Sunday, December 31, 2006

I always feel like, somebody's watching me

I spent the past week in D.'s office, doing a bit of work and enjoying being around people again.

I had my first run-in with a SNAFU or the Arbeitsagentur (I wasn't surprised - are you?). The letter requesting that I show up on the 27th turned out to be, as I suspected, a mistake and since I knew that I let the matter drop after two unsuccessful attempts to get a hold of the woman who had sent it. (I am not drawing benefits; I only came in to get my resume reviewed and ask a few questions only to have a letter arrive two days later asking me to return for "a discussion of my employment situation" - could they be vaguer?)

My in-law's house, where we are staying is a disaster area (our fault), but we are feeding the cat and keeping the "rolladen" rolling shutters in the appropriate up or down position. Check this out - Years ago, D. was house-sitting for his parents and neglected the rolladen in a half-bath on the first floor. The room is not used and I, personally, feel that it is the height of silliness to raise and lower the blind in a room which no one enters. Well, apparantly, when his parents returned from vacation, the neighbors informed them about the blind which had not been raised and lowered. D. no longer remembers whether his parents were annoyed.

I refuse, on principle to mess with this blind. It is bad enough that we are fooling around with the blinds in unused bedrooms upstairs, in some cases wasting electricity to accomplish this. Is this to American, too practical? That's not me in the photo, btw. I am not blond, nor are there palm trees here near the Black Forest.

We were running out to work the other morning when two neighbors way-laid us and made sure we put out the trash cans. I think one of the cans was actually empty - but I didn't want to argue. I am grateful; we hadn't looked at the schedule, but one definitely does have the impression that one is being watched. The grape-vine among employees of a federal agency where I worked and where we all lived together is small potatoes compared to small-town Germany.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Still working on a tight schedule here and technologically handicapped at my current location :),
so today I will just pass on to the 5 people who still haven't heard about it, a blog I got from Papa Scott's link blog yesterday.

I am tempted to complain that I wasn't warned, but being that he did write about the blog back in February when its author began writing, I wouldn't have a foot to stand on.

However, I am warning you. You may want to read it where you have some privacy and perhaps some kleenex. It might make sense to read chronologically starting in February, but I didn't. It's been a long time since I read something that really shook me as deeply as Dear Elena.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

We have no tree; we didn't cook - how can we be stressed?

Oy! I am hoping that the kind folks who have been stopping by recently won't be too put off by my not having blogged the past few days.

Friday evening, it was off to write a cover leter (Anschreiben), so that I could send out a copy of my resume to someone who was expecting it. Really, (*joking*) my faith in eternal punishment/reward helps me deal with the fact that I can't actually do bodily harm to the person who invented the cover letter (*joking*).

Letter written and printed, we to our photographer to pick up wedding photos and then to the post office of last refuge (still open at 19:00). Then, like all other Germans we bought enough food for a week, what with not being able to go food shopping for 4 days and headed to the appartment - 20:15.

Then we packed up our lives to head off to the far-(20 km)-away countryside for 2 weeks of cat sitting. Arrival ca. 23:00.

Saturday morning was a flurry of baking and cooking and getting out to pick up the last presents and baking again for Monday.

Sunday morning was relaxed and Sunday evening was a delight - although I could have done without the drive home through some of the worst fog I have ever experienced -
German factoid - the Germans have, in addition to their hazards a special extra bright tail-light that should be used (and only may be used) when fog has reduced visibility to 50 m.

Not being at home, I have to work out how I am going to get some pictures of Strasbourg up - but
let at least lead you to Te Deum laudemus! for some beatiful pictures of a Rorate Mass and an explanation of this German Catholic tradition of candlelit Masses in Advent. I experienced this for the first time, quite accidentally, Saturday night. I am so sorry that I missed the other ones in Advent - It was soooo lovely.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Well, I have one more reason to be thankful this Christmas. I sent out one "initiativbewerbung" and I received an invitation to an interview. They aren't sure if they are looking to hire someone in the short or mid-term, but I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to interview and the office location and their project focus are a good match for me. And one more treat - the interview is to be in 5 weeks, which means that I a) have time to prepare b) have 5 weeks of hope c) have to do my darndest to get my other inquiry emails out pronto for more local companies.

Plus I am still working on the dissertation editing project and I have to bake something to take on Monday to D.'s godparents. (We were invited to dinner - and there will be small children, so Christmas won't be such a wash after all.)

Busy, busy. Which is very good (and apparently catching these days).

Three more qick notes before I am outta here for today (have to get a throw-away application into the mail).

Tomorrow is my mom's birthday. My sisters and I got her a digital camera (that D. and I love - his mom has the same one.) I don't know if I have ever given such a big present before. I paid all kinds of extra postage so it would get there on time. That whole kerfuffle was another reason I was up half the night on Sunday.) It arrived Tues! so I could definitely have spent less. I am just so excited and I can't wait til tomorrow for her to open her present. yey.

Today is the shortest day in the year. If that is not a reason for the heart of an expat to swell with joy, I do not know what is. It's all downhill from here to June -ahhhh.

Thankyou, Thank you, Thank you to Megan at "Still here, still foreign" for her link to a collection of Christmas classics on-line. If I were home, I would rent them and all the right people would get their money, but I am far from the mothership and watching the Grinch movie with D. last night, letting him know their was a grinch world before Jim Carey, that was a special treat.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Attention, Attention

To read around the ex-pat blog world, many of my fellow bloggers (said humbly, being that all of them have been at this longer than I) are learning German. Without want ing in any way to discourage them, I am about to demonstrate that it might not be as rewarding as one might hope.

I watched the Hape Kerkeling live special on the weekend. Perhaps best known for his "Hurz" sketch ages ago in which he and a colleague try to pass off a bit of silliness as serious music, he has a full show, much of which is now on Youtube. So illegal, but yet, so useful.

You don't have to understand German to get this clip because I am about to fill you in on everything he says to set up this sketch.

Part I
Germans aren't necessarily well received in foreign countries. He attended an intensive communication course in the States last year and there the instructor greeted the course participants and then asked each of them to introduce themselves. . . .

Part II
There is now an announcement each evening in St. Peter's square in Rome in every language (No, there isn't; this is made up.) asking visitors to remain in the square to offer Vespers (Evening Prayer) together with the pope.

and now, without any further ado, I give you Hape Kerkeling

Monday, December 18, 2006

The moose that saved the Christmas cards

Last week wound up being surprisingly busy, which is wonderful for me, as the roller coaster of the past few weeks has involved
1. determination
2. reading through the want-ads and not finding anything appropriate
3. depression
4. renewed determination
5. reading the "How to Apply for a Job" books
6. depression
7. renewed determination
8. advice from all fronts in direct contradiction of advice from books and in some cases my own good sense
9. depression
all in all not leading to much progress whatso ever

I am editing the dissertation of a friend who is writing in English and that has put a lot on my plate. There are sections of it which are related to my field of interest, so the editing bears no resemblence to the process of correcting a materials sciences dissertation- I did that two years ago. There, all you can do is pleaed for a reduction in the number of times "thus" is used and make sure that the subjects and verbs agree and that tenses are uniform.

We were supposed to meet again this morning, and for that reason, I was up until 3:30 in the morning trying to work through more of her text. It should never have gotten that late, but our visit to my in-laws, a painful thing these days, dragged out much later than I had hoped and my anticipated brief call to my parents turned into a major production.

#1 daughter to the rescue. (If there is one thing I can do, it is beating files into submission. Maybe that should be on my resume. One learns doing groundwater modeling or GIS work, that data is a many-formated thing. And then there is Germany with ,'s for .'s Very bad things happen to comma delimited text files. )

In this case, it was getting my parents' Christmas card address list from MS Works database format onto another computer and into Excel. Not difficult, you say, and I agree, but talk a 76 year-old through the process some time soon and you will know that it is not an affair of two minutes. (Granted, this is a 76 year-old who addresses his Christmas cards using a mail merge and has for years, but still, I cannot get him to leave unused windows open on the desktop.) This never would have happened if evil Dell had properly installed the software that my parents paid for! Word 2002 is part of the Works 2004 Suite, but Dell installs a demo version of Office XP and didn't install the registerd version of Word 2002. The demo version of Word can only be opened 50x, which leaves them completely without word processing software. We don't know what installing a second version of Word on the computer would do and it's not the thing you clear up a week before Christmas as you are fighting to get you Christmas cards out.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Which Christmas Meme are You?

1. Eggnog, Cider or Hot Chocolate?

Eggnog. Cider is for October.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just set them under the tree?
Wrap - he has his own paper that doesn't get used for any other presents.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
Colored at home with my parents. I prefer white lights outdoors. I have never had my very own tree.

5. When do you put your decorations up?
My parents put everything up very late. The tree goes up a few days before Christmas. We are big Advent people.

6. What is your favorite Christmas dish?

7. Favorite Christmas memory as a child?
Getting a three speed bike as a child. I was so excited because I initially thought it must be fore my mom. Two of my later favorite memories involve Midnight Mass in Denver - one year I went with my then boyfriend and it snowed and the next year I went with a buch of exchange students. Both incredible experiences.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I don't remember, but when my sister and I went around finger printing all the adults (graphite powder and scotch tape) and getting handwriting samples, my parents figured that the jig was up. This all decades before the advent of CSI.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
No. Where I come from, you don't do that unless your family is Italian, which mine isn't.

10. What kind of cookies does Santa get set out for him?
Whatever we've baked. We were always very good about the carrots for the reindeer as well.

11. Snow! Love it or hate it?
Love it.

12. Can you ice skate?
Yes. My parents brought my skates over with them when they cam or the wedding.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?bike - see above

14. What's the most important thing about Christmas to you?

15. What is your favorite Christmas dessert?
Pumpkin chiffon pie - Christmas is a great excuse to do Thanksgiving all over again.

16. Favorite Christmas tradition?
I already wrote about lovign the BBC broadcast of "A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols" and I enjoy Midnight Mass. In some years, I have called around to my friends, and I will be able to that again this year.

17. What tops your tree?

18. Which do you prefer--GIVING OR RECEIVING?
Receiving - let's face facts here.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Carol?
I'll be Home for Christmas always makes me cry
Religious English- O Holy Night, Religious German - Stille Nacht, O Du Fröhliche

Albums - Bing Crosby White Chrstmas and the Muppets Christmas Album

20. Candy Canes?

There are people who say "no"?

Monday, December 11, 2006

What we are doing for Christmas

a.k.a. Oh, we had plans.

I've been meaning to share what we are actually going to be doing for Christmas for a while . . .so I'm rushing to get it down with the intent to edit later (yeah right)

Two incredibly kind, attractive and intelligent folks I met while studying in Germany are having their religious wedding in the RB Venezuela very soon. We wanted to go, but in the summer we were completely overcome with wedding planning, and when we came up for air -
  1. None of the bride's closest friends from Germany were able to go. (I belong more to the aquaintance circle.)
  2. My Spanish speaking friends weren't going
  3. D. and I don't speak Spanish
  4. Caracas has not magically morphed into Zürich and you have to fly there to get anywhere else - and unlike the rest of the world, the airport is also a dangerous place to be. (I have heard nothing but good things about the city where the wedding is taking place. The residents are said to be very friendly, and to speak lovely Spanish. The region is said to be particularly beautiful. We had a friend just come back from that city and he has just raved about it. He, on the other hand, knows someone who was robbed at the airport and was able to arrange for a private person to pick him up .)
  5. We didn't have tickets yet.
It would have been extremely awkward, being the only non-Latinos at something like that, particularly since we can't manage on our own.

Then there was talk of going to visit D.'s brother in Africa with the rest of the family. I had minor misgivings that it might be a wee bit too much togetherness, but it never became an issue because D. doesn't have vacation at Christmas. He was visiting said brother last year, and he and co-worker with children trade off, it's only fair that we are here this year.

That practical aspect (and ticket prices) also meant that any last minute trip to CR where we have a very gracious invitation and I have more confidence that we could get by with English was also not an option. A quick trip to the States was also out.

So then I planned a trip to the Alsace. I slogged through incredible webpages, in French, mind you. With many pages, the info is considerably more detailed in French than in any other language (quelle surprise!). I wanted to spend 3 or 4 days and go to Colmar, and perhaps pop back over the Rhein to Freiburg before spending Christmas Eve and Christmas in Strasbourg.

Well, we are not doing that either because there is a cat, with no one to keep him company. So that's what we are doing - watching the cat. We are still going to Strasbourg for one incredibly long and in all likelihood exhausting Christmas Eve, because I do not want to miss this (see right), and because the Christmas markets are open in Strasbourg on the 24th after everything in Germany is shut down.

And I find it strangely comforting to be needed, if only by a cat.

Updates jeglicher Art

In the past few days I
  • Had a really nice time at my husband's office Christmas party. I used to work there, too and it was good to see my former co-workers again. I miss them!
  • Drank way too much Glühwein.
  • Have been a bit under the weather.
  • Slept til 1300 on Sunday.
  • Chatted with my neice. Sending the jumbo Adventkalendar wins you bigtime points.
  • Watched the paint bubble and peel in one part of the bath - on to plan B (as yet unknown)
  • Watched a Swiss version of Heidi. It was unspeakably darling.
The version we saw was on Swiss TV, so of course, Heidi spoke Swiss German, but apparently there is also an international version of the DVD. I can't imagine that is anywhere near as charming dubbed, but I leaned on the Hochdeutsch subtitles once in a while because I can only speak, to quote the tutor, "...Court German, the language of educated people".

I have not lived in Germany long enough . . .

to think that these are cool. And I doubt I ever will.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Then all the reindeer LOVED him . . .

Following Mausi's and Heather's lead, I took the Reindeer Quiz
You Are Rudolph

Sweet and shy, you tend to be happiest when you're making someone else happy.

Why You're Naughty: You sometimes stick that nose where it doesn't belong

Why You're Nice: Christmas would be a sad affair without you!

No one seems to think the results are all that accurate - and I could just as easily have answered chocolate as beer. But it would have to be good beer, and I like even bad chocolate.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Congratulations to Natalia

and the whole Torres family. Natalia is only 1 of three lovely and talented Torres Corral sisters!

Newspaper Article 1

Newspaper Article 2

Newspaper Article 3

Natalia earned a perfect score and the highest score in this year's admission exam to the university in Costa Rica.

Laura (sister #1) sent me the links last night. How cool is that!


How to explain this to someone who has never experienced it? There are lots of bathrooms in Germany and Austria that are outfited for baths and for seated showers. Yes, for seated showers. Here is a picture of one such set-up (unfortunately not our bathroom). To the right, it would appear as if this particular bathroom also has a regular, stand up like a grown-up, shower.

I have become accustomed to this. The places I have lived and visited in Austria had bathtubs like this and I have been in homes in Germany with this arrangement as did my first German WG. When in Rome. . . right? I sit myself down - one small step for integration.

Not D. The German claims that all this is new and exciting for him, that this is in no way the norm in Germany (It's not like they are constantly yelling at you to sit down for other things or anything). When he moved into his apartment, he proceded to bore holes in the wall above the bath and hang a shower head. He also installed a shower curtain with a telescoping rod. (Hint 1 - if there wasn't a curtain before, the bath might not be intended for standing showers.)

One of the aspects of the bathtub for seated showers is that the tiling ends somewhere before the height of what I will call the "standing shower splatter zone". (Hint 2 - If the wall is gettng wet above the tiling, the bath might not be intended for standing showers.) There was not only not enough tiling on the wall, but also, no caulking between the wall and the tiling at the top. The seam was only closed by the tiling adhesive.

So all hints to the contrary, D proceeded to use the shower as a standing shower for 5 years before I came on the scene. He also doesn't wear his glasses in the shower (smart lad), so he never really noticed the water problem at the tiling/wall interface. When it got really out of hand, I finally said something to him about it and he investigated, with glasses on. We have now cleared the seam of whatever material was wet or crumbly and put in a line of caulk. We are disgustingly proud of ourselves, even though it is far from perfect, and we are sanding and repainting the back wall. We are Bob Villa. (Wow, he is getting old.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Raindrops on roses. . . Favorite things about Germany

I love Bernd das Brot, just as I have a thing for Smokey the Bear and Kermit the Frog
(maybe it's the middle name) so when I came across this image, I had to have it.

There is a whole series of parodies of the "Du bist Deutschland" advertising at this flickr site.

One upon a time, Kika showed Berndt all night long and there are some truly classic clips, but I think you have to catch him at a regular broadcast time, or there is always Youtube.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Whiskers on kittens . . .

Another favorite thing about Germany. . .

J over a Germany Doesn't Suck decided that today would be the day, so here is my, to date, only Christmas Market picture, taken last Thursday night once we got back out of the horrible crush at our local market's opening night.

A subsequent visit proved significantly less traumatic, but the lines for langos were no shorter.

Unfortunately, the start of advent meant that the church I was planning to go to had changed the Mass time to accommodate a concert. ggrrr.

Painting in Germany

It has taken me quite a bit of time to wrap my head around some aspects of German living and the painting of walls is one of them.

Germans routinely commit the cardinal sin of painting, or at least, what I was always led to believe was the cardinal sin of painting. Thou shalt not paint over wallpaper. "Not so!", says the average German, well, actually, he would display his disagreement in German, but you get the point. The wallpaper must first be hung and then painted! And not any old wallpaper, but Raufasertapete (left). The image comes from a lovely web page on raufasertapeten from the Sendung mit der Maus, a highly informative kids show. (Wow - there is tons of material on that Maus site! After my sister returned from Germany bearing chocolate, my neices have decided that there is something to this whole German thing after all, so I will have to forward her the link.)

I have tried to explain to D. that we don't do this in the States, that we paint directly on the wall, and on Saturday, in Hornbach (yippee-yai-yai. . .) I learned yet another tidbit. The whole point of the raufasertapete is the structure of the paper. You repaper when enough paint has been applied to the paper over time that the structure of the paper is no longer visible - in other words, when you wall would start looking too American :).

My thoughts on the process.
  • It appears that raufasertapete is generally easier to remove than American wallpaper - that you can pull it down instead of always needing to rent a steamer.
  • The raufasertapete covers cracks in the wall pretty well. (We live next to a major construction site and there has been damage to our building as a result of the rather significant vibration.)
  • I haven't seen paint peel from raufasertapete (yet) whereas, I have seen it come loose from a wall with time.
I also seem to remember going into the paint store with my Dad as a child and picking out a color of paint, color X, from paper strips, and then pulling buckets of color X from the shelf and then taking them to the big paint shaker machine, where the buckets were shaken - but no colors were mixed. We did not receive a color cosultation and a recipe to mix our own at home. Ah, the good old days.

Here, there appear to be primarily huge buckets of white paint, into which one doses desired colors in desired amounts to acheive a certain color and mixes the entire thing one's self - well, one does if one is looking to save some money. Thank God, our little project of the moment only requires us to use white paint. It is more than enough for a start.

Here is a link to very basic information about painting in German. I just picked up a new vocabulary word or two - roller = walze.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Uncle Fritz wants YOU! "Draft", German Style

I uttered the words the other day (Sunday, a day which will live in personal infamy) that should strike fear into the heart of an Ex-pat in Germany. . .Es zieht. In my defense, with the draft, it was cold enough that I had to put my jacket on in the cafe which was doubly frustrating because outside, it was almost warm enough to take one's jacket off.

Every beginning German student thinks they have this situation under control, and yet German life throws a wrench in the works. Zugluft is not
Zugluft is a draft, of which Germans live in deadly fear. This position is bearable in all seasons except late Spring, Summer and Early Fall -the seasons in which the North American perceives a warm breeze as pleasant and in point of fact, preferable to non-moving air in the absence of any means of air refrigeration, i.e. air conditioning. For about half the year, the German and the Ex-pat can tolerate one another's mistaken views and live together in harmony.

Well sortof, in Winter, we encounter the whole Thou shalt not leave the house with wet hair. A professor was lecturing me about this in front of a classroom of students. A science professor! It is not a situation in which one can say, "Excuse me, honerable Mr. Prof. Dr.-Ing. H., but would you perhaps be open to having a quiet word about germ theory after lecture? I hear it is all the rage in scientific circles these days".

Then staying in the home of a friend of my mother's - Thou shalt not go to bed with wet hair. (I don't blow dry my hair so my only alternative would appear to be refraining from washing between Sept. and May, yech!) Aparantly one is also to wear t-shirts under one's sweater. I am usually cold and I don't like paying for dry-cleaning, so I do this anyway.

I have also been lucky enough to find and marry a completely a-typical German who bikes to work with his wet hair freezing about his little kraut head and who enjoys (Deo gratias) excellent health. He does have kidney issues, though - no one is perfect!

So thanks to PapaScott for getting me started and I will have to leave the Hörstürz for another day- I read this article and had a strong reaction to it. Yes, Yes I have experienced this, too! What is wrong with these people?! On the other hand, I don't deny that stress can cause a host of ills, so I guess I should be asking, why is it that people are suffering psychologically to such a degree that it manifests itself so markedly. Rather sad, actually.