Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Quick Update

Ok I'm just going to condense what has happened over the past few weeks into one post. I haven't felt much like writing recently because it has been soooo hot. And before you accuse me of complaining, it has been legitimately hot here, like 32C which is near record-breaking in this part of the world. Yes, that's SOP in every other place I've lived but I was promised 75 degree summers!

Also because of some stupid German bureaucratic nonsense our Internet is probably going to be shut off tomorrow so I'll get in an update while I can... there's no telling how long it will take these guys to get out here (I'll still have FB/twitter/email on my phone, but there's no way I'm typing out posts on there). So anyway, here are the recent highlights:

1. The English Night
Hunter found on Meetup.com an English-speaking expats group that meets once a month. We went to the most recent meeting, not really sure what to expect. We're both pretty shy around new people but it ended up going really well. We talked to several people, made a few friends, and plan to go back next month. There are English-speakers from all over the world, including quite a few Americans. It was pretty nice to talk to other people for a change, too.

2. The Hospital
We visited the hospital where I will most likely be giving birth. They have these informational nights once a week. Of course, the information was all in German but we managed to understand some of it. I was able to talk to the presenter and arrange an appointment to meet with someone in a few weeks who can give me the information in English. From what we could see, it looked pretty nice. They have like, a breakfast and dinner buffet, and they said you usually stay for three days after giving birth. I've also heard rumors that you get a glass of champagne after, but that's so far uncomfirmed.

3. Residence Permits
We FINALLY got into the immigration people yesterday. We were supposed to meet with them about two weeks ago, but things didn't work out. So our residence permits are basically taken care of. We will have to go pick up everything in a few weeks, but we are legal and aren't going to get deported or anything. It was actually a much easier process than we expected. I won't be allowed to work, but I will be working plenty once Scunter gets here so no problem there.

Anyway, I hope to do another post before too long... we'll just have to see what happens with this Internet situation.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Language Files

There were a few things I had wanted to say about the experience of speaking/not speaking the language here, so I decided to just condense them all into one post while I had it in mind.

I'm going to relate to you an incident that is by no means isolated, but just a rather egregious example of something that happens to us more commonly than you'd think.

(You walk into a pharmacy to get some Tylenol. You have to ask the pharmacist for it, because THAT makes sense.)

YOU: I would like some Tylenal, please.

PHARMACIST: I'm sorry, Tyle-what?

YOU: Tylenel?


YOU (pointing to head): For the head.


This actually happened to us, except in German. What makes it even more ridiculous is that in Germany, Tylenol is called Paracetamol. So yes, we had four syllables he could understand but apparently there are SO MANY products in there that start with Paraceta- that he had no way of possibly knowing what we could be talking about.

Basically if you get like one sound wrong in a word, they have no idea what you're saying. If that were true in the US, I wouldn't even be able to understand half the people I know in Alabama.

2. It Takes Two

I often say that together, Hunter and I make one normal person. I don't mean that in some kind of cutesy-romantic "you complete me" kind of way. I just literally mean that in many ways our weaknesses are such that it takes both of us to do what one normal person could do. I've noticed this with speaking German recently.

Hunter knows a lot more German than I do. He took 3 semesters of it in college and can understand and read it pretty well. He knows more of the prepositions and grammar than I do. However, when it comes time to speak it, he wants to compose a sentence in his head that makes sense and is grammatically correct and that can cause some freeze-up. I, on the other hand, know very little German. I can make some basic present-tense sentences and go to the grocery store, and that is about it. However, if I'm in a situation where I need to convey something, I'll just say what I know how to say without worrying too much about if it's correct or not, figuring the general meaning will come across, which it usually does (eventually). Today I went in to buy a washer and the salesman seemed to speak basically no English. If Hunter had heard what I said to the guy, I'm sure there would be numerous corrections. I mean some of the things I said weren't even sentences, just words. I couldn't actually even spell my name in German. But I'm pretty sure I managed to buy a washer (we'll find out Wednesday when it's supposed to be delivered).

Maybe in the future, I should have Hunter write down what I need to say and then I can be the one to say it.

3. Both Sides Now

I'm guessing if you're a person I know who is reading this blog, this one isn't going to be revolutionary to you, but I feel like it bears saying anyway. I grew up in white, middle class America and I LOVE talking. Communication was never a problem for me, and on the rare times I couldn't make someone understand me (on a semantic rather than linguistic level) I got really frustrated. Now, I'm in a situation where I encounter people on a daily basis who have no idea what I'm saying, or if they do, might think it's "cute" or "quirky," which is something I sometimes thought about ESL friends when they made mistakes that were understandable but still kinda funny.

Now that I've experienced both sides of this, it gives me so much compassion for people who come to America and don't speak English well, if at all. I think about the way I feel when I'm trying to come up with some word that can at least get across something close to what I want to say, or when someone just speaks to me in really fast German and then when I don't understand repeats himself at the exact same speed (NB--It's a stereotype of an ignorant/insensitive person but talking louder and slower would actually be REALLY helpful as long as the person you're talking to knows a few words). Just doing simple things like going to church, doing laundry, making sure we are legal to be here--this all is much harder when this barrier is in the way. So I have a lot of respect for people who come to America without speaking the language because it is such a difficult thing and many Americans are not very tolerant of it. Add to that the fact that many of these people don't have the same advantages I have had and I can't even imagine what that would be like. So I guess you could say this has been a sanctifying process in some ways.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

First Church Service in Germany

So, today was the first time we managed to go to church since we moved. Due to various problems with alarms, migraines, etc. we hadn't managed to go yet. I had found a few English speaking churches in Aachen, which we decided would be best until our German gets stronger. The one we chose to go to today was a Korean church. It wasn't a disaster nor was it a rousing success, so we'll probably look elsewhere in the future.

The website said the service started at 10:30. We got there about 10:20 and were welcomed in while some musicians were rehearsing. One of them told us that usually the service starts at 10:30 or 10:40, but since today they were celebrating their 33rd anniversary that it would start at 11:00 and be a joint service with the Korean-language church. So... we had to wait around awkwardly for a while, but several people introduced themselves and were really nice.

The service itself was a mix of Korean and English. Most of the songs were praise-type songs (I think Hunter recognized some of them) and they would sing a verse in Korean and then a verse in English. There was also one hymn, the one that's to the tune of the German national anthem, that was all in Korean. They said the Apostle's Creed and Lord's Prayer in Korean, but it was projected on a screen in English and German. The sermon was in Korean, but was simultaneously translated into English.

Overall, it wasn't a terrible experience. The sermon at least talked about Jesus, which is more than I can say for some churches I've visited. I'm not sure how it would be different on a day that wasn't a combined service, but I think we would prefer a church that's entirely in English for the future. We have a few other prospects. There are some Anglican churches not too far away; the closest is in the Netherlands and then there is one in Cologne so we will look into those for the future. Even though it wasn't a perfect experience, I'm glad we got up and went. We can of course listen to sermons online in English, but it's not really the same thing as participating in corporate worship, so I'm hoping we can find a regular place to attend.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Achievement Unlocked: Haircut in Another Language

Today, Hunter and I went to get haircuts. Even though I had been saying I wanted to grow my hair out, I decided I just couldn't do it. My hair is so thick and gets so heavy and falls out so much that it just wasn't practical for me. Plus, I wanted to dye it a crazy color and one box of bleach is NEVER enough to lighten all my hair so I figured I would go quite a bit shorter which would make it easier to do at home. Hunter looked up a few key phrases to know when getting a haircut; I was like pshhh everyone speaks English here. Plus I did have a picture of what I wanted, which I figured would be sufficient to convey what I wanted my hair to look like.

So we went to this place right around the corner from where we live and sat down. Hunter went first and his haircut looked great. He basically told the guy he wanted it 5 or 6 cm shorter than it was currently, and it turned out I think exactly how he pictured. I was not quite as fortunate.

When it was my turn, I showed the guy the picture of what I wanted. For reference, here it is:
I thought the length of it would be pretty evident from the picture: it's really short in the back. He asked me (in German, which Hunter helpfully translated) how short I wanted it in the back. I indicated a point that I thought was fairly short, although obviously I can't see the back of my head, so apparently I didn't convey quite enough. Anyway, this is what I ended up with:
Yeah, I don't even know.

At first I was basically thinking that on Monday I would just go somewhere else, show them the same picture, and hope they did a better job, but I kinda decided that would be a waste of money. It's cute enough and probably short enough that one box of bleach will take care of it, if I choose to go that route. I just don't understand what the guy was even thinking. I mean it isn't asymmetrical AT ALL. Hunter said I could just take some scissors and try to adjust the lengths in front. I don't know, maybe I'll try that but I don't really want to make things worse.

It's hard to see from the picture, but I think the back is actually marginally LONGER than the front. I was pretty disappointed at first because it wasn't what I wanted, but it doesn't look BAD per se so I figure it's just one of those things that happens and then in a month or two it will be time for another haircut and I can go somewhere else.

At least they didn't expect me to tip.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The 5 Most Awesome Things About Germany

So, now that I've talked about some of the annoying things about Germany, I'll talk about some of the more awesome things about being here.

1. The Bakeries
When I think about Tuscaloosa, I can think of three bakeries (besides the ones in the supermarkets). In even the small town we started out in there are like, three bakeries per street, and they are sooo goood. In addition to bread, pastry, etc. they also sell sandwiches, which is fun. Seriously, in Aachen you can't walk a block without running into a bakery and for someone like me who looooves fancy baked goods this is a HUGE perk.

2. The Ice Cream
How often have you seen a pack of like 20-30 year old dudes walking down the street with ice cream cones? Or a 50-year old? The answer is most likely never. Seeing someone walking down the street with an ice cream cone here is like, totally normal. Everyone gets ice cream all the time, even if it's not that hot out (I mean, it's never going to be that hot out here). The Eis Cafe nearest us has a gigantic line almost every time I've walked by it, even at 9 or so at night. And of course, the ice cream is really really good. They tend to shy away from artificial colorings/flavorings here, so the melon ice cream really tastes like melon, the strawberry has little bits in it, etc. And it's sooo cheap. A giant scoop on a cone is 1 Euro at the one near us; some of the ones in Juelich had two smaller scoops for 1 Euro.

3. Recycling
This is slightly annoying, as the Germans are pretty strict about their recycling rules, but I consider it overall to be a good thing. I know different parts of the US have different policies on recycling. Tuscaloosa's was pretty much, "If you absolutely have to, here's a few places where you can recycle a very limited number of materials but we're going to make it hard just to discourage it." Pretty much everything here can be recycled; it just needs to be sorted out properly. I also read recently that if a store sells batteries, they have to take them back to dispose of properly. Someone told me when they called Tuscaloosa 3-1-1 to ask what to do with used batteries, they were told to just throw them away. Seriously. There is also pickup of larger things that can't be thrown away/recycled which just makes it very convenient.

4. Walking
I knew that when I came to Germany I would be walking a lot more. For one thing, we don't own a car here and for another, the cities/towns are just set up so that everything is more or less convenient to get to. The first few days I was here, my body was just not used to moving very much and even though I purposely brought only shoes that I found comfortable, my feet were hurting and blistering from all the walking I was doing. However, I'm really grateful for this because I think it's going to make it much easier to lose weight after I have the baby. Plus it's just nice to walk around and look around. My current "schedule" is such that I'm not in a hurry to be anywhere so it's nice to just stroll around.

5. Cheap Beer
I know I also put this in the "most annoying things" post, but I think that once I can actually drink beer this will be one of the best perks. As I said before, beer is just ridiculously cheap. I'm guessing part of that is that there aren't so many taxes on it, and I guess if it isn't imported that would bring the cost down as well. And even the cheaper/crappier beers here aren't anywhere near as crappy as like, PBR or Budweiser or something. There is also a really big selection of alcohol-free beers I've been looking into; almost every brewery seems to have an alcohol-free version. Of course it's not as good as the real thing, but it's an OK substitute until I can drink actual beer again.