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.
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.
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.