Thursday, November 9, 2017

One Year Later

A year ago today, November 9th, my clock radio woke me up with the words, "...the Mexican peso is plummeting...". In sleepy disbelief I uttered, "Holy Shit!" and M and I sprang out of bed to turn on the news. We stared in disbelief at what I hoped was just a bad dream.

But sure enough, #45 had actually been elected president of the U.S..

I was angry, frustrated, and horribly disappointed in my Landsleute. A year later I do not feel differently. How could so many people choose to vote for such a hateful, odious person?

I understood that many people hated his opponent. I believe a lot of people hate her because she is a strong and educated woman (a "bitch" in their words). Being a democrat besides, I think it was just too much for some people.

It doesn't matter to me that he lost the popular vote. In our system it's the electoral votes that count whether we agree with it or not*. Whether or not Russia interfered also is a moot point for me. If they can, they will. (Hasn't the US been meddling in other countries' affairs for generations?) And if my Landsleute are so easily swayed by false Facebook ads, then maybe it is true what Joseph de Maistre reportedly said in the 19th century: "In a democracy the people get the leaders they deserve."

*While writing this I popped on to Twitter to see if he's spewed anything today, and I found this from 20 hours ago: "Congratulations to all of the 'DEPLORABLES' and the millions of people who gave us a MASSIVE (304-227) Electoral College landslide victory!"  A year later he is still reminding us he won? Comparing world leaders for just a moment, similar words (bragging for an entire year about a victory) have never come out of Angela Merkel's mouth. Or Obamas. Or FDR's. Or Washington's...

We knew before the election that he is a bully and a braggart. We knew he is uncomfortable with facts, wisdom, and others' strength. We knew he calls people names like a bratty child on a playground. We knew he prefers everything (especially people) white. We knew his main focus is money - his own, mainly. We knew he knew nothing about foreign policy, diplomacy, or how to be presidential. We knew he never learned how to play well with others. ("Me first! Me first!") We knew he's a terrible speaker whose vocabulary is stuck at around the 4th or 5th grade level. We knew he would screw the environment because money is more important than water or life. We knew he bragged about groping women and we saw his interview with Howard Stern in which he said he should be given the job of rating all women because he's such a good judge of physical appearance. We heard him talk like somebody's drunken uncle at an Appalachian family picnic. We saw what a disaster he is on Twitter, calling opponents and dissenters childish names.

And still "we" voted for him.

While his approval rating is low (I think Fox news optimistically claims that it's high or climbing), he still has many, many people who support him, cheer for him, and attack those who don't support him. I vividly remember frequently seeing online comments like "The best part of [#45] winning is seeing the Democrats cry." Really, that's what these people consider the best part? Knowing that many of their Landsleute are unhappy? That speaks volumes, doesn't it?

Photo credit: my daughter
So a year into this circus, I am still disappointed. Disappointed in us. Disappointed that so many of my Landsleute are ok with the oaf in the White House. Disappointed that I know people (albeit very few) who enthusiastically support him. Disappointed that hatred, racism, and intolerance have reared their ugly heads even more than they had before this day a year ago. I am disgusted that I have to hear his name and see his face almost every day on the news here in Germany. I'm tired of cringing and face-palming whenever his name is mentioned and his voice is heard.

After the most recent Texas shooting, he said it's not a gun problem, it's a mental health problem. Fine. But then was it a good idea to revoke a law that would make it harder for people with mental illness to purchase guns? And why did he do this quietly without a camera crew and photo op, when he usually makes a big show out of scribbling his name on any legislation? Most likely he wanted to get rid of it simply because it was a regulation from Obama's time, introduced not long after the Sandy Hook shooting.

He is an international embarrassment. I wish there were a way to keep him within the borders of the US. Just like leaving a child who cannot behave himself at home rather than bringing him to a fancy party, his people should keep him better contained. World leaders tolerate him because they must. The school's biggest jerk was elected prom king, and now the rest of the school has to pretend they can stand him. The other world leaders are professional enough to keep their thoughts mostly to themselves and put on a stoic face when forced to be in his presence. At least that's my interpretation of their expressions and body language.

As I have often said before, I am grateful to be living in Germany. There are a ton of reasons for that, but the one connected to this post is that I am really never around, near, or confronted with Landsleute who can tolerate #45. Granted, I am rarely around Americans at all, but those that spend time overseas for longer than a 10-day vacation tend to be worldly enough to see a bigger picture than that of their own lives. And when one considers the world and humanity as a whole, an egregious narcissistic sociopath has to look ridiculous in the role of a leader.

Part of me might like to have a conversation with a 45-supporter because there's obviously something I'm missing. I cannot believe that all those people are hateful, selfish racists. Using his oddly-chosen words, I'm sure there are "good people on both sides." From what I have seen online, however, I would only be pounced on, called names, declared an idiot... and I don't need that. So I guess I will remain in the dark about how anyone can look at that and think, "Yep, he's a great president!"

Yes, I do think the US has become a dark, dark place.
Photo credit: my daughter


Friday, November 3, 2017

Could you become a German??

I don't put my birthday on social media because I don't want anyone wishing me a happy one just because a machine told him or her to do so. However, I turned 49 this year, and what was one thing on my wish list? This game...


This board game is based on the 300 questions that make up the Einbürgerungstest, or German citizenship test. Each card has one of the actual questions from the test, the four multi-guess possible answers, and the correct answer. Players roll the die and move their little Spielfigur around the board, answering a question on each space they land on. When a player answers a question correctly, he keeps the card. The first player to collect 17 cards wins.

Why 17? For the actual Einbürgerungstest, takers need to answer 33 questions (30 about Germany in general and 3 about the state in which they are taking the test) and get at least 17 correct. That's 51%. 59% was a failing grade in the school I taught at in Wisconsin. Happily, the majority of my students have scored very well on the test - most 90% and higher.

There are special spaces on the game board, indicated by several symbols.

  • two Bundesadler = das "Bonusfeld" - the player landing on this space gets to answer two questions in a row.

  • three hearts = das "Nachbarschaftsfeld" - the player landing here can ask her neighbor for help if she doesn't know the answer. Awkward when playing with just two people, one of whom is holding the card with the answer.

  • a four-leaf clover = das "Glücksfeld" - one correct answer yields two cards.

  • an airplane = das "Reisefeld" - "Friends decided to take a last-minute vacation. The player [landing here] unfortunately has no visa and therefore can't join them. Sit out one turn."

  • an alarm clock = das "zu spät" Feld - the player landing here showed up late for the Einbürgerungstest. He sits out one turn."

  • Lady Justice = das "Gerichtsfeld" - the player who lands here has defied the law. She must give up one of her cards.

  • a circle with a red X = das "Wahlfeld" - it's election time in Germany! Unfortunately the player landing here does not have citizenship and therefore cannot vote. He sits out one round.

Since November 1st is a holiday in Germany and M didn't have to go to the office, he agreed to play a round of this game with me that morning. It could definitely be fun, but since both of us knew all the answers that came up, I guess it was a little dull.


What livened things up was that I kept landing on the special spaces - and NOT the good ones! In no time at all M had amassed seven cards, and I had only two! After I grumbled good-naturedly (I'm possibly the least competitive person in the world), with my very next roll I landed on the Gerichtsfeld and had to give up one of them! I protested when I landed on the "zu spät" Feld, because I would NEVER be late for something as important as a test! (In truth, I would rather be an hour early than five minutes late to anything. I just find a quiet spot and read the book I always have with me.) But how appropriate for a German game that a player gets punished for the very idea of being late.

In the end we actually both counted up 18 cards, but M had got there first.

I had to laugh every time M said, "Why the hell does a foreigner need to know that?!" For instance, since which year have we been paying in cash with the Euro? What possible need could there be for a Syrian refugee or an immigrant from Scotland to know that? It's enough to know that we pay in Euros now. Who cares "since when"?

Here are two more: What is a Gerichtschöffe and who can be one? Well, that's a special assistant to a judge who needs to decide on a case. It's kind of like a jury member or volunteer judge, but there are only two of them who listen to the evidence and give their inexpert input. Who can be one? Not a foreigner, unless she is naturalized and speaks/understands German at the level of a native speaker.

Having taught the Orientierungskurs twice now - and my third course will start in December - I am very familiar with the 300 questions and answers. And I'd like to suggest the gang of sadists who came up with those questions be tarred and feathered. Some day I'm going to go through those cards and make a pile of questions I consider important enough that someone applying for citizenship should know just to see how many are cruel. The writers of the test should each receive three lashes for every unnecessary question.

I like the fact that there's a game available to practice for this test, and it could be a fun party game for a mixed crowd of immigrants who have taken the Orientierungskurs and Germans. Too bad we don't have parties. Obviously I plan to use it in my class.

In other news, I'm nearly wetting myself over the new pile of thick books I have to read.


My head is spinning because I don't know which one to start with. To make matters worse, I am smack dab in the middle of a 600-page book about Katherine of Aragon, and this would be a dumb time to stop in order to start on a different really long book - or two! Dan and Ken should really plan this better and publish their new novels six months apart and when I have time to read them. Poor me with my First World problems...

I just found a box of civics questions for the US citizenship test. I might put that on my Christmas wish list! I'm a sucker for trivia games.


Have you found any good trivia games lately? 
Do you enjoy playing games that show you how much you still have to learn?!?



Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October Highs and Lows 2017

The Reformation Day Edition


Today, October 31st, is Reformation Day, which is recognized by Protestants. On this day in 1517 Martin Luther allegedly nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, detailing his gripes with the Catholic church. In Germany this is normally a stiller Feiertag only in the predominantly Protestant states of Germany - namely the five states that were formerly the DDR (East Germany). Since this year it is 500 years since the cheeky monk officially began his protest which led to the Reformation, much bloodshed between Christians for generations thereafter, and the founding of a new religion, the day is recognized in the whole of Germany with the day off for nearly everyone.
Photo credit: my friend, D. Philipp

The bonus for us lucky bahstuds in the Catholic South is that tomorrow is also a stiller Feiertag - Allerheiligen, or All Saints' Day. We have, therefore, two days in a row off this week, which meant we had to plan ahead for meals with all stores closed Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.



HIGHS

  • starting the month with two days off. October 3rd is a national holiday - Tag der Deutschen Einheit, or Day of German Unity - and since it fell on a Tuesday this year, the VHS was closed also on Monday the 2nd for a "Brückentag" (bridge day). It's not that my work is so hard, teaching German to a really nice group of students four hours a day, but extra days off are just nice.

    Actually on Monday I visited the English class of a new acquaintance of mine in Nagold. He had been discussing with his class stereotypes Germans have of Americans and vice versa, and the students were able to ask me about what things are really like in the US. I enjoyed my visit and the topic!

    One of the students asked if if racism is a big problem in the US. What would you have answered?!?

  • attending the dance and theater performance of one of my students, who is very talented! He wrote and directed the show, designed and created the costumes and props, and was the principle performer. The other performers are friends of his. The performance depicted Syria's past, part mythology and part history, and the present war and especially its effect on children.


  • spending four days at the wellness hotel Engel-Obertal in the Black Forest for M's birthday. Saunas, steambaths, and relaxing during the day after a hearty but elegant breakfast, gourmet dinners in the evening...



  • a Greifvogel (birds of prey) demonstration at Burg Hohennagold. We just love owls!


  • a weekend visit by fellow blogger Mari and her pug Abner. We dined at Straub's Krone and stayed up way too late talking about every conceivable topic, and then chatted through the next day as well. We have a lot in common and much to talk about.
Abner teaches M how to play tug-o-war
M doesn't understand why Abner seems to really want the stuffed bear,
but then as soon as M lets go, he wants M to try to get it again.

I was flattered that Abner liked the blanket-bed
I made for him!
  • our 11th Kochkurs at Straub's Krone. The theme this time was "Genuss vom Wald und Feld" (Indulgence from forest and field). As usual everything was delicious and we had a fun group of co-chefs to cook with.
Vorspeise: Forellenfilet mit Petersilienbröselkruste,
Meerrettich Petersilienwurzel Salat & Kürbismayonnaise
Grünkohlsuppe mit Schmandschaum und
gebackene Wildfleisch Wan Tans
Hauptgang: Wildschweinrücken mit Quitten gegart,
geschmorte Karotten & gratinierte Kürbispolenta

Nachtisch: Käsekuchenmuffins, Apfelrose,
und Holunderbeereneis

the Ms dealing with the main course

  • ending the month with holidays as well - this week is Herbstferien or fall break, and today and tomorrow are stille Feiertage (see above). While I have the whole week off anyway, M can also be home today and tomorrow.

LOWS

I've got nothin'. I don't remember even once saying to myself, "Well, that can go on my list of lows..." Granted, there's always the world news, but that's the case every month.


I hope you had a fine October and will enjoy November. And hopefully you had as few lows in October as I did!




Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Expat / Immigrant Qs

I've done more teaching, reading, and creating review worksheets for my students than writing lately. I've wanted to write a blog post but lacked the inspiration. Today I read Confuzzledom's recent post in which she answered questions she found on another blog (Kristen's, but I don't know who Kristen is), and since I've almost finished preparing for class tomorrow, I thought I'd take a break and blog instead of nap.

Although I don't mind the label "Expat," it would be more accurate to call me an immigrant. To me "expat" suggests the person will one day return to her passport country, but for me this was a permanent move.

1. Where were you born, where did you grow up, and where do you currently live?


I was born in a place that no longer exists. Doesn't that sound fantastically mysterious?!?! I was born on K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in Upper Michigan, but it was decomissioned in 1995. Apparently there's a small airport there today, and an unincorporated community. So I guess technically is does still exist (the story was better before I learned that).

I grew up in  Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA, my family having moved there when I was three. I now live near Horb, Germany, and I plan to stay here until...well, you know. 
Sheboygan, on the shore of Lake Michigan
Photo credit: M

Horb, Germany, in the Neckar Valley

2. What made you leave your home country?


In 2006 I married a German (lovingly referred to as M in this blog), and in 2012 - after six years of living on different continents - I moved to Germany to be with him. Nothing made me leave, however; I wanted to. Or rather, I wanted to live in Germany with him.


3. What type of reactions do you get when you meet new people and tell them where you are from?


I never tell people where I am from unless there is an obvious need for them to know. When I start teaching a new class, for instance, it is important to tell my students that I am a foreigner like they are, and "we're in this together!" But otherwise I never volunteer my nationality.

When someone asks - and they often do politely by saying they notice an accent - I am honest. Most people respond with interest and like to talk about the US. It's also not uncommon for people to ask early in a conversation what I think about #45. I still have to practice "egregious narcissistic sociopath" in German so it rolls off my tongue comfortably, but they often get the idea by the look on my face alone.


4. What was the easiest / hardest part of adjusting to your new country?


Nothing was difficult for me - not even the paperwork. I had been to Germany twenty-or-so times before staying each time for several weeks, and I had long wanted to make the permanent move. My parents, kids, and two friends knew for more than six years that I would eventually be moving overseas, and therefore we were able to make the most of that time, appreciate the togetherness, and say good-bye without any drama.


5. Sounds, smells, words, and images that sum up the expat [immigrant] experience you've had so far?


Food noises (the sounds I make when taking my first bite of Ziegenkäse im Speckmantel (bacon-wrapped goat cheese)) because I have been absolutely spoiled by the way we eat here, chain saws on Saturdays, the Swabian dialect, fresh Black Forest air, lavender, rosemary, thyme, Kartoffelpufferpfannenfett because it's a fun word, love, travel, public transportation, and daily gratitude. Some images follow.
Fachwerk

der Wochenmarkt

There it is - Ziegenkäse im Speckmantel!

Weihnachtsmärkte
Christmas Markets

Beautiful towns - Tübingen, here

my Syrian & Eritrean friends

6. Your favorite food or drink item in your new country?


As if that wasn't already clear... but since the Ziegenkäse just a starter, I'll also mention lamb stew (Irish rather than German; we have a delicious recipe), Zwiebelrostbraten, and Kässpätzle. For a beverage it's carbonated water during the day and Grauburgunder (a dry white wine) in the evening.



7. What's the one thing you said "yes" to in your new city town that you wouldn't say "yes" to back home?


Riding public transportation. Can I toss in a few more? Taking a guided walking tour of the town, walking home from downtown, and skipping church on Easter Sunday.


8. Are there any cultural norms or phrases in your new country which you cannot stand?


I could do without all the hand-shaking; I guess I prefer the American acknowledging wave (which comes across as dismissive to Germans). At the same time, with people I genuinely like, the handshake (and even a hug sometimes) is nice.


9. What do you enjoy doing most in your new country?


How much time do you have? Traveling, hiking, walking, breathing, talking, teaching, dining, reading, learning...


10. Will you ever move home for good?


I already have.


Horb


Saturday, September 30, 2017

September Highs and Low 2017

Here we are again at the end of another month, and it looks like I'll actually get the highs and lows done punctually this time. It might not have any photos, though, because we changed something on our computer network and without M's help, I can't access any of my pictures. (edit: M to the rescue; photos are ready to go.)

It's a beautiful day today, which is nice except that means I should get my tail outside to do some gardening and yard work. Way to suck the joy out of a lovely day, though once I get going I usually enjoy it at least a little.

Here we go with September's highs and low.

HIGHS

  • a visit from my "first friend" and her husband. They're from Wisconsin, and she was the first friend I made when my family and I moved to Sheboygan when I was three. Her husband had a conference in Freiburg, and they flew over early to spend the weekend with us. We shared a lot of memories, had plenty of laughs, and caught up on all kinds of things one doesn't write in Christmas letters. We took them to Burg Hohenzollern where there was a visiting Falknerei giving a demonstration about falcons, owls, and eagles, and although it was a bit chilly up there and rained a bit, we enjoyed it. We also had Sunday brunch at our favorite restaurant and a nice walk through our village afterwards. 


Photo credit: M
  • They had a gorgeous little Steinkauz as well, but his handler marched him past me so fast I couldn't get a good picture.

  • M's electric scooter arrived!! He got tired of me gallivanting in his car all the time and not being able to get down to town for a haircut or over to the store for a fresh pretzel, so he ordered a scooter a few months ago. He's been having fun with it.


  • I passed the five-year mark of being an expat/immigrant, and the more I read about what's going on in #45's America, the gladder I am I don't live there.

  • dinner on the last night of the month. We tried a new recipe tonight, which M saw on the noon show we watch: Hackfleischstrudel im Blätterteig (ground meat roll in puff pastry) from Vincent Klink, a chef we both appreciate. If it's good and photogenic, I'll come back and add it to my highs. (edit: Damn!! It was delicious!)




  • the return of George!!! I can't believe it - our little hedgehog friend is back! M went out to his man cave for a smoke, and he heard some rustling around. He shined a flashlight under the table, and sure enough, there was George! He is such a little darling, and I don't care that M says he probably has fleas. I brought him a soft towel to sleep on, and I wanted to bring him some salad, but M says he'd rather eat slugs and worms. I don't have any of those in the kitchen, so I'll let him take care of his own dinner.

    The man cave is rather dusty and cob-webby, which George discovered while looking for an escape route while being flashy-thingied.



the LOW that should have been a High

  • Mustafa, our Tuesday vegetable guy, had one cob of corn this week. My mouth started watering as I envisioned that sweet cob dripping in butter... You see, although corn-on-the-cob is a staple of a midwesterner's diet, it's just not a thing in Germany. Corn is cow food, and messy hand-held food makes Germans uncomfortable. I boiled it the next day, wiped the butter on and bite in with relish. Merp. Just not the same. It was not bursting with flavor, as the sweet corn in Wisconsin does.

Neither Here nor There, Neither High nor Low

  • the Bundestag (Parliament) election in Germany. The results were not unexpected - Merkel's party (CDU) won the most votes, but that was still only 33%. Their former partner party (SPD) took the next-most votes, but they said they no longer want to work together with the CDU in a coalition. The AfD (right-wing populist party) came in third, and about 13 hours later their party leader left the party. Decent people everywhere are disappointed that the AfD got so many votes, but this is our world today.

    For a much better recap of the election than I have time to write, see my friend La Mari's post here.

  • M knows a lot of trivial facts and things, and so I figured he'd know when the German language came into being. I've always imagined a group of 12 grumpy men sitting around a table trying to decide how best to drive future learners of the language absolutely bonkers.
    This was his response to "When was the German language developed?"

    "Around tea time."

  • I attended a sales pitch by the rep from the publishing company that put out the textbook series I have to use for my Integrationskurs. I mentioned in a recent post that it's the worst book I've ever had the misfortune to use. The session was three hours long, and I knew what to expect - I've been to such meetings before. I actually did learn a few very helpful things, which will reduce my - and my students' - stress level for the remainder of this course, so I'm glad I went.



I hope you had a good September!!