We went to the ice skating rink last Friday and had lots of fun. There was quite of bit of blood on the ice at one point (someone obviously had a major spill), and I couldn’t help thinking how hard-core Germans are..
Okay, okay, I am just making fun. Actually I am only beginning to discover all the little quirks and idiosyncracies of the German culture. For example, one can almost feel the hairs on their necks stiffen if you cross the street on a red light, no matter how small the road. On the other hand, if you just walk down the street a few feet, away from the light, everyone crosses as if it were their personal right.
And then there is this recycling issue. Many people (including one of my flatmates) are very conscientious about putting the right kinds of plastic in the yellow sack, paper in the box, glass bottles in one bag, and plastic bottles in another. On the other hand, after all that effort of properly filling the yellow bag has been made, they are promptly dumped outside on the sidewalks (along with all other sorts of debris: toilet bowls, old shelves, couches, etc) and left to pile in yellow heaps for weeks on end. We are lucky to have a recycling center close by. However, we can only bring the glass bottles and paper recycling: plastic bottles must be brought back to the store from which you bought it in the first place. This is usually my preferred method as a student, because you can also receive your ‘pfand’ (recycling fee for the bottle at the point of sale), which can range anywhere from 0.20E to 1E (really, it was 1E at Oktoberfest!). The interesting thing is that you can only bring plastic bottles back to stores which actually sell that particular drink.. which effectively discourages the less intrepid from proper recycling habits. After all, who wants to traipse across town with a plastic sack full of bottles for a lousy 0.45E, as I did this morning?
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.
Last night, Germany won the qualification for the European cup 13-0 against San Marino. With several of my future fellow CL students, we celebrated at the Short Corner (die Kurze Ecke) with beer and incidentally, we discovered that the soccer table game is called fußball (‘foozball’) in English and kicker in Deutsch.
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.
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.
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.