Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Odds and Ends

If you´re looking for a little laugh, I suggest heading over to the Virtual Tapas Bar for the lyrics to a song about a meet-up of ex-pat bloggers. It was all I needed to feel less isolated this morning.

My limited hunting has failed to locate any American ex-pats blogging from Austria.
Anybody know of any? My European adventure began in Austria and I used to be a pretty big fan of pretty much all things Austrian. I am now coming to terms with the fact that my children will be "piefkes" and liking the fact that my accent is no longer that different than that of the people around me.

I will also be closely watching this discussion over at EuroTrippen. It is the never-ending ex-pat struggle.

My mom lived in Germany in the 60´s, and at the time, the only place one could buy peanut butter was in the "Reform Laden", which surprisingly enough is not a detention center or juvie or similar, but Granola Central, the health food store. In a fit of ex-pat-think, my mother went back to the health food store figuring that if they had peanut butter, they might also have another American product she was looking for - wait for it - marshmallows! She got a lecture on healthy eating, on Americans and their diets and on her foolishness generally before she was permitted to once again go on her way.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Oh happy day. . .

it is the moment I have been waiting months for. Armin Assinger's "köstliche" commentary to the Olympic men's downhill in which the gold was snatched at the last moment by the French Deneriaz has finally made it to youtube where the whole world can see it. During the Olympics, the clip was only viewable in Europe, so I coudln't share it with family.

One doesn't normally see the sports reporters, but they showed this clip on the Harold Schmidt late night show and it became something of an instant classic. Even if one doesn't understand what's being said, there is nothing like seeing him covering his eyes as it becomes apparant that the Austrians won't be getting the gold. Assinger is a former skier himself, and he brings more dialect and color to the broadcast.

I can't get enough of Assinger's less professional :) approach to commentary and we always watch skiing on ORF instead of ARD.

One more time because it feels so good -
" Der Deneriaz foat wia a gsengte Sau ! "

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Rainy Day in Süd Hessen

Ok, here's a second try at posting the pictures from last weekend's romp to the north! We had a lovely time visiting friends, and I very much enjoyed hanging out with Jakob, the 1 1/2 year-old, who thought I was pretty cool.

Job hunting, everyone is constantly telling you that you have to know what you are good at. My encounter with Jakob was both heartening and a little depressing. I am generally good with kids - individuals, not large groups and with people generally. Unfortunately, it's not the kind of thing you can write on a resume and the experience, like reading "What Color is Your Parachute" in German, knocks me for a loop because I probably invested my entire academic life in an area other than that in which my natural talent lies.

I always got ansers back assessment tests in high-school telling me that I should become a stewardess or something similar, and I often received comments from co-workers while I was a Park Ranger that I was really cut out for the job. (Interacting with visitors, mind you - - - I was definitely not able to make the grade physically in one park where I worked, but parks like that are pretty uncommon.) But when you are capable of "more" then you want to do "more", if for no other reason than that it pays better. Now I am in Germany, and high customer contact positions are no longer an option because my German won't ever be at the necessary level. I have the good fortune to have had a technical education so that some doors are open for me, but one still wonders at night. (Comfortingly, my husband has similar thoughts, so I know I am not alone.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Language barriers

Over the past few days I have been drafting emails to former professors, in the hope that they might pass on to me any job-related fliers that might pass through their hands. There are many positions that get "advertised" privately in Germany, which isn't all the different than in the States I suppose. D. has received emails at work from project collaborators looking for employees. Unfortunately, neither of the two positions were closely enough related to my field for me to apply. I am no longer living in the city where I studied and am working to reestablish some kind of network. (D. is strangely the only German I know that isn't a Vereinsmitglied of any shape or form.)

Back to the email - One of the emails won't be a problem because the addressee was at my wedding, and hopefully hasn't forgotten me in the past few weeks, but for the others striking a balance between reminding someone of who you are and German directness is hard to do, and every corrected email I get back from D. strikes me as too brusque, so it's back to the drawing board.

In the silver lining department -
I sent off an email to someone in the hopes of setting up a German/English tandem.
And here are some pictures of the flowers at my wedding. We left so much up to the florist - and there were aspects of her execution where it was obvious she had really listened to me when we met to discuss the flowers. (I love wildflowers, but I wanted the flowers for the Church to be more formal - she pulled it together so well.) Not everything went as well - see the very obvious hairclips - but I was thrilled with the flowers.

The bouquet below was our jumping-off point and we wanted to go more "autumn".

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps

Thank you for the encouragement to see that there is an opportunity to be taken advantage of for us this Christmas. I have been trying to think through what I have liked and not liked in Christmases past.

I do not want to end up in front of the TV or at the movies because I have the sense that there is nothing else to do.

I want to go to church where it isn't lame. Midnight Mass at 9:45 isn't Midnight Mass. I want an orchestra and darkness and candles and a sense of mystery. I would like it to be packed and I want to have to get there early to get a seat.

If you ever have the chance to spend Christmas in Denver, there is only one place to go.

But with Denver so far away, we might be headed to Strasbourg for Christmas - groovy Midnight Mass and Christmas markets before and after. I would miss out on my BBC Christmas Music though and I couldn't call home. A lot to think about.

Monday, November 20, 2006

This would not happen in the States

Our colleagues in the office put this present together for our wedding. Note the shirts, seat cushions, and curtains created from money, the tiny hangers. That throw rug, in front of the bed, was hand woven.

My mother-in-law wants to keep if for her grandchildren to play with. As long as she is willing to store it, I have no problems with that, but I cannot wrap my mind around the work that went into this. They hung our picture!! on the wall. I find it almost unsettling.


Chalk this up to "higher highs and lower lows"

My husband, who headed off to work with the digital camera, so I can't post photos of our adventures into southern Hessen yesterday, is one of the few people in my life with whom I can switch languages. There are times when I need to express an idea I can't translate, and he's now to the point where he can deal with it without missing a beat. (Borat flashback - It's niiiiiice.)

There are so many things that can make intercultural marriage difficult, so many things you take for granted that bite you in the butt, but it occured to me the other night that D. speaks such wonderful German. (I am in no position to know that he does. It's adequate, but he's no Goethe-thank God.) He has definitely complemented me on my English, which is in a sorry state at the moment.

Which has lead me to conclude that -
It's lovely that difficult things come with hidden bonuses, and that there can be someone who sees extraordinary talents in skills that are simply natural for you.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Christmas Travels, Thoughts of Home

A sweet reminder of some of the more lovely things about home, if home happens to be Canada or the U.S., from the clever folks at The Typing Chimps

And my best wishes to all headed home (or to spend time with family) for the Holidays (i.e. Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa). Enjoy it!

Anybody have ideas for how to spend Christmas pretty much alone as a couple? (keep it clean!) Christmas has always been an extended-family holiday and I don't have too many ideas, and we don't have a fireplace.

NPR carries A Festival of 9 Lessons and Carols, and for the first time in many years I will be somewhere with a decent internet connection, so we can listen.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Lifesavers for the unemployed expat. . .

or another thing that gets me through the week.

I discovered this Fall that a number of US universities have lectures available as podcasts or streaming files. I can't tell you how many days this has helped me pass at home. It's worlds away from Arbeitslosenfernsehen. There aren't nearly enough for the non-computer gal, but let me at least point out the one's I've been listening to.

ANTH379 (Indians of North America)

This lecture gets off to an extremely slow start. Lots of talk of diet, etc. and I think Dr. Watson is a lecturer whose style you either love or hate. He strikes me as quite avuncular, and I find the subject material interesting.

Somewhere online there is a list that has all the Purdue Boilercast course numbers translated into real-people-speak, but I have lost the link to the page and have not been able to find it again. I'd be grateful to have it if anyone else stumbles onto it. Otherwise, one must listen to the first few minutes of the first lecture of each class or hunt for the university catalog online. Of course, the department name should be more or less clear from the course name.

There are also quit a few polysci letctures and sociology - I just never got that far. Maybe next semester.

And leading me to wish that I had wanted to go to college in CA like most of the other people in my class are the Berkeley course offerings.

I am a particular fan of European History from the Rennaissance to the Present. There's a video feed for this course, too. The professor uhh's way to much, but if you can get past that, the course is entertaining and I love his references to period art and music to illustrate his theses about historical trends. One gets the feeling that the lecturer has a profound sympathy with the people about whose times he is speaking - quite bluntly, he doesn't speak condescendingly about them, he seeks to explain their world view to the extent that you or I could set ourselves in their places rather than pitying them in their ignorance. And he speaks very knowlegably about Catholicism. There are a couple of points where I would have worded something differently, but generally he is really good. He's plenty critical of the Church in later lectures, but that is his "gutes Recht", and it definitely comes through that he has had more than a little bit of German. If I had moose hooves to award, this lecture gets all 4.

Also worth a listen, although I don't think I progressed much beyond the first few lectures was Geo 10 World Regions, Peoples, and States Even if you don't want to listen to the whole series, the second lecture in which he discusses an in class assignment in which students were to devise a plan for regionalizing the US for representation on a map was pretty amusing.

We've also been listening to Earthquakes in Your Backyard. I liked the Hurricane Katrina wrap up, although I thought it wasn't nearly detailed enough. Physics for future presidents also had a nice 9/11 recap lecture. The lecturer is a bit too self-congratulatory, but a lot of folks do that when retelling historic events. His retelling brought me crashing back to 9/11 because I spent the day with my ex-boyfriend who was visiting from Europe. He is an academic in the materials science field, so there was someone to fill in the missing pieces for me (temperatures at which steel begins to deform) very early on. We'll save all that for 9/11 next year and hope that by then, I won't have half so much time to blog!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Germany in the news. . .

I am something of a news junkie so I jumped when I read this German report.

Doctor Ordered to Pay for Unwanted Baby

Unwanted enough for this hideous lawsuit, but somehow this apparently healthy child was never put up for adoption. Hope he or she at least gets an Ipod out of the deal.

Ok, I am procrastinating. Checked out the "Fachmesse" yesterday and to my horror discovered that there were no lay people there checking anything out. I wonder if there was anyone there who wasn't a rep at another one of the booths. This is going to make it extremely difficult for me to go make chit chat with the reps of the two companies about which I would like learn more.

I also have to get all dolled up because I would otherwise be the only one there not in a suit.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Things that get me through the week

Huge fan of Grey's Anatomy and House - of course, I am not always at one with the writers' medical ethics, but I can't get enough of fast-talking tv, and Swiss tv, God love'em, broadcasts in dualton. And unlike the dualtone from ORF, we get the feed over our digital receiver.

And because I appear to be on a youtube jag this morning, here's a little taste of what we have to look forward to. Y'all have a good day!

Sunny day, sweepin the clouds away!

Who'd a thought some sunshine would have such an effect on my mood? I got practically no sleep last night (You know it's serious when my Hydromechanics text doesn't put me to sleep!!), but I feel great.

No Borat (yet) and I flubbed the business with the poetry night - that's not for two weeks. Today's adventures include attending a Fachmesse to scope out the situation before going to ask some strategical questions tomorrow. All part of the Initiativberwerbung process, where the fun never ends.

I do need to give a big "hats off" to the employee at the Denton County Animal Shelter.

(I am hoping that she meant "God's children" and not "Jesus' children", but she gave Borat what for and restored my faith in some people, anyway.) And her good behavior was rewarded with a trip to the cutting room floor and to youtube, so I suppose it's alright.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


So only two of us showed up. I trooped around a bit after arriving a few minutes early and found the right room. What I found inside the right room was the wrong group. It was a very formal meeting into which I stumbled. yikes!

I don't go in real big for embarrassement, and I found the experience embarrassing, although I was where I was supposed to be.

Downstairs, I encountered YoungAdult#2. We waited long enough to determine that no one else was planning to come and headed for home.

But while I was out yesterday, I thought a lot about things I have to be grateful for and as I am feeling much better this week than I did last week, I figure, I would list one or two.

1. Baden is gorgeous.

2. My family and I are in good health. (seeing an ambulance at the neighbors' will do that to ya)
3. My coffee machine made a great espresso today, even though the beans a friend brought me from Colombia were ground too coarse.

Tonight should be the English poetry group, tomorrow ballroom dance - but Borat is playing - in English and although I know I will wince through the whole thing, I am dying to see it. I think the point that much bigotry is the result of conformity (how often people just go along with him) is well-taken. The ones that really get into on their own are pigs, but, hey, we all know they are out there. I've read that there was some creative editing a la Michael Moore, which is disappointing, because a "warts and all" view should only show the warts that are really there. There are enough.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Anschluss Away

Off this evening to conquer new worlds and meet new people, or not. We'll see.

There is a meeting of young adults and my task for the day is overcoming my intial shyness enough to show up and try it out. I've had some rather strange experiences with these set-ups before (the young adults were way into their 40's) but now that I'm just looking to meet people generally and not "a guy" maybe I will have more luck.

Positive thought for the day - I have an extremely cool coffee machine that I got for Christmas last year.

Blogneid and more strangeness

After getting married and pretty much having little left that I should be doing other than the completely depressing job hunt, I began to feel lonely. I am no longer living in the city where I went to college, so my social network is pretty much non-existant. Work here was lovely and the people were lovlier, but the sensation that these people are my husband's aquaintences and I am encroaching has been growing the longer I am away from the office, months and months now.

In the quest for kindred-spirits, I set off through the world of ex-pat blogs. Whether that was a smart thing to do . . . I dunno. The blog is full of alarmingly clever, intelligent, well-smoken Americans forging their way intrepidly in foreign lands, but I have yet to encounter anyone like me.

First off, let me complement them generally by saying that their blogs are beautiful- particularly Heisse Scheisse. Love the name, love the grass. And Still Here, Still Foreign, might be a little too pink for my personal taste, but it's still nicely organized and her wedding pictures are to die for.

And now, the reasons for my sense of isolation, even in blog-land. . .

I actually do speak German, and fairly well. I was once at the stage where I couldn't say or understand anything, but even then I had years and years of German behind me. My German was latent, just waiting for the right opportunity to develop - which it did, but I am no linguistic genius and I don't know if my German will ever get much better than it now is. My mother lived in Germany for only 2 years and speaks German much better than I ever will.

I am not a computer programmer or a highly paid consultant jetting off from one country to the next. I am unemployed and desperately hopign that will change. My husband has a modestly paying job. He has a great job actually - intellectually stimulating, in a position where one is always building on one's knowlege and where the regulatory aspects of the job are still very much in touch with the science - but we will never be wealthy. The tax structure has changed, and we're a couple of years too late to get any support from the state for buying our own place. I worry that we might never be able to do it.

I don't teach English.

I am not pregnant. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!!!)

I do not knit, although I tried to learn a few times in my life.

I am not a journalist or author, I am just an Earth/Environemental Scientist trying to get a job.

I am Catholic, not raised Catholic or recovering Catholic or Catholic, but. . . I don't always go to church. I am not a good Catholic, but I generally believe what the Church teaches. - - - I have oodles of friends who are atheists, friends who are Muslim, a friend who is rediscovering her LDS faith and a friend or two who is Catholic, but those folks aren't here and there is way too much "religous person = book burner" attitude online.

I have tried to meet some expats here in town, but let me tell you, when someone introduces themselves as follows. . .
"My name is Joe. I am from California and I am living here in Germany because I am afraid of my governement . . . blah blah blah and they are the equivalent of the Nazis etc." - you get the picture.
. . . I just don't feel like there is any hope of really communicating with this person.

Do these people have any clue how offensive that is? I grew up in NJ. We have neighbors who are Holocaust survivors. I rather doubt they vote Republican (I have no party offiliation) but you can't compare the two without trivializing the suffering of persecuted groups in Europe during the second World War.

Friday, November 10, 2006

You Know You've Lived in Germany Too Long When

. . .when you mentally substitute "Werktage" for "Tage" or days in ridiculous contexts.

Reduces wrinkles in 10 *work*days.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Stranger in Strange and not so Strange Lands

At the moment, I have so much in my head that I'd love to get down in type, that I think I will post and rework the posts over the next few weeks. . .

So much of what others write about life as an ex-pat is true. It is endlessly stimulating intellectually. The constant opportunities to compare life as you know it and life as it now presents itself to you bring tremendous insights into human nature. A mirror is held ever before you, but this time it isn't the fun-house mirror you grew up with. It's a different fun-house mirror, in which you are both shown and distorted, but differently.

And it is so painful sometimes. All those little coping mechanisms you have developed for your own culture don't help you here. I am a "get along with folks kind of gal" in so many ways. If you make a mistake, you apologize; you let the other guy go first; you hold the door. And in the States, this approach tends to pay off. You give off a certain vibe - "I am an approachable, decent person, who will be nice to you." - and for the most part it's true. People respond to this, and I think, to my benefit.

But here, it's all efficiency and "I can't be bothered to say hello, even though I know you and although we are passing eachother in a hallway less than a meter wide". "Small talk is a waste of my precious time."

Thank God, I have encountered less of this in Baden, but it makes one so uncertain - it makes one distrustful of one's most basic behavioral instincts. My fallback behavior is perceived here as merely weak and stupid. *sigh*

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Election

I didn't vote. My experience last go around was horrible. The absentee ballot never showed up and desite repeated calls to the elections board, I had to find out from Washington that there is a standard federal form which could be filled out by someone in just my position. The office in Newark had told me that my only recourse was a personal appearance in court in Newark, NJ - or my parents could should up with an affadavit. (I only have to travel 2 hours to get one of those, and for a lot of American ex-pats in Germany, the distance is even greater.)

So the good folks in D.C. (wow, I can't believe I just wrote that) directed me immediately to the webpage with the pdf and I I mailed the form, but it's a) highly unlikely that it arrived on time and b) it wasn't close enough in NJ that my vote would have ever have been counted.

I decided that I didn't want to go through all that again, and let the matter drop, particularly in light of my ever-dwindling enthusiasm for the Republican party. I can still get a little excited about McCain, but I know he's not going anywhere beyond the talk show circuit and I am not a AZ voter. Other than that, Mark Shea was right that we had the Evil Party and the Stupid Party. But recently, the Stupid Party has been at minimum so tacit in their approval of evil, that I can't seem to get beyond the "a pox on both their houses" attitude.

Raison d'etre

So why all the secrecy?

A while back , I started up a blog in an attempt to keep up with my friends and family and to keept them posted about upcoming events in our lives. Two things happened. On the one hand, many, many people who needed the info I made available never read blog and I wound up sending the emails I was trying to avoid anyway. On the other, I got reactions from other relatives seconds after hitting the post button.

I had been trying to work out my frustration that the priest presiding at our wedding didn't want to give us any input on selecting the readings. I got emails from the German relatives pronto that the translation I had linked to was antiquated or that our approach to x,y,z was inappropriate. We offended people right and left without any intention of doing it.

My cover on that blog was "blown" from the very start, out of necessity, but with it went whatever hope I had of using the blog to blow off some steam. So here we are.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006