Busted At Blumenstrasse

It all started rather innocently enough. The flower street gang decided to host another May potluck party, this time Italian-themed with pastas, lasagnas, and make-it-yourself mini-pizzas, downing it with bottles of chianti and italian cream sodas, not to mention the tiramisu. As last year, it was an open invitation to all, and our apartment was soon brimming with people of all shapes and sizes.

It was quite lovely at first, really. Parties are always nice when there are people you know and like who attend, and when they all bring food and drinks to share, so that the kitchen does not go dry before midnight. There were also quite a few more Germans around, a good sign of a foreigner assimilating well with her environment. It was only after all these nice people began to drop out, around 12 or so, that it all began to degenerate into the tasteless and strange.

Because then news began to circulate throughout the flat about the girl who had locked herself in the bathroom and had fallen to the ground. I got up immediately to investigate, venturing out into the hall full of suddenly unfamiliar revelers (friends of a friend of a friend – transitive invites seemingly without closure), passing whitewashed walls dashed with red wine, and finally pushing through the crowd that had gathered in front of the door.

No one seemed to know who she was or what had happened, but everyone could just make out the girl’s form lying prostrate through the frosted glass window. Two guys started forming a plan to get her out: one fashioned a pick for the lock out of a wire hanger, the other tried coaxing her out with words. At one point, the pick was ready, but as guy A informed me, “that’s a human being in there, and she’s hurting, and we know this is your house and your bathroom, but we try to get her out using psychology..” I stood there, utterly mystified by this inane speech, thinking he could take his psychology and shove it… a good lot it’s going to do for a girl who was close to passing out and obviously needed medical attention (or a bucket of cold water). Eventually a friend of the girl showed up and convinced the boys to open the door, which they did in two seconds, and although the sight was not pretty, I left them to get her taken care of and home safely.

Then the police showed up. The German police. It’s funny, but ever since I got here, I always thought the German police were rather intimidating. They wear military-green uniforms which remind me of fatigues and concentration camps, and which I had always assumed was a throwback to the war. Cue two kindly policemen at our door. They told us rather amiably that some neighbors complained about the loud music from the open windows facing the street, and with a smile and twinkle in the eye, would we close them and lower the volume a bit? Turns out that original police uniforms were blue, but after the war they switched to green to appear more friendly to the people, and especially to distance themselves from the police forces that came before. Cue hilarity, and a warm, fuzzy feeling as we complied.

If I hadn’t been so annoyed by the girl who didn’t know her own limit with respect to alcohol, I would have invited them in for pasta and cream soda. And schade that I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a picture with them. At least we kept the pick-lock, and have been practicing unlocking the door ever since.


The prospect of undergoing surgery in a foreign land can be somewhat alarming. One often presumes that medical specialists are more reliable and more competent in one’s own land than in an unfamiliar country. Still, one can overcome anything with a sense of humor.

Act I – Discovery

Doc: “Wir wissen nicht genau was es ist, also wann Sie nächste Woche kommen, machen wir die OP, und dann sehen wir. Aber kein Panik, es ist kein Grund in der Saar zu springen!
Me (to Sab): “Huh? What’d she say?”
Sab: “She says they’re not quite sure what it is, they’ll find out when they do the operation, but don’t worry, it’s nothing to jump in the Saar about..”
Me: “Oh well that’s good.”

Act II – The Paperwork

Nurse: “Do you have any allergies?”
Me: “Yes. Apples and apricots.”
Nurse: … writes down ‘Apfel und Aprikosen..’

Nurse: “Any hearing impairments?”
Sab: “Uh, she speaks English?”
Nurse: … writes down ‘spricht English..’

Nurse: “Any special considerations, like a rug to pray on?”
Me: “Uh, no…”

Nurse: “Any addictions?”
Me: “Yes, the Internet. I need it through an IV.”
Nurse: “Ah sorry, ‘fraid I can’t help you there. Anything else?”
Me: “Coffee?”
Nurse: … writes down ‘Kaffee’
Nurse: “I think we can manage that.”

Act III – Aftermath

Sab: “Are you okay? How are you feeling??”
Me: “..chapstick..”

On friendship

A friend is the only person you will let into the house when you are Turning Out Drawers. ~Pam Brown


To an American, it is always something of a slap in the face to be told you are “not friends” with someone, even if you are only just getting to know that person.

To be sure, one of the critiques from Europeans that I often hear about is how superficial the notion of ‘friendship’ is in the US. We smile too much, make promises we don’t intend to keep (“We really have to get together sometime. Do call me!”), and effortlessly prattle off intimate details of our personal lives – whether it’s salaries, the number of houses/cars/boats we own, or famous people we’ve met and/or dated – to relative strangers.

This, of course, tends to horrify our neighbors across the pond. In fact, I really should not have been so surprised; I still remember those painful experiences at our Grenoble flat back in the day, when my French flatmates would invite their friends over, who always seemed so sullen and reserved, and I would smile and laugh in my overly-friendly expat way, chatting animatedly about myself and so on, hoping they would relax a bit and open up as well. Later, my flatmate told me quite bluntly how in doing so, I came off as (and I quote) self-centered, over-bearing, and arrogant. On one particular evening, I remember rushing to my room, utterly crushed, and sobbing as they continued with their party.

I am told that the meaning of ‘friend’ for the French, Germans, and others is considerably more profound as a concept. You don’t call just anyone a ‘friend’ here, certainly not. Friendships are only built after many, many years of connaissance and cultivation. Not to mention the fact that you will rarely get a glimpse into the personal life of a prospective friend until you acquire that esteemed status. Which of course, makes it terribly difficult to get there in the first place. Therefore, when two Germans or two Frenchmen initiate friendly relations, they do so by expounding on their political opinions, breadth of literary and historical knowledge, and/or the weather. Trust and mutual respect is obtained by how well you can match the other in these discussions.

So but, how are close friendships made in the US? Is it really true that Americans make no distinction in their notion of friendship? Perhaps it is linguistic problem; with only the singular term, we often fall back to the, “Oh, that’s just a friend, but she’s a friend friend” or “she’s a close/good friend of mine”.

As a disclaimer, what follows is entirely subjective. But it seems to me that Americans often put up a front to the outside world. This image is usually made up of our own successes and achievements. Name-dropping is quite common because it shows our importance and influence in the world; the amount of money we make, the toys we own, or the awards we win, illustrate the fruits of our hard work (which we value above most all else); and our personal preferences for books, movies, music, hair stylists, and so on, reflect our individuality and unique personality (also strongly valued). Therefore, when two Americans go about striking up a friendship, they tend to share these personal facts, little by little, as appropriate, and trust and mutual respect is built by gauging the similarity of values. In fact, not sharing personal information of this sort is likely to be mistaken as mistrust and dislike, and would be difficult to overcome in the long term.

And still, how would a European know if they had made a ‘close’ friend with an American? Well, I think you would know this when you start learning about the not-so-rosy details of one’s personal life – the failures, disappointments, and humiliations – that one would not otherwise share, even with family.

In the end, the friendship, no matter what side of the Atlantic you’re on, does not change; I’m talking about the kind of friendship that never fades, never sours, never gets old, no matter how many years go by. It’s the getting there that’s the problem. I think I solved this with one particularly close friend upon arriving in Germany: after the third time we’d met, I simply asked her if we could be friends… and there you were!

Lost in Translation

To wish someone luck in the U.S., you cross your fingers. In Germany, you hold your thumb in a fist. Incidentally, crossing your fingers, in either country, means you’re lying.

At some point, these somewhat folkloric pearls of wisdom will manage to fall through the cracks of one’s consciousness, rattling around with all the other confounding and contradictory quirks of one’s native culture, such that one may no longer remember the proper split second reaction to certain social situations.

Case in point. At a coffee shop in Cupertino, a young woman comes up behind me, and exclaims, “Oh, do you work for Apple?” as she pointed to my blue t-shirt and shoulder bag, (not to mention my phone — just a coincidence, I assure you) bearing the familiar logo. She went on. “I know, because my boyfriend works there and he brought one back for me. He loves it there. I don’t work for Apple though,” waves her arms” I work for the city here. It’s pretty interesting actually, we’re trying to get funding for this project…” and so on, detailing her whole life, friends, family and career, quite cheerfully at that, as if we had known each other for years and years.

The thing is that, had I been in Germany, I would have found her behavior overly forward and rather rude. It took me a full three seconds to realize that, on the contrary, I was in California, and she was in fact being incredibly friendly, engaging, and nice. And once I had properly classified the encounter, I considered that, after all, I might have liked to get to know this person.

Three seconds, however, is too much time to reflect on niceties. Before I knew it, she had her coffee, waved goodbye, and was out the door.


Me: “So what’s the word for a yogurt pot in German?”
Nele: “Becher?”
Me: “Ah, see Roland? You have so many geschlagtensahne bechern here to choose from for your kaffee..”
Nele, laughing at me: “No, no, plural is just becher.”

Michael: “Also Roland, ist concubine eigentlich auch negativ connotiert in der Schweiz?”
Roland: “Uhh…”
Me: “Well you can’t ask a guy that..”
Michael: “Do you even know what I asked?”
Me: “Yes, I do. You asked if the word concubine has the same negative connotation in Swizterland.. but you can’t ask a guy that! Cause of course he’s gonna say.. ‘Ohh… not at all! I think concubines are great…'”
Pierre: “Wait, wait.. so a concubine is a becher?”


(Michael finally hands in his thesis, the last day of the semester comes and is gone, he is no longer a student. He also finds out that he will not be paid wages at Siemens, only a ‘living stipend’)
Michael: “My car won’t start…”
Me: “Oh, did the battery die?”
Michael: “I can’t even take the train… or the Saarbahn… I’m not a student anymore! And I don’t have a job!”

Michael, standing at my door, moping: “I’m just a… I’m just a jobless!”
Me: “Oh Michi…”


Michael: “I’ve given up myself..”
Me: “You mean you’ve given up on yourself.”
Michael: “I’ve given up on English too..”

Michael: “And you’re just making fun of me.”
Me: “Aww, Michi-michi…”
Michael: “And my car is making fun of me. Do you know how sad that is when your car is making fun of you?”
Me: … stifles a giggle…

Objection Oriented Programming

/* !!!!!!!!!!! Warning: Objectionable Code Ahead !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! */

File I/O:

tantrum "Where the hell is that file I needed??"
throw(trantrum) because not opened

Declarations and Control:

yours is nil
mine is 2

damn this is gonna take a while {

up yours!

this can't be right(yours is more than mine)

I take exception to that {

bitch("You can't do that!")

} finally {

get the hell out of Dodge



It’s funny how one sly comment can inspire a whole new way of thinking about a problem. Many thanks to John for this one; expect a wikipedia report just as soon as we’ve gotten an interpreter up and running.


So I finally paid the bill for the Frankfurter Allgemein subscription the other day. It had been laying on my desk for a few weeks now, as I clung to the hope that, with a little bit of neglect and show of disdain, it might one day slink away in dejection. But, once you’ve been hornswoggled by that friendly chap who came to your table in the mensacafe, offering a free two-week subscription to a German newspaper that you know you will never read, and you don’t even have to give any bank details, and they’ll send you an email and everything, and all you have to do is reply to cancel it.. well, these things have a tendency to persist.. and with an impressive display of tenacity.


My friend Sabrina, who drank that fateful coffee with me during the aforementioned encounter, was likewise bamboozled and similarly dismayed when, after a several weeks’ lapse in memory regarding the incident, found a bill for three-months worth of issues that we neither of us had read. Fortunately for me, she managed to produce for each of us one of those proper, formal letters needed to negotiate the 110€ bill down to 54€ based on the student rate, a small detail which the Frankfurter had conveniently disregarded.


I’m such a sucker sometimes.


So of course, upon my return to Saarbrücken after the winter break, I discovered with slight annoyance that my gym had closed down. This was something of a frustration, as early morning jogs in sleet and bitter cold really do not appeal to me. As I shopped around for an alternative, I found myself visiting the posh Fitness Company downtown, with their red carpet entrance, wall-length windows over-looking the city, and fancy machines. I figured it didn’t hurt to look.


On entering, I was approached by this pretty little Italian girl, who was positively chirping and bubbling over (or I’d say gurgling, like a babbling brook), who utterly charmed me over. Tell me, what is one to do when thus confronted? Ohh, you speak French? How delightful! And ohh, everything’s just gonna work out perfectly! You’re only here for another 6 months? Not a problem. You can just sign up for an 18-month contract.. they can’t enforce it if you have to leave the country.. aaand we’ll even give you a discount on the membership fee!


I left that day feeling completely befuddled, and with one of the most expensive gym memberships I’ve ever had in my life. It’s quite possible that roughly *half* of their current members were brought in by this girl alone.


Once a sucker, always a sucker, I suppose.


On the upside, paying so dearly for gym access appears to have a positive effect on my attendance. I’m finally starting to shed some pounds, have recently become a huge fan of the Dampfbad, and furnished at least one person in our flat with news of the world and beyond.

15 Minutes of Fame

They say that everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame at least once in their life, and I am proud to say that mine came in lil ol’ Saarbrücken this morning, all à cause du 15th of February 2008, the day when all of Saarland turned to smoke-free bars and cafes.

Sitting at my favorite table in Ubu Roi, drinking my milchkaffee from a bowl, I watched as a cameraman, sound guy, and newscaster entered each of the cafes around the Nauwieser Viertel, and proceeded to interview die Leute on their thoughts about the new policy. As I was plumb in the center of their panning shot of the cafe, I like to think I’ll be in the evening news some time tonight, forever memorialized in the annals of Saarbrücken life. This is, of course, not as terribly exciting as it would have been had I owned a television (or had I actually given an interview), but well, what the hey.. I’ll take it.

In any case, whereas spending ten minutes in a cafe before would have you smelling like you’d spent the night in a bar.. on the floor.. in a pile of cigarette butts.. and you’d go out into the fresh air with a raspy voice and feeling as if dirt had sifted into your lungs.., now you can leave with only the rich, warm smell of coffee permeating your hair, your clothes, your soul.