Saturday, January 30, 2016

The parrots go twinsies

Every so often, my German-English speaking tandem partner and I discuss our goals for language learning. In a particularly touching moment, she told me that it was her goal to one day sound like I do. I couldn't help it; I burst out laughing, and she did, too (we do a lot of that).

"So," I asked, "you want to be able to say, in your best Midwestern -- no, Michigan -- dialect: 'hey you guys, go get the car* and we'll go to Meijers** to buy some Faygo*** pop and Better Made chips****. Maybe we'll stop by the Purple Cow and get a scoop of Superman and let the kids ride Penny while we pay. Then we'll go to the lake and play euchre.'"

The funny thing is that one day she said something like, "so, did you guys..." and it sounded so much like the way I speak that it was striking. I suggested that we could be language twinsies. At least she's learning from someone who generally uses correct grammar and whose dialect is still within the range of Standard American English (which may or may not exist, depending on the linguist you ask). On the other hand, my friend offers a very clearly spoken Hochdeutsch so it's win for both parties.

The Matador Network article gets just about everything right - except who the heck from Michigan calls a shopping cart a "buggy?" Uh, no.

*To properly say the word "car," channel your inner Gilbert Gottfried, then dial him back a notch, wrinkle your nose, and then say "car." However, don't let it sound too New York-y because that's totally not how we say it.

**I do not agree with saying "Fords" instead of Ford [Motor Company], but I do agree with saying Meijers because its original name was Meijer's Thrifty Acres. However, there is some real internal struggle over transliterating that with or without the apostrophe.

***Faygo literally has a pop flavor that is called red pop. It's difficult to describe, other than to say that it tastes red. There are strawberries printed on the label but don't let that fool you.

****These weren't really on my radar, as a West Sider, until I moved to the Detroit area because a) I'm a West Sider [of the state] and wasn't as originally obsessed with Detroit as East Siders are; and b) I'm not really into potato chips.

Friday, January 29, 2016

A new language-learning game and parrots gone wrong

My tandem partner is taking learning English very seriously; every time I visit her, she's been listening to a new podcast or trying a new video online. She recently found the great idea of parroting what a native speaker says to improve pronunciation. It actually does work really well; I tried it in German and found that my pronunciation wasn't so awful afterward.

We tried it in English. It went like this:

Me: Okay, let me think of something to say.

Her: Okay, let me think of something to say.

Me: No, wait, I'm not ready yet. Let me think of a sentence.

Her:  No, wait, I'm not ready yet. Let me think of a sentence.

Me: Stop!

Her: Stop!


Me: You know, this is kind of acting like an a**hole parrot!

Her: You know...

[raucous laughter from both of us]

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Die Eier, der Kuhlschrank, and horrifying our classmate

As one moves up the levels of learning German (or most other foreign languages, for that matter!), one moves from superficial conversation into deeper subjects and even into controversial topics. For example, in a recent German class we discussed a hotly-debated news item from last year, that Facebook and some firms offered female employees funds to freeze their eggs if they wanted to focus on their career and postpone childbearing.

I understand this controversy and can easily discuss it in English. In German, I must reduce it to basic terms. The terms were so basic that our discussion completely flummoxed (and then horrified) our classmate.

When our teacher asked us what the whole story was about, I said, "Frauen können ihre Eier frieren." That's a direct translation from English and unfortunately I literally said that women can freeze their eggs (i.e., the ones that come from chickens). Our teacher had a huge grin on his face as he said, "du meinst Eizellen." Um, sure, that would make more sense (literally, egg cells), but I hadn't known that word.

We all bumbled through giving more examples. I don't have a strong vocabulary for this topic since it's not really something I talk about in German so I struggled to explain the pros and cons.

Finally, at the end of it, our male classmate raised his hand to admit that he was totally confused. He hadn't recognized the word for "employees" and he wondered why we were talking about eggs and refrigerators. I told him in English that it was "in vitro" and he got it but didn't like the idea at all, saying that one shouldn't be able to just pick up a child out of a refrigerator.

Since I have a very strong imagination, I immediately envisioned a spouse saying, "honey, while you're at the store, will you mind picking up a baby?" and then the person at the grocery store picking up a box with "baby starter kit" marked on it. That was so absurd that I started to smile but then caught myself. After all, our classmate was horrified and I didn't want to make it even worse. Darn that imagination!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Published in GermanyJa!: Learning German in the KMC

My article was published in GermanyJa! If you want to read it again (with the pictures provided by GJ), take an online stroll here.

Monday, January 25, 2016

My week: January 24 ed.

I finished up a busy week, with some surprise reunions and lots of socializing.

-I began my week with German lessons and a meeting with my tandem partner. She and I worked on an exercise that was a great mind bender for both of us: I had a list of phrasal verbs in German, which are verbs that use specific prepositions, such as warten + auf (to wait for something). I translated them into English without saying what the English preposition would be. My friend then had to guess the corresponding English preposition, which didn't always align. It was a reasonably hard exercise for me and I was happy to work through such a brain teaser.

-I attended a cultural evening about Bangladesh. As I entered the room, I was heartily and warmly greeted by a bunch of Bangladeshi guys I know, both from an extended social group and from German classes. My friend K also showed up and we sat together and listened to the presentation about the country and grooved to the song that two of our friends played.

I really didn't know much about Bangladesh before. The evening was very informative; I learned that the name of the country basically means country of people who speak Bangla; it was formerly considered East Pakistan (despite being separated from it by almost 900 miles with India in between); and it has a boatload (hehe) of rivers. I also didn't realize that I know so many Bangladeshis!
Rickshaw. In one of my German classes, a classmate said that's something he missed from home.
We enjoyed a dinner that the students prepared for the guests and caught up with some of our friends. I also met one of K's friends and we chatted him about Brazil since that's where he's from. We grilled him about the Brazilian beef (hehe), the Brazilian educational system, and gauchos. I am amused that we attended a Bangladesh cultural evening and also learned about Brazil while living in Germany.

-The vet removed Moo's stitches and by extension, he no longer had to wear the cone of shame. We were both relieved by that! It was funny because every time I take Moo to the vet, both vets say off-handedly how nice he is. Indeed, he is! They're probably relieved to deal with a mellow cat who doesn't bite or scratch.

-During the weekend, a group of us visited the Freinsheimer Rotweinwanderung, a hike among the vineyards in the city. Along the way, vendors set up to sell local specialties and of course, red (and some white) wine. I availed myself of the Glühwein since it's a good cold weather drink.

Some of us (mainly myself) got very excited by the "leckerer Wildgulasch im Brottopf" (delicious venison goulash in bread pot) because the bread was actually shaped like a pot and the top like a lid. We giggled and took pictures as the proprietor indulged us; he even held the lid up at one point for pictures.

This year, the weather was a bit warmer and there wasn't snow like there was last year. As a result, the paths were a bit muddier but overall it was an enjoyable excursion with some old and new friends.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Decorating at the German Friseur

First of all, I like the word "Friseur," which means hair stylist in German. It sounds so...somehow French.

Secondly, I am fascinated by the hair salons in Kaiserslautern that have used mannequin heads to decorate their storefronts. I can't say that I've ever seen this in the US. The heads are creepy; in some ways, it reminds me of earlier times when fierce groups of people would mount heads on sticks outside their villages. (Okay, weird association, I know, but still!) Are the salons' display of mannequin heads meant to scare off other Friseure?

Anyway, I took a nice long walk on the first day of the new year and noticed that the mannequin heads even celebrated. Considering that there was one empty bottle of Sekt per head, I'd imagine that the mannequins had quite the Kater (hangover), especially since they didn't have a body to help metabolize the alcohol ;)

Oh, man, I shouldn't have had the whole bottle!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A supergalactic hike among the Planentenwanderweg of Nonnweiler

Nonnweiler website with more information

Nationalpark Hunsrück-Hochwald
An der Talsperre 1
66620 Nonnweiler
Monday was an American holiday: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. An American friend and I planned to do something together to celebrate the holiday (and to be more honest, the day off) and she suggested that we take a hike along the Planentenwanderweg Nonnweiler. I vaguely remember reading something about this in another expat blog and agreed.

Winter has finally arrived in southwestern Germany so it made for a rather cold hike today at about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. However, I'm a glutton for winter punishment and actually celebrated the cold. It must be my Michigan roots at work. After layering up, I picked up K and drove us up to Nonnweiler. I was pleased to see some snow up there; we had hardly any in Kaiserslautern.

Yay! Snow, along the wide and hiker and bicyclist-friendly trail.
The Planentenwanderweg is a trail that circles the Stausee Nonnweiler, a reservoir in the Nationalpark Hunsrück-Hochwald. As the name suggests, this trail also offers a special feature: a scale model of the solar system. The model starts with the sun at bridge over the reservoir. From there, one makes a circuit and encounters the other planets. Since everything is scaled, wanderers on the path are technically traveling at the speed of light, at least according to the tourist bureau's website ;) I don't think that we were anywhere near that fast because our legs were stiffening with the cold.

It all begins with the sun.

The gravel path is wide and easy to traverse. However, if one wishes to traverse the entire solar system, it's a rather long walk since the final planet (or downgraded whatever it is -- Pluto) is across the reservoir. We had originally thought that the path would be around 5 kilometers or about 3 miles. It seemed way longer than that and indeed, it was. We ended up taking the 11 kilometer route all the way around the reservoir! There's even the possibility to take a 17 km route. Oy vey. I definitely recommend studying the maps near the kiosk/bathrooms at the beginning of the trail to decide which route and distance to take.
There are benches and picnic huts along the trail.
As we labored around and across the reservoir, we encountered all of the planets. Most of them are at the beginning and each station includes a model of the planet on a stand with more information and pictures. As can be expected in Germany, all of the descriptions were in German. It is interesting to combine a hike while "exploring" the solar system; by the time one reaches the final planets, the immense scale is really apparent. We were wondering if we'd ever get to the end of the planets!

Model of Mercury (about the size of a BB); it struck us as funny after how big the sun was!
We were especially interested in seeing if the information about Pluto had been updated since it had been downgraded to a dwarf planet. We found that the solar system model kept mum about the change. Maybe the model maker is still in denial.

Pluto's model, with no mention of its downgrade
We enjoyed our hike around the solar system but did wish that we had studied the maps better before taking our path. We kept wondering if we had missed a turn-off somewhere. The path is not that confusing but seeing the maps first would have helped a lot more.

Tips for enjoying the Planentenwanderweg:
-Dress for the weather! It was even colder by the reservoir with the cold air blowing over the water.
-Study the maps of the trails first and decide just how far you want to walk before you start. The shortest path is probably to walk to Pluto and come back the way you came.
-If traversing the path clockwise from the beginning (by the sun), take the first bridge on the right to cross the reservoir. It takes a while to get there so don't be too surprised!
-There are bathrooms (heated, reasonably clean, and lit) at the beginning of the trail. In the warmer months, the kiosk is open too and sells snacks.
-Follow the signs for Nationalpark Hunsrück-Hochwald; to reach the reservoir, take the steep road with the sign that's just outside Nonnweiler.
-The trails are very wide and well-maintained. They're pleasant for both hikers and bicyclists.
-Dogs must be leashed at all times and swimming in the reservoir is not allowed because it supplies drinking water.

Here are the maps so you can pick your route first.

11 km route, the one we took

About 9 km path (pink one on right) that will tour all the planets
17 km path

Monday, January 18, 2016

My week: January 18 ed.

-Oh man. After staving off sickness for the most part of a year, I got sick again with a sinus infection. I had been feeling rundown for several weeks and I finally succumbed. However, I only ended up missing one full day of work and part of another day. That's much better than last year when I missed a whole week of work and could barely get out of bed even to grab a drink of water.

I decided to let the sickness run its course without antibiotics because I wasn't running such high fevers as I had in the past. I read that sinus infections will usually resolve without antibiotics in 60-70% of cases. A week later, I'm still tired and can tell I have the infection, but with no fever, I guess it's okay and will see how it goes.

-Moo's still wearing the cone of shame following his surgery. He's not happy about and even turned into Moogyver at one point: he used the catbox as a fulcrum to get the cone off. Maybe he's smarter than I had thought!

-There was a reading at the uni and I went with a bunch of friends. It was awesome to see everyone again after the holidays.It was a bit of over stimulation to see ten close friends at one time, try to quickly catch up with each of them, and firm up some upcoming plans with a handful of them. Plus I was getting hugs and our signature weird elbow-bumping-side-hug-derivative right and left. I can only imagine the confusion of the people not in our group who were seeing this goofy display of affection!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

I can't possibly be this mystical beast

I'm bound and determined to (some day) become fluent in German for various reasons: I plan to live here for the foreseeable future; I enjoy a good intellectual challenge and enjoy school; and I want to be fluent in at least two languages. Therefore, I've earned an Associate Degree in German language and culture and have continued with classes at various German institutions.

The crazy thing is that all of the teachers at the German schools are surprised to see me. I've had about five of them remark on how rare I am. Well, the lower level teachers weren't so surprised because there seems to be Americans taking classes to the A2 level but beyond that, they seem to drop out. This is so strange to me because in the Kaiserslautern area, Americans are about half the population because of the military presence being based here. Also, the sad thing is that I'm not particularly good at speaking German, at least as far as pronunciation goes. One can tell that I have a basic command of grammar. Either way, though, it's sad that I'm an ambassador of German speaking because I'm not awesome at it.

Then again, many military-affiliated people are here for three years or fewer. Americans also aren't known for picking up a lot of foreign languages; after all, in our home country, the only two languages that are a majority in nearby countries are Spanish and French. It could be potentially difficult to find speakers of those languages in one's local community, depending on the region.

I still think that my fellow (somewhat) expat Americans should step it up a bit. If someone's going to live in a foreign country, he should learn as much as he can. He should be able to at least go shopping, order at a restaurant, and be able to ask for directions/help. I'd totally be okay with not being the mythical beast in Kaiserslautern: an American who speaks the local foreign language at an intermediate level.*

*Yes, there are actually some Americans here who do speak fluent German. It feels as if I'm friends with the majority of them, whether that's accurate or not ;)

Saturday, January 16, 2016

My week: January 10 ed.

-We had a substitute teacher for German lessons because our teacher was sick. She is the usual teacher for the next level of classes so it was interesting to meet her. During our exercises, I came up with my usual goofy sentences, such as "Maria was late to class because she bought a big cat" and from the sample sentence, "Paul was so drunk" (yes, weird sample for a textbook) "that he wore the lampshade." At first the teacher didn't understand my funny examples but then she liked them. I figure that it has to be boring to keep hearing run of the mill samples so why not jazz it up. She commented that we were just about as advanced as her next level class. That's good to hear. She also mentioned how unusual it is to see an American (me) in an advanced German class. I get that a lot!

-We hosted a language cafe and welcomed some new people to our group. Of course, we didn't practice German much; we switched to English, which is pretty much the norm.

-I had to run some errands in Ramstein and decided to check out the Korean grocery store called Seoul Market (FB page here). The store is tiny and packed with Korean and Asian groceries. There are also really good California rolls (rice and vegetables wrapped in seaweed wrappers) and fresh kimchi too. I bought some of all of these things and especially enjoyed the California rolls. I had a really nice chat with the owner, basically in Denglish; when asked, she noted that she prefers to speak German but was happy to try in English too. She offers Korean cooking classes too, traveling to the host's home and bringing the supplies for a fee. Cool, huh?

-Moo had surgery to remove a fatty tumor on his haunch and a growth on his chin. A few weeks ago I had thought he wouldn't need surgery because the growth on his lip from November had gone away. He had a new skin tab type thing on his chin and sometimes his whole chin would swell. The vet removed the growths and reported that they were both benign. The poor kitty had a rough night of recovering after surgery; he got sick twice. Afterward, he planted himself on my chest and closed his eyes tightly. The next day he was fine besides being unhappy about wearing the cone of shame, which prevents him from biting at the stitches.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Denglish in ad form

I've seen this dang ad all around town and it drives me nuts for a myriad of reasons. I've discussed it in German class, with my tandem partner, and even with a new acquaintance.

It's one of those "close, but no cigar" cases - but in this example, it's more like "close, but no cigarette!"

The tag line is "ready for advance." Uh, that's not the correct preposition. One can say "ready for advancement," "ready to advance," or "ready for an advance." Well, the last one really only works in the form of something like an advance of pay, which wouldn't necessarily make sense in this example.

Either way, the ad company would have benefited from running this by a native speaker of English. It's such a small nuance in this case to find the correct phrasing.

Oh, and as far as what the ad is hinting at, I have to say: really, people! Smoking will probably not advance one's career. If anything, it might shorten it.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

My week: January 3 ed.

I was feeling lazy over the holidays. With no classes, I didn't have the focus that I normally would. I wasn't sure how I wanted to spend the new year. I asked a few friends and while we all wanted to do something together, we had no concrete plans. I finally pulled it together and invited C+K and M over for dinner.

As soon as I got out of work, I quickly threw together my go-to dish, a quinoa black bean bake, a ton of deviled eggs (sweet mustard, regular, and Czech versions), and jello shots. My friends brought a delicious green salad and a slightly tart fruit salad. I made Hugo cocktails with homemade elderflower cordial, a result of my foraging wild foods in 2015. We enjoyed the dinner and Moo pranced around, begging for attention. He figured the party was for him, as always!

Just before midnight we went outside to witness the insanity of Germany during the new year. It's one of the few times that people are allowed to just let off fireworks here. People went crazy with fireworks as usual but the night was cold and humid so the fog and resulting smoke lessened the visibility. We let off some of our own fireworks, drank some sparkling wine (and even some proper Champagne), and wished one another happy new year.

When we had enough fireworks, we retreated inside and played some board games, including a really cool German one called Das Verrückte Labyrinth, where a maze is set up and one tries to reach goals by moving the pieces. Moo's favorite was Apples to Apples. Finally, around 4 am we said goodnight.

The next morning we ate brunch with my coworker. Unfortunately, her other guests weren't able to stay longer than to say hi since they had to be on the road. The rest of us enjoyed a French toast casserole I cooked and my coworker made a delicious mix of other items. It was a tasty end to celebrating the new year

Friday, January 1, 2016

My 2015, a year in review

As the new year has come, it's not uncommon to see people reflecting on the past year, whether it's on Facebook, in blog posts, or, heaven forbid, actually in person. I guess I'll jump on that bandwagon. I have a particular interest in this practice; as of tomorrow, it will have been three years (!) since I've moved to Germany and up-heaved my life (albeit in a way that I feel has been very positive).

Let's take a look back at the blog. Many of my 2015 blog entries were reviews of my week versus in-depth entries on living here. I also created fewer entries than I have in the past year, not that it really matters; after all, this is blog is not a work of "great social and political import"(to co-opt a Janis Joplin quote).

It's been a bit of a funky year, overall. I started 2015 strong, planning a lot of events with my social groups, taking German lessons, and hiking. Then I got sick with a nasty sinus infection in February and it put me in a tailspin. I missed a week of work and was so sick that I could barely leave bed to get a drink of water. It took about six weeks to recover from that and I basically was a hermit for a while afterward because I had no energy to do anything other than work and go to class. I was rather miserable in class, for that matter!

I was sick of getting so sick and visited the doctor to get my allergy situation under control. He ordered further allergy testing and I found out that I'm slightly allergic to wheat. Finally I had an explanation for those weird, seemingly random sinus headaches/congestion. I also started actually following the regime of using some of the other allergy control methods he had suggested. It was awesome: I had no further big illnesses in 2015! Usually I get about 4-5 sinus infections a year so I was thrilled. I definitely struggled a bit during ragweed season but I kept from getting sick so it was awesome.

In April, I started getting back into the social circle again and threw myself a birthday party, complete with homemade pinata and a super exciting birthday cake made by my lovely coworker. We all acted like a bunch of weirdos, laughed, and enjoyed ourselves. That's my favorite type of party!

It's a good thing I got some socializing in because between May and June, my friends and I had such busy schedules that we didn't get to see one another often. I had four German lessons a week (back to back two evenings a week) and a meeting with my tandem partner. I also was gone every weekend.

By the time I was down to two classes a week, it was July and the summer was ridiculously hot. We had several weeks that were in the high 90s-100 degrees and it was miserable. I mostly sat around, directly under a fan. I didn't want to do anything, including blogging. July and August were mostly miserably hot and without air conditioning, I felt like a slug.

I also felt consumed by work projects. I was charged with creating our in-person training for staff. I've never had to deal with government bureaucracy like this before; to host two, week-long training sessions it took six months, a legal review, a signed letter of permission from a Very Important Person, conversations with several levels of managers and financial experts from almost all of our locations, coordination with religious personnel (even though my organization has nothing to do with religion; this is how overarching this whole thing is!) and facility managers, international labor coordination, and so on. I swear, I think it's easier to sign a treaty with another country than it is to bring in staff for training, and what we do isn't even something that is sensitive!

By no means am I complaining; even though at some point I think I was grinding my teeth from the frustration of bureaucracy, I did enjoy the challenge. I learned a TON and met (via phone call) the leadership of our colleagues at other locations. Our staff reacted positively to the training and I was thrilled to hear that they felt that they were "very well taken care of" because of the thought I put into the arrangements. Another cool thing is that one of the budget people I had worked with on attendee vouchers became a customer of my organization and has really been happy with our services. Plus, I was able to get presenters from another organization with whom we had really been wanting to partner. Overall, it was totally worth it!

This wasn't the only big work project. We are also merging our database with the rest of the organization's, and will be then upgrading the software. This is a major project and while I'm not the lead on it, I'm helping in various areas and will be tasked with writing the documentation and creating the training when everything is ready to go live. In November, my colleague and I were sent to the US to work with our colleagues there on the project. I was thrilled; I so rarely travel for work (even though our "customers" are all remote) and it was great to see our colleagues in person. Plus, my good friend C, who used to work in our office and was my main travel partner, was now in the US office.

Even better yet was I got to see my other good friend C and former colleague J, who had also moved there. What the heck is it with people moving to Texas? In addition, I met yet another person named C, a new friend of original friend C and J. We hung out after work, almost fell in the San Antonio river, and caught up.

In addition to a lot of productive work related to the project and catching up with former colleagues and friends from Germany, I also took the opportunity of the trip's travel plan to stage a layover in Chicago and take a week of vacation that routed me back to Michigan. It's the first time in almost 3 years that I spent a holiday at home and saw my nieces and nephew. I had a jam-packed week; I spent two days in the town where I used to work, three days in my hometown, and two days in the metro Detroit area before returning to Chicago to fly back to Germany. Man, that was an awesome experience and I was stuck by the kindness and affection that my family, friends, and former coworkers showed me.

In looking back over this year, I'd say that I mostly focused on work and learning German. Until my huge trip home, I had only taken two vacation days - but those were definitely awesome since they were used to spend time with my brother and sister-in-law when they stopped by for a few days. However, I don't regret any of this; I pulled off two successful staff training sessions and learned a ton. The vacation time I did take was with people who are important to me and we spent quality time together. As far as speaking German goes, I can now have somewhat deep conversations and keep up for an extended period of time. This year didn't go as I had envisioned it since I didn't travel much outside the big trip, yet I'm content with how it played out.