Friday, January 24, 2014

You know you're German when...

I'm not claiming to have become completely German yet, and in fact I know I never will. I'm keeping my U.S. passport and citizenship, and I will always be an American with that undeniable accent ("You couldn't tell she's an American? Don't you hear the way she pronounces her Rs?"). But I do feel like I'm assimilating nicely into life here.

Yes, I know...those of you who received our Christmas letter already read some of my thoughts on this topic. In case you want to keep reading anyway, I'll add a few I've thought of since writing that list. It turns out that nearly every expat blogger has a list like this somewhere in his or her posts, but I assure you these are my own. I either do or have done all of these things, or aspire to them.

You know you're German when...

  1. you don't mind that stores - including grocery stores - are closed all day on every holiday and every Sunday, and that there is no such thing as a grocery store open 24 hours.
  2. you also don't mind the absence of the "no alcohol sales after 9:00 p.m." law, but remember that stores close by 10:00 p.m. if not earlier.
  3. you've gotten used garbage being collected only once per month (except the Biomüll - that's every two weeks).
  4. you have four garbage containers outside, and the one you are least likely to fill before collection day is the Restmüll - what would be considered the main garbage container in the U.S..
  5. you walk to the recycling center every few days with glass bottles to dispose of depending on their color, and you take crates and bags of plastic bottles to the "bottle return" at the grocery store to get your deposit back.
  6. you accept that a load of laundry takes five hours (from dirty to clean and dry), and you plan accordingly.
  7. you put considerable effort into not wasting anything - food, water, paper, electricity...
  8. in the past six months you have traveled many more miles on buses, trains, and the S-Bahn than in your own car.
  9. your car is clean and uncluttered, has no rust spots, scratches, dents, or duct tape, no coffee or ketchup stains, and every piece and part of the car is working. 
  10. you always have some kind of Hausschuhe (slippers or sandals) on your feet - you're never barefoot and rarely just wearing socks. And you've never had anything more comfortable on your feet than a pair of Birkenstocks!
  11. weather doesn't stop you from going anywhere. If it looks like rain, you bring an umbrella. If it's snowing, you put on a hat. If it's cold, you bundle up.
  12. you don't go anywhere without small change in your pocket (in case you need to use a public restroom unexpectedly) and a canvas shopping bag or two.
  13. you buy freshly baked bread from a bakery. You only use Toastbrot (packaged, industrially-produced bread with a shelf life of two weeks or so) for Toast Hawaii or emergencies. You would never use it for sandwiches.
  14. you know what Toast Hawaii is.
  15. you've gotten used to your husband opening the doors and windows every few days for five minutes or so in the dead of winter to exchange stale air for fresh. This is called "lüften".
  16. you wonder why All Saints' Day, Pentecost, Epiphany, Ascension Day, and Corpus Christi are not recognized holidays in the U.S., where there is such an emphasis on God & religion, though they are holidays here, where church services are sparsely attended.
  17. you also wonder why Sunday is not a quiet day of rest in the U.S., and why most stores are open, requiring employees to be away from their families.
  18. you are used to parking your car in a Parkhaus and walking to wherever you need to go, even if that means a 10-minute walk in the rain.
  19. you don't drink tap water. Not because it's not safe, but because it's flat (non-carbonated).
  20. you never cross the street when the Ampelmännchen ("little traffic light man") is red, and when someone near you does, you shake your head and snort in derision.
  21. you don't even raise an eyebrow in the spring when your local newspaper prints an article reminding residents to honor the Mittagsruhe  (mid-day quiet time) between noon and 2:00 p.m. by not mowing their lawns or using loud yard equipment.
  22. you wish Americans would start using the 24-hour clock - in which 14:00 is 2:00 p.m., for instance - because it's just a whole lot easier.



Friday, January 10, 2014

I'll do it for potatoes

I love Bratkartoffeln. Ok, maybe not love, but they are one of my very favorite side dishes. Sometimes I plan our main course based on what goes well with Bratkartoffeln because we haven't had them in several days. Sometimes they ARE the main course.

The dish to the right is Bratkartoffeln Tiroler Art (Fried Potatoes Tirolean style). The potatoes are boiled first and then sliced, and fried with diced onions. For the Tiroler Art, we add whatever we find in our fridge: mushrooms, leftover pork tenderloin, bacon, basil, and tomatoes. Leave out the pork and add a fried or scrambled egg, and you have a Bauernfrühstück (Farmer's Breakfast).

I screwed up this simple dish often enough in the beginning, but when we had a Kochkurs (cooking class) at our favorite local restaurant, the chef gave us some great tips to get it right every time. I still can't beat his Bratkartoffeln, but I'm not trying to.

One of the tips the chef gave us was to check out the Sautter Kartoffelhof (potato farm) in Bondorf, a village 13,5 km (ca. 8 miles; 15 minutes by car) from us. They have a little store in their barn where one can buy just about any kind of potato that exists, as well as vacuum-sealed cooked and peeled potatoes and potato salad made fresh that morning. Martin and I have driven there twice together and are very happy with the cooked & peeled potatoes for our Bratkartoffeln. Just open the bag, run 1/3 of them through the potato slicer, and fry them with onions. Otherwise we have to boil the potatoes the day before, and we don't always plan that far ahead. This is quite a convenience.

However, the Kartoffelhof is only open in the mornings. Martin is at the office in the mornings. He did take an hour off one morning the first time we drove there, and the second time we stopped on the way back from an appointment. But he can't keep taking time off from work to buy potatoes. Today I decided it was time to put on the big girl pants and drive there myself.

"Big deal!", you say. "Eight miles? 15 minutes?" If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know how deathly afraid I am of driving here. Narrow winding roads one must share with semis and buses, a relatively big car, the awareness of the possibility that Death is waiting around every corner and curve in the form of an impatient Audi driver overtaking a line of trucks, and all that...  There are three places I drive to comfortably enough: the grocery store, the school where I teach the Englisch-AG, and the Bahnhof in Horb (train station). I did drive one other time, with Martin in the car, to the gas station where he fills our tank, but he drove back. Until today I had not driven more than 3 miles alone.

My mom snapped this picture of me driving through Horb one day last year. Is that a look of mortal fear, or deep concentration? I was driving my parents to the Bahnhof, and the rule in the car was "NO talking!"

The 8-mile trek to the Kartoffelhof involves three Ortsdurchfahrten (the main road through a town), a Bundesstraße (state highway), two small residential areas, and a back road behind a farm. I'm still not used to the "links vor rechts" rule, so I have to consciously remind myself of it when I'm not on a main road. Speed limits are still guesswork for me at times, so I have to keep my eyes peeled for signs. I still love the "the speed limit is no longer 50 km/h" signs. "That's great. Mind telling me what it IS??"

This morning I decided to get in the car and go before thinking about it too much. I've chickened out several times before, but the weekend is near, and I wanted some potatoes! I decided the life-and-death gamble of driving on German roads was worth it. Unsurprisingly, it ended up being no big deal. There wasn't a lot of traffic on the roads, and I didn't take any wrong turns. There were no near accidents, the roads were dry, and no Audi drivers were climbing up my tailpipe trying to push me to go faster. I was so proud of myself I had to set aside some work that has been piling up and blog about my accomplishment!

So I'll drive on the narrow curvy highway and through two towns - reminding myself out loud to "yield to drivers from the right!" - just so I don't have to boil and peel my own potatoes.  Whatever works, I guess. At least I got out there, tackled another driving milestone, and survived to tell about it.