Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Night in Berlin

Ryan is gone again on business and I've been spending more time with my classmates, which has been nice. Yesterday Carmen and I spent a few hours in a cafe and then drove a saleslady crazy trying on all the shoes in a local boutique. Today she and April wanted to go out for a beer and told me they'd call "around 4:00" which in Spanish time means somewhere between 6:30 and 8:00.

At 7:30 I didn't feel like waiting around the house anymore so I decided to see a movie. The main English-version movie theater in Berlin is in glamorous Potsdamer Platz. I practiced my supermodel walk through the glittery plaza.

I saw "Slumdog Millionaire." I was probably the last English-speaking person on the planet to see this movie, but if you haven't seen it, I'd recommend it. Its very intense, and as my German teacher would say "brutal", but it's beautifully done. The conditions of the slums in this film were absolutely heart-wrenching. I left the theater awash with guilt that my own comfortable existence could coincide unknowingly with such poverty and despair.

As I climbed aboard the U-Bahn, I passed a gangly young man dead asleep on a bench with a beer bottle in one hand and a huge book in the other. The American in me was shocked and passed by quickly. I climbed on the waiting train and watched him. Everyone else walked past, shaking their heads, some glaring at the boy. Then one man tapped him on the knee and pointed toward the idling train. The boy gathered himself and bumbled on board. He sat down between a trio of 18-year old girls making nervous faces and disgusted older man. Of course, upon sitting he immediately fell asleep, and started leaning dangerously close to one of the girls, who was eating a fruit cup. Others got up and moved away from him.

My time in England witnessed a lot of drunks. Its not unusual to see someone passed out in their own vomit in the middle of the sidewalk. But the English aren't phased, and quite used to picking each other up and putting them on the right bus.

I knew this guy was going to sleep through his station. And to be honest, I've been that drunk once or twice (never alone mind you, but anyway). So I sat down across from him and mustered my best German. I tapped him on the knee and said "You must wake up. What is your station?" I repeated myself once more and he muttered "Kottbusser Tor. You tell me when it's Kottbusser Tor. Danke." Then fell asleep again. He dropped his massive book. It was Star Trek. He started leaning again toward the young girl, and we all started laughing. Everyone in the car was now watching him, slumping to the side with a large string of drool out of his mouth. Two less drunk guys got on the train and were making fun of him, trying to impress the girls. At this point I thought "why see a movie, I can get all the entertainment of Berlin just riding the U-1."

At Kottbusser Tor I shook him awake and told him to go "schnell! Straight home, no more drinking!" He caught the eyes of the guys making fun of him, and for a minute I thought they would fight. But he lumbered off the train. The doors closed and we all laughed again. Then he banged on the window. I thought he was mad at the other boys, but instead he flashed a big smile and waved to me. The man sitting next to me said something to the effect of "Some boyfriend you have." And I couldn't answer, I was giggling too much.

So, today's German will be "blau sein." Literally, "to be blue" but it actually means drunk. For example "Ich bin nicht blau. Du, du bist blau!"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tower of Babble

Because I love paperwork so much I put off changing my last name immediately after marriage so I could fill out endless forms in not one but two different countries. If you thought filing for taxes in two countries was fun, imagine contacting every relevant government agency on both sides of the Atlantic. Anyway, to complete step 1 of 50 I picked up my new passport at the embassy this morning and made it to German class about 20 minutes late.

When I walked in to my classroom I didn't immediately recognize anyone- the class had doubled. At the beginning of the week we often get new students, though this was a lot. But I took my seat and listened to the rest of the introductions/discussions of what we did over Easter break. We gained an Italian, a Portugese-ee (?), two more Spainiards, and an American. The American was a well-dressed older man who introduced himself as Geoffrey, pronounced rather pretentiously (Juh-AHH-free). But everyone seemed nice.

We did a worksheet about Easter traditions and then had a discussion about different traditions in different countries. In Spain apparently they don't do eggs but have town-wide processions "morning noon and night" Carmen said as she rolled her eyes. Then the discussion turned to the US. I suggested that one normally eats ham, there was some debate about whether should include pineapple, and April mentioned hiding eggs. Then Geoffrey said that his family makes a ground beef crucifix, complete with dying Jesus, on Good Friday. He laughed and explained that he and his children were very anti-religion. Corinna said "ah how blasphemous" and instead of agreeing and shutting up he just kept going on and on about how it was his way of celebrating and enjoying his atheism and whatnot. I became pretty annoyed. I generally tolerate people making fun of Christianity, and I understand that the religion is in many ways illogical. But this guy was arguing so obnoxiously, as if we should all bow down to his superior intelligence. I'm of the opinion that if someone really is something, they shouldn't have to proclaim it. Like those t-shirts that say "sexy" on them. If you really were sexy, would you have to wear a shirt that said it? Wouldn't it just be obvious?

Anyway, on break I caught up with April and Carmen and was happy to hear that the other group had joined us temporarily because their teacher is sick. April noticed that Geoffrey had flocked to two of our former classmates who had both moved up a level: Else The Important French Artist, and Alex the Know-it-All New Zealander. They were no doubt patting each other on the back for being so special.

After break things only got worse. We read a passage and the teacher asked us if we had questions about the vocabulary. Usually this goes pretty quickly, but someone asked about the phrase "es hängt...ab" which Corinna explained literally means "it hangs on..." like something hanging on the wall, but in English it's translated "it depends on..." Simple enough. But then Geoffrey wanted to talk about different things that hang and then different things that something could depend on; on and on and on where he was finally asking such things as "in German do you 'hang' a door? What is the word for 'hinges' in German?" I think we managed to cover about 1/3 of our normal coursework today because of the inane interruptions which also included him making a joke about how some word was too simple and needed "an auf or something." He was the only one who laughed, so he felt the need to repeat himself several times.

The last few minutes Corinna gave up and we just played a vocabulary-guessing game. This is a speed game where the team describes a word to an unseeing teammate who guesses and then you must throw up your hands quickly and say something like "she said it! she said it!" There are usually several disputes about points and during one I was arguing that my teammate had been first and Geoffrey told me "You're manipulative, aren't you?" I wanted to say, "Ja, und du bist ein Arschloch" but I didn't. So that will be our German of the day. Das Arschloch = the asshole. Use it in a sentence. "Ja, und du bist ein Arschloch." (Yes, and you are an asshole.)

Monday, April 13, 2009


After Ryan initially informed me that we would be moving yet again, I referred to our future home as "$!@#furt." But in my continual attempts to impersonate a mature adult I have been trying to focus on the positive aspects of our future hometown.

Since Easter Friday and Easter Monday are holidays in Germany, we decided to take a few days to check out the Frankfurt area and scout out a potential new neighborhood. We've developed a method for housing selection:

Step one: find out which neighborhoods are neither dirty and sketchy nor snobby and pretentious.

Step two: see which neighborhoods are closest to the public transit for Ryan's commute

Step three: in this neighborhood which apartments are near a grocery store?

Step four: choose from this set an apartment semi-randomly depending on how much time we have before moving day.

Its amazing really that we agree as much as we do on what makes a good neighborhood. Maybe after all our moving about we just have a feel for it? We spent the weekend navigating Frankfurt's ridiculously complicated mass transit system (Berlin by far has the best mass-trans in Germany) and saw 4 suburbs and 2 neighborhoods in Frankfurt.

Two neighborhoods have most successfully passed step one, Bornheim (left photo, in Frankfurt) and Seligenstadt (right photo, tiny village southeast where Ryan's company will relocate). In Frankfurt life would continue on much like life in Berlin, connection the the expat community and big city life. Seligentstadt would be closer for Ryan's commute, but far from English movie theatres, churches, and etc. But when we visited Seligenstadt there was a wonderful market and during a routine pre-lunch wine tasting (one upshot of Frankfurt!) we were approached by some lovely locals to join their table and spent the better part of an hour talking with them. This has never happened to us in the big cities before, and might be worth giving small town life a second look. So for now the debate continues...

Forgive the Potty Humor...

There are little things, that despite having lived in Germany for almost a year and being considered an "intermediate" speaker of the language, still throw me. This photo was posted in our shared bathroom at a small hotel just outside Frankfurt. It is signifies that upright peeing is VERBOTEN. Apparently this has become a point of contention in the battle of the sexes, that men should leave unwanted dribbles that usually women are left to clean up. I can see the logic. But there are many things that trump logic and one of them is machismo. One of Ryan's favorite new jokes is "I find __________ highly emasculating."

I heard of this toilet battle while listening to Michael Palin's "New Europe" in which he visits an East German toilet factory. German toilets are kind of strange to Americans. Not only is the tank stuck behind a wall (thankfully haven't had to do any repairs to ours) but instead of possessing a deep bowl of water German toilets generally have, as many expats have affectionately referred to it, a "poop shelf."

This has come up in conversation and many Germans, like their American counterparts, are quick to defend their way of doing things as the most logical, efficient, and overall "right" way of doing things. For me, its just another bizarre reminder that we're not in Kansas anymore.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Accidental German

Everyday I am thinking more and more in German. I converse more in German and feel pretty comfortable in most circumstances. Today I said "Entschuldigung mein Deutsch ist sehr schlect" (Sorry my German is very bad) for the first time in a month, and it was only to get out of speaking to Jehovah's Witnesses. Unfortunately they also spoke English, so no dice.

I spend a large part of my German class everyday giggling obnoxiously. There are just so many funny things I have never considered. For example, today someone asked what "überaschen" meant. It means surprise. And I asked my teacher "do Germans have surprise parties?" He said yes. I asked "Do you jump out and yell 'überaschen!'" He said yes, and I cracked up. I don't know why this should be funny to me, but it is.

Another example is a strange listening exercise from last week. We were listening to dialogue and had to answer if the speakers used certain polite phrases with each other. The first few were very ordinary, a polite shopkeeper, a rude child, but the third was an elderly lady being helped onto a train by a young man. They both spoke politely, but the funny thing was as she was going up the train steps she made very sexual panting noises. It went on for nearly a minute. We were all laughing and Corrina was beet red.

Something about being embarrassed came up in class and Phil wanted to tell our other teacher this story. But he didn't know any words for "panting" or "moaning" and so he said "sexgeräusche machen" (sex sounds making). Martin thought this was a good made up word, but also taught us the word for "to moan"-- stöhnen. Use it in a sentence! For example "Die Oma hat sehr laut gestöhnt." (The grandma has moaned very loudly.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The End of the Dental Saga

I am very happy to finally have clean teeth again. Yesterday I spent an hour wearing a surgical mask over my eyes while a hygienist sprayed some sort of grainy stuff all over my teeth. It was a thoroughly uncomfortable experience, but the results seem better than any teeth cleaning I've had in the States. Perhaps they is just a more dramatic difference, or perhaps I'm more inclined to like it due to discomfort. (Not that I enjoy discomfort, but I learned from my psychology podcast that if you make something expensive/uncomfortable/etc people usually value the outcome more.)

Anyway, that's just to satisfy your curiosity of my dental issues. I'm cleaning the house right now because my friend Bonnie is coming to visit. More about that to come!