Sunday, February 27, 2011

Let's talk about sex

Sorry to disappoint, but we won't actually be talking about sex. We will, however, be talking about Germany's amazing - albeit uncomfortably open for most Americans - safe sex campaigns. 

I noticed it back in the fall when I saw these posters plastered all over our school. Now keep in mind that my "high school" includes 5th grade to 13th grade. So, while it may seem reasonable for the older crowd, it was highly amusing for me to see 10 year olds running pass these posters every day. 

Amusing because I know these posters would NEVER be allowed in American schools. *gasp* Admit that people have sex before marriage? We don't want to give these kids any silly ideas now! I've never been a believer in the effectiveness of the preach abstinence stance most of the US has taken. But that's besides the point...

If I saw these posters all the way back in September, why waiting till now to post, you may ask. Well, tonight we went to see the King's Speech (don't see where this is going...?) Ok, it had nothing to do with the movie, but the ads before the movie. 

Not only was the first ad an explicit (by any "prude" American's standards) condom ad, it was an explicit condom ad starring a gay couple. WHOA. I mean, I was incredibly impressed, because as equal rights/homo-friendly as everyone thinks Europe is, there is still quite a bit of stigma... And even more amazing was that there were no "OMGs" "ughhhs" or snickers in the entire (incredibly full) theater. I know that if that ad were played in the US, aside from the uncomfortable giggles from a condom commercial being played, there would also be a strong reaction to a condom commercial being played using a gay couple.  In the end, they had played 2 condom commercials before the movie (don't worry, the 2nd used a straight couple...). They were both commercials that went with the poster to the left, which I have also seen at school, around the city and on tons of billboards. 

I think this is one of the most interesting differences for me. Not only that subjects like sex, safe sex or (dare I say it?) condoms are openly discussed here, but that they are discussed openly in with high school students.  It's not uncomfortable or silly or poked fun at. It's just normal. And I think that's awesome.  

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A taste of home

Last night Gemma, Andy and I met up with our friend Zach in Bamberg for a night out. The night included two reminders that home is still out there. The first was a sign of the harsh reality that awaits across the Atlantic, while the second brought back nothing but fond memories.

We'll start the night at the Irish Pub. We met up for dinner because it is a pretty authentic taste of home for Gemma. Unfortunately, as Bamberg has a big US military population, the Irish pubs tend to be filled with Americans. And even more unfortunately, they tend to be the loud and boisterous, bad-name-giving Americans that have ruined our reputation in the entire western world. On top of that, the throwback to bars like Buddha Bar and the Winery (the ones I tried my hardest to avoid in Athens), was a little more than I could handle. 

Of course, Gemma, in all her wisdom, reminded us (the three Americans) we had to look past our embarrassment and realize they, unlike us, are not in Germany by choice. They're not here because they want to learn the language or are interested in the culture. They're here because that's where work tells them to be, so they make their own little America however they can. 
True - but still giving the rest of us a bad name.

The second taste of home for the night was at a very "German" bar we went to compensate for our super American adventure in the Irish pub.  I would just like to put it out there that this bar was amazing! It was super tiny - probably only about 6 tables in the whole place, and it had the kind of atmosphere of a bar you would go to drink and maybe play some cards (which we, and several others, did) or chess (which they had available to use).  My kind of place (and as my friends so kindly reminded me, I have the drinking habits of a 90 year old man)

So Zach comes back from the bathroom: "Hey, Emily, I found a sticker for a beer from Athens, isn't that where you're from"
me: "OMG TERRAPIN?!!!"
Zach: "yeah, that's it"

This absolutely made my night! And made me very thirsty for a Hopsecutioner! Definitely a good reminder of what's waiting on the other side of the Atlantic to cancel out the fact that it will be filled with its fair share of obnoxious people too. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Something's not right...

a 7th grade class I'm doing this week is starting a unit on the US. On the first page they have to match captions to pictures. The instructions start as follows:
An American girl chose the seven photos on these two pages....
There's more, but that's irrelevant. I really just want to bring your attention to the fact that it is an American girl writing these captions....

Because then she goes on to say
It's about 5000 kilometres from the east coast to the west coast. 
First of all, kilometers?! Really?! Second, kilometREs?! Really?! 

Silly British English. 

I got you this Mardi Gras donut...

That's right. 
Here in Germany, the traditional treat for the Mardi Gras time (which is actually celebrated for several days known as Fasching or Karnival) is a donut! 

Of course they're not called donuts. They're called Krapfen. A normal krapfen is covered in powdered sugar, usually with a rosehip filling. But there are several variations of this delicious treat - covered with normal sugar, lemon icing, chocolate icing, sprinkles, and pretty much any filling from fruit to liquor to chocolate. 

These little babies popped up in the bakeries on January 7 (the Christmas season isn't officially over until January 6) and the best part is, they usually cost about 75 cents. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Now that's just cruel.

These are real-life statuses and tweets from Georgia:
"OMG, I feel like laying out by the pool today!" 
"Chaco weather is here!"
"Working on my Chaco tan today"
"Going out without a jacket for the first time since November"
"The weather was so beautiful I ran 3 miles!"
I know it's not meant to be mean, but seeing every other update about how beautiful the weather in Georgia is, is just cruel. Over in Forchheim, we've descended back into the depths of winter, not reaching temperatures above freezing these days. 

Let's compare:



There might be a lot of things that I love about Germany, but I can't deny that I really miss the mildness and brevity of a Georgia winter. 

The snow was nice. And it was even nicer that it doesn't bring the whole world to a grinding halt. But I'm conditioned to winter ending at the end of February, so winter in March might be a real struggle for me. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

a few of my favorite things...

"What do you like so much about Germany?"

I get this question all the time - from students, from teachers, from friends - everybody seems to want to know what it is about Germany that keeps me coming back for more. Honestly, the biggest factor is the language. After years of studying German, I've become a bit of a language nut. But, still, there is something more...

So I decided to make a list of a few of my favorite things in Germany.

Bike Culture

Having already ridden my bike for 4 years at UGA on the less-than-biker-friendly campus, I was very excited to get to Germany where biking is a common means of transportation for more than just the eco-friendly hipster, poor student, or exercise enthusiast.
In Germany every road and/or sidewalk has a clearly marked bike lane.
Drivers are used to driving along side bikers.
There are more bike racks at school than parking spots.
Biking here is more than just a great transportation option, it's a completely legitimate and acceptable way to get around.

There's always something going on

It doesn't matter if you're in big city or small town, if there is a center or even just a "platz" there will be something going.
In fall you can find special fall markets in Nürnberg or a small festival in Fürth, for example
In December you can't go 2 feet without running into a Christmas market.
Throughout any normal week there are always regular farmer's markets in the city center ready to sell you fresh meats and vegetables.
Whether it's a big event or a normal market, where there is a city center, there is always something going on!

Christmas Markets
Ok, so this one is extremely seasonal, but it is such a great part of German culture!
The entire Christmas tradition and atmosphere is something everyone can enjoy.
who cares about the sub-freezing temperatures, heavy snowfall or biting wind - where there is Glühwein, hand-made crafts, and Christmas lights I'll be there!

Ice cream
Even though it's technically Italian gelato - the ice cream in Germany is a real treat.
Maybe you just want a scoop of Stracciatella (my favorite) or a elegantly arranged dessert cup (like the banana rum ice cream cup I had on Friday).
It's really no wonder the ice cream shops are always buzzing with activity even in the dead of winter.

the drinking culture
Anyone who knows me shouldn't be surprised to see this in here.
And no, I don't mean drinking culture like "YEAH, BEER 24/7 LET'S DRINK!"
(although, from what I've seen it does seem completely normal to order a beer at 11am...)
I actually mean exactly the opposite. I've found here when you go out for the night, or even if you just want to enjoy a beer with friends in the afternoon, you're not surrounded by crazy drunks who only know how to drink 5 beers at a time.
There is no real binge drinking culture here - and I find that refreshing!
(for the record, Oktoberfest is not a good example of the actual drinking culture in Germany)

Of course these aren't the only things I love about Germany - but it's definitely a start! And ultimately, my favorite thing isn't something I can take a picture of or write down. It's just sort of a feeling, a comfort, an atmosphere maybe...

You'll just have to come visit to find out!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Fancy Schmancy

Oh hey, just realized I never posted about my weekend in Heidelberg. So let's just pretend I'm writing this two weeks ago...

Every year the Fulbright Alumni in Germany (that is to say, Germans who spent a year in the US on a Fulbright grant) hold a Winter Ball at various locations around Germany. They always extend their invitation to the American Fulbrighters who are doing their year abroad in Germany. This years ball was in Heidelberg, a city in the southwest of Germany.

Heidelberg is a beautiful place with an amazing Altstadt (old city) with the typical German buildings and cobble stone streets, and it's famous bridge crossing the Neckar river. It's also home to the oldest University in Germany and has a castle (but then again, I've it's unlikely to have a city without a castle in southern Germany...)

I wasn't planning on going at first, but at the last minute, I decided I could do with a weekend away and I'd never been to Heidelberg before.

Aside from the Ball on Saturday, there were alumni events planned all weekend - a meet and greet on Friday night, the Ball on Saturday, then brunch and a tour of the castle on Sunday. I was staying with other American Fulbrighters doing the English Teaching assistantship, though I had only really met one of the 4 before.

Friday night was pretty low key. Just dinner and drinks at a restaurant on the river. The most exciting part for me was meeting a German who had done his Fulbright year at UGA! We chatted for a good bit about east campus dorms, dining halls (his favorite was O-House) and football! The funny part was that we were both at UGA at the same time and, from all the common people we knew, probably had been at the same event at some point or another. He wore a UGA t-shirtto brunch on Sunday for me.

Saturday was a nice lazy day, enjoyed a late start, walked around the old city, saw all the bigsites, and did a little shopping. The whole time I was amazed at how many people were out! Maybe I've been conditioned to small town living after 6 months in Forchheim, but the streets were packed!

We headed back to the hotel early to get ready for the Ball! Our hostel was full of Fulbrighters in town for the ball, so the hour or so getting ready was sort of like dorm life meets prom, all the girls were crammed in the bathroom - borrowing hair products, sharing mirrors and makeup and I even got commissioned to do about 3 or 4 girl's hair.

The ball itself was pretty awesome! It opened with a "sektempfang" or champagne greeting. Were we got to stand around admiring (or judging) everyone's fashion choices while enjoy a glass (or two or three) of free champagne.

The dinner was in a gorgeous ball room where we were served a tomato soup starter, our choice of one of 3 entrees (I chose the
steak dish, I believe it was), and a delicious dessert. After the

eating was over they opened up the dance floor. Despite the touch and go quality of the music (you'd get one gem like "I will survive" to get you out on the floor, the followed by three or four random songs you've never heard in your life). But we danced the nightaway anyway until our carriage turned back into a pumpkin....

On Sunday we enjoyed a slow start and brunch buffet. Afterwards there were two tour options available. One was a "Mark Twain" tour and the other was a tour of the castle. I opted for the latter. I would definitely recommend a visit to the castle to anyone in Heidelberg - it was one of the more interesting ones I've visited! And to top it all off, this castle is home to the largest wine barrel in the world. I forget just how much it holds, but to give you an idea, it is so large that it has a dance floor built directly on top of the barrel that could easily hold about 100 people. I was impressed!

Overall it was a fantastic weekend, I got to meet some great people and enjoyed visiting a new city! The next trip is in 2 weeks back to Edinburgh to visit Shahida!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ich kann Deutsch... Maybe

A lot of people have the impression that doing one year abroad will magically make you fluent. Now, I can't deny that there is a significant learning curve, but as with anything that must be practiced, you have a hard time noticing it yourself. A lot of people, myself included, often feel frustrated in the first few (or more) months because you're not progressing by the leaps and bounds you expected. I've met quite a few people who are native speakers of English but have lived in Germany for a long time. When I hear them speak with ease and fluency I have two immediate reactions:

1. If they can do it, so can I! There is hope for me yet!

2. Why is my German not that good? It's not even close!!
Then I have to remind myself that these people have all been here for several several years (some for more than half their life). Now, does that mean that once I've been here for x number of years I'll suddenly speak perfectly fluent German? No. But it does mean that learning a language takes time and you have to be patient.

I feel like there are certain steps, or a certain process you go through when learning a language abroad:

  1. Embarrassment - suddenly all those years learning grammar and vocab seem useless because you realize, even though you can write a 4 page essay analyzing a book, you can't form simple everyday sentences like "where do I take the recycle?"
  2. Absorption - you're convinced that since you don't feel confident enough to speak, you will magically absorb fluency merely by listening to other people speak. Give yourself a pat on the back, you can understand other people speak. But can you form your own thoughts?
  3. Obligation - you still don't feel confident in your language abilities, but your apartment is starting to stink because you haven't taken out the trash in weeks, thereby forcing you figure out that even if you don't know the right words, you can still get your point across
  4. Responsiveness - You ditch the glazed eyes and stupid smile for actual words when people speak to you, but you still don't actively go out looking for it
  5. Enthusiasm - OMG, people understand you and you can ask questions and who cares if you put the wrong adjective ending on this, you want to speak more!! SPEAK SPEAK SPEAK!
  6. Total lack of shame - Once you've reached this point, there is nothing standing in the way between you and total fluency. Oh, except a better accent, larger vocabulary and correct grammar. But who cares, right? You're never going to learn if you don't speak, so congratulations, you've lost all shame for your language mistakes - and really, that's the best thing that could have happened to you
I had a teacher who used to tell us it's better to make mistakes, because if you always did everything perfectly you would never learn. Everyday I believe it more and more. Of course, throughout this whole process, you are picking up new vocabulary, strengthening your grammar and acquiring a better accent - which really is the ultimate goal, but half the battle is the mental preparation.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hyphenated America

I'm supposed to be teaching a text in a few hours in am 11th grade class called "Hyphenated America". So, as usual, I decided to actually read through it about 5 minutes ago.

Now, I've never been your super enthusiastic, "GO MURIKAH," red, white and blue-bleeding patriot, but having been raised in a country, you can't avoid a little sense of pride or at least national identity. So when I read the article for class today, I was a little less than thrilled to have to be presenting it.

Within the first sentence, America is described as "retaining a strong flavor of intransigent non-cooperation." The very next sentences describe all Americans to consider the US "the best country in the world", but even beyond that, apparently every American believes, in comparison to other Americans, "he is better." By the third paragraph I have been informed that Americans "speak not a word of any language besides English and have never been farther east than NYC or father west than Chicago." Eventually the entire text is capped off with this gem of a paragraph:
Some Americans believe that foreigners really do speak English (they study it in school, you know), but refuse to do so out of prejudice. The delusion that "they're just like us except for their language, food and clothing" comes from the reality that nearly all Americans descend from foreign immigrants. Thus people in other countries aren't really aliens, they're just potential Americans, or rather, potential hyphonated-Americans.
Aside from the sweeping generalization that all Americans behave and think this way, the article seems to be written less to inform and more to mock. Now, I can't say that I haven't said more or less everything in this article about some people, but it's the equivalent of picking on your brother or sister - you're allowed to do it, and sure, it might be true to some extent, but you'll be damned if anyone else picks on them.

Never does this text approach the question of why we, but no other countries, have this culture of "hyphenation". Never does the author discuss address any positive reasoning behind the hyphen.

But I think I've just been inspired for my lesson plan: have the students re-write the article in with a positive tone and reasonable sense of understanding.

Oh, and by the way, the text comes from a book titled The Xenophobe's Guide to the Americans published in London.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


So I had this whole post typed out about figuring out what to do with my life and finding my purpose blah blah blah.

But then it occurred to me: nobody really cares.

Besides, all I really want to tell you is that I have accomplished greatness this week.

No, I'm not talking about the all lessons I planned, I'm not talking about the fact that I sent off my first post-fulbright (but still not full time) job application. I'm not even referring to the amazing CV I put together.

No, no... All those things pale in comparison to my greatest achievement this week: kettle corn. I don't even mean that I found microwave kettle corn here (child's play) I'm talking, home made (popped?), sprinkled with love, stove top kettle corn!

Where did I get such amazing inspiration, you might ask. Well, Gemma and I have been to the movies a lot recently and when you order popcorn at the theater you get asked "salty or
sweet?" What a brilliant idea! So we usually get sweet, which led to me craving it outside the

theater as well.

So I turned to a trusted friend, one who is always there to answer my questions when I find myself groping in the dark for answers. Google. However, the best Google got me was "get a popcorn machine" and "just get microwave kettle corn."

I set out on my own, changing sugar amounts, adding it at different times, for four days, until finally - it was perfect!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

a question of taste

For the most part I've never questioned Europe's (and yes, sorry, but I'm going to generalize a little bit here) taste in American entertainment. Movies and music tend to follow the same trends (except for the obvious void of hip-hop over here), all my students know Lady GaGa, Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, and they've all seen Avatar, Batman, Inception - although they problem saw them 3 months later, but that's not the point. And, for the most part, the selection of TV shows that have made it big over here aren't that bad either.

It was the Europeans who introduced me to the gem How I Met Your Mother. You can find season upon season of Grey's Anatomy, Scrubs, and Friends at any DVD store. But for the life of me, I can NOT understand how in the world Two and a Half Men is such a huge phenomenon here! I'm talking bigger than the last season of LOST. Not a day goes by (pending me actually leaving my apartment) that I don't see or hear something about this show. Until I came to Germany, I had no idea it was even still on. But here it is everywhere, and I have yet to meet a German who does not like this show. Maybe we, as a nation, have misjudged this show. Maybe it deserves a return to primetime tv, a chance to work its way into our hearts... or, you know, maybe not.
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