Thursday, December 18, 2008

Brussels Smells Like....



Just got back from our trip to Brussels. I sort of expected the capital city of the European Union to be at least a little impressive. Its not that bad, don't get me wrong, but really a downer compared to other European capitals. Even former Warsaw Pact Budapest was more posh. Heide told us upon return "Yeah, its the trash bin of Europe."

We did have a nice time, and it was wonderful to see all of Ryan's classmates from the past year. His Master's Thesis presentation went well and his post-presentation questions weren't too difficult. It wasn't a bad city to host this sort of event seeing as there isn't much sight seeing to do, but thousands of beers to try. And try we did! The Guiness World Record holder for bar with the most beers is Delirium in old Brussels. They even had beers for me who hates beer! The key word for girlie drinkers is "Framboise." Its French for raspberry and that's what it tastes like. We also tried all the notorious foods: mussels, french fries with mayonnaise, and the best waffles I've ever eaten. (It doesn't hurt that they're covered in melted chocolate)

But other than beer and a few nice buildings in the center, Brussels is not very impressive. The metro is really confusing and stinky, and the city is very dirty. The above photo is of the famous Mannekin-Pis statue, which I think is a very appropriate mascot for this town!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Home for the Holidays?

We were disappointed to find out that our dream apartment in Berlin was snatched up before we even applied. But I got back on the internet and managed to found a flat next door with the same layout. After some hemming and hawing, we decided to take it, even though we haven't viewed it apart from photos.

So now we're rounding up our paperwork. We applied for the mysterious "Schufa" a German credit check, which probably won't turn up anything seeing as we've only had a German bank account for 2 months or so. Ryan's coworker helped him with the application and explained "you sign this application then take it to the post office. They have to see that you are a real person, because in Germany only real people can have bank accounts."

I'm very excited about this place, its situated on a beautiful square with cafes and bakeries nearby. There's also a courtyard and lots of trees around, which definitely helps this Montana girl. The best part of the description is that it has an "American" kitchen. Heide and I pondered what this could mean and decided it probably means a refrigerator bigger than a shoe box. Oh the things you take for granted.

So cross your fingers for us, we may have a place to move to after Christmas.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Berlin take 2


So far we have only been to Berlin and Paris in either July or December. While both cities are astonishing in themselves, the weather is extreme. But what's the use whinging about the weather? We went to Berlin this weekend to find an apartment.

Berlin is comprised of 12 boroughs which are made up of dozens of smaller neighborhoods. Ryan's future job will be in the extreme southeast (Adlershof). So our first dilemma was either choosing a place close to Ryan's work but out of the action, or going in town along a train route that would give him quicker access to work. This is important as it can take over an hour on the S-bahn (Schnell bahn or "fast train") to get across massive Berlin.

The first two apartments we viewed were in Koepenick, in the southeast and sandwiched between the intersection of the Spree and Dahme rivers and a huge park with a lake called "Mueggelsee." One apartment was dodgey, but the other one was right by a foot bridge into the old medieval part of town. It had a stellar view and the old town is quite adorable. We walked through the local Christkindlmarkt for some mulled wine and bratwurst lunch.

Then we attempted to head back to town center (Friedrichshain to be exact) but got on the wrong tram and missed our next open house. We walked as fast as we could, hoping to catch some stragglers at the flat, but it was locked up. Upon walking the street we decided it was a good thing we missed that appointment. There was some sort of strange pirate fortress (see photo) which was cool, but also the sidewalks and buildings were coated in graffiti, dog shit, and dead rats. That may have been good enough for us 6 months ago, but now we're moving up in the world!

We saw three more apartments in Friedrichshain, one of which was perfect. It was a roof apartment on a quiet square. It was cozy and well-appointed, and the walls weren't stark white which is quite unusual for Germany. We were excited to apply for it, but alas we found out this morning that its already taken! So now we'll mull over one of the Friedrichshain apartments we saw which is new, or the one with the view in Koepenick. Decisions, decisions.

In related news, we spent the whole weekend conversing in German and did pretty well between the two of us. There were definitely awkward moments. At our first apartment the lady sat us down to talk about the application process. She mentioned that she needs a "Schufe." She knew less English than we do German, and tried to describe it to no avail. We got to the point of randomly substituting German words we know that sound like it "Schule?" Ryan asked. Later we learned she meant "credit check" but spent the rest of the weekend saying "Schule? Schuhe? Hausschuhe?" (School? Shoes? Slippers?) Yes, we're pretty entertaining.

On the train ride home I recalled moving out of my dorm freshman year. Ryan and I had been dating about a month and I called him practically hysterical because I couldn't find anymore boxes and I'd spent all day packing. He came over and helped and must've thought I was completely insane. I reminded him of this and asked "When you saw me in my house dress with my hair in all directions, did you plot then to marry me and make me move every 4-6 months?"
"Yes," he replied, "for I am a sadist."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Geburtstag

Yesterday was my 24th birthday. So, I'm officially in my mid-twenties now, which is inching towards 30, which is an age I've never imagined myself to be. What should a 24-year old be doing in her life? Climbing the corporate ladder?

Instead we are heading to Berlin this weekend to find a flat. Its exciting that we'll be able to afford something nice for once, though it may take a while to actually furnish it. Ryan will be graduated soon and we'll be like real grown ups. Very strange.

Heide and Armin got me a box of chocolates and some delicious German gingerbread, and took us out for Bavarian food. Ryan got me a gift card for a big department store, and promised that if I waited until January I could use more than the 20 Euros its issued for. I am excitedly anticipating a package from my parents, which hopefully won't be difficult going through customs.

The 23rd birthday felt like a triumph, having survived my first few months abroad. This birthday is more like waiting. Soon we'll move again, and we'll "settle down" for the first time in our married lives. I still feel like a fraudulent adult, as if some mystical age police will appear to card me while I'm cooking dinner and send me back to high school. It seems by the time I'm used to being in my 20s they'll be over. Well, here's to six more years.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Danksgiving



After last year's surprisingly successful Thanksgiving, I thought we'd take on an even more ambitious double Thanksgiving this year. Meaning YD was hosting a dinner Friday night and I wanted to make one on Saturday for our German family as well. Let's get cooking!

The Young Democrats Abroad has officially disbanded into some American expats hanging out. I volunteered us to bring sweet potatoes and pecan pie, two dishes requiring PECANS which I didn't realize until the day-of weren't "Mandeln." Mandeln are almonds, and one of 3 types of nuts commercially available in Germany. Heide (German host mom) and I even went to Metro the fancy German-version of Costco on a hunt, but alack, it was destined to be almond pie. Ryan was dismayed, but it was still pretty good.

Our friends Brian and Christian offered up there place for the dinner and laid a beautiful table. We met another married couple who's half German half American. They actually got married the day before us. But the high point of the evening was definitely the food. I sat next to Sonia and we both ate so much that we had to lie on the couch with our pants unbuttoned before the dessert course. But of course we had to eat dessert. Ryan wussed out of dessert, which he will never live down, as I won't ever live down confusing almonds and pecans. Oh well.

Saturday I was still feeling full, and regretting back-to-back Thanksgiving meals. (Will my digestive system ever forgive me?) Ryan was furiously revising his master's thesis (due Monday) as I took charge of the cooking. Everything went according to plan except the cranberries. Apparently small boxes with pictures of jello on them aren't actually jello. We served the cranberries anyway, even though they were rather liquid.

Our friend Gwendolyn came over to help with last-minute prep, the kids ran in the kitchen and wanted to play, and our turkey legs appeared underdone! Things were getting hectic and we were still waiting for our final guests to arrive. They were 20 minutes late, which led to a frenzy of taking food out of the oven, then shoving it back in, then worrying it would by dry. But finally we all assembled around the table and dug in. Our German guests, Robbie and Erica, were oddly fascinated by the stuffing. Some people even liked the cranberries. And the turkey was perfect. I paced myself better this time and we all enjoyed our pie with Schnapps, and later Rum. German people really like liquor.

As I look back at last year, it seems a million years away. We were living in an awful house in the middle of England. I worked in a fruit and veg stand and was so homesick all the time. I feel like a completely different person today. And even though its had rough spots, I'm really thankful for everything that happened in the last year. I've learned so much and feel really lucky :)

P.S.
-A, my 2-year old charge, is learning Denglish (Deutsch+English) and one of his favorite words is "Dank you." Add to that the few incorrect German words I've taught him and I think my work is done here.
-"Metro" the German Costco also has free samples. But they don't have anyone supervising them, nor any takers. I almost cruised for a 2nd brownie, but Heide warned me there was a store employee spying on me across the aisle. Spooky! It was comforting to see suitcase-sized tubs of laundry detergent and cheese blocks the size of pillows again.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Folly of Democracy

In this time of economic, civic, and military crisis, we need some unity going forward. Since the election everyone in Germany's been giddy for Obama. Except Ryan, who in his contrary nature is becoming more conservative everyday. Whenever we meet up with our Dems Abroad friends he has to contradict people. I'm sure they all think he's a closet Republican!

He did have an interesting observation the other day. Liberals lambaste Conservatives for refusal to believe in evolution and the general suspicion that the scientific community is not above sawing dinosaur bones together to make evolutionary fossils.

But our liberal friends in the same breath will go on about how they only eat organic foods because regular ones leave "toxins" or that vaccines cause autism.

So when it comes down to it, we're all pretty stupid. And we can vote!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Saint Martin's Day

One of the many benefits of living in Bavaria are the abundance of Catholic holidays. Last night we celebrated the festival of Saint Martin. It commemorates a Roman Centurion who saw a beggar in the snow (?) and gave him half of his cloak. The beggar turned into Jesus and Saint Martin gets the holiday.

At nightfall the family and I walked to the local church, the kids clutching electric lanterns. There was a pageant in the church yard, with Saint Martin hymns. The kids swung their lanterns and sang. Then we processed down the street to a nearby park, where St Martin rode around in a circle on a large "Icelandic" horse. We sang some more songs, the priest explained and answered a few of the children's questions about the horse. Then we processed back to the church yard for a bonfire and mulled wine. Mmmmm....

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Night 2008

The Dems Abroad party was unexpectedly sold out last week, leaving Ryan and I floundering for plans. Everyone had blown us off for Halloween, I was not spending Election Night at home! With a bit of searching we found a bash at American-owned bar called "Die Registratur." There was a myriad of excited people: Brits, Yanks, Germans, and some crazy guy with an Obama balloon taped to a stick with leaves on it. No McCain fans to be found.

The bar itself was pretty cool, a converted auditorium of a Catholic girls school, decorated in the cheesiest bunting and miniature flags. Miller, popcorn, and hot dogs were on special. Ryan tried the Miller but realized once you go German you don't go back. We crammed into a booth with a bunch of others and had some interesting conversations. I met a Ghanian guy who went to school in Michigan for 6 years so as to avoid a return to Ghana. He was sitting with a bunch of girls who invaded and kept squishing us.

Our friend,Gwendolyn, brought her friends, a group of mysterious 20-somethings on a "permanent business trip". They're working for some law firm and were on and off their Blackberries buying beers on expense accounts all night. Except for one who was raging drunk, hit on Ryan, and when Ryan left starting talking to his friends really loudly about my "ta tas." I was miffed, but let it go. His friends were very apologetic and he had clearly drank away the last of his judgment.

He did get drunker and funnier as the night went on. At one point he was waving an American flag around saying "Jesus" not in a swearing way, but rather as a question, which apparently offended the Ghanian guy who threatened to take him outside. But drunk man's friends told the Ghanian that this was a bad idea, their friend was used to getting drunk and laying guys out cold. So he backed off.

While the drunks and political conversation was interesting, in the background they were playing CNN international. If you haven't been out of the country much you've probably never seen this version of CNN. Its what they play around the world to make it look like Americans care about international news, when we actually want celebrity rumors. Anyway, the commercials on this channel are strictly intended for millionaires "Invest in Poland!" "India: Business Central." etc.

Anyway, CNN international played us lots of clips of the global reaction to the election. I don't know if they play these on regular CNN, for the reasons I've listed above. However, they were covering big fancy consulate parties with lots of swank. Where was our coverage? I guess they're not interested in drunk Germans. But they weren't overstating international interest. Everyone I know has asked me many times about the election, electoral votes, the congress, etc.

But the best thing about this year's coverage was definitely the HOLOGRAM LADY. WTF? Pop-up congress building and hologram lady. This is not the way to make the election more exciting, CNN. In addition to this bizarre technology they touted weird vertical bar graphs that you couldn't read and TWO teams of people pretending to type on laptops.

Die Registratur had the bright idea to play viral videos during the dull parts of election coverage, but unfortunately they only had political rap. I should've been the one to make this list, I do watch You Tube obsessively. There wasn't even a "La Piquena Sarah Palin."

Because of the 6 hour time difference between Germany and the East Coast, things startled dwindling before we got our election results. We stayed for the frank discussion "McCain would have to win the West Coast to get enough votes at this point." But Gwen's mysterious business friends left, along with the Ghanian, his girlfriends, and our Germans. Drunky passed out on a sofa with no shoes on, and Ryan and I decided to quit around 4 am. As we arrived at our train station in Pasing, a TV in Yorma's cafe was showing the electoral tally for Obama over 300.

It still feels like a dream.

Extras:
-After another drunk guy hit on me, we decided I should change the "Yes We Can" button on my shirt to "No You Can't."
-apparently Anderson Cooper is a gay icon. Who knew?

Quit your Halloween-ing, its time to quietly honor our dead!


Last Thursday I dropped the kiddos off at their grandparents and put myself on the train to the truly scary Oberschleisheim. After switching trains twice, missing my bus by 30 seconds, and then riding for 20 minutes and wandering through a hellish office park-scape I finally came to the mysteriously titled "Pozamt."

I had come for "Halloween Treats" sent by my mother-in-law. I expected something maybe shoe box sized, but the lady came around with let's say a television-sized box. (Not a big screen, but you get the idea). Then I was sent to another line where the woman in front of me was saying "I don't speak German. That's my box. Those are my hair products!" The customs agent eyed her suspiciously and opened the box, eyed its contents, and gave her a receipt to pay for his service. "Crud" I thought. They're going to sort through this massive box and charge me.

But I put on my best American smile and spoke a little German. He let me go without opening our giant box or charging me. The moral of the story: Damnit Americans, make an effort!

That night the kids were presented with massive Halloween bags and were delighted if baffled. They immediately began devouring candy eyeball necklaces and gummi bats. The Reeses were rejected, but hey, more for me!

My mom-in-law was also kind enough to include Chewy Chips Ahoy and Double-Stuffed Oreos. Delightful! We made our host-parents taste the Oreos and their reactions were so interesting. They kept trying to describe the flavors like "cake batter" or "English biscuits" and so on. I'd never thought of what an Oreo tastes like-- they are the Alpha and Omega of my childhood; I can't remember a time before them and they will surely outlive me.

Actual Halloween night was not too exciting. Ryan and I borrowed "Arachnaphobia" from the library and compared its actual contents to the nightmares we had about it as kids. Pretty funny. We ate too many Chips Ahoy and I attempted to drink a small glass of whole milk. Still can't do it. Though I am completely in love with mineral water.

Funny side notes:
-uber Catholic Bavaria has a law that all Halloween activities end by midnight since November 1st is All-Saints Day. Every year families quietly clean their loved ones' graves, place flowers and red lanterns, and have a ceremony where the priest blesses them. It is not meant to be joyful.
-my fellow au pair friend Gwen took one of her kids trick-or-treating. Some people are down with it, but others gave her a talk that its not nice to go begging for things.
-the above photo is A. marveling in his good fortune. Later photos include the tantrum once the candy was put away for the night.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Aack! Two posts in one day!!

Have to share something. I sent Ryan a funny article this morning (http://www.avclub.com/content/hater/what_does_the_death_of_love_look) and he emailed me this response:

"I see your article on the death of love and raise you an article on why you are not a christian. Have fun in hell!"

http://www.worldnetdaily.com/?pageId=79276

Please take a moment to share in this masterpiece. Done? Good. Such a high-quality work of theology deserves a thoughtful response. Here is my email to Mrs. (I can only assume she's married and doing her Christianly duty of popping out babies) Folger.

Dear Mrs. Folger,

Thank you for your recent article "You Cannot be a Christian and Vote Obama." It helped clear up a lot of confusion I was having about my life. See, for the past 20 or so years I thought I was a Christian. But, I mailed in my ballot for Obama last week, so clearly, I was wrong.

Its a real shame that when I attended a Methodist University they never told me that voting Democrat nullifies my salvation. Perhaps you should draw their attention to this! I was always taught to believe that there are valid differences in opinion when one reads the scripture and that we should be able to discuss these issues using both faith and reason.

Now that I have seen the errors of my ways, would you please send me your thoughts on the rest of the Bible? I wouldn't want to continue reading it incorrectly.

Thanks very much,

Katy Strange

If you likewise see an error in her logic, please feel free to email her at: jfolger@wnd.com

The Pasing Scene


We have been living in a small suburb on the outskirts of Munich for about 2 months now, and last weekend due to our lack of plans, we scoped out "downtown" Pasing.

Let me paint you a picture of this "downtown." At one end is the busy train station, and on the other a lovely park with woods and a river. In between are the usual stores and bakeries, and a central "Marienplatz" a tiny version of its Munich counterpart. Our "host mom" claims that the Pasinger Marienplatz predates the Muenchner's, although the Pasing version has only a tiny golden Mary on a column with a few busy streets.

Friday night we craved a drink at the local pub. After walking around and seeing most places closed at 8 pm, we stopped at local hot spot, Confetti. It was a trendy and smokey little place, playing British boy band concerts on big screens. People were drinking 9 euro cocktails instead of the usual beer. There were some young teens drinking beer, and I was surprised to find out that the legal drinking age is 16 for beer and 18 for liquor. Ryan stuck by his Hefeweisen and I had a large glass of wine (the German standard glass is .2 L while Brits give out tiny .125 glasses) We had a very nice time reflecting on our whirlwind year abroad.

Saturday was likewise lazy, and after helping with a bit of yard work, we walked down to Ryan's favorite bakery, Wimmer. It is right across from the train station, and afforded some great people-watching. The Christmas goodies are already out, large bags of cookies tied with red ribbons, huge wreaths of sweet bread...drool. Ryan and I had cafe and kuechen. Outside a teen boy was handing out leaflets-- religious ones? Shoppers and commuters bustled past, and the line at the butcher's waxed and waned.

But the oddest sight is a lady I've seen before in downtown. From the waist up she is a well-dressed, sophisticated, elderly lady. Saturday she wore a cashmere-looking sweater and beaded scarf. But below that she wore only nude-colored panties and boots. Her varicose-veined legs must've been cold, it was about 40 Fahrenheit. A few old biddies would stop and scold her, but this lady would just bark them away. She apparently enjoys a little street-corner exhibitionism, society be damned!

So that's our little corner of Munich. Quite cozy, really.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Culture Clash


If you asked a friend to describe me one of the traits would probably be something like ludicrous, goofy, bizarre, or silly. Silly is a word I often use when working with the children, because children are weird. But its not nice to call them that, it is ok to call them silly. Because everyone wants to be silly, right?

Wrong. I have recently learned that any translation of silly or goofy into German = Dummkopf (stupid head). So the kids don't liked to be called that. There is no positive word for doing something bizarre to be funny. One can call someone funny without too much fear of them taking offense, but its not so highly valued as in American culture.

F last week had a long talk with her mother and afterward asked me to stop calling her "verrueckt" (crazy) which Ryan and I had recently discovered and had been calling each other and everyone else. Apparently this is also an insult.

Germans really value dignity and intelligence, so I guess it shouldn't surprise me that children don't want to act silly or crazy, but I am disappointed. I suppose if I didn't do all the silly/stupid things that I do, I'd be more dignified... but at what cost? AT WHAT COST!!!??!!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Are we there yet?

Ugh, I am sooo tired of the presidential race. We watched the 3rd (and luckily last) Presidential debate last night. Well I should say Ryan watched it and I covered my eyes. All the bickering makes me feel antsy. And John McCain's complete insensitivity to the division his campaign's rallies stir up makes me angry.

Luckily for America (and the rest of the world), its looking like Obama will win. But there are many people who are so irrationally fired up against him (usually convinced he's Muslim/terrorist/black supremacist/whatever) that its going to be a hard fight to bring people together after the election. We need to unify to tackle the most difficult problems America has faced in generations. We don't need hostilities and personal attacks. I once respected John McCain, before his Palin pick and his negative campaigning. I think he would've made a great president 8 years ago(better than Bush), but the current McCain is so focused on winning that he's completely sold out.

What we can hope for is that McCain will go back to being his old, Mavericky self. And I was encouraged to see a return to that at the Al Smith dinner:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Viral Video Update

Ok, so I don't normally do this, but two videos recently have shock-and-awed me. Please to enjoy:


AND

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pro-Life....?

Today I went to the Doctor's to get my birth control prescription renewed. This is the hassle about moving so often, you have to visit the Dr. and get a new prescription in each country. In Germany, as in the U.S., they charge for birth control. Most insurance companies in both countries do not cover it (although many cover Viagra). Personally I think this is crazy.

There are many problems with the National Health Service in the UK, but at least they've figured out contraception. There is a high rate of teen and unwanted pregnancies so they've made contraception FREE to all women. Isn't this a no-brainer?

Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, (or like most people, somewhat confused and in the middle) I think we can all agree that there needs to be a reduction in abortions. The easiest way to do this is through contraception. Pregnancy and childbirth are expensive for insurance companies, hospitals, and ultimately the government. You'd think that we'd all have a vested interest in making sure that every woman who wants contraception has access to it.

And what's crazier, as you've probably seen, John McCain won't even discuss it! And just yesterday the Bush administration opted to cut off birth control help to women in Africa.

It is a serious problem when politicians turn a blind eye to the futures of young women. When the pill was made available 50 years ago, it freed women to pursue their goals and fight for equality. But these options are still being denied to many and that's something we should not stand for.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Oktoberfest, part 2

After our reluctant attendance at a Democrats Abroad meeting a few months ago, it became inevitable that Ryan and I would end up volunteering to "support Obama in Munich." Its in my nature to volunteer for things, while Ryan is violently opposed to "joining" things and is always worrying that I am turning him into a "joiner." But the call came and I responded, despite our fear that this Munich for Obama campaign was an exercise in futility.

It was freezing and rainy, but we kept to our commitment and headed out to sell Obama buttons at Goetheplatz yesterday; in an attempt to catch Oktoberfesters on their way in and out. And boy did we! The normally reserved Germans were as drunk as any Geordie yesterday afternoon, clinging to phone booths and friends to keep upright.

Drunk people are not best known for their reasoning skills, but they were enthusiastic. The whole day I felt like a beauty queen on a parade float, with people of all nationalities cheering "Obama!" When they saw my patriotic sandwich board. We sold a fair number of buttons as well.

Along with the cheers we did have some interesting conversations with old and young Germans about the state of global politics. And a racist British guy talked to me at length about our "Muslim problem." Probably best line of the day:
British guy "All Muslims care about is violence. What have the Muslims ever
invented?"
me: "The number 0, also our numerical system, to name a few..."

There were a few "McCain" cheers as well, but no Bush supporters. Most of the McCain people were just drunk antagonists, I dare say. Some people asked us where the Republicans abroad were located, but there aren't any, not in Munich anyway.

We nearly froze our toes off, but I think even Ryan enjoyed our volunteer stint. We saw the wilder side of Oktoberfest without being vomited on, got to meet a lot of people, and did our good deed for the day. Who knows, maybe Ryan will have a change of heart about volunteering...well, probably not, but maybe it will be easier to drag him to the next one.

Oktoberfest, part 1

After much schedule-jangling, we made it to Oktoberfest last Wednesday night. Our friend, Johannes, advised us on how to beat the difficult reservation system. For those of you who are unfamiliar, most of the seats in the giant "tents" (which are actually huge barn-like buildings) are booked by tour groups and businesses. You can't make a reservation unless you have 8 or more people and there's a 30 Euro per person minimum for most places. BUT, you can look online at specific reservation times and hit the tents 15 minutes after the reservation and often snag an empty spots.

Because of his insatiable desire to eat all God's creatures, Ryan wanted to hit the Ochsenbraterai, a tent run by Spaten (one of the 6 official Munich beers, the only ones allowed at Oktoberfest) which roasts over 100 whole oxen each year. We had a more chill experience than most, seeing as we went as a couple and ate outside. I didn't dance on the table nor was I vomited on like many others; but we still had a nice time, some good oxen, and enjoyed joking with some German guys at our table.

A couple of liters later, I was a little starry-eyed. We took a walk around the grounds to look at the many rides and other tents. Ryan bought me a giant heart-shaped gingerbread cookie that are so famous in Munich, and it was tasty. The atmosphere at the Wiesn is pure fun and friendliness, and the beer sure helps. (Although one of our table-mates called Spaten "piss", Ryan has tried them all and can't tell the difference.) It was expensive (about 8 euros a liter), but a very fun night.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Neuschwanstein


Last Saturday Ryan and I went to check out the last castle built by "mad" King Ludwig II. Ludwig was one of the last kings of Bavaria, who nearly bankrupted his country by building outlandish castles. He also died very mysteriously a day after being deposed. I found out he drowned in Lake Starnberg-- the very lake I spent all of August swimming in with the evil family.

When we mentioned our plans to our current family, they laughed. Then Ryan added that we were catching a 6am train to beat the crowds, and the response was "That's sooo American!"

And yes, not many Germans were there. Mostly American and Asian tourists. The kind who move to stand directly in front of you when you are reading a sign. Anyway, it was very beautiful, but the tour only lasts 30 minutes, at which point you are escorted out of the finished part of the castle (only 1/3 was completed before Ludwig's death.) The exterior was fabulous, and we did a great hike to the mountain top above the castle-- finally nice weather!

It was a nice day trip, but I wouldn't call it a "must-see" as many guidebooks seem to. Next time I think we'll opt for one of the completed castles, of which there are many in Bavaria.

Quotable Quotes

Well, we've been very busy lately. In the next couple days I hope to update on our trip to Neuschwanstein and Oktoberfest. But for now, here are some random quotes from the last few days:

F, German age 6, watching the presidential debate when John McCain said "We're a long way from safe.":
"But you don't have tigers in the USA? And you don't have lions... I think he is a liar."

A really drunk German on the S-Bahn after his friend tried to chat with me (rough translation):
"They don't understand you, they don't speak German, they are from (burp) Florida."

And finally, due to Oktoberfest, a million annoying tourists:
"I cannot believe they charged me for water. It comes from a faucet. I just want water from a faucet. This cost 2 Euros and it has bubbles and I'm not going to drink it!"
"...oooh now say 'Waterbottle.' (laughs) Now say 'aluminium.' Your accent is soooo funny!"

We'll be so glad when all the tourists go home. I've come to realize that Americans are really loud. Normally when I ride the S-Bahn their is a murmur, but with these tourists you can hear every bit of their conversations, and most of those conversations are stupid.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ryan the Robber


It was a big week in our new locale. F turned 6 and started 1st grade. In German tradition she received a "schuletutte", a large paper cone filled with gifts, on her first day of school. 1st grade is only 1/2 day here, but she and her classmates are still much more knowledgeable than their American counterparts. They can add and subtract 2-digit figures, they can read pretty well, and most of she and her friends are as comfortable in English as they are in German. How do they fit it all in? Plus they teach religion in schools, so that's even less time for fundamentals.

Saturday was her birthday party and it was a wild event. Her favorite game is "Detective" and for her birthday she wanted to "catch a real robber and get his treasure." Ryan graciously agreed to play the robber and we planned a scavenger hunt in a nearby park. Ryan hid by a small hut in the woods wearing a black mask. Wanted posters were hung of him, and so he may be famous in Pasing now. Apparently a few people stopped him and asked what he was doing.

We are settling in nicely with the family, I think. I worried that it would be awkward, I didn't know what Ryan's role would be with the family and if he would like it. But he is very generous toward the kids and they seem to like him a lot. It will be funny for us when we move out of here and go back to living just the two of us again.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Another Month, Another Move

I have been at my new au pair job for a week now. That includes Ryan and I living on the 3rd floor of a family house in Pasing, a Munich suburb.

During the cab ride over (cheapest move to date!) I was really really nervous. What would the family be like? Would they respect our contractual agreement, or would I be working non-stop? Would the whole experience put Ryan off kids forever?

But so far, so good. I work 4-6 hours a day, playing and feeding the kids. I make dinner once or twice a week. Ryan's commute is shorter now, and he walks 10-15 minutes to his bus stop each day. When he comes home we eat with the family and usually play a bit with F. the older daughter (6 today!) she is very competitive and energetic, but also sweet.

The other child is a boy, A. who is 1. There was some confusion over this. When I interviewed I thought they said he was 1, but when we sat down to our first dinner last Sunday night I said "he speaks quite a lot, he's not quite 2, right?" and the mother said "no, since January." Which was embarrassing since I thought I messed up. But I think she meant until instead of since. It is confusing, he is quite big for his age, but developmentally he's more inline with a 1.5 year old. Finally, I saw his birth certificate when we were looking a baby pics yesterday and that solved the puzzle.

So, we are here until late December/early January (still working on dates for a trip to the US for Christmas). One of Ryan's coworkers thought certainly he'd be offered a job with his current company, but they are not ready to expand yet. So, post-New Year's plans are narrowing to: California, Frankfurt, Spain, Italy, and maybe back to the UK. We couldn't go another few months without moving, could we?

P.S. A's vocabulary so far: hello, mama, oba, uuu ("tchus"= bye). Ryan and I have decided to teach him "Obama" since he already has those syllables. No luck so far, but his parents find it amusing.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Budapest, part 3


Sunday morning, as I said, Ryan realized his miscalculation and that we could splurge a bit. We started off at the haunting "House of Terror" museum, a building that actually housed the headquarters of the Arrow-Cross (Hungarian Nazis) and later the Communists, including a basement prison. Creepy, but very informative.

We had some so-so falafel for lunch in the Jewish district, then headed out to the Szechenyi Baths. Hungary is famous for its thermal spas, and Szechenyi is located in a beautiful park at the north end of Andrassy Ut, Pest's main drag. We made the mistake of walking there (we walk nearly everywhere) and it is a really really long street. But the baths were great. Different baths have different ingredients and temperatures and you're supposed to go from luke-warm to hot and then take a cold plunge. Ryan actually convinced me to do it, and it was really invigorating. Nice way to spend a sunny afternoon.

There were fliers everywhere for the Prague Symphony Orchestra playing at St. Stephen's Basilica, so we picked up tickets (the prices were even a bit negotiable) and had a nice dinner on Franz Liszt square. It was all very beautiful, though the wine and the classical music did make me a bit sleepy. I must not be very cultured! But a lovely evening none the less.

Before we left on Monday we wanted to climb to the top of the Basilica and eat Langos (famous Hungarian fry bread). The Basilica tower was nice, the langos was the greasiest thing I've eaten in years. Another tip, don't show up at the train station an hour early, it has no chairs. But it does have beer, so you can at least take advantage of that.

Overall, a great mini-break in Budapest, and I think it came out to around 300 euros minus the train. Not bad at all.

Budapest, part 2


We arrived in Budapest Friday evening, checked into our shared apartment, and set out to peruse the neighborhood and scout some dinner. The first two places our guidebook recommended were closed-down, but we ended up in the courtyard of an artist's colony with large trees and candles. It was gorgeous. After dinner we walked along the Danube through the very touristy and over-priced Belvaros neighborhood. We witnessed many drunk Americans and Brits eating at Cuban/Mexican/etc margarita bars. Why would you go to Eastern Europe to eat ala North America? Bad move!

The next morning Ryan woke me up with his muttering. I planned 90% of this trip, doing my usual printed an itinerary with our sight-seeing destinations clearly google mapped. I had also taken care of estimating costs and getting the necessary Hungarian money from the bank. Normally, banks charge the least commission when changing money, but our new bank (Deutsche Bank) this was not the case! Their commission was almost 20% and Ryan had begun to worry that we wouldn't have enough money to do everything we wanted on the trip.

I pause at this point, reflecting on the fact that this was our one-year anniversary trip, and at this point in the game I should take Ryan's financial worries with a grain of salt. He tends to get worked up about these things until I get worked up and then come back and say "oh its not really bad at all" as if he simply enjoys worrying.

So, momentarily freaked out, I slashed at the itinerary, removing the walking tour, concert, and other expensive items and replacing them with free museums and picnicing. And the next day when Ryan realized he had overestimated any money glitches, I wasn't disappointed. (I might have slugged him, but the free things we did were great)

We breakfasted at McDonalds (not our first choice but Hungarian cafes don't open before 10 and we starve by then!) and hit the Hungarian National Museum (history), the Great Market Hall (picnic supplies), and walked across the colossal Danube over to Buda and the Castle District.

This district is atop a hill and walled-in. Very touristy, but I love these old city centers. Rough Guide redeemed itself with a walking tour through the old sites and up to the castle. Inside are three museums: Military History, National Gallery, and Budapest History. We hit the almost free National Gallery, and on our way out ran into some belly dancers passing out fliers in Hungarian. I couldn't read the flier, but it figured it was a belly-dancing show and was only 500 Forints (about 2 euros) so dragged Ryan to find it. It turned out to be some kind of Renaissance Fair/battle reenactment that we'd normally never go for, but hey we're in Hungary, so we sat in the grass and spent 40 minutes watching the Hungarians defeat the Turks.

We ate picnic supper at Fisherman's Bastion (see photo) which has beautiful views of the city, split a bottle of red wine from the market and Ryan dragged me back across the river a bit tipsy.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Budapest, part 1


I've been trying to gather my thoughts about our recent trip to Budapest for a few days now. Some cities are very central, easy to know, and give you one simple image. Par example, Munich: giant heart-shaped cookies that look like Cuckoo clocks.

But both Berlin and Budapest are large, decentralized towns in the midst of reconstruction. In Berlin, this is obvious enough as a city that was divided for 28 years. But Budapest is more complex. The excellent "House of Terror" museum explains the "double-occupation" of Hungary, first by the Nazis and secondly by the Soviets. While ideologically different, these two regimes both terrorized and abducted Hungarians, while simultaneously stomping out Hungary's unique history and culture. The city's decaying architecture is shocking after Western Europe's splendor and complete transformation into tourist central.

But Budapest is coming back. Half the city is under restoration. We navigated the torn-up roads to connect our sight-seeing dots. While Budapest is not the newest, trendiest destination (I'm looking at you, Krakow) there is still a dearth of pre-trip information. Our Rough Guide was at least two years out of date. But, perhaps it is good for me to release my death grip on the guide book and be a bit more spontaneous.

The second obstacle of the trip was language. Hungarian is considered by many to be one of the most difficult languages in the world. It was nerve-wracking only knowing how to say "thank you" and "do you speak English/German?" but luckily nearly everyone we ran into spoke English, including McDonald's employees. (I'll explain that one later)

My primary impression of Hungary is that it is an earthy place. We didn't see sun on our 7 hour train ride until we crossed the Hungarian border. Then we were no longer amidst manicured wind-turbine strewn Austrian plains, but in golden waist-high grain fields. There German/Austrian sense of control clearly has not been exported. Budapest is a dirty place as well (though I suppose after Germany's crazy littering policies, most countries are) But even in the heart of this large city it is still easy to find a picnic place to enjoy their special red wine, "Bull's Blood."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Blech, banks!

One of the first things you should do when moving to a foreign country is to open a bank account. Otherwise, you will spend all your money in ATM/currency exchanging fees. But opening a bank account in another country is practically impossible.

Firstly, you will enter the bank, and start waving your arms around to attract the attention of the bored employees. When you've snared one, she will give you a long list of documents to bring to the bank. You will not know what most of these are. But after several hours of research and running back and forth between various government offices, you will have assembled all but one. You think "they don't really need document X, I've got all of the other 99 documents." WRONG! When we moved to England, this document was proof that I lived with my husband. Our friend Corrynn had to legally prove that she was single to get a bank account in Amsterdam.

But, after more government building hopscotch and pleading with the bank manager, you will get an appointment to open your bank account. At the Postbank in Munich, I got 5 minutes with a harried clerk who didn't fill out my form correctly and lost my original documents. They will tell you to look for your new ATM card and pin number in the mail in 5-7 business days. It will not arrive. You will go back to the bank and ask about it. They will offer to resend your card in 5-7 business days. And so on, and so on, into eternity.

I have just spent 2 months waiting for my ATM card for my Postbank account. Finally, I was fed up. I went and closed my account yesterday (having never actually used it) and opened a new one at Deutsche Bank. My DB card should arrive in 9 business days or less. I was feeling fairly confident that the employees at DB will be more responsible than those at PostBank, but when I checked the mail today, my PostBank ATM card finally arrived! No pin number, of course. So, I now have an ATM card for a closed account, a new account with no money in it or card for it, and we are still keeping our money in a jar.

Maybe I should start my own bank for foreigners. I will require no documents. You will give me your money and I will put it in a jar. When you come ask me for it, I will give it back to you. And I will charge no fees.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Is Clint Eastwood a Racist?

Ok, I'm a little late to the game here, but Ryan and I finally saw "Mystic River" last night. It is a really well done film, great script, AMAZING ensemble acting, its got the whole shebang. But, I was shocked to hear Lawrence Fishburne's character introduce himself as what sounded like WHITEY POWERS; and I brought this up midway through and Ryan was like "no you're hearing things" but in the credits, there it was...Whitey Powers! The only black character in the movie gets a name that sounds like the slogan of the neo-Nazis? WTF?

I know a while ago Spike Lee criticized Eastwood for his lack of African-American soldiers in his two WW2 epics. That is a big oversight on his part, I would say, but not overtly racist. But what the heck, Eastwood? That's not even a good name for a character.

We scoured the IMDB website for any sign of controversy, but it looks like either no one noticed or thought this was interesting...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sitting in a Circle, Talking Obama


Last night Ryan and I went to our first official "Munich for Obama Meetup" and I have to say, it was a strangely familiar process.

Growing up Presbyterian, I have been to all manner of meetings. There are numerous jokes about the Presbyterian love of order and desire to break up into committees. By the time I graduated high school, I had served on least a dozen committees, and even headed a few!

Its not that I like or dislike meetings, but church meetings were always the same, no matter the issue or the people involved. A leader trying to plow through a pages-long agenda, a rebel leader determined to "tell it like it is", a myriad of people bogging down the agenda with personal anecdotes or attempts at humor, and at least one teary-eyed older person who wanted to share some touching Chicken Soup for the Soul moment. But, as long as I'm not the one in charge of such a meeting, I find them quite funny.

But imagine my surprise as I sat amongst the middle-aged democrats and relived this church experience. The leader trying to be diplomatic as another experienced DA rants "the Amerikahaus hates democrats! That's a fact! They're all business neo-cons!" (oh the shame of that word!) Another lady went on and on about how we should find a way to order Obama shirts with "sprinkles" (aka glitter) and several other ladies cooed over her "sprinkle" shirt. A very elderly lady spoke with awe of a Gwenyth Paltrow viral video that she emailed to her nephew. I don't think she really knew what a viral video was, or that this particular one had been around at least a month and EVERYONE had already seen it, but good for her.

Mostly we spent time hearing about various attempts to register Americans to vote abroad. Each report was like this "I went to the _______ Festival where there were over 1000 Germans dressed as cowboys/Elvises/Hells Angels and I found only 1 American, and he wasn't sure if he wanted to vote." You have to have a sense of humor about these things. But, to Ryan's dismay, I have volunteered us to run a voter registration table at our English-speaking church on Sunday. That's another universal rule of meetings: attend a meeting, be volunteered.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Slave for a Month

To my faithful readers: I apologize for August's pitiful lack of postings. Some of you know about the crazy hours I've been working since August started. I suppose it would be unprofessional to spend an entire blog bitching about the family that I recently worked for, so I will make a few general, hopefully helpful, observations.

1. I don't know if I can contribute my experiences to cultural differences, the fact that these people were filthy filthy rich, or that they are just not very nice, but the fact is, they did not treat me respectfully.

Over the last several years I have worked for nearly a dozen families on a part-time basis, and there was always the understanding that my job was to play with, care for, and keep their children from danger. NOT to clean their whole house, wait on them, or iron their underwear.

I can't say they were entirely inconsiderate. There were very random occassions of consideration. For example, on one day at the beach I wasn't given time to eat lunch, yet the mother brought me over a child's hat because she was worried "about my wrinkles." But by and large her perception of me was rather one-dimensional. I was NANNY, not regular person with a house and husband and grocery list of her own.

2. Other than being treated lesser, there were a lot of difficulties with the children. I can make friends with nearly any kid, and am pretty good at keeping them entertained and out of trouble. But these kids were trapped in a vicious cycle of never seeing their parents, being spoiled and not disciplined when they saw them, behaving terribly as non-disciplined children will do, and thus being undesirable for their parents to spend time with. I feel very sorry for families like this, they don't seem to understand how good their relationship could be if they worked at it.

The upside of this stressful, over-worked, month is that I made some really good money. And they are now back at their primary residence and I no longer have to work for them. In September I start my next job with a much more grounded family, and I am really looking forward to that.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Berlin: a city torn by war

All the guidebooks talk about Berlin as one of the most dynamic cities in the world. It should be considering its history. For almost 30 years it was carved up by a wall and 4 armies. How do you mend a city with an entire generation who has never known it wholly?

We didn't get to do much sight-seeing of this historic city, but we did get to experience a hidden bit of Berlin's post-wall culture. We hooked up with Arian and Corrynn, 2 old friends from Seattle who were here for a Hawaiian music festival (go figure?) Corrynn, ever adventurous, was couch surfing, staying at some guys' apartment she found on the internet. I'm sure its more legit than it sounds. ANYWAY, we were so glad she was couch surfing because the guys she was staying with took us to Wasserschlact.

What is this bizarre event? Two districts, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, were divided by the Berlin Wall and also by the River Spree. In the mid-90s the Berlin city govt decided to join these two very distinct districts and there was some general mumbling and grumbling. But the politicians from each neighborhood disregarded their constituents' wishes and met on the bridge between the two districts.

Since 1995 a group of Friedrichshain-ians and Kreuzbergers have gotten together to "Wasserschlacht" or water battle. But its not just water. As you can see from the video or the photo link below, rotten or cooked fruit and veg, bags of flour and mud, are all part of the mix. People make elaborate "armor" and even tanks out of cardboard in preparation for the battle.

While Wasserschlact has been banned for a few years due to some out-of-control behavior (a car got burned out) this year's fight was "clean." Police closely monitor the event and sort through participants' produce for hard vegetables, which are discarded. An ambulance was on hand, just in case.

The battle lasted a little more than an hour, Kreuzberg (our side) advancing steadily for the first 40 minutes, only to be beaten back across the bridge at the last minute. It began mostly with throwing food, but as supplies ran low, participants advanced with their pool noodles to whack each other. We mostly managed to evade the fray, although Corrynn did get an egg under her armor and I took an orange to the foot.

It gives me hope for the world that instead of rioting and actual violence, a city can come together to have a silly food fight once a year. Maybe the war-weary citizens of Berlin have got it all figured out.

P.S. here is a link for photos: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2041481&l=7d698&id=42900797

Friday, July 25, 2008

Many Merry Merkels



So Ryan and I have a fascination with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. We don't speak German or follow German politics too closely, so it has nothing to do with anything substantive. We just enjoy her turtle-like mannerisms. My theory is that a. she has a turtle shell and cleverly conceals it in her fitted suit jackets oder b. the suit jackets and their obtrusive shoulder pads are some kind of plot to keep Merkel's arms from reaching above mid-chest. Either way, the effect can be quite comical.

Exhibit A: Merkel's turtle instincts try to fend off the unwanted and decidedly creepy massage Bush forced on her.

Exhibit B: Who can resist a crush on Obama? No one, not even Merkel.

Exhibit C: suck it all you journalists who commented on Hillary Clinton's cleavage. Merkel does as Merkel likes!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Always Learning Something New



I had an epiphany while ironing the family's sweat pants and jeans (insert anal German joke here). Forgive me if this is obvious to you, but I was ironing the 10-year old girl's jeans, and I saw that they are Abercrombie & Fitch size 0. Having never been a size 0 myself, I haven't ever held up a pair of pants this small before. I know that most models are a size 0 or 2. But I was shocked to see these pants in person! This little girl is built like your average 10-year old, slim, has yet to develop. Its so strange to think that this is the "ideal" fashion size. I couldn't believe it! This is not an adult size! I realize some adult women are naturally this size, but clearly not the majority. I wonder if a lot of people who wear a size 0 are actually prepubescent.

As for the rest of the job, its getting better. The older daughter is very helpful and also bilingual, if a little short-tempered with her sister. And the younger daughter is getting better. She needs to get over this tantrum thing, but she has sweetened up to me a bit. And she attempted her first (mostly) English sentence today in the car: "Katy, can you anschnallen me?" Mom and sister were in the car and had a good laugh with me. They let me know that "anschnallen" means "buckle up." So there you go.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In a rich man's world....


Sorry for the ABBA quote. We saw it Friday night (I loved it, Ryan laughed a few times). Money has been on my mind recently, as I've struggled through mounds of confusion and German paperwork to get a new account here. Plus, our landlord was a month late getting our deposit back on our place in Newcastle leading us to within inches of overdrawing our account. Thank God, it has all come through.

Before we were married, when we were living off Ryan's engineer salary and our parents' generosity (ok we're still living a bit off our parents' generosity) money seemed so different to me. Ryan bought me $200 jeans for our anniversary, we went out to a fancy restaurant at least once a month. He had a car. Now, it's a splurge to buy a packet of new socks.

When I was in college I looked around in disgust at all the people who seemed to waste money willy-nilly on fancy cars and etc. I knew that money wasn't important to me and that I would be just fine living as a starving artist. But the ideals and the reality are quite different.

I'm happy. Money can't bring you that. Though it can bring you convenience. And fun. I still have fun, but its different fun. Probably being broke has encouraged us to be more creative. And more than that, my eyes have been opened to how wasteful I was.

It's funny, my boss is a strict Buddhist, who told me one of the 3 great evils is greed. Then in the same breath she tells me that she's building a 3rd vacation home in Switzerland. Well, there are hypocrites in every belief, espeically when it comes to money. Nobody wants to take Jesus' command to give all you own to the poor literally.

I do worry that when Ryan graduates and we have money again, I will become tied down to my possessions. I've seen a lot of married couples who stay in miserable jobs because their spouse wants a new car or a fancy house. And that's not worth it to me.

Like Ben Folds says "...being poor was not such a drag in hindsight." While I am jealous of people we know who are married with a dog, a house, and a car, I know that what we're doing is an incredible opportunity. And the further we delay all that car/house/major purchase stuff, the further we delay all the monthly payments that seem to enslave so many.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Another day at the office....



Note to self: This is what happens when you let a four-year old "help" with the sunscreen on your back. I started my new job on Monday, and so far it has been exhausting. The family is on vacation from Frankfurt to Lake Starnberg, about an hour south of Munich. They have two daughters, but at the moment I'm only caring for the youngest, who is four. And challenging.

The tantrums are getting shorter, at least. This morning there was an 80-minuter about getting dressed, but the last of the day (about drinking some water) was only 15 minutes or so. So, at this rate, we should end tomorrow in 30 second tantrums, right?

She is going through a time of transition, and that can be difficult. Her mother is having a baby, she is on vacation with a new nanny, and she seems to have some issues regarding her gender. I guess its not so odd, one of my previous charges was a puppy for a day, why not the opposite sex?

The major problems arise mostly when her mother is around. Mom is very nice, a PHD in something sciency and is intent on explaining everything to her daughter regarding why she can't come along for prenatal checks and whatnot. I'm all for explaining, however when the child launches into full-on tantrum, I think its time for a new tactic. Also, Mom wants me to only speak English with the girls, insisting they both know it. The older one is certainly fluent, but the younger one isn't. As far as I can tell the only English she knows is "no" and "nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah!" (Is that even English?) So, on that score I can understand when the she gets frustrated because I can't understand 70% of the things she says. But, circumstances have brought us together and hopefully we can learn to get along.

At the very least they are paying me well, and when I came home late tonight Ryan had bought flowers and cooked me spaghetti. Its the little things that make me realize why I work all these crazy jobs in the first place.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Some Perspective



The whole immigration debate is so silly. It seems to be run by a bunch of people standing on their folding chairs yelling "They're taking our jobs! And learn some damn English!" I can understand that people want to maintain national identity. People want to drive down the street in anytown USA and see someone barbecuing and see someone else walking a golden retriever on a leash. It's nice.

BUT the world was never really this way. There have always been immigrants, and there always will be immigrants. America, of all countries, should be very aware of this. Every major city has a "China town" or some other ethnic equivelant, and some people find this very upsetting, clearly overlooking the great restaurants.

After living abroad for almost a year, I now understand what it is to be an immigrant. Ryan and I have a few German friends, but mostly we hang out with Americans. We go to an English-speaking church. We buy stuff like peanut butter with little American flags on it. We're trying to learn German, but it doesn't happen overnight. It's hard living in another country! We take comfort in little Americanisms here and there. Ryan and I chose to move to Germany for his career, but many immigrants don't have the luxury of choice; its either move or starve. Move or be killed by gangs.

Another component of immigration is race. When we lived in the UK we were not regarded as immigrants because we are American and white. The English didn't care if we lived among them. But someone from India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh is seen quite differently. People had no problem discussing the scourge of immigration with me, but when I pointed out to them that I am an immigrant, they'd basically say "you don't count."

This issue, like the war on terror, seems to have reached far past logical issues and into emotional fear-mongering. If people examined the effect of immigration, they'd see many net gains. And, most immigrants, after a generation or so, DO become assimiliated. And then they start hating immigrants.

Monday, July 7, 2008

MY ACTING CAREER


When I was 18 I was determined to be a famous actress. I wasn't asking for Hollywood fame, Broadway fame would be ok too. The only trouble was that no one wanted to cast me in anything significant. They obviously couldn't understand my genius.

My sophomore year I realized that I probably wasn't being cast for a reason. So I practiced, tried every "method" under the sun, only to realize that basically all of the acting methods are bullshit, and what directors wanted(at least the ones I worked with) was the old children's theatre grandstanding. I did a few shows outside of university, but by and large felt disenchanted.

But although my heart wasn't in it, I still wanted to act, mainly because I felt I had something to prove. To whom? I don't know, all those people who didn't cast me, or the people who think they're more talented than me. I had actors' nightmares for a few months after graduating school, but gradually they faded as I focused my efforts elsewhere.

I've given a lot of thought to various careers: social work, non-profit organization, psychologist, teaching. Every week there is a new plan for grad school. Really I think I could go for a career as an eternal student because there are so many things that interest me.

Last night I went to my first audition in ages. Its for a video series teaching business English to Germans. I didn't particularly enjoy the audtion part, but it was fairly hilarious trying to explain my acting resume-- really, I bet there are a lot of actors who get their first film experience doing zombie movies.

On the way home I was thinking about acting, the creative drive, and etc and came back to the realization I've had many times before: I really miss improv. Not even the performing, rehearsals alone have led to some of the funniest moments of my life. So, I think once we finally get settled somewhere I'll have to find/make an improv troupe. An English-speaking one. I doubt this is the be-all end-all magical career, but its an outlet I need in my life.
P.S. the photo is a can-can dancing napkin from "Beauty and the Beast"

4th of July, in Germany

Ryan and I hadn't planned on doing anything for the 4th of July, thinking it was probably a bit weird since we are in Deutschland. But our friend Sarah, whom we met at church, invited us to hook up with Young Democrats Abroad for a picnic at a beergarden, and we couldn't pass that up. I spent a few hours making pulled pork BBQ sandwiches, and we met up for a lively evening. We met several new people, and as is first order of business when you meet another American abroad, commensed in Bush-bashing which led to "oh yeah, in my hometown...(insert redneck story)" which finally led to (mostly) meaningful conversation.

It was a very fun evening, including American-food reminiscing (someone brought hotdogs in a jar, just not the same!) and comparing notes about living abroad, homesickness, and our lack of German fluency. We didn't have any fireworks, but did managed to get chewed out twice by the Beer Frau for pushing tables together and taking extra forks. Dangerous! It is very nice to meet other Americans and share experiences. Apparently, its universally true that German men love to stare at girls on the U-Bahn. They won't approach you like American men, they just stare and sometimes wink before exiting...I'm glad that's happened to other people because it was beginning to freak me out.

Saturday we were excited to check out "Rewe Sommerfest" a carnival organized by our local grocery store. We showed up to Theriesenweise (Oktoberfest grounds)expecting rides and free samples. But what we found was bizarre. Basically it was glorified grocery shopping. There were booths where people bought 50-pound bags of chips, or buckets full of pineapples. Many people had Rewe wagons filled with palletes of soda and munchies. We were quite unprepared. There were also a few small children's rides, and a completely disturbing boy band performance featuring all-pelvic-thrusting choreography. I suddenly remembered that the freezer needed defrosting, so we left.

After church Sunday Sarah and Emily invited us to another 4th event at a different beer garden, which was supposed to be meetings of Democrats Abroad, German-American Business Association, Californians Abroad, and a few other organizations. It was gloomy weather but we went along. There weren't many Young Democrats Abroad, mostly the older kind. Sarah explained to me that when she and another girl moved to Germany they both wound up at a regular DA meeting and decided the organization was too weird and so formed the "Young Democrats Abroad." From their description, most of the DA are middle-aged conspiracy theorists, with a couple lechers thrown in. We had a nice picnic anyway, though as we left we got soaked by rain.

Although we are already too-obsessed with the elections (thank you CNN) we are thinking of joining the Young Democrats Abroad. I'm getting bored of Obama-McCain talk, but its nice to socialize. While I would like to socialize more with Germans, at this point the language barrier is proving too awkward for us to cross.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Guess who's coming to dinner?


Tonight Ryan and I were invited to his boss' dinner party. I emailed my parents to check on gift-bringing etiquette and settled on summery looking flowers. I put on my yellow sundress (dinner was BBQ) and met Ryan at the Passing S-Bahn station. Then the heavens opened, spouting sheets of rain and hail. Ryan mentioned that he hadn't looked up a bus route, just walking. I dug inside my bag to discover sunglasses but no umbrella. Super. We both huddled under Ryan's umbrella, each 3/4 exposed to the elements. My dress stuck to my back and right side. Ryan's shirt went transparent when wet, displaying his dark body hair.

While the whole scene brought on images from Rocky Horror Picture Show's "There's a Light (Over at the Frankenstein Place)" I'm afraid our first impression wasn't impressive. Dieter and his wife, Silke, graciously offered us towels and a blowdryer, but we were still damp and awkward. A few more guests arrived and we began chatting over beers, in English (triumph!). Things were going pretty well until about 20 minutes in when the conversation switched to German-- and stayed there-- for the next 2.5 hours! I was able to catch sentences here and there, such as:
"The hibiscus used to be this small, and 20 years later it is over a metre."
"Yes, he was only 24 and when they came home, he was dead!"

The food was delicious, and the party gave me a chance to meet Ryan's project manager, who looks like someone I'd avoid at a truck stop (70s cowboy-type, balding on top, long hair on the sides, skinny mustache, weirdly long pinky nails). The evening was good practice, I suppose, but it did give me the feeling that I'd rather not live in Germany after December. I really enjoy dinner parties, telling funny stories, making witty comments. But in German I can barely ask where the bathroom is. How long would it be until I am fluent? And beyond that, how long until I can be witty in a foreign language? Are the senses of humor even similar enough? My final stab at conversing came during dessert-- pineapple. During a silence I stated "I read once that there is so much acid in a pineapple that if you were to eat an entire pineapple by yourself, you would have third-degree burns in your mouth." I would call this a good conversation starter, but it inspired only grim nods.

So, Germany remains an enigma for another day. In related cultural observations: why do so many German girls wear halter tops with regular bras? Has this look caught on in the US as well?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Hunt is On

Well, still looking for a job. I attended a 2nd trial day with the crazy family and attempted to appear enthused about washing the child on the bidet and cooking her an entire chicken leg while I wasn't allowed to have a snack. (Most employers in the nanny world will offer the one-time "There's the fridge, help yourself"). Apparently I was meant to eat my packed lunch quietly as the child napped, while ironing the family's clothes.

To add insult to injury, I wasn't even hired! I can't say that I particularly wanted to work for them, but the money would have been nice. Did she catch an unintentional eye roll when she brought up the Evian? Who can say. So I am still looking. I interviewed with a very nice family last Wednesday that are more relaxed about things. I would like to work for them, but they are concerned that we don't know where we will be come December.

Ryan and I are very torn about all this. We do miss our families, and certain aspects of American life; but we also really like Europe. Munich is a really cool town, and I imagine if we learned some German it would be even better. Also, I would like to live in France. There are so many places I want to see and so many potential paths our life could take. And I enjoy dwelling on those possibilities more than deciding things.

But, naturally, employers don't share this excitement. And looking at my scattered resume (4 jobs in the last year) I realize there will come a threshold when potential employers will look at my resume, realize I'm a nomad and no one will hire me. So, after Ryan graduates this December, we will have to "settle down" somewhere for at least a few years. But where?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Paris, etc


On Saturday Max’s class had arranged a group trip to Monet’s gardens at Giverny. My mother plastered the house with Monet prints when I was younger, so I looked forward to this, although we had another early morning. (5am for Friday’s train and 7am for Saturday’s…what is my mini-break coming to?)

Monet’s garden is beautiful beyond imagination. The selection and arrangement of plants are perfectly suited. Everything was in bloom, and the famous water lily pond provided us some wonderful photos.

But what surprised me was Monet’s house. I’m not much of an art buff, but I figured that his own art collection would be something similar to impressionism. But every room in his house is filled with traditional Japanese paintings, women in kimonos, samurais, mountains, blossoms. I can see the connection with reverence for nature, but all in all not what I expected.

I would recommend this site, but only for 1.5-2 hours. It’s not particularly big enough to occupy a day trip, although it is a distance from Paris itself. There is an itty bitty village around the house, mostly overpriced cafes and a few galleries. We had some nice takeaway sandwiches and got thoroughly sunburned.

Saturday night was Paris’ annual “Fete de la Musique”, one of 3 nights that you can legally make as much noise as you want without fear of police action. (The other two are New Years and Bastille Day.) It was a really cool event. Nearly every café and every metro station had bands playing, ranging from Big Band to angry screaming (is that a genre? Or is it part of a larger, even less desirable genre?) We ate ice cream and wandered from band to band until our feet hurt.

Before we left Sunday evening we were determined to see a few more things. Rick Steves recommended The Marais District, and since it is the Jewish district, it is one of the few areas completely open on Sunday. Starting at the Place de la Bastille, we walked to the Carnavalet Museum, which was fascinating if a little chaotically arranged. Still, has helped considerably in making sense of all of France’s revolutions and republics (we’re on what, the 5th now?) We ate falafels on Rue de Rosiers, very delicious.

At the end of the Jewish Quarter we stopped at the Holocaust memorial, a massive and moving site. There are memorial walls, a crypt for those who have no graves, and a resource centre about the history and effects of the Holocaust. They had actual Nazi propaganda on display—leaflets with pictures of Aryan kids and Jewish kids, cartoons, stuff you know about but don’t know how to feel when confronted with. As I took it all in, feeling the revulsion and amazement, I wonder about the capabilities of ordinary men and women to help and hinder such evil. We always say “never again” but how many times since those dark days have we failed to keep our promise?

We walked quietly along the Seine. We crossed the bridges, by Notre Dame, and over to left bank. A stop at Shakespeare and Co. was necessary due to a lack of English books in Munich that are not written by Candace Bushnell.

There was a small emergency on the way back to Max’s dorm, due to the fact that unlike Munich, Parisian restaurants will not let you use their bathrooms. I was relieved to find a pay toilet at the metro, fumbled hastily with my change and stepped inside the disgusting little room. In attempting to lock the door handle, I reopened the door and the automated bathroom decided my turn was over. I yelled at Max and Ryan to get more change, but we had none. Ryan offered to shove the door closed and I peed in the dark. Probably the grossest bathroom experience I’ve ever had. Be warned tourists!

Despite the inadequate bathroom facilities, Paris is always lovely. And even nicer to see Max and enjoy his antics for a few days. But it was surprisingly wonderful to be back in Munich. It is just the right size of city and the people are delightful. And cooler, thankfully.

Paris, Second Visit


What a difference 6 months make! Last time I froze and this time I baked. But if one must bake, better to bake in Paris, right?

For Ryan’s birthday his parents sent us money to visit his brother, Max, in Paris. Max is on a one-month course with our former university to absorb the culture and language. Max admits varying degrees of success in these pursuits.

The students are staying on the left bank, between the Seine and the Luxembourg Gardens. Our first sight-see was the nearby Paris Crypt, which was sadly closed last time we were there. It was fascinating in the same way the Tower of London delights with its grizzly history. Bones were artfully arranged and some of the more poetic tombstones remained with the departed. Ancient carvings warned us that we were entering the Kingdom of the Dead, and it was decorated with the same black-and-white stripe pattern that adorned the Death Societies in Italy. Toward the end of our underground stroll, I was shocked to see a man actually pick up one of the leg bones! I nudged Ryan and Max, who didn’t believe me, until we got to the end where our bags were searched and we saw a pile of confiscated bones. How rude!

Max took us to Montmarte next, which was fairly disappointing. Being an avid Moulin Rouge fan, I hoped the neighborhood retained some of the starving artist appeal, but nothing we saw fit that description. It was fairly homogenous with the rest of the city, minus the trashy Pigalle, which has more in common with Las Vegas (or Munich’s own “Sex World”) than my Moulin Rouge mental picture. But we walked up the hill to the stunning Sacre Coeur, and enjoyed a nice view of Paris. (We skipped the funiculaire, although recommended by a local lady. It cost a metro ticket to ascend the equivalent of 50’ elevation gain, AND was super crowded.)

We returned to Maxie’s neighborhood for a leisurely stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens, the immaculate (and heavily guarded) backyard of France’s Parliament building. There are plenty of lounging chairs around the beautiful fountains, which is nice since the vast majority of Paris’ parks FORBID touching the grass. The second night we saw a little girl repeatedly make a break for the grass as her parents helplessly watched from the railing. She ran across the forbidden grass, laughing at all the adults.

In the evening we had a leisurely French dinner, complete with cheese course. Then we kept Max out way past his bedtime, barhopping and watching the Turkey-Croatia quarterfinal Euro game. It was kind of dull at first. They were 0-0 until the very end; Croatia scored in the last minute or so of overtime, everyone paid their bar tabs and were leaving when Turkey scored, tying it up again! The game ended in a shoot-out, the Turkish back-up goalie (the regular having been red-carded) deftly stopping the Croatian attempts. If Germany loses to Turkey in the semi-finals, I won’t be so sad. Turkey is just so sneaky!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thoughts on the German Ways

We have been in Deutschland almost 3 weeks, and are getting used to a number of things, including eating lots of sausage and ground beef. We are accustomed to hearing German all day, and to crazy German football announcers every night. We are even getting used to the honking cars after the game each night.

But what I think is most interesting are the unspoken manner of which people of different countries conduct themselves. In the UK, at least where we lived, it was all pretty in-your-face. You might walk down the street and have a very personal conversation with an old lady, then be hollered at by some teens outside a convenience store. Not to mention the predilection for drunken tom-foolery.

But Germany is entirely different. The people are quieter, though I have gotten occasional remarks in the elevator or in the grocery que. People prize their dignity. In church on Sunday the pastor was talking about our humanity and human rights and he talked about the right of each person to have dignity. Its interesting how cultures define rights so differently. In the US its "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Which doesn't necessarily lend itself to dignity, especially when they're pursuing that happiness on reality TV. Basically, get a bunch of Americans together and sooner or later we'll all start acting like idiots. And no offense to my English friends, but when drinking they seem to chuck away dignity with both hands.

Our French friend Ludo who stayed with us last week introduced us to his Bavarian friend, Flo. We had some good laughs with Flo, but it was mostly us being silly. He was very friendly, but I do get the feeling that we are still at arms-length. The Germans we have encountered in bars don't even act that goofy, minus the ever-present drinking songs. Maybe it is their way to be more introverted. I'll be investigating...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Yes, your car is loud.

So much to write and so little time. We're still enjoying Munich, although every night that the Euro Cup continues I hate certain teams more and more. The worst have to be the Croatian fans. After a win last Thursday night they completely took over a main street near our apartment, and I mean completely blocked it. Crazy flag-waving people kept the cars from moving, and the cars that detoured down our lovely street seemed to be honking the Croatian constitution in morse code. It goes on for hours every night! Somehow Ryan sleeps through it, I'm reading more.

I went for a "trial day" with a family yesterday, to see if I would be a good fit as a nanny for their child. I've met a lot of crazy parents in my time, but yesterday was off the charts. Here are some instructions I never thought I'd hear a parent give:

-wash your hands and take off your shoes when you enter. Before you touch her, please wash your hands. Also wash her hands every half hour or so, and then wash yours.
-her hair must be dry when she gets out of the bathtub. If it is not, please blow dry it.
-No, no, our daughter doesn't drink tap water! Here is the Evian.
-After she uses the toilet, lift her onto the bidet.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Expat Blues

We enter the tricky phase. Adjusting from tourist to resident. The excitement of the city and the new environment wears off and the realities of living here set in. We don’t have any sort of routine, no favorite grocery store, no neighborhood hangouts, and no friends to hang out with. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that we are in a new culture with a new language. (Though it can come in handy speaking little German, as I’ve found when stopped by salesmen and surveyors.)

Ryan is at his new job full time and seems to be enjoying it, although he sounds a bit lonely sitting at lunch with everyone else speaking German. With him gone all day and me not at work yet (no news on that front…) I find myself a bit timid to go out. Like our flat is my own bit of America and I’m reentering foreign soil every time I step out the door. I invent things to do during the day, and I have to trek to a café to check the ever-important email. Other than that, I read a lot, and watch a bit of German Disney Channel. It actually has helped my German a bit, although I’m frequently at a loss in conversation. Germans speak very quickly and it takes me some time to figure out exactly how to say what I want. In this time the German person is staring at me like “what’s the problem?” or already trying their question/comment in another language.

It will be easier when I get a job, I keep telling myself. It was the same way when we first arrived in Newcastle. Also when we get the internet at the house, that eats up a considerable amount of time. Hopefully we’ll get all sorted soon. Until then I look forward to the weekends when Ryan is home to entertain me. I just realized this is the first time that he’s worked full-time since we’ve been married. Anyway, Friday is his birthday and the weekend after that we go to Paris to visit his brother.

P.S. did the laundry in the bathtub yesterday—not as difficult as one would think. It costs like 4.50 a load here, which we do a couple a week, so this might be the new method of choice.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Updates Galore

So we still don’t have internet in our apartment, so these will have to be uploaded in batches as I take the laptop down to the internet café.

Anyway, we’ve had a lovely Sunday. This weekend marked the beginning of Euro 2008, and as I type Poland and Germany are playing. Our street, normally quiet, erupts every few minutes in cheers and gasps, all of us sitting in our tall apartment buildings watching the game with the windows open. It’s pretty much over at this point, Deutschland up 2-0. Hordes of German guys are singing some fussball fight song and hugging in the streets.

I should mention our neighborhood. Ryan’s internship hunt hinged on the fact that he wanted to go into industry and not research. He finds industry not only more interesting, but more lucrative. However, after turning down a research position based on its low salary he accepted an offer in Munich only to find out they intended to pay him even less. We were pretty bummed until they offered to throw in an apartment in the trendy Schwabing district. This is certainly the fanciest place we’ve lived in since we’ve been married. We don’t have roommates, we don’t have holes in the wall, we don’t have broken appliances, and our bathroom is even warm!

The only trouble with living in a swanky neighborhood is that all the shops are similarly swanky. There’s an amazing organic grocery store across the road, but we can’t afford to shop there. There are boutiques and salons all over the place, but we’ll have to trek a-ways to get to a 2nd hand shop or a cheap barbers. Not that I’m complaining. We have an elevator. And a dining table. And our stovetop is very responsive.

The job interview I had this evening went pretty well. They aren’t paying per hour though, which can be dodgy when nannying as the adults have less incentive to return home on time. We can get by on what they’re offering, especially with our free apartment, but after September we’ll be moving again, as the company’s lease is up. At least it will only be a taxi ride away. Well, our Munich vacation is over, back to budgeting.

New City, New Job (interviews, at least)

This is my least favorite part of moving, finding a new job. In the past year I’ve had 4 jobs, which has been interesting, but I hate interviewing and employers aren’t taken with my recent habit of moving every 3-5 months.

Monday I interviewed with J. from a local tour guide company. He’s a charming Irishman and we got on well, discussing travel and tours. I love taking tours on vacation, even the free ones given by boring old people. Anyway, given my love of history and my BA in theatre, this job seemed a perfect fit. The only trouble: it isn’t exactly paid. Several tour companies offer “free” tours of Munich that last 2-3 hours and the guides are paid only in tips. Plus the guides must hand over a portion of the tips to the tour guide company. J. assured me that I’d be making €70/tour in a matter of weeks, but I wasn’t convinced. He recommended taking a tour the following day and then letting him know.

Without further encouragement, Ryan and I joined a tour in Marianplatz. Our guide was a funny Australian girl and it was a very interesting tour. Munich has several interesting periods of history, from the plague to Napoleon to Hitler’s Putsch. It’s amazing to see the spot where Hitler tried to take over the government (the first time). I chatted with the guide a bit, we compared travels and “adjustments” to living on the cheap. “My shoes have holes in them!” “ Well, I’ve lost so much weight that none of my trousers fit.” Maybe it was a ploy for more tips, but it didn’t leave me convinced that Ryan and I could get by on tour guide money.

My next interview was Friday morning, with a local English-speaking nanny agency. Previously I’d been quite impressed with their quick responses to emails and sending out new vacancies rapidly. But today was nicht gut. She kept asking for things I’ve already sent her, i.e. references and photo (why does a nanny agency need photos of you anyway?) And I just felt awkward. She took out my big barrels right away by being completely unimpressed with my camp counselor experience. She kept asking me what my 5-year plan was; do people even make those anymore? I thought we as a society decided to reject 5-year plans and follow our dreams and whatnot. Especially people in their early 20s. I didn’t think anyone was supposed to harass people in their early 20s about what they were going to do with their lives, at least not if they went to college, which I did. Sure I got a completely useless theatre degree, but I went to college and graduated, and now no one can bother me about it anymore, right?

So, I don’t think that interview was so hot, but I do have a much more promising one on Sunday night with a local family who wants a nanny. Wish me glück!