19 June 2012

how to fail at being domestic

I woke up Saturday morning and thought to myself, I'm going to be really, really, ridiculously domestic today.

I'm kidding, of course.  It was more like, I want to bake a cake and clean my room today.  But that's close enough.  Anyway, what's really important is that I failed.  So if you're interested in what you can do to prove to yourself that you're completely unqualified to ever do anything domestic, just follow these simple steps...

Decide to bake a cake without having any ingredients or measuring appliances.  
Also, make sure you follow a recipe with metric measurements, which you're completely unfamiliar with (it has to be authentic, right?).  I didn't actually realize that I didn't have measuring spoons, cups, etc. until AFTER I had already gotten really pumped about this raspberry chocolate torte recipe I found on www.chefkoch.de.  But since I had so much faith in my improvisational capabilities, I decided to continue on with my baking endeavor and make a trip to the store to gather the ingredients I didn't have on hand (ahem, all of them).

Fill your grocery cart to the brim, then try to carry everything home.
I figured since I was going to the store anyway, I would just grab a few things to fill my cupboard for the rest of the month.  This certainly would not have been a problem if I lived right next to the grocery store, or if I had a car.  Unfortunately, neither of those things apply to me, so I ended up waiting for the train for 45 minutes with my three giant (and heavy) bags of groceries.
Also, make sure you wear a sweater and jeans to the store in the blistering sun.

Attempt to hand wash your laundry.
This needs no further explanation.  I clearly set myself up to fail.

Fortunately, the torte turned out to be wildly successful and saved the day, even though I had to use strawberries instead of raspberries (raspberry shortages, naturally).  I finished off the night drinking champagne, eating torte, and skyping Rose and Catalina (guest starring Stephen Walsh!).  It was great to see their faces/hear their voices/see them in their new habitat (37UP).  By the time we finished catching up, I realized that baking an entire torte was, in reality, a really awful idea...


Terrified - and secretly a little excited - I thought the answer would have to be me.  Alone.  An entire torte.

But who wants to eat cake alone?  (I'm having flashbacks to Matilda when they make the boy shove that giant piece of chocolate cake into his mouth, except that it would be me in a dark room by myself.  No one to cheer me on.)  Luckily, I dug myself out of that hole (and avoided an extra 10 pounds) by inviting some friends over to cook dinner and eat torte last night after work.  We made spaetzle like real Germans (because they are real Germans) and then sat around and ate the torte, drank champagne, and talked about educational and cultural differences between Germany and America.  Probably my favorite night so far here in the Schwarzwald.  It felt like something I would have done with my friends back home (FAMBUSH, hollaaa), which was super comforting because everything has just been so foreign, and that felt a little bit more familiar.

More good news: I'm starting to get used to the keyboard at work.  I now write "you" instead of "zou" on the first try.  The only downside is that I'm starting to type "Germanz" at home.  But I suppose that could pass as American slangz.  Either way I'm not complaining because I know that getting used to the keyboard is a sign that good things will follow...und die Sonne wird scheinen!

leckere Spätzle und Zwiebeln

11 June 2012


We were off last Thursday for another public religious holiday, so I decided to hitchhike to Munich for the weekend.

I didn't really, ACTUALLY, hitchhike, but I did pay to ride in a car with three strangers.  I know, I know - it sounds super sketch, but it really isn't.  People do it all the time here.  There's a website called mitfahrgelegenheit.de, where, if you're going to be travelling, you can post your beginning and end location, the dates you're travelling, and how many seats are in your car.  Then other people (like me) say they would like to ride with you and you talk to them on the phone or whatever and BAM!  You just saved (at least) 80 euros.

So I'm still not sure if the fact that I decided to do ride with a rando (his name was Omar) means saving 80 euros is more important to me than my well-being, but I don't think it does.  (Actually, if I hadn't saved the 80 euros, I probably wouldn't be able to eat this month.  So I think it was a good call.)  Also, I was super cautious and decided to document my trip in my brand new Axor organizer that I got at work, just in case something went wrong.  Then the police would know everything that happened.  This is what I wrote (please excuse my fragmented, choppy stream of consciousness):

"I find myself always in need of chapstick here, probably because I'm always biting my lips at work out of constant frustration and confusion."  [This was on the train on the way to meet my Mitfahrgelegenheit. It actually has nothing to do with anything.]

"I knew Omar would be a good guy from the beginning.  Maybe I just trust mitfahrgelegenheit.de too much, but I like to think I have an exceptionally good read on people.  For example, I knew the lady on the train to Offenburg was a terrible wench as soon as she scowled at me for stepping on her foot.  It was one of those really overdramatic situations, where you (1) don't even know what you did wrong, and (2) apologize only to be given the cold shoulder.  Well, anyway, Omar isn't like her.  I think he would have moved his feet before I stepped on them."  [Initial reaction to Omar + reflection of recent train ride]

"She's one of those ladies who always runs her hand through her hair - from the front of her forehead to the back.  And when she let's the pieces go, they fall right back into her eyes.  Her breath smells like mint (which is making me crave American Orbit) on top of the smell of her recently smoked cigarette (which isn't making me crave any type of cigarette), and her skin is the tight, leathery kind, where the sun-kissed wrinkles stretch out with a waxy glow.  I decided I like her because she told me I speak perfect German, and she exaggerates her stories, emphasizing just how beautiful everything is.  And I can really appreciate someone who sees such beauty in the simple things."  [Just observing the lady who was sitting in the back seat of the car with me]

"Somehow it seems totally normal to be driving through Germany right now in a car with three strangers (one, a Tunesian man [Omar] living in France, one an Iraqi who lives in Italy, and one a real, live German [Orbit lady]).  Maybe it's the American pop music (call me, maybe) that's making this all feel so familiar."

At this point, I decided that my attempt to document suspicious actions for the police was a lost cause because these people were, in fact, just normal people. Schade.

Looking back on it, I guess I kind of went into the whole Munich trip kind of blindly.  I was meeting Stefi in Munich, with whom I spent no longer than 4 hours total three weeks prior to this.  And we were staying with a girl that neither of us had ever met, but she used to be a student of Stefi's mom, who teaches at a German school in New York.  So none of us really knew what to expect.

What I did not expect was for the trip to Munich to take 5.5 hours (normally ~3.5) because of traffic.  Then I also did not expect to watch a man roll a doobie and try to sell it at the train station while I was waiting to meet Stefi.  But that was all very interesting.

Then, on Thursday, I did not expect to wander right into the middle of the giant church celebration in Marienplatz (this was for the public religious holiday).  Then, when we tried to escape the enormous, suffocating crowd (suffocating because of the incense the priest choked the crowd with.. this might be easy to do in a small church, but this priest was especially talented because the celebration was outside in the open air), I did not expect to be given atrociously dirty looks by the bystander nuns.  My attempt to avoid these glares by moving my lips and pretending to sing along with the choir was unfortunately unsuccessful.

What was most of all unexpected, however, was running into Morgan Fisher and family in a completely random Eis Cafe that we accidentally stumbled into after a five hour, self-guided tour of Munich (aka getting lost).  For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about at all, the Fisher family is also from the town I come from in Missouri.  Random, right?  I'm still not sure if I completely believe it happened.  What a small, strange world.

In addition to all of those crazy things, we saw the Englisher Garten, had a couple beers (and pretzels with obatzda) at the Hofbräuhaus, experienced a little Munich nightlife, and watched Germany's first game of the European Football (soccer) Championship.  I'd say it was a successful weekend, given that I am alive, saved 80 euros, got to experience Munich, and, most of all, made two really great new friends.

I started to get weirdly homesick while in Munich.  Just leaving Bavaria and watching the scenery transform into something more familiar as we reentered the Schwarzwald was a little comforting, but I still came back home and immediately wrapped myself up in Crazy Dave's Tufts sweatshirt. (It was beer-soaked and too big to fit in his bag when he left campus, so I inherited it.  Good thing I washed it because I have to pay an arm and a leg to do laundry here, and there aren't even dryers. Crunchy towels. Baggy pants.)  I'll have to make a trip to Tuebingen soon to see some familiar faces.

Miss you all dearly.

Pictures of the Feiertag:

04 June 2012

The Impatient, Skeptical Foot Monster

It’s interesting how our brains pick and choose what they want to remember.  There are all of those things that you tell yourself you can’t forget: where you put the car keys, the name of the person you just met, which way is right and which way is left.  And, yet, you still forget these things time and time again.  There are also the things that you try to forget, that you don’t want to remember, but they always find a way to sneak back and remind you that they’re there.  But then there exist all of the things that happen that aren’t really important enough for you to classify whether you’d like to remember them or not.  Some you remember, and some you forget, and either way it doesn’t matter to you.  I’m guessing that this category of events, to which you are indifferent, is probably the biggest category.  They’re things like what color shirt the lady in line at the grocery store was wearing, or which quarter of your shoe came in contact with the crack in the sidewalk.  But sometimes we still remember those things.  And sometimes they come in handy.

Don’t Remember
Would like to remember
Would like to forget

For example, Chris Colbert, the CEO at Holland Mark, came to speak to our marketing class this past semester.  Chris’s presentation was engaging, his presence was powerful, and his message was useful.  And nearly everything Chris said that day was something I really would have liked to remember.   But out of everything Chris said that day, what comes back to me now is not the certain process I’m trying to recall or that acronym that I told myself I shouldn’t forget.  No.  Instead, it’s a study about what stages our brains go through when we meet new people.  How useful, right?  Well, I’ve actually found that this study functions quite well as a sequel to Foot Theory, if applied to my moving to Germany situation rather than meeting new people.

It’s broken up into three different stages.  The first stage is extremely emotional.  We make fast judgments based on little information to decide how we feel about this certain person, object, place, situation, etc.  Then, we transition into a rational phase, where we try to validate or disprove our original conjectures with tangible evidence.  We’re skeptical and apprehensive.  Our findings in this stage may or may not agree with our original emotional reaction.  After this, we return to an emotional phase, where we use our rational findings to re-inform our emotional reaction to the subject.

You can probably think back to what was going through your head the last time you met a new person and pick out (fairly easily) what stage you were at during each point in your interaction.  And I think, at least personally, the rational stage is the easiest to identify during the process itself.  You can actually feel yourself being skeptical, testing the person, reevaluating your initial impression.  That’s where I am right now, here in Schenkenzell.  And I can feel it.  Actually, I can point out things that happen in my everyday life that I’m second-guessing and questioning just to test and see if my initial reaction was real.  The following are a few initial reactions I had, accompanied with short stories of my skepticism about their validity within the past week.  (Note how I use "so" in all of these.  So typical of me to exaggerate first impressions.)

Everyone is so nice and friendly!

Haha, right?  This is classic.  Every time I’m bombarded with new people and there’s, like, even one person who smiles at me, I automatically think that we’re friends.  But since the beginning of last week, it went from, Everyone is so nice and friendly! to, Why is everyone being so nice and friendly? What’s going on here?.  I’ve attributed most of the friendliness to (1) pity, and (2) being American.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want people to be mean to me.  But I do want to know why they’re being so nice to me, because I don’t think it can be normal.My colleague, who is an intern from Germany and sits next to me at work, invited me to go to a concert of one of our other colleagues, who plays the mandolin.  It was Friday night, somewhere near Offenburg.  She drove us from the train station to the concert, and then after the concert, when the train wasn’t running, she took me back to my house all the way in Schenkenzell!  Maybe this wouldn’t be a cause for skepticism in any other situation, but I am maybe the least interesting person to have a conversation with in German (more on this point later), so I have no idea why she would be interested in spending an evening with me.  I’ve even contemplated the possibility that it might be one of her assignments to be friendly to me.Regardless of whether or not that is true, I hope she continues to be friendly until my German improves a bit and we can actually have a fun conversation. 

[Note:  Most of the songs at the concert were played in English.  It was folk music with the mandolin and guitar.  For the record, the singer, Bettina, had quite an impressive English accent for the majority of the songs.  It was really a great way to spend a Friday night.  I love live music.  Check out Lydia and Bettina on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yt9Tj6OrTmA] 

Everything is so beautiful!
It really, really is.  There’s no way to dispute this fact.  But I think, in my period of rationality and skepticism, I’ve just unfortunately allowed myself to question the beauty and excitement surrounding me.  For example, this weekend I went to Strasbourg, France with one of the interns I met at the BBQ a couple weeks ago.  Everyone keeps telling me how beautiful Strasbourg is and how I just have to see it.  So I was pretty pumped about getting out of the Schwarzwald Saturday and training to France.   But, unfortunately, I was just so underwhelmed by the city.  (And I don’t think that’s actually Strasbourg’s fault at all.  Looking back, there’s absolutely no reason I shouldn’t have been mesmerized by the rivers flowing around the city or shocked by the grandeur of the giant cathedral (tourist central).  But I just wasn’t.  And I’m blaming it on being rational.)  I think this was just me trying to prove to myself that not every single place in Europe is going to wrap me up in its arms and give me a great big, welcoming, heart-warming hug like Schiltach did.  So point taken, Jenna.  Not everywhere is going to be perfectland.  Now take off your party-pooper glasses. 

It’s going to be so easy to learn German in this environment!
Now thinking about it, my reevaluation of this initial reaction isn’t necessarily a result of my skepticism.  It’s a result of reality.Just throwing yourself into a place where you’re completely surrounded by a foreign language doesn’t necessarily make it easy to learn the language.  I mean, yeah, maybe it’s more effective this way, but I am not going to say it’s easy.  What’s easier than this is talking to my American friends in 9:30am German class every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday about what we did on the weekend or what our plans are next weekend, because we all have the same awful American accent and similarly limited vocabularies, which makes it easy to interact about whatever we want to interact about.  But when you throw real Germans into the mix, who don’t understand a word you’re saying unless you perfectly roll all of your R’s, who have real-life things to talk about or real business tasks for you to complete, and who speak with different accents which sometimes cause the words you thought you knew to change altogether, things become a little more difficult.So, no.  It’s not going to be easy.  In fact, it’s already become really, really difficult.  It seems like I’ve nearly completely lost my entire English and German speaking vocabulary.  I can’t tell whether I’m reading in English or in German.  I don’t realize when my colleagues switch from German to English.  And I have no idea what’s going on with my thoughts because I’m absorbing so much German but my brain is just used to English, so it’s some kind of mumble-jumble of incomprehensibility up there that I can’t even sort out.  It’s all extremely exhausting and frustrating, and I feel like if I can just get everything organized in my brain, I might be able to use real words again.  Anyway, I’m sure that time will come.  I’ll just be waiting, impatiently.

So I might be past having “sometimes-freezing-occassionally-sore-and-sweaty-monster-feet-with-blisters,” but now I’ve just become The Impatient, Skeptical Foot Monster, waiting for myself to accept the validity of all of my first impressions so I can go back to being constantly amazed, engaged, and interested in all of these things happening around me.