Monday, September 28, 2015

In which the American expat in Germany gets a bit British

As an American acquaintance and I were getting ready to go run an errand, I told her, "oh, just a moment -- I'm going to go and put on some proper trousers."

She started laughing and I did too. It was such a British thing to say!

I'm not surprised, though; I know that my manner of speaking has changed a bit since I've moved here almost three years ago. I can see some of the influences of speaking German as sometimes I'll use that language's word order, such as "I went yesterday to the store."

Other times I use a lot more of British style English; I tend to say "trousers" instead of "pants," and "queue" instead of "line." It's not that unnatural of a conversion since Germans around here speak a mix of British and American English. I've also hung out with some Germans who are English teachers and they sound incredibly British, which makes sense as it's the standard for English teaching here (and part of me wonders if they enhance the accent a bit).

Beyond the influence of Germans who've learned Oxford English, I'm also influenced by my own history. I've lived in a suburb of London before and perhaps I've unearthed some of the linguistic habits I had when I lived there, though I have yet to call my cell phone a "mo-BILE" again. I'm okay with that last one!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Why speaking the local language as an expat is awesome

As an expat living in Germany, I'm keen to fully experience German life and culture. Part of that involves learning German and I'm finally starting to see some tangible fruits of my language learning labor.

Learning the local language affords one the following benefits:

  •  Conducting your day to day responsibilities is so much easier. Even if one's job is in her primary language, she is still confronted by the realities of day to day living. Even in Germany, where many people know English, it's not always possible to conduct business in English. For example, when I call my internet provider, staff will not speak English. 
  • It deepens communication with people who already speak fluent English. For example, I have friends who are very fluent in English but once in a while aren't familiar with some of the concepts or vocabulary that I use. At this point, I can often supply the German word for it and we both have the "ah-ha" moment. It's awesome!
  • It gives one an opportunity to meet people that one might not have had the chance before. For example, I'm able to have a conversation with a Tunisian woman because we both can speak German together; she doesn't speak English.
  • It allows one to join community events. For example, I joined a meeting of a local organization and could basically understand what was going on.
  • It takes some of the stress out of traveling. I can (usually) decipher the announcements on the train when service is disrupted. If I can't catch the message the first time, I can ask another passenger.
  • It allows one a less touristy experience. For example, I don't have to eat at restaurants where there are pictures of the food or menus in English. I can go to the more local restaurants and translate the menu and order for myself, in hopes of avoiding the tourist traps.  
  • It gives a person a new way of seeing things. The German language, for example, has words that express concepts really well. The English language doesn't have such words as Schadenfreude or Kummerspeck but we could certainly use them to talk about taking pleasure from someone else's misfortunes or gaining weight from sorrowful eating.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

My week: September 6 ed.

-I met with my tandem partner and we worked together in my B2 book. I had thought that this class will be too easy since the book appears to repeat what I just learned in B1. Well, it does repeat it, but in a more difficult way. D'oh! I floundered through the first exercise, where I recognized the grammar constructs but still got stuck on part of it. That's what I get for being too cocky!

-I went to a language cafe meeting with a club and wrote about it here.

-I took a trip to Freiburg to visit a new friend, S, who is a researcher there. I had met her in April when she was visiting the TU here in Kaiserslautern. Since I had been keen to visit Freiburg, she invited me and we had a very enjoyable weekend. I even lucked out with a decent deal on train tickets, scoring round-trip tickets with a high speed segment for 45 euros round trip.

S showed me around town and let me help with one of her science experiments. Of course I was thrilled because I also wore a lab coat and felt very official and science-y. I'm awful at math, which by extension ruins science for me, but I enjoy living vicariously through my friends.

On Saturday, her friends picked us up and kindly drove us to Triberg, where we visited the Triberger Wasserfälle (waterfalls), which are some of the highest in Germany. Apparently one is supposed to pay to visit the waterfalls (about 4 euros) but since we arrived in the evening, there was no one to take our tickets. A, who is German, was concerned about not paying for tickets. "What if there is someone at the ticket booth when we come down the hill from the waterfall?" he asked.

"Run!" I said. There was stunned silence as they pondered it, then started laughing because the situation was a bit absurd.

Sunday was a lazy day for us but we revved up a bit and took a trip to the Schauinsland mountain. Despite the directions seeming a bit confusing, it's actually rather easy to get there via public transport.We enjoyed the views from the top of the mountain and saw some nice hiking trails.

I enjoyed the trip very much and look forward to hanging out with my friend again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

In which "non-smoking" means nothing in Kaiserslautern bars

Bars and restaurants are "supposed" to be non-smoking in Germany. However, there are small loopholes in certain states that allow for some smoking inside and Rheinland-Pfalz happens to be one of those states.

Not cool, RP, not cool. I tried to meet some friends for a get-together in a bar. It's actually somewhat difficult to find completely non-smoking bars around here that are good for meeting up and have some forms of entertainment such as Kicker (table soccer) games or pool tables. Some bars get away with having a smoking "room." Well, unless it's somehow in an air lock, the smoking room still poisons the rest of the building with the polluted air, to varying degrees.

We went to the Hardrock Cafe (NOT affiliated with the chain) in Kaiserslautern, thinking that it would work since it had a non-smoking room. Well, their concept of "non-smoking" is to have a door between the two sections but it's kept open, and to place smokers directly on the other side of the door. For all intents and purposes, it was a smoking room. My friend tried to shut the door so we wouldn't choke on smoke but the waitress scolded her and shooed her away.

I lasted about 10 minutes but my head ached and my lungs were heavy from the smoke. I removed myself before I broke into a full-blown asthma attack.

It's incredibly frustrating that there are so many loopholes to the smoking ban. It is especially rotten for the bar and restaurant staff, to have to be constantly exposed to poison like that.

Monday, September 14, 2015

I think I can handle it

Eek, am I behind on blogging. Alas, my lazy bum time of no classes has given way and I'm back to the grind as I've signed up for school again and am resuming my participation in the large social groups and clubs.

Anyway, I went to a book signing and writing workshop given by three famous authors, including Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, among others. As I was waiting for the event, I was chatting with some other fans of the books and the topic of the Starz tv series came up. I asked the ladies if they had seen it. One lady piped up and said that I shouldn't watch the tv show.

This gave me pause and I wondered: was it not true to the books or did it give spoilers? Instead, the woman leaned in and informed me, "there's a lot of sex in the show!"

I paused, trying to keep a neutral expression and to avoid letting the corners of my mouth twitch. I managed to respond politely, "well, I have watched a lot of HBO so something like that wouldn't phase me, as it is Starz, and it's a similar channel." She offered a weak "oh" in response.

I couldn't help thinking to myself that I'm a grown-a** adult and I'm not going to suffer any ill effects by seeing a biological process on tv. Seriously, we ain't nothin' but mammals at the end of the day, to loosely quote the Bloodhound Gang and to use improper grammar.

I also wondered if she had actually read the books. Um, Jamie and Claire get together in practically every chapter! The funny thing about American television and culture is that it's okay to show violence but all heck breaks out with nudity. Just prior to this conversation, I had another conversation with a German lady about the strange dichotomy of what's, to an extent, "acceptable" on tv. She doesn't get the acceptance of violence on the screen in America and I don't either.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

When registering for classes is more like a reunion

The new semester at the Volkshochschule starts next week and the school offered an open house tonight. It just happened to be the day I actually remembered to register so I lucked out. I had a few questions on what class I should take so I was directed upstairs. Pleasantly surprised, I saw that the teacher from my last German class at the uni was there to talk to prospective students! As we talked, her friend and colleague stopped by. The other woman had filled in with some of our teacher's classes so she recognized me too since there are so few Americans in the uni classes.

The first teacher suggested that we take a quick break in the temporary cafe the VHS had set up. She treated us each to a piece of cake and we caught up a bit before she had to return to advising students. Upon leaving, she gave me a big hug and wished me luck for the classes. How sweet she is! I'm glad to have run into her.

The happy reunions continued when I stopped by the bookstore to pick up the course materials. I ran into a former classmate from the VHS class I took in the spring. She gave me a huge hug too. I had way beyond my RDA of hugging by that point ;) We chatted for a bit and exchanged numbers because I think I'll get some former classmates from various courses together for a language cafe.
I really like living close to where I work and attend classes. I welcome the change from when I lived in Michigan, where I had lived an hour from where I worked at one point and found the commute soul and sense of community-destroying. Even though my next job in that area was closer to my home, I still didn't have the proximity to everything like I do here. A simple trip out here is the opportunity to connect with people I know and it suits very well.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Just kid-ding around in German

I recently attended a dinner out with a group. One lady brought her grandkid.  No one was speaking with him at one point so I thought I'd be polite and have a chat in German. It worked out great; he was easy to understand, spoke at a slower speed, and didn't use big words. Basically, it's what I really need from my adult friends who speak German with me!

I asked the kid about school and that was interesting too. He's only 9 but the next year or two in school are important ones. Basically, it's at that point when he'll get put onto the next educational track. He wants to go to Gymnasium (college prep high school) but isn't sure if his grades are good enough. It's such an interesting difference here; I don't really remember caring about my grades until I was in high school but here kids care much younger because their grades and aptitude determine if they'll go to a college prep high school or attend vocational training. One's life trajectory is somewhat mapped out before one's even a teenager here.


I also got some teasing in. The group was a mix of Americans and Germans. One American asked about Hexennacht, 30 April, when some kids play pranks and commit (usually) small acts of vandalism. She said that her neighbor's tree was toilet papered.

I leaned over to the German guy I had been conversing and laughing with earlier. Winking, I told him, "the Americans get upset when their trees get toilet papered. The Germans take the paper down, dry it out, and reuse it."

He laughed and said that they also would iron it and be happy because they just saved some money.

For the record: I don't tease people like this unless it seems that they're open to it :)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

My week: August 30 ed.

This was a week for friends and for laziness. I had my tandem partner over for dinner on one evening. The next evening, I had two other friends over and they "made" me speak German most of the time. Both evenings were very enjoyable.

The rest of the week was spent in a very leisurely and lazy way. I made several after-work foraging expeditions to collect the last of the blackberries as the plants seem to be shriveling a bit now. It does seem to be the beginning of elderberry season so I've started on those too. The main problem is finding the ambition to deal with them. My freezer is packed and I haven't had motivation to make some cordials so I may have to stick them in the work freezer.

During the weekend, I took some bike rides, picked more berries, visited the Gartenschau, and wandered around downtown. I also ate dinner at Safari with my German friends and they "forced" me to speak German again, for about 75% of the time. I laughed because as I was whinging about having to speak German, my friend asked me if it was because I had a headache (this has been a truthful excuse of mine before). No, but I did tell him that it would give me a headache.

Despite that, we continued and it was good for me. I'm usually fine with involved conversations with one speaking partner, but it was a bit hard to follow with three other people and complex stories. We even started talking about behaviorism and animal training techniques because S is a psychologist. I did have to switch to English at that point since I don't know those words.

S and I started talking about the language around Stuttgart, which is Schwaben, which is where she's from. I told her the story of how I went to the garden party in a Stuttgart and this guy had such a strong accent. However, he had also enjoyed quite a few beers so I couldn't tell if he was drunk, Schwäbisch, or both! She thought that was funny.

It was a peaceful and relaxing week. Heck, it was a "slow living" kind of week where I didn't do much rushing around, other than getting the food and house in order to have friends over. I'm glad to have this time because September will herald another 9 months of  a packed schedule as German classes resume. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

More on the German educational system

I've previously written about the German educational system, focusing mostly on Gymnasium, Realschule, and the like. I wrote a bit more about the university system here.

Young Germany recently posted a really informative article about it here, if you want to read more.


These are just my thoughts on the educational system in Germany. I am not an expert, nor have I actually studied here myself. I've asked my friends for information. I know university students, researchers/PhD candidates, and a professor.