Halt Your Enthusiasm!

I am here in Germany visiting my gf, and I happen to be here when the city of Mainz is celebrating their annual Johannisnacht festival. Last night was the final night, and it was celebrated in style with a 15-minute firework display, which my gf and I watched from Theodor-Heuss Bridge that links Wiesbaden and Mainz.

Johannisnacht 1On the first night of the festival, Friday night, my gf and I walked to the city center where the festivities were held and ate a bit of food and had a beer or two. That was the night I learned my first lesson in Germany enthusiasm: Wait until the song, event, phenomenon, is completely finished before celebrating. I am quiet serious. That Friday night we enjoyed a few songs from an all too impressive Black Sabbath cover band playing at one end of the festivities. Being a Sabbath fan from my teenage years, I sang along and cheered whenever I was struck with excitement. And for this, I received some good ol’ fashion German upbraiding: the stare! First, yes, I was the only one clapping… of which my gf informed me I was, um, premature in my celebration (soooo American, she says). And then I got a stare. The stare from an older German gentleman whose fun I was apparently ruining. Lesson learned.

Three night later and I am about to test my new found knowledge at the final celebratory night. It was tough. It was tough for this red-blooded “didn’t-know-how-American-he-was-until-fireworks-came-out” guy NOT to “oooh,” “aaah,” and cheer every time some pretty colors burst over the Rhine. So, I was quiet. I stood and listened to some sparsely hasty, yet hushed, German excitement over the larger fireworks. But for the most part, the collection of citizens in the photos below didn’t make as sound during the whole fiery procession.

Only one dared to make a sound. As an acute cluster of fireworks dissipated, one promisingly remarkable firework shot forth into the sky. As the dormant firework traveled upwards, I heard from a man on my right as the rocket shot high, a barely audible remark; a lovely admission of the pretense of excitement echoed in the most German way possible. A small, yet significant, word was uttered in an almost official tone: “Jawohl…”.

Fireworks 1Fireworks 2

Fireworks 3Fireworks 4

Jawohl. You’re damn right, “Jawohl”.


A Happy Hangover Post

“(Heavy sigh) Now I can sink thraight.”
-my gf after our huge hangover breakfast

Sometimes, don’t laugh, I’ll stop and take notice of the color or the shape of something I usually take for granted—beige paint on a wall, the nicks in wood flooring—and realize where I am. Existentially speaking; where I am. Yeah. Strange, huh? Right now I’m sitting in a one-bedroom apartment in Mainz, Germany that I share with my gf; well, for the next five days. Mainz is 30 minutes north of where my father’s ancestors married, had children, and eventually left Germany for America over 120 years ago. And here I am. Sitting on a purple, plush IKEA couch that lays flat, but last night was upright so that it could make more room for the eleven people gathering in this little apartment for a night of hamburgers, french fries, and Jack and Coke’s.

The guests arrived promptly around 7:00pm. At 6:53pm, I was out getting last-minute-tomatoes for our 2-dozen hamburgers were were making that night for the eight Germans, one Croatian, one Pole, and, me, the lone American, when I ran into a few of the attendees out buying bottles of wine before their arrival. I quickly headed them off and made it up stairs in time to check on the french fries. The buzzer rang just as I stepped inside. My gf was nervous, so I stayed out of her way and entertained the guests while she and a German girlfriend or two of hers cooked. The night went well. I kept the guests, who are all mutual acquaintances, very entertained with stories and anecdotes that I delivered with a big, healthy American smile (I may even have a German man date tomorrow night). At one point during a conversation where I fell into a nice rhythm of my colloquial English, the German girl I was speaking to said with the nicest smile and a healthy, glowing blush, “I don’t understand what you are saying, so I will just sit here and eat my cake.” I almost fell off the couch laughing! Those Germans. They really do not mess around.

And then the whiskey went dry. One bottle of the finest Jack Daniel’s our local REWE has to offer down, and this same girl’s bf offered to buy another. And so he did. This is possibly more whiskey then that little store has sold in a year. After all the couples left, three guests stayed far beyond what my gf determined, with a subtlety notable in the female of our species, was a good hour to still be welcomed in her apartment. They got the hint, and eventually left my gf and I alone to argue over why my being completely hammered left me heedless to her delicate intimations. But the best part about having a little row is making up: laughing how foolish you were as you piece together the night, shaking your head while thinking about a missed chance for the right phrase or a slightly misunderstood statement.

So, today we are spending the day hungover; sleeping, cleaning, laughing about last night, and eating a humongous breakfast consisting of OJ, lots of water, aspirin, bacon, meatballs, scrambled eggs, bread and Bresso (if you don’t know what Bresso is, seriously, you should. It’s simply amazing). You see, hangovers have a way of causing me to reflect more than usual. And I am so happy to have this life.

It takes a lot for me to write that statement. Where I grew up, the Midwest, we don’t go around telling people how happy we are. That is considered bragging. We talk about experiences as though they are moments to get through; moments that happened to us, but they don’t affect our character or redetermine our lives. Are concerns are pragmatic not romantic, practical not sentimental. Being unhappy with some aspect of our lives is an essentially sympathetic role of our Midwestern character. It’s like a warm hug, or a way of knowing someone is from the same region. Back there, in my Midwest States, we qualify our happiness. We don’t often simply say: I am happy. Period. Punkt. Full stop. There is always something. Always a thorn. Always an I’m happy, but…

But, I’m not happy, but… I’m happy. And I like that. Full stop.

A Pragmatic 7 Day Reflection, and a Slight Rant

“I leave in 7 days, and I have only now grown accustomed to that queen size piece of cardboard she calls a bed.”

For those of you just tuning in: I’ve been in Deutschland for the past 23 days, of which 7 remain out of a 30 day sojourn. My gf has lived in this beautiful and highly organized nation for the past 20 years, and she is currently completing her PhD in British Literature here in Mainz, Deutschland. My position as an adjunct professor allows me a break from time to time, where I can, let’s say, skip a semester (which are only 5 weeks where I teach), and fly here to be with her. Plus, I earn enough vacation from my other job at the international coffee production line to take off for a month or so. This isn’t too bad of a life, but that is now what this post is about.

First off, her orchid has returned. The blame for the resurgence of her rather delicate and fussy orchid is placed squarely upon me. It seems that all the flowers bloom just a bit more when I am here. I think that’s fair. Personally, I believe it has to do with the fact that I open up the curtains first thing in the morning; her, being a more romantic, less pragmatic individual, believes it has something to do with the presence of Love. I like that idea too. We have done so much in my time here, but I cannot remember much. I have a feeling of normalcy, though; and that is what I wanted from this visit. I wanted that normalcy that couples feel when they are near each other enough to lose that intensity of focus; just so that they can return to it later. We established that one week before I left from my last 18-day visit in February 2012. It was intense. We went to London and Rome over a 5-day period, but settled quietly with one another upon our return to Mainz. The time before that was a hefty 9 days, where we visited Undenheim, the town of my ancestors and went to Mainz’ Oktoberfest. After February, we met in Boston for 6 days. I think 30 days is the right amount for a lovely visit.

We attended a soccer game this past Saturday afternoon, where Mainz conquered Düsseldorf in a blazing 1:0 victory! We are hosting an “American style” party Thursday evening for 11 individuals in this rather quaint 1-bedroom apartment that is generous for two, but crammed for 11. She is cooking cheeseburgers and french fries, and I am making Jack and Coke‘s for her fellow German friends. We have selected the playlist of cliché American tunes from the American Graffiti soundtrack, and are going to be cleaning and food shopping most of the day tomorrow; but that’s not what this is about.

I don’t rant very often on this blog. I find it a bit cliché, and I tend to accept and welcome life’s absurdities as they come. Only, last night I got a taste of the German system. Oh, it was just enough to leave a bitterness on my tongue, but not enough to tarnish my vision of this nation. We attended Mozart‘s “Cose Fan Tutte” opera last night at Mainz’ State Theater. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was sung in Italian and the “subtitles” were in German, so I didn’t understand a damn thing, but it was fun.

My gf’s ticket was free because she is a student, mine was 15€. We looked marvelous. All dressed up: new sport coat, blue tie, scarf, dress shoes; leggings, black dress, black clutch; to the hilt, as they say. We went to sit down and the seat attendant wouldn’t let us sit down because my gf’s student ID had expired by 9 days. 9 flippin’ days! We bought the ticket only 2 days ago, and no one bothered us then. But this little man held us up and caused a “Männchen-Stau” of rather pretty looking Germans to back up behind us. My lovely & patient gf told him she would run home then and get her new ID, and then he told us to wait a little bit while he would “see what he could do”. I, of course, ranted that we should seek someone higher up, but instead we waited like dummkompfs for about 3 minutes while he made up his mind to let us in to our seats, and other attendees passed us by.

Now, here’s the thing: really? Do you really have trouble with students sneaking in to Mozart! Friggin’ Mozart! Do you think students sit around and hatch ideas about how to best avoid the hefty 15€ for a night at the opera!? No. And let’s put this in perspective, roughly 65-70% of the attendees were conceived the night of the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty. They lack the youthful ingenuity & tenacity of a Lady Gaga crowd. What a silly, particular, and thorough little man this seat attendant was; and although we may have learned a lesson about the German penchant for dates, tickets, and numbers, I do hope that this little ticket attendant learned to be a bit more forgiving and sympathetic toward his patrons.

The night ended well with the elderly couple to our left saying a gentle farewell after the show, a free bus ride with the purchase of our tickets, and a quiet discussion of the night’s events over a glass of wine. I think the Germans are wonderful people, and once you establish a rapport, they can be some of the most opening and genuinely welcoming people. They say “hello” and “good bye” when they share a table with you, and they find small instances of affection and love absolutely endearing. BUT, you have to make sure your paperwork is in order, or else the most charming smile and delightful laughter will fall silent against a concrete penchant for order.

Thanks for reading!

Cultural Mythology at the German Laundromat

“At the end of drying time the laundry is very fluffy and flat.”
-English drying instructions posted in a German laundromat

First off, the laundromat down the street from the apartment I am staying at with my gf in Mainz, Germany until Oct. 17th is pristine. I’m from the American suburbs. I haven’t the need to go to laundromats. But in my mind there lurks a very specific image of what a laundromat must be like: dirty, smelly, unkempt, with pushy people lounging around smoking cigarettes or blabbing away on their cellphones. Not in Deutschland.

Before you start to think this is some First World rant by some privileged, white, suburban male who decided to use the dryer at a laundromat, let me draw your attention to the purpose of this post: the German-English translation. It is a beautiful thing that causes riotous laughter on my part, which often shocks the average German standing next to me.

Example: To the immediate left is a photo of the Drying instructions in my local German laundromat. On the wall to its left is the Washing instructions, which I will get to in a bit. Don’t get me wrong, these instructions are very helpful; but they are often hilarious.

I’ve blown up the photo and made a vignette so you can better see the area to which I am referring. The last red bullet point above the “Safety advices” reads: “At the end of drying time the laundry is very fluffy and flat. You can obey crinkles, if you will get out laundry at once and fold it directly. Oftenly you can spare ironing of this laundry.” Huh? 😀 Even through the translation, the point is clear, and yet I can’t help hearing a very loud German man in mauve green lederhosen yelling at me “You must obey crinkles!” whenever I read this passage.

The washing instructions carried a similar translation, but in its silliness revealed a difference between the cultural responsibilities of American and German citizens. I’ll let the picture explain.

On the immediate left is the vignetted  image of the Washing instructions, highlighting the area of interest. The fourth blue bullet point above “General washing advices” reads: “Please do not use more detergent than issued. The washing machine will foam too much, which will bring out a bad washing output and of course a worse washing effort.” Now that we are past the whole ‘this is a crazy-bad-funny translation thing,’ let’s look at these two words: “of course”. I’ll ask this question: upon first read, what do you think of those words? My gf and I were engrossed in conversation about these words all the while our clothes were drying. We agreed that the words “of course” signify a level of personal responsibility that is mitigated by overall good of the German state.

The “huh” you say!?! At first, I thought “of course” was an inherent condescending insult to a person’s intelligence. I then realized I’m American, and I think I already know everything. I relaxed and considered that the “of course” was a sweet pat on the head by the German state saying, “Of course you know this my child, but we want to make it perfectly clear for your own good and the good of Germany.” The American label, if it was still legible from cigarette burns, graffiti, and the bored peelings of the teenage mind, would have clearly stopped at the action and its consequence. “Don’t do this, or this will happen!” Beyond that simple message, it is up to you.

Gratuitous Patriotic Cookie Image

In America, we don’t really care if your overloading the machine results in a “bad washing output” or a “worse washing effort,” as the translation relates. Your clothes, once they go in the machine, are your problem. It seems here in Deutschland the simple fact that possible mistakes are considered and, hmmm, not exactly, prohibited, but simply stymied from occurring is a metaphor for what distinguishes American culture from German culture. The German state does not want its citizens to fail, while America could care less. One could even argue that American mythology is based solely on the overcoming of odds by a single individual against a larger, more powerful entity. Falling from grace and getting back up is America’s mythology, while ensuring that a citizen will not fall is Germany’s mythology.

Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think.

And remember to “obey your crinkles! Jawohl!”

A Lufthansa Arrival, or How I Almost Became an Overnight Male

“What should I do if my baggage is lost?
Please report the loss of your baggage immediately at the appropriate counter. If you do not report the loss until later, you will need to prove it retrospectively, which is clearly more complicated. You will find detailed information on this subject on our page Lost or damaged baggage.”

F.A.Q., Official Lufthansa website

Well, dear readers, I made it to Germany safe, sound, and all in one piece. And, of course, there are some stories. One I shall gloss over now, and one I shall share in another post.

The first is simple: Lufthansa lost my luggage. Naturally this is a small fear each of us has while traveling, right? Going to a foreign country and packing everything you need only to have it lost somewhere between Chicago and Frankfurt, and delivered far too late for your favorite toothbrush, soap, or underwear to be of any use. Well, as any good German citizen or entity, Lufthansa has a back-up plan.

It is… The Male Overnight Kit!

Yes, the Male Overnight Kit. It contains everything the Overnight Male needs:

  • 1 plain, black toothbrush;
  • 1 plain, black, folded comb;
  • 25g Colgate toothpaste;
  • .85 fl oz Senzai shaving cream;
  • 1 Rexona, ice cool deodorant;
  • .9 fl oz Neutrogena shampoo;
  • 2 cotton buds;
  • 1 single, white, disposable razor;
  • 1 XXL, white, crew cut t-shirt;
  • and, 1 single, silver packet laundry detergent.

If I should ever join Tyler Durden’s Project Mayhem, I shall be fully prepared.

So, armed with a receipt bearing a phone number and a reference ID and my lone carry-on, I went to meet my gf outside Frankfurt airport’s International Arrival gate. She was not there waiting for me. I later found out that after waiting some 90 minutes my plane arrival had disappeared from the electronic board, and, in a panic, my gf went in search of information. (“If I had to wait another 5 minutes, I would have died!” is the exact phrase). After having searched the dozen or so waiting tables in the international area and deciding to locate information myself, I spotted my gf coming toward me through a long hallway with two sliding glass doors. I calmly waited with a knowing and profoundly glad smile painted on my face, and we embraced like lovers will after not seeing one another for five months. Dear readers, allow me a personal note here: there is nothing, nothing, like the romantic airport kiss near the international arrival gate (Oh God, My Wife Is German, I know you know what I’m talking about!). One should really try it, or add it to a bucket list.

Jetzt Ich bin angekommen!

Well, later that evening, just as we were finishing our dinner conversation, a very nice, middle-aged German gentleman from Lufthansa delivered my luggage. How nice of the Germans, aye? My arrival was so special that they decided I did not need lug my 50 pound suitcase on the train from Frankfurt to Mainz and all the way through town, echoing the rickety-rickety-rickety sound of suitcase wheels on cobblestones, and that I should focus solely on being with my gf. So, thank you Lufthansa!

And, to make my point clear, now that my shaving mirror is firmly attached to the interior of my gf’s shower, my arrival in Deutschland is official.

Thanks everyone for reading.