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!!



Saturday, September 23, 2017

Making Friends with Germans

I have read often from other expats living in Germany that it is really hard making friends with Germans. A common stereotype English speakers have of Germans is that they are cold and distant. There's a bit of truth in most stereotypes, and the whole du-Sie thing (the Sie part, anyway) surely creates a distance that at least Americans aren't used to.

[Sie and du both mean "you," but Sie is formal - like "You, Sir" or "You, Ma'am - and is used for all adult strangers, service personnel, neighbors, and even colleagues until the older or higher-ranked person suggests the switch to du and first names. Until then it's "Mr. or Mrs. Dingsbums."]

So when there is such a wall between you and your neighbors and colleagues and an expected distance between strangers, (strangers sitting next to each other on the train in Germany generally do not chat with each other even if they commute on the same train every day), how can you make friends with Germans? I'm not going to address the pub and night life scene because I'm way too old for that and have never in my life made a friend that way. I'm also not going to address networking with other expats, because the point is to make friends with Germans.

Sometimes it is quite literally a wall or hedge that separates you
from the Germans around you (this is our street). Some go a long way to avoid
accidental interaction at their homes.

The first thing you need to accept is that Germans tend to be more reserved than Americans, and friendship doesn't happen quickly. For Americans, meeting someone at an event and talking with them for 30 minutes turns them into a friend if they generally agreed on the topics they discussed. For Germans the term "friend" is reserved for long-term relationships, and one goes through several stages between Fremder (stranger) and Freund (friend). You'll be a Bekannte  (acquaintance) for years, most likely, before a German will begin to consider you a friend.

This is the Oberbürgermeister (Lord Mayor) of Esslingen.
We look like friends, don't we?
We're not. We are Bekannten at best, and even that is going a bit far.
I spent a few hours with him as a translator the day this was taken.
My Syrian friends who have integrated the most successfully could offer some helpful advice. They don't talk about making friends or not. They talk about the importance of Kontakte knüpfen - making contacts with Germans and interacting with them. Friendship may or may not develop, but if you're feeling lonely and want to get to know locals, look for ways to make contact rather than looking for friends.

Here are my tips:

Start Learning the Language

The German language is challenging, without a doubt. But it's learnable, as millions of people have proven. Take a class at a language school or the VHS in your area, and get ready to work hard. An intensive course meets for four hours every weekday, and if you want to be successful you will also spend a minimum of two additional hours outside of class learning vocabulary (at least 20 new words a day - and review them as well), doing homework, practicing pronunciation, reviewing what you learned in class, listening to German music, watching German TV, reading German (children's books at first are great!!), and looking for opportunities to speak German with Germans - at the store, the bank, the library, the Bahnhof...

This is our current book, and it is without question
the worst one I have ever had the misfortune to have to use.
I'm meeting with the rep next week. Should be fun.

Volunteer

Your German does not need to be perfect in order to help people. It doesn't even need to be good. I volunteered with Lebenshilfe for a while by accompanying a group of children with disabilities once a week after school for various activities. A friend of mine was in charge, and I was one of her assistants. One of the boys helped me with my Schwäbisch, and I taught him a little English! We went for walks, to parks and playgrounds, went therapy riding a few times... 

Most towns (at least in the Schwabenland) have a "clean-up day" once or twice a year, and they advertise the meeting time and place on a Saturday. Villagers tidy up the streets and public areas under the direction of a leader, and afterward the volunteers are treated to refreshments. What better way to meet people than to let them know you are willing to help out in your community?

Get involved with the local Freundskreis-Asyl. You will meet local Germans who are also volunteering, foreigners who are also working on their German skills, and your ability to speak English will be an asset to the group! Many foreigners arrive in Germany having some grasp of English, and it's the common language of communication until their German gets good enough.

What I did to get involved with my community here in Germany was to go to the Ausländeramt (Foreigner's Office) because they already knew me, and I asked them what I could do and where I could go to help. Give that a try.

Join a Verein

A Verein is a club, and every German town is full of them. Whatever your interests and talents, you'll be able to find a group to join. There's usually a membership fee and sometimes you're expected to provide services as well - like manning a concession booth at a fund raiser, etc.

In our small town (population 25,000 if you include all the little surrounding villages) there are more than 33 Vereine for activities such as: horseback riding, motorcycle enthusiasts, karate, dance, archery, all sports, small animal lovers, judo, music and singing, chess, hiking, Fasching, gardening, etc. If you can't find a Verein of interest, you're not looking hard enough.

Especially in the Sportvereine, the language barrier is not huge. My students who play soccer with a Verein say it has helped them very much with their language skills - as well as getting comfortable with the local dialect!

Join an English-Speaking Circle

Although the goal should be to improve your German and interact with locals in German, an English-speaking circle is a great way to get your foot in the door and meet people! And you can be of help to them, too, since often they have questions about English best answered by a native speaker. I did attend one meeting and enjoyed it, until they started singing at the end. Not my thing, though I can totally understand how it's enjoyable for such a group. 

Within such a group you might also be able to find a Sprachpartner - someone who wants to practice his or her English and also help you practice your German. You can meet as often as you want to, and speak half the time in English and half the time in German.

Take a class or two at the local VHS

The Volkshochschule in your area offers many interesting classes on a wide variety of topics. Some courses are just a few hours or one day long, and others are longer term, once or twice a week for several weeks. You and your classmates will all have at least one thing in common (the topic you're learning), and it shouldn't be too hard to suggest meeting for coffee after class some day.

Read the Local Newspaper and Amtsblatt

Right after I moved here M asked me if I would like to subscribe to the local paper for another way to work on improving my German. I decided to try it for a while, and now I'm nearly addicted. I would miss SO much if I didn't get the paper, and I read or at least skim it cover-to-cover almost every day.


We also get a weekly Blättle (like a newsletter), which lets us know what is going on in Horb and the surrounding area, as well as the insert for our little village. The church services and activities are listed here, local festivals, social evenings - this Tuesday there's a stamp collectors' exchange and info evening, as well as a PC-Stammtisch for women - and musical performances, many of which don't charge for admission.

Be Open-Minded about Age

Don't dismiss a possible connection just because the person is 10+ years older or younger than you. I have enjoyed many hours chatting with people who have become friends or nearly friends who are my parents' age, as well as making some younger friends in their 30s. In our Blättle I see a Senioren-Spielnachmittag at a community center. I'll bet they don't mind if younger people come and play games with the older folks.

Offer to Help

Do you have an elderly neighbor who could use a hand now and then? If you're an American you might not be able to keep up with your older Swabian neighbors in the realm of yardwork (Swabians work until they are physically unable to walk anymore), but if you have time, what about offering to mow her lawn or, in the winter, shovel their sidewalks? If you're going to the store anyway, perhaps you could pick up a crate of water or beer for him - those crates are heavy and no one helps you at the store. It's possible you'll get an invitation for Kaffee und Kuchen some day, and probably they have adult children who visit now and then whom you could meet.



The main thing is, you cannot be lazy passive if you want to make friends with Germans. They will likely not be the first to step forward, even though a neighbor of ours and my good friend and Sprachpartnerin did reach out to me first! Most likely you will need to go out in seek of contacts and opportunities to meet people, and there are plenty in Germany! And even if it's awkward at first and you don't feel like anyone went out of their way to welcome you like a prince or princess (they don't do that), try again. You'll find your niche, but you have to go out and look for it. 


What other ideas do you have for making friends with Germans?



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

August Highs and Lows 2017, the Forgotten Edition

Oops. I was a week into September when I remembered my traditional "Highs and Lows" post. And then I was too busy. And then too tired. And then too apathetic.

But today*, on my five-year "Expativersary" (I moved to Germany permanently five years ago today), I thought I'd finally run through my highs and lows from last month.

our pretty little town
I keep saying I've moved to Germany permanently because I can't imagine anything changing that. If M gets tired of me, I'll just move in with his mother, who is a dear friend of mine. That's unlikely to happen, though. He and I are so much in sync that we feel completely out of whack when we're not together. We balance each other, and we're better people when we're together.

*Disclaimer: My five-year anniversary was actually yesterday (19. September), but I fell asleep on the sofa last night while writing this blog post, and so I had to finish and publish it today.

On to last month's events...

HIGHS

  • Kaffee in Nagold with a new acquaintance, an English teacher at the high school with whom I have quite a bit in common. It was fun to have a fully Denglish conversation - I thoroughly enjoy talking with people when one language is as good as the other. If I can't find a word in English, I say the German word and vice versa. It was the same for him.

  • meeting one of my former students in Tübingen, though I'd misread the date we'd agreed upon, and I caught the poor guy at the Bahnhof on his way to buy some furniture for his Studentenwohnung. He turned around and came to meet me, not even mentioning my obvious mistake until afterwards.

  • meeting my friend and Sprachpartnerin, Hedda, and then driving together to Tübingen (yes, I really like this town!). We had lunch, I bought a pair of incredibly comfortable shoes at her recommendation, and we met my former student again for tea and a chat.

  • the books I read in August. They were poignant, compelling, disturbing, suspenseful, and enjoyable even though the subject matter was heavy.
  • I took over another class at the VHS, starting at level A1.2. My students this time hail from: Poland, Syria, Chile, Scotland, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Iraq, and Romania.

  • spending yet another afternoon in Tübingen, this time with four of my former students (one of whom I hadn't seen in more than a year!) and his girlfriend. We'd come up with the idea to do a Stadtführung (town tour), which I was happy to lead! I really enjoyed it, and they seemed to as well. I took them into the main church and told them everything I knew, and then we went up the steeple for a great view of the town. We walked around afterwards and I gave them some more information, and then we all got hungry. We had lunch at a Türkischer Imbiss and they recommended what I should try, and then we found an Arabic bakery with delicious treats for dessert! We all agreed that we should do it again, and there is much more of the town I can show them.
I drove because the train was sketchy that day,
and if you know me, you know I hate driving in Germany.
Hence the face.

  • meeting another new friend of mine, a retired English teacher, for Kaffee (it ended up being just water because it was too darn hot to enjoy coffee) at our house. She has subbed for me, and again we have much in common and lots to talk about.

  • not failing at several experiments in the kitchen: Zitronenkuchen, Spaghetti Carbonara, and Kohlrabi-Möhren-Gratin



LOW

  • I don't know if this is a low, but it felt like it at first. I learned in August that something I've believed my whole life from Sunday and Bible School stories, movies, etc. is simply not true. I've asked others this question - "Who, from what you've understood, built the pyramids in Egypt?" Slaves, right? The Hebrew slaves from the Moses/Exodus story, right?

    Yeah, no. Fake news. Perhaps the original fake news. In 1990 the builders' village was discovered, and the ornamentation of the graves shows that those buried there were honored and valued. They could not have been slaves.

    Besides that, the pyramids were built around 2600 BC, whereas the Exodus story happened around 1300 BC. The Bible never mentions the pyramids, so this is just a common misconception that came from who knows where. But many people I've asked have answered as I thought - the pyramids were built by the Hebrew slaves of the Exodus story.

    There is no mention of Hebrews or Israelites in Egypt until around 1300 BC.

    The fun part of all of this was when M first responded to my statement "Slaves built the pyramids" with "No they didn't," and after some frantic googling and much reading, I stomped through the living room where M was watching TV, and declared, "I'm calling your mother!" She's been interested in Egyptology for many years, has read more than I have time left in my lifetime to read, and has been to Egypt many times.

    She reminded me that the Frenchman who deciphered the hieroglyphs in the 19th century (Champollion) was ordered by the Catholic church to not publish his discovery, in part because they were pretty sure his findings would prove the pyramids existed long before Christians believed they did.

    Don't misunderstand - I'm not saying the Exodus story didn't happen. I'm saying I have learned that the slaves Moses freed did not built the pyramids. They were probably building temples and great statues.
My parents a few years ago,
with two of the pyramids not built by slaves behind them.
The laborers lived hard and short lives, but evidence discovered
by archeologists points strongly to them being highly valued and respected
for their skills.
  • with the exception of M and my Schwiegermutter, not a single other person I mentioned the above to seemed even mildy interested. I definitely get excited about learning. When I hear something I have a hard time believing, I want to look into it. I need to learn to share the things I'm interested in and new knowledge I acquire only with M and my Schwiegermutter. She and I emailed back and forth much of that weekend because she is as enthusiastic about learning and sharing what she knows as I am.

I'm sure there were other lows, but I've forgotten them by now which means they weren't very important ones.

Here's hoping you had a good August (and are having a pleasant September)!!