16 September 2011

Dear Katrine

I'm not a big writer of lists of regular daily events, but yesterday seemed to warrant it. So here it is.

15 September 2011

Dear Katrine

Thanks for another one of your updates. I think my family wishes that I wrote eloquent essays like that but I’m just boring old me.

We (but mostly I at the moment since Evan is in Italy for a conference) are pottering along here in Germany. But today was not the greatest. They talk about culture shock and it sounds like some stupid melodrama but I’m sure you’ve also come to realise it’s a real thing.

It started out well with a cute outfit—quite the feat since most of my clothes were drying on the balcony—mascara and the discovery that I have lipstick that matches my jersey. It seemed a good day for the Frida soundtrack as I went to catch a train to go walk about the main town. (We live in a village that is one stop from Evan’s work and two stops from the main/central town of this amalgamated thing we call Böblingen-Sindelfingen.) I couldn’t find the store I was looking for as I’d left the map I drew from the internet at home, but I had fun just cruising around anyway. Things started going downhill on my train journey back.

I’d got used to us using train passes when we first arrived because there was this summer deal where you could buy a one-day pass, but use it for two days. And it’s valid for trains and buses. So this was worth it pretty much all the time. This summer deal being over I tried my hand at buying a two-zone four-journey ticket. It’s not really much cheaper but at least you don’t have to buy a ticket every time. And yes, two-zone four-journey, I think that’s over-complicating things too. But anyway, it’s a good strategy when you have problems like a) one of the two machines on the platform doesn’t work; b) the machines don’t take 50 Euro notes; and c) it’s really hard to see on the touch screens when the sun is shining. So as you may gather by all this talk of machines, the small train stations—pretty much all on our line I think—aren’t staffed. With a ticket of this kind you even have to put it in a different machine to get it stamped before you travel. It’s all kind of tedious compared to the Japanese system, but anyway, let’s not bore you with more details or get too hard on Germany yet.

So on the way back, there we have it, I forgot to stamp my ticket. And then the German system slaps you like this: as soon as the train moves the guy next to you turns out to be an undercover conductor, he flashes you his ID card, and asks to see your ticket. As you take it out you remember, oh, bollocks, I didn’t stamp this sucker. He pulls out his nifty machine, the kind of machine that’s used to issue tickets that you can buy on the train in Japan, but this German man then proceeds to ask you for ID and issue you with a 40 Euro fine. Needless to say this oversight of mine and the consequences thereof bummed me out immensely.

I tried to comfort myself by visiting a stationery store and buying paper. The people there were kind of nice. I like it when people check my short answers and deer-in-the-headlights expression and switch to English. It makes me want to shop at their establishments. I’m some sort of cultural-linguistic imperialist like that.

I tried to find further comfort in a book I found on the free shelf of an Irish pub. As an aside, this Irish pub hosts weekly quiz nights, in English, and this is probably one of my favourite things so far. Pub quizzes are like school, but with beer. What’s not to like? On our first night there, with me, Evan, his colleague that introduced us to the place, and a friend of his, we tied for second place. Evan and his colleague then proceeded to rock at blind darts—Evan had to throw blindfolded while his colleague had to verbally direct—making us the official runners up. Anyway. The book is Yes Minister. I don’t know if you’ve seen the BBC TV series? If you haven’t, do yourself a favour. The book is based on it and totally hilarious and at least the Cabinet Minister character tends to have more disastrous days than I was having, so that’s good.

Until someone rings my bell. And it’s this lady. And she’s saying things about the cellar, a light, and pointing to the board at my door that shows that I’m apartment building Kehrwoche (like… “caretaker” or something) this week. And whereas I can understand all these lexical items I have no idea how they are connected, but she has kind of given up on trying to explain and is just marvelling at the fact that I really don’t speak German. Eventually she just leaned into my door and flipped a switch. Way to learn that the caretaker is supposed to keep this switch on for the week in order to have light in the cellar (where the shared bicycle room, room for washing machines and dryers, and separate storage rooms are). “Just sweep the pathway on a Saturday morning” my butt. Give me a list of duties please!

Later, I was getting my broom ready to go and inspect the aforementioned cellar storage room. The apartment used to be occupied by the mother of the two current owners—a brother and sister. She passed away some months ago. They needed some time to finish moving her things, but I remembered that they said the storage room and garage would be empty by Tuesday. Anyway, I’m standing by the door and just then there’s another visitor, my sweet old-lady neighbour. She proceeds to lead me to her apartment and explain things. For some reason my doormat is in her apartment, and it seems she has cleaned it. This lady is pretty good at just talking until I seem to understand, eventually I got that the “poetsvrou”, or however this would be spelled in German, comes on Thursdays (and she’s who I met earlier), and then this is the day that you should take your doormat inside, clean the metal rim and the mat, and then put it back outside again. All good. Just kind of embarrassing that your old-lady neighbour took it upon herself to clean your doormat since you, once again, weren’t quite informed enough on building happenings. Maybe they wanted to tell me in the morning but I was out getting fined by Deutsche Bahn. Anyway, I said sorry, thanked her, and then we had another one of our chats where she talks, and I try to catch every 5.78th word and struggle to think of ways to respond. Meaning is often easy enough to deduce, I mean, a “poetsvrou” is obviously: 'n vrou wat dinge poets (polish). There’s just no way of reverse engineering this process of understanding German through Afrikaans to producing German through Afrikaans. Also, trying to explain that one is taking time off to pursue personal projects after which you will explore options for further study is hard enough to explain to someone who understands English. “So, what did you do today?” “I… cleaned. And… wrote… some things.” I’m beginning to see how Evan must’ve felt when people in Japan kept asking “So, what… is it that you do at home… all day?” And he was doing something real.

I actually made a little action list last night of all the things I want to work on. It’s kind of long. I’m not sure if it would be worse to fail at regular-job work or your own personal work.

Anyway, I did end up inspecting the cellar. I think I’ve talked too much about cleaning in recent times so I’ll just say that things are somehow always dirtier than they seem. My family has this word: “spookdrolle”. I’m sure you can translate that for yourself: “ghost turds”. It’s dust bunnies, but really it’s more that kind of dust that’s like a combination of spider webs and cotton candy that just hangs down or sticks under things. So I cleaned my fair share of spookdrolle when I did the apartment. Well the spookdrolle on the ceiling of this storage room were black. So long story short, after the clean (and one unblocking of the vacuum cleaner pipe) I took myself, my shoes, and my glasses straight to the shower.

So that’s two pages of just one day and I’m kind of tired and hungry now. I’ll leave more interesting and positive tales for some other time, or you know, you can check Facebook. I actually thought of a funny status update this morning—yes, it’s a disease, I think in terms of Facebook status updates—but our internet situation is another mess I don’t even want to talk about anymore. Basically I’ve decided to stop feeding the mobile provider all my money. I have to save it for Deutsche Bahn. Anyway, the non-update was a memo:

Dear Ingrid,

The German word “wasser” has more to do with “water” and less to do with “washing”.

The German Language

This is related to two stories. The first being when some people were at my door trying to explain that the water will be off for 30 minutes. But our washing machine had been delivered the previous day. It took me a few seconds to realise that the discussion had nothing whatsoever to do with my washing machine.

And then this morning I took another look at the bottle of Nivea product I purchased yesterday. And then I realised it’s “face water” a.k.a. toner, not face wash a.k.a. who the hell knows. Really the viscosity of the product should’ve given it away. But I lose again.

I got another memo later.

Hey Ingrid,

Heard what happened with German. Sorry I’m such a bastard child :(


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