Thursday, May 29, 2008

France vs. the US

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Although it's not about Germany and the US, I still got a kick out of this little blog post about the differences between France and the US. The one about what is better in France/better in the US sounded particularly familiar:

When asked what is there about France that is better than the United States, the answers included food, history, and a slower -- and therefore, better -- pace of life. When asked what the United States has that they wished they had, answers included a positive frame of mind, more possibilities of advancing at work, and cheaper gasoline. That's right.


The United States and France: Vive la difference?
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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cassis, Marseille, and Lyon

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Catching up on life after being away four out of the last five weeks is quite the task! We spent a week in France, spending three nights in Cassis, a few hours in Marseille, and three nights in Lyon. Damon had a meeting in Cassis, and we added Lyon on just to check it out.

I unfortunately don't have the time at the moment to write very much about the trip, but did manage to get some photos uploaded and captioned with a bit of information, so check them out! For now it will have to suffice to say that the trip was very nice, and my feelings toward France have certainly gone from neutral to positive!

Cassis May 08

Cassis is a small vacation town on the Mediterranean, near Marseille. The area is full of cliffs and inlets and the water is incredibly blue! Avoid the boat trips out to the Calanques (inlets) if you have any tendencies toward motion sickness - or don't want to get soaked!

Marseille May 08

We were only very briefly here as a pit stop between Cassis and Lyon. It left a good impression - very colorful and diverse. I would love to go back sometime to look around more!

Lyon May 08

I would recommend Lyon to anyone who thinks the French are rude because they had a bad experience in Paris. It was so relaxed and friendly. Everyone we met was helpful and the city is smaller, but still full of interesting neighborhoods, churches, old secret tunnels, and Roman ruins. It's prettier than Paris, too. If I spoke French I would definitely add it to my want-to-live-there list! The only problem was that Damon either lost his wallet or was pickpocketed. :/ It was not that crowded so pickpocketing doesn't seem likely, but it's hard to be sure. Either way, we haven't seen it again and lost a lot of cash. We're really hurting after all this travel, so aside from a small day trip this weekend, I think we may be done doing anything for a while!
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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Eurovision 2008: Synopsis

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Last night Damon & I went to a little Eurovision party at a friend's here in Heidelberg. We all drank wine, ate Flammkuchen, and took notes so we could make our guesses at the end about who would win. Of course, I also conveniently made extra notes so I could post about it here for those who didn't get the joy of watching it, or those who did and just want to compare thoughts!

*Romania: A yawner duet. There was nothing special whatsoever. Things must have been bad for this to make it through the semifinals. This does not bode well.

*UK: Much, much better than their embarrassing entry from last year! A passable dance pop number, but really memorable only for the big disco backdrops.


*Albania: My notes say "chick ballad". Damon's notes say "diva ballad". Boring no matter how you write it, but it was an improvement over Romania. I don't watch Eurovision for the ballads. Slow songs are only my thing if there is a great voice, great lyrics, or especially interesting instrumental action/melody...generally, Eurovision ballads don't hit the mark.

*Deutschland!: This song was okay, but the performance was pretty awful. They looked very stiff and nervous and were nasal. Damon noted they were the only ones all night to go off-key. (I'm not musical enough to know.) Germany had the same problem as last year - the songs are alright (last year's was really pretty decent and I liked that it was in German) but the performances just aren't interesting.


*Armenia: Dance number with hilariously cheesy male dancers and minor ethnic touches - very Eurovision-esque. This was the best one to this point. I really like it when the lyrics are not in English so I can't tell how bad they are.


*Bosnia: Oh, this is what we watch this for. High performance!! I have no words. Too weird even for me.


*Israel: Silver-wearing guy with a slow song with the little ethnic touches that are so Eurovision. He sings pretty well, but is boring.

*Finland: They do their whole pseudo-metal thing again. Finland, they're so reliable.

*Croatia: I was worried at first when it started with spoken word (something I hate). Then there was some strange dancing. I did like the old guy, though. Especially when he started yelling toward the end. Old guys are awesome. Then there was a chick playing wine bottles!! That was cool. The song sounded like it would be good, before the pop filter and production got to it. This got our party's endorsement.


*Poland: Another chick ballad. Kind of a Whitney Houston wannabe. Again, I don't know how such bland things can get through the semi-finals!

*Iceland: A very generically clubby dance number. Damon though the singer looked like Neil Patrick Harris! (Too much Harold and Kumar for him!) Of course, terrible lyrics.


*Turkey: A rock band with a cute-ish male singer wearing too much makeup. It was a little on the bland side but it was cool that they did this genre and in Turkish!

*Portugal: ANOTHER CHICK BALLAD, and over-dramatic to boot. Come on, man! Is this because a chick ballad won last year? This one did have a particuarly good voice, so it stood out in the ballad crowd a bit.

*Latvia: A song called "Wolves of the Sea" and PIRATE COSTUMES, hell yes. And it gets better - the song is like a kid's cartoon theme. It's terrible, awesomely terrible. Everyone at the party got behind this one, too.


*Sweden: Tolerable dance pop. Memorable only because the woman singing was really scary. I don't know who she should fire first, her plastic surgeon, her makeup artist, or the person who designed the lighting for her set. I'm not kidding, she just didn't look right. That's not how you want to stand out.


*Denmark: A very classic pop song, of the variety that could become a hit for weddings and family reunions. Of course, lame lyrics.

*Georgia: The lead singer was blind, justifying the sunglasses-at-night look that might have otherwise been a little strange. Not-great poppy song. This wasn't nearly as good as last year's song from Georgia, though it seemed they brought back the same crazy male dancers.

*Ukraine: Writhing men in booths!! Yes! Too much rhyming, but otherwise pretty decent dance song. Even some gymnastics, woo! You must see the writhing men:


*France: We already know I liked this song. Tellier arrived on stage in a golf cart with a French flag on it, after we got to see that all his back-up singers were dressed up as him. Awesome. Then he sucked air out of a globe beach ball? That part was kind of lame. His voice wasn't tops, either. All made up for by the mid-song eclipse! Yes!!! And, the overall coolness of the song. Thanks, France!


*Azerbaijan: First year in the contest. Seriously high theatrics here, with giant fluffly angel wings, falsetto wailing, and fake blood!!! You must see it to believe it. Oh, so bad.


*Greece: Another okay ethnic-touch dance number with bad lyrics. Actually, really bad lyrics. Damon and I were cringing our way through it, but the Germans all thought it was okay because it is easy to block lyrics that aren't in your native language. "My secret combination it's a mystery for** you! . . . I'm not easy but I'm true!" GACK!!!
**somehow the use of "for" here instead of "to" makes it about 10 times worse, but this would be lost on non-native speakers.


*Spain: It starts with a toy guitar, it's got to be great, in that awful Eurovision way. And it is.


*Serbia: Another dramatic ballad. And the cheesy stormy-ocean backdrops have got to stop, this has to be the 4th or 5th by this point. Bad!

*Russia: Starts with a guy singing on the floor, in a dramatic and non-ironic way. Yuck. However, this guy makes his boring ballad with indiscernible English lyrics (Damon and I both couldn't tell they were English) stand out by having a FIGURE SKATER SKATING ON STAGE. THAT is cool.


*Norway: With a title of "Hold On Be Strong", great lyrics were again promised. (Uh-huh.) A good singer, with a generic R&B sort of song. She looked a little too cheery for her sad lyrics, though. Again this isn't going to bother any non-native English speaker who can block them.

Time for voting - and Damon and I were the only ones who did!! I guess no one else really wanted to. I debated a little bit because the French performance had its downsides, but in the end I couldn't resist. France again this year. I'm setting up a bit of a tradition for myself. And France is setting up a tradition with me to - of bombing when I vote for them. They did do better than last year. Germany bombed even worse, being spared from even further humiliation because they got a lot of points from Bulgaria, the home country of one of Germany's singers. Russia won. Now commence all the over-serious griping about block voting!! Can't wait 'til next year for more!! :D
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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Reminder: Eurovision tonight!

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The Eurovision final is tonight! It's at 9pm, according to the hostess of the mini Eurovision party I'll be going to tonight to watch!

To help you gear up, here are links to my two Eurovision posts from last year's final:
Comments on the show
Selected videos of the entries

And, I was pretty interested to see that this year's contest includes a song that I actually have already voluntarily listened to because I like it. Whoa!! Here's the video of that one! It just so happens to come from France, who I voted for last year. France, I know I've always turned a skeptical eye towards you, but I hope you can forgive me. I might love you after all.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Moskau!

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No, I'm not going there, but I'm going to be away for a bit, so here's some entertainment for the interim, from the German disco days.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Observations from the States

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First of all, you must see the photos!! Here are the links.

Chicago April 08

Iowa Apr May 08


1. Americans are slobs! My flight from Frankfurt to Chicago was half-filled by a tour group of high schoolers from Iowa. They and their chaperones were all dressed in sweatpants and athletic pants! I guess I understand wanting to be comfortable for the long flight - I wore my loosest jeans - but they really stood out, and it wasn't in a very positive way. Sweatshirts are another thing you don't see much in Germany but are everywhere in the US. Also, when is this looks-like-a-piece-of-pink-lingerie trend going to end in the yuppie circles? Can we not wear pajamas in public, please? Also, legs. Too much leg going on. It's hard to look dignified when your whole thigh is visible. I'm not saying your legs aren't great. I'm sure they are. I'm just talking about the dignity, folks.

2. Americans are fearlessly nosy. I somehow ended up getting a "special meal" on the flight (I think it was a mistake and meant for someone who didn't get the flight) and the food came much earlier than everyone else's. The woman behind me started asking me all these questions about what it was, how I got it, and how it tasted. Then I tried to get eating before it got cold and turned to find her staring over the row of seats at me eating. Check-out clerks noticed little things about you and asked about them - about a guy carrying epi-pens ("What are those??" etc.) for instance. I like a certain level of familiarity. In some cases it was a nice relief after feeling so distanced from everyone here in Germany - but there's definitely a sub-population that takes it too far!

3. And what a range of customer service the US has! I guess it's pretty solid here. Distant, but not cranky. Not always helpful when you need something, and sometimes overly informative, but it's all delivered in a pretty deadpan way. Within only half an hour of picking up some items in Chicago I got everything from a clerk violently screaming "Step up. Step UP! STEP UP!!!" to customers who took longer than .5 seconds to walk up to her register, to a store full of more customer service employees than people, who greeted us, asked us what we needed, gave explicit instructions on how to find it without us asking, checked us out with way more conversation than necessary, then said goodbye as we left the door, smiles all the way. Getting a chip for my phone was SO simple and friendly. It probably would have been a torturous encounter here.

4. American restaurants are the #1 source of culture shock. They're incredibly loud. They're crowded. They make you wait so that you'll buy drinks at the bar. They give you free water - and more free water - and more free water! Wine costs a zillion dollars a glass. They're so dark you can barely read the menu. And did I mention the loudness? You won't be hanging around after your meal to chit-chat! Then there's the insane tippage added to the bill! Yowza!

5. I speak the language! I found myself talking to pretty much anybody in a way I probably wouldn't have before, because I freaking could. I would normally roll my eyes and shrug it off if someone ticked me off in public, but when it happened in Chicago, I found I was so glad to be able to sass back to the jerk (a biker on the sidewalk who had plenty of space to get around my friends and I - I bike enough to know this, and I like my space when I'm on my bike - but bitched at us as he rode past anyway) that I went right ahead. I guess a year and a half of having to deal with everything in silence because I can't be quick enough or don't know the words resulted in this. So if you see me in the US when I'm fresh off the plane, don't mess with me.

6. Small isn't small. Big really is big. I got a small drink at a cafe in Chicago and couldn't believe it when I got it. It would be a large in Germany, almost certainly. It was much bigger than I expected. I can't imagine drinking a large!! The cafe itself was huge too, I think you could fit seven German bakeries inside, and it had free wireless, which is a concept that's been really slow to spread in Germany. Then, we went to pick up some toiletries and I could not believe how big everything was!! You can buy a whole liter of shampoo! In one bottle! I just wanted something to cover me for three weeks, but that was not available!

7. I rode Amtrak! It was incredibly roomy, but this might just be because I somehow ended up sitting in the disabled section (there were no disabled passengers). The seats went way down and were super wide with tons and tons of legroom. It was a double-decker and kind of hard to get around, though. There was (expensive) dinner on the train by reservation only. I had stocked up on snacks at a bakery in Chinatown so I didn't go. The conductor was super-informative, making announcements about crossing the Mississippi and how big it is and how cute this or that town is and who owns the rails we're riding on and when his shift ends. There was only one exit door per car and an employee had to open it! He thought I was a complete whackjob for trying to open it myself, but that's how you do it here and I just did it without thinking. Also I was standing in his way because I thought the door would open out like German trains, but it opens in.

8. Things seen from the train:
  • Kids waving at the train from their doorstep.
  • A guy photographing our train passing on a bridge over another train.
  • An old woman walking back down her drive from the mailbox.
  • Knox College.
  • Lots of American flags.
  • A buzz-cut kid with a University of Illinois sticker in his pickup, waiting for the train to pass.
  • Lots of houses standing alone.
  • A tree with a big red heart painted on it.
  • A trailer house with a little steeple on it being used as a church.
  • Lots of rusted-out cars.
  • A few little league games.
  • A window boarded up with multicolored siding.
9. Tied fleece blankets. They're everywhere.

10. American flags look so much more innocent flying over the Midwest countryside than they do when flying abroad.

11. An organic food obsession appears to be in full swing now. Sometimes it goes a little too far. People buy organic to feel "green", but when you are in Des Moines buying organic popcorn that comes from Seattle, you're not doing anything nice for the environment. They had to truck that stuff all the way to you, and you live in a popcorn-producing state!

12. What happens to the town's oldest building in Germany: hotel or restaurant. Maybe even still just a house. What happens to the town's oldest building in the US Midwest: antique store. How can they all stay in business?? Is the need for antiques that great?

13. The US is rundown. In this way it more closely resembles the former East than the former West of Germany. Lots of abandoned buildings, houses falling apart with junk in the yards. It's easy to become this way in the US because there's an out-with-the-old attitude and plenty of space to build new things. In East Germany it was because everything belonged to the government so people didn't have a reason to take care of it themselves, and the government couldn't get to it all, then after communism fell, some of these things didn't find new owners and are left abandoned. Funny how these two totally different systems led to similar looks.

14. There's so little graffiti in the US.

15. Cost of 200 mL conditioner at the DM near our apartment: 2.35 EUR ($3.63). Cost of 750 mL conditioner at big-box store in Des Moines: $5.27. SO CHEAP!! (I know, I should figure in the cost of having to own a car and car insurance and buying gas, because you can't walk to the store in Des Moines.)

16. Welcome back to splashback. I think I've been converted to German toilets.

17. And I've definitely been converted to the side-loading washer. I did a load of laundry at my mom's and the top-loader trashed my clothes. Socks I washed multiple times in my German side-loader that had still looked like new became pilly, linty messes in the top-loader. A sweater was completely trashed. I can't believe I ever put up with them! Never again!! Side-loaders are gentle and awesome!

18. This list is getting really long, but anyway, what's with all the anti-bacterial? I don't need everything to be anti-bacterial and after being away for a while it comes off as really obsessive and tense.

19. Terrrrrrrrr-rists! We got a good laugh watching Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Then while I had my hair cut in a salon in a dying mall in Des Moines, my husband walked around testing out our new camera (old one is actually visibly smoking now when the flash goes off) and security freaked out! Thankfully he wasn't kicked out but the general manager came out to have a little chat with him and there must have been a general alert sent out about him because he got funny looks when he went into the stores, like he was matching some description. "Tall dude with black leather jacket and camera. Taking pictures. Look out!!!!" Check out the Iowa photo album to see a couple of these super-dangerous photos.

Overall, it was probably the best trip of my life. Three weeks, mostly hanging out with my family and not having to worry about fairly dividing it with the in-laws (they came up to DSM), vacation time constraints, and spending it mostly in the big bubble that is rural Iowa. Too bad there's no chance I'll ever live there again. Though, if I did live there again, I'd probably regret it too. Man, life is too short when you want it all.
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Beliebte Vornamen 2007 (Popular First Names 2007)

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Happy Mother's Day! This weekend also happens to be Christmas for American name nerds, who get to finally see the official statistics from the US Social Security office on what the most popular first names given to babies born in the previous year were. There wasn't too much shake-up this year in the top 20, although there was some weirdness in the top 1000. For instance, Miley came from somewhere below #1000 up to #278. The hell? Don't call your kid this, people; it's not even a real name.

Germany unfortunately doesn't collect official first name data so we have to rely on some hobbyists to collect it and put it on the internet instead. It's probably not terribly accurate - the sampling seems to really miss the enormous Turkish population, for one thing. But, it's all we've got, so let's check out the differences in popular names between the two countries!

(In order to compare, I took the liberty of editing the US list to combine multiple spellings of the same name. This isn't done in the US statistics because it's a difficult and subjective exercise, but it's done in Germany, so I will do it for the US, too. It shakes things up a bit for names that are popular in multiple spellings! So, don't be alarmed that my list doesn't match the official one. If you added up the Sophias and Sofias, you'd get these same results.)

sp. = number of spellings appearing on the popularity lists available, if more than 1



Maedchen
1. Hanna (2 sp.)
2. Leonie (2 sp.)
3. Lena
4. Anna
5. Lea (2 sp.)
6. Lara
7. Mia
8. Laura
9. Lilli (3 sp.)
10. Emily (2 sp.)
11. Sara (2 sp.)
12. Emma
13. Neele (2 sp.)
14. Marie
15. Sophie (2 sp.)
16. Johanna
17. Julia
18. Maja (2 sp.)
19. Lisa
20. Lina

Jungen
1. Leon
2. Lucas (2 sp.)
3. Luca (2 sp.)
4. Finn (2 sp.)
5. Tim (2 sp.)
6. Felix
7. Jonas
8. Luis (2 sp.)
9. Maximilian
10. Julian
11. Max
12. Paul
13. Niklas (2 sp.)
14. Jan
15. Ben
16. Elias
17. Jannick (5 sp.)
18. Phillip (3 sp.)
19. Noah
20. Tom


Girls
1. Sophia (2 sp.)
2. Emily (5 sp.)
3. Isabella (3 sp.)
4. Madison (4 sp.)
5. Olivia (3 sp.)
6. Emma
7. Ava
8. Hailey (9 sp.)
9. Abigail (5 sp.)
10. Kaitlyn (8 sp.)
11. Brianna (5 sp.)
12. Addison (5 sp.)
13. Hannah (3 sp.)
14. Sarah (2 sp.)
15. Elizabeth (2 sp.)
16. Ashley (4 sp.)
17. Natalie (5 sp.)
18. Alyssa (3 sp.)
19. Jasmine (6 sp.)
20. Madeline (8 sp.)

Boys
1. Aiden (10 sp.)
2. Jayden (10 sp.)
3. Jacob (2 sp.)
4. Michael (2 sp.)
5. Christopher (4 sp.)
6. Ethan (2 sp.)
7. Joshua
8. Daniel
9. Matthew (2 sp.)
10. Anthony
11. William
12. Nicholas (4 sp.)
13. Alexander (2 sp.)
14. Andrew
15. Caden (10 sp.)
16. Christian (3 sp.)
17. David
18. Joseph
19. Jonathan (4 sp.)
20. Noah

Comments? Opinions?

And a quick name story: It bugs me that people in the US sometimes name their daughters Lorelei. It's a pretty word, but they're essentially naming their kid after a giant rock that is famous because it's caused a lot of boating accidents. I think it would be a bummer of a thing to find out about your name when you learn to read and look it up. Anyway, I asked some Germans about this. They admitted it's not used as a given name in Germany, but they would find it acceptable on an American, because "Americans just use all kinds of strange names anyway, oder?". (One time I picked up a German name book here and saw "Danniebelle" listed as an "American" name.) So, Lorelei-as-first-name fans, I guess you're off the hook, since Americans have been written off as having bad taste from the start. ;)

Here's last year's post on this topic!

Sources: beliebte-vornamen.de
US Social Security Administration (with spellings combined by me and an Excel spreadsheet)
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Saturday, May 10, 2008

More on Isolation

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There doesn't seem to be any substitute for people who know - really, really know - where you're coming from.

I'm afraid now I'm at a point where I have diversified my life so much that the person who really knows where I'm coming from has become an extremely rare thing, and maybe doesn't even exist. I share a little bit with a LOT of people, but who do I share almost everything with? Anyone?

Does this happen to everyone at a certain age due to their accumulated experiences? Did I make it worse by moving here? Or am I just being immature by thinking that no one can relate?

We all try so hard to be individuals and different from everyone else, but when you really get there - to the point where you really don't fit in anywhere anymore - you kind of wish you could just simplify your life by belonging to a group and having your decisions essentially made for you by the group's norms and peer pressure. Of course, if that was really happening, I wouldn't really want that either.

Argh.
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