Thursday, January 28, 2010

The German Office Christmas Party

Back when I was wearing the splint and not blogging I said I'd write about a few things and still haven't gotten too far down that list. So, now for the office Christmas party. I thought I'd blogged about the last time I went to an office Christmas party (2007), but if I did, I can't find that post now.

The 2007 office Christmas party wasn't too awesome. We had assigned seating so that people wouldn't interact too much with those they already liked. It didn't matter anyway, because all of my work friends either skipped the party or were already away from Heidelberg for the holidays. I was confused about eating - on the first trip through the food line, before the main dish arrived, I took salad. Then I looked around the room and noticed everyone else had taken cake. Oops. It looked like the Wichteln - the white elephant gift - that I'd brought wasn't exactly right. Well, as a somewhat new expat I didn't have a lot of white-elephant-appropriate things just laying around my apartment at the time - mostly only necessities. And the game was a word game, which they told us we could do in German or English. Everyone else did it in German. (All the fellow foreigners being out of town already.) Word games with a mixed-native-language crowd are a major no-no in my mind. I learned this in Boston when our parties generally included PhD students from all over the world - no word games. No matter how great someone's English gets, the wording of, for example, Trivial Pursuit questions, is going to be too tricky and convoluted. Well, whoever organized the game for the 2007 office Christmas party either never learned that one, or didn't care. Equal chances of both, I'd say.

So, I went back and forth on whether to attend this year's office party. My officemate, another foreigner, swore she wouldn't go. We both went. Not sure why she did. I went because most of my friends were going to be there this time, and also, I kind of liked the idea of getting rid of some junk I had lying around in the Wichteln. (Two years later, even expats manage to accumulate crap they don't want...)

This time, when the food started, I was all prepared to go for the cake instead of salad - when in Rome and all. But when I looked around, everyone else was eating salad!! Good thing I noticed in time to get salad instead of cake. Now I'm really confused. It could be that the 2007 and 2009 parties started at different times and that this activates some kind of special code about whether cake or salad is eaten first. I can't remember when the 2007 started, though, so not sure about that.

There was no seating chart this time. That was a plus. I was one of the last to wander in (my office is off-site now) so I ended up near the door with a bunch of other foreigners - my officemate, two Chinese girls, a good work friend, and one German who apparently hangs out more with foreigners now since having spent a lot of time in different countries. One of the Chinese girls had arrived in Germany within the past month. She couldn't even understand German text messages telling her she had a new voicemail yet.

So, seriously, my English at Work rant bubbled up all over again when it turned out the party was to be conducted entirely in German. The secretary explained the party schedule in German (I was sorry to hear the Wichteln was last so we were all stuck for the long haul) and then....not in English afterward. The boss said some nice words about the year - in German. I really felt for the brand new Chinese girl, not to mention the 3-4 other foreigners whose German is still more limited than mine, and mine is not all that awesome. I started ranting about this at our table. The German guy said he really thought we should say something to the boss and things would change, but I think it's clear that that is not the case. The boss himself just stood up there and spoke only in German. That doesn't sound like a guy who cares whether foreigners or noobs feel welcome.

And it's not like he's not aware that not everyone speaks German. After food, it was game time. A German friend assured me she thought the game would be better this time because she knew some people were really working hard on it. So, imagine my surprise when the game was less inclusive than I could have possibly guessed. Two people got up to explain that the game was all about fairy tales. On paper they had written several riddles and we had to each take a paper and guess which fairy tales the riddles were referring to. At the end were a few quiz questions about more fairy tales. All was explained only in German. They handed them out and said the foreigners should just their neighbors ask for help translating. All was written only in German. The boss, who had been sitting nearby, came over to my table o' foreigners (our one German had gone home long before) and asked us if there was any point helping us translate since we probably wouldn't know the fairy tales anyway, since they were all German. I told him I could read just about everything except a couple of archaic words (riddles tend to be full of crap like that) which he wasn't sure how to translate anyway. He said sorry and wandered off to another table. My friend and I got almost half of them - all the ones that had left German borders, like the Bremen Town Musicians and Little Red Riding Hood. The rest were obscure things no foreigner would ever have heard of.

I appreciate the time the two coworkers put into writing riddles and typing this up and everything (unless they got it online) and coming up with clever fairy-tale related prizes for the winners, but WTF?! Could you be more exclusionary? The two Chinese girls just talked to each other in Chinese the whole time. My officemate just watched my friend and I try to fill it in. Our department is more than a quarter foreigners now! Even if the game had been in English none of us would have known the less famous ones since we didn't grow up here.

Of course I am taking it too seriously, it's just a game. What I don't like is what it represents in general, which is just not giving a shit about being inclusive. Something that grates on inclusivity-obsessed Americans, I guess.

Anyway, that was all! The good thing was that I got rid of three things (yeah I just pack up lots of junk for one non-lucky Wichteln recipient) and received a photo frame which actually turned out to be pretty handy. And I got to feel all irritatingly self-righteous about the language thing. Um, yay.

(I'm just a ball of cheer lately eh? :D Next post will be more fun, I swear!)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Americans Eat Crap

It's a favorite pastime of Germans (and other Europeans) to comment on the fact that Americans eat crappy food - implying, of course, that they themselves are feasting on nothing but bakery bread and fresh local vegetables from the markets.

Well, they aren't.

Aldi, Lidl, Norma, Netto, and Penny apparently count for 70% of Germany's retail food market! Amazing! It takes a lot of work to weed through and find the non-crap at some of these places. It's kind of like shopping at Trader Joe's only without all the interesting/granola-y foods - tons of processed food, crappy produce, some basics are not available there, etc. Hopefully what Germans are buying there are the staples that are no different from any store - mineral water, milk, eggs, sugar, etc. But someone has to be buying all those icky cold cuts, frozen cordon bleu, horrible plastic-wrapped cakes, Crusti Croc Erdnuss flips...

Is it just me? I think they're eating a lot like Americans!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Schiltach (in the Schwarzwald)

As I mentioned in a post at the start of December, it's been not the best year ever over here at House Heidelbergerin. So, we decided to take a do-nothing vacation in the Black Forest after Christmas. This is a first for us! Normally our vacations are full of stuff we want to do and see, but the point of this one was just to have a change of scenery and relax.

We rented a car and got a room at Hotel Waldblick (do not click unless your tolerance for the disaster that is Adobe Flash is way higher than mine) in Schenkenzell, a tiny town in the Kinzig Valley near Schiltach. The hotel was really great - a nice bathroom (with tub, a major plus for my splint-wearing self), comfortable bed, really incredible service, and a restaurant that makes a mean Kaesespaetzle (it's not on the menu but just ask for it). Every time I go south I'm amazed at how friendly it is; it's like another planet, and Heidelberg really isn't all that unfriendly itself.

In retrospect the car may have been unnecessary since we did so little, but we were afraid of getting bored and feeling stuck in Schenkenzell with only a few trains coming through, so we got it anyway and we did put it to good use - more than what we could have done with only the train - it's just that we found out that most of the places we wandered to weren't really worth the trip.

On our first day there we wandered into Schiltach to check it out. The town's Marktplatz is up on a hill and if you enter from road below as we did, you climb a couple of flights of stairs to it from the road, and it makes for a really cool experience to see it for the first time. There are a lot of cute houses and, in the quarter along the river, a free museum in what used to be a sawmill. They also tanned leather in Schiltach and part of the museum is dedicated to tanning. It's small, but worth the free entry fee. :)

Schiltach + other Schwarzwald Dez 09

We also went to Gutach one day, thinking there must be something to see there other than their open air museum, which is closed in the winter. Turns out there isn't. On the way back we stopped in some other -ach-ending town for something that was marked on brown signs along the highway as a Glashuette. It turned out to be a glass museum and shop. We weren't interested in paying for the museum, but checked out the shop. All the glass crap you could never want. Otherwise, we didn't do much! Bad news followed us on the trip - on the second day, I got a phone call about a major tragedy in the family, worse than anything else that had yet happened in 2009.

I toasted the arrival of 2010 like no year ever before. GTFO, 2009.


In completely unrelated news, Damon managed to acquire DVDs of the first three seasons of The Muppet Show over the past 3 months so we've been going through them slowly. A couple of weeks ago we got to one of the best, the Elton John show. Since then one of my favorite Elton songs has been stuck in my head non-stop! So I am sharing it as seen on the Muppets. :)


Friday, January 15, 2010

Or you could just WALK, you lazy POS!

(click to see larger)

I love how the RNV website now lists walking as an alternative option to taking any of their buses or trams. They also remind you that it is free to walk! All against their own financial interest, so they clearly think we are lazy. :D

Monday, January 11, 2010

I'm freeee!! Or my hand is.

Today they let me stop wearing the splint. Yay! I can't tell you how nice it is to finally wash both hands and other such awesome luxuries. The wrist is pretty stiff but the doctor said to just go ahead and start doing everything I normally do, but wrist movements should be a little slow at first. (And she was right, I found out the hard way.) I can even bike again if I want, but I'm definitely not ready to bike in inclement weather again yet, and we're definitely having that. There might be a whole 6-7cm of snow on the ground right now!! This would have been nothing in most places I've lived, but since I live here now this is the most snow I've seen in a long time and super-exciting. Now if only it would snow enough to call off Tuesday...