Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Frische Luft...Continued

I have class every day in a computer lab. The room is a little on the stuffy side, but I actually rather like it compared to the chillier classroom we have also used. The computer lab is staffed by a very entertaining and incredibly routine little man. Every time we have a break, he must open two of the windows as wide as possible while commenting about "getting some oxygen" in the room or complaining about the air. It's partially annoying because it gets very cold very fast, but amusing in its predictability and the little comments that always accompany the act. Today when break started he rushed toward the window, mumbling that he "would rather breathe cigarette smoke than the air in here!" Which is kind of silly, because he smokes. (Hmm, that's another point. How can a country so full of smokers be so obsessed with fresh air?) Really the air in the room is not so bad. It smells a little bit like too many people, but I guess I prefer it to being cold while indoors. I think Germans like being cold and pulling on a jacket.

Anyway, as he was doing his routine during one of the breaks I conveniently ran across this article which sounds quite German in its promotion of opening the windows. Maybe the little cigarette-smoking obsessed administrator is on to something. As for me I will continue going out to the lobby to hang around the radiator during break - or go outside to enjoy the fresh air where it belongs :)

And unrelatedly, a huge THANK YOU to Dru, who sent me a box of Trix cereal!!! It's round too! They taste better round. THANK YOU!! It not only arrived safely and quickly, but instead of having to pick it up at the ridiculously inconvenient central Heidelberg Deutsche Post like usual, it was sent to a Packstation in Neuenheim. (Also not so convenient, but better.) The card that came in our mailbox had a barcode on it. Damon (not me d/t the Mainz issue) took it to the Packstation, which is just a big bank of locked metal boxes containing packages. He scanned the barcode on the card, and the box popped open with the Trix package inside. Cool!! I hope they do this with everything from now on (though I would prefer a closer Packstation, of steps, though!).

Alright, it's already past my bedtime. Gute Nacht!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Koffer Angst

After a long and tiring day back to Mainz, I boarded the IC back to Heidelberg. While looking for a seat, I noticed a black suitcase that had been left between two of the cars. I've heard "please report any unattended packages" enough at airports and T stations to have been a little suspicious but I just kept going. In the next car after the suitcase I found a seat and plopped down.
Not long later, a police officer came into the car and went through the aisle asking everyone if they had forgotten a black suitcase. Hmm, not cool. I started to think about moving to the other end of the train. Of course, that would require going past the suitcase. Hmm.
A bit later, while I was still contemplating, the choice was made for me. A Deutsche Bahn official came through and evacuated our car. Everyone had to move to the next one down. Wow! Much more serious than I had thought.
The next stop was Mannheim and everything went as normal. We continued on to Heidelberg, the train's last stop. I walked past the place where I had seen the suitcase earlier and it wasn't there. I became quite curious: what happened to the suitcase? Did they just take it off the train at Mannheim?

A year or two ago there was a suitcase found under a bench across the circle from my office in Boston. The bench wasn't really near anything but a minor bus stop and some bushes. My officemates and I watched as a bomb squad arrived in full uniform. The circle was completely cleared of people. News vans were there. The bomb squad wired up the suitcase, walked far away, and detonated the suitcase, right under the bench where it had been found. It turned out it was just full of clothes.
I wonder how this situation on the train would have been handled if it were in the US?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sunday Night Notes

The paper may not be good, but it's written. I was happy to take a look at my class schedule and see that a good chunk of the first days of this module will be spent on basic SAS things which I have already learned at work. Sure, it's maybe not a good use of my time, but at least it won't be brain-busting after all the paper-writing I just did. It will be a bit of a break, I hope.

* I found some candy hearts in a big basket of assorted goodies in the office kitchen. There were only four in the bag, but the words on them were curious: "SHALOM," "SERVICE," "PARTNER," and "SORRY". Service?

* After about a week of regular bathroom-using at the language institute where I did my intesive course, I discovered I was using the wrong bathroom! The thing hanging on the door that I thought was just bad art was actually a men's-room indicator. There was another door down a hallway I hadn't noticed before which had an equivalently ugly ladies'-room indicator. Not that it mattered because each is a one-holer, but I was a little embarrassed, having been seen strolling into the mens' a few times by that point.
Then I was further confused later when I found the toilet seat up in the "ladies'" room - twice. And I saw a female instructor going into the men's room. Oh well.

* We finally got our driver's licenses! Yeah, they tell you they'll send you a letter when it's ready, but they don't. It had been almost two months, so on the wise counsel of Eurotrippen my husband went to the office in person to find out what was going on. They were ready. There was never going to be any letter about it, though. Apparently this is a common theme here in Germany.

* FREESHT was a really special one, but I still get confused regularly by much less bizarre German pronunciations. Recent favorites:
Fertig (ready/done) should be "FEHR-tich" (the ch being that not-existing-in-English sound I have explained previously). Actually said often: FID-ish.
Sechzehn (sixteen) and Siebzehn (seventeen) get mushed together into a word pronounced "SEB-zehn" - which is presumably siebzehn, but sounds, when said quickly, closer to sechzehn to me. Argh. Same problem with some kind of fffffzehn that I always hear. Fuenfzehn? Vierzehn? I'll never know!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

I'll take some cheese with my whine, thanks.

If I ever swear off school, it will be because of homework. I can take the ten hours of class a day, the studying for tests, the sometimes-pointless lectures, the reading. But I can't take the damn homework. I never minded it as a kid. What else did I really have to worry about then anyway? But having been out of school for so many years and enjoyed the luxury of work days that end when you go home, going back to school and having stuff hanging over my head at home too doesn't suit me anymore. If I am here, I would like to spend my time on matters of my own choosing and not an assignment I would never have picked. So, spending this last weekend before The Great Return To Mainz on a paper regarding an article I didn't choose and which is dreadfully boring has got me in my cranky pants. Gr.

It didn't really help that yesterday, as I finished up a few days of thankfully successful programming at work, I mentioned to the post-doc I'm working with that I had to get to work on this paper. "They make you write papers??" Here he is, sitting pretty with his PhD, and I guess he didn't have to go through this sort of thing. It wasn't very encouraging to have it reaffirmed by him that the assignment isn't something useful on the road to Being A Real Epidemiologist (which he is). The paper assignment is accompanied by a 3-4 page list of all the things it will be graded on, the likes of which I have never seen even when writing my bachelor's thesis. Good grief. I want my Regular Adult Life back.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tidbit Time

* We've been to a couple of classical music concerts in the Rosengarten recently - Evgeny Kissen (cool German transliteration of Evgeny is Jewgenij!) and the Koenigliche Philharmonie Flandern. I was interested to discover that along with outrageously overpriced champagne, wine, and soda available at intermission were outrageously overpriced PRETZELS! Pretzels are normal fare for a baseball game in the US but I think if they were served in Symphony Hall...well I can't imagine because that just wouldn't happen. Not fancy enough. Then later in my German class, the teacher and I were doing a party planning exercise. I said at my party I would serve champagne and cake. She didn't think cake went with champagne and suggested pretzels!! This must be normal, then.

* We needed poppy seeds for a recipe and searched the spice/herb section in the store with a fine toothed comb trying to find it. No luck. We decided to try the baking section, on a whim. There it was. Not in a little jar, but in a giant bag! Whoa! Later I mentioned this to German friends. "We were trying to find poppy seeds in the spice section..." "Hahaha, but they're sweet!" I didn't bother arguing that poppy seeds themselves aren't actually sweet. (What are they, anyway, taste-wise? I don't know! But they do add something.) I thought it was kind of a nice idea to have that poppy seeds are sweet. So, conclusion: 1. Nothing sweet in spice section? 2. All sweet things in baking section? 3. Poppy seeds only used here in sweet foods?

* I have never seen so many music (instrument) stores in my life as I have since I came to Germany. Even the little town of Endingen had its own music store. I think the only comparable place I've been is Seattle. After seeing how many normal grown adults can still play instruments in parades and such I understand why!

* Lots of Germans find Fasching just annoying. Actually I would dare to say, most of them seem to.

* In the US, I have only ever seen canvases for painting in art or craft stores. Here, I have seen canvases regularly in stores like Lidl and Woolworth! What gives? Is this a nation of painters? It's pretty cool!

* One of the best things about having tracking on the site is seeing what Google searches bring people here, as I've mentioned before. One side benefit of this is that googlers often point out to me my past spelling errors, when they make mistakes that bring them to my site! Thanks googlers, for helping me correct these :)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Heidelberger Fastnacht / Fasching / Whatever It Is Called Here!

I have tried embedding a link to the photo album in this entry! I tried this in the past with no luck so I didn't try again...but it looks like it might work this time!
Today was Heidelberg's Fasching parade! Actually I am not sure what the holiday is referred to here. I have heard people use both Fasching and Fastnacht. Perhaps we are on a border of the areas where the different names are used. (It's only way down in Allemanic areas like Endingen where it is called Fasnet.) We spent a big chunk of the afternoon under raining candy and confetti. All quite good fun. I hope to post more about it soon, but am really exhausted with still much more to do tonight!
Ahoi, Helau, and all that!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Wir sind nach Stuttgart gefahren.

Yeah, my German is still basic, if not outright bad!

The place where I am taking German classes offered a trip to Stuttgart yesterday for free for students. They also said that Damon would be paid for if I brought him along. Only one other student signed up, who is at an even lower level of German than me, so it ended up being an English-speaking trip. A grad student named Fred was our guide, as he's originally from the area around Stuttgart and knows the difficult local dialect (Swabian, or auf Deutsch, Schwaebisch).

We took the slow train to Stuttgart (cheap-ass language institute) and when we got there, first visited the zoo and botanical garden Wilhelma. It was very nice - see a few photos in the THE PHOTOS link to the right! We spent about two hours there and saw probably only a third of everything. The weather was great and it was pretty crowded.

We then returned to the city center to find something to eat. Stuttgart's center was destroyed in WWII and has been rebuilt all in modern style. The main street is a huge shopping center. It was absolutely packed! For lunch we ended up in some gimmicky little place that serves only grilled-cheese-style sandwiches and wraps. They didn't even have real seats in there, only benches that tilted downward so you could only lean on them. The food was okay. It was interesting to learn that Germany has some gimmicky crap in its cities just like the US does (US examples: restuarant devoted only to baked potatoes, restaurant devoted only to cereal, restaurant devoted only to battered-and-fried stuff, etc.).

After lunch, we walked through more of the shopping district and past the castles, Rathaus, and Opera house. In all, it looked like a great place to spend some more time if we get the chance, but the day was a bit disorganized and rushed. There were very few slow trains between Heidelberg and Stuttgart. The guide didn't even bring a schedule with him. We ended up having to leave pretty early in order to get to Heidelberg in time for a show in Mannheim we went to. So, we will have to make another trip there sometime - on the fast train, preferably!

Edited this post because I forgot my (admittedly short and not that fascinating) Schwaebisch story!: I was getting on the escalator down to the U-Bahn and realized it was really more of a slanted moving walkway than stairs. I was a little surprised and said, "Whoa!" An older guy next to me laughed and said what sounded like, "Freesht!" I dorkily laughed at this completely unfamiliar word and played the word over and over in my mind. What is it? Shouldn't I know it? When I got away, I asked our guide. At first, he said, "That isn't a word. I don't know what it is. Sorry." Then a light bulb came on. "Oh!! He was saying 'Vorsicht'!" That's right all, vorsicht. The O and S were pretty much completely missing. I'm glad I live in Heidelberg. The dialect here is no fun either, but it's not anywhere in the league of Schwaebisch.

The photo album from this trip (click THE PHOTOS on the right) also includes a couple of photos of Munich, where Damon went for business last week, and a couple of other goodies :)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Exhaustion of the Working Expatriate

Mein Gott! The weather today is amazing! It's gorgeous! There are NO clouds, and it's been sunny for over half the day. For someone who now gets excited about one little patch of blue or four minutes of sunshine, this is a pretty awesome deal. The Alte Bruecke is full of people, people are out walking and biking, etc. For the most of the days recently it's been a small victory just to still be able to feel my cold-rain-soaked fingers by the time I rolled my bike into the drive.

But back on the subject in my title. I actually wrote a good chunk of this entry during the break in my morning class, because I figured that by the time I got home, I wouldn't have the energy to do it anymore. As it turns out the sun really gave me a boost so now I'm wishing I had something more cheery ready to go! But, due to aforementioned exhaustion, I don't.

My brain is completely fried. Every morning I learn German from 9 - 12:30. Then I go straight to work, where I must teach myself SAS programming. When I get to work, I can barely read English. The other day I caught myself staring cluelessly at a word in the SAS book over and over: "TEH-reh? TEHR-eh? Was ist d . . . ohhh. This is English. It's THERE." Then, by the time I finish with SAS for the day, I can't write myself a to-do list without putting a semicolon at the end of each line! (To make it SAS-compatible, of course.) I keep telling myself that I can have a normal brain again when this is all over, but no, not really. When this is over, it's back to class in Mainz again from 9-7 every day. Which I'm currently supposed to be writing a paper for - but haven't gotten far thank to the joint German-language SAS-language brain fry. But, at least if I can retain any of this knowledge, it's all excellent to know and be able to do.

Sorry about that last entry, btw. It was a great video. I miss watching it already! I enjoyed going back to it now and again to see how much more of it I can understand each time.

I promise more photos soon. We've actually spent the last couple of weekends right here in Heidelberg, drinking beers in the Altstadt. The crummy weather left us without much of a travel itch. We may be visiting Stuttgart this weekend, though!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mehr Sesamstrasse!


Nobody showcases a word with an "aa" like Schlemihl (Lefty). And in a secondary highlight for my nerdy suppengruen-fascinated self, Ernie asks for suppengruen near the end.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


1. My husband insists that we keep all boxes and receipts for everything. We have bought a few things second-hand since we got here, and all came with original receipts and in the case of smaller items, in the original boxes. This annoys me quite a bit as in an apartment this size, we don't really need extra things like this taking up space. However, he insists that "all Germans keep all their boxes and receipts for everything"! He doesn't know why, but the guess is for taxes. I'm thinking we're not going to need the box from our second-hand iron - the box has a price tag in Marks and says "Made in West Germany" - for tax purposes. Ever. My question: Is it true that Germans keep boxes and receipts for even things they've had for ages or got second-hand? If so, what is the reason? Could we really need our Ikea receipt for taxes?

2. I read before coming, in a little book called When in Germany, Do as the Germans Do by Hyde Flippo, that Germans are terrified of drafts that will make them sick. I was kind of glad because I don't care for the American habit of "cracking a window" to get fresh air when it's below freezing outside. Fresh air is great and all, but I'll go outside if I really need it - being cold inside is no fun, and it's just wasteful and silly to have the window open when the heat is on. However, when we moved here I found that the opposite of what the book said is true. Germans are always cracking the window on the coldest days, or even just leaving it open all day! They insist on having the office doors closed, but then opening the windows, while the heat is running. Why not open the office door to get more air circulation instead? It's more social anyway, and it cools it down without me having to get my winter jacket on. Very strange. So what's with the open windows all the time?

3. Do they put crack in that Russisch Brot? Damn, it's addicting.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Crapartment Update

Today, I would like to bitch about my apartment kitchen.

Can a new paint job save this kitchen?

Yeah, we didn't think so either, but we tried anyway. A couple of weeks ago, we repainted it yellow. No need for commentary here about how yellow is so two years ago. We needed something that looked acceptable with the puke-brown sunflower-theme tiles, that was less depressing than white, that was available in a cheap pre-mixed can, and that would be hopefully acceptable to future tenants so we don't have to paint again. Yellow it was.

Honestly nothing can save this kitchen. The floor is revolting. Note how the cupboard under the sink is rotting on the lower right. It's rotting down whole left hand side too. This is gross in and of itself, but also a sign of another problem, which is the stupid sink design. I believe these circle sinks must have been popular in some past period in Germany as I have seen them a couple of times in older (70s?) kitchens. They are not very ergonomic. The water can't be switched between sinks (or in this case sink and rinse/draining/whatever-it-is basin) while running. Water gets all over the counter because the sink is not designed to fit the actual function of washing dishes. Water that gets on the counter runs all over down the cupboard because the counter tilts down a little bit. The walls were covered in grease before we repainted them. Now they are covered in grease that has been hidden with paint. The counters are too low. The cupboards are so high I can barely reach the second shelf. (I'm 5'6".) The oven doesn't seal all the way around so heat is lost to the kitchen (and counter and appliances - dangerous) whenever we run it. And in a strange design, the kitchen has a closeable door. The bedroom has no door at all. Not even hinges. I can't imagine why the kitchen would have to be closed off but not the bedroom.

The landlord has no incentive to fix any of this since it's a special bonus in Germany to even get a kitchen in your apartment at all! In fact, that's why we took this place. It already had a kitchen and we didn't have a couple grand to drop on buying our own. Rather sad that the best thing about the apartment was also the worst thing, but I guess we're getting used to it.

The living room walls are pretty bad as well. We got some green paint for at least the wall behind our white shelf. I wanted a darker color but once again we had to go with something pre-mixed and hopefully more next-renter-friendly. The apartment walls are all covered in some kind of bumpy wallpaper which is ubiquitous here. It looks pretty silly to me, but I think it might even still be in style somewhere around here, because they still sell huge rolls of it at the Bauhaus. It's a little harder to get a good paint job on it, but oh well. When the landlord doesn't care about his property, and seemingly neither have any of the last ten renters, why should we? :/

I think we are actually going to try to get him to replace the oven because we don't want to burn the place down. We'll see how it goes!

And to end on a positive note, there's actually SUN today!! And it's Friday. Schoenes Wochenende!


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Zimt Diminutive

One of the best things about having a hit tracker on one's website is seeing what web searches have led people to your site. Somebody looking for a diminutive form of Zimt, the German word for cinnamon, came here the other day. Unfortunately they were probably disappointed. I don't know what the diminutive form of Zimt is. Can cinnamon even be diminutive? A wee cinnamon? I'm not sure. But, in the spirit of diminutive fun (yeah, I love diminutives), here are some guesses:

With standard German diminutive endings:

There are also many dialectical diminutive endings. My understanding is that these endings can't be applied willy-nilly to just any noun like the more generic diminutive endings can, but let's just try it anyway:

Zimtle (Swabian -le)
Zimtel (Alsatian -el)
Zimtli (Swiss German -li - also found on the Torli in Endingen!)
Zimtl (Bavarian/Austrian -l)
Zimterl (Bavarian/Austrian -erl)

Cute! Okay, who else is craving some Zimtsterne now?

And to the person who searched for "how to heal dry skin from toothpaste accident": Ouch. I wish you luck, my friend. And I'm dying to know about this toothpaste accident.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


* The other day in the grocery store, I saw American cheese slices! This is the first time I have seen them (most cheese slices are other types, ie gouda). The package called it "toast cheese", with an illustration showing the cheese melted over a typical cute little German open-face sandwich. But the biggest point to be made of all: The cheese was on the shelf, ladies and gentlemen. That stuff doesn't need to be refrigerated! Why do US grocery stores refrigerate margarine and American cheese? For that matter, why do US grocery stores keep the dairy sections so cold that without a winter coat, I have to run in and out within about 10 seconds to keep from freezing solid? Ah, the madness.

* Back on this money we pay the GEZ for our TV usage again: Germans will correct anyone who mistakenly calls this money a "tax". It is a "fee". My English language dictionary calls fees that one must pay on something "taxes". Is there a difference between the two words in German?

* Also, I think I figured out what bothers me so much about said "fee". It's basically a flat tax. No matter your income, the fee you pay to own a TV is the same, and it's rather high if you're on the low end of the scale. In countries where public radio and TV are paid for from the general taxes, it isn't a flat tax. (Unless the country has a flat tax...are there any which do?)

* Cravings for Things I Don't Think I Can Get Here, #3-4: Trix cereal. Thanks to Sara for this one, who posted a photo of a book cover that looked like it had Trix on it. (Actually, they were drugs!) Crunchy tacos. Hey, I'm glad I found soft tacos that aren't bad, but you know I love those crunchy ones more. And Qdoba, how I miss your cheap, cheap, fast, fast crispy tacos. Must stop this talk now...

* I have completely forgotten at least two very important birthdays since moving here, and those are only the ones I realized I had forgotten. There might be more! I guess it's just part of the general disorganization I have felt since I got here. Or maybe something about the air or water in Germany makes people forget birthdays! I have noticed these things called "birthday calendars" for sale in many gift shops and bookstores here. The calendars are narrow with just enough room for each day to write down the name of a friend or family member who might be celebrating a birthday. I don't think I ever saw these in the US! I might need to invest in one...

Monday, February 05, 2007

Beliebte Vornamen (Popular First Names)

The Germans are known for their obsessive statistic-taking abilities. In my classes in Mainz, we spent a full day with a lecturer from the German Statistical Office (Statistiches Bundesamt) going over the heaps and heaps of data about Germans and Germany they make available every year.

I was a bit surprised to find that there is one big chunk of data which the US is better at collecting than Germany: most popular first names. While the US takes several months to do so (the list is made available each year in May, around Mother's Day), they have a very comprehensive list of popular first names collected from Social Security applications. The top 1000 first names for boys and girls are available, as well as the top 100 for each state to show regional differences and the top 100 names for twins. They even feature a cute game in which one can guess which of 21 US city names are in the top 1000 names. The only drawback of the data is that variant spellings of first names are not combined, thus making names with multiple popular spellings, such as Madeleine, seem less popular than they really are. Combining spellings is a difficult exercise, however.

Germany, unfortunately, has no such official list of names. The closest thing available here is a list compiled by hobbyists who collect the names from only a small sampling of areas, underrepresenting the Turkish population for instance. Inaccuracy is a huge problem, but it is offset a bit by the two benefits: this type of list is compiled and available already for 2006, and it combines variant spellings.

For the curious who don't want to click around these sites, for comparison here are the top 20 first names for babies in Germany for 2006 and in the US for 2005, per the above-linked sites.

1. Anna
2. Leonie
3. Lea/Leah
4. Lena
5. Hanna/Hannah
6. Laura
7. Lara
8. Emily/Emilie
9. Sara/Sarah
10. Lilli/Lilly/Lili
11. Nele/Neele
12. Emma
13. Mia
14. Julia
15. Sophie/Sofie
16. Alina
17. Amelie/Amely
18. Marie
19. Lisa
20. Louisa/Luisa

1. Lukas/Lucas
2. Leon
3. Luca/Luka
4. Tim/Timm
5. Paul
6. Jonas
7. Finn/Fynn
8. Max
9. Niclas/Niklas
10. Luis/Louis
11. Felix
12. Maximilian
13. Philipp/Philip/Phillip
14. Elias
15. Jan
16. Julian
17. Jannick/Jannik/Yannic/Yannick/Yannik
18. Noah
19. Simon
20. Moritz

1. Emily
2. Emma
3. Madison
4. Abigail
5. Olivia
6. Isabella
7. Hannah
8. Samantha
9. Ava
10. Ashley
11. Sophia
12. Elizabeth
13. Alexis
14. Grace
15. Sarah
16. Alyssa
17. Mia
18. Natalie
19. Chloe
20. Brianna

1. Jacob
2. Michael
3. Joshua
4. Matthew
5. Ethan
6. Andrew
7. Daniel
8. Anthony
9. Christopher
10. Joseph
11. William
12. Alexander
13. Ryan
14. David
15. Nicholas
16. Tyler
17. James
18. John
19. Jonathan
20. Nathan

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Die Apotheke

Today we went to the Apotheke, the German pharmacy, for the first time. I think I have mentioned before that pharmacies here are very different than in the US. In the US, there are a few pharmacy-focused chains, such as CVS and Walgreens. Even though the focus is on the pharmacy these stores sell a huge variety of other things including household items, cosmetics, toiletries, junk food, paper products, film processing and passport photos. Medications are either sold over-the-counter, such as Tylenol, aspirin, pseudoephedrine (this one not so much now - usually behind the register), diphenhydramine, etc., or obtained by bringing in a prescription from a physician. Other pharmacies are set up inside other huge chain stores such as grocery stores, Target, and Wal-Mart, or set up inside the lobby of the hospital or doctor's office.

In Germany, there are few pharmacy chains, if any. Most of them seem to be independently owned businesses. They do not sell any food, toiletries, paper products, etc. - only medications and a few cosmetics. No medications are sold over-the-counter - even aspirin can only be obtained by asking the pharmacist for it, or telling them what your problem is and having them recommend it to you. They can also give you medications which in the US could only be obtained by getting a prescription from a physician.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed the skin under my wedding band was getting a bit itchy and red. I thought it was only some temporary dry skin, but I woke up one morning and it was so irritated that I had to take the ring off for the first time in my three and a half years of marriage. When I took off the ring it looked like my finger had been branded! I wore it on a chain around my neck for three or four days and my finger seemed to heal, so I put the ring back on. Three days later I woke up again with it burning and itching more than ever! I took it off again and looked around online for some ideas as to what might be going on. One site suggested it could just be something on the ring causing irritation. The suggestion was to clean the ring using a mixture of vinegar and hydrogen peroxide.

Hydrogen peroxide is readily available in the US in huge brown plastic bottles (no joke about the huge - I have never seen a small bottle of this stuff, and have never been able to use up a whole bottle, or even half a bottle). It can be purchased at grocery stores or pharmacies.

We tried checking a few stores here in Germany for hydrogen peroxide, but no luck. So, we tried the Apotheke. We asked for it by its English name since we didn't know another way. She asked us what we needed it for and we said it was for cleaning (for lack of better vocabulary to explain). She typed a few things into her computer, and a little brown glass medication bottle fell into a container behind her from some mysterious back room. (Neat!) See the bottle to the right: it looks like quite a serious drug now, no?

Two notes:

* In the US, approximately half of pharmacists are female. German friends tell us that in Germany, approximately 95% of pharmacists are female. It's considered a very feminine field, much like nursing in the US. (All the pharmacists at the Apotheke we visited were indeed female...but it was only three, so it's hardly a great sample size.)

* Heidelberg's Schloss is home to, of all things, a museum all about pharmacy, free with castle admission! We visited last January when we were in Heidelberg for Damon's post-doc interview. Among its displays is a particulary interesting painting of Jesus as a pharmacist. Who knew? (And why does it always make me get "Jesus Built My Hotrod" in my head??) Here's the museum's (rather poorly designed) website if you want to know more: .

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I can't shut up on my blog...

...but I go mute in an elevator with a German.

Having troubles with German is never a good thing, but I find that it's the worst when I'm in the elevator of my apartment building with one of my German neighbors. In a store, at least I can run away within seconds, and I don't really know or need to know the clerk. At work and school, alles auf Englisch (everything's in English). But I care about my neighbors, despite how little I know them. And I can't run away from the elevator.

I just came home from work and had a typical neighbor-in-the-elevator interaction. She was wicked friendly. I tried to be friendly back, but of course became completely tongue-tied even in this most basic of conversations. We introduced ourselves. She wanted to see my name on the elevator buttons (everyone's name is there) but it hasn't been updated since we moved in. I couldn't think of how to explain this. Of course, after I had a minute, I could think of tons of ways to explain it...but by then the interaction was over and I was unlocking my apartment door. Auughhh, why can't I be quicker on the draw!?

In other news, there was a little protest going on in the Bismarckplatz on my way home. They were a pretty small group and for a while appeared to be trying to block the Strassenbahn (trolley), unsuccessfully. I think there were more police there than protestors, which was a good opportunity for me to get a look at them! The police in Germany seem to be rather scarce. When we had our accident in Sindringen, it took them over an hour to arrive. I see a lonely police car (white and green, with POLIZEI in big letters) once a week or so.

The police in Germany have a very friendly neighborhood look. Kind of baggy plain green uniforms, with green berets that don't match the uniforms. Very casual! This is in sharp contrast to the police we saw in Strasbourg, France when we visited there. Right in the train station after we arrived were the most serious looking police with the biggest, most prominently displayed guns I have ever seen in my life. The difference between the two countries in this regard is impressive, and probably not what I would have guessed from American stereotypes of the two countries!

The GEZ Again

I mentioned in a previous post that the GEZ, a governmental organization that collects high fees from those who own TVs and radios, had come by our apartment to make sure we registered with them. A couple of days later, we dutifully registered our appliances online.

Not long after, we received not one, but two letters in the mail from the GEZ telling us to register. Both were addressed to my nickname (and spelled wrong at that)! I never use my nickname in writing, except to sign my emails to people who call me by it. But, sometimes I receive mail addressed to it. The only conclusion we could reach, then, is that the GEZ is stalking us by tracking the names on mail coming to our apartment! And they thought my nickname was a completely different person than the one already registered.

Creepy. We don't even use our freaking TV, guys, so just be glad that we are registered at all. We aren't going to register separately for every name under which someone might address mail to us!