Friday, May 27, 2016

Some darn weird language learning sentences

Have you used some learning materials pick up a new language, and have thought, where the heck do they come up with these sample sentences or conversations? Some of the examples are funny, some are irrelevant, and some are downright creepy!

I was using Duolingo to learn German and a sample went something like this:

The man likes the women. The man follows the women.


Let me translate: the man is a creeper. He follows the women. [The women get freaked out and run away.]


I was recently using another set and the sample was just...jacked up. It was a conversation between a man and woman on the train. She didn't have a ticket and was trying to buy one; he told her not to worry about it and just to be a Schwartzfarerin. He told her that tickets were rarely checked and the fine wasn't high. Of course along came a ticket checker. The guy whipped out an extra ticket and got the checker off their case. The lady was surprised and the guy said he had the extra ticket all along because one of his coworkers had disembarked from the train earlier and left the ticket with him. The lady was grateful and introduced herself, then asked the guy out to dinner.

Okay, can I just say: what the heck kind of sample is this?! First of all, the woman is dumb. Just buy a darn ticket. Any tourist book will tell you about the ticket checkers and the fines for riding without a ticket. She spoke with an American accent and it doesn't work in the US to travel without a ticket, so why try it in Germany?

Secondly, the dude is manipulative as all get out! Why was he encouraging the lady to go Schwartzfahren? If he wanted to be helpful, why didn't he just give her the ticket in the beginning? Was he hoping that the could "rescue" her, then impress her with his chivalry and maybe she'd be interested in him?

Yes, maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I find these examples weird. If these situations happened to me in real life, I'd find them weird. Also, I would imagine that someone coming from a very different cultural background might think that these types of situations must be normal in Germany.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

I'm northern all around

When I was in Bulgaria, we stopped by the Bolyana Church, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We were let in and joined a group who were taking a tour. It was the last part of the tour so we listened in a bit to the guide, who is Bulgarian and spoke German.* I understood most of what she was saying but my vocabulary regarding frescoes and holy events is limited.

After the tour, I asked her (in German) if there was an English tour since my friend A is newer at learning German. The guide didn't speak English but told us we could buy tickets to a tour in English and one of her colleagues would take us. Oops. I didn't realize that we inadvertently crashed someone else's tour, but to be fair, the attendant waved us in.

I finished up the short chat with the guide and she asked me if I came from northern Germany. That really threw me for a loop and I stammered that I live in southwestern Germany** and am American. Later, I was wondering why she'd think that I lived in northern Germany, of all places. Then I smiled as it dawned on me: I (mostly, when I get the pronunciation right) speak Hochdeutsch and that's associated with the north. Success! It's a double success because I come from the northern part of the US and speak English with what is considered a standard dialect. Yay for the north, standard dialects, and the cold!**


*The German-understanding people taking the tour were an interesting group themselves: some Austrians, an American, a Serbian, some Dutch, and someone from South Asia.

**I'm very careful to always say southwestern Germany and not southern Germany, because a) it's more accurate; and b) saying southern Germany has a bit of a connotation. Usually people think of Bayern. For whatever reason, I've become fond of "my" Pfalz and want to be clear that I'm not living in Bayern. There is no Tracht here, my friends, except for that being worn by Americans who are trying to be super German. Or whatever it is we/they are trying to do. Of course, the Pfalz also features a dialect that is unintelligible to many Germans living outside of the area, but dat wine tho! (to mix some American slang into the mix)

***Yes, I'm a weirdo and like cold weather.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Did you ever wonder about the yarn-bombing culprits?

Germany offers many different social programs, for everyone from children to seniors. In Kaiserslautern, as well as in other cities, there is something called the Mehrgenerationenhaus, which is a community center. Citizens meet there to swing dance, help asylum seekers assimilate with language lessons, share skills, participate in exercise programs with their babies, and do so much more.

A knitting group meets too. I have seen various yarn-bombing "sites" throughout town and always wondered who had been up to that mischief. When I visited the MGH booth at the Stadtteilfest this weekend, I saw a picture of the "culprits."

Aren't they cute? They look very smarmy about their silly act of community graffiti. I hope I'm that cool when I'm their age!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

My week: May 15 ed.

Work was all-consuming again since our project will conclude mostly by the end of the month. Years ago, I lived to work; at one point, I had seven jobs and worked 6-7 days a week. Now that I work to live and enjoy life, I don't mind working a bit extra on the project but I'll be more than happy when it's finished. Even though I don't work a lot extra, by the time I get home, I have no "oomph" left and don't feel like doing much of anything.

My German learning has scaled back as I haven't had the extra energy to attend the group tandem meetings or meet with tandem partner #2. I also haven't been studying on my own at home and I can see how quickly my fluency and recall diminishes without consistent practice. This makes me wonder if I'll ever get to a point where my skills will be strong enough that I don't have to try so much. How many years did it take you, readers? The other issue is that my brain feels worn out. I have so many details from work, travel plans, and personal details to manage. By the time I coordinate all those details, I feel as if my brain can't handle anything extra.

Friend/tandem partner #1 and I enjoyed dinner at Safari, an Eritrean restaurant and my favorite in town. (Seriously, this place is delicious and fresh. I have been meaning for years to write a review of it. If you're in Kaiserslautern, stop by.) My friend loves spicy food and asked for extra spices. J, the waiter, didn't disappoint; he brought out a serving platter with salt, some sort of green spice (which reminds me of a chutney with a slightly pickle-y taste), a type of curry powder, and some hot chili pepper paste. My friend said that even the pepper paste was a bit hot for her but that didn't stop her from using quite a bit of it. I enjoyed the other two more and definitely have a plan to ask for them the next time I visit. Yay for being able to eat spicier food now!

On Saturday morning, I peeled myself out of bed before the tush-crack of dawn, picked up A, and headed to Frankfurt Hahn for a trip to Sofia, Bulgaria. That deserves its own post, which I unfortunately have a habit of mentioning but never get around to writing. I hope to say more about it, but for now let's just say that we had a great time, ate fantastic vegetarian food (including CORN that was NOT on pizza or in a salad! Yay!), enjoyed a fantastic tour, and soaked in the art and architecture.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Gee, who did that?

I wonder who could have possibly done that to the toilet paper roll?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Foraging: garlic mustard

One of the many awesome features of living in the Pfalz is the abundant greenery here, whether it's in the forest or if it's in the fields. In the past year, I've explored plant life more by learning about foraging wild foods. It's a perfect past time since I appreciate fresh herbs and plants but don't enjoy growing them myself. I let Mother (Pfalz) Nature grow them and I collect them. What might look like weeds are often something edible!

I recently learned about garlic mustard, which is in the mustard family (makes sense :) and smells faintly of onions and garlic. One can make pesto out of it; check out the recipe from Burdock & Rose.

I picked a huge bunch of it but didn't have time to make pesto before it started wilting. Instead, I hung it upside down in bunches to dry. Once that is complete, I'll strip the dried leaves and store them in jars to later add to soups to give a garlic flavor.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

My week: May 8 ed.

Work had been all-consuming. May is the month that we're launching our big project and some of our colleagues were out of the office so I worked on some aspects of the projects more heavily than I had before. I enjoy the work I do and I have great coworkers so it's not such a big deal to put in extra work, but it really left me wondering how people can bear working in stressful work environments and/or with unpleasant colleagues. I left work every day with my muscles in knots and that's in a good work environment!

During the weekend, I was able to undo some of the knots by visiting my regular place for Thai massage. Dang, can those ladies dig into sore muscles!

After losing some of the muscle knots, I tried a new Indian restaurant next door called Royal Aroma. It's a buffet place and for 10 euros, I sampled a bit of many dishes for a tasty lunch. I need to write a review later about the pleasant experience there. The owner chatted with me a bit and mentioned that 80% of the clientele are Americans. I asked him about German visitors and he said that many come in, see that it's a buffet, and don't stay. I wondered why they wouldn't like to try buffet food; he said that they're worried the food won't be hot (temperature) enough. For the record, when I tried the food, all was properly heated and tasted quite good. Americans love the buffet because they can try a little bit from various dishes in order to find a new favorite.

On Sunday I visited the Mannheim Maimarkt with my friend A. It is a trade show, animal fair, home show exhibition, and much more. My main goal this year was to find a good knife for the kitchen. I wanted to upgrade to a Wüsthof now that I'm starting to cook more and am tired of struggling with my cheap knives. A family member had kindly offered to buy the knife as a birthday gift for me and I quickly picked out one. It's impressive how much better it cuts!

We went on a search for Waldmeister soft serve ice cream, something I buy every year when I go. Unfortunately, we didn't find any but we did enjoy the various travel destination booths and had a good laugh watching people stand on vibrating boards that jiggled them. I'm not sure the point of such appliances but that's the fun of the Maimarkt: there are many interesting things to see and do.

Friday, May 13, 2016

If you do that I'll sing you my song

To the man in the bushes next to the sidewalk and his slightly embarrassed looking female friend waiting for him:

indeed, I did sing "pinkeln, pinkeln, pinkelllln" as I biked by.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

My week: May 1 ed.

This week I dropped everything and rattled around in Bavaria for some work events. I had a list of things to do and didn't get to complete them as I had intended, thanks to technology not functioning. That didn't mean that I just gave up and rolled over; I found some work-arounds, but I definitely didn't get to complete the tasks in the way that I wanted and expected to.

My coworker and I had a good time on the trip, though. He was amenable to eating at Mexican restaurants. One restaurant was good and the other was...entertaining. We weren't expecting much but should have known better when we had to go through rural Bavaria to find it. Even once we found the address, we were still confused because it was at what looked like a farm. Um, okay. After poking around in a confused manner, we found the restaurant and perused the menu, which was quite a trip.

The "Mexican" menu included pretty much everything...but actual Mexican food. Oh, there was "Mexican" pasta, all right, and Mexican Schnitzel (I kid you not), but the most "Mexican" food on the menu was what they called "tortillas," which we finally figured out were supposed to be some sort of burritos (kind of). So, with trepidation, we ordered them; a pork one for my colleague, and a vegetarian one for me. I had hoped for one with beans inside, but in a weird twist of parallel universe fate, the restaurant didn't have refried beans or rice, which are pretty much staples of Mexican cuisine. Oh, and we ordered nachos too.

I know better. Really, I do, but I'm stubborn. The nachos were those weird, German pseudo-Doritos, served with (literally) marinara sauce and something similar to Cheez Whiz. Oh boy. My burrito was a Turkish dürüm wrap with, as I had feared, a mix of (previously) frozen vegetables (cauliflower, corn, carrots, and peas). It didn't taste bad but it wasn't great either. My coworker's pork cousin of a burrito wasn't bad but wasn't Mexican either.

Overall, we had a good giggle because we pretty much figured that it would be way off, and it was. However, our waitress was incredibly friendly, nice, and attentive, which we really appreciated. We decided that it made quite the experience.

I'm sure some people will schimpf me for having the "audacity" to say that the Mexican food was way off since we're in Germany. Here's my thought on that: I have my right to my opinion, as you do yours. I feel that if a restaurant bills itself as X cuisine, it should actually try to make that type of cuisine, or at least say that it's GerMex or whatever makes sense to call the German take on Mexican food. (I say the same of American restaurants who do this.) For goodness sakes, take a trip to Mexico, or if one wants TexMex, Texas, and actually try the food. Consult with an actual Mexican chef; take lessons if need be. Failing that, at least find an authentic cookbook. It will have a positive effect.

-On Sunday, we attended the Wolfstein Culinary hike and experienced a huge range of weather in the several hours we visited. It was hot and sunny; it was cold and windy; it rained/snowed/sleeted and then cleared up. The weather couldn't figure out what to do! Despite that, we enjoyed the picturesque hike around the ridge with some wine and local specialties. This is the third time I've attended; with a 35 minute train ride, it's a pleasant weekend event to enjoy wine and a hike.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cuddle your cactus safely

I visited Kakteenland (cactus land) in Steinfeld, near the French border, with a friend and waited patiently while he very carefully picked out some new cacti. I wandered around and came across this gem:

It's literally a "cactus glove." Or, if you want to be even more literal, a "cactus hand shoe." (Don't get me started on the German word for gloves.)

It's meant to be used to safely re-pot a cactus. Apparently cacti don't like to be cuddled ;)

This picture had me, as well as some of my friends, in hysterics of laughter. It was especially funny to the equestrians. These cactus gloves are what we use to bathe horses! Unfortunately, the joke is on the cactus aficionado because the gloves were priced at 15 euros for the pair. I've picked these up for $3 a piece at horse stores. Either way, be smart: always wear cactus protection.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

It's (the end of) Maimarkt Mannheim time!

This weekend, I visited the Maimarkt in Mannheim, which is a huge and awesome trade fair, horse show, home builder expo, and more, all wrapped in one. It still goes on for two more days, until May 10. It's definitely worth a visit, despite my lateness in writing about it ;) The other cool thing is that for 9,50 euros, one can buy not only a ticket to the event, but it also allows for travel in the VRN transportation system for free.

Maimarkt website

This is a more in-depth review of it that I wrote in 2014. I still feel the same way!


This year, I went with A and we looked all over for the Waldmeiser (woodruff) soft serve ice cream that I always like to get at the market. We couldn't find it, but did eat Lebanese food at the African Village, another custom. Following that, we watched the show jumping competition. I also picked up a very nice Wusthof knife, a gift from my mother. Since my little cheapie knives at home don't make preparing food for my education in cooking any easier, it's a very welcome addition to the kitchen!

Friday, May 6, 2016

My week: April 24 ed.

I'm getting behind here on writing; work is really ramping up as our worldwide project is barreling down on us. Also, sometimes I just want to write about other things.

I met with tandem partner #1 and I realized that I don't know a lot of Umgangssprache (slang/everyday German). She filled me on some expressions. Now I need to decide which route to take with this. I do eventually want to be fluent in German, and part of that is to use slang. However, I also am an educated person and prefer to speak proper German. Is there a way to marry the two goals? We'll see.

My friend showed me some Youtube videos of an American teacher working with various Asian students on learning English. I found the videos interesting because the teacher was demonstrating linking words to sound more like a native speaker. For example, when a native speaker says "I went for a walk yesterday," it's more like "Iwentforawalkyeseterday." Or, "I'm going to go there" turns into something like "I'mgonta go there."

When watching these videos, I felt conflicted about what the teacher was doing. The students had heavy accents and were somewhat hard to understand even before they tried to use linking (nothing against them; they were learning, after all). I wondered if it might have been a better idea to get the students to speak more clearly first and then work on word linking later. The students were already a bit mumbly and didn't enunciate well. Linking the words at this point, to my ears, made things sound worse.

My philosophy, based on nothing other than my opinion and speaking with tandem partners who want to practice English, is that it's more important to speak clearly and properly first. After a learner can be clearly understood, then she can progress to learning how to sound like a native. What good is it, after all, if a language learner links words and uses colloquialisms, but is difficult to understand? I'd find it easier to understand someone who speaks more clearly, even if it's a bit formal-sounding and stiff. Someday, when I have more time, I'd love to read what EFL pedagogy says about this. Am I wrong, too formal, or too old-fashioned in this approach? What are there different schools of thought on this?

-Sometimes I think that our office building is really the Island of Misfit Toys, or, Employees.Other parts of our organization are very buttoned-up. Our building is home to people who work hard but also have moments of silliness and I love that.

For example, I'd been teasing the IT department and made the Iowan reenact American Gothic with me with a potato masher as the pitchfork. He had been mocking the misshapen potatoes on my desk so he deserved that.

The other guys brought me a lovely bouquet of...grass and dandelions in homage to foraging. Actually, they were taking the piss because I am interested in foraging wild foods and were horrified when I ate a dandelion leaf (they're totally edible, btw) to tease them right back. I also learned about Russian folk remedies.

-It was my birthday. My coworker made me a lovely lemon-blueberry coffee cake for my birthday. She even made candied limes and homemade lime whipped cream to go with it. Isn't that sweet, both literally and figuratively?

I stopped by Monte Mare for the free birthday pass to their pool and sauna facilities. Even though I've gone there several times before, I hadn't realized that there was a fitness pool. I put in a few embarrassing, I-can-swim-but-am-really-awkward-about-it laps.

I didn't want to have a party since I threw myself a more involved party last year (complete with pinata that I made, and super exciting cake that my coworker made) but I also didn't want to be alone, either. So, we planned a dinner through one of our social groups.  I didn't want the night to be about my birthday since it was a general event. My lovely friends are stubborn and thoughtful people though. Several stopped by before dinner to drop off some gifts and walk me to the restaurant. Oh, yeah, and to see Moo, of course!

My other friend made me a bottle of beer liqueur (I didn't know such a thing existed!) and made a custom label, calling it Sidehug Liqueur. I loved it, especially since he helped develop our group's weird but not creepy-like-the-Duggars version of the sidehug. To add to the joy, my friends W and M drove an hour to attend and showered me with gifts and sidehugs too. The new members of the group were thoroughly confused by the strange displays of affection (which involves just gently bumping your elbows together in greeting) but got a kick out of it, too. I swear, I think someday that someone will think we're a weird cult or something, and that would potentially be hilarious.

Can I just say how thankful I am for kind and thoughtful friends? It really meant a lot to me that they did all of this, and it helps to make being away from one's homeland not feel lonely on one's birthday.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Reaching a fun milestone: cooking at home

I'm not a very domestic person. I've been more into intellectual and outdoorsy pursuits instead of knowing how to cook and sew, for example. However, it's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks or for the antithesis of Martha Stewart* to learn some new skills.

I was always in awe of my friends who have stronger domestic skills; they sometimes casually say they'd usually rather just cook at home than eat out because they can cook better. I always thought, wow, that's cool that they're so skilled! I've been asking them to share cooking methods and recipes with me. An awesome benefit of having international and well-traveled friends is that they can either share their families' recipes or demonstrate how to cook food they've encountered while traveling, and they know a lot of vegetarian options.

Now that I've been experimenting with cooking, I often find myself preferring what I've cooked at home to eating out too. To be fair, though, I have to say that I'm just not into German food, or anything that's meat-centric, potato-centric, or always drenched with dairy-centric. Pasta and pizza are on the gives-me-a-headache list so I try to avoid them. I don't live in a large metropolis and there aren't a lot of vegetarian or ethnic restaurants that I really love, outside of Safari (Eritrean food).

Now that I've learned a lot of new vegan and vegetarian recipes, I've enjoyed my meals at home more, and love to share them with my friends, too. I can even enjoy Mexican salsa without having to put up with the addition of sugar and/or curry powder that our local restaurants think are staples for some reason. Now, if I could just get my coworker to show me how to make tamales...

*She makes me nervous for many reasons, including because she's too fancy. However, she does have good taste in horses :)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

When an English textbook for Koreans exposes something disturbing

My friend shared with me a textbook that her nephew used to learn English. Their family is Korean and the textbook is intended for Korean English as a Foreign Language learners.

I flipped through the book and randomly found this page. It troubled me.

The examples for the word "pale" might seem innocuous in some ways but if one knows about some of the beauty practices, ideals, and treatments not just in Korea, but all over the world, especially as it relates to the desire to have lighter skin, it's depressing.

The examples include:

"Skin: She had smooth dark skin and very dark eyes."

"Fair: She has blue eyes and fair skin."

"Dark: She has relatively dark skin."

Am I reading too much into this? Maybe, but also maybe not. Think about what you know about your first language and the nuances you understand. Then think about a second language that you might know, but didn't learn as a small child. If you learned it in a formal environment, then there's a strong likelihood that you used a textbook.

Textbooks can't cover everything there is to learn with a language; therefore, it's not strange to assume that textbook authors choose to include language and information that they either deem as important or as something that might come up and for which learners must express.

When I read these examples, I wondered what prompted the authors to use them; they must come up often enough that the authors thought they should be included. I'm not sure how wide-spread it is, but I've seen various news reports about skin bleaching among different ethnicities, including Koreans. An article in the Indian Journal Of Dermatology, Venereology & Leprology by Malathi and Thappa even goes so far as to state that "women, especially Asian women are obsessed with fair skin and they would go to the ends of the earth to lighten their skin color as in most cases their marriage prospects or career opportunities are dominated by the hue of their skin" (p. 842).

Do I think it's a coincidence that this textbook defines what "fair" and "dark" mean, and apply them to skin tones? Nope. This is something that must have been used commonly enough that it was used as a topic to teach these words' meanings. After all, fair could have been defined as it relates to the weather and dark could have referred to night time. These words have an effect on learners' perceptions of the world.

Work Cited
Malathi, Munisamy, and Devinder M. Thappa. "Systemic Skin Whitening/Lightening Agents: What Is The Evidence?." Indian Journal Of Dermatology, Venereology & Leprology 79.6 (2013): 842-846.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

An unfortunately named amusement park ride

When we visited Speyer several weeks ago, we stopped by their Fest and saw this ride. I'm not so sure I'd like to try it because I'd be worried it might incite some unwanted growths and based on the name of "Polyp XXL," that could potentially be painful!