Thursday, February 27, 2014

Not quite assimilated

I'm starting to feel a reasonable level of competence in living in Germany. I know how to sort my trash and I can usually get the gist of signs, among other things.

I finally went to see a German doctor (who speaks flawless English, so I'm cheating a bit). I know that Germans politely greet and say goodbye to everyone in the waiting room. I'm not particularly interested in doing this.

I know, I know, it's horrible and it's not respecting the customs of the country. If someone says hello to me or the other patients seem disconcerted, I'll say hello. However, if they don't, then I don't bother.  If I'm at the doctor's office, I don't feel well and don't want to talk to anyone but the medical staff. The last time I was at the doctor's office, an elderly German man in the elevator wanted to talk to me in German. I had a raging fever and cold sweats and just wanted to crawl home and die. I could only understand half of what he said and my responses were horribly non-grammatical, probably because my brain was burning up with fever. I just really, really wanted to be left alone. It seemed as if the dang elevator would never reach the exit, but finally it did.

Will I change my mind on greeting strangers in the waiting room? I guess only time will tell.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

German handwriting

Something interesting I've found here is handwriting. American handwriting is so incredibly varied, both in print and cursive form. Even my own dang handwriting varies so much that one letter from me can look as if several different people wrote it as I switch from cursive to print, then to some weird hybrid, and so on! (Is that creepy? I will even write the individual letters differently)

Friends and I have noticed that most German cursive writing looks very identical, no matter who wrote it. I find this so interesting.

It raises these questions:
-Is the teaching of German penmanship so standard that everyone's looks the same afterward?
-Even though it's usually quite neatly written, why am I such a dumbkopf and can't make out some of the letters at times?
-Will German educators continue to teach cursive handwriting?

I've heard that in American schools, some are phasing it out because people type so much. I can understand that on one hand, but on the other, I find it crazy. After all, if one has to take handwritten notes quickly for some reason, wouldn't cursive writing be advantageous? Or will there never be a need for anything handwritten again? Oh, the questions that exist!

... ;)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Being cold, warm, and hot in Germany: avoiding an awkward grammatical situation

In the German language, there is a particular way that one is cold, warm, and hot, as far as comfort with ambient temperatures go. It is important to forgo directly translating from English to avoid some awkward conversations.

For example, if saying:

I am cold. Literal translation: Ich bin kalt.
This means to be frigid in response to another's advances.

I am warm. Ich bin warm.
This means that one is attracted to those of the same gender.

I am hot. Ich bin heiß.
It is saying that one is hot and heavy and ready to go!

Therefore, it's important to use the following way to say these things when expressing how one is feeling temperature wise:

I am cold. Mir ist kalt.  (Literally: To me it is cold).
I am warm. Mir ist warm.
I am hot. Mir ist heiß.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Let op! Indeed

Since our Dutch friend visited, I'm feeling very Dutch. Well, I am Dutch in my mishmash of American heritage; in fact, my grandparents were from the Old Country.

In the spirit of all things Dutch and wonderful, I bring you this picture from Eindhoven as I drink some lekker Dutch hot chocolate my friend brought for me:

Caution (or "attention;" I don't know the subtleties of the Dutch language)!! Not for cyclists.

C was with me on this trip to Einhoven. We really liked "let op!" because it felt like we were yelling at each to "let up," which would make sense in English when telling someone to stop doing something.

Okay, that's enough Dutch. I now need to switch back to German because very soon it will be final exam time for my current class and I really must study.

Pass auf! Acht auf!   (It's not quite as fun in German)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Vending machine Wurst!

I was traveling through Sembach and saw this at the Esso station:

It's sausage from a vending machine! I'm not sure if I find it to be ingenious or a bit disconcerting. After all, are they served cold or warm? How fresh could they be? I'm kicking myself for not looking more closely!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Disrupting Dutch thoughts

I was chatting with my Dutch friend and asked him to bring some things from Holland when he visits this weekend. He kindly agreed and wrote one of the words on his hand as a reminder. He then started laughing, saying that he had been speaking English so much with me that he even wrote the word in English.

I love language, linguistics, and neuroscience. It's so interesting how switching among languages can even change how we think. I've talked to my friend and my Dutch colleague about their experiences speaking English. They're both completely fluent, so I was curious if they ever have to think about English as they speak or if it just comes out. For both of them, they can just speak it on the fly and they don't have to think about it. However, if they have both been speaking English a lot, they have to really switch gears to return to Dutch as even their interior thoughts switch to English.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Signs of Fastnacht in Mainz!

When I was visiting Mainz in Monday, signs of the upcoming Fastnacht celebrations were present throughout town. Fastnacht, also known as Karneval or Fasching depending on the region, is the giant party before Lent starts. I wrote about it last year, as well.

I saw the first indicator of the upcoming celebrations in the Hauptbahnhof. Look at all those fun colors and decorations! Red, white, blue, and yellow are the official Mainz Fastnacht colors and I saw them all over town.


In the Old Town area, I saw a costume shop. One could buy scarves, gloves, and other brightly colored accessories to fit in with all the celebrants. There were also costumes, too. My friend says that the Karneval season is kind of like the Germans' version of Halloween. In many ways, especially with all the candy and costumes, it is.

However, Fastnacht has a dark side.

Da da da...(said ominously):

arrrggh! Zombie-like, super freaky clown figurines were in the store outside the Mainz Cathedral! Don't look into their blank eyes for fear of losing your soul! 

Braaaaaaaaaaaaaains! Heleau! We mean, um, BRAIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNS!!!

Don't throw us candy, throw us your BRAIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNSSSSS!
But hey, they're dressed in Mainz Fastnacht colors, so they're festive, right?



Thursday, February 20, 2014

Monday in Mainz

Since I had Monday off for the American holiday, I wanted to take a trip somewhere. I haven't been feeling that well after being sick on and off since January, so I decided to go somewhere close. I had been considering hopping over to France or to Luxembourg, but I was being a punk and didn't want to deal with the French language. Usually that's a lame excuse, but again, I don't feel great and I wanted to stick with a foreign language I can basically speak/read/navigate so I decided to stay in Germany.

I also didn't feel like driving or paying an exorbitant amount for a train ticket. I checked out and found a last-minute bus ticket to and from Mainz for 17 euros. It was a fast trip so I decided to go. I thought I could find a tasty restaurant and check out a museum or two for a short day trip.

I totally biffed on the museum end of things. Museums are often closed one day a week, and that "ruhetag" (literally, "day of rest") is usually on Monday. Mainz was no exception so I wasn't able to visit any museums. Darn!

I still enjoyed myself. For once, I really didn't plan my day or read much about the town. I wouldn't say that I'm the most prepared person in the world for trips, but still, everything I did on this trip was a bit outside the norm for me in how freeform it was. It all worked out fine in the end.

After the bus dropped me off near the Hauptbahnhof and I enjoyed a hot chocolate to warm up, I went in search of the tourist information center to get a map and find things to do. About a mile from the train station, the tourist center is across from the Rathaus (city hall), which is situated on the Rhein River.

I picked up some maps and wandered over to the Rahaus. I have to admit: I found its design to be stark and a bit ugly. In fact, I hadn't been impressed by much of Mainz at that point. Most of the buildings I had seen were modern and not very handsome.

The Rathaus,
Trying, unsuccessfully, to meld old and new.
As I wandered around, I found the Dom, or the Cathedral, and the Old Town. Ahh...that was so much better with historical architecture.

Ooh, Mary n' Lil' Baby Jesus, on a pedestal! Looking more traditional here.

The Dom, or Cathedral, of Mainz.
I nipped into the Dom for a while. I love visiting old churches and buildings to look at the architecture and art. The Dom had some interesting pieces, such as the skeleton below. It's the first skeleton sculpture I can think of that I've seen with angel wings. Even stranger yet is that it appears to have crashed down upon the rest of the sculpture.

In a side wing off the altar, I saw a sculpture that really illustrated something I learned this summer from the German history and art class that I took: in religious art, there might be some sort of curtain at the top of the piece. This is to symbolize that the church allows one to take a peek into heaven/the afterlife to see what glorious things await. I'll have to check my notes, but I believe that this has ties to the Counter-Reformation.

See the curtain at the top?
Leaving the cathedral, I moved on to have lunch at Mexico Lindo. I'm on a neverending quest to find Mexican food in Germany. Lunch was pleasant enough though not a home run for Mexican food.

I then explored more of the Old Town.

Strangely proportioned Jesus, anyone?
I left the old town and wandered into Schillerplatz. There I saw the following: the "...Mainz Carnival (Fasching) Fountain was erected in 1967.  Created by Blasius Spreng, the nine meter high bronze fountain has more than 200 figures on it," according to  It's interesting but slightly disconcerting too.

I really liked the sculpture below, of Saint Bilhildis. First of all, I like it because she is holding a building. I don't know why, but I like when sculptures etc. do this. The Dom in Cologne has some floor mosaics that depict people doing that too. Usually it indicates that the person has something to do with the church, such as designing or building it. Secondly, I love the horde of mini-mes (Mini Bildis?) at her feet. There's a whole lot of symbolism that I don't know the back story but it's an amusingly awkward statue.

I had to stop admiring Ms. Bilhildis since it was time to return to the bus to go home. It was an enjoyable day in Mainz.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How to properly say "cheers" in German

When raising a glass to someone in Germany, it is customary to say "prost" and lightly touch the glasses together. However, it's very important to look the person in the eyes when doing so.

Otherwise, one will suffer from seven years of bad intimate encounters. Or so I've been told.

My expat friends and I try to fit in so we make sure to look at each other in the eyes when toasting each other. We're so careful, in fact, that we look a bit bug-eyed in the process.

I saw the statue below in the Valkenburg Caves in December during the trip with my cousins. That's basically what we must end up looking like during the prosting.

I have mad photo editing skillz. Don't be jealous.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Roadside candy machines: Mainz, Germany

I visited Mainz on Monday (thank you, American holiday!) and came across several roadside candy machines.

Whoa! It's a quadruple decker.

Zipper bracelets: dang, I could've been the coolest 5th grader out there if I had one of these as a kid!

Eep! This one, near the Hauptbahnhof, is really creepy! It looks totally disused yet has some gumballs in the left side. The right side's dispenser is labeled "thank you" yet the left side isn't. I'm not sure what's going on here.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The flowers are a-bloomin'

When I see forsythia flowers, I smile. They are the harbinger of spring for me (well, after crocuses and daffodils). Spring is my favorite season, for many reasons, especially considering that it ushers the end of cold and gloomy winter.

Forsythia also make me think of my family. My mom has it in her backyard in Michigan. My aunt, who lives in a different state, recently "forced" some forsythia. Even though her state is a bit warmer than Michigan is, it still has been cold there. She brought some forsythia inside and is coaxing them to bloom. She placed them in an heirloom vase, which is actually a shell casing sent by our cousins who weathered World War II in Holland! It's a strangely handsome vase.

I am seeing forsythia here in Germany, too. I went for a walk this weekend and saw a rather ratty-looking bush with flowers. Of course I had to share that picture with my family! It's been so warm here that they are blooming naturally.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What I really like about German restaurants

While there are some differences in German restaurants that might not always be appreciated by an expat, there is something that I do really like: they usually don't play music, or if they do, it's not loud and annoying. It's so refreshing! Going out to eat is seen as something special and it's meant to be a time to enjoy the company of one's dining partner and not have to shout over the soundtrack.

I was reminded of how much I prefer having no music in the German restaurants on Friday when a friend and I met for dinner at an American restaurant on the air base. The music was blasting and even worse, it was country music (the only type of music I dislike). I was about ready to politely ask the staff if they could turn it down when they did without prompting. Phew! It made the rest of dinner so much more pleasant.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Please don't touch me: a letter from a non-hugger

A non-hugger's worst nightmare!
I spent time with a friend last night and we had a fun girls' night out with plenty of chatting. She's a very warm and caring person. As we were talking, we got onto the topic of touchy-feely people and hugging. I have an appointment with a doctor whom she has seen in the past, and she mentioned that he briefly patted her shoulder to reassure her and she thought it was very nice. I told her that I sincerely hope he doesn't do that to me. I don't like people I don't know well to touch me when it's not necessary. Heck, I don't even like people I do know well to touch me! My friend and I had a funny conversation about this and laughed, but thinking about it more, I thought it might be somewhat interesting to give the viewpoint from a non-touchy-feely person

Even the dog is in on it!

First things first: in some ways, it's hard to say why I don't want people touching me. I have never been abused in any way. My family is a very normal, loving one (although we do get into huge grammar and Early American Furniture debates). I am not on the Autistic spectrum, nor am I am engineer (sometimes those can be the same thing!). While I do suffer from chronic low-grade back pain, that's not an actual physical reason for people not to touch me.

Here's a novel idea: I just don't like it! I also don't feel that it's necessary.

I probably have just blown the minds of touchy-feely people. I have found that it is almost unfathomable for them to understand this. In fact, if I tell them that I don't like hugs and prefer to just say hello to people, it seems to cause many of them anxiety. It is so strange to me! It's almost as if, by saying that I don't like hugs/being touched, the touchy-feely people want to do that to me more. I kid you not.

Even worse is the European version: the air cheek kisses! Oh goodness, do I ever not like this. How many air kisses does one do? How do you know if you're supposed to do it? Argh! I'm so thankful that in Germany, this is not common, and in business environments or when meeting new people, it's pretty much a no-no.

Also, to be clear: if someone does gives me a hug, it's not like I bat them away or go completely rigid. I do reciprocate, but it's not my favorite thing to do. When I meet new people, I will usually say hello or if it seems appropriate, I will shake hands (especially in a business setting).

I realize that this probably makes me seem antisocial or really weird. I'll totally own the being weird thing (I'm not super interested in being normal as that's often boring), but I don't think that people find me antisocial. When I tell people that I'm in introvert, many do not believe me. I've heard, "but you're so social! You talked to everyone at the party! You're always creating events or having people over." Um, yes, of course! It is completely possible to be both an introvert and to still want to hang out with people and enjoy their company. It just means that after I've been out doing a ton of things, I also want to come home and relax by myself by reading a book or taking a walk alone. I've taken myself out to dinner or to a movie alone and you know what? I thoroughly enjoyed it! If I've been at a work conference, it might mean that after 10-12 hours of being surrounded by my colleagues, I might not be super interested in going out with them every night afterward for drinks. Instead, I might want to explore the city a bit on my own or even just veg out in the hotel room.

I will say that I'm not totally against physical contact. When I have been in relationships, it's been totally fine with my partners; it's not like I'm some frigid person! We'd hug, hold hands, etc. I guess I just think of physical touch as an intimate thing. This needs to be separated from a sensual thing: by intimate, I mean that I prefer to save hugging for the person I spend a lot of time with and who knows me very well/vice versa. I don't prefer to share that with others as I don't think it's necessary or wanted on my behalf.

I have wondered why I'm like this. Again, there is no physical, mental, or emotional problem, as far as I can tell. I have read and enjoyed Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages, and I feel like that book gives some clues. Chapman believes that people have different ways, or languages, to express love and affection. Physical touch is one way; the touchy-feely people fall into that category. Then there are people who like to give gifts/buy things for others. Words of affirmation is for those who like to say kind things to build the other up. Quality time is for those who love spending time with loved ones and giving them undivided attention. The last love language is acts of service, and that is the love language that resonates with me, and I also believe that is the love language of my nuclear family. We might not hug often, but the time I was at home in the US and incredibly sick at midnight, my mom was willing to leave immediately and drive two hours to take care of me. To me, that resonated loudly as an act of love. I know that my family will do anything they can to help me when needed -- and vice versa. I feel incredibly loved and protected by my family (and lucky to have them!)

The main point here is: don't worry about people who don't like hugs. They can give and receive love in many different other ways!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Some tips for visiting the German spa

I wrote about visiting the German spa when I was fewer than six months into living in Germany. I feel that I'm really starting to settle into German life and things that were really new or a big deal to me last year are just becoming normal now. One such thing is visiting the German spa; it had been a rather big deal for me as it's quite different from many spa experiences in the US. I visited again in 2014 and I feel like I'm starting to get into the groove of how German spas work. Here is a link to what I wrote last year, and below I'll give some tips on visiting the German spa.

  • "Textil-frei" means that bathing suits are not allowed in the spa. Often, the spa part is textil-frei and the swimming pool areas require a swimsuit. Sometimes the areas that require a swimsuit become textil-frei (for example, late on weekend evenings). When in doubt, check the website of the spa (use Google Translate is necessary) and/or ask staff.
  • Usually the sauna/spa part is for adults (18 and up) and the pool area is for families and is filled with screaming children.
  • There may be times set aside for ladies only. The whole facility might be reserved for ladies, or just certain parts might be that way.
  • It's recommended to bring: at least two towels, definitely a pair of flip flops, and possibly a bathrobe. One towel is used to dry off after rinsing off after using various spa facilities, and the other towel should be used to sit on in the saunas.
  • I have seen people wearing bathrobes in between visiting the saunas, etc., but one must remove the bathrobe before entering the sauna if it's textil-frei. Also remember to remove flip flops (leave them neatly beside the door).
  • When sitting in the sauna, avoid having any of your skin make direct contact with the wood seating as its moisture/oils can damage the wood. I have even seen people put the towel under their feet.
  • Germans tend to greet people as they enter the sauna. Other than that, they don't tend to talk to people they don't know.
  • Enter and leave the sauna quickly to avoid letting out the heat.
  • After using each sauna, hose off in the shower to remove sweat from your skin. Dry off.
  • Often the showers are separate for men and women but don't be surprised if the changing areas are for both men and women. There may or may not be changing booths.
  • Enjoy your experience and leave all prudishness at the door :)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Meanwhile, in Michigan...

My family, both nuclear and extended, has a fond spot for animals. My mom and my aunt have been busy feeding the squirrels and birds who visit their backyards this winter.

My aunt took a picture of this cute little squirrel. We thought he seemed a bit cold since he's clutching his little hands. I worked on the picture and now I think he's warm enough. Aren't you jealous of my Paint skillz?

Oh dear, it's so cold out in Michigan!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Crazy weather

This winter has been so much easier than last year's winter; it's been so mild, with temperatures in the 40-50s. There has been basically no snow (though there have been plenty of rain showers). Last year, it was colder, with temperatures in the 20-40s and more snow. It was more mild than where I'm from in the States, but it packed a bigger punch last year because I was walking around outside a lot.

Anyway, I have noticed flowers growing recently. It is so weird to this Michigan girl to have seen flowers in January (when I took this picture). I plucked one and stuck it in my hair and practically went skipping off into the sunlight. That's the bonus of this year's less dreary winter: people are in better moods, probably because of more sunlight. Don't get me wrong; it's not Florida by any means, but after seeing nothing but gray skies last winter, the bits of sunshine we've been having this year are wonderful.

Flowers in January? Mind blowing!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Seen in Eindhoven, Netherlands

When I was in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, I noticed the logo for Seats and Sofas. The logo includes a sofa with the American flag and the tagline "a giant take-away."

Oh my. Is it giant because everything in the US tends to be bigger, including our sofas and the buns that sit in them?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dampfnudeln: German steamed buns

One way to get a German person or an expat with lots of fondness for Germany to sigh happily about inexpensive desserts is to mention Dampfnudeln. These are rolls/buns that are steamed in a pot and are commonly eaten in southern Germany and the Alsace region of France. The bottoms of them are cooked in a salty brine that creates a crispy crust while the top of the bun is very soft. They can be served as a main dish with savory sides, such as vegetables, or they can be served as a dessert with a vanilla sauce or jam.

They are definitely available at Christmas markets and can be seen at other places, such as food carts and sometimes at bakeries attached to grocery stores. People are quite fond of them.

I am not one of those people. I finally gave one a try at a Christmas market in December. It's a strange beast, this dampfnudel. Think of an undercooked roll that's incredibly doughy but with a very salty bottom that's crispy. The whole thing doesn't taste like much, other than flour and salt. The vanilla custard sauce that came with it didn't taste like much, either. Sorry, Mr. Dampfnudel. You just didn't do it for me.

Dampfnudel on left, uninspired vanilla sauce on the right.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Restaurant Review: Pizzeria Napoli in Kaiserslautern

Mühlstr. 19
67659 Kaiserslautern
0631 -75009393
Hours: Mon-Sat 11 am - 2 pm; Mon-Sat 5 pm - 11 pm; Sun 11 am - 11 pm
In the building that previously housed Hofbräuhaus, a new restaurant has risen: Pizzeria Napoli. Curious, I stopped by on a Sunday before meeting with friends to give it a try, making a note of the non-politically correct "doorman."
The interior decor is typical German and the restaurant even retained the Hofbräuhaus chairs (note the carved lions, sticking their tongues out). 

When I arrived on a Sunday afternoon in late December, only one other group was at the restaurant. The pleasant waitress took my order promptly and I had my pizza within about 10 minutes. I ordered the smallest sized pizza with mushrooms. It was HUGE at 33 cm. and way more than I needed; it took up the whole plate, but was reasonably priced at or below 7 euros.

Before I cut into the pizza, I was wondering how it would be. The other German pizza I've eaten on a few occasions was very bland, so I had that in mind. I cut into this pizza and took a bite. I would say that I like this pizza better than what I had at Pizzeria Milano down the street (reviewed here), but it still wasn't as flavorful as it could be. I do give the restaurant points for including some herbs in the sauce; I could taste oregano. The crust was a bit thicker but was the right consistency, neither too over or under cooked. I have no complaints about the fresh mushrooms on the pizza.

The waitress who served me was pleasant and attentive. I asked her if this restaurant has ties to the pizzeria in Landstuhl with a similar name. They are not, but have ties to a restaurant in Mainz.
It was a nice enough visit and the pizza was good by German standards. However, I have found that I much more prefer my own homemade pizza, which is significantly more flavorful. Still, tucked away from the main pedestrian area and on the way to the Gartenschau, Pizzeria Napoli could be a good place for a group to enjoy dinner and some drinks. There are noodle dishes, salads, and ice cream/desserts available too.

Friday, February 7, 2014

2014 Pfennigbasar - Pfennig Bazaar: March 7-9

Yippie! It's almost time for a most amazing event: the German American & International Women's Club of Kaiserslautern will be hosting their annual Pfennig Bazaar (auf deustch, Pfennigbasar) again in March.

March 7-9 2014, 11am-6pm each day
Pfennigbasar at the
Veranstaltungshalle (Banquet Hall)
An der Kalause 9
67659 Kaiserslautern
An der Kalause 9 · 67659 Kaiserslautern
An der Kalause 9 · 67659 Kaiserslautern)

The Bazaar is a major fundraiser for the club and is a giant rummage sale at the Veranstaltungshalle located just across from the main entrance to the Gartenschau. There are many great deals to be found; last year year, I picked up a small wool rug for 5 euros.

The goods for sale are organized very nicely, by various departments. Beyond that, the sale is complete mayhem. Be prepared to be jostled, but all in the pursuit of finding some awesome deals and supporting a great non-profit organization.

Want some tips and more information for shopping at this crazy event? I wrote a whole entry about my experiences last year: Pfennig Bazaar 2013.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Lickin' lions, oh my!

Some people believe that Himalayan salt crystals possess healing properties. There are even lamps made of Himalayan salt. I have told my friends that if they ever bought such lamps, that they should hide them when I come to visit. I would have an overwhelming urge to lick the lamp. We were giggling, imagining the owner of a lamp being flummoxed why the lamp was growing smaller and me leaving, licking my lips.

I ate dinner at Pizzeria Napoli (I need to write a review...sometime, I guess) and was very excited that the candle holder was made out of Himalayan salt. Everyone was goading me on to lick it, via Facebook (I was catching a quick bite alone, before meeting with friends). Of course I didn't lick it, even though the lion on the chair in the upper left hand corner appears to be licking the letter "B" on the chair.