Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Brain May Be Melting (Which Accounts for the Disorderliness of this Entry!)

     I confess to having been most anxious for this week to end. It's Osterferien (Easter break), which means that while the kids still go to the kindergarten (which runs with work schedules rather than school schedules), I don't have language class this week or next week. Most of my friends are out of town, Nate's in Greece at a conference, depriving me of two-three hours daily of Skyping, and I just have way too much free time and not enough to do with it. What's more, dark and early tomorrow (Friday) morning I take off for Vienna to visit the lovely Andrea Zomorodian for a couple of days, Easter Sunday and Monday in Salzburg with Leigh, then Nate comes Tuesday for a three-day visit. So basically, I need to tough it through till then. The worst part about fun things happening is how long it takes for them to come!

     Last weekend was good fun, however. Friday night was a fairly brief trip out to an Irish pub in town, which was probably a mistake, as it's packed even when it's not Friday night. We could barely move. The live music of the night was a band of three old guys and two hot (relatively speaking) young girls, one of whom was the lead singer, the other the keyboardist (if you can apply that term to someone who played with only her right hand the entire time). Their repertoire consisted entirely of very typical American songs, which of course the Germans all loved. If they had played in an American bar, they'd have been booed offstage for their choices (I think), but here was a different story. Some memorable songs included "Sweet Dreams," "Valerie," "Livin' on a Prayer," "Hit the Road, Jack," and "Don't Speak." I was amused.
     Saturday night I went out to see a play at the local English theater with my host mom and two friends of hers. We had dinner beforehand at an Afghan restaurant (which was incredible; if you've never had Afghan food, run, don't walk!) and then walked over to the theater, which is a small, intimate little place in the basement of a jazz club. The show was called "Boom!," an end-of-the-world piece about an Armageddon-like comet hitting the earth and destroying all human life with the exception of a nerdy marine biologist and a girl he met on a blind date (it was about as weird as it sounds, yes). It was quite a fun night. One of the women is a mom from Cliona's English kindergarten; she's Australian, married to a Spaniard, and moved here from India. And I think living a year in Germany is getting out of my comfort zone! It was fascinating to hear her stories, for sure. She's also the mother of triplets, which in a country wherein she barely speaks the language must be rough.
    Sunday was not very warm, but I headed into the city regardless and had a nice afternoon at an outdoor cafe (in the shade, sadly) with my crossword, cappuccino, and ice cream. I felt so German!

I also encountered my new favorite street artists: check them out here! They were incredible. And hilarious. I lovelovelovelovelove street musicians. And here, they're actually good!

The bassist danced most of the time and the violinist went up to people and scratched his violin in their faces. And made amazing facial expressions the whole time he played. I might be in love.

Being an au pair is pretty weird.  It's been, at this juncture, 7 months and 5 days since I moved to Germany. Sometimes that feels incredibly long, and sometimes ridiculously short. To be honest, I'm still not totally comfortable living here. There's just something odd about perpetually being a guest in a home. Not that they treat me like a guest, but it can be a weird feeling. I'm living with my employers. Part of the terms of my employment involve encountering their undergarments on a fairly regular basis (only when clean, fortunately. I'm spared doing anything involving dirty laundry). If I don't come out of my room and up to get breakfast until 11 on a Saturday morning, I feel sort of funny about it (and may occasionally try to hide).

     It's an interesting change to live with a family that isn't mine, because it definitely hampers one's social life. Whereas when living on one's own, it's the easiest thing to say, "I don't feel like going out tonight. It's expensive and tiring and plus, it's raining. I'll just invite friends over for pizza and we can watch a movie." But that doesn't exactly fly when dwelling in a home that's not your own. Choices are go out or stay in. I occasionally get stuck in that freshman-year-of-college mindset where I feel like a total loser if I stay in on a Friday night (though let's be real, the duties of an au pair leave me freedom to go out and make whatever poor choices I want on any night of the week), and for the first few months I was afraid my family would judge me if I stayed in too much and think I was depressed or a hermit or something like that. I do make an effort to go out two or three times a week at least, but when your monthly income leaves you about 50 euros a week to spend (and in an expensive city like Munich, one night of dinner and beer can suck most of that down), it is prudent to choose those nights wisely.
      Another duty of an au pair is lots of babysitting. And though I know I should be a typical party girl and moan and complain about having to stay in, babysitting is wonderful. It's the perfect excuse to stay in, cook a nice meal (which I rarely do when the family's home), drink a glass of wine, watch a TV show...I think I'm getting old.

A few choice quotes from this week:

Cliona: "Boys! Boys are silly! Die Jungs sind nicht lieb. Sie sind BÖSE!"(Those boys are not good. They are BAD BOYS!)

"You a silly girl!"

"You make a pups! You do! I put my kopf on your belly and they give noises!"

German Babytalk Potty-Related Words (for your personal edification):

pups (pronounced poops)=toot
pipi=pee. Also refers to both boy and girl private parts

Kilian was being a total brat the other day when he got home from his friends and got mad at me when I refused to make him what he requested for dinner. (I'm not a maid. What's for dinner is what's for dinner. I don't take requests.) So he stuck out his tongue and stormed upstairs and slammed his door. Cliona looks slyly at me and says, "Kilian is rude. He is (whispered) blöd!!!" (means stupid, but is a verboten word for children to say!)

     Cliona's also had a rough week coming home; I think she's maybe just not adjusted to the time change yet or something. A couple days this week she cried most of the way home, interspersed by "I not crying!!" "Yes you are!" "I not!"(all the while sobbing, of course). One day her point of anger was that she wanted to go into people's yards and pick the flowers and Meanie Laura wouldn't let her. Oy.
     Sadly the weather's been rather cold and rainy this week (with threatened SNOW on Easter! What happened to my springtime?), but we got in some good park time last week and a couple days this week.  I wish the kids were a tad older when it comes to park-playing, because then I could sit and read the whole time (wishful thinking), but Cliona still needs pushing on the swings every now and then and stuff like that. She's also too young to have mastered the knack of finding kids to play with, so she sort of just stands there mournfully watching the other little girls play. She does love running down the hill, preferably with me (though if I refuse, she insists I watch and laugh. Literally. "Und lachen! Ok? Ok?") and spinning in a circle (which terrifies me, as her idea of spinning is my spinning her by the arms, and I have visions every time of dislocated shoulders, though so far so good). There's also a slide at her favorite park which I consider to be a death trap for three-year-olds. It's just two metal poles in the shape of a slide, and the idea is you hook a leg and an arm over each pole and slide down like that. Watching Cliona lurch down by herself is almost heart-stoppingly terrifying, and I wait every second for her to lose control and fall on her head and break her neck, so I've forbidden her to go down without me standing under her. I don't know what the people who designed the playground were thinking. Not to be an overly litigious American, but man, put something like that on a jungle gym in the states and there would be lawsuits flying!

     Speaking German handicaps my personality. In English, I consider myself a fairly well-spoken, eloquent person, and my natural personality shines through fairly easily. Yes, you can interpret that as you wish, based on your knowledge of my personality. I'm snarky and sarcastic and somewhat of a class clown. But oh, not in German. In German, I'm well-mannered, reticent, quiet, hesitant to express my opinion. And sometimes I resent it. When the mean older woman who sits next to me in choir tells me (wrongly) that I messed up a note, I would very much like to have a swift witty retort involving the five places she screwed up most recently (true story. Do not even get me started on that woman). But I don't. My German is good, but not good enough for snarky, quick, under-the-breath-during-a-rehearsal comments. I can't make jokes, I can't give clever answers. Or I could, if everyone would patiently wait fifteen seconds between every line of a conversation. But that's not how things work.

       I am so incredibly lucky to somehow have chanced upon a family to own even more books than my own family. Like, seriously. This house is a freaking library. Terrified at the thought of heading overseas for a year without my beloved books, I packed as many as the leftover weight in my suitcase would allow, but lo and behold, I got to take most of them back home with me in November because my family has them! I've really excelled during this rather boring week and have read about...8 books in the last three days. Doing pretty well, I'd say. I'm currently having a lot of fun reading lots and lots of Ian McEwan, as well as any Holocaust/Cold War novels I can get my hands on. There are also shelves and shelves (and more shelves) of travel books, including two in my room. When I'm really feeling apathetic, I can perch on the edge of my bed and decide what looks like fun. Nepal? Croatia? Myanmar? New Zealand? Californi--wait, been there.  I'm also still slogging through Harry Potter und der Kammer des Schreckens (Chamber of Secrets), in an effort to hone my German reading skills. You will be disappointed to hear than He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's middle name is different in the German version. As are characters like Hermine, Magda (Marge), and Myrte (Myrtle). Oh, Harry Potter. I love you in any language. Sighhhh...

    My neighborhood is quite nice, though certainly nothing out of the ordinary. What is lovely, however, are the street names! I love in a clump of philosopher streets: Agrippa, Erasmus, Hegel, Schopenhauer. Nearby come the fairy tale streets: Elfen, Froschkönig, Schneewittchen, Dornröschen, Frau-Holle, Erlkönig, Rotkäppchen (those being Elf St., Frog Prince St., Snow White St., Sleeping Beauty St., Frau Holle St. (not a super common one, but Brothers Grimm), Erl King St., and Red Riding Hood Place). Over towards the next little suburb are the Wagnerian streets: Brünnhilden, Walküren, Wotan, Siegfried, Rheingold, Nibelungen. It makes my walks quite picturesque! And yes, I have carefully crafted my trek to my language course to go down Erlkönigstr. Obviously.

     Speaking of picturesque things, let me tell you about my new favorite Bavarian thing. Easter trees! A tradition I will certainly be adding to my ever-growing list of things to bring back to the states. Holiday decorations here are not inside the houses, nor are they endless strings of lights. They're trees! People decorate their trees! At Christmas people hung ornaments on the trees in their front yards, and now that Easter is swiftly approaching it's even cuter!
     Also, I've never lived somewhere where spring actually matters before. It's sort of exciting. In California, we vaguely notice it's somewhere around March 21, mutter, "Oh hey, it's probably spring now or something," and continue our sunbathing. But here, when the trees finally start shaking off the dead leaves (I thought those were supposed to come off in fall? Apparently not) and begin to show some green, it's cause for celebration. Lying in the sun last week in 65 degree weather practically gave me heatstroke. It was amazing. People are perpetually eating ice cream to celebrate the weather change, and the parks and public areas are packed. I think the day the weather got nice, everyone ran to the market and bought spring flowers, because pretty much every yard is boasting brightly colored tulips and daffodils to celebrate the change of the season.

Okay, this one's from a website, but it IS in Germany. Someday this will be my tree. OH my goodness.

Pretty trees outside the kindergarten!

Some brief comments on general German weirdness:
     Eggs are sold in tens. As are basically everything. The metric system invades the supermarket too.  You can buy black beans at two places in the whole of Munich. American-style food is everywhere, but never the stuff you'd expect. Most common: American marshmallows, American crunchy peanut butter, American sandwich bread.  Also, the supermarket sells pre-hardboiled, pre-painted eggs. Year-round. Where's the fun in that?
     Dogs are not (or rarely) neutered. I'm still taken aback when I see a cute dog hopping about in the U-Bahn, with his...well, you can imagine the picture, I'm sure.
     Getting bags at the market is so not done. You bring your own basket. Obviously.
     It doesn't matter if the sun's out and it's 65 degrees, if it's still early April, you wear a heavy jacket and closed-toed shoes. I get a lot of funny looks.
     Germans almost never pay with a credit card. Whereas in the US, I probably use a debit/credit card for the vast majority of my purchases, here I never have. People carry cash. That's just what they do. It helps that tax is included in prices of food, so if you go to a restaurant and get a 6 euro entree and a 2 euro cappuccino, your bill will be 8 euros. Every time. It makes it really easy. Also, the idea of a tip here is quite simple: forget that 15% crap, just round to the nearest whole number. Your total is 9,42? Give them 10. Done and done.
     Maybe this is just because I live in a relatively secluded area, but I don't really get the whole blackout shades thing. Our house has, on nearly every window that isn't surrounded by a hedge, a blackout shade that blocks out all outside light. Helps the kids get to sleep, of course, but the idea of blocking out all the outside if weird to me. I mean, on your bedroom window, sure, but who was planning on dancing naked on their balcony anyway?
     At least in my family, kids don't drink milk. Or water. They drink juice. With every meal. I can hear my dentist cringing from here. It still seems weird to me. Granted, they generally drink half-juice, half-water, but still! So much unnecessary sugar!

Moving on:
    I try, for the sake of the purity of this blog as a foreign-adventures blog and not a personal-ranting one, to keep my personal political opinions out of my entries, so I share this purely as a fascinating piece of foreign view of America.
    So you know that whole America's-been-having-a-little-trouble-lately thing? I don't know if Americans think it's that big of a deal. But here overseas, it's not thought of as a big deal, it's an established fact. My evidence: here are some of the top-selling political books right now in German bookstores.

  • Amerikas Letzte Chance: Warum sich die Weltmacht neu erfinden muss
    America's Last Chance: Why the World Power needs to reinvent themselves
  • Der Amerikanische Patient: Was der drohende Kollaps der USA für die Welt bedeutet
    The American Patient: What the imminent collapse of the USA means for the world
  • Was ist mit den Amis los?: Warum sie an Barack Obama hassen, was wir lieben
    What is wrong with the Americans?: Why they hate about Barack Obama what we love
  • Tea Party: Die weiße Wut: Was Amerikas Neue Rechte so gefährlich macht
    Tea Party: The White Wrath: What American's New Right is so dangerous
It was really sort of a shock to me that Europe (or at least Germany) takes it so for granted that the US is going down the toilet. Are people in the states aware that this is the way the rest of the world is looking at them? 

    Anyway, that's probably about it for this blog entry. My ride to Vienna leaves Munich in...9 hours, which means in that time I need to pack, shower, eat, get to where my ride leaves from (an hour away), and, you know...sleep. Happy weekend to everyone, and frohe Ostern!

Pretty girl painting

1 comment:

  1. SO happy you write these blogs! No matter how frequently we "chat", I learn so much from these and am, of course, so entertained! Have to say, this was one of your best!