Saturday, April 30, 2016

My week: April 17 ed.

-The German class went sooo much better this week. Our teacher is a perceptive chap and I think he made some accommodations to the lesson and we didn't have the mass failures in understanding that we had the week before.

-A, M, L, and I took a trip to Bonn to see the cherry blossoms. Plus, it was the opportunity to see the former West German capitol. What struck me immediately was how many people were already drinking beer or were buying beer; we arrived at 10 a.m. so I wasn't expecting that. However, I think that it was possible that the individuals were ones who might live on the streets. I was curious about the dynamics of the area.

Beyond that observation, we changed our focus to a visit of the cemetery. Have you visited a German cemetery? They are often quite lovely, a peaceful memorial to those already gone, and make for a picturesque walk that effects memento mori.

The interesting thing about German cemeteries is that one just rents the burial plot for a certain amount of time. If the remaining family does not renew the lease, the remains are removed and the grave will be rented to someone else. In fact, we saw a notice on one of the graves that the rental time had run out and the relatives have to contact the office.

Leaving our mortal musings aside, we continued to Heerstraße, the focus of our trip. On this street, the magical cherry blossoms of Bonn were in full bloom. We wandered through the streets, dodging cars and bikes piloted by those frustrated by the gawkers, and a disproportionate number of Asian tourists. The street was absolutely beautiful, with classically styled houses and pink blossoms. At the beginning of the street, we were treated by two men conducting what I assumed was a drug deal in a defaced and non-operational phone booth. After all, who uses pay phones any more, especially when there's no phone inside? They finished up the deal and a cop drove by about a minute later - too late to investigate the shady business. Oh, Bonn, what a city of contrasts you are.

Pictured: the notorious phone booth in question. See the pretty cherry blossoms behind it? Bonn is a place of contrasts.
 Pictured: a much nicer, and presumably drug-free, stretch of the street.

For lunch, we visited BurritoRico, which is kind of like Chipotle: order and pick toppings for your item at the counter. I ordered some pork tacos (yeah, not so vegan that day) and some nachos. I wasn't super impressed with either item; the corn taco shell was not heated well and even the cheese on the nachos wasn't very warm either. Plus, it's that liquid style of cheese instead of shredded cheese. My friends liked their food well enough and I didn't hate my food but felt a bit "meh" about it.

We continued downtown after lunch. My friends wanted to visit the Beethoven Haus Museum so I dropped them off and wandered around downtown, window shopping and finding the lay of the land. The downtown area is your typical German downtown pedestrian zone but has some interesting features, such as the Altes Rathaus.

I really like the clock on it, and it's somewhat unusual in that instead of showing just 1-12 for the time demarcations, it also showed the corresponding numbers in five minute increments. I'm sure that kids who are just learning to tell time greatly appreciate that!

Soon I met up with my friends again and we headed back home.

-The next day, a bunch of us met for our monthly gathering. We ate a delicious lunch and played Mafia, a party game. It was a good end to the week.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

You're saying something but I'm not getting it

In a frugality blog I read, the author talked about the immigrants/refugees who've been coming to her (English speaking) country. I read through the comments on her blog entry; while sometimes comments can be frustrating to read, it's also interesting to review them from a sociological perspective (and linguistic, too!).

One of the comments that really stuck out to me was from a British reader who really didn't like it when immigrants/refugees/those whom she classified as "others" would talk on their cell phones in their mother tongue while in public. For whatever reason, it skeezed her out.

I found this highly ironic and immediately thought of all the Brits who set up their enclaves in Spain, for example, and don't speak a word of Spanish. Do they ever consider that they might be creeping out the local Spanish people when the Brits speak English on their phones in public? Also, aren't these the same people whinging about immigrants not assimilating, yet they don't learn Spanish there?

And, before you think that I'm sparing my own country from scrutiny, can I say that I can't wrap my mind around Americans who live months, years, or even decades in Germany without learning the language? I've met quite a few retired military members who even have German spouses and have lived here for 20+ years and haven't learned German. I wonder if the commenters on the blog entry would think that the Americans who speak English in Germany might be causing Germans anxiety about speaking a foreign language in public? After all, they're fellow Anglos! (I have my tongue so firmly implanted in my cheek that I'm concerned that I won't have the ability to remove it.)

When I was preparing to move to Germany, I was trying to find a short-term apartment rental. I contacted one woman but had some misgivings. I knew that I definitely didn't want to rent from her when I made an off-handed comment that I would try to start learning German as soon as possible when I arrived. She quickly told me that she didn't allow people to speak foreign languages in her house because she didn't want people to talk about her behind her back. That was the final straw; I was not interested in staying with such a paranoid landlady and I thought the whole thing was preposterous. If people wanted to talk about her, they certainly didn't have to use a foreign language to do so. Also, why does she care so much what people think?

It's not only Britain where these ideas take root, nor is it even countries with such an Anglo-centric focus. However, it has happened to their Saxon cousins; Germany went through this with the CSU a couple of years ago. Representatives from the CSU, which is the conservative political party in Bavaria, proposed that immigrants should have to speak German both in public and at home too.

The proposal blew up in the party's face. See, the Bavarian dialect, which is the language of many of those who support the CSU, can sometimes sound unintelligible to those from other parts of Germany. Therefore, it might as well be a foreign language to those from other parts of Germany. Opponents were quick to say that should this proposal gain any traction, the Bavarians would have to speak "proper German" too. With this and other reasons, the CSU backed down on the issue.

This was a bit rambly, but the gist of it is: is it right to demonize someone merely because he is speaking a different language on the phone? I do think it's important for a society, and for the individual who moves there, to speak a common language. Immigrants need help learning the local language so they can take part in the community, ask for help, conduct official business, and learn their rights. However, I cannot agree that they should not be allowed to also speak their mother tongue, especially in their private lives. There is room for diversity.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A well-timed German lesson

Spring has been easing itself into existence the last few weeks here in southwestern Germany. Even though this winter was quite mild and I even saw some bushes blooming in December, the weather was gray and somewhat cold for such a long time. Finally, the sun is back but with the sunnier and warmer weather, the trees and flowers are going nuts, bursting with pollen.

Therefore, our theme in German class last week was very fitting: allergies! It seems that most people I see, and myself included, are suffering from Heuschnupfen. As we were discussing allergies, I (unwillingly) demonstrated some of the chapter's other vocabulary, such as jucken and krabbeln (itching). My hands were even itching! I am so not amused but at least I had a real-life use for the vocabulary, right?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

My week: April 10 ed.

The usual: German class, meeting with tandem partners 1 and 2, being tired, etc.

I do have to say that I had a tough patch in my C1.2 German class. I just couldn't get it together; I didn't remember the vocabulary and made the mistake of sitting next to the other weakest student in class. He's a pleasant person but very difficult to understand. Neither one of us really were able to complete the assignment and it was a hot mess. I felt as if my brain just wouldn't cooperate with me. Even the other students just weren't getting a lot of it, or were wandering off on unrelated tangents. Our teacher is extremely nice and patient but I think he felt a little bit frustrated. Have you ever had one of those class sessions where everyone, including the teacher, is relieved when it ends? I don't know what our funk was but was grateful when it was over.

-My friend had a party to celebrate her birthday. It was on a Friday night, which I usually reserve for sitting home and breathing a sigh of relief after a busy week. I picked up a carload of friends and drove to Landstuhl. We cooked dinner, ate cake, and played table games, enjoying ourselves mightily. I made the birthday girl laugh/cry, which we both find funny. At midnight we almost turned into pumpkins (or people worn out after a long week of work and tons of activity) and went home.

-On Saturday, A and I had planned to take a trip to Schwetzigen to see the palace gardens and to include a side trip to Speyer to visit the Elwetritsch museum. Apparently my brain only registered the second part of the trip and I surprised myself when the GPS deposited us in Speyer first. D'oh. We scrapped the trip to Schwetzigen and rambled around Speyer for several hours.

This was my second visit so I showed A. the metal bar affixed to the wall of the city gate. It was the unit of measurement (a foot) for trade in the city. Measurement was standardized in trading regions but not throughout Germany for quite some time.

We also visited the Dom (cathedral) and ate lunch. A and I both seem to fall into awkward situations in speaking German on our own and together it seems worse. She meant to give the waiter a tip but he didn't hear her and gave back the complete change. I tracked him down afterward and intended to hand him the tip but he turned around with his hands full. Trying to find a solution, he motioned to drop the coin in his trouser pocket. Well, I'm not going into the trousers of a waiter so I dropped it into the pocket on his vest and we both laughed. Awkward though!

This particular trip to Speyer afforded us an opportunity to visit the Elwedritsche-Museum. I had wanted to visit it before but it wasn't open. For three euros per person, we visited the three-room museum. Is it worth a visit? If you're interested in kitschy Pfälzisch folklore, take a visit. Otherwise, it might not be of interest. I'm a bit obsessed with 'Tritsche so I didn't mind visiting the small museum. The ground floor is a tiny bar/restaurant (two tables) where one can drink wine and eat platters of meat, cheese, and fruit. One can even book an Elwedritsche hunt through the city.

We ended our trip with some more wandering through the city. On the outskirts, a spring carnival occurred so we went shopping for tea, of course. I'm not sure why, but German city carnivals often have tea, herbs, and even nail clippers and brooms for sale.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The drug store: one place to recycle batteries & light bulbs

I finally changed the batteries in my doorbell. After 2.5 years and begging from my friends, I thought it was time. After changing the wireless doorbell and the button, I was left with five (!!!) dead batteries and the quandry: what to do with them? After all, one shouldn't throw them away and who wants to garden a drawer of used batteries? Here's where the drug store comes to the rescue!

I know from my ramblings through the city that DM, a chain drug store, accepts recyclable items like paper, plastic, light bulbs, batteries, and even empty metal deodorant spray cans. I would assume that one couldn't bring a household's worth of these items at one time, but no one blinked as I popped in the five batteries and at a different time, four light bulbs. So, there you go. DMs are reasonably easy to find, since they're a chain. Of course, if that doesn't work, you can always check with your city/town to special disposal collection points.


So, I'm not 100% sure if, by my Michigan computations, that DM is actually a drug store since the it don't really sell drugs. Yes, you read that right: if you need a prescription, or even just an Advil, you must visit an Apotheke (pharmacy) in Germany. If you want things like deodorant, hand lotion, toothpaste, photo developing, and other health and beauty goods, you visit a drogerie markt (or a mega store, such as Globus) here.

However, I'm sticking to the drug store name because that's what we call such places in Michigan (though usually they come with drugs - the legal ones, y'know). Is that a regional thing or what these stores are called throughout the US?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

My week: April 3 ed.

German learning: there were two tandem partner meetings but there was no class because of the holidays.

I invited a newer friend, A, over for dinner. Well, actually, she asked if I had any of the rajmah masala left over (she's the one who had taught me how to make it). I think that meant that she wanted to be invited over so I suggested she come over to eat some then. Funny, huh? I enjoy inviting friends. She's the newest Moo Fan Club Member and lavished some attention on him. He enjoyed that too.

On Saturday, A and I drove to Stuttgart for the Lange Nacht der Museen, or Long Night of Museums, in which cultural institutions keep their doors open late (even until 0200!) and offer special exhibitions, lectures, and events. For 18 euros, which grants one entrance to dozens of institutions and use of local public transport, it's a good value for a taste of the museums.

I stayed with a friend whom I had previously stayed with several years ago when I was taking a class in the Stuttgart area. It was a pleasant reunion, and interesting to meet his new wife, who is quite an interesting person herself.

We got in at about 0200 on Sunday morning from the museums and woke up at 0700 so I could drop off my friend at the train station and attend the baptism of my coworker's baby. Although I was sleep-deprived, it was great to celebrate with coworkers. As expats, it can be difficult to be away from family, especially for special events. However, it's also great to have a strong rapport with your colleagues; we support one another and have formed a work family of sorts. I feel very lucky to be in such an office.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Oh, Edmund, it's not worth it: Turkish Delight

As a kid, and even as an adult, too, I really enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia. Until a few years ago, I couldn't put my finger on why, but Nancy Pearl solved it for me: I'm a sucker for a good quest book, and the entire series is made of quests.

Since I'm fond of the books, I recently read an article, C.S. Lewis’[s] Greatest Fiction: Convincing American Kids That They Would Like Turkish Delight, which explores some candy that has a larger role in the book than one would normally attribute to candy. I was amused by the article and was happy to learn that I wasn't the only kid confused by Turkish Delight.

I had no idea what it was, but imaged it as something mystical, and amazing, too. After all, Edmund was basically going to sell his soul for it. When I first actually tried Turkish Deligh, I was like, "wuh? Um, so this isn't great? Wuh?" Then my friend brought some excellent, fresh TD straight from Turkey. It was good - but I still wouldn't sell my soul for it. If I want desserts from Turkey, I think I'm just going to stick to baklava; it tastes better and doesn't carry such a high price.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

What's Batman's Rindfleisch?

(That moment of Germish was an allusion to "what's your beef with so-and-so?")

My friend invited me to see Batman vs. Superman this week. As the movie started, I experienced a weird moment when I thought, why can't I understand what the characters are saying? It then dawned on me that the movie was in German.

Oh. Hmm. I had expected it to be in English because I thought I had read O.V. (original version) on the listing.

As soon as my brain registered the language, I put on my big girl, German-understanding ears and watched the dang movie.

I didn't understand everything, especially when Batman used his device to disguise/deepen his voice. I already experience difficulty with understanding deep male German voices as it is, but I dealt with it.

At the end of the movie, I did have one big question remaining: why had Batman wanted to fight with Superman? It seems to be a bit part of the movie, y'know. I didn't feel so bad for not understanding because my friends said it wasn't crystal clear either, but my guess was in line with what they said, so all was well.


I would, however, like to say that I don't like dubbed movies; I feel that it ruins the artistry of the original version. I watched the English trailer for the Batman movie and it indeed had a very different feeling with the original (though I'm not saying that this movie is particularly artful).

The same goes for things dubbed into English. I mistakenly picked up a dubbed version of Mesrine: Killer Instinct, a film I had initially watched in the original French. Mesrine was a French criminal famous with the press. The original film had that Je ne sais quoi that made for an interesting kino evening. The American dubbed version sounds like a ridiculous Western film and I didn't finish re-watching it. I'll take the subtitled version, thank you.