Sunday, November 30, 2008

Note to Pie Pants

Dear Pie Pants,
I really want to comment on your blog, but every time I go to it, my internet stops working (it disconnects). (Hence leaving this message here - I don't know where else to put it!) Any ideas what might be causing this? It doesn't happen with any other sites.
CN :)

Friday, November 28, 2008

It's Cold

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ikea on Saturday (Avoid)

We have been needing to get to Ikea again for weeks - actually, it's probably been months. A friend graciously offered to drive us over there! There were a number of things on our to-do list there.

The Snille chair we got long ago didn't take well to being assembled and was doomed from the start. Within a few months, it was cracking along a stress point and getting gradually worse. We didn't trust another one so we replaced it with the next cheapest desk chair, Jules. Jules had some wheel problems - the screw on one of them lost its threads and wouldn't stay in. So, we needed replacement parts for these chairs - or new chairs entirely. We got two new wheels for Jules free at the parts/exchange desk. Turned out the socket had no threads anymore either, so the new wheels didn't help and Jules is still crippled. For Snille, we got a new top, which is conveniently sold separately from the bottom, for 8 EUR. Unfortunately Damon wouldn't go for pink (darn!) and we had to get green again. (He tells me one day I'll get to have my own room to decorate all girly-like. I know this will not really happen because we are in academics and will never, ever, never, ever have an extra dollar to spare on a room just for me to put pink chairs in.)

We also had some problems with our Ikea bathroom light fixture, which is one of the very few lights that actually came with our apartment. It looked like a relic from the 80s, but it turns out Ikea still sells the same model, Musik. We don't have a drill to drill new holes in the bathroom's tiled walls, so we had to get something that could use the same holes. It was forty Euro I was annoyed to spend since we won't get to take it with us. I'm still in the mindset that tenants shouldn't be responsible for repair and replacement of what is owned by the landlord - for more reasons than just not wanting to take care of it myself. When we went to install it, it turned out whoever put the last one up had actually NOT used the original mounting holes on the Musik fixture, but had drilled in new ones to match whatever ancient holes already existed in the wall. This is probably why the sockets ended up dysfunctional one by one - the exposure to all the moisture in the bathroom through the unused original mounting holes. Well, we had to use the old fixture and snap the new front on, since we can't drill new holes in the wall to match the fixture, so the same damn thing is going to happen again. Argh. This is the first time we've had a properly working light in the bathroom since we moved here, and wow, it's bright. I think I might have to start cleaning it more often.

We looked at new supports for our mattresses, because we're destroying our backs on the ones we got, which are too curved. Unfortunately the new ones wouldn't fit in the car so we will have to wait on that. We also hoped for curtains. All this time we've just been putting down the Rolladen if we wanted privacy, and that's not really the best way to go, as it gets really dark. But, the fabric I chose (the second image here) wasn't in stock! I don't want to pick my curtains based on what's in stock, I wanted the ones I liked! So, that will have to wait too.

We also left with a pot for a plant I got for my birthday, some candles, a toilet brush (80 cents! Can't get that price at the stores we can walk to.), a vase (1.50 EUR and Damon can still drink out of his favorite hefe glass even when he buys me flowers), a new pillow for the couch to replace the old deformed one, some new shower caddies, and some plastic lidded containers.

It's a good thing Ikea has the redeeming and attractive quality of being so insanely cheap. Many things are half the price they would cost at any store we can get to easily. And, that explains why it is such hell to go there - if I could buy everything there for those prices any time, I totally would - and everyone who can go there all the time is thinking the same thing. And going there. All the time. The place is enormous. It's completely packed and everyone has brought their entire family, so there's lots of wailing and crying and worrying about whether you might step on a little one. It's hot in there and there's someone perpetually cutting you off or pushing past you with nary an "Entschuldigung!" or any other acknowledgment of your existence. It's almost worth the suffering for the joy of having it over with and stepping back into the fresh air alone!

But until we can afford otherwise - and we won't, see the above note about academics - we'll be going back when we can.

*Edited to correct German. No more blogging late at night for me!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

American Food Party!

We had a small party on Saturday to celebrate my birthday (a little belated) and the end of the torturous election season. I'd been saving up some of the American foods people sent or brought me for just such an occasion. The notice was a little late for all the social butterflies in my life, but the party was still big enough to devour almost everything! And, it was the perfect size party to revive an old high school favorite, the card game Spoons (now with alcohol!) - and to revive an old Boston love of mine, Dance Dance Revolution!

The recipes are very everyday Midwest:

Corn Stuff (aka Scalloped Corn...but it doesn't seem to fit)

1 can corn (sent by my mother-in-law - you can probably find it in Germany though)
1 can creamed corn (sent by my mother-in-law)
1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix (brought by my sister)
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream (used the saure Sahne - could have gone with creme fraiche, which in some ways is more like American sour cream)
1/2 cup butter, cut up in pieces
4 tbsp. chopped onion

Mix all the ingredients together and pour in a 2 quart casserole dish or 9x12" pan. (My sister sent a 9x12" to me, but there is a German size that is just a little bit larger that could work.) Bake at 350'F (175'C) for 45 minutes or until done. It takes a little longer if you use a deeper 2-qt dish.

Fudge Recipe from the Fluff Company

For this one, my sister had sent me Fluff, but I heard through the grapevine that you can find it at Karstadt in Viernheim. I got the evaporated milk at the Piccadilly English Shop, but you can also usually get it at the Asian market. A college friend brought me American vanilla extract, but I would have subbed in the vanilla stuff they sell in a bottle here if she hadn't, even though it isn't the same. Another college friend stocked me up on chocolate chips when she visited. I do need more of those though, they are almost always involved when I decide to make something for a party!

Jello Pudding Pie

I woke up one day a little while back with an intense craving for a graham cracker crust, and that same day my sister was looking for ideas of stuff to send over. So, she sent a graham cracker crust (it survived the mail surprisingly well) and two boxes of chocolate Jello pudding mix. I just followed the instructions on the box for pie and got some Schlagsahne for the top! (No, it wasn't as delicious as the totally bad-for-you non-dairy stuff you can get in the US.)

We also had mixes for spinach dip and garlic spread from my Dad's wife and we made both of those. The dip called for mayo and sour cream. This time I subbed in creme fraiche for the sour cream, and I got mayo from the English shop again, because I didn't want to risk the potential disaster of subbing in German mayo again! I got crackers for the spread at the English store - a party mix - but I wasn't that impressed with them. There weren't very many and a lot were broken. Some of them were cookies instead of crackers, even though the box said they were to have with cheese. I miss my Pepperidge Farm party variety mix!

All in all, totally unhealthy midwestern food that your average healthy Bostonian would be loathe to even touch, but it always goes over really well here and everyone thinks it's exotic! :)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

How does it feel to be an American expat in Germany at a time like this?

Last night, we went for drinks with a couple of friends (German and Indian) at a little tiny French bar. We toasted Obama, and shortly thereafter, a group of three German women came in. When they ordered drinks, they, too, toasted Obama. Wow.

I came home to find some rather inflammatory comments on yesterday's blog post. While I don't appreciate the way the comments were delivered, they do bring up a point I wanted to address and didn't yesterday because I wrote my post in a hurry.

In 2004, I voted for Kerry. This year, I voted for Obama. My President now is George Bush, and my President in January will be Barack Obama. But between last year at this time, or Monday at this time, or whenever, and today, nothing about me has changed. And nothing about me was going to change depending on the outcome of this election. I still voted Obama, whether Obama won or McCain won. But, because I'm an American, and I have to represent my government to a certain degree, even though I have not changed, people's perception of me has.

Whether it's right or wrong that people see me differently now based on an election in which I had the same role no matter who won, it is still something I have to live with. Even if it is wrong for people to pin the government on individuals, it does make me feel better that people are excited and happy about my country again, and especially so because I myself prefer Obama to Bush! We are representatives of the United States and we are asked to explain and defend our country and our people, and their decisions, while we're here. I do it - even when I don't agree with the views I'm defending, I try to explain where they are coming from, while also trying to make sure people know it's something with which I don't personally identify. You get used to it, and I don't mind doing it, but there's something so much more relaxed now, even if it's just for a while, while everyone is still hopeful and in a party mood. I just feel relieved, at least for a few moments, that I agree with something my country did, and so does almost everyone around me.

Here's what some other, more eloquent American expats are saying:
"Today I feel as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Being an expat while George W. Bush was president generated a constant background sense of unease. You never knew when you would next be verbally assaulted because of the President's latest action. These unhinged ranters were bad enough, but the sincere, reasonable people were somehow worse. They would explain how they had long admired the United States, spend an enriching year there as an exchange student, kept up with American friends and acquaintances, and maintained a benevolent interest in all things American. They even gave George W. Bush the benefit of the doubt after 9/11. Then the lawlessness, brutality, and glib incompetence began eating away at their image of Bush, and the seeming acquiescence of ordinary Americans in Bush's acts undermined their faith in the nation as a whole." German Joys
"A funny thing happened to me today. For the first time in eight years of living in Europe, I walked around wishing that everyone around me knew I was American." This Non-American Life

"I am proud of us today. And I feel like something almost forgotten, some fine ideal, has come striding forward through the murk and disillusion of my brain, just like Obama striding across that stage in Chicago last night . . . there's something truly grand about that place, over there, that I still call 'home.'" Euro Like Me
"I think I can say I’m proud, today, by association at least, with no reservation, to be an American. There is still some good in us. It has been a long time since the entire world could rejoice with us about anything. The sense of relief is profound."
"For the entire time I've lived abroad it has been my habit to cringe when a well-meaning person has asked where I hail from originally. "Ummm... the United States." . . . I know that today for the first time in many years, I will be able to hold my head up and answer the question of my national origin... not with my normal hesitation... not with fear of retribution... but with PRIDE." Snooker in Berlin
"Then I went outside to go pick up some groceries. It was then I felt different. I thought about the fact that my country, which had for so long been the butt of jokes, the target of so much rancor, and a cause for disappointment had done what we all thought was impossible. We elected a black man to the highest office of the government, and did so resoundingly. Old people, young people, black, white, Asian, rich, poor. I suddenly felt flush with emotion. There may have been an errant tear from the side of my eye. I suddenly wished I had a big fat sign on my back that said, I'm American! And I would have been proud to wear it." Pie Pants

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

It's Different Today.

Today I went to the post office to send a package off to my sister in Seattle. When I finally got to the front of the line, I set my package down on the desk and the guy just went off. I was completely flustered, because I hadn't expected this at all and I wasn't catching any of the words, he was talking so quickly and excitedly. Post employees are usually pretty much just business, especially when the line is half an hour long like it was. I started to wonder if I had addressed the package inappropriately when he noticed my confusion and backtracked a bit.

"Are you from America? You have chosen Obama as your new President! This is a chance for new beginnings for America, and for the whole world!" He had the biggest shit-eating grin on his face I've ever seen, mumbling a few more times about how great it was.


Germany wants to love America again.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Mildly Political Post

1 comment
Jeweled Concrete posted some interesting articles yesterday along the American political theme. I thought this one in particular, from Der Spiegel, had an introduction that summarizes well the European perception of the United States:

America is a wonderful country, with jaw-dropping wilderness and wide open spaces that seem as far removed from New York or Los Angeles as the moon. America has the best universities with the most brilliant scientists who win a host of Nobel Prizes year after year.

This is also home to the world's leading think tanks, where highly impressive studies are conducted on topics like the future of world politics, religion and capitalism. These institutions produce works written in a readily understandable language based on a firm belief in the power of reasoning, rather than ivory tower musings with no connection to reality.

In all cultural spheres, from classical to trash, this is where the avant-garde emerges, time and again. Capitalism is regularly reinvented in America before it sets out again to conquer the world. America still attracts immigrants from countries around the globe . . .

This country believes that it has a predetermined role in the history of mankind -- a manifest destiny.

America? A horrendous country that betrays its own values every few years, thus forfeiting its moral right to lead the Western world. It elects presidents who know nothing about the world, and have no interest in learning more, which explains why they readily succumb to errors and illusions, only to reveal their utter amazement when they finally -- and usually too late -- admit their mistakes. Since 1945, America has been fighting wars in countries that it knows very little about, and under premises that have almost nothing to do with reality.

America is a superpower around the globe, but a Third World country at home, with an infrastructure that defies description . . .

There is also the obscene contrast between rich and poor, which has hardy interested or shocked any administration since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. What is even more obscene is the ignorance of a government that allows millions of people, in the richest country in the world, to live without health insurance. This is a government that stands by idly as the (primarily black) city of New Orleans disappears under floodwaters. Yes, the most obscene aspect of all remains the unacknowledged racism in this country of pragmatic enlightenment -- the ongoing prejudices of whites against blacks.

America is an extreme country, and no one feels indifferent about it. No matter whether you live in Karachi, Hamburg or Tbilisi -- you are bound to have an opinion about America. The US has friends and enemies all around the globe. America serves as a role model for Western industrialized societies, a model based on the spirit of Protestantism. But it also provides a paragon example of the downsides of this approach: materialism, unbridled consumerism, reckless exploitation of people and natural resources. This country the size of a continent has fascinating strengths and unparalleled weaknesses. It inspires both devoted admiration and aggressive contempt.

Everyone's watching today as the US votes for Bush's successor! There will be overnight parties in some German cities to see the results come in. Supposedly one will be able to watch the Munich and Berlin parties online at these links, although they aren't live as of this writing:

The only event in Heidelberg that I know about is at the DAI, and sounds a bit more fusty than the Berlin and Munich events. I envy you guys in the cities! Have a great time!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Levels of Hell


Click to see the full-size version. I would be interested in seeing other people's versions of this cartoon! Try it!
Here's my previous attempt at a comic for this blog.

Speaking of Lidl, I laughed out loud the other day when feedjit told me someone found my blog by googling 'burn down Lidl'. And judging by the comment they then left, looks like they're actually a Lidl employee.

In other news, I did an interview over at Expat Interviews. Here's a direct link to mine. This is another nice project for you fellow expats out there!