Category Archives: Friends

So Long, Goodbye, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

To this day there is something illusionistic and illusory about the relationship of time and space as we experience it in traveling, which is why whenever we come home from elsewhere we never feel quite sure if we have really been abroad.

W.G. Sebold, Austerlitz

And with that, I find myself come full circle.  What began with a seven-hour layover at Newark Airport ends in a seven-hour layover at Newark Airport.  It’s an odd feeling being back here, as though this year never really happened.  It doesn’t feel as though I just lost a city; it doesn’t feel like I will never watch the boats go by on that bit of the Rhine again; it doesn’t even feel like I can confidently speak again – a few people ventured a safe small talk conversation starter, and I just sucked.  Blatantly.

I was thinking about this on the plane ride over – how, if this year already just feels sort of dreamlike, what did I really take away from it?  Resume filler, sure; a working knowledge of German (which, two hours into America, I already feel slipping), of course.  But what I think it really comes down to is this: I learned how to be independent.  I navigated German bureaucracy, a school system, foreign cities.  I talked to police, to a newspaper reporter, to students, and I found myself for the first time on the other side of the great student/teacher divide, which was exhilarating, frightening, frustrating, and rewarding all at once.

But more than that, I learned how to be completely and utterly dependent: I relied on the teachers at my school for so, so much – that they would take me into their classrooms and often, their homes.  They found my own apartment for me, showed me around the area, lent me furniture, gave me late-night rides back home, and opened up a side of the culture I never would have known about otherwise.  I relied on homefolk to keep me sane.

I think I also learned a bit about appreciation, and I don’t mean of fine wines (although I did plenty of that this year, just more in a “Mmm, I like white wine” moreso than in a “this has a hint of oak and finishes with a bouquet of raspberry blossoms and midnight rain” sort of way).  You know that phrase, “Expect the best, prepare for the worst”?  Well, my own personal take on that is “Expect the worst, panic about every foreseeable scenario in which things go wrong to Joe.”  If a plane can be cancelled, it will be.  If my paycheck is late, it’s not coming at all.  And so (by my mentality), in a year where so much could have gone wrong, I learned how to be so thankful of what didn’t go wrong: Joe still likes me.  I never had a health issue and had to figure out insurance/German medical system.  Friends and family came to visit.  Fulbright didn’t kick me out for not living up to their standards and send me home in disgrace.  I happened to be placed in the same tiny town with Beth, who became one of my best friends.  So far, my flights haven’t been cancelled.

Also, I learned how to spend obscene amounts of free time alone, which  means, by extension, I am now really, really good at Minesweeper.

And if I can do 67 seconds without a mouse, I shudder to think what I'll do with one.

But back to the thankfulness thing.  I wanted to, in conclusion of my year and of my blog, thank you all for showing some interest in my year.  I hope you enjoyed the blog; I definitely enjoyed knowing you were reading  – but not as much as I’ll enjoy getting to see you and speak good ol’ American English with you, which I’m sure we’ll do soon.

As a side note  (or more accurately, as an end note), I wore my Razorback shirt today, feeling it was appropriate, and I’m not sure what I was expecting: that I’d land and some stranger at the airport would be like “Hey, Woo Pig, am I right?” and then we’d like, chest bump or whatever it is that sports fans do, but instead, here’s what my homecoming was: one lady eyed me and I could tell she wanted to comment on my shirt, but instead of an “Oh, did you go to the U of A?” it was a “Were you by chance in Tuscany?  We saw shirts like that for sale there.”  And then the guy at passport control glanced at my passport, and said “Lori from Ar-Kansas, welcome back.”

It was just the way my German students pronounce it, which made me smile – I felt like it was a farewell to Germany and a hello to the USA all at once.

With the other Fulbrighters from Rheinland-Pfalz on a Ferris Wheel at Johannisfest in Mainz last weekend

One final "Zum Wohl" on the Rhine with Bethlein

Europe and Tulsa: A Comprehensive Comparative Study

The end is nigh.

With two weeks to go, the regrets are just starting to sink in: why didn’t I go to Croatia?  why didn’t I teach a single student the Hog Call?  why didn’t my blog go viral?  why did I eat all the chocolates that were meant to be souvenirs?

So, in a last-ditch effort to make myself feel like I spent the year using my weekends to travel to far-off lands, I finally ventured over the border.  Twice.  Mind you, I live here:

which means the border is here:

which means that “venturing over the border” is the European equivalent of doing this:

Still, there are some differences between crossing the border to go to Belgium or the Netherlands and crossing the border to go to Tulsa.  For starters, day tripping to Tulsa does not necessitate that my travel companions and I pool all our piecemeal knowledge of French together as we did when we ventured into Liege, where surprisingly, refreshingly, little English is spoken, and where, needless to say, they were not altogether impressed by our rounds of Frère Jacques or by my ability to sing the countries surrounding France en Française to the tune of Jingle Bells (shout out to 9th grade French classmates!).

Another point of comparison: Belgian waffles are sugar-studded manna, whereas Tulsan waffles come from Waffle House.

This past weekend saw a dip into the Netherlands, where I visited a friend who lives in the loveliest spot I visited this year, Leiden, and took a day trip to Amsterdam, where I neither smoked pot nor visited a brothel, but where I fell in love with the city regardless.  It was a perfect place for a long wander: watching boats on canals, ducking into shops selling cheese and Delfts pottery, strolling

Hey! You! You there with the bike full of bikes, there are bikeless people in Tulsa!

around markets, wondering what acts of kindness Holland’s inhabitants committed in a previous life to get born here in this one.  The people are beautiful and every single one of them seems so naturally bilingual, the place is just as picturesque as you imagine, pickled herring is easy enough to avoid, they sell tulip bulbs in the streets, and they seem to have made a national sport out of transporting all three of your darling children, this week’s groceries, and your family dog all while on your bike, dodging obstacles like that other guy who’s biking while texting, as he pulls a second bike alongside him with his free hand.  Tulsa, meanwhile, has made a national sport out of being my least favorite road trip destination.

The view from Sara's room

Denglish Dines: The First Installment

As promised earlier this week, here’s my first edition of telling you what I’m eating on Wednesday nights, now officially titled “Denglish Dines” (a title not approved of by the boyfriend, who, when I ran the name by him, only whined “Lori, why does everything have to be alliterative with you?”  Dear, don’t dispute that my diction is downright my decision, and your dissension only makes me more determined).  Alternatively, depending on how you feel about alliteration, this could be titled, “Why I’m Not a Food Writer.”

So, Beth came over, which was a nice change from no one coming over ever, and we attempted a recipe found at The Pioneer Woman, Savory Tomato and Feta Crostata, which is fancy-speak for girly pizza.

Essentially, it’s  a flour and basil crust, filled with cottage cheese, feta, egg, and oregano, and topped with tomatoes “layered in concentric circles,” “concentric” obviously being the operative term.  It was mediocre, we both decided; better than the rice we enjoy every other night of the week, but not exactly the aromatic Mediterranean dish suggestive of Grecian sunshine and sea breezes we were hoping for.  The flavors just weren’t coaxed out to their full potential: the fresh basil in the crust was lost in a dusty poof of flour; the cheeses didn’t pack a punch.  “Needs onion,” I mumbled through a mouthful, but that’s not a critique unique to this recipe, it’s just what I say about most foods.

So much for "decoratively crimped edges."

By no means a failure, but my favorite bit may have been discovering that the only way to buy basil at my grocery store is in a little pot, so I walked the whole way back to my house with my nose buried in the basil pot.  So earthy!  So alive! So refreshing, like the first whiff upon walking into Ozark Natural Foods!  Such a world away from the cold, gray German winter, so suggestive of Grecian sunshine and sea breezes!

But, like all good things, my basil pot too had to come to an end, and a scraggily one at that.

Wait, did I say the best bit was the basil pot?  I take that back, for the best bit was watching Sense and Sensibility during the chilling/cooking/cooling periods this recipe calls for (what a diva a crust can be), and by “watching Sense and Sensibility,” I clearly mean googling pictures of the guy who plays Willoughby, because really.

I mean, really.

Also, he’s married to Emma Thompson, which makes me love her and hate her all the more.  They even met on the set.  I bet HE didn’t mind that Sense and Sensibility is alliterative.

Anyway, tonight’s recipe is found below, and remember, it’s best when served with an unseasonal fruit salad (I just couldn’t resist those strawberries), complemented with a markedly mediocre wine, and followed by a handful of cheap sugar wafers. Continue reading

False Friends

I suppose, with a title like that, I’m supposed to start this post with some juicy sentence like, “This past year, I’ve figured out who my true friends are,” but I get so lonely here, I simply don’t have the luxury of weeding out friends at the moment.

Also, I’m not fourteen.  And I like my friends.

This title, of course, is referring to false friends of the linguistic sort, those backstabbing, two-faced, lying son-uffa-gun words that seem like they would have the same meaning in both German and English.  And there are so dang many cognates and loanwords between the two languages, seeing as English stems largely from Germanic roots, and more recently, English thought it would return the favor and stage a mass takeover of the German language, for which Germans everywhere are quite welcome.  You hear it everywhere: Outdoor-Event, To-do List, Inlineskaten, Wanderlust, Wiener. In some ways, German can almost be comical to the English ear, like it’s almost-but-not-quite English.  “Komm hier” sounds nearly identical to its English counterpart, “come here.”  You don’t need me around to tell you that “Die Familie singt und das Baby trinkt Milch” is “The family sings and the baby drinks milk,” although das Baby could also have  had Alkohol, Bier, or Wein without losing a single English-speaker among us, although it may have lost the MADD members among us.

But then, there’s the other words.  The words that lure you in with their dashing good looks and their debonair charm, only to dash your hopes of establishing a fulfilling and long-term relationship when they turn out to be a total jerk.  Words like handy.  Seems innocent enough, right?  Handy, like, he’s good with his hands, a handyman!  But something went horribly wrong when that word found its way into German: Handy, auf Deutsch, is cell phone.  Drat.

So then I wrote a poem (which can be a Lyric, whereas “lyrics,” unfortunately, are “Liedtexte.” But “text” is “Text,” so I guess that makes up for it.):

A friend is a Freund; German’s a breeze
‘Til you realize your friends are masked enemies.

Backen is bakin’ and kochen is cookin’,
But Chef is boss, and snack is Happen.

A Herd‘s not a herd; instead it’s a stove,
Although herd is Herde; I know, I know.

An Oldtimer‘s not grandpa, it’s just an old car
And wide is breit while weit is far.

Gymnasium is high school, that one’s a doozy
And receipt and Rezept are nothing but floozies.

And so what is the moral of this too-tragic tale?
Gift is not a present, but poison; farewell.

Wah-waaah.  Any favorite false friends of your own, all you polyglots out there?  Or, alternatively, any public shaming you want to do of the actual false friends in your life?  Leave it in the comments; that’s totally appropriate.

Over the Fluss and Through the Wald

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving in Germany?  Or even more pressing, what is Germany thinking in not having Thanksgiving?  Sure, sure, Germany doesn’t have the tale of pilgrims-meet-indians-and-flourish-in-a-short-lived-but-heartwarming-coexistence, but surely it sees value in eating yourself into a gravy-induced stupor, the only coherent words coming from you at this point being “Well maybe one more sliver a pie’ll do me.” Which brings me to this: What is Germany thinking in not having pie?

Luckily for me, Thanksgiving wasn’t too hard to procure.  The Fulbright Alumni Association in Frankfurt hosts an “American style” Thanksgiving every year, featuring a whole turkey for every table!  And they tried.  They did.  All the components were there: the sweet potatoes, just served in boiled wedges, not mashed with brown sugar and pecans.  The stuffing, they just had the nerve to not serve my grandma’s.  The green beans, just served mixed with herbs and cauliflower rather than with the subtle compliments of cream of mushroom

Fulbright Thanksgiving, which pales in comparison to my family's Thanksgiving, as indicated by the poor lighting, poor photo editing, and not-quite-appetizing coloring of this photograph.

soup and fried onions.  The mashed potatoes, except… okay, here’s where they really missed the mark.  All of these sides came out in small-ish bowls, and we helped ourselves family-style.  When they brought out the mashed potatoes, Beth leaned in to me and whispered, “Wait, we each get our own bowl, right?”  No such luck.  The bottom layer of my plate was decidedly not mostly mashed potato.

Really though, it was wonderful that the Fulbright Association hosted this meal: it is, in a microcosmic sort of way, indicative of what this year has meant to me.  Living abroad is, by default, the cultural exchange J.W. Fulbright wanted this program to be; every day involves some amount of reassessing what I’m used to in America, and seeking some way of making it work here, if not foregoing it completely, or conversely, improving upon it.  A car?  I’ll make do with a bike.  It’s my American life, Germanized, as this dinner was an American dinner, Germanized – and when it comes down to it, I’m of the mind that pre-dessert schnapps wouldn’t be a bad tradition to implement in my own future Thanksgiving feasts.

But, appreciative as we were, we American Teaching Assistants were not to be satiated by a German attempt at our favorite meal; lacking a proper feast, we would do it ourselves, and this time, it will be smothered in gravy and bound by cheesy sauces, and there will be a regulation amount of mashed potatoes.  So, we did just that, and I’m quite impressed by our resourcefulness.  We deviled

A Thanksgiving plate with all the fixins' properly piled

our eggs, we stuffed our mushrooms, we made made rather than open a can made cranberry sauce (a revelation), we had Stove Top stuffing compliments of Joe and the postal service (which still had the nerve to not be my grandma’s), we topped our green beans with fried onions.  And it was delicious.  There’s that sense of comraderie I’d been missing, as we ate until we all slumped in our seats, and as we took a walk around Bingen, and as we went back to Beth’s for seconds.

That sense of comraderie was negated the next morning, when I got up at 4 in the morning, expecting to hit up some sweet deals at the Kaufhaus, and maybe hit a few Bingeners in a struggle for the last half-priced souvenir bierstein.  Imagine my disappointment to find they don’t celebrate Schwarzer Freitag here, either.

So that, I suppose, takes me to where every Thanksgiving blog should wind up: a list of what I’m thankful for this year (please excuse my sap).

  1. Thanksgiving.  What a wonderful concept for a holiday, which I take for granted when I’m stateside.
  2. America, which I also take for granted when I’m stateside.
  3. A fantastic group of Fulbrighters here, if their willingness to come together and transport casseroles and cookie doughs via train for a Thanksgiving dinner isn’t indication enough of how fantastic they are.
  4. A fantastic group of friends back home, who make the thought of getting back to America that much more attractive.
  5. A wonderful family and a best friend of a brother; sometimes I can’t believe my luck in winding up with them.
  6. A boyfriend who ships me Stove Top and who didn’t bat an eye when I told him I’d be leaving for a year, and who hopefully sticks with me despite being stuck at a measly number 6 on the “What I’m Thankful For” list.
  7. This experience, which has given me a chance to live in a beautiful part of the world, experience things in a new way, meet new people, develop new skills, and reinforce that this is not what I want to do or where I want to live forever.  I love it, but I am incredibly thankful that this year has not brought up some identity crisis I’d have to struggle with; instead, I only feel more strongly that library science is the route I want to take – and having some sort of rough outline of the future, even if this isn’t it, is definitely something to be thankful for.
  8. You, for reading.  Thanks for taking some interest in my year.

Happy Turkey Sandwich Week.  That bit, at least, I don’t miss.

The History of America in Half an Hour

This week, I was asked to present the history of America.  You know, all of it.  This is complicated for a number of obvious reasons: how do you make a lecture like this interactive? (My solution: you pass out Halloween candy beforehand and hope that counts).  How do you talk about the history of America when you yourself haven’t really learned it since 7th grade, and even then, you only made it up to the Industrial Revolution? (My solution: cramming like I was preparing for a high school civics exam).  How do you talk about the war period to German students without parroting your American History for Dummies book, which has this to say on the topic: “Sometimes a fight can’t be avoided, particularly when it seems half the world is being run by monsters.  (…) Americans respond magnificently”?  (My solution: assume they know the sitch, and after a short explanation, ask if they have any questions or comments they’d like to make about German-American relations.  Any suggestions from the peanut gallery on this one?).  And lastly and most bafflingly, how do you choose what’s pertinent between Indians and Afghanistan, while speaking to a group of teenagers with a low level of English comprehension, without presenting a spiel of simplified American mythology that sounds like “So these Pilgrims came and then they fought the British, but then the South was mad, so they fought the North, but the slaves were still mad and that’s why there was the Civil Rights Movement.  Also, there were hippies and a Dust Bowl”?  (My solution: you don’t).

America, explained.

Needless to say, I have a newfound respect for historians… and for the German education system.  The students knew about Christopher Columbus, sure, but I had students who also knew about plantations, about Rosa Parks, and about the Confederacy, which simultaneously impressed me and made me concerned about the popular perception of world history in America, which consists almost entirely of the Romans and Hitler.  And Communists, but only in the sense that Obama may or may not be one.  (Disclaimer: I’m kidding, not inviting political comments).

In our defense, the students didn’t know about several pressing issues in American culture; they were completely taken aback by Black Friday.  Let’s not dwell too long on how Black Friday managed its way into an American history lesson (it involved some well-developed thought process like pilgrims -> Thanksgiving -> Black Friday).

The funny thing, though, is the dichotomy between who I am in the classroom (large and in charge), and who I am in the teacher’s lounge (timid and… invalid?  Shouldn’t have attempted that one, I see in retrospect).  You see, it takes just as much effort to talk to me as it does for me to talk, my German being so inadequate, and so I’m naturally always a bit confused as to what, exactly, is going on.  This experience of being half-in, half-out of the know is an interesting one: it’s a challenge, it’s frustrating, and as I found out last night, it can be a bit lonely.

I went on a Wandertag yesterday with the teachers, sort of an after-school-teachers-only field trip, which was wonderful.  We traveled up the Rhine via boat for a bit, disembarked in this perfectly cozy town with the silliest of names, Assmannshausen, took a ski left up to the top of the

Assmannshausen

mountain, hiked through spectacularly-colored woods, stopped at a few overlooks with stunning views of Bingen, and ended up in Ruedesheim, the town opposite Bingen, for dinner and wine.  It was a great little excursion – the first time I’ve been able to cross the Rhine, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while now.  Sometimes I fancied myself as some provincial peasant who doesn’t have the means to leave her little village, and so spends her time wondering just what’s around that bend in the river – until yesterday.

In other words, sometimes I fancied myself as Belle.

Post-harvest Vineyards; Ruedesheim in the distance (Bingen's across the river)

But back to my point.

It was a great experience, but sitting around the dinner table with a group of teachers, watching them act like friends do around a dinner table, it hit me with all the weight of the schnitzel on my plate how much I miss being able to do that – to go out with a little group of people I know and love, to competently tell stories, to not have to think about words or pronunciation or tenses to convey an idea.  Also, it strikes me more and more how far I am from coming into my own here, and how formidable a task learning a language is.

But failing that, maybe I’ll set my sights on more do-able goals, like riding a bike like the Germans do.  To help me illustrate the obstacles encountered on a typical German bike ride, we see a return of the ever-popular Family Circus-style map:

“Whatever the heck these things are” symbolize, of course, a series of bars meant, I suppose, to deter motor vehicle-ists from entering the given bike path, and while the Germans whiz through them like they’re wizards at Platform 9 and 3 Quarters, these bars interrupt my bike ride, causing me to do some awkward teeter-totter-topple-wobble dance as I shimmy my way through.

But, failing that goal, maybe I’ll give up on besting those bike bars, and set my sights on a real German bike bar:

Of Pillows and Police

Friday night was a disturbing one: my next-door-neighbor began to while away the hours, all night long, by emitting the occasional yowl, which caused me, in turn, to run every single highly-unlikely-to-impossible scenario through my mind.  Is he trapped? Injured? Grieving? Did his wife finally sign the divorce papers (because, I’ve already concluded, why else would a middle-aged man choose to live in this dingy hole of a flat?)?  Did he trap himself in his shower?  Did he lop off a leg?  Has he managed to  start a fire with one of his two hot plates, and can’t escape because the door is locked, Sims-style?   Is he – oh horror – nuts?

So, in the morning, I did what any guileless stranger in a strange land might do, and gave to Polizei a ring (an aside: I asked to speak in English, thinking this was no time to try out my German, but as it turns out, my German was better than his English, so German it was – which is either validating, or cause for concern, or maybe both).  But as I was waiting… and waiting… for the police, my neighbor left his apartment, most assuredly unmurdered and by no means chained to his toilet.  (“Drat! There goes my evidence, limbs and all!” thought I).  The police came, and told me he was probably drunk, effectively employing the international symbol for “drunk,” which is, of course, the international symbol for “telephone” flipped on its side.

And that was that.  Beth, the other Fulbrighter in Bingen, and I had made plans to spend the day in Mainz, the nearest city, almost entirely in hopes of finding

One more failed photo search: I was trying to find German-themed bedding, but apparently the only nation with gumption enough to design something so blatantly nation-centric is, well, our own.

pillows.  Not sure what it is about German sleeping habits, but evidently, fluffy, supportive pillows are a non-essential.  And so it follows, our flat, limp pillows, twice- and thrice-folded, are not doing magical things for our necks, and, I’ve found, they provide very little buffer against neighbors’ drunken yowling.

However, we were several hour delayed, thanks to the police taking their own sweet time, which actually turned out to be wonderfully serendipitous.  As Beth and I forged our way blindly through Mainz (neither of us being much for things like directions, pah), we heard the most unexpected, most beautiful of sounds: our names.  Out loud.  In a foreign city.  What? And, lo and behold, heading our way, a wild pack of Fulbrighters, ablaze in all their glory.  Needless to say, all pillow plans were hastily discarded in favor of having company, a novel concept to us isolated Bingeners.  We spent the rest of the day traipsing from museum to restaurant to Rhine, reveling in being in the company of other Americans, and chortling all the way about nuances only we Americans could understand (read: making fun of each others’ accents).

Which brings me to an over-reaching, generalized, and grandiose main idea: this one day reveals so much of what it means to travel like this.  It’s a little scary, sometimes unnerving, incredibly confusing, and marked by a heck of a lot of “what do I do?  Call the police?  In Germany?”…but it’s still bound together – as this experience always has been – by incredible and improbable bits of luck, droopy pillows be darned.

And that’s nice.