Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Five Most Annoying Differences Between the U.S. and Germany

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of things I love about Germany, and a lot of things I think Germany does better. That's a different post. Today, I'm going to focus on the things that drive me a little bit crazy. Some of these are things that I knew about beforehand, but it's a little bit different knowing what something is going to be like and then actually living it every day.

1. This is where pigs come to die.
Germans love their pork. I can't even imagine how hard it would be to keep kosher here.* The biggest problem with this for me is that I really don't like pork. I eat ham on holidays where it's an alternative to turkey and of course I like bacon, but I wouldn't voluntarily eat a pork chop and even sausage has lost some of its appeal for me (you'll recall if you read earlier posts that my first week here I got a little over-saturated). The grocery store has like, multiple varieties of ham type lunch meat and most restaurants, no matter what ethnicity or genre have at least five kinds of schnitzel on the menu. I'm finding ways to avoid it and alternatives but it was a little difficult at first.

2. Beer is cheaper than water.
This one's a double-edged sword. If I weren't pregnant when we had moved here then obviously this would be a feature, not a bug. As it stands though, it's really frustrating. We go to a restaurant and I get .2l or .3l of Fanta (no refills, obviously) for like 2 or 3 Euros and Hunter gets a large beer for the same amount of money. The beer in the store is also quite cheap. I think eventually I'll be moving this to my "pros" column but until then, it's annoying.

3. Tylenol is a controlled substance.
Ok, so I was aware that they don't really have an equivalent to CVS here, and that I would need to buy medicine from the Apotheke. What I didn't realize was A) that they don't just have it out, I have to walk up and say what I want (2nd day in Germany, that wasn't easy) and also that Tylenol is called something different here. Plus they don't have the different combinations of caffeine and aspirin (not that I can have that right now anyway) that they do in the U.S. This one is fairly minor, but given how much Excedrin I used to take it's noticeable.

4. Waiters just don't care.
This is another double-edged sword. I don't need a waiter coming up to me two bites into my meal asking if everything tastes ok. And I was prepared for no unlimited free water, which I usually don't even drink. But, for example, when I want to order food it would be nice if any member of the waitstaff were within my line of sight. Forget about trying to pay the bill. For introverts like us, this one is particularly annoying... I make like furtive eye contact hoping that they will understand... I suppose for some people getting the waiter's attention when they need something is normal but I'm more of the "wait for them to come to me" type. Hunter said he's heard that Germany is particularly bad when it comes to waiters giving a sh*t, and I would definitely believe that.

5. Bedding makes no sense.
So, in America, if you go to buy some sheets for your bed, it will typically come in a package with a flat sheet, a fitted sheet, and one or two coordinating pillowcases, depending on the size. Here, it's a bit different. You buy a fitted sheet, which seems to come mainly in plain colors. There aren't really flat sheets, there are these covers that you get that are kind of like a sleeve, into which you put a blanket: no easy task. The cover came with one pillowcase which was for 80cmx80cm, but the pillows we wanted were 80cmx40cm so we had to buy the pillowcases separately as well. So this is just one of those weird differences that I would have expected was standard across cultures but apparently not.

Anyway I'm hoping to soon do a post detailing some of my favorite things about Germany!

*The obvious joke is left as an exercise to the reader.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

We Have an Apartment!

Yesterday we went into Aachen (about 50 mins by train) to look at an apartment that was for rent, and today we went in and signed the lease! It was a bit of a surprise; we thought we might just be meeting the landlords and expected they might do some sort of credit/background check but as we sat there talking to them it became clear that they were going to give us this apartment. So here is a little bit about it:

  • It is a one bedroom, so a bit smaller than what we had in Tuscaloosa, but we also only brought 5 suitcases of stuff with us, so I don't see size being a problem. When we went to look at it I saw that a crib could definitely fit in the bedroom with the bed.
  • It has a built-in kitchen. In Germany, this is NOT STANDARD, and this was a big factor in deciding on this apartment.
  • The previous tenants were willing to sell us pretty much all of their furniture, including a refrigerator, for  390 Euros. We were envisioning spending like, 1500 Euros at Ikea, so this was also incredibly helpful.
  • It only has a shower. This isn't my preference, but I've had access to a bathtub for the past 5 years and I guess it'll probably save some water.
  • It's close to a grocery store and a bunch of other restaurants and things and not too far from the train station.
  • It has a hookup for a washing machine, which I think will be indispensable once Scunter gets here (I'm planning on using cloth diapers).

There is really only one downside to this apartment: it's on the top floor. And when I say top, I mean fifth floor. I don't think I need to say there is no elevator. I know that the thought immediately going through everyone's head is How are you going to deal with carrying a baby up all those stairs? or some variation thereupon. To which I say:

I thought a lot about this, and there are so many other benefits to this place that I think I can deal with it. I'll have three months to get used to walking up and down the stairs with groceries and things. Walking and stairs are just a part of life here and I know I can handle it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Sweater for Baby Scunter--and Some Socks for Me!

I've finished up a few knitting projects since I've been in Germany. The first is a sweater for Scunter. My plan was to make him a blue sweater with a red pointy hat, then dress him (or her) up like a garden gnome and take pictures of him in places we visited. I made the sweater in the 6-9 month size, partially because I'm not expecting to have a small baby and also because this way it will last a little bit longer... it can always just be kinda baggy at first. It was made using this pattern that I downloaded from Ravelry. Here is how it turned out:
This was the first top-down sweater I had ever made and I think it turned out ok. The joining of the underarm was the trickiest part--I think I did ok but it isn't exactly professional looking. And yes, the coloring in the photo is edited, mainly because the light in the apartment is really yellowy and so I was trying to make it look more like the color it really is.

The other project I have finished is a pair of socks for myself. The pattern comes from this book and it is the second pair of socks I have made from that book and overall. Sadly, one of the socks from the first pair went missing... oh well. Here is how the second pair turned out:
This is the first project I had ever done with cables, and it may be the last. They were quite a pain, but I think the socks came out looking pretty. There are a few mistakes that you can probably only see if you know what to look for and are trying to see a mistake.

Anyway, I think I have enough of both of these yarns left over to make another pair of socks for myself; I'm going to do the argyle pattern from the aforementioned book. I'm trying to just use supplies I already have at the moment because I don't want to buy anything more before we move. I'm going to try to keep posting pictures of my projects on my Ravelry profile so feel free to add me.

And lastly: I have a few more ideas for future posts, but is there anything my readership (small as it may be) is particularly interested in? Any specific aspects of life in Germany or anything like that? Feel free to let me know in the comments, or on FB or twitter!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

My First Pinterest Recipe

My usual MO on Pinterest is to just look at it for awhile and pin a bunch of stuff that I'll soon forget about. The other night, though, a recipe popped up that looked like it just might be easy enough to make in the German kitchen. Here is the link to the original recipe.

When I got to the store, I realized I'd need to make a few changes. The recipe calls for vegetable broth, and nowhere in the grocery store could I find anything resembling broth. They had tons of soups, but I couldn't find just plain broth. I didn't, at the time, even know the word for broth and didn't want to be like, clogging up the aisles looking at my phone. So I decided to go with this onion soup mix and figured then I wouldn't have to buy additional onions.

I also had trouble finding fresh basil. The only fresh basil they had was in the form of a basil plant, and while it wasn't too expensive I didn't really feel like carrying the plant home. So I compromised and instead of just getting dried basil, I got the kind packed in oil because I thought it would be more flavorful.

The thing I thought might actually be hard to find, canned diced tomatoes, was actually pretty straightforward, although I think I actually got crushed tomatoes. I mean, they'll still taste like tomatoes, right?

Google translate tells me stückig means lumpy, so...

I also halved the recipe since it says it's for 4-6 servings and Hunter and I are only two people, plus we don't currently have a great way to store leftovers. I left out the oregano and red pepper because I don't want to spend money on a bunch of herbs I'm just gong to have to move in a few weeks. Here it is all in the pot:

You can't tell from the picture, but the pot isn't that big. It's probably about the size of a 2 quart pan, but it's the biggest we have. Also... may have accidentally poured in too much of the onion soup.

When I was cooking it, I was a bit nervous because it seemed to be sticking to the bottom of the pan when I tried to stir it, although it came off easily enough. I kept stirring as instructed by the recipe until the water was gone. Here is the finished product (the lighting in the kitchen is not great for phone pics):

In addition to the parmesan on top, I added a mozzarella garnish also since I figured it goes well with tomato and basil. Anyway, it was a success! Hunter and I both liked it and now I can say I've actually completed something I found on Pinterest!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Day in the Life

I had several other topics I wanted to post about, but I decided to put those on hold to address a question that I know several people have had, and probably more who aren't asking me.

What do I do all day without a job?

Well, every few days I walk to the grocery store. I keep meaning to use Map My Run or something to see how far it is... maybe a mile would be my guess? So I get groceries for a few days at a time because our fridge here is only slightly bigger than a mini-fridge and the freezer is very small.

I've also done laundry a few times. I may do a post just about that because the machines are different here and there are no dryers. One nice thing is that the machines in the building we are in now don't cost anything; I'm not sure if that will change once we move. I try to do some kind of productive cleaning-type thing every day, but it's difficult to get motivated to straighten up when we are only going to be in this place a few more weeks at most.

I also have been doing a lot of reading, which you may have noticed if you follow me on Goodreads; and I just started the Summer of Jest, so that definitely takes up some time. I also listen to audiobooks while knitting or playing computer games, look at Google Reader or other websites, etc. Sometimes I just lie down. I realized a few days ago while "resting"* that the next few months will be the last I have to enjoy peace and quiet and just completely relax. I used to lie around in bed because I was sad or unmotivated, but that's not the case anymore. Sometimes I am just so grateful to be in a place where I don't have to work or really worry about anything and just be glad that it's quiet. Once Scunter** gets here that won't really be an option, so I'm taking advantage of it now.

Anyway I know a lot of people who say they don't know what they would do in my situation. Either they would feel worthless/useless or just get bored. I'm not like that. I'm perfectly content to be inside all day just working on my own projects, because I know it's a luxury not many people have.

*Not really an appropriate word because I don't have much to rest from, unless I've just completed a trip to the store, but having a quiet lying down time.

**Forthcoming child

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Ich brannte die Wurst

Ok at this point this post is completely out of chronological order, but I'm still going to write about it because I feel like it is either funny or just contains some useful advice, depending on your current situation.

Anyway, the first night we decided to cook in Germany was the Saturday after we got here. I was making bratwurst, because pig products are basically all you can get here.* Anyway, I cut up the sausage, put it in a pan, got it to heating, then went to do something else for a few because I didn't just want to stare at meat cooking. I went back every few minutes to stir it a little and whatnot but I wasn't keeping a super close eye on it because why would I do that? I never just watch the food change colors before my eyes.

So anyway I had left the kitchen and was sitting around, probably talking to Hunter or something, just waiting for the food to finish cooking when WAAAWAAAWAAA!!!

Yes, the fire alarm was going off. I quickly ran into the kitchen to turn on the Siemens ventilator hood over the stove but I could tell it wasn't going to do much good. I also tried opening a window which didn't solve the problem. I'd also like to point out that the sausage wasn't actually *burnt*. It was more just slightly browned at some parts, but apparently enough to cause smoke to wend its way up to the detector.

So anyway, we couldn't figure out how to turn the thing off. Obviously in America you can just take it down. Here, there is a separate detector and alarm. We attempted to take the detector down at one point, and it stopped briefly, but then started up again. Eventually, Hunter just stood on a chair and held up his hoodie to the alarm to make it slightly less loud.

After a bit longer, we heard a commotion in the hall. Yes, the firefighters had arrived. Just like in the Sims, where the alarm going off automatically summons emergency personnel. So Hunter opened the door and explained that we had just been cooking. I sat on the couch, unable to understand a word of what was going on. Hunter apparently could understand more than I could, although not quite as much as the firefighter seemed to think. He said they were more laughing than angry about it; I had been afraid we would be fined or something. Here are a few of the things he was able to catch:

1. They thought the food smelled good.
2. If you take off the detector, it sets off another alarm.
3. We should keep the door to the kitchen closed when we cook so the smoke (if there is any) doesn't get out.

I looked out the window and saw what looked like a gratuitous amount of fire trucks and police cars and such, and they seemed to take an awfully long time to leave. But ultimately we didn't get in trouble or anything so I guess it's all ok. I was a little afraid to use the kitchen after that, but so far just keeping the door closed and monitoring the food more closely has worked out.

*Seriously I ate sausage 3 or 4 times just the first WEEK we were here. I really don't want to eat it again for awhile but pretty soon I won't have much of a choice.

Monday, June 3, 2013

In Bruges, No One Can Hear You Scream

I know I said my next post was going to be about how I burned the sausage, but I decided to interrupt a bit to tell you about our weekend. There are pictures!

For our anniversary, Hunter and I decided to spend the weekend in Bruges, Belgium. We had thought about going to Paris, but then decided that was a little overwhelming for just a few days. Bruges turns out to be a pretty good spot for a weekend, because there isn't just tons of stuff to do. It apparently gets very busy during the summer and there are a lot of English tourists there, so we had no problems with language or anything. The most famous thing in Bruges is probably the "Belfort," a giant bell tower.

Sadly, we left our actual camera in New Orleans, so all of the pics I have are phone pics. Anyway, you can climb up the stairs to get a view from the top of the tower. There are 366 steps, and I have a feeling that if this were a landmark in America, pregnant women would be at least discouraged from doing it, but I managed. Here is one of the views from the top:
We ate kind of a lot in Bruges, of varying degrees of quality/expensiveness. One of the best meals was at a Flemish restaurant where I had the Flemish rabbit stew. It was basically a whole rabbit in a pot, needless to say I couldn't finish it but it was very tasty. The meat just literally fell off the bone. It was served over fries, because apparently Belgians just love fries. Hunter saw someone with mayonnaise just dripping off of their fries, which I am really glad I missed. Another local dish we tried was the "moules-frites," mussels with fries, which is also really good. And of course, we had waffles. Apparently Belgian waffles really are Belgian, but they are a little bit different from how we make them in America. The batter is much lighter, almost like if you put crepe batter in a waffle iron. Here is the lovely waffle I had one morning:

They also had lots of crepes, which was always translated as "pancakes." I guess they don't realize that crepe is also a thing in English, or maybe just in England (where more tourists come from I suppose) they don't make a distinction. I had this crepe on our last morning there:
We also got TONS of chocolate. We tried out several different chocolateries. Here is an idea of how much chocolate we got, but it really isn't all visible in this picture:
And Hunter got to try several different Belgian beers. I of course was a bit left out of that part of things, but no matter. We went to several museums, one featuring Dali, one with Picasso (and others) and another with various Belgian artists; their best pieces were the older Flemish ones. There are actually quite a few museums but those are just the ones we made time for.

One of the most surprising things was how the bikes and scooters go there. In many places, motorized scooters are on the sidewalks with the bikes. In either case, they are apt to run you down if you aren't careful. Even in the giant square, riding is permitted so you have to be careful where you are walking. Several times I jumped out of the way at what seemed like the last second.

Overall, Bruges was a nice little weekend. At the end, however, we couldn't help but feel as though we had basically gone to New Orleans and never left the French Quarter. I suppose it's fine for a first visit, but if we go again we may try to see if there is anything else outside that main square.

Next time, I really will tell about what happened with the sausage.