Thursday, April 30, 2009

One of Us

It is occasionally, and painfully, made apparent that no matter how much I fake it, I will never make it to true "German" status. No matter how much cool slang I learn, I will always have an accent. No matter how good my grammar gets, my vocabulary will always lack. And no matter how long I've lived here, I will never get used to the German ways.

I was feeling particularly glum yesterday, so I decided that instead of my normal outdoor excersise (cheap), I would shell out the €4.20 and go for a swim.

I rode my bike to the pool, paid for a two hour pass, ran my ticket through the electronic thingamajig, and passed through the turnstile. I get a kick out of German pools. Like a normal German household, they feel very sterile. And like the normal, European non-chalance towards gender seperation, there aren't seperate rooms for the girls and the boys. Instead, there are individual booths that one enters, changes, then a locker area where everyone puts there clothes. The showers and toilets, however, are gender-specific.

One would think that for all the regulations and order that one sees on the Autobahn (the famous, no-speed-limit, German highway), Germans could apply some of that organization to the pool; to circle swimming, for instance. When I walked onto the deck, I scanned for a lane with the least number of people. The first two lanes had lanelines and there appeared to be some sort of a team practice going on there. The other three or four lanes had no lanelines and a plethera of patrons making a free-for-all up and down the length of the pool.

I tried my best to assert myself in my chosen spot. I made my way down the pool with the black line of tiles on my left side, and back to the other end with the black line remaining on my left side. Despite my efforts to subtly demonstrate the efficiency of the circle swim, nobody else appeared to follow. There were people who stuck to their own invented line, others swam old-lady-style, in pairs, side-by-side. I gave up after only about 40 minutes and maybe 800 meters of swimming. It felt like €4.20 gone to waste.

But that's not all! When I was exiting the pool area, I had to insert my ticket into the electronic thingamajig. The disorganized person that I am, I couldn't find the bloody thing. After some fretting and looking through pockets where I doubted it was, I noticed that there was nobody manning the counter, so I decided to slip under the turnstile. Just then, someone came around and spoted my misdemenour. Frustrated by the circle swim, I said, "Look, you remember me. I'm the foreigner who came through an hour ago. I can't find my stupid ticket and I'm leaving now." Although she said, "I see so many faces in a day, how can I remember them all?", I adjusted the pack on my back and walked out the door.

pictured: grilled eggplant with oregano and thyme; one of my current kicks.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Not for All My Little Words

I'm sitting outside in the sun, with an Earl Grey tea and an old copy of The New Yorker. I'd like to go for a bike ride along one of the Rhein River's many tributaries. I'd like to call up a friend and invite him/her out to play frisbee or for dinner, coffee, or beer.

But instead I'm waiting. S. is due to return from a playdate at any time and I told W., the boys' father, that S.'s bike was still in front of the Kindergarten. Although it should be presumed that S.'s bike needs to be fetched via car whenever S. has this weekly playdate, his parents need reminding and I'm obliged to do so. I'm afraid to remind W. to be sure that someone is home when his son returns (he has forgotten before), so I'm waiting until he runs this short errand before I leave this sunny terrace.

There's a good chance that W. will forget to pick up the bike, in which case the task will be left to me.

S.'s mother, K., told me the other evening, "You need to remind one of us about S.'s bike before we leave from work. And if one of us can't get it, you can pick it up, right? It's only.... What? Half an hour?"

It would be a good forty-five minute walk, I knew, and half of that time would be spent hunched over, making awkward steps, holding the handlebars while also avoiding clipping the backs of my heels against the tiny peddles.

"Yeah, no problem." I said, doing my best to fake non-chalance.

I could have said "No." To any other employer, I would have said that walking a child's bike home is not a stipulated as one of my duties, but if he/she would like, I may be paid extra for the task. But this is the plight of the aupair. I am paid to be available for them. I am given food, drink, and a warm place to sleep. I am indentured to their needs and generosity.

Now that S. is home and my tea has been drunk, I think I'll walk to the Kindergarten and pick up his bike now. I don't have any money to go out with a friend, anyway.

As you may've noticed, I've decided to change everyone's names. The internet is a big, potentially scary place and I don't want anyone to get hurt by what I say about them.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Just as some cannot grasp calculus or trigonometry, so hault others in their apptitude for other languages. Some can go through the motions with relative ease, others get stuck on minor problems. Some lack confidence and fumble with the concepts before they've barely begun. And then there are teachers.... Some can present concepts and give clear explanation, some can even correct and encourage.

I met my Sascha at the train station on Thursday. In Germany, one can't help but greet another person with the friendly and simple, "Wie geht's?"-- How're you? Our conversation started in German and that was how it stuck.

We made a pizza from scratch. Sascha handled the dough. He'd made a pizza from scratch before and that impressed me. He's still a young student and I found his prestige in home economics both charming and impressive. He also didn't mind that I topped the pizza with basil tofu ricotta (Vegan with a Vengeance).

Sascha is a native of Düsseldorf. That being so, I supplied him with alt beer. Alt is a dark, bitter lager, produced only in the Düsseldorf region. We each drank an alt with our pizza, then we decided to go for a bike ride. I brought two alts for the road.

On our bike ride, I began to wonder, "When will we switch back to English? Is it a pain or is it impolite to stick to German? Am I succeeding at communication so far?" I assured myself that all was fine, but my insecurities remained.

We took a break, sitting on a high wall that overlooked the Rhein. I pulled out the beer and we "prosted," the German way of saying "cheers," but unpretentious and more conversational. While sitting on the wall, watching the Rhein swim by us, we chatted about nothing and everything. The subject that had been nagging me arose: How sufficient was my German?

"You think more than you used to," Sascha remarked. "You used to just talk; say whatever came to you whether it was [grammatically] wrong or not."

I could see some truth in that statement. I never did find out how adequate my vocabulary and grammar was. It had to've sufficed. We conversed, explained our pleasures and our troubles.... But I was still thinking about every sentence, wondering if it was good enough.

pictured: me and Timo in Berlin; a cartoon depicting the Cologne-Düsseldorf rivaly. it says: How Kölsch is brewed

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I finally visited Berlin this past weekend. I uploaded lots of photos to a Picassa page. You can see them here.

Pineapple Right Side Up Cupcakes

A friend hosted a BBQ the other night. I made myself kabobs of fake shrimp and mushrooms slathered in BBQ sauce. It was awesome. I also brought along vegan desserts in an effort to introduce the beer-can-stuffed-chicken-eating omnis to my morally and environmentally conscious ways. I seduced them with these cupcakes. Everyone loved them. Someone said that they looked like boobs.

Monday, April 6, 2009

International Pillow Fight Day

Sometimes there are wonderful things, people, events that are just so beautiful that you don't want to put them into words; they won't do your subject justice. Like Sewanee, like summer camp, like the adorable quirks of your lover, like your new favorite sound.... Some things are better left unsaid. But, at the same time, you feel compelled to share it, and if you're lucky, your listener will understand and they'll give you a sweet smile and share a piece of your heart for a little while.

I noticed this meeting on Cologne's Couch Surfing group page: International Pillow Fight Day. The second anual world-wide pillow fight on the fourth day of the fourth month of the year at four PM. The event organizer said that we'd meet in front of the Dom (“Fuck the police,” were the words that followed that statement.), everyone was to bring his or her own (soft) pillow, and at we would fight everyone and anyone who also held a pillow when then clock struck four. I thought I'd participate. The more the merrier, right?

I checked the event page before I left for Cologne. Someone noted that over a hundred people had signed up to the event on StudiVZ, the German equivalent of Facebook. I thought, “Oh cool. It'll be more than just a few dozen Couch Surfers.”

When I got out at the Cologne train station at a quarter to four, I noticed lots of young kids with pillows. Lots. Hundreds. I saw people toting bulging backpacks, grocery bags, and purses; all of them making their way to the same place. I was filled with gleeful anticipation. I walked to the Domplatz in hopes of spotting some Couch Surfers whom I knew.

The Domplatz was absolutely filled with people! I saw the camera crews of WDR and RTL, the two main television stations in Germany, filming the crowd, asking people questions. I called some friends of mine from my cell phone, asking if they were there. They said that they were in front of the Dom. “You and a thousand other people,” I replied. “Wave your pillow in the air so I can see you.”

I found them, this group of Düsseldorf Couch Surfers. We talked and kept glancing anxiously at our watches. The fight was due to start any minute. I wondered how it would begin. I worried that it would be like a New Year's party where several people are arguing about who's watch is correct as midnight approaches and leaves. Suddenly, a shout rang out in the crowd and, all at once, everyone was swinging their pillows every which way.

here are a few videos of the pillow fight. i couldn't choose which to post.

As I was slamming a hit against someone's back, I noticed that it looked familiar. It was Ulf, my very first Couch Surfing host. He turned around to hit me back, “Oh hi! How're you?”, he asked, landing a blow to my shoulder. “Good to see you here!”, I answered, hitting him on top of the head. I found two more Cologne Couch Surfers like that and then some friends from Bonn. It was hysterical. We laughed and hit and ducked until we were so winded that we could hardly go on, but then someone would swing at us and we had to hit them back; it was part of the game.

Pillows broke open and feathers flew everywhere. We squinted our eyes against the avian snow and battled on. I paired up with a girlfriend against two of the boys. Someone joined in to help and then we were a ring of people. Some found themselves in the middle of the cushioned violence. It was like a mosh pit, but the good kind.

After the fight, I suggested to our group, which had grown throughout the fight, that we walk down to the Rhein to drink beer and play frisbee. We stayed out there, having fun in the park, until it got too dark to see.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Who even knows what bird shit smells like?

I keep telling myself that I need to blog, but I have no desire to write for it lately. It's not that I don't like the blog or that I have nothing to write about; there's just something in there that's getting lost in between, through the transient thoughts.

But it is important to keep all you lovely people, living on contienent far far away, updated on my life (when you care to care). So, here you go:

I've been in Aachen a lot lately, just catching up with the numbers of people who are too numerous to catch up with. I went to Carlos Themen, a thermal spa in Aachen, a few weeks ago. That was really nice and I've been meaning to blog about that.

Simon has been saying some hilarious things lately. Yesterday while we were watching television in the evening, waiting for his mom to come home from tennis and put him to bed, he told his 13 year old brother that he smelled like bird shit. His brother and I burst out laughing because: 1) Simon said "shit," 2) He's never said "shit" before, 3) How did "bird shit" even pop into his head?, and 4) Who even knows what bird shit smells like? Through my giggles, I managed to tell him that "shit" (okay, it was "Scheiße") was not a nice word to use.

Simon has also started using his "please"s and "thank you"s that I've been trying to enforce for the past two months or so. Yay positive reinforcement!

I'm going to Berlin (finally) next week-end! I'm road-tripping it with two friends and will also be seeing another friend who recently moved there from Cologne. Hopefully there will be lots of pictures and other stuff to share.

At the end of the month, I'll be helping a friend move to Amsterdam. It's a very bittersweet sort-of goodbye. He's been kind enough to invite myself and another friend to spend a long weekend up there in his new appartment, which is about the size of a thimble.

All this inactivity has allowed me to save up for these big trips. I'm really looking forward to it!

I will do my best to post pictures in this post later.