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!

Munching on München

My heart was racing as we waited to disembark onto German soil. It felt like I was holding a jello dish on a unfamiliar neighbor’s doorstep as the bell rang. An unknown anxiety urged me back to the west, at least back to the UK. But here we were, in another foreign country, and not for a week’s worth of funny cultural mishaps, but for who knows how long. Would anybody understand us?

But I made it off the plane and even through customs. I felt a bit better when the German-Egyptian taxi driver spoke decent English. (Most American taxi drivers don’t even speak it!) It’s been a relief to find that every time we’ve asked “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” the answer has universally been “of course!”

We stayed at a lovely B&B called Pensione Westfalia near Theriesenwiese, the Oktoberfest grounds. It was such a warm and sunny night that we went for a long walk. First impressions: there are bikes everywhere! 25% of Munich’s population relies primarily on bikes for transport. The bike paths are wide and NOT shared with parked cars or next to parked cars with dangerous opening doors.

We meandered to Marianplatz, in the old part of the city. It was full of musicians, fountains, and ice cream. This is considered the central tourist area, but on a gorgeous Sunday evening there seemed to be a fair share of locals enjoying their litres in the cafés.

Monday was spent similarly wandering and doing a bit of job recon. Ryan had a meeting in Sulzemoos and I spent a good part of the hot afternoon in the Viktualienmarkt, buying a picnic supper. Ryan joined me in the market’s lovely beer garden for picnic and beer. I had my first taste of Radler (half beer, half lemonade, very good! Incidentally, “Radler” also means cyclist in Bavarian.) We people watched and enjoyed the summer breeze. Ryan kept quoting Vonnegut, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” I had to agree.