Archive for the 'Germany' Category

24
Aug
13

Germanised Canadian in reverse culture shock

After 16 years living in Germany, you start to pick up a few German habits.  You don’t cross the intersection when the light is red – it sets a bad example for kids.  You greet colleagues around lunchtime not with hello, but with a cheery Mealtime!  You say hello to everyone waiting already when you walk into the doctor’s waiting room. And whenever you’re at the supermarket checkout counter, or picking up stuff at the cleaners, or dealing with a teller at the bank, you do NOT make idle chit-chat.  In and out with sometimes barely a nod to civility is how it’s done.

So after eight weeks travelling through this great land we call Canada we arrive in the unusually parched Wet Coast west-coast town of Squamish, and it’s time to go to the bank.  I’m out of cash – not an unusual state this time around considering the incredible jump in prices we’ve seen for everything from fish to fowl – so the first morning after we get in I head to the bank, stride up to the teller and ask for my daily withdrawal limit.

After keying in my PIN number she informs me that acquiring the cash will take a minute as the cash must be dispensed from a machine back around a corner, and it’s in need of some sort of re-boot or whatever, and I say that’s OK, and then she asks me, So, do you have any plans for the rest of the day?

I look at her and hesitate that telling half-second which gives me away as someone with as much social savvy as a deer staring at headlights.Canada Osoyoos wildlife deer on trail

As I said, I’m kind of out of practice at this sort of thing, and after 16 years of dealing with German checkout counter ladies and bank tellers, it hits me as if she’s asked me if I’ve tried out that crazy new brand of multicolour condoms with the spiral ticklers.

“Yes, well, uh, I’ve got lots of plans lined up,” and I see out of the corner of my eye that the teller to her right has turned her head to look at me as if to ask herself, gee, he looks like a regular white guy and he’s got no accent, so what’s his problem?

I instantly switch to Canuck mode and try to come back with the breezy-bantery reply you’re supposed to, but it falls flat.

“Well, uh, we’re doing laundry at the moment, actually, it’s the fourth load already.  We let it pile up as we’ve not had a chance to get any done since Canmore and since then we’ve been through the Kootenays and well, you know how it is.

“Well, at least you’ve got a nice sunny day to do it,” she replies, the cash finally having been delivered to her wicket and I can count on the ordeal being over that much sooner.

It’s a good thing the cash came when it did as I was going to add, “and later on I’m taking my Mom to a funeral, well it’s not an actual burial, more of a memorial service for my former principal who passed away, and I was very saddened to hear it and I want to be there.”

I hope October is here soon so we can all start talking about hockey again.

30
Apr
13

Vaginal cream chocolate bar. Yum.

For readers with small children in the area, this post contains words and pictures which acknowledge the existence of sexual organs, so you might want to make the print really, really small.

The red-haired girl has a job for a few months now.  Up to three times a week you can find her at a local pharmacy picking up prescriptions for delivery to customers in the broader neighbourhood.   She gets eight bucks an hour plus tips, which sometimes can be substantial.  I call her our drug-runner.

Yesterday she came home with a package I’m still puzzling over.  Take a look at this:

Vaginetten Myko Kombi chocolate bar Vaginalzäpfchen suppositories

What do you first think of when you see a chocoate bar named Vaginetten?  I know what I think.  Ewwwwww……

Especially when the translation of that fine print at lower left sinks in:

White Chocolate, tenderly melting like Vagisan’s Cremolum Myko Kombi.

Vagisan Myko Kombi white chocolate yumUh, now I get it.  The creamy-white anti-yeast-infection cream suppositories Vagisan vaginal suppositoriesthey’re pushing melt in your hoo-ha just as smoothly as this creamy white chocolate melts in your mouth.

Only people who graduated in the bottom half of their marketing class could have come up with this.    Seriously, what were they thinking?

“I know!  We’ll package up white chocolate bars to give away at pharmacies.  People will pick them up and wonder who could be dumb enough to market vaginal cream with white chocolate, they’ll take it home, take a photo and throw it up on social media.  Voilà!  Free advertising!”

They’re not so stupid after all.

06
Apr
13

Angela Merkel guarantees Muslim kids will not get separate sex sports

Geez, I would like to say more, but the headline says it all:

Germany The Local Toytown no sex sports muslim kids

 

Source:  One sometimes hilariously bad English-language online newspaper 

22
Mar
13

Showering neighbour discovers concept of curtain, doesn’t bother to use it

This is an update of my pissy little pre-ski-holiday-cum-hospital-stay rant about a neighbour directly across from us who seems to enjoy showering for an audience.

Germany Hamburg window with curtainThanks to all those who took the trouble to comment and who gave great advice.  This morning, I am going to take that advice, hobble over there and slip a message under his door.  It probably won’t end up on passive-aggressive notes dot cawm because it won’t be anonymous.  I am going to leave my mobile phone number so he can contact me if he’s got any questions.  It’ll be written in flawed German, but I don’t care.

You see, I was all set this morning to write a light-hearted little story about how our soap-on-a-rope guy now has a curtain covering his bathroom window.  Great!  Someone obviously told him something.

I hadn’t noticed a curtain there before.  Upon discovery, one of the first things I thought was that he put it there because – as we also recently discovered – he has a girlfriend!  Or is it his wife?  In any case, while standing behind my seated wife over this past weekend – weight all on the left leg, of course – giving her a neck massage, a figure with shower nozzle in hand displaying all the attributes of a female appeared in the window.  Those attributes swayed.  They brushed the window.  They were, in fact, not bad to look at.  I was going to dash over to the other room to get my camera for posterity – or perhaps anteriority – but knew that in my present condition she’d be dry by the time I retrieved the camera and got in position to get a decent shot away.

In any event, just as I was in the middle of writing that post  I realised I had to start all over, because as I raised my head to look outside – there he was.

Curtain brushed aside.  Same lather, different day.

If he has a curtain, why doesn’t he use it?

Now to translate that into German.

19
Mar
13

jumping through hoops to get rehab

You never really learn how things really operate until you have to deal with them yourself.

All I want is some decent rehab programme, something to make sure I can walk again without a limp after ripping the body’s largest tendon and rendering my right leg useless for the time being.

Ian half-way home to HamburgMy regular doctor was telling me enthusiastically last week about a clinic where I could get a full morning programme of daily physio once the 6-week no-touch rule is over and I can finally take off this dead-weight brace it’s been so fun to drag around.

But when I went Monday to the specialist surgeon to whom he’d referred me to have the stitches removed and we later talked about physio, all he was able to offer me was a referral for two half-hour sessions a week.  The absolute bare-bones minimum available.  In Germany’s two-class healthcare system, if you’re a private patient you get silver service, no questions asked.  If you’re on statutory cover – in German gesetzlich – well, take a number, eh?  Nothing new there.

So this morning I went back to my regular doctor and told him of the enormous gap between what he was talking about and what the specialist gave me.

“Hmmmm…. let me do some quick phoning around and I’ll call you back in later,” he said.

Twenty minutes later he tells me the deal: in order to get rehab, I have to go first apply for it through the bureau that deals with pension issues.   Pension?  That’s the rapidly dwindling sum I’ll get when I retire, isn’t it?  I thought this was medical.

“It is,” he explained, “but your healthcare provider is responsible for your time off work.  They pay for that.  Your rehab is paid for by the pension people.”

The things you learn.

So he gives me a referral for a rehab clinic, reminding that I’ll first have to call the Hamburg pension administration bureau, who will set the ball in motion.

Knowing that sounded just a little to easy for words, I ask for and receive a direct number to call, some tips on what to say, and a merry send-off home.

The number they gave me was not in service.

Digging the right number out of the Internet, I wait on hold for the usual 10 minutes before speaking with a woman who informs me that my pension is administered not in Hamburg, but by the federal office in Berlin.  When I ask for the number in Berlin, thinking this is probably a routine thing,  I get an answer as cold as this late winter and probably as much as I should have expected: you can go find it yourself.

So I dig out the number soon enough and call the Federal Pensions Office and jump through the usual number-choice hoops before speaking with a woman who guides me through pages and sub-pages to the right forms to download and fill out.

There are seven separate forms totalling 17 pages.   Many repeat the same questions in a different way.  Some don’t apply to me, but I have to check a box anyway.  One ominous one involved giving my bank account details to permit them to extract any fees I might have.  No mention of what these fees might be for, or how much they are.

I don’t know why it has to be this complicated, but I suspect they do it this way to turn off those people who are intimidated by officialdom.  There must be a percentage out there who give up before even trying.

After filling all the forms that pertain to me, I have to take the bundle to my doctor to fill out stuff that pertains to them, then take that bundle to my healthcare provider who will fill out more little boxes, then I get to go to the post office and send the bundle off to Berlin.

Right now I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes so long to get approval, I’ll have long since passed the point at which rehab will do any good.

26
Feb
13

Is it legal in Germany to shower nude in front of the window for all to see?

I’ve nothing against nudity.  I’m nude quite a lot, especially in the German sauna, sharing space with genders masculine, feminine, and neuter

But there’s a time and space for everything, and this morning, I said to myself, enough’s enough.  Why do we have to avoid our front window every morning because we don’t want to suffer the sight once again of some asscrack who lives in an apartment across the courtyard on the same level as ours drying off his package?

If he were schlendering around the sauna landscape looking for his flip-flops while he flipped and flopped around, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash.

But the window is as a thin layer that separates little from the public space and the private, especially when it’s dark out and you’re standing in a room with all the lights on.

So if it’s normally not legal to be walking around nude in public, is it legal to do so in your own space for all to see?

Do we have to put up with this?  I don’t engage my German-resident readers enough even when I’m blogging regularly, but I’m asking you now: what do you know about cases like this?  Can we do or say anything or is he free to carry on as he pleases?

23
Jan
13

Grinding it out with a grain mill

Germany HaWo Kornmühle grain mill wideOne of the first things I noticed about my wife K’s kitchen in Hong Kong was this big, blocky wooden thing in the corner near the back door leading out to the terrace.

“What’s THIS?” I asked, flipping a globular wooden knob back and forth.

“It’s a grain mill,” she said.  “A friend brought it from Germany for me.”

That really floored me.  Her flat was actually quite spacious by the cramped standards of Hong Kong, but the kitchen was little more than a narrow corridor wedged between an oversized living room and the tiny, windowless room we stored stuff in, but was designed as the maid’s bedroom.  We may have been cooking with gas, but you had to be really organised or you’d quickly run out of counter room.  You could stretch your arms across and touch both walls it was so small, so this glorified hunk of wood seems like the last thing you’d need.

But she swore by the results she got by grinding her own whole wheat flour, and I couldn’t much argue after she served up some Kaffee und Küchen for the first time. 

In Hamburg we have a much bigger kitchen, so the mill seems to take up a lot less room on our counters, and after 22 years it still gets used a lot, especially the last couple of years or so that I’ve been baking bread regularly.Germany HaWo Kornmühle grain mill cleaning

It’s a German product, dependable and built to last out of solid beech, but you have to take it apart once in a while to give it a thorough cleaning or it starts to look a little ratty.

On the inside you’ll find a powerful motor and millstones made of a hardened ceramic.  The first time I turned loose all the bolts and separated the parts to clean was after it hadn’t been used in a few months.

There were a few bug skins clinging to the walls of the flour chute and around the grinding face, which was a bit of a YUCK moment, but once it was scrubbed clean, put back together and burnished with linseed oil, it looked good as new.

For grain I head to the organic food store.  I’ve ground a variety of grains over the years, but usually stick to wheat because that’s what the bread recipes I use call for.  The only thing I’ve not tried is corn, because I’ve never found corn kernels that specially say they’re for making corn flour, but what I’d love to do is grind some corn to see if I can make some whole grain polenta from it.

Germany HaWo Kornmühle grain mill settingsThe manufacturer’s website has a variety of mills to choose from, and I like the fact they still make the exact model we own.  Their website gives you a bit of sticker shock, though.  Our model will set you back €454, but they’re guaranteed for 10 years.  Like I said, they’re built to last, so you should have it at least as long as we have with regular care.

If you want to see it running in this video, turn your sound down!  It is a bit of a noisy thing:

12
Nov
12

my bike split in half in the middle of the street

Well, it wasn’t my bike.  It was wife K’s, but I use it when out running errands.

Crossing at a busy intersection just before noon today – on the green – thinking about how much I’m looking forward to the rest of my day off and about my mountain biking holiday coming up this Friday, and three weeks in Newfoundland next summer, what I should get K for Christmas, and all those sorts of things that just rattle through your head when you’re not focused on anything in particular, when all of a sudden WHAM! The bike simply falls out from under me.

In a flash I’m hitting the ground and land in a heap on the back half of the bike, the front half splayed out in front like some wheezed-out mule.

It just split in two.  Just like that.

Sinking to the pavement in the blink of an eye is the last thing you’d expect to happen at any time of day, so for a second or two I just lay there feeling like I’d suddenly found myself underwater, confused as hell and not comprehending.

I get up and realise I’m scraped on the elbow and knees, but I’m more shocked and bewildered than anything.  I look around and a lady is asking if I’m all right, another picks up and hands me the air pump that popped from its mooring and skidded away, and then HONK!  HONK!  Some prick behind the wheel on the cross-street figures I’m taking too long clearing what’s left of the bike off the street, so I should just get the hell out of the road.

Then the cops come over.

I’d seen the pair of them while approaching the intersection, all decked out in their police biking gear and e-bikes to boot.  It’s a tall man and a short woman.

“Did you see that?” I ask the man.

“No,” he says, “but looking at your bike – I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Are you injured?” the woman asks me.

“Naw,” I say, pulling up my pant leg, “I’m more shocked than anything.  I just can’t believe it.”

By now the male cop is taking out his iPhone and taking photos of the wreck that was wife K’s bike, purchased three and a half years ago after hers got stolen, and only three days ago outfitted with a new front light and internal hub generator.  He says he’ll send them to me the photos in a day or two.

“Guess I’ll have to take this in to the shop where I bought it and get them to replace the frame,” I say.

That’s what I did this afternoon.

They were pretty shocked to see the wreck that was a bike as I wheeled it in, the two halves still connected by the brake and gear cables.

I hope they replace the frame at least. It’s just had normal riding around town, nothing out of the ordinary.

30
Oct
12

Area man sorts through his sock drawer

Realising that he was 15 minutes late to work the other day because he couldn’t find a matching sock despite a collection of more than 60 pair, area man Bob Frapples, 52, is sorting through his sock drawer.   Frapples, a research scientist with the Institute of Applied Institutional Applications in Hamburg, Germany, says the task he faces is an immense one.

“Look, maybe I’m going fucking colour-blind in my old age, but I just can’t tell them apart anymore,” he laments.  “I mean, look at these things.  One’s blue, the other’s dark blue, that one’s black… you know, I’ve got better things to do that piss around on my day off sorting through socks.”

Frapples is not alone. In a recent poll, 65% of German men said they gave up finding a matching pair the other day and actually put on their Birkenstocks without socks, a major male fashion faux pas in a country that leads the developed world in awkward ways to dress.

Another survey found 35% of men would rather spend money on new socks rather than spend the time sorting through their old ones.

Specialists in the field of household psychology pin the problem on the pervasiveness of technology in modern life.

“People just figure they’ll be able to download some app for this sort of thing one day like they do for everything else, so they let their socks just sit there in the drawer, forever unsorted and ultimately unused,” said Bill Melater, Ph.D.  “Then they find they’re neglecting other household tasks, like getting around to doing the laundry or finally fixing that damned handle on the bathroom door that never seems to close properly.”

Economists have also picked up on the trend and say the growing under-utilisation of sockage in the market might be countered by external forces that will determine whether socks in the future get sorted.

“You might actually begin to entertain the idea,” said Gudeggs Getlaid of the London School of Economics, “that it is starting to look like the initial stages of a budding appearance of a growing societal trend wherein market demand for a strategic fit in the realm of sock drawer logistics is determined not by whether one ends up with two socks that actually match, but…oh…  Oh shit.   I’m terribly sorry. Where was I?”

iPhone developers have picked up on the trend.  One group is now working on an app that could revolutionise the world of sock drawers and free up untold millions of hours now wasted on sorting.

“Alls ya godda do is point the iPhone at your sock drawer, and the app’ll do the rest, OK?” said an excited app man at some Starbucks somewhere. “The app will analyse the colours and sizes, then suggest paired matches on your screen.”

Frapples says he couldn’t be arsed with the iPhone or experts for that matter as he spreads his drawer out over half his living room.  An organised man, his socks are now neatly ordered one beside the other according to length, not colour.

“That breaks it down a bit,” he said on a break for lunch three hours in.   “I figure with my system in place, I’ll be done before it’s time to head to work tomorrow morning.  I’ve already warned my wife that the living room’s a construction zone ’til the job’s over.”

Frapples has brought in extra lighting from neighbouring rooms to help out in the task.  “That helps to tell the difference between dark blue and dark-blue-but-not-that-dark-blue-could-be-black-for-all-I-know,” he said.

So far his method has resulted in about 20 matches.

18
Sep
12

The quick weight-loss biking diet

Starting weight: 77Kg, the stubborn remnant of a two-week trip three months ago back home to British Columbia, during which I made too many visits with mom to White Spot and other fine purveyors of fat.

Achieved goal: 74Kg.

Diet: Two all-natural peanut-butter-and-honey-sandwiches on homemade seed bread, two generous slices of Panforte made from a recipe by David the American pastry chef in Paris, two dozen dates, two slices of dense, home-made apple cake the recipe of which I do not have because my sister-in-law offered them to me and I didn’t ask, two generous handfuls of mixed nuts, or what they call here in Germany: Student Feed.

One 500ml bottle of Weizenbier.

Six litres of water.

12 and a half hours’ worth of fresh air

Biking: Pump your tires to maximum recommended pressure.  Check and oil the chain if need be.  Wear bike shorts!  If you’re setting out to ride 185Km in one day – about three times what you’re used to –  you want your tush to be comfy.

Have a blinking light for the rear to display even during the daytime to turn on for those portions of the trip you’ll be riding along roads with no shoulder and traffic screaming by at 100km/h.

Bring toilet paper.  Beware of stinging nettles.

Get up at daybreak and have a couple cups of coffee, then get going.  You want to arrive before sundown.  It might help to bring a map.

Ride along a set path you’ve studied carefully both online and in various maps from just north of Osnabrück to Buxtehude through farmers’ fields, moorscape, beech forests, pine forests, along narrow paved roads lined with centuries-old oak, past cornfields, tobacco fields, ancient barns, haystacks and wedding announcements made of haystacks.

You’ll also be greeted by great, gagging waves of concentrated, liquified pig manure as you continue through the endless green and over railway tracks, six-lane Autobahn and bridges great and small, get lost a couple of times, curse under your breath at the uselessness of viamichelen.com which recommends you take a right down Doktorstrasse in some Hintertürverkehr town that ends in a cul-de sac blocked by a 150-year-old building, find your way again, get lost again, finally get on the right track and continue through ever-changing landscape dotted with pheasant, deer, hare, birds of prey, herons, dairy cows, sheep, horses, chickens and many, many cats out on the prowl for that elusive rodent.

Give up trying to count the number of wind turbines you pass.

Curse once again viamichelin.com for listing streets you must take, when, in fact, the street either does not exist or is not posted on any sign.

Ask locals for directions.  They are friendly and helpful!

Thank the fact you’re travelling northeast and getting pushed the whole way with prevailing winds, without which the trip would be unthinkable.

Curse yourself for having left your camera’s memory chip in the computer, so all you have is 8Kb of internal memory with which to take a few incredibly crappy photos for this post.

Thank that you had the good sense to buy a new mountain bike to replace the one you rode to Bremen in the opposite direction.

Stop and have lunch on a bed of dry, crackling beech leaves looking up at the blanket of foliage blocking out the daylight and marvel that in only a few weeks it will all be gone and the long northern winter you’ve been trying so hard not to think about will surely be upon us.

Ignore pains in the knee and the feeling you might be developing a Charley horse in both thighs.  Breathe deeply.

Call your wife and ask her to take that bottle of beer out of the basement and stick it in the fridge because you want to think about it sitting there waiting as a reward for your day’s efforts.

Don’t tell her your legs hurt.

Ask yourself just how many kilometres getting lost and having to swing around to find the proper route added on to the official total of 185km.  Arrive at a round number of 200km, give or take five.

Ask yourself if cycling so far in one day is that much of a good idea.

Weigh yourself the next morning.  Voilà!  Three Kg. lighter.

This diet is not recommended for anyone over the age of 3 unless accompanied by a desire just to find out if you really can do it.




The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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