Adventures in Arkansas, Free Advice from a Novice Expert, German Living, Traveling

Epiphanies in a Foreign Land

When you live in a foreign country, you have lots of epiphanies. Most of them are focused around realizing how very little you actually know about absolutely anything in the world. Like for one thing, did you know that there are other languages floating around out there, and people actually speak them, and they are not English, nor do they require English to exist alongside them in order to be understood? People just speak these languages to each other and their children and their pets, and everyone seems to understand everyone else just fine without translation dictionaries or friendly roommate interpreters or flailing hand gesticulations.

At other times, you have epiphanies about how wonderful the magical foreign land is that you’re living in. I mean, let’s be real here: Germans have recycling (the Pfand!), beer (Augustiner!), chocolate (Ritter Sport!), public transportation (Deutsche Bahn!), and outdoor adventuring (Alps!) figured out. Germany is great.

But sometimes your most significant epiphanies are related to what you value most. Mine personally came to me about seven months ago, when I started thinking about what it is exactly that I care about in my life. I love traveling, going on adventures, and experiencing new things, but I also love all my family and friends. As I considered these many loves, I realized that the first set of loves, all related to adventures and foreign lands, will always be waiting for me, ready and rearin’ to go. My family and American friends, however, are doin’ their thangs and livin’ their lives, and the moments I miss when I’m seven time zones away can’t always be explained over FaceTime or illustrated in a 10-second Snapchat picture.

Because of this epiphany, I decided to come back to America at the end of July.

When I made this decision, my German roommate, the Queen of Culinary Delights, got really sad and threatened to lock me away in her apartment dungeon so that I would never leave her ever. I was also very upset with myself for deciding to put such a great distance between myself and my personal live-in chef and interpreter who made homemade pizzas with me every Sunday night, who welcomed me wholeheartedly into her friend circle and helped me make lots of new friends, and who made me snortlaugh by pointing out my vast ignorance of German, especially when I would buy things like heavy cream with a shelf life so long “that you can take it with you to Mars” (I’m still convinced this was her subtle way of telling me to go back to the planet where I came from).

I was also afraid that when I moved back to America I was going to regret my decision and want to go immediately back to Germany. The second my plane lifted off German soil, I mentally confessed my love to Germany and promised to come back as soon as possible. But now that I am back in America, I feel like I made the right decision. I miss all the delightful adventures and fun of Germany, but I have realized that there are plenty of delightful adventures and fun to be had here in America as well. I also miss all my lovely and wonderful German friends, but I have promised myself that I will go visit them again as soon as possible. Of course, this is only assuming my dear roommate will host another four-hour long brunch in my honor. I am a demanding person when it comes to breakfast feasts, and accept nothing but the best.

So now I am back in America, still singing the praises of Germany and occasionally trying my hand at cooking German cuisine. I’m also still learning new things and going on adventures all the time.

From here on out, this blog will still be all about me learning new things about the world and making a fool of myself along the way, but most of the goings-on will occur in America instead of Germany. I hope you’ll stick around for more fun as I continue my adventures, because I sure do like sharing them with you!

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This is me saying, “Hello America! I am back in the world” to the passport control camera in the airport. Are you supposed to smile for these things? I look like I just got busted for all the chocolate I stuffed into my suitcase and smuggled into the country.

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Free Advice from a Novice Expert, German Living

Arguing with Germans: a Lesson in Futility

Here is my advice to you: never get into an argument with a German.

Germans are rational people, and they usually have reasons for the things they do. For the most part, I agree with their reasons and admire their focused attention to the sense of things.

But sometimes Germans do things that just plain don’t make sense. When a crosswalk light is red, for example, you will not find any decent German human being who will dare to cross that street. It doesn’t matter if there are no cars or trams or anything to be seen anywhere. They are out there somewhere, waiting to run you over at the slightest hint of your dodging out into the seemingly nonexistent traffic. And Germans will also argue that who even knows who is watching your sinful ways when you cross the street on red? Several crosswalks around Munich have the following sign posted next to them: “Nur bei Grün– den Kindern ein Vorbild!” which means “Set an example for the children– only cross on green!” Because heaven forbid having to explain to a child, “No, my cute mouse, that’s just a reckless American sprinting across the street on a red crosswalk light. Ignore her. As you get older, you will learn that Americans do a lot of disturbing things, like riding the train illegally (black riding!), being halfhearted about recycling, and just really butchering the good name of all things sausage.  You must figure out a way to both accept their madness and also completely overlook it.”

When Germans do things like this that don’t make sense, you shouldn’t try to talk sense into them. Instead, you should just accept that you are about to lose an argument.

I learned this over the summer when I went to a German birthday party. On the way to the party, my roommate asked her boyfriend if he happened to know the exact date of the person’s birthday. He didn’t, and my roommate looked slightly concerned at his response. After finding out that I also didn’t know what day this person was born, she began a hasty internet search to find the mystery birthdate. I asked what the big deal was, and she explained that in Germany you are only allowed to wish someone a happy birthday if it is actually their birthday. I was getting confused: “But the other day when we went to your friend’s birthday, I told her ‘Happy birthday’ and it was the day before her actual birthday.” My roommate’s eyes widened in alarm, and she exclaimed, “Why do you think everyone sang the Happy Birthday song at midnight?!” And I retorted, “Because the [World Cup semi-final] game was over!” “No,” she replied. “It was because it was her actual birthday!”

While she and her boyfriend anxiously texted their way through their list of friends in a desperate attempt to uncover this all-powerful exact birthdate, I asked what would have happened if the party had been after the person’s birthday. “You would have said ‘Happy belated birthday,’ of course.” I was pretty sure I would have still said ‘Happy birthday,’ but I was having a hard time getting them to understand that a birthday should be celebrated whether the celebrating happens early or late.

Since I was quickly getting nowhere in this argument, and especially since I don’t like to lose, I poured all my logic into one emphatic response: “You don’t have to celebrate your birthday only on your actual birthday!”

And then I heard the one German word that silences all opposition: “DOCH!”

Doch translates roughly as “How dare you contradict me when I am clearly right in this rather tiresome dispute?” It starts out sounding like the sound Homer Simpson makes and ends up with the velar fricative “ch” of loch, and if you hear this word, you know you have been defeated in your verbal dispute. It doesn’t matter if you are actually right, because once your opponent has unleashed doch, the rest of the conversation can only continue in strings of “Doch!” battling your armies of “No!” until both sides are exhausted and want nothing more than to sit down together and enjoy a Weisswurst with a side of sweet mustard.

You will also be defeated with “Doch!” if you say, “Football and soccer aren’t the same thing!” Germans will shout at you, “Doch, football is football and American football is weird.”

You could try out, “Germany doesn’t have the best football team in the world!” But even still you will hear: “Doch! Wir sind Weltmeister!” which means “Hahahahahahahahahaha you Americans are hilarious.”

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You: “Molly, you aren’t really German.” Me: “Doch! I have a German flower lei and am therefore the German Kapitän of the World.”

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German Living

Germany and America and the World Cup

For the past ten months, I’ve faithfully chronicled for you the tensions that have been slowly building between the US and Germany. You’ve followed along as German doors have refused to cooperate with me and as German words like Handschuhe have laughed haughtily at me. You’ve also witnessed me grrrowl and snarrrl at Germans with my American accent and occasionally ride the train without paying for a ticket.

On Thursday, y’all, all of this strife is finally going to come to a head. The US is playing against Germany in their third and final first-round match of the World Cup. My roommate has described the situation as a Level “Hamburger vs. Leberkässemmel” Emergency.

This crisis has occurred because both teams are tied with each other and also at the top of their first-round group. The best scenario is a tie, which would take both teams to the next round with no questions asked and no hard feelings felt. If either the US or Germany wins, though, that winning team will shout loudly, beat their chests proudly, and sidle on into the next round.  With the win-lose scenario, the losing team will be immediately released into the Limbo that is the Brazilian rainforest. There they will search their souls and hail their Marys while their total points from the first-round matches are compared against Ghana’s and Portugal’s, the other two teams in this first-round group that are already in World Cup Limbo. The team in Limbo with the highest number of match points will then be released and allowed to foot some balls another day.

I am mentally preparing myself for this epic America-vs.-Germany battle by singing the Star-Spangled Banner nonstop in as many keys as my vocal range will pretend to allow. I have also been waving an American flag as frenetically as a palm tree waves its branches in a hurricane. It’s a given that I will also probably chant USA! USA! throughout the entire match.

All this America juju I’m drumming up should be enough to ensure that the US team wins. At the very least, it will be more than enough good vibrations for everyone in a 300-yard radius around me to know that I am proud to be an American, where at least I know the sport’s called soccer.

US vs. Germany

Let’s all ignore the fact that this American flag is my roommate’s and the German flag is mine.

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German Living

Drinking Sprudelwasser and Opening Windows

Germans do all sorts of weird things. For several months, I stubbornly tried to maintain my facade of aversion to these activities, but now I have finally given in to their seductive siren’s call.

Here are a few examples of weird things Germans do that I now do too:

  • Drinking carbonated water. It is bubbly. It is water. And it’s called Sprudelwasser! It is impossible to resist such a drink.
  • Eating long breakfasts. I have gotten to the point where if my breakfast is shorter than one hour, I go ahead and call the day off, because nothing good can come from a too-brief breakfast. I now also require a minimum of two pretzels before noon in order to function as a productive citizen of the galaxy.
  • Watching German TV. Germany’s Next Top Model! Heidi Klum is on it, and she speaks German the whole time! I know! I couldn’t believe it either. There is also a show called Tatort, which is like CSI but 30 years older. I have watched one third of two episodes. You do the math.

All of these things are weird, but the strangest German behavior that I have adopted as my own involves windows. Windows in Germany are not like any window I’ve ever seen before. Instead of having two panes with a bottom one that slides up, they have one pane with a handle on the side that looks like a door knob that you can turn to open the window like a door.  Since you already know all about my complex and strained relationship with doors of the German persuasion, you won’t be surprised to hear that I have experienced similar strife with these windows.

During my first attempt at opening one, the window did not open; it fell top-first. The first thing I thought was, “No! Not yet! I still have too much ignorance of German thresholds left in me to die right now!” The second thing I thought was, “Oh wow, I am clearly getting quite strong, because I’ve made like the Incredible Hulk and pulled the window right out of its hinges.” But then the window stopped four inches into its descent and stayed put, staring smugly down at me from its reign on high.

This phenomenon is standard procedure for German windows. It’s called opening the window  “auf Kipp,” which means on tilt. Germans are crazy about the window Kipp. I have conducted a scientific study and discovered that 93.24% of my students feel the need to Kipp the window every time we take a break, most especially when the frosty winds of winter are working themselves up into a blizzard outside, or when the Sexy Sax Man is honking his horn down in the streets.

My theory for this behavior is that German architecture is so structurally sound that sealing off every opening in a room will instantly turn it into a vacuum that will run out of air in T-minus three hours. If you want to survive after that time, you’d best Kipp the nearest window. My students swear that it’s just because the fresh air just helps their brains work better. But pish posh. I know the truth.

For about four months, I laughed contemptuously every time someone would open the window for fresh air. “Silly Germans!” I thought. “Air is everywhere. Not just outside the window!” But over the past few weeks, I have found myself opening windows of every room I go in. Kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, it doesn’t matter. If there is a window, I will open it.

A few weeks ago, I hadn’t opened any windows in the apartment in several hours. My roommate came home from a successful shopping trip in which she bought 500 pounds I mean 230 kilograms of white asparagus and vegetarian schnitzel. And as soon as she had entered the apartment and attempted to take a few deep breaths, she exclaimed, “We have to open a window! The air is used!”

This statement either confirms my theory that Germans are afraid of suffocating inside their own buildings, or else means that my roommate was too polite to tell me that the air was filled with the stench of my toots.

Here is a window auf Kipp. It looks like it is designed to fall on you, but it is actually saving your life from the vacuum of a house you live in.

Here is a window auf Kipp. It looks like it is designed to murder you, but it is actually an escape route for all the toots you get from drinking too much Sprudelwasser.

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German Living

How to Celebrate Easter in Bavaria

The state of Bavaria has a law that requires everyone to spend a minimum of 21.3% of their time celebrating public holidays each year. Almost all of these holidays are religious. Like Epiphany, which is the 6th of January and also traditionally the 12th day of Christmas, when your true love gives you twelve drummers drumming. And Ascension, which is the 40th day after Easter. On each of these holidays, every single business closes and all towns empty themselves of their inhabitants, who go hiking or picnicking in the mountains or skinny-dipping in the lakes. These things happen regardless of the weather, because Germans love the outdoors and will do anything to be in nature.

The most recent of these holidays was Easter, and Bavaria celebrated it with a four-day weekend, since Good Friday and Easter Monday are both official holidays here. This means that if you forgot to buy milk on Thursday evening, you better hope you have a cow out back to last you through the long weekend.

Right now I have an award-winning roommate who has earned Roommate of the Month for the past three months, mostly because of the delicious food she cooks me all day every day. In keeping with her award-winning style, she invited me to visit her hometown with her this weekend. She hinted that there would be free cake, so of course I agreed to come.

Over the course of two days, I celebrated Easter in proper Bavarian style. Here is what you should do if you also want to have a Bavarian Easter Bonanza:

  • Buy a bunny. From what I can tell, rabbits are much more popular as pets in Germany than they are in America, and several people I’ve met have at least one. My roommate’s family has an old one named Felix and a new one named Ferdinand.
  • Go to church before the sun comes up. My roommate’s family’s church had a sunrise service at 5 am, filled with singing, blessings, and the sun coming up. I may or may not have shamefully and lazily slept through this event.
  • Hunt for your Easter basket. In Germany, they don’t fool around with egg hunts. Instead, they simplify the process by hiding baskets already filled with the goodies, so when you find yours you are ready to eat your 400 pounds of chocolate.
  • Eat cake for breakfast. The priest blesses all the breads and cakes that people bring to the Easter sunrise service, and this makes them taste 7 times better.
  • Incorporate white asparagus into every meal. Germans go crazy over white asparagus, which as far as I know is not even a thing in America. Since it grows in early spring, you get 300 German cookery points every time you use it in an Easter dish. My roommate’s family earned 900 points this weekend.
  • Have egg-breaking competitions. In this game, two boiled eggs go head to head to see which has the stronger shell. Basically you and your opponent bash your respective eggs against each other, and the shell that doesn’t bust open is the winner.
  • Go for an afternoon walk. This task is especially easy if you have mountains and rivers all around you and the weather is perfect. If you find a four-leaf clover, you will be crowned with flowers and revered as the American With Lots o’ Luck.
Braided bread, lamb cake, and a pot of tea. Be prepared to eat all of the things pictured entirely on your own. It is the German way.

Braided bread, lamb cake, and a pot of tea. Be prepared to consume all of these things entirely on your own. It is the German way.

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German Living

Shoe Spoon Sorcery

Yesterday German engineering won the Olympic gold medal in making me shriek and squeal with joy and disbelief.

This happened after I had cooked a delightful dinner of chili with chocolate for my roommate, her boyfriend, and one of my teacher frandz. We also dined on homemade Nutella banana bread, because I am trying really hard to be a good Hausfrau and learn how to cook real food and not just pasta with a side of raw bell peppers. I am also evidently trying really hard to incorporate chocolate into every food I eat.

After we had stuffed ourselves to the brim with chocolate and I had reenacted my first traumatizing experience with German doorknobs to everyone’s simultaneous confusion and delight, my teacher friend decided it was time for her to book it back to her house for the night. We all gathered around in the apartment entryway and naturally lapsed into a deep philosophical discussion of shoes. This happened because Germans take off their shoes before they go into the rooms of their apartment, so in every apartment you will find an enormous entryway display of footwear. They claim that this practice is to prevent dirty shoes from tracking in the filth of the world onto their beloved floors.

But the truth is this: Germans worship shoes.

I know that this is the case because of two reasons. The first is the aforementioned footwear display in the apartment entryway. It is a shrine. Every apartment has one, but some are more impressive than others. Most just have the shoes arranged in an orderly and proud fashion, and guests who visit the apartment will exclaim upon entering, “My, what an impressive shoe collection you have! Might I try on your high heels and prance around in them a bit? Or your boots? I’d love to stomp around in that fancy footwear.” And the host will of course oblige them, as long as this prancing and stomping occurs outside the house.

The second way I know that Germans worship shoes is because every single one of them owns a shoehorn. In German these are called Schuhlöffel, or shoe spoons, and they are the Ark of the Covenant of every shoe shrine in the land. Each shrine is required by law to contain a minimum of two shoe spoons.

Before I moved here, I thought that people stopped using shoe spoons in like the 18oos. But I guess that was just when the shoe spoon industry was taking off in Germany. Since living here, I have seen shoe spoons in every apartment I have visited, and in multiple stores across the country. One time when I went to IKEA I even found a gigantic basket filled with them.

As it turns out, the shoe spoon is designed for putting on shoes. Apparently they are not only good for really-hard-to-put-on 19th century shoes, but also for 21st century shoes that just won’t let your foot in without some outside help. Before last night, I always struggled to put on tricky shoes with my bare hands. But from now on I will use my handy dandy shoe spoon, which my roommate gave me after listening me scream ecstatically for five minutes straight after experiencing the magic of the shoe spoon for the first time ever. Now I will never have to struggle with stubborn shoes ever again. Thank you, German engineering, for maintaining this tool that I didn’t even know I needed but now can’t live without.

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German Living

Christmas Markets in Munich, Vol. 2

I didn’t go to all of Munich’s Christmas markets. Because sometimes your Christmas market eyes are bigger than your Christmas market stomach and so you start your Christmas market feast with 53 servings heaped on your plate only to realize halfway through that riding your bike everywhere in December is fracking cold and buying subway passes is expensive. But I did go to a lot of them. And I went to one in Regensburg, which I think counts for four. So let’s just say I went to all of them and be done with the technicalities.

The best part of the Christmas markets was that my sister got to go with me to several of them! That’s right: she finally escaped from the Little Rock airport and flapped her wings on over to Deutschland.

Here let’s take a brief intermission from this story to talk about how to pronounce “Deutschland”: it’s Doitch-lond. Now you know.

Once my sister got settled into her German groove, we conquered three of the best Christmas markets in Doitch-lond: the aforementioned one in Regensburg, one in Munich’s Marienplatz, and one in the courtyard of the Residenz, the former gigantor palace of Bavarian royalty.

The Regensburg Christmas market had a bratwurst booth with an Australian dude who spoke fluent Down Under. His bratwurst sandwiches were the jam. I had no idea how much three little sausages with sweet Bavarian mustard and relish wrapped in a bread roll could make me wanna dance, but please, hold me closer, Tony Danza.

At the Marienplatz market, we knocked out 97% of our Christmas shopping in about 20 minutes, which was convenient for the woodcrafters, candlemakers, and ornamentiers who gladly exchanged our Euro coins for sundry knick-knacks and paddy-wacks.

The best Christmas market, though, was at the Residenz. At this market, I discovered blueberry Glühwein. Just when you think Germans can’t get any more clever, they go and serve you what I’m convinced was the sole drink of the Bavarian kings and queens. I was savoring this elixir of the gods when we bumped into ST. NIKOLAUS HIMSELF. Not a fakey St. Nikolaus that danced around with the Krampusse in the Krampus Run, but THE REAL ONE. I know he was real because his beard told me so.

Of course we got our picture made with St. Nikolaus, because in the German language people don’t take pictures, they make them, and this therefore justifies the southern dialect’s preference for having pictures made.

Now earlier I had gotten so giddy about drinking the blueberry Glühwein that I had unknowingly splashed it all over the front of my coat. So when St. Nikolaus was like, “Here, put your hand on my real metal staff that, along with my beard, proves that I am the real deal,” I was even more elated and also even more distracted from my stained slovenliness. And after the picture was made, St. Nikolaus insisted that we each hold the staff because it was very heavy and very holy and he wanted us to experience the sehr schwer und sehr heilig for ourselves. So we did.

Here is my final 2013 Christmas market tally:

Christmas markets visited: 6
Mugs of Glühwein drank: 5
Bratwurst sandwiches eaten: 1.1 (my sister was the primary consumer of the Regensburg edition)
Knick-knacks bought: 23
Paddy-wacks purchased: 8
St. Nikolauses loved: 1
Coats permanently stained: 1

My goal for 2014 is to completely destroy two coats with a deluge of blueberry Glühwein consumption.

Pictured: the Frogmartian sisters with St. Nikolaus himself; not visible but still pictured: the blueberry Glühwein stains dripping all down the front of my coat.

Pictured: the Frogmartian sisters with St. Nikolaus himself; not visible but still pictured: the blueberry Glühwein stains dripping all down the front of my coat.

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