially real Nürnbergers, don’t eat Lebkuchen until after St. Martin’s Day, or Martinstag, which is on November 11th. St. Martin’s Day also marks the beginning of the Carnival season, so it made total sense to me that the delicious gingerbread would be something you would eat at that time. But then… oh but then.

Kids… BV IS TELLING ME TALES.

That’s right, the war on cookies continues!

About two weeks ago in one of my classes, the topic of odd rules came up again. During the discussion, I mentioned something about the Lebkuchen rule, and was met with total blank stares. They had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. We went through a few other rules, which everyone agreed on, but not one had heard about anything involving gingerbread and St. Martin’s Day.

It could be a fluke, I thought, especially given that I wasn’t actually in Nürnberg that day. Perhaps outside of town it wasn’t given the correct amount of gravitas? Could be.

So I decided to take a survey. Since then, I have asked every single one of my students, and not a one… NOT A ONE knows about this “rule.” The age range of my students is from 20-65+, and they cover a significant part of Franconia when it comes to places they live/have lived before. And not a single, solitary one of them knows this rule.

When I confronted BV with this information, he did not believe me. He stuck to his guns, insisting that it was a rule and that my students must simply be confused. I’m not sure there’s a ton of room for confusion on this matter, but he didn’t budge. I posited that it was perhaps only a rule in his house, put forth by his  mother to keep the kids from eating too many sweets, but he brushed that off. It’s a rule and that is the end of the story.

Fine then honey, it’s a rule.

On St. Martin’s Day, I stopped into the store on my way home from work and purchased a small container of Lebkuchen. After dinner, I dramatically retrieved it, smacked it down on the coffee table and said, “and you shall not have any!”*

lebkuchen

But from now on, if I get the urge to indulge in a chocolaty, frosty, tasty piece of Lebkuchen and it’s “off-season,” fake rules be damned. I’m going for it.

 

Have you heard of this “rule”? Can you defend BV?

 

*That was mostly for dramatic effect. Don’t worry mom and dad, I shared.

German Radio: Them’s Fightin’ Words

Yesterday, BV and I were on our way to pick up his mom for lunch, when we heard something very curious on the radio. I was zoning out, staring at joggers on the canal, and all I really heard the DJ say was something about “böse, böse, böse.” ‘Böse‘ can be translated to bad, wicked, evil, or anything you prefer along those lines. BV gave a little laugh, and asked me if I had caught the story. Since I hadn’t, he clarified.

The DJ had said that at least once a year, everyone should hang their laundry outside, to show solidarity against the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad* invention of…

the dryer.

So yes, everyone in Germany should be hanging their laundry outside to protest against the devilish, environment-killing dryer.

Hey DJ?

Screw. You.

As an American who has been living abroad for six years now, I have learned to live without a dryer. And it still sucks. It sucks, hard.

You know what else is terrible and horrible?

Washing jeans and not being able to wear them for four days, even though you had them hung outside in spring, or directly in front of a roaring fire in winter. As a poor English teacher who only has two pairs of jeans available for daily wear (both of which are in desperate need of replacement at the moment), I really, really loathe having to plan out my washing sequence in order to have jeans ready to wear to work.

Guess what else isn’t environmentally-friendly? Trying desperately to dry the last damp spots on jeans that have been “drying” for three days with a hair dryer before I have to leave in the morning.

So Mr. DJ, please shut up. I’m trying to convince my boyfriend that dryers are not the devil, and that if, at some point in the future we should decide to spawn rugrats of our own, we will be needing a dryer. And if this is going to become some sort of anti-dryer campaign, nationwide… I’m going to retaliate by leaving all the lights on. All the time. So there.

To wit, this is not a protest. I just need to wear my jeans tomorrow and I’m hoping fresh spring air makes it possible. Better keep the hair dryer nearby though…

Not. A. Protest.

Not. A. Protest.

 

*apologies if that particular word sequence is trademarked by a publishing company.

BV on Hunde

Something fairly important to know about me is that I love dogs. I coo over dogs like other women coo over babies. I want to befriend every dog I see, whereas I think that most babies – particularly newborns – look like potatoes in hats. I can imagine that this tendency would annoy the bejeezus out of some people, but luckily BV finds it cute. So much so that when we adopted Marry die Katze from the animal shelter, we couldn’t even go into the dog room, because BV knew that we’d come out with a dog. We’ve been locked in an ongoing negotiation for the duration of our relationship on how many dogs we can have. I started at ten, he started at one, and at present I have him up to two and a half. Which half it will be, is to be determined.

Since I spend a lot of time noticing the various four-legged friends out and about in the world, it follows that we have a lot of conversations about dogs. Oddly enough though, at no point in BV’s English education did he learn different dog breeds! Horrible, I know. We also run into this same language gap when it comes to trees, flowers, sea creatures, and assorted other topics. It makes for some entertaining conversations, and a fair amount of reliance on the glory of Google.

Not long ago, we were enjoying a post-shopping stop in one of Nürnberg’s Irish Pubs and when I looked around for the waiter, I saw something much more interesting.

H: “Ohhhhhh, there’s a gorgeous Australian Shepherd over there!”

BV: “A what?”

H: “An Australian Shepherd? It’s a breed of dog. He has beautiful mottled fur, and looks like he has the blue eyes too.”

BV: “Huh, I’m not sure if I know that one. I can’t see it from here though.”

H: “Eh, you can just look when we leave. I’ve got no service down here, otherwise I’d look for a picture. It’s beautiful though… trust me.”

One beer later for us, and the table with the dog was leaving the bar…

BV: “Oh, there goes the dog. Wow, that is beautiful. But that’s not what I thought it looked like.”

H: “Really? What did you think it would look like?”

BV: “I guess I thought it would be a combination of a German Shepherd and a Dingo.”

H: *blank stare*

BV: “An Australian Shepherd? Like a German Shepherd mixed with a Dingo.”

H: *laughs, laughs more*

I pretty much spent the rest of the evening muttering “dingo” under my breath and giggling.

So to review, this plus this

may equal this…

Sorry honey, but I don’t think so.

Some friends have commented that BV’s English is now so good that we should exclusively speak German together so that I can get caught up. But clearly there are some hugely important gaps in his vocabulary that need to be filled. And certainly we’ll be needing that vocabulary to figure out which ten dogs we’ll be having.

And now, I’m off to Google image search for puppies. Puppies!

Alpine Tips: Saying Goodbye

As many other bloggers have noted, the German language is a beast with many heads. This is particularly true here in Bavaria, where it seems that the dialect changes from village to village. Going to the mountains brings a whole new set of phrases and expressions that you probably don’t hear too often in the Hochdeutsch bastions of Hamburg and other northern cities.

Local lingo is also useful when choosing a bathroom.

Local lingo is also useful when choosing a bathroom.

When we were down in Ettal recently, we were out to dinner on Sunday night in a restaurant that was about 30% full, and clearly primarily locals as many of them were chatting to each other across the room all night. One large group included a few small kids who spent most of the night toddling about from table to table, occasionally being chased by Papa, but mostly being looked after by the room at large.

The group finally got up to leave, and most of them said goodnight to the restaurant owner and his wife, who were holding court over a few Hefeweizen at a table in the middle of the room.
The oldest of the kids, who was maybe 3 or 4, came over to say her goodbyes as well, and piped what sounded like “Ferdi!”, as her mom zipped her into her coat.
“Ferdi?” I said to BV… “what the hell is that?”
“Not ‘Ferdi,'” he replied, “‘Pfiat di.’ It’s Bavarian, like ‘Grüss Got.’ They say that instead of ‘Tschüss’ for goodbye.”

Then we got into a whole conversation of how the phrase breaks down. ‘Pfiat‘ comes from the verb ‘behüten‘, or to protect/look after, and ‘di‘ from ‘dich,’ or you, so it loosely translates into our ‘take care of yourself.’

Ah yes, Bavaria. The magical land where ‘ck’ turns into ‘gg,’ b turns into p, and if you can tell the difference between ‘d’ and ‘t’ in some words, you deserve a medal. I really enjoy learning these little differences, particularly when we venture into the mountains but it does not make learning German any easier. Just when you think you’ve got something figured out, you end up confused by a small child. Good thing that kids speaking other languages are cute.

Next time you find yourselves in the Alps, keep an ear out for and let me know if you hear anyone saying my new favorite expression. And of course, until next time,”pfiat di!”

Train Tales: A Recipe

First things first, I’m very pleased to be writing today’s post from the comfort of our living room. This is notable, as it’s the first time I’ve sat in this room since last week Thursday. Sometime after today’s train tale transpired while on the way home from work that evening, I started to feel like death warmed over, and have been fighting a wicked flu since then. Apparently it’s been going around the area, and as a person who rarely gets sick, I can say that it was a doozy. It’s pretty bad when you are concerned about being able to work five days in advance. Hopefully I can make it through tomorrow… I already know that I am not looking forward to my 2-hour commute to and from work in the petri dish known as public transportation. If anyone has one of those goofy surgical masks laying around, please feel free to drop it off here. Back to the train!

 

A frequent complaint that I hear, particularly from other Americans in Germany, is that the Germans aren’t friendly. We were discussing that very topic last Wednesday in one of my classes, and the group generally agreed that Germans should be friendlier. All the group members are avid travelers, and expressed how much they enjoyed it when people were chatty and outgoing on their travels, even if they had been suspicious of it at first. But when I suggested that maybe they could step out of the box, and try striking up a conversation the next time they were on a train, they all balked at the very notion. The only time that seems to be acceptable, is when there is some sort of hiccup in the train schedules or other travel interruption. Only then is it okay. Otherwise, no dice.

So imagine my happiness the following day, when I ran into a fellow who seemed to have no problem going against the grain. Therefore, please allow me to present….

A Recipe for a Friendly German Train Passenger

Ingredients:

  • 1 German gentleman, aged gracefully until about ripe for friendliness at about 65
  • his group, a mixed bag of seniors, armed with walking sticks and day packs
  • enough Jack Wolfskin gear to cover all participants
  • fresh air (helps those “happy juice” endorphins to pop)
  • Franconian wine, the more the better
  • Jaunty hat, as garnish

Directions:

1. Toss your gracefully aged gentleman with the rest of the seniors, and send them out into the Franconian wine country for a day of light walking and fresh air. Remember to remind them to use the Nordic walking sticks, to ensure the most blood-pumping, endorphin-filled day.

2. They stop at a vineyard for wine and snacks.

3. Walk more, more fresh air, to the next winery.

4. Repeat steps 2-3, until they need to catch the 6pm train.

5. Pile all participants onto the train (they may bring more bottles of wine on, if they should wish).

6. The gentleman should now have reached both full friendliness level, and feel responsible for both the organization of the group, and random strangers around him on the train.

7. Top with jaunty hat.

This happens nearly every week on this train, sometimes with the same group, and sometimes with other groups of elderly walkers/wine-drinkers. They all pile on the train that is primarily full of gloomy-faced commuters, and laugh nonstop.

The very sweet gent was feeling too good to sit, I guess, and held court over the rest of his group in the center of our car. I was in my usual spot a few seats back, and absorbed in hitting “refresh” on my phone… the combination of no patience, crappy network in that area, and my data usage means that opening one webpage takes half of the train ride. I had my headphones in as per usual, but you can’t see them with my hair and hat, and since I’d been looking down for the entire trip, the guy was apparently worried that I had fallen asleep. Imagine my surprise when we were nearing the station, I felt a little nudge on my shoulder, and looked up to see the happy guy was standing there! He was almost as surprised to see me awake as I was to have someone actually trying to do me a favor on public transportation. Thank you, jaunty hat wine hiker man. You are a national treasure.

jaunty hat

Yes, I’m creepy. But he deserved a sneaky picture.

Train Tales: Gotta Go

I spend a lot of time on trains these days. Some days I don’t mind it, and other days I want to slap half of the people around the head for their horrible train etiquette. But that is a post for another day. Today, I’d like to share a little story about something I saw last night, which perfectly sums up a lot of things that perplex me around here.

Scene:

A crowded evening train, specifically the area at the doors, and directly in front of the restroom.

Characters:

Bike Guy, a 35-ish gent standing directly in the middle of the doors with his bike, partially blocking both the train door and the bathroom door.

Original Occupant, who was there first.

Gotta-go Guy, 60s, who had a one-track mind.

Unwitting Disturber, who got a surprise.

Heather, the simultaneously amused and confused observer leaning against the opposite door.

Tale:

The train stopped, a few people got off and a few people got on. The last man, Gotta-go Guy, boarded and stumbled his way around Bike Guy, to get to the bathroom door. He yanked at the door handle to no avail, and stabbed repeatedly at the ‘door open’ button. Why wouldn’t the door open? Well, that would be because Original Occupant was in there, you guessed it, occupying the toilet. As Bike Guy had been standing there for 15 minutes since the train departed its original station, he was well aware that there was someone in the bathroom, yet he did not say anything to Gotta-go Guy, who was still yanking and pushing at the door. For those of you unfamiliar with the doors on this kind of train, here’s a visual…

Just to the left of the door, you can see the ‘door open’ button. When the bathroom is occupied, it lights up red. Despite the red lights, Gotta-go Guy kept on trying. He was probably in his 60s, so perhaps he couldn’t see the lights or something. In my opinion, these toilet doors should also have some sort of a sign at eye level that tells you if the toilet is in use or not. But they don’t, and who knows if that would have slowed him down.

Finally Original Occupant unlocked the door from inside, and got a bit of a surprise when the door flew open as Gotta-go Guy yanked on it again. He pushed past her into the toilet, she quickly exited and went back to her seat. Bike Guy and I watched as the door slid shut again, but Gotta-go Guy apparently didn’t feel the need (or know how) to lock the door once he finally got in there. I think you know where this one is going.

Not two minutes later, Unwitting Disturber strode down the aisle, scooted around Bike Guy, and yanked open the door. Whoops! He quickly swung the door closed again, and stepped back. He was wearing headphones, so even if Bike Guy had tried to stop him, it may not have done any good. They looked at each other, both gave a kind of shrug, and waited for Gotta-go Guy to finish his business. A few minutes later he came out, and made his way unsteadily down the train. It looked like he had a Feierabendbier too many, but I don’t really know what was going on there.

The rest of the ride passed without incident, and I took the whole thing as further proof that it’s best to just pony up the extra Euro and pay to use the usually shiny-clean toilets with easily-locked doors in the train stations.

In a few of my classes this week, we discussed this recent article about how happy Germans are in different parts of the country. This in turn led to conversations about the mentality here in Franconia. Many people defended themselves and their neighbors, but many also admitted that people in this area don’t have the best reputation as far as friendliness, helpfulness, and open-mindedness go. This bathroom thing was a great example of that.

Even after three years here, it absolutely baffled me that the guy with the bike, who was RIGHT THERE, didn’t tap the Gotta-go Guy on the shoulder and say, “hey, there’s someone in there, that’s why the door won’t open.” Or when the Unwitting Disturber squeezed himself around him and his bike, why not try to stop him from getting an unwilling eyeful? I was inconveniently positioned to help these people as I was on the opposite side of the car, wedged in the corner of the door behind the bike, and afterwards I thought about how I could have helped. But would I have? Part of me thinks I would have tried, but the other part has maybe been here for too long…