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!