Political Schwag that is sooo German!

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Bill got home last night. He and Arran had a joyous reunion. Both of them cried… Arran cried with joy when he sniffed Bill and realized his favorite person was home, and Bill cried with relief having survived three weeks of TDY. He had a challenging three weeks. Don’t get me wrong– he was in the Army for 30 years and has endured all kinds of stuff. But that doesn’t mean it’s not stressful for him and for us.

I don’t tend to pay a lot of attention to the stuff in our mailbox or on our doorstep, unless it’s something that looks important. Just before the recent elections, someone left a little bag of political schwag for us, not knowing that, alas, we aren’t locals. Bill finally looked in the bag this morning and was very amused. Behold…

I’m delighted by the seeds, especially. Our poor backyard has really suffered over the wet winter months and Noyzi’s insistence on running back and forth like a crazed shepherd. I like to plant flowers and spruce things up, and since the “lockdown” has sort of lifted a teeny bit– Germans can get haircuts, buy books, and visit the garden section of their hardware store– this seems like an especially appropriate gift to voters. Who doesn’t love flowers? Except for those of us with allergies. In any case, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an American politician give out flower seeds or bottle openers as a means of bolstering political support. I think it’s cool… and very GERMAN.

Although yesterday’s bipolar weather might cause us to put off gardening for a week or so.

As you can see by the featured photo, our village’s Easter decorations are up. It makes things look a little more normal, at least, even though the COVID-19 restrictions continue. What a bummer… but at least Bill is finally home again. I have missed him, and this morning, when I felt his hand on my shoulder, I realized how much I have missed human contact. I guess this pandemic is teaching me to appreciate some of the small things in life.

A year ago, we tried to adopt a dog and that effort turned into a tragedy. This year, we’re still healthy and reasonably happy. And we have Noyzi, the Kosovar street dog, in our midst. He has really been a great asset to our family and is turning into a really loving and adorable friend. I live for his daily tail wags, goofy smiles, and poop zoomies/crazy dog. I think he was meant to be ours, against all odds. That being said, I hope to hell those vaccines get out soon, so we can go back to a somewhat normal lifestyle and do some traveling again.

Buying German food products for the “yuks”…

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That’s right. “Yuks”. As in, laughing your ass off. I think we could all could use some more “yuks”, right?

Yesterday, while I was binge watching murder porn on Snapped, Bill came into our bedroom with a shelf stable container of oat milk. He likes to use animal free products sometimes because he’s a healthier person than I am on many levels. He said he bought the oat milk because of the label. Behold…

Bill and I have both noticed that while Germany has rules against “Beleidigung, that is, insulting people (especially people in authority like cops and politicians), they have no compunction about using English swear words in everyday language. For instance, one can be listening to an American pop song on the radio and if there are f bombs in it, you will hear them in all of their profane glory. Same thing with announcers on the radio, who regularly refer to “shitstorms”.

Personally, I’m alright with the profanity. I’m not a big believer in “bad words”, anyway. I really don’t think there is such a thing. Every word, in my opinion, is neutral. It’s the intent behind them that makes saying them good or bad. For instance, as a former English major at Longwood University, I took courses in African-American literature and Women’s literature. Both courses included slave narratives in which a certain taboo racist epithet was used repeatedly.

Was I offended? No, not really. That word was part of the lexicon at the time and the books would have lost their power without them. I was offended by the brutality of the way slaves were treated in those stories and the fact that their true stories are a shameful part of history. But the use of the n-word in those books is necessary. Same as it’s necessary in certain musical pieces, like Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City”, and even in certain 70s and 80s era sitcoms, in which racism was a topic that was tackled. The word is used to convey the extent of the contempt and racism of those times. Taking it out would lessen the impact of the pieces.

Because of that– and because I love language and all its quirks– I don’t believe in “bad words”. I don’t think they should be used as weapons. I think people should be judicious in how they use their language. But I’m not a fan of “banning” any specific words… and, as we can see from the above label, even “bad” words can mean different things to different people. I know many Americans who would blush seven shades of red at simply reading that label. They sure as hell wouldn’t have bought the product! But my husband bought it because of the words “fucking” and “bullshit”. He knew that I would get a big kick out of them.

The words “fucking” and “bullshit” don’t have the same impact in Germany as they do in America, just like the words “cunt” and “fag” don’t mean the same to Brits as they do to us Yanks. Hell, until very recently, there was an old village in Austria called Fucking. I should know, because Bill and I visited. We also visited Fuckersberg, Austria, because we’re nerds like that. Fucking recently changed its name after hundreds of years of being known as “Fucking”. Why? Because Americans kept stealing their road signs and doing things like having sex under the the signs. What a shame. Typical Americans ruining things for everybody.

Sigh… I really miss traveling. I look forward to the day when I can write a post on my travel blog that is actually about travel. But, for now, I will continue to get a big kick out of “fucking good Oatmilk” that makes “sexy Milchkaffee”. Except I don’t think I could bring myself to try oat milk… so maybe not. Bill is calling me to breakfast, so off I pop. Have a great Valentine’s Day!

Karim’s Brasserie for New Year’s Eve!

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Well, we made it. 2020 is over. We had a pretty typical New Year’s Eve, except we didn’t have as many fireworks. One thing we did this year that we don’t usually do was order dinner. As a matter of fact, in 2020, we ordered takeout on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. It’s not unusual for us to dine out on Thanksgiving, but we usually cook on the other days. This year, we decided we preferred to help out the local restaurants and spare ourselves from cooking and cleaning.

For New Year’s Eve, we went a bit more casual and didn’t break out the china. Karim’s Brasserie, a Moroccan restaurant in Wiesbaden, was offering a New Year’s Eve menu. They had a couple of options available– chicken or lamb. Bill likes lamb, but I don’t, so we went with chicken. For 36,50 per person, we could eat for days. Seriously, they really loaded us up with great food! Here are some photos!

We started at about 7:00pm with the appetizers. I was, of course, very familiar with the hummus, since we are big fans of it. Karim’s version was very light and creamy, yet delicately flavorful. The Zaalouk, otherwise known as Moroccan eggplant salad, was a nice change of pace for us, since we rarely eat eggplant. Neither Bill nor I are big fans of eggplant, but this was pretty good. Bill loved the Moroccan carrot salad, which was slightly sweet and offered a contrast to the spicy M’hammara, paprika cream with pomegranate syrup and walnuts. Bill especially loved the M’hammara. He likes spicy foods. The Laban by Khyar was basically a Moroccan version of t’zaziki. It consists of yogurt, cucumbers, and mint.

The chicken was delicious! It was very tender and juicy, and fell right off the bone! It was such a pleasure to try it prepared in a different way. There was a time when Bill wouldn’t eat apricots because they are supposedly bad luck for “tankers”, which is what Bill was when he was in the Army back in the early days. I love apricots, having gotten acquainted with them in Armenia, where they are very popular and delicious! They went so well with the chicken! Glad we have leftovers!

After a bit of time digesting, we tried the desserts– typically nutty and fruity, but not too sweet or heavy. It was a good way to end a fabulous New Year’s Eve repast. We will be grazing on the leftovers for days. I think we got a lot for our 73 euros. I look forward to the day when we can dine at restaurants again. Bill and I ate at Karim’s Brasserie once when we were moving to Wiesbaden and liked the food very much. We probably ought to go there more often, or at least get takeout. This was a great change of pace for us. I think it was my favorite of all three of our holiday takeout meals of 2020.

I learned about a German tradition yesterday when someone in the Pets of Wiesbaden Facebook group posted that they had come into possession of a female piglet who was wandering around Clay Kaserne, one of the two U.S. military installations in Wiesbaden. I had never heard this before, but apparently in Germany, it’s good luck to encounter a pig on New Year’s Eve. Typically, Germans give out pigs made of marzipan with a penny or a four leaf clover in its mouth. Alternatively, sometimes people put a freshly washed piglet in a basket and pass it around. Anyone who touches it will have good luck and a “happy year”.

I can’t be sure, but it sounds like the piglet who was found yesterday might have been intended to participate in this custom and somehow escaped. She was found on the Army post and advertised on Facebook, as none of the surrounding farms would claim her. Eventually her rescuers found her a farm to go to. I’m not absolutely sure, but it sounds like she’s headed to a sanctuary. I sure hope so, anyway. Anyway, a lot of people got a kick out of seeing her, and I learned something new. I’m sure the military police are now checking the fence around Clay Kaserne to see if there are any breeches. It’s more likely someone brought her on post, but it’s possible there’s a hole somewhere.

According to the link I shared earlier in this post, we violated German tradition by having chicken on New Year’s Eve. Evidently, it’s verboten to eat poultry in Germany, due to a very old superstition. However, people in the Rhein area apparently didn’t get the message, as a lot of people do eat goose on New Years’s. I am not in the habit of eating goose, anyway… but I never turn down chicken unless it’s prepared with the food I never eat– mushrooms.

Toward the end of the evening– later than he’d intended, since he’d forgotten– Bill called his mom and we visited on Skype. It was great to talk to her. I also chatted with a cousin. I probably should call my mom today, too.

Bill brought our landlords champagne and a bag of lentils, which are also considered good luck/good health promotion on New Year’s in Germany. We had a very short fireworks show that lasted about twenty minutes, since fireworks weren’t on sale this year due to COVID-19. It suited us fine, since Bill was struggling to stay awake. We also had some snow, although it was all melted by the time we got up today. It was kind of strange watching fireworks go off as it snowed. This morning, we slept in… it was the first time in a long time I woke up after sunrise!

So far, 2021 is off to a good start. I pray that it’s a better year than 2020 was! Happy New Year, everybody! Keep the faith, and stay healthy and sane!

Stuff I’ve learned this weekend so far…

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Last night, I became aware of an aspect of German culture of which I was previously unaware. I have a friend living in Stuttgart who is Croatian, but easily passes for German and speaks German like a native. Yesterday, he posted about an altercation he had with a young woman who had a child with her. They exchanged words because he chastised her (which is VERY German behavior, especially in Swabia) for spitting on the sidewalk.

She, in turn, called him a “shit potato”.

My Croatian friend said that this young woman was speaking perfect “Kanaken German”. I asked him what that meant, and he said it was when a foreign person residing in Germany speaks bad German/slang. I was a bit confused by that. Does that include people like Bill, who speaks German poorly and resides in Germany? So I asked my German friend to explain my Croatian friend’s original comment:

“Wenn du von einem ca 19 jährigen Mädchen als “scheiss Kartoffel” beschimpft wirst, weil du ihr sagst, dass sie nicht auf den Gehweg spucken soll. Sie sprach perfekt Kanakendeutsch. Ach so, sie hatte ein Kind.”

My German friend, who is a superstar researcher and enjoys teaching me about Germany and its culture, found this hilarious video. Don’t worry if you don’t speak German. There are subtitles.

These are people from the Middle East– namely Turkey– learning “German”. This would be Kanaken German, though… poorly constructed and full of profanity. Who says Germans don’t have a sense of humor?

Kanaken German is slangy, improperly constructed vernacular German typically spoken by some people of Middle Eastern heritage. Evidently, people who speak Kanaken German tend to be insulting. Like, for instance, the woman calling my Croatian friend a “shit potato”, and the people in the above video using words like “Aaalder” (which means “dude”, although the English subtitles say it means fucker) and “Dutture” (bitch). Well, since he’s not German, he’s technically not a “potato”, but she clearly thought he was German and referred to him as a “potato” as an insult. My Croatian friend sarcastically added, “And I’m the racist!” Clearly he’s not in this case. It’s not nice to insult people using cultural stereotypes, but it sounds like that exchange wasn’t very pleasant regardless!

According to my research, the term “potato” (Kartoffel) for Germans dates back to the 1960s, when Italians were brought in as guest workers. They were known as “spaghetti eaters” and Germans were known as “potato eaters”. Evidently, certain Turkish people have also come to use the term “Kartoffel” for Germans as a whole. As the above video demonstrates, Germans are also called “pig eaters”, which seems even more derogatory since most Turks are Muslims and they don’t eat pork.

I guess, in a weird way, Kanaken German could be characterized somewhat like Ebonics in English, although I don’t think Ebonics is necessarily derogatory. It’s simply “black English”– language patterns that evolved when black people were enslaved in the United States. In the 1990s, Ebonics became somewhat controversial in the United States because certain groups felt it should be legitimized and respected. The term Ebonics dates from the early 70s. It was coined by African American social psychologist Robert Williams, who felt that the dialect spoken by some black Americans should have a name that was less negative than other terms for it, such as “nonstandard Negro English”.

Anyway… I thought it was interesting that I learned a little something more about German culture based on a Facebook post. I’m always grateful to my German friend for being willing to explain these things to me, especially when she finds entertaining teaching examples like the hilarious video above. It definitely drove home the point!

Yesterday, Bill went into Wiesbaden to pick up some Five Guys burgers for us and check out how things are looking as Germany gradually normalizes after the spring lockdown from hell. He said that there were a lot of people out and about, and some people wear masks as they walk around. Most people only put them on when entering a building. People were dining in restaurants. Wait staff wears masks, but if you’re sitting at a table, it’s not required. You just wear them to come in, leave, or use the restroom. And everyone must leave their contact information in case someone is reported ill. After three or four weeks, the information is discarded. I still have no desire to dine out under those conditions, especially as the temperatures rise, but I may change my mind. I’m grateful that people seem to be working together in Germany instead of being polarized, as it appears a lot of people are in the United States right now.

For today, Bill ordered a three course lunch from our favorite fine dining restaurant, Villa Im Tal. He’s going to pick it up this afternoon, and we will dine at home.

I also had occasion to try a couple of Bailey’s liqueur products yesterday. Most Americans know Bailey’s Irish Cream. However, there are a few other varieties of cordials available made by that company. They have the sinfully delicious Bailey’s Luxe Chocolat, which is pretty much like an orgasm in a bottle– Bailey’s mixed with Belgian chocolate. They have Strawberries & Cream. And they have Almande, which is a vegan, lactose free, almond milk drink. All of these cordials can be enjoyed by themselves or as mixers. I have had the Luxe Chocolat many times, so I didn’t need to taste test that.

I enjoyed both the Strawberries & Cream and the Almande, though I would prefer original Bailey’s or Luxe Chocolat to either of them. The Strawberries & Cream, which contains milk and milk products, reminded me of strawberry flavored Quik (Nesquik) from my youth, or perhaps the pink, liquid, antibiotic medicine (Erythromycin) I used to get for ear infections when I was a child. The Almande has a nice, rich, nutty taste, but the liqueur isn’t as rich or creamy. I did put some in my coffee this morning, though. It was not bad at all.

And finally, here are some pictures of our garden. We had a tree die in our yard last fall. It was overcome by ivy. As we’ve cut down most of it, a small patch of land has opened up for a small garden. Since we can’t travel like we usually do, Bill has decided to do some gardening. He picked up some garden boxes, since the plain patch was being ruined by Arran’s incessant need to dig. Now that he has a new box, he’s going to move some cucumber plants. We may have some fresh vegetables this summer. In light of today’s post, maybe we should have planted some potatoes…

German cartoons…

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There’s a German lady I “know” from the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard who reads my blogs from time to time.  She says she enjoys reading about my adventures in her country.  She caught up with me on Facebook the other day and joked that I might want to learn Swabish.  She got her point across with links to a couple of cartoons.

Meet Äffle & Pferdle, a couple of Schwabish cartoon characters.  They were originally created in the 1960s as mascots to represent what was then South German Radio Broadcasting (SDR) and is now the SouthWest Radio Broadcasting (SWR).  They were used as commercial bumpers on early evening television as representatives of Swabish culture.  Originally, it was just a horse– Pferdle– who was used, since Stuttgart’s coat of arms features a horse.  The ape, Äffle, was later added and the two’s adventures were introduced to the German television audience.

According to the link above, Äffle & Pferdle are no longer a fixture on German TV because the people who created them eventually died.  Also, German television, just like American television, is more commercial and the cartoon spots no doubt ate up valuable spots that could be used by paid advertisements.  I have to admit, though, that I find their cartoons very charming and entertaining, even as my fledging German skills aren’t quite enough to understand everything they say.

Here, they’re singing about “Banana Blues”… that’s about all I can understand.

 

“Auf der Schwäbsche Eisebahne”  I love the dancing goat!

 

These cartoons were so cute that I had to find some more.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll pick up some Swabian dialect after all…

“Lasagnen Blues”… looks like they added to the “Banana Blues”…  My German friend says this was a remake due to horsemeat being found in the lasagna at Real.

 

I could watch all day!

 

Äffle & Pferdle remind me a little of Rocky & Bullwinkle, an animated show I loved as a kid.  Like Rocky & Bullwinkle, they also appeal to adults, which makes them great characters as far as I can tell.  What better way to get lifelong fans than to engage people of all ages?  Besides, this is a great way to get to know the local culture.

They’ll teach you math, too!

New Year’s in Jettingen!

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I was both kind of looking forward to and dreading another New Year’s Eve in Germany.  Last time we lived here, we lived in a little town called Pfäffingen, which is very close to the college town of Tübingen.  When we were here last time for New Year’s, Germans were out in the streets setting off lots of fireworks.  It was very intense and went on for most of the evening and into the wee hours of the morning.

New Year’s Eve in Jettingen, by contrast, seemed pretty tame.  It’s my guess that the snow put a damper on the festivities.  There weren’t any fireworks to speak of until just before midnight.  A lot of them came from houses in the distance from ours, though there were a few set off in our neighborhood.  In Pfäffingen after New Year’s Eve, there were spent fireworks and debris scattered all over the place.  In Jettingen, it seems like there would be much less.

Bill and I hung out in my big room and drank champagne. We never go out on New Year’s Eve.  I guess by the time December 31st rolls around, we’re a little holidayed out.  I kind of wish we’d gotten some fireworks, but the snow kind of kept us out of the stores.

The snow is slowly melting and soon everything will be a soggy mess.  I’m kind of ready for the snow to go away, though.  I’m ready for things to get back to normal.  I’m also ready to plan our next trip, which I hope will be in a couple of weeks.

Anyway, here are a few photos I managed to snap last night.  I wish they were more exciting.  There’s always next year, though, and God willing, we won’t have to move again.

I got more photos than these, but honestly, they aren’t much to look at.

I think the neighbors are getting used to us…

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Santa brought us nice neighbors for Christmas!

Two nights in a row, our German neighbors have lent us a helping hand.  On the night of the 23rd, our landlord/landlady dropped by with a bottle of wine for us as a Christmas present.  Normally, when someone rings our doorbell, I put the dogs in the downstairs half of our house.  Our house was intended to be two apartments, so it’s easy to keep one part closed off.  I answer the door and the dogs are kept out of the way.  Unfortunately, Bill neglected to secure our hounds, Zane and Arran, before he opened the door and they both got out.

I had already dressed for bed because I had taken a shower and figured I wasn’t going anywhere, nor was I expecting anyone.  But when Bill yelled at me that the dogs were on the loose, I got dressed again and went out to help catch Zane.  Arran, thank heavens, is very easy to corral.  Zane never goes far when he gets loose.  He always stays within our sight.  Getting loose is a game for him and he has a great time making us chase him.  Like most hounds, he has selective hearing and a mind of his own.  Sadly, he doesn’t realize that getting out of the house on his own could result in his death.

Zane ended up running to a neighbor’s yard, which has sort of a natural fence around it made of low shrubs. As we were trying to catch Zane, a different neighbor pulled up and helped us corral him.  She was a huge help!  Instead of us having to chase Zane for 45 minutes in the dark, it only took about 20 minutes to get him, thanks to our kind neighbor.  She introduced herself and pointed to where she lives.

Then last night, as we were eating dinner, the doorbell rang again.  This time, Bill closed the door to the downstairs so our dogs couldn’t escape.  It was another neighbor– this time, a man who lives down the street.  He introduced himself and alerted Bill to the inside light of our SUV.  It was still lit and he didn’t want us to have a dead battery!

Now… this may seem like common courtesy to a lot of people, but I’m here to tell you that when we lived in Texas, our neighbors weren’t nearly as nice to us.  When Zane got out of our yard on my birthday, I asked a neighbor who happened to be within reaching distance of Zane’s collar if he wouldn’t mind grabbing him so we could take him home.  That guy totally ignored me.  Fortunately, we were able to corral Zane because there was a tall fence there.  Zane got out because the pool guy came early that morning and forgot to shut the gate behind him.  It was lucky that I got suspicious so soon after I let him into the yard.  He might have easily been killed or gotten lost.

Another time in Texas, a neighbor came over to tell me that the garage door was up.  I was glad she did that, since I was alone in the house and it turned out that neighborhood wasn’t very safe (as evidenced by the blood spatter on our driveway by the lockbox while the house was being advertised for rent).  But that was the one time anyone showed much consideration.  Most of the time, they rang the bell to try to sell us something or proselytize.  Oh, and one guy tried to butter up Bill so we’d let his kid use the pool in the backyard.

When we lived in Germany last time, it took a lot longer before our neighbors got used to us.  We lived in a town near Tuebingen, so very few Americans were in that area.  I think we were the only ones who had ever lived in that village and, according to my former German neighbor, it wasn’t a particularly friendly neighborhood to start with, although I did very much enjoy living there.  It was months before anyone spoke to us, though they did watch us a lot through their windows.  We also got ding dong ditched quite often by local hoodlums.  We finally had to disconnect the doorbell.

Anyway, while I know we’ll always be Auslanders in these parts, it’s good to know we have nice neighbors.  I much prefer where we live now to where we were living a year ago.  And the couple that owns our home is so nice.  I never had an American landlord who brought me wine!

An added bonus… insane sunsets and sunrises easily viewed from our upstairs windows…

German Unity Day was yesterday…

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Most of my neighbors were at home, though things were very quiet around here.  October 3, 1990 is the day that Germany officially unified, though the Berlin Wall started crumbling in 1989.  Of course I remember it, since I was a teen at the time.  I remember growing up with Germany divided.  Bill remembers living here when the wall came down and Germany came together.

Bill and I have yet to really see Berlin, other than the dilapidated airport, which I understand will be replaced.  We’re hoping to steal away for a weekend soon.  Maybe we’ll go to Berlin and check it out. I would like to see Germany’s capital, now that I’m living here for the second time.  I’ve heard it’s a wonderful city, too.

Bill said the autobahns were empty yesterday.  I wonder how Germans celebrate.  Do they stay home and have a nice meal or do they go to Italy or France for a long weekend?  Or do they sit around watching the news?  I should ask our landlords.

By the way, this was the East German national anthem…  

My kitchen annex…

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I haven’t taken any photos of our little kitchen because, frankly, it’s a bit of a mess and I didn’t feel like cleaning it just so I could get a few pictures.  But I did want to post a few photos of how we used one of the little rooms on the first floor.  We have two small rooms down there that aren’t really suitable for bedrooms unless you have very small kids.  I decided to turn one of them into a pantry.

I bought the refrigerator last week to supplement the small “dorm sized” one the landlords supplied.  It’s an AEG model and so far, I’m pretty pleased with it.  It’s a good size for two people and gives us a  better place to store all the things that take up too much space in a little fridge.  We put all the magnets we collected on our many trips on that fridge.  I caught one of the neighbor kids looking through the window at them.  😉

 

The shelves I bought years ago at Rose’s.  They are very sturdy wood and fold out conveniently.  I usually use them for books, but we didn’t bring many books to Germany on account of our 5000 pound shipping limit.  They make a great place for my china and some dry goods, along with bakeware that doesn’t fit in the kitchen cabinets.  And you can also see the obligatory twenty pack crate of beer…

I bought this handy little cart from Amazon.de.  The top opens up so you can store stuff under it.  There are two drawers, room for wine storage, and space under the rack and drawers for other stuff.  The wheels make it easy to move.  Although this cart is pretty heavy, I think we’ll probably take it back to the States with us.

 

The vacuum is a Dirt Devil.  I’m not all that happy with it because it has a design flaw.  The on/off button is on the side of the machine, so if you accidentally run into the door or something, it shuts off.  Also, the head isn’t powered, so it’s not that great for carpet.  Luckily, we don’t have much carpet in this house.

Another shot of the shelves.

The other small room we’ve turned into the trash sorting room.  In Germany, you have to sort your trash by what it is.  It’s not just putting recyclables in a recycling bin.  It’s separating paper, plastics, metals, biodegradables, and residual trash.  That means having just one trash can isn’t feasible.  I don’t mind separating trash, I guess, though I really need to find a single trash can with several compartments in it.

German skills…

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I never studied German when I was in school.  I took four years of Spanish in high school and two years in college and never got near being fluent.  Then I learned Eastern Armenian in Armenia and got closer to being able to speak a foreign language out of necessity.  I should have studied German but in my school system, they didn’t have a German teacher until I was already into Spanish.  I figured Spanish would be a lot more practical anyway.  Lo and behold, we moved to Germany, where German would come in handy.

Last time we were here, I tried to use Rosetta Stone to learn some German, but my efforts didn’t last very long because I got really bored with the program and lacked discipline.  Besides, every time I tried to speak German, the person I was speaking to would switch to perfect English.  So I quit trying and figured it was no big deal.

Now we’re in Germany again and I want to learn more so I can say something when I get yelled at… or at least understand more when someone says something shitty (which has happened).  So yesterday, I started using Duolingo, which is a free program on the Internet that allows users to brush up their foreign language skills.  It’s actually kind of a fun program and pretty easy to use.  I like that it assigns rewards and goals.  I may never speak coherent German, but I do find that I understand more than I think.

Of course, there is a downside not to know what people are saying.  I ran into a couple of weird incidents last time I was here and was pretty sure I was being insulted by host country nationals.  It was probably just as well that I didn’t understand what the people were saying.  Here’s an essay I wrote several years ago about one of those experiences.

A lesson in communication

May 1, 2009

The Bottom Line Sometimes it doesn’t take language fluency to catch the drift of a conversation.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband Bill and I visited Agais, our favorite Greek restaurant, for a bite to eat. Bill was fresh from a business trip to Latvia and it was cold and rainy outside. Neither of us felt like cooking and knew the proprietor of the restaurant, a man I affectionately refer to as “The Mad Scientist”, would welcome our business.

When we arrived at Agais, we found that our favorite booth was occupied. Luckily, the folks who had been sitting there were paying their bill and about to leave. While they were gathering their things, Bill and I took a seat at the next table. There was a large, noisy party of six Germans, three men and three ladies, seated at a table that was perpendicular to it.

The Mad Scientist was very happy to see us and quickly cleared the booth for us. He brought out our usual glasses of red wine, perfect for such a chilly, wet evening. While we looked at the menu, I noticed that the large party had gotten louder. Aside from Bill and me, this party was the only other one in the restaurant. And they certainly behaved as if they were the only ones in the room. One man, sitting at the end of the table, seemed to be holding court. I don’t speak German, but I heard him loudly mention the word “Schweiz” several times in a mocking tone accompanied by gestures. I got the feeling he was making fun of the Swiss and not in a good natured way.

Bill and I chatted quietly over gyros and red wine while the folks at the other table kept sneaking glances at us. The ladies’ laughter had grown ever more shrill as they continued to drink wine and chatter. I noticed that The Mad Scientist was playing different music, as well– not his usual Greek party music, but some kind of live recording. I liked the change, but noticed the large party loudly protested when The Mad Scientist made a move to switch it.

As I watched and listened to the group, I got the feeling that they were trying very hard to look like they were having a good time. They ordered more drinks and dessert, laughed boisterously and spoke in tones that suggested they were having the time of their lives. And yet, underneath their conspicuous show of merriment there seemed to be a subtle veneer of hostility, especially from the guy who had been making fun of the Swiss. He got up to smoke a cigarette and I noticed that the tension in the room had lessened a bit. Still, it seemed like there was an undercurrent of rudeness that was hard to ignore, not just toward us, but among the group members.

Finally, the group paid their bill and got up to leave. When they were gone, The Mad Scientist came out of his kitchen chuckling. He looked at me and Bill and asked, “Do you understand German?”

Bill speaks a little German, but sadly I don’t.

“Do you know why those people are here in Entringen?” he asked us.

We said we didn’t.

He was still chuckling as he said, “Those people are here for marriage counseling. They’re taking a class here as a last resort effort to save their marriages.” The proprietor, who recently starting renting out an apartment above his restaurant, indicated that one of the couples was staying there and the group had been eating in his restaurant regularly. I certainly didn’t know that the little town of Entringen had a marriage counselor that would merit a retreat.

Suddenly, I started to understand why the room seemed so tense. I said, “That guy at the end of the table… he seemed to be making jokes at everyone else’s expense.” I didn’t add that I had a feeling he’d been making fun of me and Bill, too.

And The Mad Scientist laughed and said, “Oh yeah! He’s the worst off of all of them.”

Then he smiled and said, “You know, I can tell that you and Bill don’t have those problems.” He gave Bill a fond look and said, “He has a big heart! I can tell that you two love each other.”

I heartily agreed with that, of course. Besides love for each other, we also have mutual respect. From what I could observe, even with my limited German skills, mutual respect was something that was lacking in the group who shared the atmosphere at Agais with us that night. Nevertheless, it was one of the more interesting experiences we’ve had since we moved to Germany!