Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mark this date in history

I saw some locals actually buying candy from a roadside candy machine! Some kids were buying jawbreakers from a machine in Kaiserslautern. I was a bit shocked because it's quite a grungy, rusty machine they patronized.

Read more about my obsession with roadside candy machines here.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Music so beautiful it could make you cry

Even though I love my life here in Germany, there are some things from home that I love and miss. Of course my family and friends from there at the top of the list. Another thing I miss are the festivals
I've attended. There are two of them that are almost perfect and feel like home for me. They both have a great vibe and amazing performers.
I was thinking of the festival and decided to play some music from Dixon's Violin, which brought back wonderful memories of sitting together quietly with my friends, all of us transfixed by his music. Dixon is a Michigan digital violin artist who builds beautiful, haunting music by recording what he plays live, looping it, and adding to it. He calls himself a "Musical Shaman," which is extremely apt. It's hard to put into words the feeling to be sitting in a huge group, captivated by his music, but the energy and the emotion is amazing. Plus, he's an overall nice guy, humble and approachable, with a soothing vibe.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What I've been up to: September 21 ed.

-Met with my German/English partner for practice and dinner. We ate Spätzle and rice with bean sprouts. Hey, it was an international meal!

-When I went home, my other friend stopped over so we could try to figure out the next trip we are going to take. We didn't get too far on finding a good deal but did work on it until midnight. So much for trying to go to bed earlier.

-Took my duvet in to the laundry/dry cleaners. I couldn't find anywhere with a washing machine big enough to wash a thick, king sized comforter so I gave up and paid 25 euros for the cleaners to do it.

-Got a bit too hyped up on sugar at work and decided that the huge piece of packing paper would make a perfect dress, put it on, and paraded this fall's hottest new look around the office catwalk. I was told by my boss that I was not allowed to have any more sugar after that.

-Took part in a pscyholinguistics experiment at the university. It tracks eye movement when reading. I had classes in linguistics, sociolinguistics, and psychology when I was in college, so I found it especially interesting.

-Started my Volkshochschule German class. I have mixed feelings about it; I think that I should have taken the next level class. Of course, it's never bad to practice and review, even if it's at a lower level. I have the same teacher that I had the last time and she's quite good at explaining things even though it's all in German. She is a bit influenced by dialect so I need to be careful to not pick that up.

-Went to a language cafe with friends and did speak some German. I then realized that I was supposed to send out information about an event I was coordinating for the weekend so I stayed up late getting that all together.

-Attended the Bad Dürkheim Wurstfest with a group of friends, had fun because of excellent company but decided the fest itself wasn't for me. With thick crowds, people who kept shoving into me even though everything was jammed up, and witnessing several fights breaking out, I just wasn't feeling that part of the fest.

-Had a nice brunch with a group of friends.

-Was even more exhausted by the end of the week than I've been in the previous weeks.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

In honor of the Blitzmarathon tomorrow...

Rheinland-Pfalz, the German state where I live, is conducting a Blitzmarathon tomorrow. No, it's not a lightning race; it's a speed camera day where police plan to set up almost 300 cameras. It's intended to reduce speeding and increase awareness (as well as increase the coffers of the state, I'm sure!).

In honor of the marathon, I am posting this photo of a sticker I saw on a car.

The left side states "Polizeikontrollen" and the right side has a picture of a traffic camera.

Gettin' down with long German words

The German language is known for some rather long words. To those who don't speak the language, the words can be very frightening looking. To those who have a grasp of the language, it's not bad because they're very descriptive compound words. While the English language will often look to Greek or Latin to form new words, the German language looks to, well, German. For example, "beef" is called "Rindfleisch" (basically, cow flesh).

These compound words can describe a whole concept that might take several words or sentences to explain (for example, Schadenfreude [song about it here], literally "damage joy/pleasure," which is taking pleasure in the misfortune of others, but there's more to it than that). The word also might describe what would be broken into several different words in English. Here's an article about some of the very long German words.

I recently found a very catchy song about several of the long words. I'd sing along, but...


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Some German slang and low pants

I love having the opportunity to speak to German natives to work on my language skills. Plus, it's a great way to learn things that wouldn't necessarily be mentioned in a textbook.

During the campout this weekend, I saw a guy dancing and his pants were a bit low. I commented to my Bekanntin that it looked like half of a full moon.

She shared the German word term with me: Maurerdekolletee. A Maurer is a wall builder, and a décolleté (in German, dekolletee) is also a French term that means a low-cut neck on a dress (which, in turn, would expose part of one's chest). Apparently wall builders have a tough time keeping their pants up enough too! We cracked up over that one and as I explained our other term, "plumber's crack."

Monday, September 15, 2014

What I've been up to: the September 14 ed.

I was hoping for a less busy week this time because I was rather exhausted by the previous week. I still ended up going to bed reasonably late every night. I should rectify that but I don't regret having fun instead of sleeping a lot.

-Invited my tandem speaking partner over for dinner. She fell in love with Moo and said that he was better than watching a movie. She's not normally a cat person but she thought he was great and kissed his little Moo face. He kept doing cute things, hamming it up for attention. Well, he was cute except for when he was sick of us oohing and aahing over him and turned his back to us and started licking himself.

-Met up with my friend and a new resident of Kaiserslautern for drinks. Despite the bar's reasonably good exhaust system, the smoking inside still bothered me. There are some loopholes in the law so some places can still allow smoking inside. Sigh.

-Had a meetup with one of my groups where we planned lots of activities. I'm thrilled! It's really starting to come together nicely and we're progressing from a group of friendly strangers to a big group of friends. I'm absolutely thrilled.

-After that meeting, we walked to a restaurant to meet our friend and drank neuwein on the way. I had a jug of it that I really needed to finish so my friends were happy to oblige. We were super classy and drank straight out of the jug!

-Signed up for a Volkshochschule class. I will also sign up for a university class later this fall, but I wanted to make sure that I wasn't totally rusty before a more intensive class.

-Went camping in the Mosel River valley. It was amazing! We sang, danced, partied, sauna-ed (is that a word?), hiked in the vineyards until we couldn't hike any more (and even today I am still hobbling around with sore muscles), took a boat ride on the Mosel, didn't sleep, bathed in a cow water trough (interesting experience), and enjoyed the company of people from all over the world (mostly from the Netherlands ;) I'm exhausted and sore but feeling blissful after the fun.

Friday, September 12, 2014

My preconceived notions about Germany, the second time around

The first time I went to Germany, I had not done much research about what the country was like, other than the vague grasp of its history (i.e. what we had learned in school about World War II, which is hardly comprehensive). The second time around, I had done a lot of "research" by reading tons of expat blogs and books written for expat Americans. As a result of what I took from the readings and my own imagining, I had a new set of preconceived notions about the country.

Before I moved, I had all sorts of ideas of how life would be. I imagined that Germans would be slightly gruff and reserved. I would be lucky to make any German friends and it would take eons to move beyond the role of a Bekanntin (not quite a friend, but more than an acquaintance). If I sinned and jaywalked, I would be told in harsh German the errors of my way. If I incorrectly sorted my trash, I would be berated and possibly ticketed. My apartment would be consumed with mold.

On the positive side, I believed that I would enjoy wine festivals and excellent, reliable public transit. I would hang out with tons of Americans and possibly people from the military community. After all, we would have so much in common, right? I would be fluent in German within a year of moving here and Germans would be impressed with my prowess.

I think that this new set of notions was almost as ridiculous as my initial ideas before I had even visited the country. I don't blame the blogs at all, but I also didn't fully evaluate what people had written. We tend to focus on extremes: just think of the news. Strife and major events make the news; how many times do we hear about everyday people, doing everyday things? Experiences that are very positive or very negative are what stands out to us. I realized that the blogs I read fit within that. For example, the person who was chastised by a local for jaywalking remembers that clearly but might not recall the times when someone on the street smiled at her or performed a small kindness.

I have been pleased to find that many of my negative assumptions have been dispelled. I have been treated kindly by many people here and have not been yelled at. I have some German friends and have met plenty of locals who are willing to get to know newcomers. I have also learned that the public transportation here is not actually flawless so it's good to plan for contingencies, especially when connecting to a flight. Much to my dismay, I am not at all fluent in German and it's been almost two years since I've moved here. I guess that one must really make an effort. D'oh. I didn't realize that I would be the one frustrated by my neighbors' lack of skills in sorting trash/recycling.

The best way to get to know a country is to immerse oneself in it as much as possible and to keep an open mind. I am finally taking this to heart and have really enjoyed the ride so far.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My preconceived notions about Germany, the first time around

Before I even visited Germany, I had some very strong preconceived notions about Germany. For the most part, they were not very rational nor were they well-thought out. Thankfully, trips to Germany helped to dispel these incorrect thoughts.

Prior to my first visit to Germany, I hadn't traveled much outside of midwestern United States, much less internationally. My Dad took our family on a trip to Germany when I was twenty. I wasn't entirely sure to expect but I had some strange ideas about how Germans would be. I imagined that they would be mean and scary. After, there was the War and a language that, at least according to movies, seemed to be a combination of shouting and commands.

I can now admit that these were entirely ridiculous assumptions. I was being uniformed and overly dramatic. During our trip, people were pleasant to us. I didn't see anyone goose stepping. Mainly, we saw people going about their daily lives. We saw some beautiful sights, such as the Zugspitze, alpine towns, and churches. It wasn't so scary after all. Travel helps expand one's horizons.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A guide to buying tracht (dirndl and lederhosen) in Kaiserlautern

Dirndls available at C&A.

With Oktoberfest coming up, many people who ordinarily wouldn't have anything to do with tracht (traditional German dress) are searching for some dirndl and lederhosen to participate in Oktoberfest. Tracht can be very expensive for the higher quality items but there are some lower-priced options as well. Below are some ideas of where to buy tracht around Kaiserslautern and beyond.

-The cheapest option is to check out Ethnico, which is an unusual but super interesting store in Kaiserslautern. They sell all sorts of interesting things, such as furniture, brand new hippie-style clothing, African masks, and so on. Most interesting of all (for the purposes of this blog entry, at least) are the previously owned dirndl and lederhosen. I've seen lederhosen start at about 20 euros for children's sizes and the prices go up from there. One can save quite a bit of money compared to buying new. (Read my blog entry about Ethnico here)

-Right now, some of the chain clothing stores have tracht available. I stopped by the C&A in Kaiserslautern, which is a chain of clothing stores in many larger German cities, and they had a selection that included dirndls, lederhosen, the appropriate shirts to go with both, shoes, and for the men, knee high socks. Dirndls ran about 120 euros and up; lederhosen started at just below 100 euros for the shorts-length pairs. 

-The BX in Ramstein currently has a vendor selling tracht.

-Farther afield and more expensive, there are specialty stores such as Angermaier, that sell more expensive but better made tracht. I window shopped at the Angermaier store in Stuttgart and admired the beautifully constructed dirndls and lederhosen.The prices reflected the higher quality; I saw items starting in the hundreds of euros and even going up to a thousand euros or so. (Read my blog entry about Angermaier here)

-Thrift stores in bigger cities might yield tracht as well. I bought my dirndl at the Humana thrift store in Berlin. I paid 50 euros and it was new, I believe; I imagine it might have been overstock donated by a store.

**This is post was not sponsored by any of these stores. Opinions are my own and this is for information only, not as an endorsement of any particular store.**

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My move from local yokel to expat

**Note: technically, a "yokel" is someone who is considered a redneck or a country bumpkin, but in my story, I'm using it to describe myself as one who hasn't experienced much of the world.**

As a child and a young adult, I had never had much interest in settling outside of my home state, much less out of the region. However, things quickly changed as I began traveling internationally. I went from being a local yokel to morphing into an expat with itchy feet (and not from foot fungus ;)

The roots of my previous frame of mind were influenced by my environment as I was growing up. My hometown in Michigan has somewhere around 200,000 residents so it is not, by any means, a small town. However, being located in the west side of the state, it is somewhat conservative, as that area is strongly influenced by Christian Reformed mores.

My parents brought us up in a neighborhood that was predominantly white. I attended private school and "racial diversity" mostly resulted from the different western European origins of one's forefathers (i.e. were you of Dutch, German, or French heritage?). My parents didn't bring us up to be racist or closed minded, but we also didn't have many opportunities to meet people of different races, cultures, or travel much outside of the Midwest in our earlier years. On the other hand, we were definitely encouraged to be nice to everyone.

Even looking at where of many of my high school classmates have ended up as adults illuminates the "feel" of my hometown: the majority of them are living close to where they were raised, spending time with the same people that were their friends from high school, doing things almost exactly the same way they did as when they were young.

As a result, I think of my hometown as a place that's pleasant enough but not full of people who are the most cosmopolitan bunch around. I counted myself in that group. As an 18 year-old, I wanted to attend college an hour from home (which gave me plenty of time to return on weekends to spend time with my boyfriend and friends whom I had met in high school). Then my plan was to move back to my hometown and get a job there, marry, have 1.5 children, the white picket fence, and all those trappings of middle class suburbia.

However, that all changed as I began traveling. When my Dad retired from a branch of the service, he made the happy discovery that he was eligible to take his family on "Space Available" flights from the Air Force. There are regularly scheduled flights to Air Force bases around the world. Sometimes there is room for military members/retirees and their families to use extra seats on the flights for personal travel. Of course, seats on the flights aren't guaranteed; it's a lottery system to see if one can take the flight (and a pretty interesting adventure, too!). My Dad has an adventurous soul and offered to take our family on trips. When the airfare is free, European travel is quite reasonably priced. I lucked out and was able to take many trips with Dad while I was a dependent in college.

I think that these early trips were the gateway to my addiction to travel. We started with a trip to Germany. The preconceived notions I held about Germany were completely ridiculous and unfounded, I realized. I liked being abroad so much that I signed up to spend a semester studying in England (ah, the safe choice where I didn't have to learn a new language, but there was still plenty of culture shock to shake up my world in a good way). After that experience, I decided that one day, I would be an expat. Many overseas trips followed and in 2013, I became an expat, as I had hoped all those years earlier.

Now, looking back at my 18 year old self, I can't help but reflect on all the changes. I'm not sure that I could resettle in my hometown. It's a pleasant place to live but I think I'd be bored there. I am no longer interested in the middle class vision of domestic bliss. I want to travel, explore, and test my boundaries instead.That's the beautiful thing about travel: it really helps to expand one's horizons, dispel unfairly held assumptions, and introduce one to the wonders and beauty of the world.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What I've been up to: September 7 ed.

Phew, has this been a busy week! I'm exhausted but happy, having made new friendly acquaintances and having spent time with friends.

-Returned from Vienna and thought it was a day earlier because it was a holiday off work, while luckily missing most of the train strikes;

-met with my German-English tandem partner and had a great time again (she mentioned that her spouse had heard us laughing almost the whole time during our previous meeting and was happy that we were enjoying ourselves so much);

-went to a local bar to meet with friends and almost suffocated from the cigarette smoke both inside and outside (how I wish smoking wasn't allowed in buildings!);

-introduced my good friend to Moo since hasn't been to my house yet (not sure how that has happened); Moo was instantly his best friend and vice versa (so cute!);

-thoroughly enjoyed My Coworker Brings His Pug to Work Day;

-joined a German club and attended their meeting;

-attended a movie night/potluck at a friend's house;

-asked my friends about very typical German events for a Germany Ja! article I am planning to write;

-tried to figure out a way to write in German that I'm looking for someone to shave Moo without such a request sounding weird, and even stumped my German friends (and used this conversation as a way to cheat on my goal of spending 10 minutes a day learning German);

-was woken up/suffered awful sleep afterward from a humongous piece of construction equipment rumbling through my neighborhood at 12:30 a.m. on a work night (I'm not sure why they did this after Ruhestunden);

-went to France (about a 40 minute drive) with my friend to shop at Cora, a supermarket chain; managed to avoid being spoken to in French by going to the self-checkout (my brain is stuck in German mode right now); I bought fondue in a package to try making since the last time I tried to make it from scratch it was more like "fon-don't;"

-FINALLY watched Detroit Unleaded the movie - and loved it! I saw many familiar sights from the city in which I completed my graduate studies

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What expats miss about home: our Thursday night version

I got together with some expats for a movie night. It was a mixed group with Germans, Americans, and some Pakistanis.

On the way home, one of the Pakistani guys asked me if I was homesick or missed things from home. I really like Germany but I do miss my family/friends so I try to keep up with them via Skype and social media. I do have to admit that there are things about the US that I don't miss. For example, I feel far safer in Germany because of gun regulation. It seems as if the whole open carry gun debacle is blowing up in the US and I wouldn't feel safe with a bunch of Jim Bobs prancing around with their guns in Home Depot.

I then asked the guys what they missed about their home countries. Family was number one for them as well. Sundays in Germany feel strange to them; they are accustomed to people being out and about, visiting friends, shopping, going to movies, etc. It's not that Germans completely don't go out on Sundays, but it's much quieter here and people are more often inside with their families, perhaps enjoying a Sunday dinner. Stores are closed so shopping is a no-go.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

What I've been up to: the August 31 ed.

Here's a quick run-down of what I did the week of August 31:

-was invited to dinner at my new German-English tandem partner's home; she cooked a delicious meal and we spent four hours (!) that went by quickly: talking, laughing, and improving our language skills;

-made the promise to myself that I would spend at least 10 minutes working on learning German in some form or fashion;

-attended a somewhat-impromptu dinner at a friend's house; about 20 people showed up and enjoyed tacos and conversation (and even met some people in our social circle who came from Saarbrücken and Bad Dürkheim);

-stopped by the local book store to look at books used for the Volkshochschule course that I am considering; I have to decide if I'm going to take A2.1 or A2.2;

-got a badly-needed haircut at Sandy's Salon and had my hair cut by the fabulous Sandy herself (oops, it had been 3 months since the last one!);

-attended a farewell lunch for a colleague in another division;

-spent Thursday night a bit grumpy because I had to pack for my upcoming holiday (I despise packing);

-flew to Vienna with my friend C. for the Labor Day holiday weekend; got rained on but had a good time (more to follow about this).

Friday, September 5, 2014

Jump Around: the Pug Version

We recently found out that our coworker has a Pug. Well, more accurately, we found out that his daughter has a Pug. Of course we wanted him to bring the dog to work. We've been begging him for months and this week he finally did!

What a sweet Pug she is, too. She wandered around the office all day, visiting each employee and begging to be petted.

Then our coworker showed us her "trick." Apparently she gets all riled up when "Jump Around" by House of Pain is played. She doesn't do this with any other song. I even caught a video clip of it. I love Pug Day at work!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Really jumping into local life: joining a German club

When I had the opportunity to move to Germany, I knew that I wanted to have as authentic of an experience as possible. The first step to that journey was to learn German; then I wanted to make some German friends. Finally, I wanted to do things that the locals do. I got the bright idea to join a local club.

I have, to some degree, made progress on the first two steps. To work on my other goal, I needed to join a club. Another member of an expat/German organization in which I am a member told me about a club that might work for me. She is German and very kindly offered to accompany me to make introductions and to help translate if necessary. I was struck by her kindness and gratefully accepted her invitation.

I tried not to think too much about the first meeting ahead of time, because I'll fully admit that I obsess a bit and would have worried if I wouldn't be welcome with my weak German speaking skills. Would I be viewed as an outsider, barging in where I wasn't welcome?

I'm so glad that I didn't spend a lot of time worrying because I was welcomed with open arms! It was a fantastic experience. My German Bekanntin introduced me to the group leader, who in turn was very kind and welcoming, smiling warmly at me. The group leader offered to help me with posting to the group's website and if I didn't understand parts of the meeting, I could ask questions or she could translate afterward. I thanked her and told her that I did know some German but would probably have some questions since I'm not yet fluent.

We moved on to the meeting and everyone introduced themselves and gave an update on club events. I'm so glad that I didn't think about this part too much because it felt like an exam where I wasn't ready! Even though I have no problems with public speaking, it's daunting to give a presentation to native speakers, especially because I didn't have all of the needed vocabulary and am very rusty with conversation. I had to pop in some English but everyone was very kind, with the leader and my Bekanntin filling in the gaps. I didn't do too horribly; I understood about 85% of the words and followed about 60-75% of the conversation so I had a basic grasp of what was going on.

Even better yet? The other members were incredibly welcoming too and several ladies stopped me after the meeting because they were interested in practicing English with me. I know that some people have a stereotype of Germans being "cold" and "distant." I can't say that I have had that experience; I have met so many friendly locals in different situations who have been so kind, helpful, and interested in getting to know others better.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My week: August 18 ed.

I'm totally stealing this idea from another blogger, Ami in Schwabenland. It's a little bit of a look into a week's time for an expat in Germany. I'm not sure if my schedule is typical or not (I know I'm a bit of a weirdo) but here goes.

I have to say that I feel busy all the time, even though my main responsibilities right now are work and Moo. However, I'm involved in several clubs so that does add to the list.

The only problem is that I'm two weeks behind. Oops! Oh well.

During the week of August 18, I did the following:

-had a guest over who developed quite the "bromance" with Moo (i.e. petting Moo while they sat on the couch and becoming besties) to the point that Moo "cried" when he left (it was very pitiful);
-went to a dinner at my favorite restaurant with 15 locals/friends and had a great time, all while strengthening our ties for our group;
-celebrated a friend's birthday and stayed out super late for a bonfire at castle ruins (which was both excellent and tiring);
-had a dental appointment where I found out that my grinding of teeth is causing even more problems (despite the bite guard);
-had a bittersweet going-away brunch with a good friend who is moving;
-attended a super fun party in which we popped over to France for a bit too.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Learning German: a new tandem partner who saves the day

I was whinging and gnashing my teeth about my recent lack of progress in learning German (sorry for the whining). A wonderful person has turned around my attitude (well, until I get into the das Plusquamperfekt, which derailed my entire university German class and caused us great strife and gnashing of teeth).

I met A through one of the clubs in which we are both members. She was thrilled to meet because she was looking for a native English speaker as a partner. Not only am I a native English speaker, but in a past life (i.e. undergraduate study) I was also going to be a high school English teacher. A. invited me over to speak with her and even cooked me a delicious meal.

She then offered to help me with my German. She speaks excellent and very understandable Hochdeutsch and can convey grammar rules as well. We spoke some German together and she commented that my German is coming along nicely. Yippie! I was feeling so...blah about it. I still need a lot of work (and asked her to be very honest in her feedback) but I think it's not completely hopeless.

A has been very thrilled about the arrangement. I'm thrilled, too, and think that I should be the grateful one because she has shown so many kindnesses.