Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Almost Two Months In

Looking back on the almost-two-month mark in Germany, way back in 2006, it looks like at this point I was bitching about crappy mail forwarding, being amused by German sayings, complaining about the shower water temperature, and trying to get a feel for life without a dryer or an outdoor clothesline

Well, the mail forwarding this time hasn't been great.  Some things come, some things go to the old German apartment and our old landlord finds them.  Local sayings here are still amusing me.  Yesterday I heard "ta" for "thanks" two or three times and it confused me for a split second every time.  Our shower water temperature is extremely difficult to regulate but it heats up straight away and never goes to freezing cold, so I'm okay with it.  As for drying clothes, I'm so thrilled to have an outdoor clothesline!  Even though most days it's sort of hard to tell when you can actually use it without getting your clothes rained on.  Current observations indicate that I'd have to get up with the sun in the morning and start wash right away and have it on the line by 7a or so - since we seem to have the lowest risk of rain in the mornings.  If the weather is awful, never fear, because we have a washer/dryer combo.  If I just dry the clothes for 30 minutes or so and then hang them indoors they will still be dry pretty quickly and they won't humidify the apartment as much.

I think my biggest complaint at the morning is about getting around Birmingham.  It's not great.  Let's look at our options:

* Train - the train is actually really great if you are going to any place on our train line, and would be pretty good for any place not on our train line that connects at New Street.   This does include downtown, which is nice, but really it's a pretty limited selection of places that have good train access.

* Bus - requires exact change and the site to figure out bus routes is a little tricksy. I have managed to figure out a few routes.  The exact change thing is a pain in the ass.  Of course if you have a bus pass, good for you, but they only have the kind that cater to frequent users, which I am not.  This town desperately needs an Oyster-style card for infrequent transit users to make hopping on the bus easier.

* Bike - if you want to die.  I have already been in a bike accident in a town full of bikes and therefore full of drivers who know how to look out for them.  I am not ready to get my ass killed, so I'm not ready to bike anywhere in Birmingham except bike trails.  We have good access to biking along the river and the canal, but this again only gets you to a limited number of places.

* Walk - my preferred method.  Still, unless you have all day this gives you a limited area that's accessible.  And if you want to be carrying anything heavy it might be less fun.

* Car - EVERYONE IN BIRMINGHAM HAS A CAR.  Because of all the above points.  I think it's absurd to live in a city this size and have everyone tell me that really I'm going to need a car.'s kind of like being back in the US, which would be the same story.  Even though I lived in Chicago and Boston without a car, it was always limiting and I always figured one day I was going to grow up and have to get a car.  I always hope to keep putting that day off because I don't really enjoy driving, much less parking and paying for gas and insurance.  But, I think that day is rapidly approaching.  On the plus side, there might be a car sharing service opening up in our neighborhood soon which might help us put it off a little more.  Fingers crossed.

I've been a bum about writing lately and I know this is a little annoying for everyone back home who keeps up best this way.  First, I've got such a backup of Croatia photos and I wanted to put up the trip next, so I got behind there.  Gave up the idea of having to do Croatia next.  Second, I've honestly been feeling much more self-conscious about this blog since coming to Birmingham.  When I lived in Germany I felt that only a limited number of locals with special English-speaking interests would bother putting in the effort to read my foreign-language blog.  Now I'm writing in the same language the locals speak (for the most part) and they don't have to make any effort to read it at all!  Which is fine, just different.  I wonder if I'm actually delusionally thinking that I have more of a shot at fitting in here than I did in Germany and that I could mess that up with something I write.  Really I don't have much more of a shot - I started doing some stuff outside the academic sphere and have thus far been seen as a bit of a curiosity more than anything else - "how did you end up in Stirchley?" - but the shared language makes it easy to be fooled into thinking you could belong!  It's funny that I feel a bit less free socially when really it shouldn't have changed at all.  In the months ahead I'm sure all these feelings will come and go as they please.  Right now, my utter and true relief at being free of having to speak German, free to interact with people with ease, free to answer the door or the phone and know I'll probably understand, this relief is so great that it completely overshadows everything else.


  1. There is something about not being a tourist and not being fluent in a country's native-speak that for me can be comforting. But in an emergency, throw that preconception out the window.

    Maybe, it's a polite excuse for some to become "reserved" whereas in other situations they would be "introverted."

    1. It is comforting in that since you can't fit in, you can be whoever you want with no pressures. For me it's not an excuse to hide out and be unsocial at all....just worrying less about whether I'm wearing the right thing or brought the right thing to the party, because hey, they can just blame it on me being foreign. (On the reverse, as a foreigner it's not always easy to tell the strange natives from the normal ones...)

      But yes, it's scary when you think that if something bad were to happen you may not be able to communicate as effectively with someone who's helping you as you could in your native language.

  2. I feel your pain! 1 1/2 years and living in So Cali and I STILL don't feel like I have the pulse of the culture yet. So don't think that moving back to the US would allow you any more freedom of movement. :)

    I remember the first time 1 1/2 years ago I had to call customer service here about something and there was no anxiety involved - it was a freeing moment. Not because I couldn't get through the basic German involved but I think because I knew what to expect.

    What I have taken away from all my travels is that you can take a girl out of the Midwest but not the Midwest outta the girl... :)

    1. So Cal would definitely be a foreign country to this midwesterner!! (Midwesternerin?)

  3. Dude, I would be much more nervous about moving to So Cal than Germany or England.


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