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."