“You can take an American out of America, but …”

Lange nicht gesehen! I’ve, like, totally bailed on my blog for awhile now, but as a proper American always does, I’ve got a completely understandable excuse at hand. More on the cultural elements of that implication another time.
[4 word sum up: Master’s while working overtime.]

We Americans are a busy, nay, incredibly overworked folk. Oh boy, are we ever.


If you don’t believe me, check out some of these statistics:

  • Estimates range from 34-47 hours per week for Americans, 35-40 for Germans.
  • Being that there is no minimum for paid vacations or holidays, one in four Americans get no paid vacation time. Those that do get 10 days, on average, and anywhere from 0-8 paid holidays.
  • Full time workers in Germany have the right to 20 paid vacation days, and anywhere from 1-14 paid holidays.
  • To live cheaply yet comfortably: in the Northwest, $1600 (in 2010). In Southern Germany, €900 (in 2018, so adjust for inflation…).

Thus I beg you, My Fellow Americans (Including Those Abroad), to consider the following: don’t you find yourself, as I often do, sharing the lucid details of your burnout-ripe work/school/social schedule with a friend or colleague, feeling a mixture of personal pride and pluck at the comment:

“Wow, you really ARE busy. That sounds stressful.”

Let’s unpack that briefly.


I realized, finally, after all these years, that most of the time, when my colleague or friend mentions that I am just so darn busy …

… that it’s NOT a reason to be proud. It’s meant to communicate exactly what is said; you are too busy, you should do less; and in this fairly context-independent communication culture, there is NOT a secret inference of “too much work = good citizen / person” behind it because, hello, we are in another culture, rife with it’s own secret inference and not my own.

Given how many vacations people take here, and re-realizing the way that they communicate, i.e. a very direct, say-what-I-mean-and-mean-what-I-say kind of communication, I’ve come to realize the error in my own interpretation of this comment.

The things they carried

ThingsTheyCarriedMy new approach to blogging begins today, an approach which I like to call “A little something is better than nothing.” Sound good? Splendid.

Today, as I was thinking about Tim O’Brien’s heartbreaking short story “The things they carried,” I actually got to thinking about the things I carry, and why I carry them. Also, the story is pretty good, so I’d give it a read, if I were you. Sticking with the general theme of my blog, I’ve organized my thoughts in the following way –

The things I carry (because I teach English):

  • sticky notes (for labeling activities and vocab reviews)
  • deck of mini-flashcards (for impromptu flashcardification)
  • 100 pens (do you need a pen?)
  • MP3 player (used 2/3 of the time for breaktime + travel between gigs, 1/3 of the time for awesome listening exercises!)
  • dice (for impromptu games)
  • English<->German dictionary (*now electronic! Whew. Thank you, smartphone!)
  • my teaching calendar (different schedule every week)
  • appx. $4-5 … I mean American dollars … in 1 dollar bills and odd change (appropriate for in-class coin-flip decision making and works as an easily portable cultural artifact)
  • small pieces of chocolate (for surprise candy-questions)

So enough about my Mary Poppins bag-of=everything that I shlep about …

Now, the question stands – what about the rest of you? What are the things you carry, and why do you carry them? e.g. Is there anything special you carry around for work? Responses welcome 🙂

“Grillen” in the sunshine, and other shopping habits

The weather in ‘Schland has finally (and hopefully, permanently) taken a turn for the better i.e. sunnier, and what this means for the most of us here: “Lass uns grillen!”

Now, I am no stranger to this invention called the “grill” or “barbeque” – on nice days at my home we’d fire up the coals on the back patio and toss on a few steaks, the man of the house always being the one to, well, “man the grill” (this seems to be an international phenomenon) and it’d be all sorts of delicious. Or, on not so nice days, maybe just plug in the electric grill and grill inside.

Here, just like any beautiful sunny day in Portland, people are OUT and ABOUT, eating and doing all kinds of fun activities outside while they can now and they can’t always because of the normally-not-so-pleasant weather. In DE, one of those main activities seems to be “grillen” (the verb in German which literally means “to have a BBQ”).

How do I know this?

1. When the weather is hot and summery, all of my German friends are suddenly inspired to bring the BBQ out of the woodworks and have a “Grill-Party,” and most “concious-eaters” (i.e. most people I’ve met here) high-tail it to the Metzger (butcher) to buy their grillin’-meat because it’s the best quality and has no added salts or preservatives or antibiotics or whatever and it’s just tastier. If you’re going to eat meat, they say, “dann kauf dir richtig guten Fleisch” (then buy the best kind of meat). A lot of people seem a little skeptical about supermarket meat, the exception being Wurstchen (sausages) and Wurst (deli meat). But I digress.

2. You go to the Metzger around 1:30pm on a Saturday (right before they close) and so does everyone else in town. So, ya figure, this must be “a thing.”

BBQing has all the staples of your normal U.S. BBQ – lots of meat, a few sausages, the veggie brought some veggies to grill, a couple salads, maybe a mozzarella-tomato plate, and a few beers/colas/etc. It’s a 1-6 hour affair (depending on the group and the amount of food  you have to “hau rein”) but it’s something I have a lot of fun doing.

Thinking about this grilling situation got me thinking about something else, namely, how my shopping and buying habits have changed since I’ve gotten here. In the States, I got pretty used to just stopping by Safeway, Freddie’s or TJ’s anywhere from 1-3 times a week to get whatever supplies for living that I needed, but here, the whole game plan looks a little different. Some coherent examples:

Die Drogerie (like a pharmacy + more)

If I need shampoo, soaps, contact linse solution, vitamins, makeup or hair thingies, I go here. Müller or DM are prime examples of these.

Die Bäckerei (the bakery)

Sure, I coooould get bread at the supermarket, but the bread from the baker’s is so much more delicious, that the really minor price different löhnt sich schon (is worth it!). A lot of people (even students) do this regularly.

Tabakwaren (tobacco shop)

If you want a fancy lighter, a specific brand of cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, et. al. this place is where you have to stop. Supermarkets and public cigarette vending machines (yes, those exist) have a more limited selection.

Getränk Laden (drink store)

If you’re having a shindig and need a large selection of drinks, you can even go to a store just for drinks to get… well, drinks galore (beers, colas, et. al.) which you can pack out in a crate.


I end up buying things like tofu, quinoa, rice milk, veggie patties and other meat substitutes and bulgur here, you know, all those crazy foods that don’t always end up in “normal” supermarkets. Ya hippie.

Apotheke (literally, “apothecary”)

If you need aspirin, you go here. If you need cough syrup, you go here. If you want a fancy face cream, allergy tablets, lip balm, cough drops, sore throat losenges, you go here. If you have a prescription from a doctor for a medication, you have to go here. They are everywhere and marked with a big, red, medical “A” so you know it’s doctor-y.

Asien-Shop (Asian food store)

If you like food from any Asian country ever, then it might be wise to stop by one of these. Things like Sriracha, nori, sushi rice, rice vinegar, wasabi, Indian curry, miso paste, rice noodles, etc. are not always available at the normal grocery stores. At least not in a one-stop-shop kind of way. Here and there, sure. But why play that game, just go here instead!


Of course there are lots of other little shops you can go to for specialty items and, sure, some people do, but not as often. Like the cheese shop, or the tea shop, or the suitcase store.

… Let’s not forget Sundays

As I may have mentioned, hardly anything is open on a Sunday, outside of restaurants and gas stations. So, if you’re in a stitch on the Day of Rest, off you go to the gas station or, if they don’t have what you need, Mondays and planning ahead are your new best friends.

It’s just funny to notice all the different kind of running around and pre-planning I do to buy the basics to eat and be hygienic here in Deutschland. It may sound a bit inconvenient but, actually, once you get it down, it makes a bit of sense – could your average U.S. supermarket employee tell me which aspirin fits my needs best, or which bread has the highest protein content? Probably not, but I wouldn’t expect them to, anyway. Sometimes, it’s good to go straight to the source. Not to mention, who wants to work on a Sunday, anyway?

Cruising the Autobahn Fantastic: The German Driver’s License

For many of us Ausländer (foreigners) that live in Germany, there comes a point in time where you need to drive somewhere, which you’ve done in Germany 1000 times before, and you’re just not allowed to do so anymore. That’s right, American friends: 6 months after your arrival in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, your American driver’s license is just no longer valid. Like magic. Poof! No more Autobahn fun for you. You may be thinking, “But wait, what? What’s the deal? I’m even better driving in Germany at Month 6 than when I first got here, I don’t understand!” Dude, I get you. And I don’t get this rule either, maybe it has something to do with the fact that there is sometimes *absolutely no speed limit* on the Autobahn (which some really take advantage of), but whatever. I’m here, I need to drive, and an expat English teacher’s gotta do what she’s gotta do. She’s gotta get her (ta-da!) Deutscher Führerschein (German driver’s license). You just *thought* you were finished with your bureaucratic dealings…
* Pro-Tip: As indicated in my last post regarding bureaucracy, the same “Start way earlier with this than you expected as needed” advice applies (4 months in advance is a smart bet).

How it works: Fine-tuned for Americans

First stop: Find your local Führerscheinstelle (DMV), likely found at your local Landesratamt. Be sure to look up online when they are open. If you’ve been in DE for awhile, you may have noticed offices have some interesting opening hours, and it’s just silly to waste time going to the office when it’s not open. When you get there, bring a book. This may take some time. After having taken a number and waited however long, a (hopefully) nice lady/gentleman will inform you that you must acquire the following items before you even get to submit your license application form. I will call these the Quest Items:

Our goal here: A pink German driver's license!

Our goal here: A pink German driver’s license!

  • A certificate which proves you have finished an Erste Hilfe (First aid) course. You can complete this course at your local Deutsches Rotes Kreuz (German Red Cross) or at Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe e.V.. It takes a full day (ca. 8 hours), and is normally offered every weekend. My experience: I was surrounded by 17 year old boys, which reminded me how teenage boys find eeeeverything ridiculously funny and a reason to snicker, I learned a bit more of the local dialect from my instructor, learned the German word for CPR, which is Herz-Lunge-Wiederbelebung/HLW, and found it a great refresher. Bring a snack, bring some water. The Erste Hilfe course costs about €30 and 8 hours of your time.
  • Sehtest (Sight test): Can you see? I can’t. Well, not very well without glasses or contacts, anyway. But despite the fact you may have perfect vision or your prescription ready and available for presentation, you need to take a Sehtest. You can go to your local Optiker (optometrist) and just ask for the Sehtest. This costs about €10 and 5 minutes of your time.
  • Umschreibung of your American driver’s license (Translation of your license): Well, I tried to translate it on my own, but the Führerscheinstelle was having none of that! So swing by your local ADAC (and maybe get a free 1 year membership while you’re at it – if you’re so inclined to get something so German as an ADAC membership) and shell out the clams to get the translation which will come to you via post. This will take ca. €80 and 1 week.
  • Biometrisches Bild (biometric photo): If you’ve been listening to me at all you should just have a biometric picture of yourself on you at all times. They need one of these, too.
  • Got some Euros on hand? Upon arrival at the Führerscheinstelle about €33 will be requested of you.

Garden Gnomes Ahead? Not quite…

So you make your second visit to the Führerscheinstelle with all of your Quest Items and take a number and wait some more and get to Chapter 13 in that German book you’ve been struggling to read for the past 4 months, and they call you in and you present the aformentioned and then you find out this bit of info:

Fun story: Each U.S. State has a different deal going on with the German government in regard to the acquisition of your German driver’s license. Some of us have to only take the theoretische Prüfung (theoretical, written test), some of us only the praktische Prüfung (driving test), some both, and some none of the above. The Führerscheinstelle will let you know what tests you have to take, which you should study like crazy for. I was informed I had to take the written test, so I went to my local library and loaned out a few Führerscheinprüfung practice books with Fragenkatalog and Anlangen and Bögen etc. There’s even a useful website with practice questions is fahrschule.de, which just gives you random mix of the 1000 practice questions you have to study for the test.

So it goes like this: You do an Antrag stellen (submit a form) with all of these Quest Items (one of which is your U.S. driver’s license – see next paragraph) and you wait and you wait and you wait (anywhere from 2-8 weeks) and you study for your test(s). Make sure to call them about once a week to check in on your form submission. Once they have your initial approval you can either just stop by and pick up your license or start the whole testing process. Good fun!

It’s now harder to drive and get beers in the U.S.

Well, sort of, and here’s the reason why: The Führerscheinstelle will take away your American driver’s license because, apparently, you can’t have a driver’s license for more than one country at the same time. Luckily, if you’re looking to take a quick trip back to the States while you’re living in DE, you can go back to the Führerscheinstelle and get your International Driver’s License. For all its’ snazziness, you can obtain this in 1 visit, it only costs ca. €14, and all you need to bring is a biometric photo. Then you can drive in the States on your visit. But as picky as my local pubs in the U.S. are about forms of I.D. to get a pint, you might have to bring your passport or get yourself a government issued U.S. I.D. (PS: Apparently you can get your license back as soon as you stop all of this living and working in Germany for an extended amount of time nonsense, i.e. a “permanent” return to the States. We’ll figure out this one later…)

I was just studying for fun?

As it turns out, I was misinformed by the Führerscheinstelle, and ended up not even having to take the written test, despite all my studying. Lucky me! Imagine my surprise as they just *gave* the license to me without any extra strings attached. This never happens!

* Author’s note re: “the Tests”: As I did not have to take the driving test, I do not know much about it. As I understand, it is quite expensive, considering you have to register for a driving school and take classes with them, and then take the driving test. As for the written test, you should get in touch with your local TüV and take the test there for about €20.

I suppose that about covers it, then. I let myself relax and think “Hoorah! I have nothing left to do with bureaucracy” for about a month before I realized tax time is around the corner, so I shall once again start from square one figuring out something that I have absolutely no idea about, but at the end, will know more about than I ever really wanted to know.

Crusin’ 120 km/h on the Autobahn, I bid you Auf Wiedersehen.

Working in Germany: A lesson in bureaucracy

So let’s say you want to work in Germany. To do so, you need an internationally marketable skill, and (most likely) a beginning knowledge of the German language. Managed that? Great.

Then you must put your name into the German job market, applying for positions at various companies and institutes, hoping that one will take you on. Managed that? Splendid.

So you buy your plane ticket, find a place to live, and start working, right? Almost. There’s a bit more to it than that. And that “bit more to it” is what I’ll try to explain to you here. This, ladies and gents, is my introduction to German bureaucracy for foreign workers. Before we begin, words of the wise: Patience is a virtue… and always ask if you don’t understand what is going on. Because many times you very well may not, and it sure is nice to not have to re-visit the foreigners’ office and wait in line multiple times. You have better things to do, am I right?

My Timeline Aufenthaltstitel

I received my job offer as an English Instructor in May 2012. I received my Aufenthaltstitel (legal residency and work permit that you are required to have before beginning work) in the end of September, 2012.
Pro Tip #1: With any German bureaucratic process, give yourself at least 3 months leeway.
More on this in another post.

Work Contract & German Work Agency

Upon receiving my job offer in May, I got a job contract from my Arbeitgeber (employer). This job contract stated my applicable skills which qualified me for the position, the scope of my job/job description, the duration of time for which my employer could guarantee employment, my estimated earnings per hour and hours per week, and my employer contact information. Of note: The German government requires that foreign workers must earn at least €800 per month. So… sounds like all you need, right? Not quite. In Germany, you must first submit such a contract to the Agentur für Arbeit (work agency). Then the process slows down and your paperwork stays at the work agency for a few months. In this time, the Agentur für Arbeit sorts through the rosters of unemployed German citizens, searching for candidates that have your same qualifications and would be willing to move to the city of your potential workplace for employment, i.e., people that could take the job instead of you. It may sound unfair, and perhaps it is a bit, but as not everyone wants to move out of their homeland for employment, it’s fair that unemployed Germans get the first pick. Oder?

After a few months, you will get the okay from the Agentur für Arbeit, and you can take the next step: Finding a place to live. Do not underestimate the difficulty of finding a place to live – even for the “financially fortunate” you have to do interviews with picky landlords for potential apartments. If you will be working and living fairly modestly, the website of choice is wg-gesucht.de, which offers a myriad of apartments – from spacious, mid-priced shared apartments for young professionals, to tiny, cheap broom closets for poorer university students. With wg-gesucht, you e-mail the individuals offering up a room in their apartment, and schedule a time for an interview with you and your potential new roommates. Although you very well may be a charmer, a people pleaser, the funniest guy you know or a pretty darn cool lady, this can take some time. It took me about 12 apartment interviews until I/we found the right fit. As soon as you possibly can, get a Mietvertrag (rental contract) from the Hauptmieter/in (main renter) – you will need this later.

Healthily insured

Let us not forget the fact that as humans, sometimes we get sick, sometimes we need to go to the doctor when we’re sick, and the doctors here don’t take patients without health insurance. You are legally required to have health insurance when working in Germany. But how do you get it, and which kind do you choose? Krankenwagen

First off, are you festangestellt (salaried or permanently employed) or freiberuflich or selbstständig (freelance)? If you are festangestellt, congratulations, you are able to choose between private Krankenversicherung (private health insurance) or the gesetzliche Krankenkasse (public/socialized health insurance), examples of the latter of which are Barmer GEK, Techniker Krankenkasse, AOK, etc. Which one to choose? That I cannot tell you – as a disclaimer, I am not an health insurance policy consultant and likely never will be. Both of them will get you to the doctor and both will allow you to legally stay in Germany. If you are selbstständig, you must choose a private insurance. The private German health insurance companies (such as Deutscher Ring) seem to run at least €300 a month which can be a bit costly. I sought out an international health insurance provider which insures me in Germany and many European countries (namely Care Concept AG, recommended to me by Fulbright). You sign up for health insurance, pay up, get your proof of insurance, and get an insurance card in the mail. Hold on to this proof of insurance – again, you’ll need this later.

Chin a little higher, and … *Click* … “That’ll be € 12,95, please”

And, last but not least, if you’re getting any kind of card or permit type thing, you’ll need to get a few biometrische Fotos (biometric passport photos) to bring in to the office. Just keep them on your person at all times – who knows when you need to fill out another form for another card which needs a picture ID on it. So, with that, off we go to the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners’ office) in the city of your employment and residency!

Aufenthaltstitel In a Nutshell

Upon arrival at the Ausländerbehörde, you should bring:

  • Passport and any previous residency permits
  • Work contract
  • Biometric passport photo
  • Knowledge of your height in centimeters
  • Rental contract
  • Proof of health insurance for the entire duration of the time you want to work in Germany
  • €100 to pay for the permit and processing
  • * A book, portable video game device, homework, laptop, newspaper, or the like
  • (Not to forget, of course, that you need to make sure everything is okay with the Agentur für Arbeit before you even go to the Ausländerbehörde).

At last – the Ausländerbehörde

So you go to the Ausländerbehörde, wait in line for anywhere from 5 minutes – 5 hours depending on your city’s appeal to foreign students and workers (* this is where the book, newspaper, etc. comes in) and submit all of the aforementioned. They will take your paperwork, take your fingerprints, fill out a short form with you, and submit this all for approval and order your Aufenthaltstitel card. You will get this card per mail in about 4 weeks. The perks of getting your Aufenthaltstitel: you may start working in Germany, and the card has a hologram of your passport photo on the front. You’re like a mid-90’s baseball card! How cool are you?

For people that know me (and happen to like me as well) you may be wondering what else I have been up to, given that I completed this whole legally working in Germany process about 4 months ago. A valid concern – one which I will address in my next post!

Questions? Commentary? Please comment below or visit me during my office hours (by appointment only).

Sunday in the Sauna

Or, alternately titled, “My naked Sunday.”

Before we venture any further, yes, I have indeed returned to the land of Thinkers and Poets and had a safe and relatively on-time arrival, despite the Lufthansa strikes and all that. My Tillamook pepper jack & cheddar cheese, salt water taffies, odd treats and, most importantly, my precious HUB Hopworks IPA all survived intact and unconfiscated, making this girl one happy camper. Luckily, the boyfriend for whom these savory American treats were bought for has agreed to share – thank goodness, as I don’t know how crazy I’d go if I couldn’t get one sip of an IPA in 11 months! … I’ll be sure to let you know his reaction to Portland’s adventures in micro-brewing.

On the topic of adventures, we took our Sunday and headed up to Oberstaufen, a small town settled in the mountains of the Allgäu – a wellness/spa destination more than anything else – and checked out Aquaria. It’s really a gorgeous complex, what with multiple indoor/outdoor swimming pools, a huge water slide, at least 6 different types of saunas, and various relaxation and massage rooms. This was my first visit to a sauna, ever, and I had heard that saunas in Germany are a bit more… naked… than American ones. I don’t have any other saunas to compare my experience in Oberstaufen with, but I found myself having to get used to a lot of nudity really quickly. The swimming area was no challenge, as people wore bathing suits (although I hear they also have naked swimming nights as well). But as I understood it, you weren’t even allowed to wear a swimsuit in the sauna area. Not sure on that one. In any case, most people just walked around naked, a few with towels around them, and nobody was awkward or gawky or blushing or anything like that, and I suppose since they we’re all being chill about it (well, as chill as you can be in a sauna) that I was pretty chill about it, too.

We tried a Finnish sauna (where you have to dunk in cold water after), the Infrared sauna, the Meditation sauna, the Steam sauna (incl. a Salt peel), and the “Panorama” sauna (my favorite) which was a cabin outside/atop the complex, with a view of the Hochgrat – the highest mountain in the Allgäu Alps.

What else is there to say? I had a lovely day at the sauna and will be going back. I’d love to take my best friend there when she visits this winter, and hope that she’s just as unfazed by the human body as I am.

Doctoring in DE: Krankenversicherung Explained, Apothecaries and the Little Differences

So, here it is. I’m sure a lot of you are wondering about how the German health care system works. Perhaps you may think it’s inefficient and there’s long lines. Perhaps you think it’s a magical and wonderful thing. Well, here’s me relaying my knowledge based on my personal experience which, honestly, is all I can really give one, anyway! The sum of it all: I was taken care of. The care I received was great. Take that as you will – I’m just happy not to be dead (which could have happened – spoiler alert!)

Normal Day-to-Day Doctoring

You get sick with the flu, let’s say. These things happen, especially when you’re working with lots of kids! Stay cool. Ask your colleagues to recommended a good doctor to you, normally one that practices Allgemeinmedizin (general physician),  and give the office a call to make an appointment. I had no trouble getting appointments same day or next day. Alternately, you can also just show up to the office, and wait until a doctor is free. I never had to wait more than 45 minutes, hopefully your experience is the same. Oh, and watch out, people greet each other in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. No, they don’t know you, they’re just being nice. One of those little differences.

If it’s your first time, present your Deutscher Ring Krankenversicherung card. They may ask for it again if you go back – but you should  always have it on you, anyway! Regular Germans pay only €10 for a doctors visit – that’s not you. Let them know that you must pay the whole bill yourself and have it reimbursed. The bill is the Arztrechnung.

The Arztrechnung and the Payment Thereof

My Tip: Just take care of it right away, if you can! After the appointment, ask for the Arztrechnung, pay in Bargeld (cash), and let them know you need them to stamp and sign the bill to confirm your payment.

This original copy of the Arztrechnung with the Stempel and signature on it is what you send to Deutscher Ring, as well as the form Antrag auf Kostenerstattung. You get this form at Orientation. Just make a few copies of it. If you misplace the form, just ask PAD – they can send you the form you need.

Lab Work and Bills in the Mail:

Sometimes they can only send you the bill via mail – this usually occurs in the event of lab work, since they must send your blood/urine/whatever from the doctor’s office to a laboratory to be tested and then sent back to them. Then it’s the lab that sends you the bill. In this case, you must wait the 2-4 weeks for the Lab bill to come. When it arrives, walk over to your bank and ask them help you fill out an Uberweisungsform to transfer the money from your account to the lab. Then ask them for a proof of payment that you can send to Deutscher Ring. One last note: Lab bills are separate from doctor’s bills. You need to pay and send proof of payment of both to Deutscher Ring to get reimbursed!
Last note: You must send the *original* bills to Deutscher Ring, so make copies of everything you send them!

If you have any more questions, your Betreuungslehrer/in, Deutscher Ring and PAD helped answer some questions for me, and they will for you, too.

Where I hope you don’t end up: The Krankenhaus

So, someone woke up at 4:00am in the morning with severe acute side pain and the inability to walk without passing out. That person was me. A trip in the Krankenwagen (ambulance), a Krankenhausaufname (hospital check-in) and a Nierenbeckenentzündung diagnosis later, ta-dah! The rare and interesting opportunity to experience a German Krankenhaus from the inside. I’m just racking up the cultural experiences over here!

What to say: In my somewhat delirious state I remembered to say “Bitte kein Privat Zimmer,” i.e. “Please no private room.” Thank goodness! If you’re more about your wits, you should ask for Allgemeine Pflegekasse. The official brochure language:

  • “In case of hospital treatment, once again show your insurance card and make sure you ask for “Allgemeine Pflegekasse,” or a shared room without private treatment from a senior consultant, which will not be reimbursed. As hospital costs are so high Deutscher Ring can directly take over the costs for the hospital stay without you having to pay them first.”

So, what’s it like? Pretty much like a hospital in the States, with little differences (like absolutely no curtains between beds – get used to it ASAP) and significantly longer words for things. But you probably already expected that.

If you want to watch TV or use the phone, you have to ask the Krankenschwester. How it worked in my experience was that you had to get a card from the Aufname (reception) desk, then go to a machine, put the card in and load €20 onto it. Then you stick the card in the top of your phone/TV unit so you can use them. Money you don’t use, you get back. Nice.

What’s on the Menu? Krankenhaus Cuisine Examples:

  • Breakfast: Typisch Deutsch. 1 Vollkornbrötchen mit Kürbiskerne, 1 Brötchen, 2 Scheiben Käse, 2 Scheiben Fleischwurst, 1 Fruchtjoghurt, 1 Honig, 1 Marmelade, 1 Butter, Kaffee/Tee nach Wahl
  • Lunch: Pochiertes Hähnchen mit Currysoße, 1 Portion Karotten, 1 Portion Reis, 1 Portion Mohnbutter (a buttery pudding-like dessert that tastes a bit like tiramisu).
  • Dinner: 1 Scheibe Helles Brot, 1 Scheibe Vollkornbrot, 100g Schinken (in Scheiben), 1 Butter, 1 Senf, 1 Essiggurke. (If you’re like me, you make 2 small sandwiches out of it).

You know, I’ve accepted the fact that some bacteria in the body is good and necessary. But other bacteria can be real nasty buggers that knock you off your feet. But don’t you worry! You have wonderful amazing German health insurance! How lucky are you?

Important Medical Words – A Review:

*(Hint: Many begin with “Krank”)

  • die Krankenschwester // der/die Krankenpfleger/in: female nurse / male/female nurse
  • das Krankenhaus // die Krankenhausaufname: hospital / hospital admissions
  • der/die Notarzt: male/female emergency doctor
  • die Untersuchung: a medical examination or specific test, i.e. “Harnuntersuchung” is a urine test
  • der Ultraschall: ultrasound
  • die Blutanalyse: blood test or blood analysis
  • der Blutdruck: blood pressure
  • der Herzschlag: heartbeat
  • die Besprechung: medical discussion/review with a doctor
  • die Arztrechnung: doctor’s bill
  • der Stempel: stamp
  • bezahlt: paid
  • die ¨Überweisung: transfer (of money)
  • Antrag auf Kostenerstattung: Application for reimbursement of expenses (the form from PAD)

The Adventure Continues…

Guten Tag! Now reporting from the beautiful state of Oregon, USA. Long time, no see! I thought I’d update all of you on some changes in my life, and thusly, some changes that will occur on “Portlanderin in Deutschland.”

So, my year as a Fulbright ETA may be over, but heaven forbid I don’t find myself getting mixed up in more “working in Germany” business! The good news: I received a position as an English Instructor at a language institute in Germany, and will be working there for the next few years. Excited? Yes! Nervous? I’d be a dummy if I wasn’t. Receiving a position and a work permit in Deutschland is not the easiest thing to do, and I’m lucky to have the chance to continue my adventure in “dem Land der Dichter und Denker” (the Land of Poets and Thinkers). The new chapter begins August 30th, 2012, when I depart, once more, for Germany.

What I really mean to say is that you haven’t heard the last from me, heavens no! My apologies in advance. I’ll be continuing to use this blog to process my daily interactions in a foreign culture, show pictures of neat places and things I come across, and, naturally, sometimes just whine or try to be funny (the latter of which I can only hope to be successful with). Furthermore, I will be continuing my reflection upon my year as a Fulbright ETA, sharing tips and explaining (as best I can) how the school system works, lesson plans and activity ideas, und so weiter. I’m always open to questions and requests, so swing me a comment if you have, well, a question or a request, i.e. “How did you get your work permit?” or “Can you please post more pics of German bakeries, thx!”

And that’s the scoop, kids. As they say: Stay tuned.

What’s a Fasnet? and Confrontations with German “Weisheiten”

I’ve been a bit involved in all the ins-and-outs of living in a foreign country lately, and with this, I account for my absence from blogging about my year as an ETA. Excuses, excuses? Well, read on, dear friends, and you tell me if I’ve been preoccupying myself usefully.

The Fun before the Fast: Faschingszeit in Swabian Germany

Fasching – you really can’t compare it to much when it comes to American celebrations. Fasching aka Karneval aka Fasnacht aka Kind of Like Mardi Gras is the traditionally Catholic festive season which precedes Lent. Lent, of course, being those 40 days before Easter where one should abstain from something – I suppose it’s a bit like a New Years Resolution, only in February, or something. One guy I know quit smoking for 40 days (then started again). But we’re talking about Fasching here, not the fact I made absolutely no personal goals for Lent. Fasnet, as they call it here in the dialect, is an important celebration in this area and consists of many festivities: music, drinking, dancing, parades, and all around tomfoolery, all of which usually take place in the Altstadt. It’s a bit like Mardi Gras (without the beads), and a lot more like Halloween. All the costumes that I had hoped to see in October suddenly came out of the woodworks during Fasnacht time. Fasching is also an excuse for a bit of Ausrasten (cutting loose and having fun), and for that reason, as I saw it, people either love it, or hate it.

In any case, I am always game for cutting a rug and celebrating with the locals, so suffice to say – for the first time in the history of this Portlanderin, I celebrated Fasching! So. How does one celebrate this “Fasnacht” business?

Way #1 – Fasching Balls. I went to two! One, the Bürgerball (citizen’s ball), was held in the local Sporthalle down the street, and was a lovely night of dancing, Hefeweisen drinking, and watching performances from entertainers from the community. Not quite getting the idea of Fasching yet, I showed up, un-costumed, with my two Italian roommates at my side, but didn’t have any trouble meeting some really great people and having a super time. Ball #2? Prepared! The local sport Verein (organization/club) that I’m a part of held a ball, which had the same components of the first, only a bit fancier, and a bit more awesome. Held, again, in the good ol’ Sporthalle (my small town doesn’t have inexhaustible large halls to hold events in) which was bedecked with the colors of our local Narrenzunft and, armed with an awesome costume (Mia Wallace of “Pulp Fiction”), my lovely date (who dressed as Vincent Vega, also of the movie “Pulp Fiction”) and my two roommates who made their own super cool costumes – we got down right!

Fasching at my Gymnasium was just about the coolest, however. On the Thursday before the Fasnet holidays, the local Narrenzunft (fools guild – more on this in a second) starts making trouble at the school, just like they start making trouble all over town. And here we come to the Schülerbefreiung – the release of the students! During the 3rd period, the fools guild invades the school and goes from classroom to classroom, distributing tasty pretzels from the local bakeries and freeing the students from their lessons. It’s quite the sight to see – an exodus of pretzel-munching German students in Halloween costumes (yes, they dress up!) fleeing from the school with wild abandon. Not to betray my preference for freebies of the edible variety, the Bretzelverteilung was one of the coolest parts of the school day (hello, free Bretzeln! hello, ate way too many pretzels! wow, the kids sure love free pretzels!), as was seeing a colleague dressed up as a teenager (baggy pants, hoodie, sunglasses, the works). I just love it when people “get into it.”

On the Thursday before Fasching week came Weiberfasnacht. Weiber, translated directly, is “broads” or “hags” – so let’s say, erm, an old (unfriendly, slightly sexist) word for women. I interpret it as Fasching’s “Ladies Night.” There’s no drink specials for ladies that I saw when out on the town, strangely enough, but there certainly were a lot of people out and about. I think that’s basically what you do on the Thursday before Fasnacht Tuesday – you go out drinking, regardless of sex.

Of course, there’s always a parade. “Schelle, schelle, schellau!” I yelled as our local Narrenzunft marched down the cobblestone streets of the historical part of my town. Each town has a Narrenzunft, and each Narrenzunft has their own handmade costumes with individual designs, as well as their own Ruf (call or cry), which you yell as they come traipsing by. Our parade lasted hours and hours, as Zünfte from all over the region participated, and I was a bit hoarse by the end, to be honest, as for each Narrenzunft you must yell their cry. Please refer to the brochure for the calls which are distributed by your friendly local fools guild.

At the end of it all, there’s Ash Wednesday, and in typical German fashion, everything is closed, and everyone stays home and recovers a bit. And just like with all the other parts of Fasching – I participated, and rest and recover I did.

Giggling like a Honey-cake Horse and Other Wise Sayings: aka, I Should Always Be Sick

So, a lot of days, I take a shower (like a normal person), eat my breakfast (like a normal person), do my hair but don’t dry it, and head to work. The hair will dry itself eventually. Because of this habit, I have been reminded time and time again by those that surround me:

“Wenn du mit nassen Haare nach draußen gehst, bist du morgen krank!”
This is translated as: If you go outside with wet hair, then you’ll be sick tomorrow! Based upon this wisdom, I should be a chronic case of the sniffles and coughs.

“Wenn du so ohne Socken rumrennst, dann wirst du krank!”
Here we go again. In my normal life I’m a bit of a free-spirited barefoot-around-the-house/neighborhood type, but here it’s a no go. Because, I think you’re getting the point now – I’ll get sick! So I’ve been a bit of a rebel about the whole situation – and here I am two weeks into a sinus infection with coughing, weakness, and the works. Who knows, maybe it had something to do with the fact that I drank a few Hefeweizens out of the bottle (which is also largely criticized here – it is properly drank in a Hefeweizen glass). Or, perhaps I’m just “auf dem Holzweg,” (directly translated “on the woodway,” or rather, “to be off track/crazy”). But, luckily, I have a saying that gets me through the day…

“Wenn du denkst, es geht nicht mehr, kommt von irgendwo ein Lichtlein her!”
When you think that you can’t go on anymore, a little light comes your way.

Other sayings that I encountered, authentically, in context, in the past month…

“In dem Haus des Glücks ist das Wartezimmer das größte Zimmer”
I’m in a bit of an argument with the interpretation of this one. It is directly translated as, “In the house of luck/happiness, is the waiting room the largest room.” I would love to hear your idea of what this Weisheit means!

“Lügen haben kurze Beine”
Lies have short legs!

“Du grinst wie ein Honigkuchenpferd!”
You’re grinning like a Honey-cake horse! (How cute is that?!)

There’s lots of other experiences I’d like to address, but as they say here, “Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude”: Anticipation is the greatest form of pleasure.

Blogs to come:

  • Filing U.S Taxes 5,300 Miles from Home (Will write this when I actually, erm, finish them…)
  • The 2nd Year ETA Application Process
  • The 2012 Fulbright Commission Conference in Berlin: Don’t Forget Your Conference Nametag!
  • Driving in Germany, Or: My Experience with Great German Auto Engineering and Existential Terror

To close (and to make sure you’ve read the whole way through!) here’s a quick Pro-Tip: To avoid a mountain of foam in your Hefeweizen glass, first rinse out the glasses with cold water. Such things I have learned from those I have met here.

Portlanders in Paris: 4 Days in the “City of Light”

It was a whirlwind four days of walking place to place, wandering up and down and over and through the maze of passageways and staircases of the Metropolitan, finding crepe after baguette after pan chocolate, standing in lines, finding ways to avoid lines, beautiful scenery, rich history, breathtaking views and city lights, always people bustling about, crashing into each other, meeting each other, pickpocketing, panhandling and street selling – all in all, Paris is lovely, and is very much a very, very large, old city.

Often times my friend and I would have that feeling that I just love to have. That sense of being lost but knowing exactly where you are, of “how did we get here?” and a sense of pure, dumb luck.

The Métropolitain de Paris

Another city in and of itself with it’s streets and alleys and shops and dark corners, the Métro de Paris is the Paris underground. It is the stark reminder that Paris, despite its romanticization, is a big, old, dirty city, filled with saints and criminals alike. It’s quite efficient for getting around, yes, and one does notice that at the main tourist stops that someone must have taken a mop and an eye for design to it within the last year or two. Otherwise… my friend and I managed to describe our Metro experience in that, “it smells… so… human.”


By far my favorite quarter of Paris. Shops and restaurants with red glowing neon signs in cursive script reflect a rosy glow on the narrow cobblestone streets, as tourists and citizens of the upstanding and seedy type alike bustle about buying, chatting, eating, and being plainly human. In Montmartre, the mount upon which Sacré-Coeur stands protrudes above the tall, crammed yet luxurious apartments of the quarter, and one can find a breathtaking view of Paris, one which, in my opinion, beats the view from the Eiffel Tower, hands down. My friend and I had the opportunity to visit and climb to the top of the mount twice (well, once we took the train up the mount, as it was free after 6pm on New Years Eve). On our New Years Eve visit, a nighttime visit, the city sparkled, as did the light show at the Eiffel Tower, which one can clearly see from the mount. On the steps up to Sacré-Coeur a choir sang Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah,” and we had one of those moments that makes you stop and think, “Wow, how lucky am I to be here?”

This train of thought continued as we walked back down the long staircase on the mount to grab a Croque Monsieur to munch on, and continue on down the pedestrian walkway to the Moulin Rouge, a boulevard overrun with bright neon signs advertising “Sex Shop!” and “Sexy Ladies!” We finally arrived at the windmills of Le Moulin Rouge, and after taking that in a bit, decided to stop for a 8pm café crema at a café just across the street. Again we came to the realization of our own overwhelming “Parisian-ness:” drinking coffee, by the Moulin Rouge, both dressed rather French, and smoking a cigarette, basked in the red glow of our environment.

Père Lachaise

This cemetery was a total downer! No, but seriously, it’s a bit odd thinking about visiting a massive cemetery on a trip to Paris, but I would wholeheartedly recommend it. It is massive, and you can spend hours wandering around the family tombs and gravestones and contemplating your own relatively short existence on this planet. One never wanders on exactly the same route twice as you can weave amongst the tombstones and find your own path, your own way from point A to point B. Of course, some recommended point A’s and B’s would be the tomb of Jim Morrison (The Doors), Edith Piaf (a lovely classic French singer with a rather tragic life and death), and the tomb of Oscar Wilde (my favorite tomb of all).

How can a tomb become a favorite tomb, you may ask? Well, you see, for years it has been tradition to kiss the tomb of Oscar Wilde, and of course, many of these lips had lipstick on them. What the gravekeepers came to find out over the years was that the chemicals in the lipstick began to slowly eat away at the stone, and even though the rain and wind and years has washed the makeup away, you can still see the etched-in marks of the lip prints in the solid rock. It’s lovely, and just how Mr. Wilde would have wanted it, in my mind. And now the tombstone is enclosed in a glass box, which is, of course, covered in lipstick kisses.

Arc de Triomphe & Avenue des Champs-Élysées

Word of the wise: Don’t try to cross the street that circles the Arc de Triomphe: You will die. Please use the stairs and the tunnel that takes you under the street to the Arc. Thank you. The Arc is massive and impressive, but in all honestly, I didn’t spend more than a few minutes there. It was the former grand entrance to the city, there’s the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and tourists. Right by the Arc is the Champs-Élysées. It’s long, it’s wide, it’s a shoppers paradise, it’s crowded as hell, and despite it being lovely and all, wasn’t really my scene. But it certainly took long enough walking down it, weaving amongst hungry people, begging people, shopping people, and people with shopping carts selling roasted chestnuts. In the least, it was a straight shot to the Place de la Concorde, La Grande Roue (Wheel of Paris), and some lovely gardens near the Louvre.

The Louvre

As has surely been said in many, many guidebooks, one can get lost for days in the maze of contemporary, classic and ancient art at the Louvre. We went on a Friday evening, and had decided to stay until it closed at 10:00pm (it’s open later on Fridays). As we approached, saw the famous glass pyramid and the massiveness of everything (including the line) and took a shortcut through another entrance of the Louvre: its shopping center (yes, they have one). A 10 minute wait vs. a 2 hour wait; it’s good to have clever friends in France. So we began our tour first through the Greek, Roman, and Hellenistic sculptures and pottery, unfortunately having it a bit tainted by the actions of a few fellow tourists who would experience a work of art by leaning on it, having a picture taken in front of it, and walking away – an annoyance that was hard to shake.

Encountered a sculpture room with some sort of wretched ceiling painting in blue, which we complained about as if our own taste would be better. Many incredulous statements were articulated. Naturally we saw the Venus de Milo, which was all most folks with excellent cameras seemed to care about. We then approached our mutually favorite section, the 18th and 19th century French painters, capturing biblical scenes and Romanesque tales of suffering, bravery and struggle, many of which were painted by Jacques Louis David, and stretched from floor to ceiling.

Being then a few hours in, we decided to take a quick break to assess our priorities, paid too much for a few 0,33L Heinekens, and decided that we better see the Mona Lisa. What could be described as a “flash mob” (get it?) flanked every side of the massive wall holding the relatively small, smirking, unassuming Mona Lisa, and I felt like I was at a punk rock show, trying to mosh pit my way to the front to take a good look. Then on to the Dutch and German painters. Unfortunately, my Albrecht Dürer self-portrait was unavailable for viewing. The Egyptian section was fascinating, as was the idea of an ancient mummy being captured on photo via an iPhone. Oh, how things change. With the announcements in multiple languages that “the museum is about to close,” we took a quick swing by Napolean’s lush pad (i.e. his furniture, throne, tables, chandeliers and so on) and left soon thereafter. We went, then, to get a coffee – we needed something to help us digest it all.

Pro-Tip: Believe in the power of the secret “second entrance,” and seek it out. Tourists are, usually, as dumb as they look (crowd mentality, I guess). Don’t spend your time waiting in line with them.

The Senne

It’s beautiful and I love it and it reminds me of home. I hope to sit on one of it’s bridges sometime this summer with a picnic lunch and a glass of wine and just soak it in. I hear that’s the thing to do. I’d recommend walking along the water as we did, after visiting the Notre Dame. Then maybe heading over to the Latin Quarter.

Bonne Année!

So my friend and I had a couple options to celebrate New Years in Paris. Some other friends in town were headed to the Eiffel Tower to crack open a bottle of champagne and enjoy the fireworks show* – surely, as was later confirmed, amongst many a tourist and perhaps a few rowdy individuals. Another option was to go with our host to a NYE party with him and some friends at his friends place in the outskirts of Paris. Then, of course, we could do a bit of both, we thought. As it turned out, we went to our host’s friend’s place and had a really lovely time enjoying lots of tasty food that our host had worked hard to prepare all day (I just couldn’t get enough of all the ham, cheese, egg and flaky crusted things they have going on over there!) and drinks, and music, and dancing, and ridiculous party favors, and antics, and all that. And wonderfully enough, the balcony had an excellent view of the Eiffel Tower! It took me a couple days to get all of the confetti out of my hair that had been tossed around in wild, celebratory abandon. Suffice to say, we had a great New Years Eve.

As our entire Paris group got together in the morning for coffee to update each other on the previous night’s events, we found out hat our other friends that had went to the Tower ended up having their champagne confiscated, and being sexually harassed and groped by groups of men as they walked the Champs-Élysées. Not my idea of a night! Oh, and: * There was no fireworks show. And since were on the subject…

La Tour Eiffel

I’m going to give it to you straight: 95% of your time at the Eiffel Tower will be spent waiting in line. That said, bring a sandwich, grab a coffee, and get ready for the long haul. It is, truly, a test of one’s patience and sanity, minute by achingly-long minute slowly ticking by as you move one step, one step, two steps. Try to keep in mind that you are not actually in Purgatory, it just seems like it at the time, and it’ll be worth it.

Moving on. The second level is a wonderful enough view, 360 degrees of Paris, the city stretching outward as far as the eye can see, the tall, white buildings of condensed city living, with tiny alleys and streets cutting through them like someone took a butter knife to them to create throughways. You can see the particularly well the golden statues atop the building where Napolean was buried, as they sparkle in the sunlight. We were lucky enough to have a nice, sunny clear day for our visit to the Tower.

Perhaps we were a bit naive. I just know that, if there’s a next time – I’m taking the stairs.

The Food

Food in Paris is about what one would expect. The only consumables we found affordable were from the street vendors. Crêpes crêpes crêpes, all sorts of crêpes: With cheese and mushrooms, with ham, egg and cheese, with nutella and bananas – and so on. There were also baguettes, of course, which are as long as your forearm and stuffed with various veggies, cheeses and meats. If you have them grill it, it’s a “panini.” A magical transformation.

Also worth a mention is the Croque Monsieur, which is this wonderful cheese oozy creation – simple enough, it’s two toasted slices of bread with ham and melty cheese in the middle, and then melty cheese on the outside. If cheesiness could punch you in the face…

And, let’s be honest here, I was a bit too poor to drink beers at pubs in Paris. It’s not cheap, and found myself thinking “they’d *never” charge this much for beer in Germany!” quite a few times. Wine was the better deal, and so, for a few days, I was more of a wine drinker. “Roughin’ it.”

What Else is There to Say?

Paris is the type of place where you look around in awe, as you then look back to watch your pockets. When sitting at a restaurant, you may very well wait 45 minutes for one drink (as we did) despite reminding the waiter twice of your order. At this same location flower peddlers may come by, begging your romantic side, and after declining, return after 20 minutes to peddle again because they simply see too many faces in a day to recall them. It’s huge, sexy, hectic, and dirty specimen of a European city, and it definitely made an impression on me. And I liked it.

And that, my friends, was my Paris experience in a nutshell.

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