Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Oh Germany!

I'm not entirely sure what the caption is, but in my world, the right is the "before" Deutsche Bahn experience and the left is the "after"

My mom has been visiting for the past couple of weeks and I have been more than insanely busy taking her on a whirlwind tour of Europe. Even though she was born in Belgium, she’s never been to Europe before. Since it’s taken her 60 years to get back to the continent she was born on, I thought it only proper to show her a good time. So far, we’ve been to Paris and Austria (more on that when I'm not deleriously exhausted). Christmas weekend is Prague. I’m exhausted, but it’s for a good cause.

Knowing the issues that I’ve had so far, my mom is sympathetic, but sees Germany thru the eyes of a tourist. She sees the clean streets, the recycling and the on time trains. I think a lot of the times she thinks I exaggerate how cumbersome life can be here. Of course, if there are no problems, there is no cumbersome-ness. Lucky for me, I walk into all sorts of problems.

Take for instance, my first work trip. I work for a global company and had to go to Asia last July. My itinerary involved a train to Frankfurt then flights to Asia. When I checked over my itinerary the day before I left, I thought that the train times looked off. After all, I suspected it would take more than an hour for the train to travel the 400km to Frankfurt. When I called the travel agent to verify the train times, they told me “oh, the train times are ficticious, it’s up to you to check the actual times” Cool! Thankfully I called, because this info was not going to be volunteered otherwise.

For my return trip, there was a change in flights, because of that, I needed a new train ticket number. When I got to Frankfurt and tried the number, it didn’t work. I went to the office and no one could figure it out. They told me to get on the train and the ticket checker would let me know if there was an issue. Because it’s me and I have the best German luck, there was an issue. No one could find that a ticket was ever issued to me. They took down my info and said they’d write a letter if they could find the ticket. Again, because of my luck, they couldn’t find said ticket.

For the past 5 months, I’ve been communicating with the travel agent and forwarding all of the lovely Deutsche Bahn letters which I don’t understand. Today, the travel agent called me in a panic saying that Deutsche Bahn was a week away from launching legal action. Against me. For lack of ticket. WHAT THE (*)@(*()&*(&*()@_)@?????? I (calmly) stated my case to the travel agent telling them that this was their problem, and not mine. The ticket had already been paid and I was following their instructions. She wasn’t buying it so I had to step up my bitch. I’m starting to learn that stepping up the bitch is the only way to getting anywhere here when there’s a problem. I generally try to pull the calm, sane card, but it gets me nowhere here.

I’m not complaining, but this country is bringing the cynic me to the forefront. At this stage, I’m starting to look at each new problem as a challenge on how quickly I can get it solved. So far, I’m not doing very good. Dining Room chairs? 2 months. Plumbing? 3 months. Train ticket? 5 months and counting.

My mom constantly reminds me that no place is perfect or without it's problems and I get that.  I really do. And I get that there can be mixups like this anywhere in the world.  And to be fair, all of these things might be my karma for killing one too many flies or having a smooth(ish) life for a couple of years. I just don't get how an arduous business trip lands me on the verge of being a German criminal?????

Friday, November 25, 2011

The official start to the Christmas season

One thing I can say about Germany, is that you can't miss a holiday.  If it's a big holiday, there's bound to be a lead up to it.  And the lead up to the holiday is as exciting (if not more) than the actual holiday itself.  A few weeks ago, I wrote about the leadup to carnivale.  Well, Christmas is no different.

Today, in Nurnberg, advent gets kicked off with the largest Christmas market in Germany.  The Christkindlesmarkt is proclaimed open by the Christmas Angel.  From what I can find, the angel is always a woman (unlike the proclamation of carnivale season) The Christmas angel is elected every two years and must meet the following requirements:

They should, if possible, have been born in Nuremberg, but in any case should have lived here for a long time. They must be over 16 and no older than 19 years. They must be at least 160 centimetres tall, have a very good head for heights and an ability to withstand bad weather.

The Christmas Angel term lasts two years and once they're down to the semifinals, their pictures are in the papers and the public gets an input on voting for their favorite.  However, unlike North American pagents, there's no swimsuit or evening gown fashion show, but a quiz on Nurnberg history.

The Christmas Angel does the usual pageant queen duties, like visit old people and kids.  And proclaim the Christmas market open.  Also, last year's Christmas Angel opens the Chicago Christmas market and she has to deliver her proclamation in English.

I think it's cute to have a Christmas Angel, and kudos to Germany for not sexualising the Angel. Because you know if it was in North America she'd be strutting around in bra, panties and wings. But I really think the outfit it a bit much. But then again, maybe the outfit and wig are cleverly crafted to "withstand bad weather".......

                                                          The 2009/10 Angel

                                                              An 80's Angel

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lessons in hair management

(the peak of my awkward years- some things DO get better with age)

One of the hardest things about moving elsewhere is finding new people to keep up the grooming regime. I’m not one of those girls that need regular manicures, pedicure, whatevercures, but hair management is something that as a half Portuguese woman, requires religious maintenance. For me, that means eyebrows and the hair on my head.
Who doesn’t look back at their awkward years and cringe, but I’d argue that as a half Portuguese woman, I may have had it rougher than less hairy ethnicities. From the age of about 10, my mom decided to shear my mane, much like a sheep. I say shear, because that’s pretty much what it felt like. I don’t know if it’s because conditioner (or crème rinse as my early memories recall) wasn’t invented or if somehow my mother wasn’t aware of it in 1983, but every hair shampoo was equivalent to medieval torture. You see, even then, I had enough hair on my head to make half a dozen middle aged white men jealous. And well, washing without conditioner left my head one.big.tangled.mess. After one too many episodes of combing out my hair and loads of tears, my mom ran out of patience (not that she had a lot to start with) and had me sheared. And so I spent my awkward years being confused as a boy (until I discovered Jodi Watley sized earrings- to me, my earrings compensated the lack of feminity my hair had)

To make matters worse, my Portuguese genes blessed me with the mono brow. My father used to tell me as a child how lucky I was to have thick eyebrows. “Look at Brooke Shields” he’d say, “she has thick eyebrows and is beautiful”. Brooke Shields, I was not. I’m pretty sure that even though she had thick ones, she had TWO eyebrows, a feature my eyebrows were sorely lacking.

And so at the ripe old age of 18, I started the all-important career of eyebrow grooming, or the “welcome to the world of two eyebrows” as I like to call it. In the 20 years of getting my eyebrows done, I’ve learned a thing or two about eyebrows and have tried almost every technique of hair removal. For instance:

My ex landlord was going to electrolysis school and needed a “practice” patient. My mom volunteered me for role (thanks, mom) before I started, she sat me down and told me how a needle filled with electric current was going to remove my hair and (allegedly) it wouldn’t grow back. She also told me that that your nerve centers for pain was located toward the center of my body. The only reason I recall this is because when she stuck the electric needle over the bridge of my nose, I remember thinking “hmm…. You could be right”. I don’t recommend anything that involves electricity. Electrolysis included.

Having been to India five times for business trips, and knowing that many Indian women suffer the same fate as me, I figured threading was worth a shot. I mean, how painful could a piece of twisted cotton thread be, right? A lot it turns out. You see, threading works on the same principle as a weed wacker. In essence, they’re both doing the same job. A lady stands above you with a piece of twisted cotton thread and hopes for the best to graze a few of your eyebrows hairs while leaving your skin intact. Some people swear by threading, but to me, it’s just mowing the lawn, not plucking out the weeds by the roots. And anything that painfully annoying should be permanent. And threading is not.

My preferred method of eyebrow grooming is the wax. But I’ve learned over the years that there’s a lot to be careful of when choosing an eyebrow waxer. Having a lot of um… eyebrow real estate, I want the right landscaper. I don’t want someone who is going to turn my eyebrows into a Mickey Mouse topiary. Over the years, I’ve had my fill of over eager eyebrow groomers and let me tell you, there’s nothing worse than a bad eyebrow job. Waiting for them to grow back in is a long and painful experience. Pluck a few too many hairs and you end up with a perpetually surprised look for a couple of months.

When I left Vancouver, I had a standing every 3 week appointment with my eyebrow lady. I paid for the service a year in advance and I stayed with her for 4 years. Jane gave me the perfect arch. I miss Jane’s arch. Here in Nurnberg, I’m still auditioning eyebrow groomers. So far I’ve tried three. Two were mediocre and one gave me what I like to call “German stripper eyebrows”. There’s a trend in young German ladies to be too tanned, a crystal rhinestone applique on a tooth, 3 pairs of fake eyelashes, too straight hair and German stripper eyebrows. Too thin, no shaped eyebrows with a whole lot of pencil fill in. It’s not a look I can pull off, nor am I eager to. When I complained about my German stripper eyebrows, friends were all curious and no one claimed to notice the stripper-ness of them. I guess it’s that the eyebrow shape is in the eye of the beholder. But in the meantime, my search for the perfect arch continues… again.

Wanted: co-driver

The more I mull over my post about the independant woman's conundrum, the more refined I get to the ubiquitous “what are you looking for in a relationship” question. It's a loaded question, once you get beyond the chemistry and attraction, what are you looking for?  Friends of mine have openly admitted to wanting the knight in shining armour to step in, take over and "fix" their lives, but for a zillion reasons, that's just not me.  So,  at tail end of my 30’s and a divorce behind me, I think I can finally express it (I was always a late bloomer)

I think it can best be described using the clichéd “life is a highway”, road trip, etc… analogy. If life is a long road trip, I’m looking for someone to share the driving. Sure, I can drive alone, but then I’d need to make more rest stops and sometimes I’d have to have the music blaring and my windows rolled down hoping the cold air could keep me awake. Sure, it’s “possible” but not desirable.

I’m not looking for a chauffeur nor am I looking to be a taxi driver. I don’t want a gong show ski road trip with 5 male friends hotboxing me in with their flatulence (fact- this happened on a 10 hour road trip to me in my 20’s) Just someone to share the driving and split the cost of gas. Is that too much to ask? I hope not, since it took me this long to figure it out in the first place!

And since I've put it out there, I'd rather be making the road trip in a convertible, there's room for less baggage that way ;)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The token foreigner

Sometimes I think that the only reason I was recruited over here was to be the token foreigner in my department. I work for an international company and since my department is fairly new, I’m now the first foreigner. A lot of times I think that they wouldn’t have cared what my knowledge or experience is, as long as I was a foreigner. The fact that I work in outdoor clothing and I’m from Canada, it makes it even more credible to them. Because I’m from Canada and it’s cold, I must know about cold weather clothes (the fact that I had seven years experience for an outdoor company adds credibility, but that’s beside the point)

My collegues can now brag they are an international department. It’s weird though, feeling like this novelty. I was talking to a friend and comparing it to kids getting a puppy and forgetting that puppies need maintenance and training. It feels weird to compare myself as a puppy and to think that I need maintenance, but let me break it down and explain myself. It’s fun to have me around to have as the new foreigner, but it’s not so much fun to do the work it takes to have a foreigner around.

I “get” that I live and work in Germany, but one of the selling features was that I was going to work for an international company in another country that works in English. The job description and everything I was told was that English was necessary and German was a bonus. I didn’t want the added stress of working in a new country and culture in a language I can count to ten in.

But because I’m the first foreigner in my department, my collegues aren’t used to speaking English 8 hours a day and I’m not used to being the high maintenance puppy. During my first six months, I was reluctant to bring it up at all. But then, I realized that a lot of stuff was forgotten to be passed along to this token foreigner and I was getting frustruated. I brought this topic up and everyone was apologetic and made a conscious effort to speak English. No one MEANS to forget to take the puppy out, it’s just an adjustment to have a new puppy. I get that.

And though I’m super thankful because I have mad German skills for being here ten months (it’s like an 8 hour language lesson everyday!), it’s getting on ten months and it’s getting old. I talk to other foreigners in other departments (who are not their department’s token foreigner) and most of them have had the opposite experience. I’m not used to being a novelty and needing to have people go out of their way for me. And even though it kills me, I have gotten better at asking to switch to English in meetings.

The more I go thru this experience, the more I have respect for immigrants. If I think about my family, immigrating to Canada from Portugal and Belgium fifty years ago (via East Germany and Russia) I can only imagine how hard it was to come to another country and live entirely in another language.

So I’m conflicted. In a way, I feel like a princess coming over here and expecting my collegues to speak in English, but at the same time, the language we’re meant to work in is in English! And the novelty of being the department puppy is wearing off.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Elf elf elf elf

No, Christmas didn’t come early this year! But (with the help of a great host) I went to Cologne for elf elf elf elf. Elf means eleven and each year on November 11th at 11:11am while the UK, US and Canada celebrate remembrance day and those that fought in wars, people in Koln celebrate the official start of carnival season. This year, I had the extra bonus to be there in 2011.

The proclamation of Carnivale season in Cologne is announced by a young virgin, prince and farmer. Ironically, these are all men (even the young virgin) and they pay for their privileges. The major carnival festivities don’t start until February, but I guess it’s kind of a big deal because they need to get in a practice session three months ahead of time.

Carnival is like it is in Brazil, New Orleans and other places. Except in Germany there’s no samba dancers or beads thrown at you. Instead, you celebrate dressed in a costume (clowns and corny costumes are best) and bags of sweets get thrown at you. Cologne is Germany’s biggest carnival and has about 1.5 million visitors.

Like Oktoberfest, Germans take their partying and their drinking seriously. By the time we got to the main party areas at about 1pm, there was a whole lot of drunkness, cheesy costumes and sidewalks and streets filled with broken glass. It reminded me of being at a cheesy Halloween party, except on the street and in broad daylight in the shadow of a 700 year old church!

Also like all good German parties, this was about the drink and like Germany, it’s about beer. Specifically the Kölsch beer. I can’t tell you how it tastes because beer and I still haven’t made up since our 20 year old fall out, but I hear it’s tasty and less hoppy than other beer.

Here are some pics of the elf elf elf experience...

                                         The Beautiful Cologne Dome

                                    Middle aged men in Flamingo costumes...
                                     and a discoball, as a helmet... of course!
   Just because I don't drink beer doesn't mean I can't peel the lid off a wine!
                                   The famous Koelsch beer

Friday, November 04, 2011

Slowly making my way to the top of Germany's most wanted

When I lived in Canada, I felt like I lived on the "right" side of the law.  I was generally a decent citizen and didn't have a lot of run ins with the law or most people.

Living in Germany it seems, is another story.  Here, in my every day life, I feel pretty bad ass.  At first, it annoyed and upset me that I'd get randomly told off.  Now, I sort of embrace it. 

When I moved into my place 7 months ago, I had to do a lot of drilling (one of the features of German apartments is that they come bare to the walls of any closets, storage, appliances, fixtures and usually kitchens- though I lucked out with the latter)  Because I work and live alone, my only drilling options were in the evening.  Because it involved shelving, I tried to do it when I could wrangle a friend over to check my levelness.  Cut to me drilling. At 7pm. And being told off by my neighbor.  oooook, and I'm supposed to drill when? (not on sundays. can't make noise on sundays)

Then, there was the cat owning neighbor (it should be noted that he was sporting black finger and toe nail polish) who yelled at me because he thought my dog was going to KILL his cat.  The fact that his cat is bigger than my dog and that his cat is too dumb to walk away from my dog is besides the fact.

After that, came an email from my landlord asking me not to let said dog do her business on the lawn.  He had clearly mistaken the half dead ferns in the frront yard for the English Gardens in Munich.  This time, I put my foot down.  I told him I always pick up after said dog and until people picked up after said cats, my dog was going to keep going.  If push came to shove, I wasn't beyond requesting a dna test on any animal residue found.  Thankfully, he didn't take me up on it and all has been quiet.

Two weeks ago, I got a letter with a grainy black and white picture of myself and a request to pay 25 euros.  It was not unlike those pictures they take of you when you ride a roller coaster at an amusement park and they secretly take a picture of you on the ride and try to sell it to you on your way out.  Though my German is hardly fluent, I realized it was a dreaded speeding ticket.

It's been about ten years since I got a speeding a ticket.  I've only been pulled over about four times in my life: 2 driving in the US and 2 driving in Canada.  In my very limited expertise, Canadian police are much more gentle since both times I got off with warnings (my ex boyfriend used to claim that nervously shaking while handing over my drivers license probably helped).  The 2 I got in the US, I never paid.  To be fair, they sent me notices to come down to California and Washington state, but I never showed up.  I hear that they could potentially arrest you for an outstanding speeding ticket, but I hope, unlike murder, there is a statute of limitations.  We'll see.

So when the 25 euro grainy picture showed up, I figured it was a small price to pay for never having paid a speeding ticket before.  I thought to take a picture of 25 euros and send it to the Bavarian police, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't find it as funny as I did. 

A week later, a second grainy 25 euro picture of myself shows up.  This one was taken in the morning on my way to work and it appears I was singing judging by the open mouth and look on my face.

Great.  I was now officially a bad ass.  speeding tickets and causing domestic disturbances in my building.  Those damn Canadians.  By now, I had embraced it and started pressing my luck.  When below mentioned Halloween party was kyboshed by the cops, I got cocky. Yes, this late 30's previously quietly living Canadian dressed as Betty Boop sashayed up to 2 Bavarian police officers and said in broken German/English "You know what's criminal? Not dancing past midnight, but the fact I called the taxi company 3 times and they won't come because I don't speak good German".  The expression on his face was priceless.  Sort of like "WTF" meets "oh lord, another drunk Canadian".  The universe came to his rescue though.  While he was debating how to best answer my question, he turned and said "look, it's right there" as it turned the corner.  Would I ever have confronted a cop like that before?  Hell to the no.  But now that I'm a badass??? It just may become a habit...

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Dance your heart out* (*367 days a year)

For the past two years, I have gone out to Halloween parties. In of itself, going to a Halloween party is not remarkable, but the past two parties I’ve gone to have been shut down by the police. If you were a teenager, this wouldn’t be a remarkable experience, but when it happens in your late 30’s, it’s pretty comical.

To say the parties were shutdown for two different reasons, would be an understatement. The party I went to last year was held by a friend and he easily had 150 people in his house and a professional DJ in the basement. It was like something out of an 80’s teen flick. I’d never seen anything like it before. House packed to the rafters with people and pretty much everyone dressed up. I distinctly remember someone saying “Oh look, those guys dressed as VPD (Vancouver police department) look so REAL” and I replied “That’s cause they are!” I can’t help but feel bad for police at a costume party. The fact that the party went on until 2am before being shutdown by the police was a miracle. I’m pretty sure the neighbors were either deaf, ran grow ops or were in gangs for not having called sooner.

This year, was my first experience at a German Halloween party. The English group that meets in Nurnberg had a party scheduled for a local bar in town. I know that Halloween is still pretty “new” in Germany and it’s only in the past few years that kids have started trick or treating. I thought that since it was going to be a large group of ex-pats, dressing up in costume was expected. I was wrong. There was probably only a dozen or so people in costumes and those that were, were mostly only dressed in zombie like makeup. I’ve since learned that “most” germans love the dark side of Halloween. Sure, in North America there are more than your share of ghosts, zombie and Frankenstein costumes, but we try to mix it up.

I (uncreatively) dressed up as Betty Boop. I made the costume a few years ago and it’s not hard to get my hair Betty Boop’d. Also, I was too lazy to think up anything else. Earlier in the day, we were considering what my friend C should wear. Due to her amazing red hair, I had a great idea that she should dress as Jessica Rabbit from Who framed Roger Rabbit. The fact that she wasn’t really familiar with the character seemed unimportant to me. I told her to just walk around and say “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way” she’d be fine.

We spent the afternoon whipping up her sexy red dress and gloves. 8 hours later, she was turned into an incredible Jessica Rabbit. It. Looked. Awesome. The hair, the makeup, the dress!!!! So off we went, Betty Boop and Jessica Rabbit. Our first strange looks came from the taxi driver. Looking back, he probably thought we were hookers. I did tell him in broken German that this was for Halloween and not our normal dresses. He giggled under his breath.

C and I got to the bar and quickly realized we were a) not the only ones dressed up b) the only ones not attempting “ghoulishness” and c) no one would recognize us and would in fact think we were hookers. To alleviate our discomfort, we quickly had a shot.

I got into a conversation with a German (my opening line was “Did you dress up as Keanu Reeves?”- he looked similar to him and had the whole sweatshirt and jeans casual look going on) We got into why Halloween wasn’t so big in Germany. November 1st is a holiday in Germany- all saints day. “Perfect” I said “All the more reason to celebrate!”. “But you see, in Germany, it’s illegal to dance past midnight” he replied.

For a minute, I thought he was joking and was trying to attempt some reference to another cheesy 80’s movie- Footloose, where dancing was forbidden. But, no.

It turns out that there are 8 days a year in Bavaria where dancing is forbidden. Though I grew up Catholic in an especially Catholic area of Canada, I’ve never heard of any dancing bans. We ate fish on good Friday and went to mass at school on the holidays and called it a day. Dance your heart out whenever you want!

But not in Bavaria. I’ve since done some research ( a) to prove it exists and b) to prove to my friend’s German boyfriend it exists) Because I’m relying on google translation for my research, I’m not 100% clear why this archaic law exists. From what I can tell, it started in the era of National Socialism in 1939 before the start of WWII. It then eased during WWII because it was importan for the soliders to be entertained. It was then renewed in 1941 but each state has different regulations on what they adopt. For instance, you can’t dance in any state on good Friday. But you can dance in Bavaria on Christmas eve between 2pm and midnight. You can’t dance at all in Bavaria on Easter weekend from Holy Thursday to Holy Saturday. In Berlin, you can dance on good Friday, but only from 4am to 9pm.

It’s so bizarre, that you’d think this is one of those old laws that no one follows and certainly no one enforces. WRONG! At around 12:45am, the Polizei diligently showed up and shut the party down. No dancing. No loud music. It’s bizarre to understand and I’m baffled that this exists. The fact that it’s a quietly accepted law and there’s no real basis for why it’s wrong, makes it even more strange. But alas, it is what it is, and you can dance your heart out, 357 days a year!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

You fest, We fest, Let's Oktoberfest!

Last month, I went to Oktoberfest.  It's taken me a month to write about because, there's honestly a lot to process about Oktoberfest!

Living in Bavaria, and so near to Munich, taking part in Oktoberfest seemed a no brainer. I tagged along with my friend S (and fellow Vancouverite!) and her boyfriend M one fine Saturday afternoon. M used to work in Munich and part of his job used to be to entertain people during Oktoberfest. He was literally, the walking Wikipedia of Oktoberfest. Suffice to say, that thanks to them, I had the BEST first timer experience you could have.

First stop was at the Sheraton, S & M were staying overnight there. While they were checking in, I met this hottie in the glass case of the lobby. I decided he was coming home with me. I also bought one for S&M. I named them Hans and Franz. The lady behind the front desk did look at me oddly when I requested 2 male ducks (they had females but weren’t nearly as sexy as Hans & Franz) I had to tell her they were going to be brothers and not a couple.

It’s hard to beat Hans' sexiness

With Hans in tow, we headed to the Theresenwiese, basically the “fair grounds” where Oktoberfest is held. It was 2pm on a Saturday afternoon. In my first five minutes, I saw these people laying on the grass. It could be they were taking a nap, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t. Also, I saw a girl get rushed on a gurney with an IV in her arm. I’m pretty sure it had something to do with the beer they served…

not napping...

Now, people make reservations a year in advance to get into the tents. And if you don’t have reservations, you have to be in the tents at the crack of dawn. However, M is a superstar and knows people. So bearing gifts, S&M and I got into a tent thru the backdoor, like rockstars. I was impressed.

The tents are massive and loud. Almost everyone is dressed up in lederhosen and drindls. In the center there is an oompa band and they play “ein prosit” about every 10 minutes. If you only drink when they play “ein prosit” you’ll be on the floor in an hour.

At Oktoberfest, each tent only sells the beer of the Keller (or the brewery) that owns the tent. Beer comes in one liter “mas” and the beer is about 7% alcohol. Crazy tourists think that they have drank only 3 beer, but that’s really 3 litres of beer. It goes without saying that the washroom lineups are massive.

Even though I’m a Canadian living in Bavaria, I haven’t been able to stomach beer since an incident involving sleeman’s and bubblegum when I was 20. So I was prepared to only be a spectator at Oktoberfest. Again, because M is a rockstar, the waitress friend of his managed to smuggle me in a bottle of prosecco. So I drank Prosecco from a mas.

The Germans take their beer drinking very seriously. Oktoberfest is basically a time where you sit. And drink. It’s too loud to have a real conversation. But they did think ahead and thought 6 hours of straight drinking might get old so they worked in some exercise. A mas cup easily weighs 2 lbs. So every time you take a sip, you’re burning calories and strengthening your biceps. Since it’s too loud to talk, you just sing. The Germans may complain a lot in real life, but get them drunk and they sing. Far better than the English if you ask me. Get them drunk and they just pick fights!

At this point, Hans was feeling neglected and thirsty so he got it on the action. Unfortunately, he overdid it a bit…

The man (cause you know it was) who invented the mas was smart to make it out of glass. You see, there is a lot of cleavage around thanks to the girlies in their drindls. As a matter of fact, it’s no small feat of defying gravity to get those babies up and out (I failed- even Victoria’s secret best is no match for the dirndl bra, noted for next year) The glass bottom of the mas cup also doubles as a magnifying glass. If you’re a guy and you’re smart, you sit yourself opposite a girl with nice cleavage and you drink. Every time you take a sip, her cleavage is magnified in the bottom of your glass. As a result, every time I had a sip of my prosecco, I saw S’s cleavage. I’d show you a picture, but I’m pretty sure she’d kill me.

You’d think that Oktoberfest is a beer celebration and you’d be wrong. It’s in fact a wedding reception. The fact that the wedding reception is 17 days long and has been celebrated for 200 years is beside the point. There is lots of Oktoberfest food to be sampled, the most famous being “hahnchen” or roast chicken, but I was too busy people watching and drinking prosecco to take part in any of that.

The evening ended with me taking the train back to Nurnberg and this was arguably the best crowd watching if uncomfortable 2 hours I spent. I’ve never seen a train so full in my life. I was standing in the compartment between the two trains with 30 of my new closest drunk friends. At one stop, a young fellow couldn’t take it and stopped to vomit at the stop. He clearly took too long, because the train left without him. One couple was standing so close to each other, they decided they may as well make out. Despite the fact I was 20 years older than them, I think they may have wanted me in on the action. Or at least that’s the impression I got every the guy tried to grab the girl's breast and mistakenly (or drunkenly) tried to reach for mine.

I’m still reeling from my Oktoberfest experience and I still don’t get the point of dressing up and drinking. I guess it’s sort of like Halloween except everyone’s wearing the same costume. I do recommend it though as a once in a lifetime experience, but be careful, don’t fall asleep napping on the hill, rumour has it your wallet has a high chance of getting stolen during your nap!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why I traded this for that

Before- Last year, my commute to work was 10 minutes and looked like this

This year, my commute is 40 minutes and looks like this

9 months ago, I moved from Vancouver, Canada (we like to call it a world class city since we hosted the Olympics even though we riot the city when we lose big hockey games) to Nurnberg, Germany (famous for cookies and WWII trials). My commute went from a 10 minute drive involving a bridge and ocean inlet and views of mountains. Now, my commute is a full half an hour longer (to be fair it is usually 30 minutes, but because of never ending German road work is 40 minutes) and involves driving thru garlicland (the literal translation) and being stuck behind tractors.

While I was stuck behind a tractor this morning (I had time to kill since he was only going 10 km/h) I got to thinking… “how was it again that I traded in that for this?” add to the mix a tough settling in phase and I was going to start to look crazy by arguing with myself. In my car. On the way to work. Behind a tractor. But then it hit me. No not the tractor! The reason I moved here. I WANTED A CHALLENGE. Sure, I came from a world class city that was beautiful and had a decent job with a great company but after 7 years of feeling “comfortable” I decided I needed to shake it up. There was nothing WRONG with my life nor was I running from the law anything and to be fair a lot of people thought I was crazy for leaving it. But I was stagnant. And I wanted to be stagnant no more.

If I did the math, it seemed like a perfectly logical move. Stagnant at work, stagnant in my personal life, no financial or relationship ties and a big world class company comes calling for my skills and moves me (and my dog Lucy) across the world.

So yeah, some things are and have been 100 times more difficult than I could have ever imagined, but at the end of the day, I got what I wanted. A challenge. So who am I to complain… right? Then again, I do live in Germany which is essentially the birth of complaining so if I didn’t have something to complain about, there’d be something wrong with me!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Great Cockblock

When people ask me what life is like in Germany, it’s hard to put it into words. There’s no ONE thing that makes me want to pull out my hair and sometimes life here can be pleasant. But if I had to sum it up, it’s that daily life is one. Big. Cockblock. For those unfamiliar with the term, wikipedia defines cockblocking as:

"To cockblock is to prevent another person, intentionally or inadvertently, from having sexual intercourse with a third party. A cockblock, or cockblocker is a person who engages in such obstruction or intervention. According to an article by a freelance writer, Joshua Bernstein, in the New York Press, cockblocking is a "foul act in which someone interferes with another’s attempt at finding happiness inside someone’s pants."

 It's kind of like a road block, but not for roads. After thinking about it, I think the cockblock is the perfect metaphor for life in Germany and I’ve even broken it down into different types:

The language cockblock-

First and foremost. This is obvious. If you can’t understand what’s going on, that’s an instant cockblock. To be fair, I did expect this to happen and it obviously happens daily. I get language cockblocked at work (though this one really isn’t necessary because we are supposed to work in English, but people forget) cockblocked by mail, phone calls, newspapers, you name it. After nine months, I accept this cockblock, that’s just part of life in another country.

The bureaucratic cockblock-

Hands down, this is one of the most frustrating things about living in German. Heck, even the Germans complain about the bureaucratic cockblock (just maybe in different words…)

Example 1- my collegue’s computer died. In order for her to get a new one, she had to find a form no one knew where to find, get said form signed by 4 varying levels of managers and wait. That was 6 weeks ago. It turned out it was the wrong form (where no one knew where to find) and now she has to repeat the process.

Example 2- My famous plumbing experience. In order to get workers to come, the hausmeister had to call the project management company, they then sent out a guy to do an estimate, the guy reported back to the project management company, the project management company told the insurance company, the insurance company approved each repair and told the project management company, the project management company called the contractor, the contractor called the hausmeister, the hausmeister called the landlord, the landlord called me. Now, this process had to be done for 6 different workers. I’m still not ok with the fact it took 3 months, but I understand.

Example 3- I had to get a form signed by work. I needed to get pictures done, my manager to sign it and some lackey in some office to sign the paperwork. Now, of course there was no procedure that told me the order of preference they wanted these down. So I found myself at the lackey’s office 3 different times. Instead of him telling me, get picture, fill in form, get manager to sign, see me at the beginning, it was a guessing game.

Example 4- Cancelling contracts. German rules around contracts are extremely bizarre. If someone (ie a telemarketer) were to call you, you could unwittingly get into a contract (especially if you’re dealing with said language cockblock) But getting OUT of a contract in Germany is a whole thing onto itself. In order to cancel most contracts, you need 3 months written notice (there’s even a website- which has preprinted forms ready and tips on how to do it) If it’s a YEARLY contract, you have a window of about a month to send in your 3 month written notice. I’ve heard nothing but cockblock stories about contract cancellations and I’m dreading my first one.

Example 5- Though I hear this is a lot better than ten years ago, in Bavaria, they still mix the whole church and state thing. This is great for holidays, we get 12 of them a year, but you can’t do much on the holidays. Nothing’s allowed to be open. Nor are stores allowed to be open on Sundays or after 8pm. Home from a late night of work and out of groceries? You’re cockblocked.

The physical cockblock-

This sounds bizarre especially for such a first world country and I still can’t understand why it is, but it somehow is. There exists a sort of physical cockblock in this country. I’ve described this to German collegues and friends and though no one was consciously away of it, they eagerly agree it exists. Case in point:

When there is a sidewalk and a group of people are walking, they will walk in a line across the width of the sidewalk. Courtesy would indicate that if you are 4 or 5 abreast on the sidewalk and a person is heading your way, you part to let them pass. Not here. You’ll get pushed off the sidewalk. I call it sidewalk mafia mentality. It’s the same deal for elevators and trains, courtesy indicates let people off, before letting people in. Not here. S/he who is the pushiest wins.

After nine months of the physical cockblock, I’ve stopped being mad. It’s obviously not part of the culture and if people aren’t aware of this, it’s hard to be mad for something that’s not inherent. But it still annoys the shit out of me!

On their own, none of these is a dealbreaker and hardly the end of the world. However, dealing with cockblocks daily is just part of every day life here. The next time I’m at a bar and I see a guy get cockblocked, I might raise my glass to him. I know what it’s like, if in a different way!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fun with German!

It’s been nearly 9 months now that I’ve been living in Germany and my German is starting to improve. Don’t get me wrong, I can hardly have a conversation in German, but I can make appointments in German- on the phone, without humiliating myself and I don’t break out in a cold sweat at the grocery store when they ask me one of the 5 different ways of either “Is that all?” and “do you need a bag”.

Despite my noticeable improvements, I still sound like a 4 year old and I do primarily live in the now. Not because I read some 70’s hippie book of living in the now, but because my verb conjugating skills only extend to the present tense.

Like when I learned Spanish, I’m finding German vocabulary “fairly” reasonable to learn. Even if I’ve never heard the word before, I can make a reasonable assumption of what it means, a lot of the nouns seem to be similar to either English or French or have a root from another German word. Sentence structure has been my enemy though. The sentence structure is not at all like any language I know and the fact that two verbs can (mostly) not be together is weird. One verb seems to always be at the end. It’s like when they were developing the language, they decided that the listener should pay full attention to the speaker and wait til the end of the sentence to know it’s meaning. Why else would you have a verb at the end? Makes no sense!

Speaking of whomever developed the German language, I do know they must have had a bit of a sense of humour, because some of the words are cute. Herewith, are some of my favorite German words I’ve crossed paths withs….

German Word               English Word                         Literal Translation

Auspuf                           exhaust pipe                          out puff

Handshuhe                    Glove                                     hand shoe (not  exactly rocket science!)

Krankenschwester        Nurse                                    sick sister

Operlipbart                     Mustache                            Over lip beard

Brustwarze                      nipples                                breast warts (more creepy than cute!)

Then there are just instance where there might not be a literal translation, but it’s wrong. Case in point, the picture above. I knew that saft was juice, but when I saw dick saft? Well, it was just creepy. I’ve since discovered that dick is thick. And so, it’s thick juice. But still, it seemed far more perverted at first glance!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The independent women’s conundrum

Recently, I was having a conversation with a single guy friend of mine who was saying that it was harder than ever to figure out women these days and argued that a generation or two ago, it was easier, because men and women had more clearly defined roles. It’s true, back in the days of my grandparents, men were expected to be the providers and women the caretakers. Then came my mother’s generation and the women’s revolution. Women started breaking away from tradition and hung up their apron strings (at least during the day) for jobs. Thanks to the hard work of the women of my mother’s generation, I grew up believing I could be and do anything I wanted thanks to the cracking of the old glass ceiling and equal opportunity laws.

Perhaps because I was a product of a single parent home, I grew up believing that I didn’t “need” a man for anything. My example was my mother who raised 3 kids, worked all day and would rewire the vacuum when sparks came out of the old plug and knew how to install a dimmer switch.

Enter my adult dating life. I’ve been dating since I was 18 and to say I haven’t been successful is an understatement. Could it be because I don't “need” someone, this vibe is somehow picked up by everyone I’ve dated? Interestingly, when I was an emotional basket case in my 20’s, this somehow seemed more attractive to guys. Were they the wrong guys? Or was it just that because men haven’t (arguably) gone thru such a major role shift, that they still think their place is that of the role of provider?

There’s a lot being written these days about modern men and they are struggling to find their place. Before, being a middle aged white guy was the dream. You would almost be assured a good job (white or blue collar), have a nice home in the suburb with a stay at home wife and 2.2 kids. Us women have embraced our role shift of the past 40 years, but have men?

For most of my adult life, I’ve lived independently and felt fairly proud of myself for doing it all “without the help of a man”. However, what I’m starting to realize at the ripe age of 38, is that just because I CAN do it alone, doesn’t mean I WANT to do it alone. For me, moving to Europe was my eureka moment. I had moved several times and set up apartments before, but this time, it really hit me. And suddenly, I realized how with a partner, dragging ikea furniture up 3 flights of stairs, calling help lines and hanging up pictures could be at least a little bit easier. Sure, I didn’t NEED someone, but god, wouldn’t it be damn nice to have someone help you with that damn ikea cabinet you just dragged up three flights of stairs only to watch the box break from the top of the stairs and see all that chipboard go sliding back down to the bottom…

I’m not looking at this shift of belief as “giving in” or going back to tradition. There’s no way I want to be barefoot and pregnant wearing an apron and greeting my man with a manhattan and a kiss when he walks in the door, but I am willing to relinquish some of my…independence. God, did I just write that? Giving up the independence that was so hard won? Ok, maybe not give up independence so much as share. Maybe the ideal modern relationship isn’t so much based on traditional roles but more like a business negotiation. Maybe these days, once you get past all the lust and wooing it goes a little something like this:

Partner 1: “ok, so I hate dishes, but I’ll cook”

Partner 2: “Perfect, I hate cooking. How about laundry”

Partner 1 “I’m good with laundry, if you look after car maintenance”

And so on and so forth… It’s hardly a romantic approach, but I can go on and say how I think romance is dead anyways. I am of course focusing on the practical approach to things. Us independent women may gag at Hollywood romance movies and though we don’t “need” someone who can argue that having someone you look forward to coming home to is a great feeling.

All I know is that for me, moving halfway across the world has softened up my views on being the strong independent female, and yes, I CAN do it alone, but god, it would be so much better to have someone around who in addition to being a great companion can install a dimmer switch.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Heaven is a place on earth...

Last month, one of my best girl friends, J, was in Italy for trade shows.  Since she was there, we decided to meet up and do a mini vacation together.  Since hearing about it ten years ago, Cinque Terre has been a dream destination of mine.  Surprisingly, Cinque Terre is "relatively" untouched.  It's a UN heritage protected zone and since the write wrote about Cinque Terre a few years ago, it has gotten a lot more popular, though it still has kept it's charm.  In Cinque Terre there's not a single chain restaurant or hotel.  All of them appear to be small locally owned places.  I had high expectations of Cinque Terre and I'm happy to report, it lived up to them.

J and I are unconvential tourists, so of course, we did it unconventionally.  Typically, most people start at the first town from La Spezia: Riomaggiore and make their way to Monterosso.  But the distances are so short between the towns that by train it takes no more than 20 minutes from Monterosso to Riomaggiore and you can even hike in between the towns.  Though hiking between the towns sounds cute and charming (and mostly is) unless you want to feel like a donkey, opt for leaving your luggage at a home base, between the heat, steepness of some of the terrain and incredible views, lugging luggage is going to be the last thing on your mind.

 For the first two nights, we stayed just outside the five lands up in the hills above Framura.  We stayed at a family run small b&b above the hills of Framura

Each of the towns has their own charm.  For instance, Mannarola is best for beaching.  Most of the town is along the ocean and for less than 10 euros, you can rent a chair and umbrella and spend a day on the medditeranean. 

Vernazza, is the most commercial of the town and probably the easiest accesible.  You can walk from the train station to the harbour in no time and pass thru all the shops (Vernazza has the best shopping)

We didn't make it to the middle town: Corniglia, for a number of reasons.  We ran out of time and it was the hardest to access.  The trail between Manarola and Corniglia (the easiest way to get to Corniglia) was washed out and we didn't want to spend the effort to find another way to get there!

Manarola had the biggest harbour, but the town felt a bit disjointed.  The town was divided into upper and lower parts but we enjoyed some good eats along the lower parts near the harbour where there were some amazing sunsets!

For 3 nights, we rented an apartment in Riomaggiore.  It was high on the hills above town (read- lots of stairs up) had 2 balconies and a tremendous view of the medditeranean.

On our last night in Riomaggiore, we experienced quite possibly one of the more random sights... it was an end of season street party in front of the train station and the town put on a foam party.  Having never been to a rave before, this was a new experience for me. So when I was all the sub 10 year olds playing in the foam, I was the first adult to join in.  Many other adults, happily followed me and there we were.  In the middle of one of the most beautiful places on earth, throwing foam (and having foam thrown at us) by 8 years olds. 

It was a sad place to leave and a month later, J and I still envy the feelings of peace and beauty we had!


* Book your hotels ahead.  There aren't many of them and they book quickly.
* Have dinner at Pie de Ma in Riomaggiore.  Every night there is a chef's menu and the sunsets from the cliff are amazing.
* Hike the trails.  The most strenuous one is from Monterosso to Vernazza (though if you do it from Vernazza you avoid crazy narrow steep stairs that will make you feel like a donkey)

* Don't go in July and August unless you find great comfort in crowds.  One day in Riomaggiore, a cruise ship day tour was in town and I got a feel for what it was like and all I can say is: DON'T DO IT!
* As charming as it sounds, leave the luggage behind.  With such easy access, stay at one or two spots and travel between them.

The Vernazza Harbour

Monterroso al Mare from the water

Doing the hike from Vernazza to Monterosso.  The hiking boots are

because of this sign! We wanted to be ironic and hike in dresses.  But we're still practical, so we had proper footwear!

The view of Vernazza on the hike to Monterosso

Along the hike was this cute old man playing tunes on his sax

The view of Monterosso halfway thru the hike

After our hike, some much needed beach time

The hills above Monterosso

the foam party in Riomaggiore
 Just too phallic for words...

then the adults joined in.

One of the prettier and easier hikes.  From Riomaggiore to Manarolo on the Via Del Amore (way of love)
 A gorgeous stop on the hike for a capuccino or gelato

On The Via Del Amore, couples come to "seal" their love.  All of those things hanging on the rail are locks.  Couple come to seal their love with locks.  The cynic in me wonders if they come back and cut the locks off if the love doesn't work out...


Friday, September 30, 2011

It's true that things happen in 3's!

Things have been quiet in the writing world. NOT because I haven't had anything to write about! There's been a ton going on! From an amazing trip to Cinque Terre, a spontaneous girls weekend to the Bodensee to swinging on trees and ropes in the forest.  But logistics have stopped me from doing this as my computer died a couple of weeks ago.  It started out like a normal day, but then my computer would turn itself off.  Then, I would turn it back on.  And it would turn itself back off.  This went on for a day, and the next day, she decided not to come back on at all.  And then I did what all modern women do when their computer dies: I panicked.  My pictures! my videos!  And so I set on a search of how to recover my data.  I almost resigned myself to it being a lost cause and then, like a needle in a haystack, I found a great shop with customer service (I say needle in a haystack, because Germany is not exactly known for it's outstanding customer service!) 

I asked helpful guy if they fixed computers (they didn't) and when I explained myself (in English, because charades weren't going to happen) he explained to me that there is this device that you can help with this.  Long story short, you extract hard drive from your computer, connect it to this device, connect it to a power source and then to a usb to your new computer and voila, data can be gotten.  I was amazed that it was that simple and cost only 20 euro and even more amazed that he volunteered this info!  Poor guy didn't know what hit him when I thanked him about 30 times in a row!!! It was all I could do to hold myself back and not hug him!

It wasn't exactly in my budget to buy a new computer, mostly because galavanting thru Europe on weekends isn't the easiest on the wallet, but because this is my 3rd electronic device in as many weeks to bite the bullet.  First, was my cappucino machine (aka morning saviour), then my camera in Italy and now my laptop.  It's ironic that they all died within 3 weeks of each other, but even more so since they were all gifts from my ex husband, so it's appropriate that they went down in flames in such a short time much like my marriage to him!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Finding solace in Dr.Seuss

To my knowledge, I have never read any Dr. Seuss books as a kid. You see, I grew up in the French part of Canada and spent all of my primary school years in French school. To be fair, Dr. Seuss was probably available in French, I just never knew about it. Then again, I was a pretty nerdy kid. When I was old enough to read on my own, I read books about astronomy and the history of math. I do remember lots of Richard Scarry books though.

Even know I may not have read any Dr. Seuss books, I have crossed paths with excerpts from them. After all, you’d have had to live under a rock to have not heard of him growing up in North America. I do remember hearing about “Oh, the places you’ll go” but honestly had no idea what it was about. Then the other day, I looked it up. And it’s genius! Is this mandatory reading for kids? If not, it should be! How one can capture the story of the ups and downs of life in such a light spirit (let alone colorful words and rhyming) is absolute.bloody.genius.

I get that it’s main purpose was to entertain and inspire children, but is it wrong for me, at the ripe old age of 38, having never read Dr. Seuss to now find inspiration in it?

On “you can do anything”

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed. You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead. Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

On doubt

You’ll look up and down streets. Look’em over with care. About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.” With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down a not-so-good street.

And you may not find any you’ll want to go down. In that case, of course, you’ll head straight out of town. It’s opener there in the wide open air.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?

And if you go in, should you turn left or right…or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite? Or go around back and sneak in from behind? Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find, for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

On life’s disapointments

I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.

You can get all hung up in a prickle-ly perch. And your gang will fly on. You’ll be left in a Lurch.

You’ll come down from the Lurch with an unpleasant bump. And the chances are, then, that you’ll be in a Slump.

And when you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.

You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.

On loneliness

Except when they don’t. Because, sometimes, they won’t.

I’m afraid that some times you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win ‘cause you’ll play against you.

All Alone!

Whether you like it or not, Alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.

And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some, down the road between hither and yon, that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

But on you will go though the weather be foul. On you will go though your enemies prowl. On you will go though the Hakken-Kraks howl. Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. On and on you will hike. And I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are.

Dr Seuss, I may have never come across the path of your literary genius until now, but thank you. Thank you for writing such an inspiring and realistic tale of life. Life is about ups and downs. And we always make it thru anything, with a little humour.

Your mountain is waiting.

So…get on your way!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

How to recognize your future ex husband...

And in most random book titles....  I came across an article while surfing the internet last week talking about "how to recognize your future ex-husband"  Of course it had me piqued for a number of reasons, most obviously now that I'm divorced and have tried my hand at dating, I realize I still have some fears to deal with.

You see, the man I married was pretty much the definition of narcissist. In a sentence "It is difficult to recognize a narcissist because he (or she) spends all of his time acting, protecting his ego by presenting to the world a mask a false image of himself.

After 2 years, I feel great about myself and wouldn't look back.  But for the first year, I pretty much beat myself up everyday with things like "I should have known better" and though I'm much more gentle on myself and as cliche as it is, I still fear I won't be able to recognize the signs if faced with a similar situation. 

This is where the book comes in.  The article I read basically sums it up to the things you rationalize while dating.  Of course it seems obvious, but how many of us are blinded in the moment?  We'll see what else the book goes into and if it has any gems of info, but at the very least, it'll make great coffee table fodder when my girlfriends come over!

Is there a middle ground?

One of the things I've been making myself try to do since moving here is to force myself to go out and socialize.  By anyone's definition, I'm outgoing but oxymoronically, but I'm really, really awkward and going out and talking to new people.  If there's already a connection thru friends of friends, it's easier for me cause we have a starting point.  But to blankly go out and socialize?  I'd rather eat eggplant.

But in order to go out and expand my social circle, I force myself out to various English Stammtisch's (where fellow ex pats get together and mingle)  I've been so overcome approaching an entire group of people that I don't know that I've actually gone to them and then walked away out of fear!  It brings me back to being the new girl in school constantly as a kid and trying to make new friends.  I guess there's some things we'll never get over!

One of the things I'm most uncomfortable with is small talk.  The whole "where are you from? what do you do? nice weather we're having"  I'd rather people share their stories, debates, whatever.  So I should have known better when I was recently complaining to friends that one of the things I disliked about the stammtisch's and meeting new people was the small talk.  I should have known Murphy was going to bite me in the ass.  He's bitten me in the ass a number of times, like when I told an ex boyfriend that if India was the last place on earth, I didn't want to go.  Well, 5 trips for me to India later, ex boyfriend hasn't gone!

It started out innocently enough.  My friend A (who is hyper social and making me work thru this fear of meeting strangers) approached a table and started talking to them.  Since she broke the ice, I felt more comfortable joining in.  Then I got to talking to an Israeli fellow, and if he knew what small talk was, he wasn't letting on.   I had mentioned I'd gone to Israel before so thought that would be a good common ground.  Well, it turns out he was a missile designer and for two hours he gave me his take about peace (or lack thereof) in the middle east.  Don't get me wrong, certainly I'm not opposed to political conversations, but this was getting heavy.  Ever try to discuss the Israel/Palestine crisis with an Israeli missile designer? 

Why is it that small talk, like dating, there doesn't seem to be any middle ground?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Germany, throw a girl a bone.

Well, Deutschland. You and I have been intimate now for 7 months. Ours has not been an easy relationship. I met you with an open mind and had no preconceptions of how you would be to live with. Sometimes, I think you’re just playing tricks on me. Like the time I was locked in the dark bathroom stall at work facing my one and only fear of claustrophobia or the one where I couldn’t figure out how to make my German car go in reverse, open the gastank or the trunk. I know that you have an odd sense of humor. What else can explain those two dots over your vowels that make words unpronounceable? Other times, I think you’ve just been cruel to me. I mean really? A plumbing issue that’s lasted over 3 months in a language I don’t understand. I’m starting to be convinced that I must have seriously offended German plumbers in a former life and I’m paying for it in this life.

As a foreigner, I’ve accepted your bizarre rules. Like the fact that I can’t wash my car or grocery shop on Sundays but I CAN pick berries, visit prostitutes and gamble. I do struggle with the fact that a lot of your rules are unwritten and that I’m somehow meant to just “know” these things.

I can’t help but feel like the crazy one in the room since all your fellow countrymen all seem to ask me “Why are you here?” when they find out I’m from Canada and for the first time, I’m starting to wonder myself.

Germany, I am accepting of your faults and hope you will be of mine, but I’m starting to ask myself, “if you didn’t want me here, why did you pick me to move here”. I know I got a tattoo a few years ago to reinforce my belief of “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger” but do you really need to test out my theory every day of the year?

I do thank you for giving me great friends, because without them, I would have melted down (and I also would have less of a liver) You see, they’ve known you a lot longer than me and so they’ve learned how to live with you and provide me with meaningful advice.

But how about we let bygones be bygones and we put the past behind. I still have high hopes for you Deutschland and I still believe in you. But I’d really, really, REALLY like it if we could make things just a tad easier. I don’t mean lay out the red carpet for me or anything, but I’d sure love it if everyday of my life you didn’t test my evergrowing patience and make things just a little bit smoother. So can we agree to put our differences aside and maybe you can let me co-exist quietly and a little bit more hassle free alongside you? Deal?

Monday, August 15, 2011

German efficiency: 0 Ongoing frustration: 1

I should have known it was too good to be true.  Though I've only lived in Germany 7 months, I've figured out that nothing is as simple as it seems.  In North America, we hear constantly how Germany is one of the last bastions of efficiency. And I still say, lies! lies! and lies! 

It's been 3 months since the pipe burst inside my bathroom wall and the plumbers came to make a one meter tall by half a meter wide hole in my bathroom.  When that happened, the plumber explained to me (in German and charades) what would need to happen.  It involved about 5 different workers coming and doing their part and everyone thought it would be finished within 2 weeks.  Flash foward 3 months:  they had to take the kitchen out for 3 weeks, dry the walls for 2 weeks and then there was no activity for about a month. A month after the walls were dry, some clown came by to look at the wall and make an estimate. Nothing again for 3 weeks. 3 weeks later, the same clown came back to look at the hole and make an estimate. Then nothing. Then, FINALLY after me flipping out on my landlord (who said to me and I quote... "if you're sick of the hole drape a towel over it!") and any worker that would come by, someone made an appointment to come back for 2 days and fix this once and for all.

The day came today. I was skeptical, but excited. Finally, Helmutt (after 3 months I figured I should name it!) got shut. I was excited. Even though the workers showed up at 7am the day after I got back from Asia and jetlagged, I sucked it up. After 6 hours of the workers being here, they told me the job couldn't be finished because one of the clowns ordered the wrong tiles! Of course he did. Why would I expect this to be fixed within the year? I should have known better...