Monday, September 26, 2016

A carbonated drink by any other name

Carbonated, sweetened drinks are called soft drinks, pop, soda, or Coke* in the US. In Germany, the generic name for sweetened carbonated drinks is Limonade, or lemonade. Sigh. This one is a cola, marked as caffeine containing lemonade.


 In my mind, lemonade is made of lemons or is meant to taste like lemons, is not carbonated, and is NOT cola.


*To me, this is the most ridiculous one in the bunch. In some southern states, people call all soft drinks "Coke." They'll say, "do you want a coke?" If the other person says yes, then the first person might say something like, "okay, do you want a Pepsi or a root beer?" Coke is Coke, folks. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A beautifully embarrassing mistake

Learning a language and navigating its nuances is a long journey. Along the way, one is almost certain to make some embarrassing mistakes.

I'm no stranger to making mistakes as I'm learning German; I'll share one that had me turn red. It started when my American teacher told us that if you say someone is nett (nice), it's a bit of a "meh" compliment. [I guess I have to translate that from English...hmm, "meh" means non-committal or unenthusiastic.]

I knew that schön usually means beautiful or pretty, but it can also mean nice. For some reason, I got it into my head that calling someone a nette Person was a "meh" compliment and schön fit better and would mean "nice" in this case. I thought we had learned this in class.

So, imagine how strange it sounded when I told my German friend about a woman I met with whom I planned to work on a community event, and I said she is a schöne Frau. That earned some raised eyebrows from my friend and I was confused; after all, the lady is really nice. Oops. I guess one normally wouldn't say that about a volunteering partner!

I didn't make that mistake again, but I was very confused about the rule because I swore that our teacher told us this. Then again, maybe I transcribed my notes incorrectly, but I was confused why I had heard that things could be schön, even when they were something that didn't seem to be beautiful. I gave up on knowing what the difference was because it was more important to stop making the mistake than to know exactly why, especially since I have 1,001 questions about German that feel more pressing.

Thanks to recently listening to an audiobook for learning German, I learned that nice people are nett and nice things can be
schön. That makes so much more sense.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My week: September 11 ed.

Monday of this week was a holiday so I slept in, bummed around, and went out to pick blackberries with my friend K. This year's crop of blackberries were pitiful; they were either shriveled from being in the sun too long, or were too small and bitter. We spent about an hour picking the ones that looked decent and each took a quart bag home. Last year, I picked so many blackberries that I filled my freezer and even shoved some into the freezer at work.

To be honest, though, I'm rather glad that this year I didn't feel obligated to pick blackberries like I did last year when I probably spent about 18 hours picking them. That sounds completely insane and as if I did it all the time, but it was over the course of a few weeks. I used the activity to relax after an all-consuming work project while listening to audiobooks and the new Tunde Olaniran album. I did get a bit sick of eating blackberries and haven't finished all the bags from last year yet so I can accept the significantly smaller yield this year.

Another night, A and I attended a lecture about Vietnam, which covered its history, culture, and the speaker's experience living there. The lecture was in German so it was a good chance for us to practice our listening skills. There was one part where neither one of us understood what the presenter was describing though. I'm still curious about that part!

I met a group for a language exchange meeting and sat next to a Syrian guy I had met before at a similar meeting. It had been weeks since I'd last seen him; during the previous meeting, he was excited to start a practicum. Curious, I asked him where it was going to be and what he'd be doing. At the time, he had no idea since the organizers hadn't told him much about it, but he was looking forward to working and being productive.

At the current meeting, he filled me in since he'd just finished the practicum. He had been placed in an office that helped others, including some of the refugees too, and had enjoyed the work. While he speaks very good German for someone who has lived here for only a year, he decided that he wants to pass the C1 test to really integrate in the work place.

I did feel sad about part of our conversation. We're hosting an event and we said he should invite his family too. I was starting to say it would be good to bring them, "weil die meisten Leute die Syrer nicht..." and before I could finish, he said, "mögen?"

The next word in my sentence was actually going to be "kennen." In other words, I had said that he should bring his family because most people don't _____ Syrians. He thought I was going to say that people don't like them, when what I actually said was that people don't know them and I went on to explain that it's good to meet people from different backgrounds. It's too bad that he thought that people might not like them. Maybe there are some people like that out there, but in our group, that's not who we are, and I'm glad.

Another evening was the start of a new Volkshochschule class with the same teacher I had in the spring. He's an excellent teacher but the class is somewhat too hard for me again. After much debating with myself, and asking his opinion, I decided to attend. My problem is that I feel as if I'm stuck between levels. Outside of vocabulary, I feel as if I'm past B2. However, C1 is a bit too difficult for me. Why does it feel as if I've missed so much? Is it such a jump between the two levels? Feel free to comment if you have any insights. I do know that I really need to kick my tush into gear with learning vocabulary because that's where I'm the weakest.

At the end of the week, I was exhausted so I stayed home and in one go read the entire 400+ pages of The First 15 Lives of Harry August by Claire North. I love time travel books and quest books; it was right up my alley.

On Saturday, I made my circuit around town, checking out some of the thrift stores, visiting downtown to see what was popping, and studying German for a while in the park. I love having what seem to be slightly lazy Saturdays, which are actually sneakily full of errands of a nosy sort.

After that, I visited the university's gardens for a free tour (in German) about herbs. I had planned to stay for the whole event but it was quite hot in the sun and after biking all over the city, I was hot, sunburned, dehydrated, and tired so I left early.

Sunday was Tag des offenen Denkmals, which is a nationwide heritage day in which historical buildings and sites are open for free tours. A. joined me for a stroll around Kaiserslautern and we visited the former Friedenskapelle, or the site of a small city cemetery that will be renovated as a center for community events. We also visited the Pfalzgrafensaal, which had been part of a castle located downtown, and were given a quick tour of the tunnels under the building.

We wrapped up our wanderings with a dinner of nachos at my place. I told A that people probably think that this is how Americans always eat. For the record, we don't ;)

Monday, September 12, 2016

It's Tracht tiiiiiiime

It's Tracht time, it's Tracht tiiiiiiiimmmmmme...

You know when I'm down to my Dirndl it's Bier time...

Anyway, after that strange interlude of trying to appropriate Flight of the Conchords lyrics and failing, let me just say that the Tracht is out in full force right now at the stores. Tracht is traditional German clothing and the most commonly known versions are men's Lederhosen and women's Dirndl.

In the Pfalz, people don't usually wear Tracht, even at local festivals, unless they're Americans, but there is plenty to buy in the area. I previously wrote a guide to buying Tracht in the Kaiserslautern area; you can read it here.

Tracht has been popping up in many other places, too. I've seen it at Aldi; in one aisle, you can buy fizzy water and the next aisle you can buy Tracht or school folders. Such is the strange wonders of the discounter. Even Tchibo has gotten into the act. However, this will be a short act with not too many encores, so if you're seeking less expensive Tracht and you see something you like at the store, pick it up. After all, the next day there might be track pants instead of Tracht Hosen in the same spot.

Even Aldi gets Tracht up.



Sunday, September 11, 2016

My week: September 4 ed.

Man, was I tired at the beginning of this week. Even though I wasn't sick from allergies, which have been mostly held at bay thanks to an aggressive daily routine of allergy pills and maintenance breathing steroids, my immune system still freaks about goldenrod and other allergens. I kept wondering why I was so tired but when I saw the goldenrod, I figured that must be the reason. I haven't been sleeping well because of congestion and also since my bedroom gets too hot. If I leave the rolladen up for air flow, then there's too much light coming into my room. If I leave them down, then the room gets stuffy. I turn on the fan and then I'm too cold. The whole thing is a bit ridiculous.

I met with my tandem partner and for the second time, followed her recommendation where we'd each speak our target language the whole time. I managed to work my way through a complex sentence, complete with relative clauses and multiple ideas, and I did it right. Yay! It's easy to get lost in German sentences, especially when using subordinating conjunctions and relative clauses. After watching out for verb order and keeping an eye out for splittable verbs, by the end it feels as if one has come up for air.

Another night, I invited my friend Ay. and her sister over for dinner. Ay. is from Pakistan and wanted to try to macaroni and cheese because "it's what single dads always make for their kids in American movies." She is always cracking me up and I tumbled into a heap of giggles over this reasoning. I bought Kraft Mac n' Cheese because she wanted the typical kind. Both gals liked it. Heck, I like it, as low-brow as it is, but mostly avoid it because the wheat in it gives me a headache.

During the weekend, I took a trip to the Stuttgart region. My friends C+K, who had previously lived in Neustadt, moved there. While I'm sad that they're no longer an easy 30-minute train ride away, I'm still glad to be in contact with them and the Stuttgart area does have some interesting activities.

On Saturday, we spent some time at their new apartment then started our journey to Tübingen, a university city about half an hour away. On the way, we stopped at C's parents' house to drop off some things. We were just in time as his mother, R, had just put a pizza in the oven. I've stayed there last year with C+K during C's annual garden party, so it was a nice reunion. My German has improved so much even since then so it was nice to talk more with C's father, who doesn't speak as much English.

After that, we drove to Tübingen and wandered around the city. More will follow about this trip, as a separate blog entry, but below is a picture of how pretty it is. I'm a sucker for cities with bodies of water.


The next day, while C did some work around the house, K and I visited the Keltenmuseum Hocdorf/Enz in Eberdingen. It's a museum dedicated to the Celts who lived in the area and includes artifacts from the grave site there. Entry was 5 euros and we spent about an hour there, looking over the exhibits. Most parts are in both English and German but the last third of the museum was only in German.
What's up, Celtic statue!
As we were leaving, I saw a sign for a free museum in the neighboring town of Markgröningen and we decided to visit. The Wimpelinhof Museum is sparse but offers some information about the local sheep herding traditions. K and I were very sad to learn that by a week, we had missed the annual herders' festival, where women wear Tracht and run races with water buckets on their heads, among other things. I would have been keen to view the former as I enjoy strange traditions.
Markgröningen
Wimpelinhof Museum
After we wandered around the city a bit more, ate ice cream, and got rained on, we cut our visit to Markgröningen short. It's a shame because the town is quite lovely, full of historical fachwerk buildings. However, we didn't bring umbrellas and didn't feel like standing around in rain so we went back to their house. For dinner, I cooked raja masala, which they enjoyed, and then I drove home, content after catching up with some good friends.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Used taxidermy: a further exploration

Yesterday I wrote about my adventure at the Kaiserslautern thrift store and the [overwhelming] display of donated [?] taxidermied animals.

I was wondering who on earth wanted to buy pre-owned taxidermied animals. Apparently it's a thing and Men's Journal even wrote a guide to buying used taxidermy.

When I just wrote "pre-owned," I imagined going into a taxidermy store that looks like a used car dealership, and customers immediately being accosted by a salesman who's wearing a polo shirt that has a lower neckline than usual for a dude's shirt (you know, to show that he's suave). He has greased-back hair and smells a bit like formaldehyde mixed with Axe body spray. As the buying negotiations take place, he asks, "what'll it take to get you into a pre-owned jaguar today? Shall I throw in the jackelope for your game room?"

His colleague, a guy of average height and slightly overweight, with a bushy hipster's beard and thick, black rimmed glasses, talks to another customer and gesticulates to a deer's head with a unicorn horn.  "Brah, srsly, you'll have this before it's even cool. Press a button and it expels glitter. You totally need this. No one else has it."

[Exhibit A of why I don't usually get bored/lonely when I'm off doing my own thing because I'm always imaging strange situations, such as the exchange above.]

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Anyway, can I just say that I'm NOT into taxidermy? I get a little wigged out about dead things. I know this sounds awful, but at open casket wakes, I just can't bring myself to go and look at someone's shell. I prefer to remember the person as he was and I find the viewing a bit macabre.

Taxidermied animals don't evoke such strong emotions, but I do find them a bit grotesque and they're not something I'd care to use as decorations in my home. When I lived in Lapeer, I used to get my hair cut at a barber shop that had dead animals littering the shop. It was supposed to be "manly," I guess. I'm not a man but went for the weekday special for a $7 haircut. I could put up with some glassy eyes staring at me for a good haircut at a reasonable price. I just never thought I'd come face to snout with so many taxidermy animals at a thrift store.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Thrift store shopping gets dead weird at Kaiserslautern's Schatzkiste

On Monday, I was enjoying the magic of the American Labor Day holiday. It's lovely and a bit surreal to have a day off when the Germans don't; it almost feels as if one is playing hooky from work because one can actually get stuff done since the stores are open. With my free time, I made a trip to some local thrift stores, which turned into a strange excursion.

When I visited the Schatzkiste (I reviewed it previously here), I came across a display of...merchandise?
dead animal at the thrift store, and presumably for sale
Don't badger me! I'm dead n' stuffed!
Decorations?
We're just chilling next to an overpriced, second-hand lamp.

Dead animals?

taxidermy gone wrong
Don't be such a weasel. C'mon, buy me!
Mackelmore might've bought a fur coat but you can buy the whole dang animal at the Schatzkiste. You could even make your own taxidermy zoo with their impressive collection.

I lost all composure when I saw this sign under the menagerie.

"As much as you need."
I tried to smother my giggles as I pondered just how many taxidermied animals that one person could possibly need. I also considered: who buys second-hand taxidermy animals? Is that a thing?