Typisch Deutche

Amid the festivities of the night before, I was asked what would make a good ‘typical German’ gift to some Czech friends. As a foreigner, it makes sense that I should know these things (of course! you say..). This question, however, immediately brought to mind our discussions in the German language course. What do people think of when they think of Germany? Well..

Germans are punctual, hard-working, serious folk.

Yeah right. Punctual? Consider yourself lucky if your train makes it to the station and leaves on time. And just say to yourself, “At least it wasn’t postponed till the next day,” when you skip a class to sign your apartment lease at 2pm, but don’t manage to get that far till 8. Hard-working? German shops are closed on Sundays, ostensibly to allow people to go to church (uh-huh, who goes to church on Sundays?), but really to protect those lower-class gals from having to work longer hours for crummy pay, since the shops aren’t going to take on extra hands. Serious folk? Well I guess I won’t comment on that. I’m still hoping the running joke in Germany about Belgians who horde children in caves, molest them, and leave them for dead, will die down at some point in our household.

So what has stuck? Recycling (which has become a big thing for us in view of the impending arrival of Tobi, the green voter), crossing the street on a red light, and…I have to say it…Wurst, Cheese, Bread, and Beer. I still remember scouring the streets for a head of broccoli, and finally coming across some limp, sad thing. But there is also.. Angela Merkel, kaffee and kuchen on Sundays, that nice lady outside the bakery who came to us three times to help us find what we were looking for…

Not to mention the fact that I am slowly becoming a savvy shopper. I now know that the best heads of lettuce are found ‘underground’ in the subterranean halles below the hauptstraße. No longer will I balk at a 22E clothes hanger, but will go directly to C&A and ask for a handful of the loads they throw away every day. And finally, there’s beer, but then there’s also Caipirinha.

Warming up the house

Last night we hosted a small house-warming party in our new, finally furnished, appartment. It was surprisingly tame (compared to the bashes thrown by my French room-mates), despite the amount of alcohol we consumed. Not to mention the shisha – which took a delightful tumble onto the kitchen floor at one point – and the haze of strawberry that left some more mellow than others. In fact, we managed to make it out with only one broken plate and not a single permanent stain from the orange-juice soaked confetti.

Still, partying in Germany, at least for me, was something of a trying task. For the first two hours, I sat around the table with at least ten Germans, most of which I am certain spoke fairly good English. It was almost amusing, really, how their loud and boisterous conversations would suddenly come to a grinding halt as they realized, “hmm, maybe we should say something to that American girl..”, then they would throw wild deer-in-the-headlight stares at each other, trying hard to think of how to say it in English. I was much relieved when Gesche arrived, whom I had met the night before, and who was much more at home speaking English. In the end, however, the alcohol began to settle in, they became much more relaxed, and I had quite a nice conversation with Andreas about gay men and the disabled workers gewerkschaft.


I have been doing quite a bit of shopping lately. Since one of my roommates wanted to buy his furniture new (and had a car), we have made several trips to Ikea and Meuble-Boss for nice, cheap bedroom sets. Last night was our last trip and it was in a sandwich shop, in the women’s bathroom, that I noticed it: a small vending box with condoms for sale on one side, and erotic toys (dildos, etc) on the other. In fact, it was while driving in Saarbrücken when we passed an entire warehouse store with the name ‘Erotic’ splashed all over the front. I am suspicious now of every person who walks down the street. But if I mention it, I get only a, “Ah, Prude American!”, a hand-waving, and a laughing off. Such a bizarre country.

Rot, Weiße, Scheiße!


I went to my very first live football game last Sunday. Saarbrücken, a third league team (blue and black), played against Mainz, a first league team (red and white), and won the game 1-0. It was thrilling. I knew better to keep my eyes on the ball or I’d miss the goal, and when it came, I was not disappointed. So this means little SB will make it to the next round for the German cup.

So what is a German football game experience you ask? 15,000 people were in that stadium, and as there are no parking garages or whatnot, their cars were doubly lined along the sidewalk and the right lane of the road for miles on end. There was also a barricade of German polizei, not sure why. No commentator for the field (they just assume people know what’s going on), and they drink beer or coke with these long sausages wrapped in a small round bread roll. Fascinating.

Excursion in Trier


One of the aspects of life in Germany over which I often pondered was what to do when certain historical topics were introduced while in the company of German folk. What would I say? How would they react? Perhaps I worry too much sometimes. Last Friday, I introduced my new friend Danielle, from Israel, to my German roommate Michael. Their first exchange, Him: “So how do you feel about the war between Israel and Lebanon?”, Her: “How do you feel about the Holocaust?”. I had to smother my laughter. She also has a German boyfriend, a Saarlander. So of course, no wine-tasting in Trier would be complete without Michael declaring to the both of them, “it’s so nice to see how people from Israel and Germany work out together 60 years after the Holocaust..”.

We did have a marvelous time in Trier. Besides visiting the Saarschleife (the point at which the Saar river makes a large bend along the valley), we were free to have lunch where we liked as well as follow the guided tour through the city or wander off on our own. A small group of us chose the latter and I took many wonderful pictures. We ended the day in a small Vinothek along the Mosel river for a three-hour long wine tasting of 6 varieties. I believe there was a pinot noir at the beginning, which wasn’t very good (too light, too young), and the rest were sweet white wines, as well as one rosé. I bought their late harvest ‘Eiswein’ which I thought was delicious. Many of the students preferred the cheaper wines and had them opened for the bus trip back to Saarbrücken. Ah, such is European life!

German lessons of the day: One must always cover one’s mouth when yawning. Otherwise evil spirits will come in and suck out your soul, besides it being considered rude. When entering a restaurant, you seat yourself even if the table has not been cleared – the staff will eventually get around to doing that.

First Days, Part II

In my first days here, I’ve made the most delightfully stupid mistakes. Besides the rather tame incident involving a desperate need for water (in which I happily approached a young man with pleading eyes and asked, “Wer ist der Wasser?”, when I later realized it meant ‘Who is the[masc, but should be neuter] water?’), I have also thought about steering clear of restaurants. This is because Germans have a most peculiar ritual when it comes to paying the bill.

Stemming from the frightful fact that credit cards are rarely used, the waitress will come to your table with the receipt and expect you to pay in cash. She has a small wallet with plenty of coins and bills to give you change. However, unlike most (civilized) countries, the waitress will tell you the price of the meal, and then the customer (me, in this case) is expected to respond with the price he/she wants to pay. This means that one must quickly add a bit of gratuity, tell the girl the new price, and she will give change for that amount.

Not knowing all this at the time, however, I blithely gave her several bills, received my change, and she walked away. I then had a dilemma. Do I leave the tip on the table? But the tables were outside, and there were some rather unwholesome gentlemen not far away. Do I go inside and hand it to her?When I finally came to understand the entire process, I ended up having to flag her down, and poor girl, having misunderstood my receipt, I over-tipped by about twice the amount. She told me so, but I shook my head and said, “It’s okay, it’s okay!” and quickly ran off.

First Days, Part I


Tuesday, and I have had quite a day. I ended up stealing the rest of a roll of toilet paper from the Mensa and borrowing a bottle of shampoo and a small towel from Michael, one of my future housemates. I met a ton of people, including a flock of French girls, and I feel as if all my senses were stimulated again with all the flutter of winds from other lands. My primary goal at the moment, however, is to get a bed for my room and move out of the dorms pronto. Homesick though, I cried myself to sleep.

Arrival in Germany

So after all the stress, the waiting, the worries, and the running around, I have finally made it to Saarbrücken.

It was an uneventful flight, but just as I started to feel as if everything would go smoothly and all would be well, I arrived on campus. As my flight arrived late and I had tooled around a bit in Frankfurt, I did not arrive until close to 6pm. I was not expecting to have to dive into the German language so abruptly, but as the organizers were insistent upon speaking it, all of the instructions and information for the courses and dorm rooms were thus communicated. It was a painfully long process.

Still, it wasn’t until I finally made it to my room that the whole horror hit me. There I was in my room with no sheets, no towel, no shampoo or soap or toilet paper, waiting for our resident assistant (an algerien who tended to speak a colorful mix of french and german) to show up and explain how to use the shower. He never did show and, horror of horrors, stores in Germany close at 8pm. This is, of course, an advancement in progress for the Saarlandish, as it was not more than two years before when stores closed at 5pm or 6.

In any case, hot, tired, and hungry, I finally managed to receive bed sheets and a pillow, and settled down into a troubled sleep in which I constantly bashed my knee into the radiator and dreamt longingly of home.