Thursday, July 7, 2011

Conversations with Cats

Is it weird to use a hashtag at the end of a face-to-face conversation? …What about in a conversation with your cat?
 
Lately I’ve become, somewhat disturbingly, aware of the increased conversational frequency I have with my cat. Before moving to Germany (…looks down to count fingers) eight months ago, I spent roughly 9 hours a day, five days a week surrounded by other humans in a florescent-lit place commonly referred to as Work.

Today, however, I spend less than a quarter of that time attending a German language class so that I can eventually learn enough to go back to spending most of my time at Work.

So what am I doing with all this extra time? For starters, my apartment has never been cleaner (except for that mysterious, weird smell dwelling in the refrigerator. But that doesn’t count because its origins are currently, well, mysterious.) And there’s studying German, of course, drinking Weinschorle, scouring Munich for tofu products and getting lost (although the regularity of the latter has declined in recent months).

But my social life?  Is there an international onomatopoeia for cricket sounds?

Okay, so I’ve always considered myself a bit of an ab und zu (roughly now and then) extrovert. But since moving here, I’ve been a lot less ab and a lot more zu. While I have made a few friends here, my circle is considerably smaller than in previous cities.
I, too, will get my social groove back, just like this happy little guy.
My self-induced, quasi-mountain hermit…ness is certainly not for lack of social opportunities. Yet no matter how many people I meet, I haven’t been able to shake this odd, sideline observer feeling. And until recently, I haven’t been able to figure out why. But having lots of extra time gives one the opportunity for deep self-reflection…and to eat a lot of wasabi peanuts.

So what’s holding me back? No, it’s not wasabi peanut breath. It’s my personality in German, or more accurately, lack thereof.

Almost all of my day-to-day conversations with friends and new acquaintances are in German (apart from a few). And while I can chitchat with a sufficient degree of competence, I lack the linguistic dexterity required to make refined, meaningful or witty contributions.

Even in those rare instances where I manage to formulate something untextbooky, by the time my brain transfers it to my lips, the conversational moment has passed. Timing is everything, and unfortunately the translation app running in my brain is slower than a Mississippi drawl. And despite the fact that most of the people I meet are also foreigners, sharing in the struggle to master this language, I’ve refuse (aside from the aforementioned exceptions) to slide comfortable into English.

So where does this leave my social life? In a bit of a rut, until my German improves anyway.

On the upside, at least I’ve started speaking to my cat in monochrome German. Although, between you and me, his conversational skills are worse than mine… 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bearing it all


Before I jump into this, I should point out that this post will probably appeal more to my female readers…unless of course, gentlemen, your lady friends have described to you the unpleasantness we call annuals. Oh, and there will be no pictures.
_______________

Earlier this week I had my yearly OB-GYN appointment for the first time since moving to Germany six months ago. It’s something I’ve been putting off for two reasons: my lack of dexterity with the German language and my lack of appreciation for those infamous, um, stirrups.

I finally decided to suck it up and get it over with. (What’s that phrase about just putting on your big girl panties…well, that sort of fits, in a reverse sort of way.)

So yeah, there I am in the waiting room, brushing up on my female anatomy vocabulary in German when the reception calls me into a small room to get my blood pressure, which turned out surprisingly normal despite my language-barrier-based anxiety.

“Whew, one thing down,” I thought.

Shortly after another short stint in the waiting room, I was called into see the doctor and entered a large half office, half exemption room. After the German formalities of proper greetings and hand shakes, she directed me to the chair opposite her at the desk. To lay out the scene properly in your imagination, the following dialog occurred solely in German. Any mistakes in translation are due to the fact that I had no idea what the f*** she was saying half of the time.

Doc: So, what is the reason for your visit?
Me: I need a quiz, errr, exam…the normal one…that one that happens once a year.
Awkward Pause
Me: (Wondering how this information didn’t seem to make it past the appointment desk) The, um, the just regular exam.
Doc: Ok then. Please go behind the curtain and undress waist down (pointing to a sheer circular drape extending slightly out from the wall between the undivided office and exam areas).

I get behind the curtain only to find no robe, no blanket (something I’m used to in the U.S.) And let me clarify, although I consider myself modest, I’m not bound to the typical American prudish stereotypes so often depicted in movies (except for, of course, those infamous Girls Gone Wild videos, of which have no doubt led to the disappointment of  many international students and tourists in the U.S.). But after undressing, I had no idea what to do. Should I should step out in my nakedness, or wait to be called out? What if I walked out too early and she was still doing paperwork for several minutes? Would I just stand there or scurry back awkwardly into the see-through curtain?

I decided to wait it out for an excruciating 42 seconds (yes, I counted). Then I slowly sauntered out, faking a been-there-done-that-but-it-just-took-me-a-really-long-time-to-undress attitude.

She was still seated at the desk, but pointed at the CHAIR, which was slightly different that what I was accustomed to. Not to go into too much detail, but for my American lady readers, the stirrups are not for your feet. And apparently asking what goes there warrants quite a quizzical look from the doctor.

After that was done, it was time for top half, which was done standing up…facing the doctor. Two thoughts were running laps through my mind during: do I look at her, or is that weird and (more sarcastically, since you can’t hear the voice (not plural) in my head) should I ask her for a coffee later…?

Friday, April 15, 2011

A hairy lesson learned

As is usual lately, I’ve been a bit MIA from blogging. What could be more important that chronicling my misadventures in Germany for an unfortunately quantifiable audience that likely consists mostly of friends and family back in the States?

Well there’s cleaning the parquet brush on my Dyson, for example. 
Who doesn't love a good clean vacuum brush pic?
Or following my constipated cat around to note when he poops. What, TMI? Don’t worry, my cat probably feels the same.

But despite all of these momentous responsibilities, I’ve decided that a certain recent event deserves to be documented: I got my hair cut…at a German salon…all by myself. Well there it is. I’ll give you a moment to take all that in. I just saw my cat head to the litter box again anyway…

Okay so maybe after a few moments of deep reflection you’ve decided that my hair cut is really no big deal. Not so my friend (whoa, did I just channel a little John McCain there…yikes).

To properly convey the significance of this experience, let me back up a few days. A classmate in my German course mentioned that she’d cut her hair the night before…on her own, as in, with the scissors in her very own hands. Another chimed in that she does the same, although a bit differently. I listened in awe as they explained their various methods. Then it occurred to me, why not try it myself…it sounded simple enough. And besides, if it worked, I could put off going to a German friseur on my own and learning related the vocabulary like stufig (layered) and der pony (bangs). By the way, here’s a link to more vocab if you’re the market for a haircut in Germany.

So when I got home that afternoon, I promptly washed my hair, combed it perfectly straight and even watch a few DIY videos on YouTube for good measure.

You could say the first cut went well, if your only definition of “well” is that my hair had been cut. But not wanting to look like a subject for a beauty school staffed with six-year-olds, I kept cutting, and cutting and cutting. In the end, I succeeded only in creating the first bathroom rug comprised of 100 percent genuine human hair. There’s something for Etsy…or maybe Regretsy would be more appropriate.

But from folly sometimes come fortune, or some crap like that. Thanks to overestimating my innate stylist skills, my fear of German salons disappeared. And before I knew it, I had an appointment for first thing the next morning.

Fast forward through the 17 hours in between (which were sprinkled with cocktails and various expressions of bewilderment from Thomas), and enter Max, friseur and corrector of hideous hair creations.

I spent the next hour and half in his chair listening to snip, snipscheiße!...snip, snipwarum!?, warum!?!

And although I only understood about 70 percent of what he was saying, I realized that sometimes we have to just suck it up and go out there if we really want increased lingual comfort and fluency…or just do something stupid that requires professional help. Yeah, that works, too.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, thanks to Max, I can now appear in public without triggering howling dogs. Here's proof:

Before and after  
Sorry, no photos of the actual "before." Some things are best left to poor illustrations.

Friday, March 18, 2011

How do you say “AAARRRGGGHH” auf deutsch?

If a cat cries miau, miau and person yells Aua! when he stubs his toe, what German sound should I make when I want to SCREAM?
I'm no Edvard Munch, but I think I at least captured my fondness for purple wigs
Now, you may be asking yourself what this Ami in Munich has to be frustrated about. I’ll admit I have little to complain about these days, what with not having to work at the moment and living in Europe.

But residing in a land where your language skills are (depending on the day) somewhere in between those of a half-baked pretzel and a four-year-old can have its ups and downs.

Today, for example, was no red letter day in my quest for German fluency – unless of course that red letter is a big, fat F (for those not familiar with the A-F grading style, that’s failing…miserably).

It was another one of those days where it seemed like every question I asked in my German class elicited something like: Haben wir das nicht schon in Kapitel Blah Blah gelernt? (English translation: Didn’t we already learn that in chapter blah blah?)

Just half way through the lesson, I was beginning to think that any question with enough audacity to leave my mouth hole would be met with a similar response:

Me: Entschuldigung, I seem to have bitten my pencil in half and am unfortunately chocking on the eraser. Would you be so kind as to perform the Heimlich maneuver
Response: It’s pronounced HEIM-lich! Didn’t we already learn the proper syllabification?

Okay, okay, so now I’m just being snarky. But on days like this, I get the feeling I’m condemned to a life of toddler-speak and charades.

On the other hand, perhaps I would do better to stop complaining, and open my textbook instead.  Good advice from the more articulate, English-speaking side of my brain. Of course, the immature four-year-old, German-speaking side thinks watching cartoons and eating chocolate might be a better solution. Guess which one the rest of me is going to side with?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

From domestically hopeless to domestically deficient

Before Thomas and I moved to Germany back in November, I worked as a writer in large company’s public relations department. I can still hear my Journalism 101 professor in college saying, whatever you do, don’t go into television news. So what did I do? Majored in broadcast journalism.  Fine, he said. Just please, please don’t go into PR! Sorry Mr. J. But if it’s any conciliation, I’ve hung up my PR…um pen? At least for awhile.

These days, my time is spent buying German language books, looking at those books laying on my kitchen table, and occasionally opening one – if only by accident when my cat pushes it off the table.

I kid, I kid. Well mostly.

In order to prepare myself for the daunting task of (eventually) working on my master's degree in German, I've been attending a language course, practicing with anyone unfortunate enough to get stuck standing near me (although my charades skills seem to be improving faster than my German) and watching local TV (it's amazing how little vocabulary you need to understand a show like Bauer sucht Frau (translation: farmer searches for a wife). In between that, I've been getting to know Munich, doing a little writing and even taking care of daily Hausfrau tasks like cleaning, cooking and laundry.

Some of these tasks have proven harder than my German studies though…and given the complexities of German grammar, that’s saying a lot. Take ironing, for example. The other day, I spent about 30 minutes ironing one of Thomas’ dress shirts, only for it to look a whopping five percent better than it did when I pulled it out of the wash.
Yeah, this is post-ironing. Awesome, right?
Since then, I’ve tried each setting on the iron, various levels of pressure and contorted my body in more ways than Linda Blair in the Exorcist to get a better angle (okay, that last one was a slight bit of an exaggeration). Nothing has helped. Well, at least I can rule out ironing from my list of possible, hidden superpowers. Whew. That would have been lame anyway.

Of course, no one has ever called me domesticated. Back when I was single, my idea of a balanced home-cooked dinner was a chocolate Sunday and a dirty martini. That said, I’ve at least done pretty well in cooking since moving to Munich.


Exhibit A: one of my latest cooking endeavors: tofu sauté
Can you hear that? That’s the sound of me patting myself on the back…if only to smooth out the wrinkles in my shirt.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A "Fasching" good time


Ok, so what kind of Munich-residing expat would I be if I failed to mention Carnival, or as it’s called here in southern Germany, Fasching.

I know I’m a little late writing about this. But I’ve been busy with important hausfrau missions such as trying to acquire a laundry hamper, which as it turns out is no easy task. Twice we’ve ordered one only to be told later our selection was unavailable. Indefinitely. So the search for the perfect dark brown, preferably square, somewhat cat-scratch proof hamper (with a lid) continues. And in the meantime, the ever growing pile of laundry covering the floor makes it looks like it’s snowing clothes in our apartment.

But back to Fasching…

According to Wikipedia, and local bakeries selling krapfen, Fasching official begins mid-November, November 11 at 11:11 a.m. to be exact. And Ash Wednesday marks its end, right before Lent. But you don’t have to be Catholic to enjoy the festivities.

Fasching in Munich is filled with colorful costumes, parades, parties and of course the aforementioned, krapfen. Since I love food, I’ll start with those.
What gets me through the winter and keeps me out of a swimsuit
For Germans, or lovers of German food, they’re a lot like the well-known berliners (the pastry, not the people…that would just be gross). And for Americans, they’re similar to a filled donut…but better, much better. And unlike Berliners, which are typically either plain or filled with jam, krapfen come in many jam- and cream-filled varieties, my favorites being eierlikör (egg liquor), tiramisu and schwarzwälder (black forest).

And you’ve got to love any celebration that support people dressing like this:
Mozart meets...v-neck hippie man
Thomas and I went to a Fasching’s costume party with a few of his friends last weekend. It was kind of like a Halloween party back in the States, only without girls competing for the “least dressed” title in which competitors often win free drinks from sleazy guys and (in places like Madison, Wis.) second-degree frostbite. A few photos:
Lots of dancing...
Lots of  music...
And lots of photobombs from my husband in disguise.
Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to any parades this year as that would have required us to get up early and cut into our valuable furniture assembly and installation time. But there’s always next year.

Although, next year’s Fasching may be spent here. Fingers crossed – or in German style, daumen drücken (thumbs pressed). On second thought, I think I’ll stick with fingers crossed. Superstition infidelity might be bad luck…

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Saying good-bye...

I’ve been MIA from blogging for awhile because I’ve been struggling with my next entry. I wouldn’t call it writer’s block…more like emotional block.

A couple of weeks ago Thomas and I said good-bye to someone very special, someone who would normally be sitting in my lap right now as I type. Of course, he wouldn’t like being moved every three minutes while I get up for more tissues. But then again, if he were here, I guess I wouldn’t need any.

Boots was a very special kitty. He’d been abandoned and abused and was feral when I first encountered him near my apartment in Tucson, Ariz. It took months of coaxing, but he finally calmed down and started his new life as a pampered house kitty. He even, maybe not surprisingly, completely lost interest in going outside. 

Boots, the sweetest cat with the saddest eyes
Unfortunately, he’d been cursed with several health problems over the last couple of years. And as were preparing for our move to Germany, our vet cautioned us about the stress that traveling may cause on Boots. But, what other choice did we have? I was afraid (and admittedly, selfish) that he would feel abandoned if I left him with friends or family.  I would never put him through that again. And after all, you never leave behind a member of the “herd” (as Thomas and I say in regard to us and our kitty family).

The first few months here in Germany, Boots was fine. It wasn’t until earlier this month that we started seeing signs of his health beginning to decline, and I started to get a horrible, sinking feeling in my stomach.

We took him the vet on a Thursday evening. Fortunately, Thomas came with me as the entire visit was in German. She ran some tests. We waited. Had a coffee. Petted Boots. And worried. Thirty minutes later she called us back in. Even in my elementary German, I could tell from her tone alone that the prognosis wasn’t good. Now I know how animals feel when they hear people speaking. She gave him some medication and sent us home with some special food, which he hardly touched.

The next day, his condition worsened. It was painfully clear that Boots was dying. I always knew that one day I would have to say good-bye. But that didn’t make one bit easier.

We took him back to the vet, desperately hoping something could be done. But it couldn’t. The vet explained that only humane option was euthanasia. I kept hoping I misunderstood and held my breath as Thomas choked out a translation.

Giving consent was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.

We stayed with him until the very end, something I’d always promised him – and myself – that I would do. Thomas and I stroked him until the vet told us in German that his heart was “still.”

I still have a hard time believing he’s gone. And I’ll always have so many what-ifs. What if I hadn’t moved him across the Atlantic. What if I tried more types of food. What if I’d taken him to the vet a little sooner… But for all the what-ifs, I can’t help but remember all of the good years we had together and how much he’d changed from that beat-up feral cat to a loving, gentle member of our family.

Shortly after his death, Thomas and I were in the kitchen washing dishes when a soap bubble drifted in front of us. Normally, I wouldn’t have noticed it, except that it lingered in the same spot for an unusually long time before it disappeared behind the laptop on the counter. Now, I’m not the religious type and maybe this sounds odd, but I’d like to think that maybe that was Boots, just stopping by to let us know he’s still here, watching out for us and the other furbabies.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

You want the truth?

Having known many Germans and now being married to one, one thing I’ve learned is: never ask for one’s opinion if you’re not prepared for an honest and possibly blunt answer. 

It’s not that they’re being rude; actually it’s quite the opposite. You ask a question (e.g. What do you think of this outfit I just spend two hours putting together?) to which your German conversation partner will assume you’d like to hear the truth. Anything else would be illogical. So imagine your partner’s surprise when his honesty prompts a response of several indignant words, a couple of dismayed gestures and a good door slamming (of which Thomas may or may not have been the recent recipient of).

As weird as it sounds, this honesty thing took me a little while to get used to. But I’m finally learning to appreciate it (most of the time, that is). After all, who wants to be told they look awesome when they actually look like a color-blind hippo that got dressed in the dark? Which reminds me, never tell a German you like something or that something looks good if you don’t mean it. If your true feelings came out later, the damage caused by your little white lie would far out-weigh any good intentions you had.

On a related note, Germans also tend not to ask questions unless they care about the answer. But who asks questions for the sake of asking, you…um…ask? I submit for your review Exhibit A:

....................?

Wait that wasn’t exhibit A. That was just an incredibly awkward picture of a plush Penguin frolicking in the forest. Here’s Exhibit A:
 
A hastily and poorly drawn Exhibit A

 That's right...the supermarket.

When you hit the checkout counter in the U.S., the cashier will generally initiate a series of routine questions. How are you doing today? Did you find everything okay? Any plans for the weekend? You are of course expected to respond with something like: Good, and you? Yes. Nothing special. She doesn’t want to hear about the colonoscopy you just had, that you in fact do need help finding something, or a long-winded account of your weekend gardening strategy.

In Germany, on the other hand, the cashier will acknowledge your existence with a simple Hallo or Grüß Gott (depending on the region). After that, the only sound you hear for awhile is beep, beep, beep as your items pass over the scanner. Then cashier’s voice resumes: €32.85 bitte. You hand over the money, she mutters how much change you get back, and then throws in a hasty Schönen Tag or Tschüß. And that’s it. No superficial small-talk, no fake smiles. Just another efficient transaction of food acquisition.

The story repeats in German clothing stores, book stores, postal offices, banks, etc. It’s no wonder many Americans perceive German salespeople as a bit cold. They just don’t share in our mentality that pseudo-friendless equals an improved customer experience (which is debatable conclusion in itself, I might add). On the other side, it’s no wonder that many Germans are turned off by chatterbox salespeople in the U.S. They’re just not used to someone “pestering” them as soon as they step foot in a store.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Top 5 “so I live here now” moments

Recently I’ve been exchanging emails with a new friend from the States who’s getting ready to hop the pond to come live in Germany. Chatting with her has got me reflecting on all of the prep work that goes into such a big move and on the adjustment process that starts when the plane touches down.

While I have to say that I’ve not really experienced a huge cultural shock (having moved from one globalized western country to another), there are a few differences…some for better, some that make me want to do this:


1. Check your voltage before you buy it or move it overseas. Sounds obvious enough, but when Thomas and I were inventorying our electronic treasures, we were operating under the false assumption that high-ticket items would be flexible enough for U.S. or German voltage. Wrong. The $14 hairdryer proved smarter than the $500 vacuum.  

2. So where do I hang my clothes? Germans are known for their efficiency – a stereotype that doesn’t seem to extend to interior architectural design. In the U.S. you’d be hard-pressed to find an apartment without built-in closets. But in Germany, it’s typically BYOK – bring your own Kleiderschrank (the German word for a wardrobe or otherwise external closet).

Then again, there is some benefit to buying your own – you can add all sorts of cool organizational features like IKEA’s PAX system. No, I don’t get paid for that reference. But, yes, I use PAX and love it!  

Part of my IKEA closet with PAX organizers
3. Need a light…or 10? And while we’re on the where’s the…?? topic, if you’re renting (or buying) a German apartment for the first time, you might want to stock up on some of these:

Lovely, isn't it?

Otherwise, you’ll probably find yourself sitting in the dark, trying to play [insert the latest boring solo game of your choice here] for awhile…which could lead to rumors that you’re in some vampire movie-inspired cult or just woefully unprepared. Or maybe both.

Why the lack of innate lighting? Germans tend to see lighting as a form of creative expression. In the U.S. most apartments come with standard, bottom of the line ceiling lamps that you only notice when a bulb burns out. Germans, on the other hand, prefer selecting their own deckenleuchten to compliment their décor. Here are a few examples of just how creative they can get.

Overall, not a bad idea, but a bit inconvenient if you’re shy a few dangling light bulbs in the first few weeks. But then again, it makes sitting in a lit room feel luxurious. 

4. Buying groceries. Boring sub-head, I know. But it’s better than my first idea: “buying items of food to feed your face.” Yeah, let’s just get on with it.

Remember to bring your own bags, cash and a translator/pocket dictionary (if you’re not already super-fluent in German). Not for communicating with the cashier, but to translate ingredients on packages. Otherwise, your coconut curry might end up being seasoned with minced horseradish instead of minced ginger.

While many larger grocery store accept EC cards (similar to debit cards in the U.S), carrying cash can help prevent awkward moments at the check-out…not that I would know anything about that, of course.

Bringing your own bags to the grocery store is a trend that’s starting to catch on in many U.S. cities. But in Germany, if you don’t bring your own, be prepared to fork over a few Euros for plastic ones at the check-out. But why not help Mother Earth – and your pocketbook out a little and bring your own reusable ones. Here’s a link to one of my favorite brands (which you can easily clip to your purse).

5. The quiet game. No, it’s not like the movie the Crying Game. Wow, where did that reference come from? Yikes. Sorry about that...

It’s more like back in elementary school where I had a potentially hung-over teacher say she’d reward the quietest student with a piece of candy at the end of class. Only with German Ruhezeit (literally “quiet time”) no one will give you candy for your adherence. Unfortunately.

I’ve blogged about Ruhezeit once or twice before, but it’s a pretty important rule that’s worth mentioning again. During this time, you’re not allowed to make noises that would disturb your neighbors. The quiet hours vary depending on the apartment building, but it’s generally every evening/night through early morning. It also applies to Sundays (all day) and to lunch time (daily).

Ruhezeit is actually a nice concept for people who don’t want every evening of their lives filled with incessant hammering, drilling or loud music. But it can be a little challenging to work around when you’ve just moved in and need to drill into the ceiling to install those 10 lamps as mentioned above.

Of course, I’ve only been here for two months, so this is in no way an exhaustive list. It’s just what I’ve experienced so far. What differences have you found between your home country and where you live now?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dining in Deutschland

Unlike in the U.S. where dining out is commonplace, Germans tend to cook a lot more at home and reserve restaurants for special occasions. As Thomas explained, dining out is considered more of a celebration than just a means to acquire of food. This explains why people linger a lot longer after eating and then request the check when they’re ready, unlike in the U.S. where waiters often rush over the bill before you’ve taken your second bite.

Maybe the fact that grocery shopping tends to be less expensive in Germany plays a role. For example, when we were in the U.S., Thomas suffered from sticker shock nearly every time we visited our local grocery store’s produce section.

And on a side note, Germans tend to use more local and seasonal fruit and vegetables when cooking. This explains why that bunch of grapes I plopped onto the scale at the veggie market checkout cost nearly €5 (about $6.75). Even the clerk was so shocked, he triple checked the price, looked at the sign, and then said (in German) something like Oh, these cost this much because they come from South Africa. He then gave me a questioning look as if to ask, Do you still want them? I never felt so guilty for indulging in fruit.

But back to the restaurant scene. Munich is a richly diverse city with tons of dining options those of us who love eating but are, say, slightly challenged in the home-cooking field. But lately I’ve been feeling a little homesick for some of my favorite foods from the States, like fried catfish, hushpuppies, dirty rice and shrimp étouffée.

So as they say, when in Rome, cook Cajun food. Or something like that.

Two grocery stores and one fruit and veggie market later, I had all of the ingredients to make my very own shrimp étouffée.



Yes, that's a cocktail shaker in the background. I needed a little liquid courage before embarking on this daunting culinary challenge...
It took about three hours (and a lot of math to convert cooking measurements...converting grams of butter into tablespoons is a two-step, cross-your-fingers process) but I finally got my étouffée. Plus, since I had to make my own Creole seasoning, I quadrupled my previously skeletal spice collection.

Here’s the final result: 


spicy shrimp étouffée with extra hot sauce
And the best part? It actually tasted good! Maybe there’s something to this cooking thing...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A bakery so good it defies the law

One of the best things about living in Germany is fresh baked bread. No matter where you are in Munich, chances are pretty good that there’s a bakery - or ten - within walking distance. Around our apartment, for example, we have a least half a dozen (that we know of) just minutes from our door.

And while Thomas is at work earning some of the spendable bread, I’m usually the one who bringing home the literal stuff. Lately, my bakery trips have gotten a bit easier as I’ve graduated from wide-eyed pointing to full-sentence requests. And just yesterday, I even worked up the courage to ask what in an unfamiliar bun. OK, so I didn’t fully understand the response, but it was a start, right?

The other day, Thomas went out on his own edible expedition and came home with several delicious baked goods wrapped in some curiously designed paper:

Such pretty pink wrapping pa--wait a second, is that the...
I’m sure there’s a story behind the logo, but to my knowledge (and a 30-second internet search) it’s mostly commonly associated with anarchy. So we now affectionately refer the bakery as Anarchy Bread. This re-branding attempt was of course followed by a slew of half-baked (get it?) slogans:
  • Anarchy bread: Where recipes are for The Man, man
  • Anarchy bread: Surprise your taste buds
  • Anarchy bread: A culture of enticing culinary chaos
As far as the rest of the paper's design: forks, teapots...sure, those make sense. But what's that other thing? A metallic party hat? I'm just gonna let that go for now...

Oh, and yes, the cake was delicious!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Excuse me ... or not

Ok…so I love my new country of residence, but I really need to vent one complaint. To sum it up, let me quote every elementary school teacher I’ve ever had: “No pushing! Tommy, say ‘excuse me!’”

All right, that’s two complaints. But it seems people in Germany have few qualms about bumping into – or downright stepping on one another, without so much as an Entschuldigung (excuse me).

You see it in the trains, busses, shopping centers, streets, Christmas markets (where people in white winter coats are carrying two mugs of Glühwein…AHEM) – everywhere. Thomas says the “pushing thing” is just a big city problem, like in any country. But I’ve seen this behavior, albeit on a lesser scale, in smaller German towns we’ve visited as well.



Sure they look politely packed in here. But that's because they're standing still.
I guess it’s all just a cultural difference. We Americans in the U.S. probably excuse ourselves way more than necessary. We say it if we pass three feet in front of someone in the grocery store aisle, something many Germans find comical. God forbid if we block a stranger’s view of the Pop-Tart selection for three seconds.

And of course, (and I have to credit Thomas for this observation), the quantity of excuse me’s in the U.S. seems to correlate with the climate. In Arizona, where it’s nice and warm, people tend to be more friendly, and even overly-polite at times. But in Wisconsin during the cold-as-crap winter, people’s personal space bubbles (and respect for others’) tend to shrink. When it’s -20° C, each word seems to decrease your body temperature. So apologia is reserved for more sever social transgressions, like perhaps coming within 1.5 feet of stepping on someone’s toes in the heat pack aisle of Farm and Fleet.  Perhaps this upward temperature/politeness trend will occur in Munich as well (I’ve only been here since November 2010). We'll see...

Maybe we just have bigger “personal space bubbles” in the U.S., and we get wigged out at the thought of violating someone else’s. But even still, I have to say that’s one thing I miss in the U.S. At least my local dry-cleaner gets a little extra business.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ringing in the New Year with a bang – literally

Nothing says Happy New Year in Germany like getting together to go drinking on the streets while lighting thousands of bottle rockets and other over-the-counter fireworks.

Getting a "light"

While we have this tradition in the United States (except drinking on the street as that's illegal in most cities), it in no way compares to what I’ve experienced in Germany. Both in a small town outside Stuttgart and in the heart of Munich, people pour outside, explosives in hand, ready to release their inner pyromaniac.


Lighting bottle rockets in the heart of the city
One possible reason for this "explosive" difference is that many U.S. cities don’t allow private fireworks for safety and fire reasons. (Note: most U.S. homes and small buildings are made from wood, not concert as they are in Germany.) Cities will often have an organized, professional fireworks display instead. And for most people, this is more appealing to watch than driving out to the boonies to light a couple of bottle rockets into a corn field.

But here, the flashes of light, loud BOOMs, screams of slightly-to-heavily intoxicated partiers and people running from fireworks lit too close for comfort, gives New Year’s Eve in Germany a dramatic, yet somewhat surreal atmosphere.

In fact, even as we ascended the stairs out of the U-Bahn station at Marienplatz, a few trigger-happy merrymakers couldn’t help lighting up a few. The combination of smoke, noise and light could have made for a perfect scene in a war movie. Here's a video I took just as we emerged:

video

Legend tells us we do to this because it was thought fire and noise would scare away malevolent spirits or demons. Maybe. Or maybe people just like blowing stuff up.

In any case, while it may or may not scare away petulant poltergeists, it does discourage people from wearing highly flammable, synthetic clothing. And as I did get stung slightly on the face from a stray ember, I realized it was for the best that I forgot to wear one of my brightly colored wigs that night...

Here's a short snippet of the night's "finale:"

video


 ...And the celebration's aftermath. It takes a few days for the city to recover.


The aftermath