Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Weihnachtsmarkt Review

I know I haven't updated the blog since September...the thing is that this blog started as an Expat Chronicle, but I've lived abroad for such a long time it's starting to feel like old hat.  Ryan and I are just used to the oddities of living abroad; the endless rules, regulations, and bureaucracy, as well as the more charming aspects like the holidays.

I'm enjoying my third Christmas season in Germany, and as a veteran of the traditions (which you can read about here) I feel inclined to offer an American perspective on Christmas Markets.  Our giant Frankfurt Christmas Market opened last week and Ryan and I took the opportunity to visit the Frankfurt Market as well as a smaller one in Bad Homburg, about 20 minutes north of Frankfurt.  In the past I've also visited several Christmas markets in Munich, Berlin, and the famous Nuremberg market, so I'm basically an expert.

Your first experience in a Christmas market is definitely magical.  Here are row after row of tiny cabins purveying all manner of German handicraft, good cheap food, and most importantly hot mulled wine.  The lights, choir concerts, and nativity scenes warm the cold night.  That is the epitome of the Christmas market experience, and if you're lucky enough, you could probably experience it several times.  But there is a downside of Christmas markets: freezing temperatures, insane crowds, horribly schlocky booths, and worst of all-- wet feet.

This year we prepared ourselves.  We donned long underwear, several shirts, and generally as many layers as possible, as well as water-proof hiking boots.  But my main weakness is always the crowds.  I don't know if this is because I come from the land of open spaces, where our nearest neighbors were several acres away, or if it indicates a deeper psychological problem, but I hate crowds.  I hate slow people walking in front of me, I hate people bumping into me; basically crowds drive me into an illogical rage..or if not rage, then definitely a grump.  So Saturday afternoon was pretty much the worst time we could've picked for visiting the Frankfurt market.  We managed to cross a few gifts off our list, but it was a bit of a headache.  Even my Nutella-covered waffle was cold!

Now Ryan is a genuine Christmas market fiend.  When he suggested heading out to another market after our Frankfurt experience, I thought he was crazy.  But we drove up to Bad Homburg early Sunday afternoon and had quite a different experience.  The market is much smaller, and located in a castle.  There are fewer booths, but everything was very high quality, and we found things we hadn't seen in Frankfurt or at any other Christmas market.  We also enjoyed a walk around Bad Homburg, including the castle grounds and the gigantic neo-Byzantine/neo-Romanesque church.  I have to say, I think this is my favorite Christmas market of all.

And I'm glad to know that after all this time, Germany can still surprise.  I don't know how much longer we'll stay here, but as long as we do I'll try to keep looking for new discoveries.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Scotland the Brave

Our favorite part of the vacation was our stay in the Scottish Highlands. There are so many gorgeous places, but due to our interests in whisky and wilderness, we chose to stay in Speyside-- an area along the river Spey. This is the malt whisky capital of Scotland due to its good water. Its also nestled in some beautiful countryside, right next to Cairngorms National Park.
Hiking in the Cairngorms

One of the highlights for me was our first whisky distillery tour and tasting. There are so many distilleries in this area, and many of them offer a free tour, but I really recommend springing for the Aberlour Warehouse No. 1 tour if you're planning on Speyside. Our guide was hilarious and we learned about the different factors that make whisky taste the way it does. When you do a tasting, they typically give you a place mat with several small glasses of different whiskies, but our first glass had a clear liquid in it. Our guide, Dennis, explained that he wanted us to taste the pure spring water that went into the whisky. We all tossed it back, only to discover that it was actually the super-strong "wine" part of the whisky before it is aged in the casks. Dennis was very funny.
Another great part of the trip was the village we stayed in, Dufftown. We were right on the main square of this busy little town. Its very well set-up for tourists, although there were hardly any. All the restaurants around the square were super, including a very interesting Scottish/French fusion place. Dufftown has events many nights of the week, so tourists will find plenty to do. Our favorite was the Stramash, a gathering of local musicians in the British Legion Hall. We had a drink and chat with some locals and enjoyed wonderful music all night. We had to leave early the next day, but found ourselves saying "one more song, then we'll go" several times before it stuck.
the clock tower on Dufftown's main square
We wrapped up our trip with a visit to Edinburgh for The Fringe Festival, and popped down to London to visit my friend, Bonnie. We saw lots of theater and enjoyed catching up. I typically think of my ideal vacation involving beaches and drinks with umbrellas, but despite a certain chilliness and no pool boys, Ireland and Scotland made a wonderful vacation. Writing about it all now makes me want to go back soon. I would definitely recommend it, Speyside especially.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


We wrapped up our stay in Ireland Ireland and crossed the border to Northern Ireland's capital.  Belfast is a pretty Victorian town, with a downtown picturesque enough to make one forget about the city's darker side.  Belfast's night life is considerably quieter than Dublin's, but we enjoyed a nice tour of the city's historic pubs.
The Crown Bar-- beautiful old bar, complete with walled booths for the discreet drinker

 One of the most interesting things in Belfast are the murals, some painted in peacetime, others a reminder that tensions still exist between the two communities: Catholic vs. Protestant, Unionist vs. Republicans. 
"Peace cannot be kept by force, it can only be achieved by understanding."

The masked gunman's eyes seem to follow you no matter where you are.   

Belfast has the feeling of many middle-sized towns in the UK, which is quite cozy.  Despite the "Troubles", the city is very friendly and lovely.  I was surprised that Dublin felt much rougher than it's norther counterpart. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Western Ireland

The west coast of Ireland is rugged and rainy due to the pounding Atlantic Ocean. We only had a few days and wanted to spend time exploring the rugged landscape. Although the Dingle Peninsula was highly recommended to us by both Rick Steves and a few friends, we opted for Doolin in County Clare. Doolin is a tiny village known for good live music and located on the coast near The Burren national park.
Apparently, we weren't the only ones who heard about Doolin's music scene. The four local pubs got mobbed with tourist buses (the bane of my existence) every night. Not only that, but the music wasn't as good as what we'd heard in Dublin. But we made the most of it by chatting with some visiting Germans. It was a very funny situation. Two other couples and we were crowded at a table together, when the Irish couple asked the Germans where they were from. The Irish couple replied, "Wirklich? Wir haben in der Schweiz gewohnt." To which I replied, "Also, alle in Doolin sprechen Deutsch." ("Really? We lived in Switzerland." "Apparently everyone in Doolin speaks German.") The German couple were quite surprised that the Irish people and the Americans sitting with them could all speak German, and we had a very nice conversation, and the German couple were nice enough to give us a lift back to our hostel. (It was pouring by then.)

We drove along the coast and hiked in the Burren. The landscape was unbelievably rocky; I can't imagine trying to farm this land. The Burren was unfortunately very touristy, but we did have one nice hike away from the crowds.
atop a huge hill in the Burren

The main draw of the Burren are the neolithic sites. We managed to see a few-- the frustration was a lack of trails, which made me hesitant to wander too far away from the car, there aren't exactly a ton of landmarks on this kind of terrain. But maybe with better organization, one could see more of the neolithic sites away from the crowds. Here is a very visited tomb entrance that was pretty cool.
All in all, western Ireland is very cool, but if I were to go back, I'd probably pick a different place to stay.

Friday, September 3, 2010


We got back from our vacation a few days ago, and I have so much to write about I don't know where to start.  I guess I'll start with the beginning, a very good place to start.  On the flight over we were magically upgraded to first class.  I'd never flown first class before, and although our flight was only an hour and a half,  I decided to take full advantage of my privileges, by ordering many beverages and eating a fancy salad although it was 4pm and not anywhere near actual meal time.

Dublin is not a beautiful city.  Its roughness was illustrated within our first hour as we witnessed the end of a vicious bar fight.  Despite its roughness, or perhaps because of it, there is a certain charm to it.  While there are prettied up, touristy bits, the city at large seems rather indifferent to tourists.  Maybe it sounds strange, but I like it.  Some places you visit are so keen on selling you the "real" experience that the town starts to feel more like Disneyland than a place where people actually live. 

But disregard all that, and let me hypocritically point out that my highlight of Dublin was The Guinness Experience.  Much like Swarovski Kristallwelt in Innsbruck, Austria, some of these corporate "museums" take themselves so seriously you just have to laugh.  A lot.  Did you know that the five ingredients of Guinness are water, yeast, barley, hops, and Arthur Guinness? (Not literally, I hope.)  But Guinness did include a pint with a view, whereas Swarovski didn't give me any crystal thingies as part of admission.
The main attraction of Dublin is the night life.  Many bars have live music, and it ended up being the best we heard in Ireland.  Try not to get obsessed with this song, I dare you.  Half the places we went were also engraved with quotes from James Joyce's Ulysses, which I've always been to intimidated to tackle, but at this point my curiosity might get the better of me.

Our stay in Dublin was brief, but satisfying.  Stay tuned for the next blog: "Driving around Ireland in the Rain"....or something like that.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I Wanna Go Home....

I suppose its fairly normal in the expat community to have weeks (or in some cases months, years...) where you loathe your adopted homeland and long for the sanity of your own country.  Last week was one of those weeks, officially an "I Hate Germany Week."

The feeling came upon me last week that I never have respite from dealing with the bureaucracy of living, working, and moving around in Germany.  There is always something to be done.  Some error at the bank, an issue with my paycheck, insurance, Ryan's HR department being unreasonable.  But the last straw was an unwelcome visit from the GEZ.

I should explain.  In the United States we have public television, which is so-so, and funded by selling tote bags during semi-annual "pledge weeks."  I have never bought one.  In the UK and Germany public television is funded by a TV tax.  This is not a tax when you buy a TV, but rather a tax on owning a TV that you are supposed to self-report and pay monthly.  I loved the BBC when we lived in the UK but never paid this tax, despite threatening letters describing the Licensing Agency's heat-detection systems that could find any hidden TV without even entering your front door.  (Seriously.)

German public television is pretty bad, and it has commercials, so it beats me as to why I should have to pay for it.  I tossed the warning letters on the grounds that if they wanted people to pay this stupid tax they should make it more enforceable-- their problem, not mine.  Several friends had advised me that agents from the GEZ could come and search your house for TVs, radios, and computers, but only if you let them in, which legally you are not obligated to do.  So that was the game plan.  Until last Thursday.

I was actually home cooking dinner around 6pm, instead of at school, as usual.  The buzzer rang and since it was after working hours, I figured it must be Ryan lugging a crate of beer.  He does that sometimes when he doesn't want to set the crate down to hunt for his keys.  So I buzzed him in.  Then I opened the apartment door and sure enough he came up the stairs a minute later, but with an older lady.  She asked "did you buzz me in?" and I told her yes, not letting her in the door, but talking to her in the hall.  Too late.  She flashed her GEZ badge and could apparently see the TV from some bizarre angle standing in the doorway.  I was so irritated I asked Ryan to deal with her while I finished cooking.  He  confessed to everything; not following the rules makes Ryan anxious.

So now we owe the stupid Licensing Agency something like 170 Euros.  Its enough to make me throw up my hands and say "To hell with this country!"  I'm still quite irritated, although having a great neighborhood festival this weekend somewhat makes up for it.  All I'm saying is, Germany better appreciate me, or I will leave and then won't it be sorry!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Socialized Medicine

One of my Dad's lessons when I was a teenager was "how to deal with health insurance."  I'm sure when I was 16 I found it an occasion for eye-rolling, but today I was very grateful for that lesson.

Upon our move to Berlin last year, Ryan and I became enrolled in the German public health care system.  This is government-mandated health insurance run by private insurance companies.  The insurance companies in the public system cover mostly the same things and have the same fee structures.  There are small differences to each, but it didn't seem like choosing amongst them was particularly important.  Ryan paid 7.5% of his income, which his employer matched, and we paid 10 Euro a quarter to visit a doctor.  Both of us were covered and life was pretty good.

Last March, when I started working full-time, I was disappointed to discover that I, too, was expected to pay into this scheme.  The problem is that my income varies quite widely from month to month.  After much back and forth with the insurance company, it was decided that I would pay 316.00 Euros per month.  On a good month that's about 15% of my income, but on a bad month, that's 33% of it.  I told the insurance company that it was "bullhockey" (to quote Dad) that our premiums would basically double and we would receive no extra benefit.  But that's the German law.  (I guess I'm just supposed to stay home and have babies.)

So I started looking for private health insurance (not subject to the German mandates).  If you have a regular job, you can only qualify for this if you have earned over 4000 Euros a month (w/out dependents) for the last three years or more.  But freelancers and business owners can also qualify for private without this minimum income.

I've had meetings with two health insurance agents so far, and the process is pretty confusing.  Private health insurance is more similar to the American system, with a few exceptions.  The standard beginning for the conversation is the same "How much do you weigh?  Do you have AIDS?" etc, and I was surprised to see that companies can choose to exclude you based on certain factors, (i.e. those times I visited the student counseling center in college, apparently I'm uninsure-able by certain companies) but mostly they just charge you extra for each "pre-existing condition."  The nice thing about the public system is that you don't have to answer private health questions and pay extra for these things.  Also, the benefits in the private scheme vary so widely that they're pretty much impossible to figure out without an agent to help you.  Luckily, on my second try, I found a very helpful agent.  We spent nearly two hours today going over every detail of private health insurance, fee structures, etc.  The most bizarre thing is that some companies don't cover mental health, or teeth cleanings, but all of them cover alternative medicines and acupuncture.  Just what I need.  Maybe they can cure depression by rubbing crystals on one's forehead?

But at last, I've chosen a company.  Soon I'll see whether they accept me, and then I will have to see whether this private system is all that it's cracked up to be.  I know that if I were a true socialist, I would stay in the public system no matter what, but I guess I'm only socialist up to the point that it gets too expensive.  Is that my American upbringing?  Maybe so.  But lest I excite the ghost of Ayn Rand too much, I am happy to live in a country where everyone has access to health care.  And no, it's not cheap.  But I'm glad that Germany puts a priority on the health of it's citizens, and I hope that the U.S. will do likewise.  (I will still probably buy cheap health insurance, though.)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


"Welcome to the third world."  Zoran greeted us as we deplaned in Belgrade.  Ryan's coworker had invited us to his yearly cook-out at his cabin in southern Serbia.  There would be swimming, lamb roasting, good wine, and good cheer.

I had figured that Serbia wasn't such a big country, but it took over three hours to drive from the airport to Lake Bor.  From our first few minutes' driving we noticed the stark contrasts of this country.  It was very common to see abandoned broken-down houses next to tacky mini-mansions.  The highways were as good as any in western Europe, while the local roads were nausea-inducing in their bumpiness.

I always expect that poorer countries will be dreary and sad all over.  As if the people will be shabby and worn-down, the sky grey, the landscape brown and half-dead.  But, as I learned in Tijuana several years ago, and in Serbia recently, people do what they always do: survive and try to enjoy life.  The countryside was beautiful.  Despite the hardships of people, trees grow, flowers bloom, and the sun shines indifferently.  Many parts of Serbia look like my native Montana.  But then I would see a large rocket shell in someone's front yard, and be reminded we weren't in Kansas anymore.

Serbia is a mixture of the old and new.  On Saturday we were treated to a traditionally-roasted lamb on a spit, after spending the day at a trendy beach bar.  Zoran's family and friends were so kind and welcoming to us, and we really enjoyed our stay.  Serbia is definitely wilder than western Europe.  Every time you forget about its recent history of war, and the tensions that still lurk under the surface, something pops up to remind you.  Even at the barbecue, one of the children was walking around with a large toy machine gun.  It was funny but also creepy.

When I travel I try to use the experience to learn about a new history and culture.  But I think our trip to Serbia was too short to have a handle on any part of it.  What I do know is that Serbians, like all other people, have worked to overcome their past.  I'd like to go back and see more of Belgrade, but for now I'll have to leave you with my initial impressions of this exotic country.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

World Cupdate

I know I've complained about the World Cup A LOT, (and trust me, most of it is super boring) but there are some good points to it. Germany has advanced through every round so far and plays tonight against Spain, a grudge match since Spain beat Germany in the Euro Cup two years ago. And soccer can be exciting when you're really into a certain team. Last weekend we went down to the "public viewing" area, and despite sweating off about 5 gallons, it was really fun to be in the crowd when Germany mopped up Argentina 4-0.

The best part of World Cup is definitely its mass appeal. I was trying to think of a comparison in the U.S. and decided its like having a month-long Super Bowl. But another difference is that most people watch World Cup in cafes, public viewing areas, etc, while most Americans watch the Super Bowl at home. Its more exciting to watch with a huge crowd, I think.

Last night I met my tandem partner for language practice at a cafe. Like every cafe and restaurant in this country, it was showing the Cup (Netherlands vs. Uruguay). I left around 9:00 to bike home. On the way I passed over a dozen cafes, and could check the score every few minutes. Not that I needed to. In these big games, when someone scores, you hear it.

By some bizarre twist of fate, I'm currently in 4th place on our office bracket. This is definitely dumb luck because I mostly chose teams based on how many people I know from that country. I think I'm the only one in the top positions who picked Germany to win the whole thing-- so as long as Paul the Psychic Octopus is wrong, that 25 Euro bookstore gift card is all mine!!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Destination mmmmm......

There are many chains of grocery stores in Germany, from cheaper, disorganized ones like Penny Markt, to upscale organic ones. I usually shop at Rewe, because they offer local produce, meats, and eggs, but I often hear about the mysterious Aldi.

Aldi is a little chaotic for me, and the lines are always long. But they do offer short-term amazing deals on non-grocery items, like home decor, computers, and even camping equipment. All of these offers last just a few days, so word of mouth is key. On Friday my friend, Grace, told me that Aldi was hosting "American Week" so I rushed over yesterday and was not disappointed.

There was a barrage of items you can't find in Germany, like marshmallows, plus plenty of items you usually only find for much higher prices, like tortillas (normally 2-3 euros, at Aldi this week for 99 cents). So I stocked up, and have been stuffing myself ever since. I bought popcorn shrimp, marshmallows, tortillas, some very weird scones, and these fried onion things that claim to be American, although I've only ever seen them sprinkled in Thai food or on top of German Kaese Spaetzle. They also had things like jelly beans and bagels. I might have to buy some more later. It's sad to think American food week only comes once a year!

Here is the Aldi link if you're curious as to what's available here.  I didn't see the ice cream and pecans yesterday, I hope they're not sold out!!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Vacation planning

This August Ryan and I are using our generous European vacation allowance (the German legal minimum is 24 days) to visit Ireland and Scotland, with a quick stop over in London. We've chosen to forgo our beloved Rick Steves this time around, even though we love his books, because of the crowds at his recommended sites. The plan is to fly into Dublin for a few days, then hit the west coast of Ireland, drive over to Belfast, take a ferry to Scotland, visit the highlands, hit Edinburgh for the theater festival, and then train to London, visit our friend Bonnie, and then fly back to Frankfurt. This amounts to a lot of planning.

While scouring the internets, Rough Guides, and Lonely Planet, I've discovered a few travel tips I thought I'd share.

Car rental: Stranraer, the Scottish village at the end of our ferry ride, only has a Hertz rental car. I originally used the English website (with the "" ending) and got a reasonable price. But when I tried to order the car, I had to enter my country of residence (Germany) it took me to the German website and doubled the price! I emailed tech support thinking this had to be a mistake. But no, apparently they hate German people. (My interpretation, not theirs). Luckily I found which is a US-based consolidator. They got me a much lower price from that same Hertz rental in Stranraer. (And they are Rick Steves-approved.)

My second travel tip is this interesting article from The Boston Globe about what makes a vacation enjoyable. The findings are rather surprising. A short, novelty-filled vacay is better than a month long expedition. Maybe Americans are on the right track after all with the two-week vacation? Not that I'm trading in any of my days...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Die Jungs

Day 8 of the World Cup...everywhere I Yesterday I saw a woman walking around in a soccer ball bra...can't take much more of this...everyone is talking incessantly about "die Jungs" (the boys)....Die Jungs in South Africa....did you see die Jungs?...At least the coach of the German team is kind of attractive. Jogi, take me away from all this soccer, once and for all....

As they say, "Jogi hat die schönste Frisur" (Jogi has the best haircut). P.S. Joachim= Jogi's full name.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Little Children and Pregnant Women Should Not Watch

Wow. I never thought about teaching my students to swear. Maybe I should be taking notes.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

World Cup Fieber

our local cafe displays some flags

The World Cup kicked off last Friday afternoon in South Africa. I, like the vast majority of Americans, have never paid much attention to the World Cup, but in Germany it is very hard to ignore. Games are played daily at 1:30, 4:00, and 8:30, and its being shown everywhere. There is a huge public viewing screen on the square near my office, and every cafe (even the tiny wurst stand near our house) has a flat screen TV. This is also the only time you see the German flag. Europeans aren't really "patriotic" in the American sense of the word. Most of the time the cities are flagless, but when World Cup comes around, they sure make up for it. Windows, cars, doorways, everything is draped in flags. And we are representing as well, with a flag on our car, one on our balcony, and several extras for decoration. I mentioned to some German friends that the patriotic atmosphere is rather like the Olympics, and one replied, "No, its not. The world cup is much more important!"

Until last week I didn't know much about soccer, but my soccer-loving husband helped me fill out a bracket for work and explained the various rounds and rules, which turned out to be very helpful professionally. All my students wanted to know the English terms like "group phase" and every class wanted to discuss the teams. I put Germany as the winner in my bracket, and expected a few brownie points for this, but all the Germans I've talked to were reserved about their own odds, many betting on the Netherlands, Argentina, or Brazil. There was also a fair amount of trash-talking the US, but after our amazing tie on Saturday, that's quieted down a bit.

For now the World Cup has taken over our lives. Ryan is in heaven....I am trying to muster enthusiasm. We'll see how that works out.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"This candy is pretty good...for being communist"

playing "The Viking Game" at the campground. Teams throw wooden blocks and try to knock the other team's forts down.

Last weekend we went camping with Ryan's coworker, Dirk. He's a really funny guy and owns about every piece of outdoor equipment imaginable. We drove to Pahna, a campsite in Thuringia, in the former East Germany. All of the other invitees were East German or "Ossis" like Dirk. There was a lot of joking about local dialect, and local expressions, but people were very helpful in explaining things to us Americans. At one point Dirk asked Ryan what time it was and Ryan said "viertel nach zwei" (quarter after two), and Dirk replied "viertel drei?" and Ryan said "nein, viertel nach ZWEI" and Dirk went on to explain that in his dialect you could said "quarter three" which meant quarter after two. His friend Claudia insisted that this was "sehr logisch" (very logical), while Ryan and I maintained that it made no sense.

We had another educational moment as we sat around the BBQ one night (no campfires, boo!) and another friend, Daniel, produced a shiny gold bag, and all the Ossis went wild. Daniel said to me in English "Katy, you do not look excited." And I asked "What is it?" He tried to explain "It is east german candy from our childhood, it is chocolate but also this Knäckebrot." (Knäckebrot is a really terrible German version of crackers. Its kind of like a ghetto Triscuit.) But Daniel was anxious for me to try his favorite candy, and I have to say it was not bad. I expected it to be like Nestle Crunch, but it wasn't as sweet, and more cracker-y in the middle. Daniel watched me closely and asked, "Is it AWESOME?" And I told him that yes, it was awesome. Ryan and I were discussing it later and talking about how all these people grew up under communism, and Ryan uttered "This candy is pretty good...for being communist." Communist chocolate is pretty similar in flavor to Hershey's chocolate, which should really tell us something.

As far as the rest of the weekend, it was really fun, though of course very different from camping in the US. As I mentioned, no campfires, and therefore no s'mores. Also we had to check-in to the campsite and fill out forms, put a tag on our tent, and take special keys to get in and out for parking and to the bathrooms. Also we were given both trash and recycling bags. That could all be expected. But what surprised me was how well-appointed the campground was. Not only did they have real bathrooms, but also showers, and a tiny kitchen. I don't know what the point of the kitchen is when you're camping, especially since the campground had its own restaurant and bakery. But that's Germany for you.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Updates Galore!

Last night Ryan and I celebrated our 2 year anniversary of living in Germany. I bought a bottle of champagne and some lamb steaks and we reminisced about how terrified we were the first few days living here. Now Germany is just normal to us. Well, minus a few things....

Lena won Eurovision on Saturday night! I was, and continue to be, totally shocked. I guess people are sick of sappy ballads and would rather see a cute girl dancing like a maniac. Personally I was pulling for Belarus:

W I N G S ! ! !
In other news, German Flashcards, a good site for improving your German, taught me something super useful today:Sentence of the Day:

Ich habe Angst davor, dass Roboter eines Tages ein Bewusstsein entwickeln und die Menschheit vernichten.

I'm scared that robots will become self-aware one day and exterminate the human race.

You don't know how many times a day I need to express that exact sentiment.

And finally, funny student story of the week. I have a very advanced student, and I'm always trying to challenge her with new vocabulary and slang. We were discussing "vegetarian" and "vegan" and so I decided to teach her "flexitarian". I asked her to guess what it might mean. She looked at me very seriously and said, "It sounds to me like a person with no moral character." My students are awesome.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Grüne Soße Mystery

our little fridge. Above is our doll-sized freezer, below the infamous Grüne Soße.

One thing I really like about Germany is that people eat seasonally here. Now is the season for strawberries, asparagus, and Grüne Soße ("green sauce"). You'd think that not being able to buy things like strawberries and asparagus year-round would be annoying, but on the contrary, I think it makes me appreciate them more. It gives one something to look forward to.

Grüne Soße is a Frankfurt delicacy made from an assortment of herbs, eggs, and sour cream. I should explain that food from this region of Germany is pretty bad generally. (Anyone want a hunk of unchewable boiled beef?) But I've had many friends raving about this or that Grüne Soße, and I decided to hunt down the best one. We bought this big tub of it last weekend and it was pretty decent-- it beats raw radishes and brick-dense bread anyway. There is a fair amount left over and I figured we'd make something with it this weekend, but then I noticed something strange.--There seem to be large air bubbles forming in the sauce, and this morning it scared me to death when I opened the fridge only to be greeted by the loud "POP!" of the Grüne Soße's lid exploding off the top. What is happening to the Grüne Soße? Is it fermenting? Is this another Frankfurt tradition?

In other food news, I was caught at an inopportune moment by a door-to-door salesman from a company called Eisman ("Ice man"). I was in a hurry and stupidly said he could call me later. When I had a chance to peruse the catalog I realized it was all frozen food. When he called I told him my freezer is microscopic and already full. But he persisted on giving me the hard sell, I told him I wasn't interested and eventually hung up. He has been calling me once or twice a day for the last 2 weeks! Luckily he called my cellphone and I was able to save his number, so I can easily ignore him. I'm actually curious how many times he will call before he gets it through his head that I'm not interested in frozen food when I have no freezer space. We're on day 11 now. How much endurance does this salesman have? Only time will tell!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


It occurs to me that I haven't blogged about the newest addition in our life. Her name is Genevieve, and she is a 2009 black Peugeot 207. After our move last year, I asked Ryan whether or not we should get one, and Ryan in his typical self-sacrificing fashion said that he was fine commuting 1.5 hours each way by subway, train, and bus. Apparently, that is Ryan-talk for "we'll get a car when we can afford it."

So once I was offered a job last February we began hunting. My German friends advised me on negotiating in Germany-- its not very common. Up until a few years ago, a federal law prohibited negotiating deals and discounts beyond 3%. Even though the law has changed, the sticker price is final in most situations. BUT if I did a really good job, I could perhaps expect 10% off the sticker price and some winter tires.

Ryan and I dragged each other from dealer to dealer, making several trips to the Volkswagen dealership because we liked the VW Polo. I tried all the tricks my Dad gave me (be unpredictable, don't appear impressed, don't be afraid to walk away); and we did end up walking away. Two weeks later the dealer called me back and I thought "Ha! I've got him!" But instead he merely informed me that the car we test drove had sold. I reminded him he had several of that make and model. He asked me if I'd care to have another test drive, and I told him not if the price was still 11,000 Euros. He told me I wouldn't find a car cheaper than that and I said "Yes, we'll see about that."

Another couple weeks passed and Ryan lost his patience. But I told him we couldn't buy from this VW dealer, it would be admitting defeat. We visited a few other lots and wound up at Peugeot, with something similar to the Polo, but cheaper. The dealer would only negotiate 5%, and no winter tires, but better to give up on the winter tires than have Ryan smother me with a pillow whilst I slept.

After some back-and-forth with all the various German bureaucracies involved in buying a car, insurance, parking permits, emissions tests, etc, (let's not forget our wonderful driver's license experience!) we got the car home. Ryan is happy to cut his daily commute from 3 hours to about 45 minutes, and we've enjoyed a few weekend outings to Würzberg, the Rhine Valley, and various hiking locales, and then we got THE NEWS.

Ryan's new contract (his company was purchased by another company and they needed to modify contracts) entitles him to a COMPANY CAR. And not just any company car, but a Volkswagen-- probably from that same dealer who wouldn't negotiate with me!

But its all a learning experience, isn't it? Now that I know how to buy a car in Germany, I get to learn how to sell one...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Eurovision a bizarre contest that takes place at the end of May every year.  It's a pop sing-off, judged Olympics-style, but often as not somewhat political.  Germany had a reality show to determine our contestant, and Lena Meyer-Landrut prevailed.

The song itself is pretty catchy, although her pronunciation of the English language leaves something to be desired.  Ryan asked his German coworker what kind of accent Lena had and the coworker insisted it was "an excellent British accent."   If most Germans think this is a good British accent, I don't know what I'm doing teaching English.  Also note the $5.00 budget of the music video and Lena's spastic dancing.  Our odds of winning Eurovision?  I'd say pretty slim.  But maybe its a good excuse for a cocktail party?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bike Rage

One of the great things about my job is that I can bike to work. This is, of course, a great form of exercise and much cheaper than the alternatives. But if you're picturing an idyllic pedal down a cobblestone road, I have to tell you the picture isn't quite right.

Germany is much more bike-friendly than the U.S., but Frankfurt's bike lanes lack any sort of logic. My commute to work starts in a marked bike lane on the street, then moves to a marked bike lane on the sidewalk. I follow the pedestrian lights through an intersection and am then spit back onto a road bike lane for about 200 meters before it abruptly ends, leaving me in the car lane. I go through two more intersections and then get back onto the sidewalk bike lane, another couple blocks, then back onto the road, sans bike lane. Finally, I cross another intersection and bike through a pedestrian zone. (Schritt Tempo!)

After buying my cheap bike last Fall I also bought a bike map. Some help that is! Learning routes like the one above depends on following more experienced cyclists, and trying to figure out which of their behaviors are legal. Most bikers run red lights and don't wear helmets, ride on the wrong side of the street, etc. I am wearing a helmet and trying to obey the laws, but it's not easy. I bike past the police station, and I often imagine a stern Polizistin pulling me over and reading me the riot act. But apparently I shouldn't worry about that. Today a police car pulled right in front of me, completely blocking the bicycle lane. I resisted the urge to give the German "You're a terrible driver!" hand gesture. (Not our one-fingered salute, but rather waving your open palm in front of your face.)  I guess even the police can't figure out the bike laws in Frankfurt.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Smells like Africa!

As some of you may know, the World Cup is being hosted in South Africa this year. And although the games don't start until June, people here are very excited; as evidenced by the above photo, of "Cape Town"-scented body wash.

About 2 weeks ago I was perusing the corner drugstore and I started noticing how many things are "Cape Town" or "South Africa" scented. Being very curious as to what Africa smells like, I bought both the above body wash, and South Africa-scented fabric softener. But alas, there is no conclusive evidence to be found. The body wash smells distinctly citrus-y, while the fabric softener screams coconut. To make matters more confusing, my friend Sarah has the Cape Town-scented hand soap, and it smells just like all the other hand soaps. Further research is needed...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Können wir uns duzen, Kaninchen?

Ryan and I are doing pretty well in our German these days. Someone told me my German is as fast as my English the other day, which was exciting. But little problems still remain. For example, when we were visiting friends in Berlin last weekend Ryan tried to order a "Kaninchen" of coffee. The waiter was very confused. Then Ryan remembered that he wanted a "Kännchen" (pot) not a "Kaninchen" (rabbit). We had a good laugh.

Another issue is whether to use the formal or informal "you." I wonder if native speakers of languages where there are two versions of "you" have an instinct for this? There are lots of support staff at the school where I work-- an army of schedulers, receptionists, etc. I like to speak German to them, to keep from getting rusty. In many German offices, co-workers use "du", the informal you. But not all. And older people can call younger people "du" but not always vice-versa. There are a few coworkers my age who I have "duzen"-ed with. (They asked me, "We can use 'du', right?" and of course I agreed.) The head receptionist of the school is a very nice older lady, and she always calls me "du" but I didn't know if I could call her "du" or "Sie." I always stuck to "Sie" to be on the safe side.

But yesterday as we were walking through the courtyard, she grabbed my bare leg and said "You're not wearing pantyhose, you must be freezing!" It was a little strange, but I've decided this is a sign that I can "duzen" her. What do you think? Are we friends now? We never have this problem in English!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I'm very late in posting details of our trip to Paris. This is primarily for one reason: I am lazy. But to be fair to myself (and I'm always fair to myself) I have been working a lot. Anyway...

When we first moved to Europe, my policy was to spread our travel around, not to visit places more than once. After all, when there are so many things to see here, and with limited time, we shouldn't spend vacations revisiting places we've already been. But I've come to realize that places change. Vacationing in Spring is different than in Summer. It also depends whom you are with. Visiting a place with family is different than visiting alone with your sweetheart.

So in that vein, we are revisiting some well-trod places for our vacations this year. First stop Paris. We'd visited twice before, once in winter with the whole Strange clan, and once in summer with my brother-in-law, Max.

There are so many wonderful things to see in Paris, and I'm the type of traveler who wants to check off all of "3 triangle" rated items in every Rick Steves book, but it was nice to have already visited so many major sites. Louvre? Check. Eiffel Tower? Check. etc, etc. This trip was slower-paced, and we spent a lot of time just strolling around.

One of the highlights was an amazing dinner that Ryan booked (did I mention he planned the whole trip as a surprise? I am a lucky lady!) at a small restaurant called "Le Carre des Vosges." It can be surprisingly difficult to find a real French dinner in Paris, there are so many tourist trap restaurants. But this place was perfect. We humbly acknowledged our lack of savoir faire, and ordered the menu-of-the-day. The waiter patiently recommended wines and the meal was beautiful. They served foods I normally hate, but they were cooked so well I cleaned every plate. And for dessert they offered strawberries and cream so good they made my knees weak!

A key difference between Germany and France is that Germany is very simple. You can walk into any German restaurant and feel completely at ease. There's no wrong way to order schnitzel. (Even my request for dressing-free salad is generally accepted.) But in France everything is so elegant, I always worry about looking uncultured. And that is why I recommend this restaurant so highly, because the waiters put us at ease. They seemed to understand that we came to try to understand and appreciate their culture, and they wanted to help us. It was a huge relief! Maybe it was just what I needed-- after the first few days my mangled French started to flow, and even when we came back I found myself exchanging "Ja" for "Oui."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Crash Course

I just finished my first course and so far I've learned a lot about teaching, and perhaps specifically about teaching middle-aged Germans. I've compiled a list of likes and dislikes of my students thus far:

talking about their families
speaking German
jokes about dating Brad Pitt
singing "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes"
complaining about English

singing "The ABC Song"
speaking English
jokes about Daniela Katzenberger

So, if I can just utilize more "likes" and avoid all "dislikes"....

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Who's the boss?

I've survived a grand total of three days of teaching so far, and I have to say I'm pretty amazed. Part of me was pretty sure that when my class came into the room, they would take one look at me and say "Why should we listen to you?" It is strange to be the youngest person in the room and be in charge.

I have a "crash course" for the next two weeks. 5 absolute beginners for 6 hours a day. Despite my fears, they are all delightful. I've made a few mistakes so far (mostly of the "duh" variety such as writing "Who What Whe Why?") But instead of demanding my resignation, we mostly laugh about such things.

There is usually at least one headache a day. Today it was the present progressive tense. ("I am going" instead of "I go.") But its really exciting when they understand what I'm saying, and I'm very pleased that the shy students seem to be gaining confidence. There are also students who have gone down a peg confidence-wise, but that was perhaps necessary. Not even the teacher knows everything.

Their vocabulary is still pretty small, so they don't make really funny mistakes,but they do manage to surprise me. Today they had an assignment to talk about clothes that they never wear. I taught them it's too big/small/short/long/old. And a very quiet woman told me "I never wear my black dress because my children tell me it's too sexy and tight."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

10 on 10

I still haven't taught my first class yet. They're starting a new session on Monday, so I'm jumping in head first with 32 hours next week! But in the meantime, here's "10 on 10", an idea I borrowed from my friend Bonnie. The idea is on the 10th of the month to take 1 photo an hour for 10 hours. So instead of my usual verbose self, I'll let some pictures do the talking.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Training Daze

Today was the last day of my training for my new job. Starting tomorrow I'm available to teach, and will find out soon what my first class is. All pretty nerve wracking! Last week was spent doing practice lessons, which I felt very comfortable with. But today I was given orientation in our Frankfurt school and sat in on a difficult grammar lesson...and now I'm feeling pretty nervous! The teacher was explaining "reported speech" i.e. "He said he was going to the doctor tomorrow." or "the secretary informed me that he was out of the office." I've never thought about all the verb tenses in a sentence like that, but soon I could be teaching that very lesson!

To my American friends, cross your fingers. To my German friends, hold your thumbs. Maybe between all that we can drum up enough good luck for some smooth sailing through the first few classes.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Opa Patrol

Today was my first day of work, well training really, and it went well. Its a bit dry at the moment, mostly going over the "principles" of the school, which are not to be confused with the "language learning conditions" or the "learning cycle." We did get an example lesson in Russian, which was kind of fun. I can now say the colors in Russian, but can't spell them, so you'll just have to trust me on that one.

BUT what was really odd today was the Opa (grandpa) patrol. I must explain. When my parents lived in Germany 20-something years ago, my mother was continually harassed as she pushed my brother and I in the pram by German Omas (grandmothers). We were not dressed warmly enough, or not wrapped properly, or simply too skinny!

Perhaps because I don't have children, I haven't encountered the Oma patrol. Though if I'm ever in the grocery store, I find asking old ladies about the various foods to be quite helpful. Do you want to know the difference between the red and white sauerkraut? Ask an old lady. (But be prepared for a 20 minute answer.)

What I do find is that old men like to give me unsolicited advice. Usually its about general safety or cost effectiveness. The other week an old gent told me I shouldn't buy the crate of beer, but rather take all the beer bottles out of the crate and carry them individually, as there is a deposit on the crate. Right. Normally I just smile and say "Thank you, I will think about that in the future." But today an Opa really got on my nerves.

I was weaving through the crowded supermarket after work, just stopping in for a bottle of wine, when I felt a jab in my back. An old man was poking me quite hard and saying, "HALLO! You must hold your bag closed! A thief will steal your wallet!" I was pretty annoyed, jerked my bag away from him, and walked off. He called after me "THANK YOU!" in that voice that meant I should be the one saying it.

I simply rolled my eyes and kept walking. But I'm starting to think I should really say something to all this undesired advice. I don't want to be rude, but I would like to let them know that their advice is un-asked for and undesired. So here's what I've come up with:

1. Thank you, but I'm 25 years old, not 15, and I can look after myself just fine.
2. I'm sorry, do we know each other? Then why are you telling me this?
3. Dad? Is that you? You look so different!

No offense to my dad, of course. But he's the only man that can give me such advice without receiving a quite exaggerated eye roll. Leave a comment and let me know what you would say to such advice.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ah Bureaucracy....

I've been stressing for a couple weeks, trying to get all my paperwork together for my new job. Our "Aufenthaltserlaubnis" (residence permission) expired the 11th of February. We went in to reapply on the 1st, and were told that we should've come MUCH earlier. She issued us a temporary visa until the end of April while Ryan's work permit was reviewed.

Two weeks later I was offered a job, on the condition that I had residence permission, to start at the beginning of March. So the last few weeks I've been calling and calling the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners' office) only to find out that no one knows anything about the progress of our visas. Then today my boss called because she's nervous that none of my paperwork is done yet. I explained the situation and she recommended persistence.

So I called again, and spoke to the woman who's in charge of our case. After giving a myriad of personal information a light went on.
"Kat-a-reen-a Sh-tr-ah-n-guh. Didn't you call yesterday?!"
"Uh, maybe a few days ago."
"Yes, and I told you it will take perhaps 4 weeks."
"Uh, yes, well the thing is..."
"Call back in a few weeks."
"I will call you again next week." Silence.
"Wait a minute. Your husband is R-oo-an Sh-tr-an-guh? Yes. Your papers are ready."

So the squeaky wheel triumphs again. I can pick up my job offer letter tonight, and if all the stars align, I can go in tomorrow and get my Aufenthaltserlaubnis and Arbeitserlaubnis (work permission) all in one go. No, that's probably completely unrealistic. But cross your fingers for me anyway!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fasching 2010

Even more festive than Germany's beautiful Christmas markets is Fasching. This is known as the "fifth season" in the Rhein/Main region (the region where the Rhein River and Main River meet, a.k.a. here). Last year our friends, Simon and Sarah, introduced us to German Mardi Gras; and this year we decided to pass on our limited knowledge to our friends, Justin and Marisa.

Cologne is the most famous town for Fasching, but we'd also heard that Mainz, which is much closer, knows how to throw down. So we bought some costumes and hopped on the train to Mainz.

It did not disappoint. Everyone was decked out in various bizarre costumes. Ryan found a costume called "Mexican" at Woolworth's and thought it bizarre enough to buy, but there were actually a lot of "Mexicans" at the brewery party we went to. I dressed as a strawberry. There was a costume contest, first prize went to a group of animal/cave people. (Fasching costumes are much less literal than Halloween costumes.)
Ryan, Marisa, and Justin also enjoyed some "beer towers" delivered to our table. They each contained 3 liters. I stuck to girly drinks.

Fasching parties always include crazy German music, very silly dancing, and bizarre costumes. But this year I'm learning they also involve mildly disturbing cake men.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Is this what America is doing while I'm gone?

The other week I heard this hilarious interview on BBC: Its about a grocery store in the UK banning people in pajamas. And when I listened I'll admit I felt a bit superior.

But today I saw this on the blogosphere, and nearly had a nervous breakdown. PAJAMA JEANS!!!?????!!!! WTF???!!!!???? I especially got a kick out of their "European Styling." During all my living/traveling on the continent, I have never seen a woman enter a grocery store in pajamas, sweatpants, or workout clothes. (The UK is another story)

Ryan and I played a game once in Paris. It was called "spot the American." And it was depressingly easy. Lots of women I know wish they could look like a sophisticated French woman. Let me give a hint. Step one: pajamas are for sleeping. When you wake up, put on other pants.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


By the way, I've ended my German lessons for the time being and will start a NEW JOB in March. I will be teaching English to bankers.

I will miss my German classes, not only have I made friends, but at least once every class I laughed so hard that I couldn't breathe. But don't worry, I'm sure the cultural mishaps will continue to provide me with plenty of things to write about.

The Single Most Annoying Expat Conversation...

"You know what I like? British comedy."
"Me too! Most Americans really don't get it, you know."
"Yes, most Americans don't understand irony."

I feel like I overhear this conversation about once a week. And like saying the same word over and over again, it has lost all meaning for me.

When Americans abroad get together, there are certain coded phrases put out. When Bush was in office, it was always a political disclaimer. Since he's gone I've noticed a sharp rise in the "British comedy" conversation. Its a way of identifying others in your clique, I guess. Maybe Americans watching British comedy are a minority in the US, but among expats they are definitely the majority.

The more I hear this conversation, the more I question it. Yes, I think on average British TV is more interesting than American network TV, but I'm not sure its inherently intellectually superior. Like Monty Python. Its funny because its absurd and bizarre. Even children laugh at silly things. That doesn't make it a bad TV show, but it also doesn't make you Albert Einstein for getting it.

"The Colbert Report" is the most satirical and ironic TV show I can think of, and while I did know a kid who liked it because "its like 'The Daily Show' except for conservatives" I'd say most Americans get it.

Frankly, I'm tired of these sorts of coded conversations. Maybe next time I'll just ask, "what's irony?"

Monday, January 25, 2010

Neu Deutsch

I've been studying German in an intensive course for nine months now, but realized last week that I've been wasting my time. We've started a new chapter about the workplace and heard two dialogues about essential job skills. An important qualification is "Sozialkompetenz, oder so sagen wir auf neu Deutsch: soft skills." (Social competency, or as we say in new German: soft skills.)

That's right. New German = English. Not only that, but in our next listening exercise, half a dozen English phrases were sprinkled in: brain storming, mind mapping, etc.

On the one hand, I have apparently wasted my time. On the other hand, I had an interview last week for a job as an English teacher. Germans have also heard that the new version of their language is English, and there is a great demand for native speakers. And although I don't have a degree in education, I think that I could make a good English teacher. Sometimes I explain and correct the English of my classmates. Like the other week, Chila was talking about the new song by Akon, "Sexy Birch." She was pretty sure that was the name of the song, but I explained that a birch is a type of tree in English. Of course, maybe I am wrong. That would add another level to the lyrics.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sizing it up....

For Christmas and my birthday I was given gift certificates to the swanky mall near my in-law's house and to the Abercrombie & Fitch where my brother works. I hadn't been shopping in a few months and so I was very excited to pick up some new things. The U.S. has been hit harder by the recession than Europe and the sales post-Christmas were pretty jaw-dropping. But an even bigger surprise awaited me: I had magically shrunken!

All the tops I tried on were size Small. And I bought a pair of jeans at A&F that were a size 6. When I left the U.S. I was a size 10 or Large. "I have lost so much weight!" I thought. I rushed home and weighed myself. The change was not as drastic as I'd thought.

Reality struck when I got back to Frankfurt. We are going to a swanky dinner next week for the British Chamber of Commerce in Germany, and I needed something to wear. So I went with two of my classmates on Wednesday to hit some sales. I started with a size medium and couldn't get the zipper to the top! I checked the tag. I noticed it was printed for distribution in several countries, like this:

E/F: L D: M US: S

Yes, that means it is a large in Spain and France, a medium in Germany, and a small in America. Except by current standards it would probably be an extra small.

After this epiphany I started grabbing large and extra large, and eventually found a workable dress. My classmates, Angie and Bea, just came to browse, but Angie ended up getting three dresses. She has this problem: she is a semi-retired model. Every item looks perfect on her because it was designed exactly for someone tall and very thin. If everything I tried on made me look gorgeous, I probably would buy too much as well. It can be frustrating to go shopping with such a person; in fact at one point Bea and I did tell Angie we hated her ;) but I'm happy with how I look in my new dress, even if it is a size large.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Holiday Flying

Our travel plan for Christmas was the stuff of nightmares:
1. Frankfurt to Chicago, Chicago to Tampa
2. Tampa to Chicago, Chicago to Seattle
3. Seattle to Missoula
4.Missoula to Denver, and Denver back to Frankfurt

Comparing notes with our friends before the holidays everyone gave us the "you're going through Chicago twice? Are you crazy?" talk. But luckily for us, Chicago missed the massive blizzard that hit the entire Eastern Seaboard (including our other flying options: Dulles and Newark). In fact our only delay the whole trip was two long hours sitting on the runway at Frankfurt because the captain couldn't get the interior lights to work properly. We had a 3 hour layover in Chicago before flying to Florida, and we were watching our minutes tick by and estimating our odds of getting through customs in time. We cut it very close, but made it. Our bags came on the next flight and were delivered to my Grandma's house at 3am.

We flew United/Lufthansa for our transatlantic. They are partner companies, so when flying this route you don't know which you'll actually get. We had United flying west and Lufthansa flying east, and the differences are substantial. In my limited trans-Atlantic experience, I would rank the airlines as follows:

1. Delta. Best food and video options
2. Lufthansa, not as many video choices, but lots of bathrooms and a water fountain.
3. United-- zero legroom. I'm only 5'4" and I had leg cramps. I can't imagine how a tall person would cope.
4.Air Canada. No personal video screens makes Katy go insane.

In other flying news, nearly all American companies are now charging for any checked bags at all, and have cracked down on carry-on size. Ryan's grandmother arrived in Seattle dressed like a homeless person because she had to empty her carry-on to fit it into the new guidelines.

But MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE airline has to be HORIZON. They only fly in North America, but they allow plane-side checking, which is great for that big carry-on you don't want to have squashed between your feet all flight. Also they give out free booze. Even on the 90 minute flight between Seattle and Missoula. And take my word for it, two glasses of wine really helps with bumpy landings. Unfortunately Horizon partners with Alaska, who are not nearly so generous, and its often hard to figure out which plane you'll be getting until after you've bought your ticket.

Of course, the big news was the attempted Christmas Day attack outside of Detroit. What will this mean for airport security? We'll see. The TSA is employing more full-body scanners, or as I call them "naked scanners". But given the fact that the attempted attacker stashed the explosives under his family jewels, I don't know how effective this will be. Flying back there weren't noticeable changes, but I think flying into the US from other countries is going to get a lot more difficult.

I guess we will find out next year.