Monday, May 30, 2011

Plumbing Drama

Last week, randomly, 2 men showed up at my house wanting to have a look around because there was a puddle of water in the garage and they were trying to find the source of it.  As it turns out, the source of it was behind my bathroom wall.

My first reaction was panic.  From what I know of German tenancy laws, they're strange and I was half expecting to pay for the repairs (any damage deemed your fault, from regular wear and tear etc.... needs to be paid from the tenant) After some research and assurances from friends, I'm not responsible and don't have to pay for the leak.

They came back again the other day to do more investigating.  It turns out the damage is worse than they thought and have to break apart 3 walls, put in a new toilet and retile.  That's the short story.  The real story took about 3 hours, a lot of charades and an iphone app. 

You see, so far, I only have about 4 classes worth of German and I talk the equivalent (and sound) like a 4 year old child.  Sure, I can say "Hi, How are you?" "My name is Katherine, I have a dog, I live in Nuremberg" "My cat is sitting in the drawer" (don't ask- I don't even have a cat!) as well as my phone number and very few other basics.  However, plumbing vocabulary is NOT within my repertoire of basic German.  And English was not in the plumbers repertoire.  And so, we resorted to charades and an iphone app.  The charades were a given, but the iphone app was genius.  When, after lots of charading, I still wasn't getting what they were saying.  Plumber #1 spoke some German into his iphone and his phone said back to me "the experts are coming on Monday".  It was genius.  I kinda feel like it's cruel and unusual punishment to have to tackle plumbing German only 4 months in, but whaddya do?

The nice thing about the toilets in Germany is that all of the plumbing is built into the wall, so it looks nice and clean.  The bad thing about toilets in Germany is that they're built into the wall so when you have a leak the whole wall needs to come apart (witness exhibit a in the picture above) to make matters more interesting, my walls are entirely tiled so how they're going to make it look normal again with matching tiles is beyond me.  And my German doesn't extend to asking.  All I know is that my bathroom will be a disaster for 10 days and after that, things are supposed to return to normal.  I think.  That's what the iphone app claimed anyhow!

Friday, May 20, 2011


Recently, some friends asked me how I was liking Germany so far and what I thought were the good (and not so good things) about my past 4 months in Germany. There are definitely lots of great things (cost of living, autobahn driving, work/life balance etc…) and some extremely challenging things (traffic, the language, the atrocity that is my pollen allergies, cost of health care etc…) but the best way to FULLY describe my German experience so far is to say it’s like the movie Pleasantville.

You see, living in Germany is almost like a throwback to the 1950’s but with some current day elements. For instance, the crime rate is extremely low and trust level extremely high. My neighbors leave their bikes unlocked, entire cases of beer in the garage next to their car and the doctor sends me a bill every few months knowing that it will eventually be paid. In the world of North America, this would be unheard of: the bikes and beer would be stolen and the doctor won’t look at you until you prove your medical coverage.

Also, the fact that this country is still fairly religious and church bells go off several times a day and of course the nothing open Sundays. I remember growing up as a kid in Montreal hearing some church bells, but I also remember them being banned because they were too bothersome.

People still call each other “frau” and “herr” in everyday conversation (the equivalent of Mr and Mrs) to be fair, this tradition seems to be mainly prevalent in the older crowd.

Despite all this, it’s still as modern a culture as everyone else and every ex pat I know has adapted to living in Pleasantville Germany quite well. People swear that they love that the shops aren’t open on Sundays (I still grocery shop on Saturdays looking like I’m preparing for a nuclear war knowing I can’t get anything the next day) In a way, it’s refreshing to have all of the modernities of life, without any of the headaches like worrying about crime rates and homelessness but I can’t help that it also feels a smidge na├»ve. I’m sure this isn’t the same for all cities in Germany, but that’s what Nurnberg feels like. It’s like a trip back in time… to a kinder, gentler and less hectic place. But it definitely takes some getting used to!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Things my mother taught me

I was thinking back, and I “think” this is the first mother’s day I was away from my mom. My mom and I are really close and I missed her this mother’s day. But instead of focusing on the missing her part, I looked back at some of the things she taught me. My mom was a bit unconventional to say the least, but now that in my late 30’s and can envision motherhood, I really admire that. Here are just few of the (mostly) unconventional things she taught me…
- In a pinch, white toothpaste makes a great hole filler in walls (we moved a lot!)

- Table manners and table etiquette are important. I used to hate that she used to set out full cloth napkins and wine glasses for my juice when I was a kid, but appreciate it now!

- Embrace your dreams, whatever they may be. As a teen, I used to think my mom’s “oh that’s nice honey, as long as that makes you happy” attitude to my career choices was nonchalance. I used to joke that it didn’t matter if I told her I’d become a hooker or doctor, she’d have the same response. I now know she really meant “follow your dreams”

- If you have fear, don’t let it show. My mom and I lived alone for a long time and between the 2 of us, we became really resourceful and self-reliant. I was always amazed that my mom could rewire the vacuum or hang a ceiling lamp. If it blew up, she’d turn off the fuse and start again til she got it right. When I was a teen and we caught a robber in our house, I was afraid to sleep in my bed the rest of the time we lived in that place. If she was afraid, she never showed it.

- Mayonnaise makes a great hair conditioner for dry hair. Egg whites and honey a great face mask in a hurry.

- Map reading is over rated. We would drive from Ontario to Florida every year. It was a 24 hour drive thru most of the Eastern US. Damned if my mom could read a map. Every time we made a stop, we managed to make a detour thru pretty much every ghetto from Detroit to Jacksonville. Somehow we made our way again and got to our destination every time though.

There are countless things that have been ingrained into who I am, but I'm thankful for all the life lessons that have been, are and will continue to be.  I love you mom and I miss you!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

My part time job

Living in Germany has it’s challenges, but after over 3 months, I’m starting to get into the groove of things. For instance, I don’t break out into a cold sweat when someone starts talking to me in German (though, I’ve still only had 3 lessons because my German teacher has been rediscovering her Brazilian roots for the past month). Though the length and amount of traffic lights here still (and will always) drive me insane, I’m learning to accept it. And the biggest thing? I can drive a few places without my gps!

However, one thing that consumes a lot of my time, is dealing with my garbage. I don’t mean the theoretical “emotional garbage”, I mean the actual waste that I generate. Thankfully, I live alone, so I don’t generate a terrible amount of garbage, but the time it takes me to deal with my garbage is almost worthy of a part time job.

It’s not that I’m not used to recycling. In Canada, we’ve had this concept for a while and it was pretty easy: blue bag = everything recyclable, cans, bottles, paper, etc… garbage= everything else. Straightforward right?

In the "let's make things as complicated as we possibly can" world that is Germany, dealing with my garbage involves this:

- collecting bio waste (ie compost)
- regular garbage
- glass
- plastics
- paper
Pretty normal right? What’s not normal is that all of these things have to be collected separately and brought to different places. For instance, regular garbage & bio waste goes in the common bin downstairs. Glass has to be taken to bins down the street and sorted into brown, clear and green. Plastics have to be collected and put out in a common place (at the neighbors building) twice a week. Oh, and speaking of plastics, you have to put them into city issued yellow bags. When the bags run out, you can’t just go and buy more, you have to go to a special city run place (which is of course only open during work hours) and buy more. Paper gets it’s own bin (I’m lucky, also downstairs) It’s exhausting to figure out. I feel like I’m constantly taking out garbage! And to make matters worse, I just found out Germany is introducing a 6th dynamic: an orange bin. This bin is meant for “valuable recyclables” like old frying pans or broken toys. Great, this is now going to add a dimension of mystery to my garbage collection, what’s going to be considered a valuable? All I have to say is thank god I live alone, this would turn into a full time job if you had a family!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Spargel, Spargel everywhere

When I was interviewing for the job I now have, I did some research on Nurnberg and if it was a city I thought I could live in.  Surprisingly, according to wikipedia, the stats are pretty comparable to Vancouver.  Population:  Nurnberg  503,000 Vancouver 578,000.  So I thought it wouldn't be too much like living in a "small town".  And for the most part, it's not.  There's a good selection of international restaurants (including more thai restaurants per capita in the Western world!), a few decent bars and I can pretty much get a hold of anything I need.

However, the proximity to the "country side" here is as close as the wilderness was to Vancouver.  The city is surrounded by farm fields.   My office faces endless fields of canola (or rapeseed as it's called here, but I find canola a much better word)  My drive to work each day is like driving thru a salad.  Literally.  There's the red lettuce field, the green lettuce field, the rucola field, the green onion field (the most random, cause it actually smells like green onions when you drive by) and the garlic field.  Oh, and the endless spargel fields.

Spargel is white asparagus.  A delicacy in North America, but literally everywhere here that it starts to turn your stomach.  My friends had warned me that when it was spargel season you'd know, because it'd be EVERYWHERE. And let me tell you, they weren't exagerating!  On my way to work, there's at least a dozen signs advertising "frisher spargel".  Every meal at the cafeteria has a spargel component and hell, even my local big box hardware/home reno store store sells it (they also sell wine, but I digress...)

 I've researched this obsession with spargel and all I've come up with is that Germany produces 61% of the world's white asparagus.  The reason it's white is because the fields are covered with sheets to protect it from the sun.  No sun = no photosynthesis = white rather than green (good thing I paid attention in science class! ;) )

It's impossible NOT to get sick of spargel. It's practically being shoved down your throat!