I guess it was bound to happen, sooner or later…..
We’ve lived in Berlin for almost 6 years now. I guess it was only a matter of time before we became “German.” We eat the food; we buy the clothes; we live the life. Kinda like a married couple starting to look alike after they’ve been married awhile. We took a trip to Spain and Portugal. We went into a restaurant in Cascais, Portugal –a very “touristy” town – and the waiter automatically handed us a German menu. I wonder – was it that we were wearing socks with our sandals, or that we had on neck scarves? [Because, at least in Berlin, you’ll see folks wearing scarves around their necks all year long; it may be 85 degrees F, and they may have on short-shorts and no shirt, but they’ll have on a scarf.] Or maybe (at least for me) the genes on my Daddy’s side of the family were showing.
And, after we got back home to Berlin, I saw an article with a headline something like “Why Germany will never lead Europe” and I felt insulted. Alas, the one way I would most like to be German is to have a better command of the language. Sigh…..
Folks often ask us what we miss about our lives in the US, and, first and foremost, it’s the friends and family we left behind and, for the most part, have to interact with via e-mail or Facebook, given the time difference. We sometimes call, because our calling plan gives us unlimited calling to 29 other countries, but by the time folks on the other side of the Atlantic are waking up, we’re starting to wind down. Aside from the folks, there are some foods we miss. And today I got a strong hankerin’ for a pimento cheese sandwich. Sometimes you can put together familiar foods yourself because you can get the ingredients here – such as a hamburger. Ground meat, lettuce, tomato, mustard, mayo, cheese, bacon, and onions are certainly available here and it’s no problem to put a burger together. You can even find tortillas so you can cobble together a few Mexican dishes. But sometimes you can’t even find the ingredients, like cheddar cheese and pimentos for that pedestrian pimento cheese sandwich. Occasionally you can find cheddar cheese, but I’ve not been able to find pimentos. The sad thing is that some grocery stores have “American” sections, but tend to waste shelf space on things like Pop Tarts! PU-LEEZE!!!! And, boy, do I miss seafood!!! Having grown up on the Gulf Coast of southeast Texas, where crawfish grow in your front yard and you can catch your own crabs if you have the time and patience, we were sure spoiled. You can find some seafood here, but it’s incredibly pricey (e.g., just catfish costs about $12 a pound – CATFISH!! And shrimp – last time I dared to look – was about $25 a pound) and often inadequate. (What they call “shrimp” here, we would have called “bait.”) Sigh! But, still, getting to see our son and his family on a regular basis trumps all that.
Being half-deaf has its advantages
My inadequate hearing has given rise to any number of hysterically funny exchanges. So, in addition to not being troubled as much by other folks by things like street noise, I get a few belly laughs that I might not have otherwise had if my hearing were perfect. Like on our trip to Portugal with my cousins, we had a particularly amusing exchange. While living in Singapore, my cousin had adopted a dog from an animal shelter. When they returned to the US, they wanted to take the dog home with them. As it turns out, the airline wouldn’t let them take this particular type of dog on the airplane. Now this dog isn’t any bigger than a minute, and certainly wouldn’t be a threat to anyone on the plane. I heard my cousin say that it was because flying causes breeding problems for this particular type of dog – a Lhaso Apso. I, of course, wondered how flying on an airplane could affect a dog’s breeding capabilities, because I couldn’t imagine why anyone would try to breed their dogs while in flight. Surely dogs had no interest in joining the “Mile High Club.” Well, turns out that what he actually SAID was “breathing problems” (and, since this breed is very expensive, the airlines weren’t the least bit interested in being held liable for its health issues). That certainly cleared things up! By the way, an ingenious solution to the problem of getting the dog on the plane was to go back to the vet and get the dog’s records changed from Lhaso Apsoto “long-haired Chihuahua.” Imagine the intrigue of faking a dog’s passport!
The only logical answer…..
I was caring for our 3-year-old grandson recently. He’s a big fan of vehicles, of every sort and size. (He recently developed a strong attraction to the Lexus and now has his very own.) He had put one of his Lego people on a bus and was moving it along somewhere. I asked him where the Lego man was going and he gave me this incredulous look, as if he couldn’t believe that I didn’t already know where Lego man was going, and said, “Lego Land.” Well, of course! And I’m sure if he were acquainted with the concept of “Duh!” he would have said that, too!
Inarticulate in two languages….
I accept the fact that there are things here in Germany that I don’t have the German word for. But it increasingly comes to my attention that there are things that I don’t have the English word for, either. For example, today I had a physical therapy appointment. In the US, this would have taken place in a huge room, much like a sports club/gym with several folks working with their respective physical therapists. Here, there’s still a largish room (not huge – about as big as 2 average living rooms) but different areas are separated from one another by curtains, and each patient works with a therapist in their own individual area. Of course, this might imply greater privacy, except that you can hear everything everyone else is saying and, from time to time, someone in the adjoining area might actually bump into you through the curtain. The folks who work here call each area a “Kabine” – but wanted to know what the word would be in English. Well, I haven’t the vaguest idea! We wouldn’t really call it a “stall” because that implies something with walls (even if the walls don’t go all the way to the floor or to the ceiling). We might not call it a cubical because that also implies walls (limited though they may be). So, here I am, clearly inarticulate in German (which isn’t surprising) but now also inarticulate in English, which is a horrid realization for someone who spent decades earning a living by writing. Sigh….
Many places have “No Smoking” signs, but Portugal takes it a bit further. Apparently you don’t have to be actually smoking at the time to be denied access to places, such as elevators. Nope! You don’t have to be smoking at the moment; just the fact that you are a smoker means you can’t get on the elevator. The signs say, “No Smokers.”
Surely you jest….
During her last illness, the recently departed Dowager Ms. Electra, our 15-year-old, 8-pound, partially bald Devon Rex kitty, had developed a cough and had trouble keeping her food down, all of which occasioned a trip to the vet. He gave me some pills for each problem. But it appears to be the habit here to give animals human meds, which is cheaper than getting the pet variety. That may seem to be a good idea, except when you have to cut the pills into pieces to get the proper dosage. Cutting a tablet into 2 pieces (especially when it’s designed for that) isn’t a problem. However, to get it into an Electra-sized dosage, the vet told me to cut it into 8ths!!! Imagine trying to cut something the size of a baby aspirin into 8 pieces! So, of course, some of the pieces simply turn to powder and are unusable. At some point, it is NOT cheaper to use human meds because you have to throw so much away. Sigh….
The lady in front of me in the check-out line at the grocery store was on the far side of 90 (or, at least, I hope so, because if she was indeed much younger, it would be sad). But she undoubtedly has a zest for life! The only things she was buying were chocolate and champagne. I hope she has someone to share them with, but even if she doesn’t, I’ve gotta give her props for enjoying life!
I love trees as much – if not more than – the next person. But my love of trees can’t hold a candle to that of the Germans. Berlin is a city of about 3.5 million people, but it’s hard to imagine that it’s that populous because there are so many green spaces. For one thing, if you’re not in walking distance of a park, then it just means that you’re not ambulatory at all. An aerial view of Berlin will show an enormous proportion of green space. I supposed I could get actual statistics on this, but I’m lazy so I’ll just guess that at least half of it is green space of some sort. Most streets are lined with trees. A street may be solid apartment buildings, one connected to another, but it will still have trees on both sides of the street. And they take care of their trees. Certainly the trees lining the streets – in public areas – are even numbered, and periodically you’ll see some official “Tree Police” examining the trees and carefully making notes on their health (e.g., Wartenburgstrasse Tree #69 has dead limbs that need to be removed). When trees eventually die, they are replaced. All this is good stuff, but I am continually puzzled for their love of lining streets with fruit-bearing trees. In particular, our old street was lined with Gingko trees, which are, admittedly, lovely trees. The problem, however, is that their fruit smells like vomited-up dog crap. So the fruit falls on the sidewalk and you have no option except to walk on it, or pull your grocery cart through it, so you have to clean up before you enter your apartment building because you surely don’t want to bring that crap inside. Nonetheless, since most folks don’t have air conditioning, much of the time your windows will be open, allowing the stench of smushed Gingko fruits to invade your flat. Now in the case of these trees, there are both male trees (which don’t bear fruit) and female trees (which do). So, if they wanted to plant Gingko trees, why did they have to plant female trees? Thankfully, we have no Gingko trees in our new neighborhood! The horse chestnut is another tree that is a popular choice for planting along streets, so the sidewalks are often lined with chestnuts, but these aren’t the edible kind. Admittedly, the flowers are lovely in the spring and the chestnuts don’t stink. Further, they provide endless fun for kids, who like to collect them and throw them at each other.
Now here’s something Americans don’t see every day…
A young boy carrying a cricket bat. We picked up our grandkids at school today and one of the students had a cricket bat! And, no, I don’t think that cricket is a German thing. However, the kids’ school is a bi-lingual English-German school, where “English” means “British.” Interestingly enough, many of the folks here – German as well as non-German – look down their noses at American English. However, the “English” teachers at this school are not only British, but also Scottish, Irish, and Australian. Add our American English to the mix (and their own German accent) and it will be truly interesting to see how our grandkids speak English.
What’s in a name….
What would you say if I invited you to our place to share a nice bottle of Burgerspital? It’s pretty pricey, too. Not quite your cup of tea?
My grandkids wanted me to bake them a Kitty Litter cake for their respective birthdays. It’s a cake made of chocolate cake, white cake, vanilla pudding, and crushed vanilla wafers, garnished with partly melted Tootsie Rolls to look like, well, there’s no delicate way to put this —- cat turds. Not having seen Tootsie Rolls here, I brought them back with me on a recent trip to the US. The rest of the ingredients are readily available here in Berlin. There’s one minor problem, though — the recipe calls for a cake mix for “German Chocolate Cake.” Just wonder what such a thing is called here in Germany, though, because, actually, pretty much ALL the chocolate cakes here are “German chocolate.” Not sure what I would even ask for to get what the recipe specifies, which is why I’ve settled for just any ol’ chocolate cake mix.