Saturday, September 3, 2011

On babysitting, tourism in Munich, and restaurant etiquette

Just to put this out there before I forget: Cliona changed her underwear. You're welcome. I know you all were wondering. I also taught Kilian the tomato-tomahto song, to illustrate that I wasn't just crazy for pronouncing it in such a silly way, but the downside was I sang it at least five times. All in the name of education...

Today started with a lot of sightseeing around the Altstadt (old city, or city center), but I'll start with my kid stories while they're fresh in my mind. Anne and Michael (my host parents) were off to a party for Michael's work tonight, so I had the kids from about 5 PM on. (They go to bed at 7 and 8 PM, respectively, so it's not really a long time). The night of fun started with some good old let's-use-Laura's-body-as-a-jungle-gym play, which, hey, at least it's free. This soon progressed into couch diving and jumping, which I put a stop to after several visions of concussions and bleeding head wounds. Some story time followed, and this continued until it was time to make dinner.

In reference to that, and as follow-up to my food comments of last post, I've discovered more about the German way of eating: there should be one "hot meal" every day, but that's it. If the hot meal is lunch, then dinner just needs to be some bread and cheese or something simple like that. I rebelled at the kids' request for pasta, however, but don't worry, I hand-washed the evidence.  I've also figured out why Germans eat the way they do and manage not to gain [a lot] of weight: they aren't a snacking people. My American stomach is used to having food at hand throughout the day, and when all I eat is a small cereal at breakfast, maybe a small sandwich or pasta at lunch and some bread and cheese at dinner, by 10 or 11 PM (aka right now), I'm just about starving. Ughh.

Dinner turned halfway through into a tear-fest; Kilian remembered that his mom and dad weren't home and started sobbing. A bit sad for me, but I don't think it's personal. I distracted him somehow, convinced them to "tidy up" the living room before watching their daily shows (they don't understand when I use American language like neaten up; I feel myself becoming more British by the minute). Cliona's an easy one to put to bed, but somehow Kilian managed to con me into not turning the lights out till 9. First it was a game ten minutes before his bedtime (somehow the idea of youngest-goes-first always seems to be in the rules...). I lost, naturally. Then it was silly stories when he ought to have been brushing his teeth, then he picked a HUGE book to read ("Yakari, die Indianier Junge," for those interested), assuring me it had chapters and wasn't actually that long. It was. And then he forgot his bear...anyway, they're finally down for the night.

I told them I wanted to take some pictures so my friends at home could see, which they took to mean look as silly as possible, please. But here you go:

                                          This was actually the tamest of the silly-face photos.

                                                                   Silly kids with their Duplos!

                                                           Cliona and me (Photo credit to Kilian)

Now, to jump back quite a few hours, as today was my first real day off (with the exception of the babysitting stint in the evening), I headed into the city center for the day. It takes between 20-30 minutes to get to the city from my house, via a bus and a train, but it's a very straightforward and pleasant ride. I started the day meeting a fellow au pair from Colorado, who I'd connected with on Facebook. We met at 10 at the Starbucks in Odeonsplatz (most meetings tend to be at some coffee locale or another) and headed to a cafe near Marienplatz.  As I was telling my mom earlier, all of these weirds meetings feel sort of like online dating for finding friends. You meet someone online, see if you have anything in common, agree to meet for coffee or something, then awkwardly approach strangers in a public place with a line like, "Umm, excuse me, are you...?" It's really quite an experience. But we actually did pretty well on the awkwardness scale.

To take a brief segue into my third topic, if you haven't experienced restaurant dining in Europe (especially Munich, I feel), you really should. This didn't really seem to ring a bell for me when I read about it online earlier, but today I really got it. Americans tend to complain about the awfulness of service in European restaurants. I see why, and I tried hard not to let that American bias get in the way. The European way of dining is to take your time. Really. Which makes sense--if you're going to spend the money to buy food instead of cooking your own, why would you want to rush through the experience? Especially on a day like today, which was sunny and beautiful (and in an outdoor cafe with a beautiful view of the surrounding churches and frequent glockenspiel serenades).

Regardless, I'll break down our meal for you, just so you get the idea.
     10:10 - Arrive at cafe
     10:25 - Get menus
     10:33 - Order coffee
     10:52 - Order food
     11:20 - Food arrives
     12:15 - We get the check
Yes, you could've had three American diner meals in that time. But really, the experience is quite a nice one. It was a gorgeous day, and even though we didn't know each other that well, we got along fine.

I will also say for those who have expressed curiosity that at 10:30 AM, the people in the cafe were all drinking a beverage of some sort. The breakdown is about 2% orange juice, 50% coffee/latte/cappuccino, and the remaining 48% were knocking back beers. At 10:30 AM. Welcome to Germany.

I continued my day by heading to the free Munich tour at 1. Since these tours are free and the guides work strictly on a tip basis, they're generally very good, and this one did not disappoint. The guide was a gregarious young woman named Virginia (from Florida--Munich seems to draw a lot of expats). We got all the stories and sights from Marienplatz/Mariensäule to the Frauenkirche (those three are actually three-fourths of the buildings not destroyed in WWII, the other being the Hofbräuhaus), Neuesrathaus (new city hall), Altpeterskirche, and the Viktualienmarkt.  There was a rather overly friendly Egyptian fellow on the tour who befriended me (and who has called me twice tonight; I really need to learn my number so I can give out a fake one), and quite a few other tourists from the US, UK, and various other places. I ditched out of the tour at about 2:30 when they stopped for a beer and sausage break (I'm not quite to the comfort level of being able to show up to babysit drunk), stopped by an H&M to get a more serviceable purse and some shoes, and headed for home.

I'm meeting another au pair tomorrow (maybe) and a couple of guys later in the evening who I've met through the Toytown website (sort of a gathering place for English-speaking expats living in Munich). The Toytown group also hosts a lot of events like German-speaking lunches, curry nights, and 20-something gatherings every Thursday, so I'll try and go to some of those to meet more people.

If I haven't said this already, I really love Munich. It's gorgeous even when it's raining, the people are friendly, the food is wonderful, and it's really just a lovely, lovely place. Come visit me!

I also promise to put some other pictures up. I haven't taken my camera anywhere yet because my purse is thimble-sized and I hate looking like THAT much of a tourist, but new purse should solve the problem (14,99 at H&M FTW!). I'll do some pictures of my room as well; my bathroom's getting redone next week so I'll wait for that to be done, perhaps.

And today I killed a spider the size of my waterbottle. Eww.


  1. Laura, I have to say I'm really impressed (though not necessarily surprised) at how well you've taken initiative with your new life/adventure. I'm pretty sure if I had only been in a new country for a few days I would still be curled up in a ball on my bed, hoping to learn things about the culture through osmosis.

    Also- I noticed the bit about dining out even in Quebec when Sol and I were there! Once we figured out what was going on, we really enjoyed just relaxing and enjoying everything.

  2. Oh yes! Another good, newsy post! I sure enjoy reading these, sweetheart, and I must say I do a lot of laughing aloud! Very good! I hope you didn't feel too disheartened when Kilian cried. It's okay to acknowledge his sad feelings, but I'm sure it was a bit discouraging. Sure am thinking of you a lot!

  3. Dad here: That was a fascinating read. Thank you for the restaurant time increments; that's amazing...and good. I'm proud to say I would've been one of the 48% beer drinkers! (Post by Dad in Mom'e comment box.) P.S. And you're right: Most Americans would unfairly label that as bad service.