Thursday, February 2, 2012

Scattered Observations and Apologies for my Lack of More Punctilious Updates

Cliona. And Baby, doing a headstand for you.

     Well, so much for doing better in January than I did in December. I was going to try and pound out a blog last night, but I was just so sleepy! So happy February to you all. Sorry I'm late.

     Not too much to report! Had a lovely weekend with trips to Hofbräuhaus, Kennedy's Irish Pub, watching Germans in short-shorts play volleyball analyzing European volleyball-playing techniques, eating pastries, having delicious Mexican food home-delivered from a restaurant, and a trip to the movies (in German! Yeah!). The movie theater even had pleasantly American-flavored popcorn....yum!!!

      I was pleasantly surprised on Monday night to get a call from the woman who runs Kilian and Cliona's English kindergarten--one of their teachers had a sick kid and they needed a replacement for the next day...could I fill in? Heck yes!  So I spent Tuesday running around with 18 crazy 3- to 6-year-olds drawing pictures, doing show-and-tell, making crafts, reciting nursery rhymes, and singing songs. I even got the "difficult" child of the class to be my best friend--he led me around by the hand most of the day showing me things and saying my name over and over for twenty minutes at a time. Kid has five imaginary friends. Oy, his poor parents. It was a tiring day but quite fun, and provided a lovely augmentation to my cash-on-hand!

     Kilian and Cliona are charming as always, if a bit challenging at times. Like with anything, there are good weeks and there are bad weeks, but sadly there have been more bad than good lately. Cliona is refusing to eat, Kilian is slamming doors and telling me he hates me...I actually had to send him to his room for the first time today. Fortunately he's six, not any older, and his angry retreat to his room was followed by and I'm-sorry-Laura and a hug and offer of a piece of his chocolate not much longer afterwards.

     I went to a birthday party with Cliona last week which, once again, featured champagne for the adults...kid birthday parties rock! Cliona obstinately refused to eat or drink anything, including cake. She'll wish she still had that ability when she's older...I'm glad the birthday festivities for Kilian are finally over--it's been way too dangerous having all this delicious cake in the house! Cliona, moved by the spirit of all these birthdays, told me last week it was her baby's birthday. Baby apparently turned 5. How awkward.

     Not too many other basic anecdotes, I'm afraid, but here are a few Germans-are-so-interesting tales/observations:

On Fresh Air

     Germans have a thing about fresh air. And by thing, I mean obsession. Fixation. Mania. Utter and complete, undying passion.  (Okay, proved a little too entertaining there.) But really. It's a problem. One that, sadly, I am beginning to see the virtue of. The saying here runs roughly along the lines of, "Germans need fresh air; Americans need air freshener." So true.

     I didn't really notice the whole fresh air thing when I first arrived. When it's sunny and warm and gorgeous outside, as it was for the first two months or so after my arrival, the desire to have windows and doors open makes a lot of sense.

     But then summer turned to fall, warm balmy weather turned to pouring rain and chilling gusts of wind, and, as any normal American (particularly Californian...not that we ever have problem like the aforementioned!) would surmise, I assumed windows and doors would be firmly shut until the next more clement day presented itself.

     Oh, but no.

     Fresh air is, to Germans, as important as eating healthily and exercising. My German teacher would, every day, throw all the windows in the classroom (a whole wall's worth) wide open (bear in mind these are European windows, not American ones, and they open fully, none of that sliding-with-a-screen-behind-it nonsense. German insects know better than to come into houses.) to get our twenty minutes's worth of frische Luft. In case you haven't been keeping an up-to-date schedule of my whereabouts and activities over the last half-year or so (for shame (that was a joke, Dad)), my class ran from early October to early December. AKA when it's really quite cold. We would send the break huddled on the opposite side of the room, jackets and scarves on, wincing whilst breathing in the chillingly cold air coming in through the windows (often accompanied by--no exaggeration--pouring rain).

     A lot of the hype about fresh air comes with the far superior building and design of German houses. In the coldest weather I've experienced here (about 0 degrees Fahrenheit/-18 Celsius), the houses are never affected. The walls are so thick and so well-insulated and the windows and doors the same (thick glass? Beats me), there is never even a draft. I can (and have) walked around in a T-shirt in all kinds of weather. The downside to this is, however, that smells tend to...linger. Radiators are remarkably effective in clearing out any unpleasant bathroom-related olfactory events, but in larger rooms, it can be a problem. (Such as the living room, which still reeks of last night's ham quiche. Yes, despite my host parents throwing the living room doors wide open into the chilling, below-freezing night.)

     Did I mention that during the day, in freezing weather and ground covered in ice and snow, Germans flock to the streets and parks with their kids and dogs in tow? Fresh air, man.

On German Politics

     Why haven't you heard me ranting about the latest German political scandals?

     Because there aren't any.

     Europeans, and Germans in particular, I think, are remarkably calm about their political issues. With the excitement and drama (and idiocy) going on in the states right now with the Republican primaries, it's interesting to compare that to German points of view. (The Germans who are cosmopolitan enough to follow American politics are, for the most part, fairly shocked at how soap opera-esque it all is.)

     In Germany, those who are involved in politics do it as a job. As employment. It is not their life. I've heard from several well-educated, politically aware Germans that they have no idea what Angela Merkel's (German chancellor, husband looks like. Why's that? Because he has no involvement in her job. She goes to work, does her chancellor-ing, then comes home and that's that. I find it fascinating. There's none of this hype about family life and what-was-the-president's-wife-wearing and whatnot.

     There are a number of prominent politicians who have personal facts that would make Americans cringe and refuse to vote for them (and probably condemn them to hell). For example: the mayor of Berlin, the deputy mayor of Paris, the prime minister of Iceland, and the recent runner-up for the Irish presidency (I think) are all gay. There's a very high-level German politician (I can't remember who) who's had four marriages. And you know what? No one cares. None of these things matter. It's a nonissue. Europeans would view not voting for someone because of their religious affiliation or sexual orientation as the same concept as not hiring someone because they play raquetball in their free time. These issues have no bearing on how they would perform in political office, and thus they are not even thought about.

     The German political system is also quite interesting. Whereas America has developed a two-party system that actively promotes partisanship and loyalty and refusal to compromise, in Germany, it's exactly the opposite. With six parties all represented in the Bundestag (German House of Representatives), the highest with 195 reps and the lowest with 43, it's impossible to ever win anything with making friends and crossing party lines. To win an election, parties must join together and form coalitions, or it's impossible to get elected, make a law, or do anything.

     And here we are with two parties that couldn't get a thing done if they tried.

The Downside of Snow

     Don't get me wrong, I love snow. When it's snowing, I've been known to gallivant wildly and squeak and dance with excitement. But I'm starting to see why people can dread it.

     The last snowfall here was Friday nearly a week ago. However, since temperatures have barely risen above zero since then, all the snow is still here. Except it's been walked on so much it's all ice. If you weren't aware, ice is not your friend. Ice is dangerous. Ice catches you unawares on a walk home from the market and sends you falling on your posterior (didn't break the eggs though!). Ice is also very difficult to push a pram through.

     Furthermore, at home the idea of yellow snow was always rather silly. Here, it's a fact. It's everywhere. Dogs pee no matter what the weather's like. Most of the snow is more yellow than white. Or brown, or black, or even red (which is always a little disturbing).

     Also, given that none of my shoes have a tread on them, walking anywhere has become rather hazardous. Don't tell winter, but I'm looking forward to spring.

Aaaaaaaaaand...that's all, folks! Yesterday marked the five-month mark of living in Munich...time flies!

And a shout-out to Nate, who flew home today to start a month of grad school auditions. Send him good vibes, because he's amazing!

1 comment:

  1. Mom here: I like fresh air, too!! I don't like air fresheners at all. BUT I don't open the windows when it's FREEZING! Cute pic of Cliona--and once again, always an entertaining read :) Love you lots!

    Dad here: I don't mind you waiting awhile between blog entries...when they end up being this good! Your culture-based explanation of fresh air in a German's life is classic and telling. I wonder if there are Pennslvania "Dutch" Americans who operate more or less the same.