30.7.09

Travel Plans

Trying to get out of Germany cannot possibly be as difficult as getting out of Poland, but I can try to make it so.

I have too many belongings. When I went to the house super at 7:30 this morning, I did not realise that I would have to move out to-day rather than to-morrow, and that I would have to clean my kitchen and bath before doing so. I thus was not able to effectively cull my belongings, and have several unwieldy bags and boxes of detritus, which I am sorting through gradually. Unfortunately, I have to drag these bags and boxes all over the map, because I can't leave them in the room that I no longer have a key to. The task for to-morrow is to winnow my luggage such that I can bring it in one trip to Jeremy's WG in Berlin.

So it turns out that when I got my visa, I unwisely set it to expire on the same day that my room was to pass out of my possession, assuming apparently that I would have no friends who might shelter me if I were to wish to stay slightly longer. It turns out in fact that I do wish to stay slightly longer, so I've been meaning to go to the town hall for several days now to remedy the situation. Unfortunately, I had a test Friday morning, the office is closed on Mondays, I was in Dresden all Tuesday, they are closed on Wednesdays, and I had to move out to-day. So I will finally be talking to them to-morrow morning at 9, on the last day that my visa is valid. I really hope that they will prolong my visa without an issue; I really could just have easily have set it to expire at the end of August in the first place. Again, I do not remember my thought process at all.

Anyway, the reason that I wish to stay longer, and in fact that I need to stay longer, is that I will be going on Sunday to the Univeristy of Tübingen in south-western Germany, south of Stuttgart. I'm going to do some work on a project there, and apparently it is important enough that I actually go to visit them that they are paying for my train ticket. I will arrive Sunday afternoon, and will leave Monday evening, arriving back in Berlin on Tuesday morning. (A side note: Tübingen might even have been a nice place to do my term abroad, except in that I would have had to try to teach everyone to pronounce Tübingen.)

On Wednesday afternoon at 4, I fly out of Berlin, through London, to Boston. I will get rid of my luggage there, and then the next morning fly home. I mean, insofar as I consider Akron "home," which is pretty far, actually. Akron really is like a second home to me, and I think a lot of people probably feel the same way.

20.7.09

An hilarious episode

I was in a review session for my test in language processing a week from now, and something wonderful happened. The professor told us that part of the exam would be to construct an experiment to test some aspect of some model.

A girl in the front row raised her hand: "I can't construct an experiment. I've tried before in the homework, and it just didn't work. If you tell me every step of a process, I can do it, but to think of something myself is just impossible."

I'm not sure if I have ever seen someone argue so passionately that they were incapable of independent thought. As I said, it was wonderful.

Sometimes you realise you're in Germany

We are all aware of the following stereotype about Germans: they follow regulations with a rigidity that only a deep-seated fear of chaos can engendre. Or, you know, they like following rules. This turns out to be true, but since I'm not an Italian or a Southern Californian, I don't usually notice it or find it in any way problematic. But then sometimes I do...

The first recent (or semi-recent) instance was at our Fourth-of-July barbecue. We set up on the bank of a river in Kreuzberg, get the charcoal burning (after a mighty struggle) and proceed to grill some delicious American-style burgers. Just as the second batch is coming off the grill, we see two people from the Ordnungsamt (literally, the "Office of Order"). They are going around to every group in the park, writing things on little slips of paper, and then tranferring ownership of the slips of paper to the poor innocents relaxing in the park. We brace ourselves. Sure enough, they come to us and ask "Who is responsible for this grill." Jeremy Lin fesses up, and gets his own little slip of paper. Apparently the riverbank is a "geschützte Grünanlage," or a "protected green space," in which, as you can see on the sign to the left, grilling is prohibited, along with loose dogs and all manner of other things. Seriously, this was the sign at the entrance to the park, which probably had something to do with EVERYONE IN THE PARK incurring some penalty for violation of the rules. Anyway, we transported the grill, still burning, to another park about half a mile away, and Jeremy got a 20€ fine later by mail (instead of the 50-100€ promised by the Ornungsamt people). In America, I think the authorities would take notice of the fact that no one in the whole park knew the rules, and let everyone off with a warning...but this isn't America. This is Germany.

Our next item is not really a big deal to me, but in the scheme of things it is a much bigger deal than the grill incident. In a sudden fit of pique, the agency governing rail safety in Germany seems to have issued some new regulations for how many miles trains are allowed to travel before undergoing some sort of maintenance procedure (with whose nature I am unacquainted.) The Berlin S-Bahn (a mostly-elevated rail network), which is a major part of the public transit system of Berlin (with 1.1 million riders anually, compared to 1.4 million for the subway), was apparently taken completely unawares by this new regulation. Therefore, starting yesterday, a full two-thirds of their trains are out of service. Regular service will not be restored until at least December, during which time the not-in-any-visible-way-defective trains will presumably just be hanging around waiting to be maintained. The main S-Bahn line through the center of the city has gone completely out of service, and every other line is running at half-capacity or less. I feel that, if this were America, we would take perhaps the worst 10% of trains out of service, fix them, and then begin with the second-worst 10%, causing mild interruptions in service for a period of several months. In Germany, they are doing things so insanely that mayor Klaus Wowereit actually called on all Berliners to show solidarity. Like it's war, or something. Ridiculous. To be fair, Jeremy reports that taking the subway to work instead of the S-Bahn is actually quite pleasant, but I think he's just putting on a brave face at the urging of Mr. Wowereit.

13.7.09

Experiments

So, I realise I've been maintaining blog silence for some time. My life has been mostly just dealing with classes and hanging out inconsequentially with friends, so I just haven't been that interesting lately. But I am running an interesting experiment, so I thought that all of you who are still tuned in might like to hear of it.

I have suspected for a few weeks that one of my room-mates is using my soap. I keep it in a little orange container, and I am always very careful to drain all the water out. Yet, when I go to take a shower, I often find the thing with water in it. I thought maybe the soap was somehow leaking water, so I just kept my suspicions to myself, but then to-day the container was mostly full of water. So after my shower I took it back to my room, to see if water would magically appear. It didn't. *Edit*: The soap box lives in a drawer next to the shower. Water would have a hard time migrating to the drawer, I think.

Next experiment: I continue to keep the soap in my room, and I see which one of my room-mates begins after a few days to stink.


30.6.09

It is hot outside

And public transit is suddenly hellish.

28.6.09

A thing to do

On the way home from Luxembourg (I guess I will start my Luxembourg saga with the end, as well), I hit upon the idea to find on the map the little town where Thomas Wegener grew up. The name of the town is Lengerich. Thomas Wegener was driving the car, because he was the one who took me to Luxembourg.

When I had found Lengerich, I began quizzing him about all the surrounding towns, like Gersten and Handrup and Langen, and farther-away cities, like Meppen and even Osnabrück. To be honest, most of the things he said weren't really all that interesting in and of themselves. Thomas's high school was in Handrup. Geeste had a wonderful lake where Thomas sometimes went out on his uncle's boat. Hopsten had a high school where people who got D's at Thomas's high school went in order to get A's and B's. Nordholte had it's very own protection union, a relic of the time when farmers had to unite to defend their farms against marauders. A lot of different towns (Freren, for example) had girls in them with whom Thomas had had no romantic success. Even more towns had large annual festivals where people got absurdly drunk. In fact, at one festival in Nordholte a man had been killed in a festive drunken brawl, in the recent past.

The point is, even though I don't remember the details of most of the stories, I now feel that I have an idea of what it is like to live in Lengerich. Which I think is really cool.

Anyway, I think that this could be a fun activity to complete with friends and acquaintances of all ages. I recommend that you try it. Let me know how it goes.

27.6.09

I need to learn narrative conciseness

For evidence, see the previous post.

Poland

I was just in Poland. I have a lot to say about Poland. Poland is pretty great. Elizabeth Ryznar is a wonderful tour guide. A wonderful, Polish-speaking tour guide. Seriously, go visit Elizabeth in Poland. You won't regret it.

I think the most reasonable place to begin my story is at the end.

I had a Plan A to get out of Poland. It involved arriving at the Krakow central train station at 12:15, buying a ticket to the German city of Cottbus, and then taking the train from there back to my home in Golm. The reason that a train directly back to Berlin was not Plan A was, as in so many other cases, money. Buying train tickets within Poland is very cheap, and but international tickets are not very cheap at all. My student fees include free public transit within the German states of Brandenburg and Berlin, so all I really had to do was get to the border. If my plan had worked, I would have been back in Golm by 2:00 am. But there were two problems with my plan. The first problem: I dropped my student ID on the way out the door to my building when I was leaving home, so I had no way of proving that I was entitled to free rail transit. The second problem: the woman at the train station's international desk had never heard of Cottbus, which is a little frustrating, considering that it is a city of 100,000 directly on the Polish border. The unnumbered problem: I got to the train station at about 12:38, meaning I had seven minutes to attempt to buy my ticket. This absolutely did not happen.

Elizabeth and I then spent about an hour and a half attempting to figure out whether it would be possible to take a bus to the border, and finally settled on the idea that the 19:45 train to Szczecin would be the least worst option. Overnight trains are never that great, but I had to be back in Golm by 3 on Monday for class, so I decided to just eat to keep myself awake and try to get some reading done. I wandered around Krakow for some time, bid Elizabeth good-bye, and got to the station by 6:45. This is the earliest I have ever been for anything ever, which makes the following events even more unfair.

It turns out that, in Poland, every platform has two different tracks. In Germany, the layout is the same, but the tracks are called, for instance, "Track 3" and "Track 4." In my case, all I knew was that I was leaving from platform 3. The big sheet of paper listing all departing trains was behind a pane of glass that was sort of fogged over, so I couldn't really read what was going on. My ticket didn't have a train number on it (or the platform number, or really any other useful information).

While I was waiting on the platform, a huge long train pulled up, bound for Berlin, and made up entirely of sleeping cars. I thought to myself "man, I wish that was my train." I had paid 62 złote, or $20, for my ticket, so such luxury was quite unthinkable. But in fact it turns out that that was indeed my train. It apparently was going through Szczecin on the way to Berlin. Despite the fact that Berlin is on the way to Szczecin (if you ask Google Maps). I instead got on the train a couple minutes later from the same platform (but the other track), bound for Trzebinia. Which is actually really near Kraków. I really should have realised that this was not my train, as it was really tiny, but I had just got into my head that the other train was definitely not my train. And this was an assumption I absolutely failed to question.

When the ticket-taker women came by, she looked at my ticket and spoke some rapid Polish. When I told her "Ja nie rozumiem," she sighed and started shouting into her walkie-talkie. She conversed in this fashion for at least ten minutes, and then finally came back to me and tried to make me understand. But she wouldn't talk slowly, so I couldn't get any information. Eventually another passenger volunteered some broken English, and I learned that I should get off at Trzebinia and wait for another train. So I did. The ticket taker literally led me by the arm to my platform and then waited for two minutes with me, until my train came. She was so kind, even though we couldn't communicate at all. I told her "Dziękuję bardzo," and climbed on the other train. The ticket-taker man on that train also didn't speak any foreign languages, but he managed to communicate to me that I had to move all the way to the back of the train, so I did.

So there I was, in the last compartment on a train bound for I knew not where, at night, with no one to talk to in English, German, or Russian. And that's actually the climactic moment of the story. Sorry.

Eventually a different, English-speaking ticket-taker man came and told me to get off the train at 10:00 in Katowice and wait for the midnight train to Szczecin. So I did. Katowice was boring and depressing and a little bit cold, but eventually the train came. On this particular train, there were no free places, but I heard a small group of student age people speaking English in the hall, so I asked them what was the deal with Polish Rail. They didn't know.

The group of people turned out to be two Spanish girls, a Hungarian girl, and a Polish guy. The girls were studying abroad in Poland, and the guy had apparently been grilling them about their opinions on Polish men. I scared him away, for which I received many thanks. Anyway they shared a little bit of food, and we commiserated about Polish Rail. And then we all sort of fell asleep sitting up in the hallway, except the one girl who was studying for an exam. Finally, at Wrocław, the train emptied out, and we went to get a compartment. The rest of the trip was really uneventful. The girls got out at Poznań, and then eventually, at about 9 in the morning, the train reached Szczecin. I then was able to catch another train back to Berlin, and to Golm. I will presumably never see those kind foreigners again (I actually forget their names), but I cannot imagine how miserable I would have been without them.

One more annoyance: I had dropped my student ID on the way out the door to my dorm in Golm, and my ID doubles as my rail pass within Berlin-Brandenburg. So I actually had to buy a 9€ ticket back to Golm from Angermünde, which made me pretty unhappy. I arrived in Golm at 1, after 17 hours in transit.

Luxembourg, Photos

I posted a new album called "The View from the Top," which is more pictures from Kraków. They are like the other pictures, but more tower-themed. Also the album "Unos Fotos" has been added to.

Right now I am in Luxembourg. It is pretty great; I just went for a run and took some boring but hopefully not unaesthetic photos. The students at the University of Luxembourg have a weird life. First, language: the inhabitants of the country speak an insane dialect of German called Lёtzebuergesch, most business in the country takes place in French, German is quite widely spoken, and the language of the dorm where I am a guest is English. Second, littleness: the dorm I am staying in has 18 residents, and the entire country has 500 000. Third: everything closes super-early. Even the Germans complain about it, and Germany is certainly not the land of Open-24-Hours. That's actually pretty much all I've got. Anyway, these three things suffice to make the country really strange.

I'm going to go now and try to find a couple of open shops. I am not optimistic.

24.6.09

Photos from Poland

I've put up a bunch of photos from Poland. You can read the captions for a short version of my trip. I'm working on some posts, but life is sort of hectic right now. It turns out I'm going to Luxembourg on Thursday.

Also new photos in the album about ridiculous English.

10.6.09

Undercover

On the bus to class to-day, I was reading some Middle High German. A girl from my class saw me there, and stopped by to ask me whether I was in her presentation group. It turns out I am. We chatted for 10 minutes or so about meeting for the presentation, the likely make-up of the final exam, and our common difficulties in finding a uniting theme for the course. I finally mentioned that I hoped that I would be granted a little leeway on the translation portion of the exam, considering that I am not a native speaker of German. My assertion was met with surprise! The girl had thought my German was a little funny, but apparently not funny enough that I couldn't be from the Saarland or Switzerland or someplace. This despite the fact that, during conversation, I had bungled a couple of utterances badly enough that I just gave up on them, and the fact that I had forgotten the gender of the word "Referat" (presentation).

My point is: if you make enough progress in whatever language you are learning, you will sound like a really inarticulate native speaker, rather than an unusually articulate second-language speaker. Great.

Germans are awesome

So I was in Kaufland to-day, and Thomas and I were thinking about going swimming. He asked an employee: "Habt ihr Swimmbrillen?" The employee responded "Haben Sie Schwimmbrillen. Nein."

You see, Thomas had used the informal form of the plural "you," rather than the formal (which he later explained was generally inoffensive in the specific context of asking a store employee about the availability of wares). The employee, without even stopping to consider things, elected to take him down a peg before answering his question in the negative. I couldn't stop laughing. This behaviour was just so foreign to me.

Am I right in thinking that this sort of behaviour would get any employee of an American store in trouble?

8.6.09

A moment of embarrassment

To-day, I had to ask the meaning of the term "Hakenkreuz," which was used in an example sentence in one of my classes. It turns out that the meaning of this term is "Swastika." Germans have never, ever heard the word "Swastika." I got a lot of funny looks.

My classes

My classes seem to all be running behind.

Professors are fond of disappearing: one of my professors took two weeks away to go get his Dutch citizenship, for instance. One of my professors went to America for a conference. Etc.

Classes tend to start late. The standard class period runs for half an hour, from, for instance, 11:15 to 12:45. There is a train that leaves at :39, though, so a couple of my professors have arranged to have us begin class on the hour, so that we might get out in time to catch this train. Unfortunately, the professors still tend to arrive at :15, so the lecture just ends up being 15 minutes shorter.

Professors tend to exhaustively go over the solutions to the assignments. I have never found myself able to pay attention to this kind of thing, so this is just wasted time for me.

The couple of first-year courses that I have are rather prone to violent revolution. One confusing assertion can touch off a ten-minute free-for-all. Comments flow more freely horizontally than vertically. (By this I mean that students talk more among themselves than they do to the professor).

The handouts tend to be too long to cover, even without interruption. When this is combined with the previous three issues, the results can be disastrous. With 27 minutes left in the lecture to-day, I noticed that we were on slide 3 of 35. I pointed this out to my neighbour, who bet me that we would reach slide 16. I bet her that we would reach slide 12. We reached slide 12.

3.6.09

More photographs

I put some new photographs in my "Things in Potsdam" album, and also uploaded a couple new flower pictures, from the grounds of Schloss Cecilienhof.  I went to Park Sanssouci with Jeremy and took some cool pictures there, but they're on his camera, and I don't have access to them (hint, hint).  The flowers, however, which were so incredibly beautiful--and incredibly expensive-looking--two weeks ago, are pretty much just leaves now.  I regret not photographing them when I had the chance.  As I could probably have predicted.

1.6.09

Der Burritoabend

This Friday, I hosted a burrito evening for six of my linguistics acquaintances.  I had tried to do this once before, on a Monday evening, but it didn't work out.  Monday evening would seem a stupid time to try to host a social event, and it was, but I had my reasons.  I live on the Golm campus, you recall, which is in the middle of nowhere, and my acquaintances live either in Potsdam proper or in Berlin.  Since several of them have class with me on Monday afternoon, I figured I would just invite them to dinner afterward.  This ended up being depressing.  I sent the email to six people; after three or so days, I had one yes, two no's, and three no responses.  Ridiculous.  It turns out that I had gotten the addresses from a bad source (because I had no means of contacting these people), and that two of the three no responses had just not received the email.  The other person had meant to respond, and just forgotten, but would have been a "no." 
Anyway, after a week, I sent out another invitation, for last Friday.  This time, everyone but two people accepted, and one person even asked to bring a friend.  Since I had been meaning to hang out with Raphael for some time anyway, and since he couldn't come, we met at mid-day to do some tourism and lunch before the big event.  We saw Schloss Cecilienhof, got some cool pictures (an elephant!  made of tree!), and then I had to go back to Golm.  And Raphael was just sort of following along.  It turns out that he could come after all.  So that was pretty great.

We arrived back at home in Golm at about 5:25, where the guests were meant to arrive at six.  I searched in my pockets.  Then I searched in my bag.  And I didn't have my house key.  I had a little bit of panic, but it turns out my room-mate was home.  So.  Dodged a bullet.

Anyway, at 6:20, it was still just Raphael and me.  And I was starting to get a little bit worried.  But then there was a ring at the door, and all five other people were there.  The men-folk of the group immediately set off through the forest (quite literally), following my directions to the supermarket, where they were fixin' ter procure beverages and desserts.  In the disconcertingly long time they were gone, Raphael and Carina and Daria and I prepared the rest of the meal.  Mostly I confessed to not knowing how to do things, and to doing things wrong, and was reassured by Carina and Daria that I was doing just fine.  Except with the avocados.  The avocados were probably between 5 and 6 on the Mohs scale, meaning they could be scratched by Feldspar, but not Apatite.  And appetite was the only tool we had.  Two drum beats and a cymbal crash!

The rest of the story is mostly told by the photo album, although Facebook is having a lot of problems right now.  The point is, everyone ate a delicious burrito, most people ate another delicous burrito, the conversation was lovely, and I made some friends.  The next evening, I was invited to Berlin for a birthday celebration with this same group of people, plus others.  Also a good time.

31.5.09

Good times

It's another four-day week-end in Potsdam.  Times have been good.  See the new link to photos, read the story here, later, after I write it here, later.

26.5.09

My Philosophy of Photography

You may have thought I was kidding.  Who would have guessed that I had a philosophy of photography?  In fact, what is a person like me, completely lacking in artistic sensibility, even doing with a philosophy of photography?

The first time I was in Germany, my pictures were terrible.  Really awful.  I had four disposable cameras, and I may have taken 10 decent photographs.  The problem, you see, was that I lacked any sort of philosophy of photography, and thus did not recognise the shots that would have been worth capturing.  Before I left for Germany this time round, I developed this loose set of criteria for what might make a slightly interesting photograph:

1. Juxtaposition.  This can be juxtaposition of oneself and a landmark, or juxtaposition of two interesting items.  For instance, picture of a church steeple: not terribly interesting.  You can find better pictures taken with better cameras by better photographers inside the internet at any time of the day or night, without even having to visit the location.  Picture of a church steeple with a S-Bahn train in motion, and a police van underneath: conceivably interesting, although this particular photograph didn't really turn out to be anything very great.  I use it as an example only because I was thinking while taking it "Ah, juxtaposition!"  The better example is here, with personal and thingal juxtaposition, although for some reason I look like I've been photoshopped in.  Also I didn't take this one.

2. Ephemerality.  Anything that won't be there in a week, or in a month, is a reasonable subject for a photograph.  This is why I end up taking so many pictures of flowers.  Once the flowers are gone, I will never again have a chance to take pictures of the flowers.  The first time I took this picture, five years ago, there was a scaffolding, and a giant advertisement for "Your personal bank."  The first one was a better picture.  This one is boring, I just took it to contrast with the other one, which is in a drawer at my house.  

3. An interesting angle.  If you do not have the limitation of film, you may as well try to take pictures of things from interesting angles.  It pretty much never works for me, but it can justify taking pictures of non-juxtaposed non-ephemeralities.

4. Things that are intrinsically interesting, but non-tourist.  I hate being a tourist.  This category includes any and all Engrish, and any photo that can illuminate some aspect of the local culture, such as an alcoholic laundromat.

Obviously, I don't follow my own guidelines with any sort of regularity.  It's just nice to know that the guidelines are there, I think.

25.5.09

Flowers, Photographs

In the last few days, the wild poppies have been out in full force in the fields around my home.  I have been taking morning walks to attempt to get my internal clock to recognise when morning is, so I have seen a lot of these poppies, and also a goodly number of cornflowers.  It's quite wonderful.  What isn't wonderful is the extent to which I am allergic to the out-of-doors.  Yesterday, after my morning walk, my eye itched a little, so I rubbed it a little, and it swelled almost shut.    I didn't get a picture of this, but imagine something about half-way between Dustin and Scary Monster.  This morning, my eye is not all the way better.  I still look like I got punched maybe last week.  I am going to get some anti-histamines at the earliest opportunity.

Anyway, though, I took a grillion pictures of flowers (the yellow ones are from an earlier time).  You can see them here.

All these pictures of flowers might lead one to pose the question: why all these pictures of flowers?  This will be covered in my next post: My Philosophy of Photography.  No joke.

24.5.09

La Tienda Mexicana

I found the Mexican store yesterday, and, as always, forgot my camera.  Here are the things that one can buy at the Mexican store, and nowhere else: tortillas, tortilla chips that are not barbecue flavoured, shredded cheese, cheese that is orange, Oreos (Las galletas preferidas de leche).  I bought all of these things, and my wallet has still not recovered.  A bag of home-made tortilla chips, for instance, costs 3,80€, which is about $5.  That particular foodstuff will not be coming to the Burritoabend that I am planning, but will instead be for my own private consumption.  The deliciousness of tortilla chips is not something that I can expect Germans to appreciate.  Maybe I will pick up a bag of doritos...

But anyway, I am much closer to Burritoabend than I was two days ago.  And I have five linguists who have promised to attend if their schedules permit.

Now I have to find some cilantro; the internet's advice is "grow it," which isn't really so much an option, but apparently it can also be found in Asian stores.  Another option, I guess, is that old German mainstay: "no cilantro."  

20.5.09

Grillabend

To-night there was a Grillabend in Golm, hosted by the ERASMUS programme.  A friend took pictures, which she promised to send to me.  I have so far never had any luck in getting people to send pictures to me, but perhaps this time things will be different.  Come to think of it, I'm going to send some pleading/threatening e-mails to people who owe me pictures...done.

Although the Grillabend was hosted by ERASMUS, it was also in some way associated with the linguistics programme.  So not only was my pan-European crowd there, but so was everyone I know from my classes.  This sounds pretty great, but they staked out positions at opposite corners of the courtyard, and seating was entirely insufficient for the purpose of bringing them together.  So I spent some amount of time with one group, and the rest with the other, which I thought was a pretty excellent solution.  Thommy, who is a pretty cool guy, was good enough to come by and hang with the linguists for a while, but by the time the rest of the ERASMUS people followed, almost all of the linguistics crowd had gone to catch a train.  Actually, I'm not sure what benefit I would get from these two groups of people interacting (not that it would be harmful), so I'm pretty okay with how everything turned out.

Entertainment for the Grillabend was provided by a Big Band from Sweden, playing America's greatest hits of 1930-1975.  It was pretty hilarious, American in the same way that Lederhosen and accordion music are German.  It made me realise what a bizarre thing it is to hear music and understand the lyrics; most Europeans go through life hearing English-language music and being completely oblivious to its meaning.

There will be some new photos up in approximately five minutes.

15.5.09

Procrastination

Reading period at Harvard is a time to complete final papers and projects.  I know it better as the time to procrastinate to the detriment of my grades, health, mood, and general well-being, and my predicament is not uncommon.  Since most of my friends just got out of reading period, I have been doing a lot of thinking about procrastination.  So I found this article.  I went through and highlighted the stuff I thought was important or ridiculously self-evident (helpfully, both in the same colour).  If you have 5 minutes to kill, you might consider looking at what I've highlighted.

To answer the inevitable question: no, I did not do this while procrastinating.  I have no urgent deadline to meet right now, and this research is something I've been meaning to get to for a long time.

8.5.09

More things that Germans don't have

-The concept of a cult.  I tried to explain the notion of a cult to this German by talking about Jim Jones and then about the Branch Davidians, but he could think of no translation.

-Delicious peanut butter.  I tried the peanut butter that I bought, and it is certified non-delicious.  Anner, what is the Dutch brand that is delicious?  I'll be going to Nederland eventually, and I will be wanting to buy some of that.

-Delicious coffee.  Just kidding, coffee is always delicious.  I had some this morning.  Mannnnn.

-Cheap clothes-drying options.  My clothes are drying all over my room right now, and I don't have any non-damp socks.  The dryer costs as much as the washer, which is 1,50€, and the equivalent of $4 is more than I want to spend to wash and dry a small load of laundry.

-Sensible phone design.  My phone, being a non-flip phone, has a key combination that locks it, so that the buttons that get pressed in my pocket do not call anyone.  If I leave the phone locked overnight, and I get a text message while I am asleep, a funny thing happens.  My alarm becomes un-turn-off-able.  My alarm has the really neat feature of getting louder the longer it plays.  What this means is that this morning I had to listen to almost the entire Friends theme at about 140 decibels.  Pretty sweet.  Thanks for the 8 am text message, Thomas.

To-day I got the baking soda that I ordered from the on-line pharmacy!  So this week-end, cookies.

6.5.09

StickK.com

There is a website called StickK.com, founded by a Yale economics professor and some others, that uses my aversion to losing money to help me improve my life.  Here's how it works: I make some sort of a pledge, and I attach some monetary value to that pledge.  If I fail to achieve my pledge, I pay this money.  Pledges can be one-time deals, or weekly commitments.  I choose the recipient of the cash; it doesn't go to the website.  Right now, I have three pledges going.

First pledge: to write something 6 days a week, for 6 weeks.  I have attached $30 a week to this pledge, with the money going to the George W. Bush Presidential Library.  This pledge is going very well.

Second pledge: to wake up every morning when my alarm tells me to.  I have attached $15 a week to this pledge for 4 weeks, with the money going to "charity," i. e. the Salvation Army, Red Cross, or whatever.  I have already failed the pledge for this week, but I have high hopes for next week.

Third pledge: I am not listening to any music on my compuker or iPod for a week.  It is too distracting.  I attached $20 to this pledge, to go to charity.  So far, so good, although I am really missing music.  I got an ambient noise programme, but it really is not the same at all.

In conclusion: if you feel you cannot control your own life very well, you should consider StickK.

4.5.09

How can anyone live in this country?

They don't have chocolate chips; the things called "choclait chips" are made to be sort of like potato chips, only sweet and chocolatey.  They have two brands of peanut butter, the cheaper of which is twice as expensive as Teddie.  They don't have pecans.  Period.  They don't have navy beans.   They don't have vanilla in any of the places that a rational human being would look for vanilla in.  Baking soda is basically unheard of, and those who have discovered it hail it on the internet as a miracle ingredient.  If you can't guess, I was thinking about baking some cookies.  And a making soup.  Bad day at the supermarket.

Also the light in my room has burnt out, and I don't have another.  Therefore, as soon as it gets dark, the only thing I can still see to do is waste time on my compuker.

2.5.09

Stereotypes

People are always asking me for some stereotypes that Americans have of Germans, or of Europeans in general.  Then, if I come up with one, they like to laugh at how stupid it is.  Unfortunately, I am not very good at coming up with stereotypes.  Is anyone better at it?  Please everyone tell me what sorts of stereotypes you believe are widely (or narrowly?) held about Germans or Europeans.

When I mentioned that Americans believe that Germans are averse to shaving, it was revealed to me that it is considered perfectly acceptable for German men to shave their armpits.  So that stereotype, for instance, is wildly off the mark.  Wildly.  The stereotype that states that Germans love bureaucracy, however, is still valid.

30.4.09

Various Things

Hello, blogging fans.  I'm going to be one of those annoying bloggers who apologises for a hiatus in writing, as if his audience were demanding an apology for the withdrawal of his soul-nourishing prose stylings.  So, sorry guys.  I've been a bit busy.

So it occurs to me that Mother's Day is in 10 days, and I'm still not entirely sure where the post office is.  Here's a promise: I hope to go shopping this week-end and pick up some nice things for you, Mom.  And I apologise for the poor quality of that promise.

I got a Finnish one-Euro coin to-day in change.  Man, the EU is pretty great.

What has been keeping me busy?  Class and socialising, mostly.  It turns out that I am taking seven classes, which is really not so bad, as only two of them have large final projects, and most of them just involve two tests.  I plan to use this relative lack of activity to get some travelling in, and to learn the material in my courses rather more thoroughly than I might if I were at Harvard.  I will be happy if I achieve one of these goals, but I consider it possible that I might achieve both.

It turns out that I speak better German than a couple of my professors, and that in fact only three of my professors are native speakers of German.  I'm not going to pretend this is ideal, but it does make things much easier to understand.  Also, since all linguistics articles are written in English, most of the things I have to read are in English.  This means that I am actually at an advantage here.  It just doesn't seem right.

I sort of wanted to go to the Netherlands to-day, as to-day is Koninginnedag, or Queen's Day.  It turns out it's a pretty good thing I didn't, as all festivities have been cancelled, following one maniac's decision to ram his car into a group of people watching the Queen's parade.  Four people are dead, and many more are seriously injured.
I keep going to cultural events all the time.  This is a real demand on my time.  I went to a concert in Potsdam that turned out to be a movie about Bob Dylan.  I went to a film festival called sehsüchte that featured the complete failure of the sound system in the middle of the fourth feature.  That was all right, though, because only the second feature was actually interesting (Schlaraffenland by Sarah Judith Mettke).  I also went to the Baumblütenfest in Werder, or Tree Blossom Festival, which is apparently the second largest Saufparty in Germany (after Oktoberfest).  It is a real, authentic piece of Prussian culture, and it has been going on for 130 years.  According to the group of Germans I was with, this year's incarnation featured rather fewer individuals who had enjoyed an inordinate amount of the ubiquitous fruit wines that make Werder famous, and was therefore not nearly as entertaining as in years past.  I enjoyed it though; there was fair food.  Fair food is a concept I can't really explain to Germans--I have tried--but it is delicious.  Unfortunately, I forgot my camera and don't have pictures.  I might go back this week-end.

To-morrow a goodly number (at least 4) of us foreigners are heading to Berlin Kreuzberg for the May Day festivities.  Kreuzberg is overwhelmingly Turkish and overwhelmingly awesome, so I promise to take pitures.

Also: BOLIDEN.

26.4.09

Bildungsstreik!

So it seems that there is a nationwide student strike planned for the 17th of July. This prospect is slightly terrifying to me, as I am not really sure what kind of credit I can expect to get from Harvard for 60% of a semestre abroad. I'm hoping that the lack of anything that could reasonable be designated as grievances will prevent wide participation in the strike. Seriously, German students have nothing to complain about. They pay 500€ a month for college. The big problems for people seem to be "forcible exmatriculation," i. e. making people leave college after they have studied a certain (high) number of semestres without showing adequate progress toward graduation, and the fact that everyone does not get a master's degree (the slogan being "If a bachelor's, then a master's degree for everyone!") I have not talked to any actual Germans about it yet, so I will update when I learn more about the chances of success the strike movement has. I am open to any suggestions that people might have for ways to finish my semestre in the absence of school.
In other news, I have bought a chair. It is from IKEA, and its name is BOLIDEN. It is the most comfortable chair I have ever had the privelege of sitting in. I had to carry the big box all the way home from Berlin-Spandau, and then I had to construct the chair, so I feel I've earned a right to relax in it as much as I like. My advice to everyone: go and buy yourself a BOLIDEN. It will cost you $99, but it will be worth every penny.

24.4.09

McCarthy

Yesterday, I was hanging out with two Germans who were talking politics. Neither of them can understand why the Left Party still has support in Germany, as they consider it the direct successor of the East German Communist Party. In fact, they are not entirely certain why the party should be legal; why was there no de-Communisation akin to the de-Nazification of the post-war period? Then one of them expressed a wish: "We need a McCarthy."

I don't think Germans need or want a McCarthy. I could be wrong.

23.4.09

The week-end

My first class of the week is at 3 on Monday. My last class of the week ends at 3 on Thursday. My week-end is thus 4x24 hours = 96 hours long.

Incredible.

22.4.09

Startling calculations


My productivity when sitting in front of a computer screen has fallen to zero.  Kelvin.  I therefore had the idea to start printing out the things I need to read.  I was at first a little resistant to this idea because of how much printing costs.  Then I made a calculation.  I thought to myself, would I rather have 100 Euros, or would I rather be productive?  This is reducible to the question: Would I rather have $136, or would I rather not be constantly disgusted with my own poor study habits?  That is: is $136 now going to make my life better in such a way that I will save $136 on blood pressure medication later?  Will it save me, in the long run, 17 hours (my time is at least worth 8 dollars an hour)?  Will actually doing a good job in my courses increase my future earning potential by at least $136?  

Then I made another calculation.  How many pages would 100 Euros buy me?  100 Euros would buy me 3,333 pages.  Three thousand, three hundred thirty-three pages.

I realise that printing things out is not really the final solution to my productivity woes.  But it really will help.  Really.

Titles

Germans are a anomalous among the peoples of Europe in that they can concatenate titles.  When addressing a letter to a man who has a doctorate and is also a full professor, the Germans write "Sehr geehrter Herr Prof. Dr. ____."  "Very respected Mr. Prof. Dr. ____."  This feels absurd to me, but this is how they do it.

The unexpected side effect of this is that, when referring to people with titles in conversation, it is always acceptable to say just "Herr ____" or "Frau ____."  In English, the Mr. or Mrs. is chased away by the Dr., but the Germans are not so exclusive about things.

Tschüß!

Haha, no, I'm not leaving or anything.  Gotcha!

Tschüß (or "Tschau" and "Tschö") is today's German Word of the Day.  It means "bye,"--it actually is a heavily corrupted form of "adieu"--but is used in more situations than the English.   Basically, any transaction, no matter how short or how trivial, tends to end with this word.  When I have finished paying for things at the supermarket, the cashier and I say "Tschüß."  When I go to hand in some forms, whoever takes the forms says "Tschüß."  Everyone takes their leave at the end of a lecture with "Tschüß."  Pretty much the only person you don't say "Tschüß" to is the bus driver.  

I think this is pretty great.  It makes mundane daily activities feel like actual human interactions.  In fact, it makes it easier to talk to whomever you might be interacting with, because you know that the conversation will have some sort of endpoint.  I don't know if anyone else has the problem where you say something to a cashier and then just sort of awkwardly walk away because the transaction is finished, but I sure do.  

Germans probably don't find their usage of "Tschüß" in any way exciting, but it warms my heart a little every time.

20.4.09

German University: A thorough analysis

Having attended a full day of classes, I feel entitled to make a series of sweeping generalisations about what German Universities are like.

Iäve (sorry, kezböärd, I'm switching) made this observation before, but everybody seems to know each other.  My first linguistics class, at nine this morning, was extremely talkative.  Infiltration is my goal, but not in that class, because I'm likely not taking it.  It has a final paper due Sept. 4.

In the course catalogue, courses have names, but no descriptions.  The first course I visited to-day was called "speech theory and spoken language," and I rather expected it to be about things like incremental production, and in general syntactic processes.  Instead, it is mostly about phonology.  That's fine, and probably will be interesting, but it illustrates my point: any course could be anything.  My "selected problems of German" course to-morrow may turn out to be a meeting of the Illuminati.  I have no way of knowing.

Language classes tend to use a communicative approach, possibly because Germans already understand the concepts of verb conjugation and case.  This will be really good for me, as my entire knowledge of Russian is grammatical.  I lack the skills to complete any practical task.  This also means I can take third-semestre Russian again without actually repeating much material.

Only approximately two-thirds of lectures actually take place.  To-day, my third class just didn't happen.  I went to the room, and waited, and no one showed up, despite the course being on the room schedule posted on the door.  By extrapolation, I can expect this to happen at every third class I try to attend.  I am a little worried.

By the same logic, I can expect to get myself invited to join a debate club at every third class I go to (and half of all classes that actually take place).  I'm thinking about doing it, as I might get hounded to death if I don't.  Also, it would probably be a great experience.  I can't do verbal debate in English to any extent, and German could only exacerbate the problem.  Seriously, I'll probably do it.

The German keyboard


On the German (QWERTZ) keyboard, the y and z keys are switched round.  The punctuation is also all over the place, scattered around because the Germans have dedicated keys for ö, ä, ü, and ß.  When I am using IM, I often make weird mistakes like "_" instead of "?", etc.  I have to explain that it's because of the German keyboard.  I am trying to decide on a shorthand.

Should I call it "the kezboard" or "the kezböärd"?  The first is truer-to-life, but the second looks cooler and is more obviously German.  If I were using AZERTY like the French, I would probably write kéyboqrd rather than the simple keyboqrd.  Of course, if I were using AZERTY, I would also have to hit the shift key every time I wanted to type a period.  And nobody wants that kind of life.

The H-Bomb


The other day, various people whom I have known for two weeks found out that I go to Harvard.  I generally say that I study in Boston when asked where I come from, but Thomas asked whether I went to Boston University, so I had to tell him where I went to school.  I then had to show him my ID, and take various steps to assure the assembled that I was not joking.

Thomas wanted to know whether Harvard was all it's cracked up to be.  I told him it was.  I do miss it, rather.

I was then asked me why I hadn't previously mentioned that I go to Harvard.  I told him it was pretty obvious.  It is a particular burden that we bear, we Harvardians, unable to even say the name of our school without causing a great hullabaloo.  

At the party last night, Thomas asked me to produce my ID again to convince his interlocutor that I go to Harvard.  This isn't really annoying, it's just funny.  One sort of loses a sense of what the Harvard name means.  Has this experience made me more appreciative of the blessings of my life?  Probably not, but maybe.  Maybe.

19.4.09

The German university: A lesson in poor expository style

Here in Germany, or at least here in Potsdam, university works rather differently than it does anywhere I've heard of in the states.

The difference that really makes a difference is that most classes meet only once a week for two hours, which sounds pretty great until you find out that you are required to have 20 hours of class time per week.  I, for instance, will be taking 9 classes, as my Russian class meets twice a week.

As a consequence of so many classes being required, one is forced to take a larger proportion of the available classes.  To facilitate choosing, classes are labelled with semestres, so a 1st-semestre student will end up taking a lot of classes with the other 1st-semestre students in his subject, and this continues all along the way.  Germans also get their liberal arts education out of the way in Gymnasium (high school), so they don't take electives outside their subject.

Students therefore have what amounts to a cohort.  I was last night at a party in a tiny apartment in Berlin, held by a dude called Philipp, who is a Tandem-Partner (meaning he tries to help us foreigners navigate The German Bureaucracy and lead full and meaningful lives).  Philipp tends to dress all in black, and has even been known to paint his nails black, which would in America tend to put him into a certain distrusted and disliked social minority, despite the fact that he otherwise does not act any differently from anyone else (except for being quite a bit nicer, and asking more questions about drug policy in America (?)).  I had sort of expected the other guests at the party to look similar to Philipp, but I was completely wrong.  The other guests at the party were his peers in the second semestre of political science and government, and were as diverse a group as you can find.  Also they were pretty great, as far as I could tell.  Everyone seemed to be friends, and people drifted from one conversation to another pretty impressively.  The party had the best mingling of any party I have ever been at, I think.

I am sort of of two minds about the merits of this system.  It automatically gives people a place to fit in, but would make it really hard to switch majors, I feel, and might in general just make it difficult to meet people outside of your major.  I personally am glad that I have my current friends rather than linguistics concentrators (not that linguistics concentrators are not interesting, just that my actual friends are pretty awesome).  

What this system means to me is that I will want to try to take at least several classes classified under one semestre, so that I can possibly attempt to integrate myself into one of these cohorts.  We'll see how that goes.

18.4.09

An awakening

These few weeks in Germany have been much like an ideal vacation.  I'm meeting interesting new people, exploring the geography in Potsdam in depth, enjoying gorgeous weather, spending little money, and in general experiencing almost no stress.  I'm exercising, eating well, I've stopped biting my nails entirely, and I'm even learning a little German.  Unfortunately, this no-stress lifestyle has made it very easy to ignore the little baby alarm clock that I bought in England.

I have resolved to take control of my sleeping habits, mostly because sleeping too late has prevented me on each of the last three days from going to IKEA to buy the rug that my room is begging for.  So I've spent the last 45 minutes practicing waking up.  According to the internet, half-asleep people make poor decisions (also according to the internet, fully awake people make poor decisions, but this topic is best reserved for less lighthearted blogs).  Also also according to the internet, the only way to wake up using an alarm is to make the process completely automatic.  So I just did 5 repetitions of this process:

0. Lie in bed for five minutes, pretend to sleep.  When alarm goes off,

1. Turn on light.

2. Get dressed for running.

3. Get a drink of water.

4. Go out the door.

It turns out that I have an extremely strong visceral reaction to alarms, and that reaction is anger.  Even when I am lying there just waiting for the alarm to go off, those first notes of the Friends theme (a ringtone which the previous owner of the phone had downloaded; I think it's funny) fill me with rage.  I had never realised that I was that averse to waking up.  But perhaps that is why I do not recall turning off my alarm any of the last three mornings.  Sleeping people, after all, rarely make decisions quite as poor as those of their wakeful peers.

17.4.09

Onomatopoeia, or something like it

I often, when receiving some small piece of bad news in IM, respond with "eeeeeee."  This is meant to represent a sort of shared distress.  I realise, though, that when I am communicating by IM with Europeans, the sound of "eeeeeee" is closer to English "ehhhhhhh," which would rather communicate indifference or hesitation.  I suspect that the Europeans do not appreciate my indifference to their bad news.

Foreign-language communication has many pitfalls.  It should not be attempted.

15.4.09

Aggravation and Unaggravation

A couple new photos in the Germans using English album.  Are you going?  Get going!  Come on, click the link!  Go!

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So I just got an email from French department informing me that I was not admitted to the French course I signed up for because of my score on the placement test.  This is pretty okay, because I have also received an e-mail from the Russian Dept. informing me that, if I can't read the course description, I probably shouldn't be in the course.  I will therefore be retaking third-semestre Russian, which is pretty okay, because I don't recall learning much of anything when I took third-semestre Russian.

Speaking of classes where I didn't learn much of anything, I am considering re-taking Introduction to Semantics.  I really would like to have some understanding of semantics, and I don't think that, in my current state of knowledge, it would be at all wise to enroll in any more-advanced semantics course.

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On Monday, which was a big holiday here, some of us international types decided to go to the beach.  We elected to take the train to Berlin Wannsee, which is pretty famous.  According to Wikipedia:

Wannsee lake is well-known as the number-one bathing and recreation spot for western Berlin, especially from a 1951 Schlager hit by teen idol Cornelia Froboess. The Strandbad Wannsee, an open-air lido with one of the longest inland beaches in Europe and a popular nudist area, was built in 1920-1930 after a concept by architect Richard Ermisch. Situated on the eastern shore of the lake it is officially part of the Nikolassee locality.

It turns out that the Strandbad is something you have to pay for (and, I'm almost certain, no longer a popular nudist area), so we didn't visit it.  Instead, we lay on the grass by the train station and read things.  Fun.  Here we are, about to leave because it was boring.

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I had two very important things to do to-day: get my rent-paying worked out and correct my address at the bank.  The bank is an especially annoying case, as I quite specially pointed out that my address had the wrong PLZ (Zip code) on the forms, and the person who opened my account quite specially went and changed it, and had me sign a thing.  Somehow, most (but not all) of my mail still manages to go to the wrong PLZ, meaning that, although I have my telephone banking PIN and my online banking TAN-codes (don't ask), I have neither received my online banking PIN nor my debit card PIN.  So I made a trip into the city.  It turns out that the dorm people are not in on Tuesdays, and that the bank closes at 2:30 on Tuesdays.

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German words of the day:  Shrimps: Germans inevitably bring some Shrimps to their Grillpartys.  It always makes me want to laugh.

Zweieiig: "fraternal," in the sense of "fraternal twins."  Literally "two-egg-ish."  This word is a perfectly normal German compound that just happens to produce a train wreck of vowels.

14.4.09

Latitude

The Latitude of Potsdam, Germany: 52° 23′ N

- 10° 01′ =

The Latitude of Cambridge, MA: 42° 22′ N

- 10° 01′ =

The Latitude of Montgomery, AL: 32° 21′ N

---------

The Latitude of Potsdam, Germany: 52° 23′ N

- 11° 42′ =

The Latitude of Lexington, OH: 40° 41′ N

- 11° 42′ =

The Latitude of New Orleans, LA: 28° 59′ N

---------

So why has it been sunny and 70 here every day since I got here?  I don't ask why (except rhetorically), I just enjoy it.



13.4.09

Failure

I'm trying to make a contingency plan for if Russian doesn't work out, and I thought second-semestre French might be a nice alternative.  I can read French fairly well, and I know the grammar, but I'm pretty hopeless at speaking and I don't understand spoken French at all.  I figured I had missed the placement test, so I sent an email to the professor of the class like this:

Madame Professeur Bensalah-Mekkes,

Je voudrais vous demander si ce serait possible à faire le cours UniCert I/2, quoique je ne m'ai presenté à l'examen à l'évaluation?  Je peux lire et écrire (les documents scientifiques), et parler (lentement), mais je ne comprends bien le français parlé.  Je comprends passablement bien la grammaire--j'étude linguistique, et je connais les verbes irregulaires, et autres choses, qui rendent la grammaire française intéressant.  C'est seulement qu'il y a beaucoup des mots, que je n'avais pas appris, parce que je n'ai jamais fait le français dans l'école.  Je m'ai appris moi-même tout ce, que je sais, pour lire des documents, qu'il a fallu lire.  J'ai écrit cet e-mail avec l'aide d'un diccionaire, mais personne ne m'aidé.  

Je présente mes excuses, qu'il me faut poser ce demande, mais je croiyais dans la semaine prochaine que je ferrais un cours de russe.  Peut-être, je ne pourrai pas faire ce cours, donc j'écris à vous.

Dustin Heestand


This is my very, very best French, so please don't make fun of me.  She sent me a reply back like this:

Bonsoir Dustin,
vous n'avez rien à perdre si vous passez le test d'évaluation. C'est une formalité mais c'est la règle pour tout le monde. Vous pouvez passer le test même à partir de chez vous.
Chaleureuses salutations
SBM


It turns out that I could take the test on-line!  So I did.  It was pretty bizarre, actually: I was given five paragraphs in which every other word had its second half removed, and the task was to complete the words.  I scored a 57, enough to place me into fourth-semestre French.  

So I've emailed her again asking if I can be in a lower class.  The answer will probably be no.  My life is ridiculous.

Classes

Classes start in a week, and I have to figure out which ones I'll be going to.  This is turning out to be less pleasant than most other things that exist.  I am actually writing this post because I need to get these things sorted out in my head, so don't be too surprised if it's boring.

First, Russian: I really need to do Russian, because it promises to be easier than most other classes, and will effectively count as two classes because of its increased lecture time.  I tested into the third level, but the second level seems to be both more appropriate and immeasurably more convenient.  Both classes would meet for 1.5 hours, twice a week, but the level three class is on the Griebnitzsee campus, which adds on 1.5 hours of travel.  This class therefore would take out the 11-2 block every single Wednesday and Thursday.  Disgusting.  Level two classes are in Golm, about 50 feet away from my dorm.

Second, Middle High German: I want to do this, because they won't be offering it at Harvard next year as far as I know.  Yesterday the other students were talking about the class being full, but that doesn't really make sense, because the class does not use PULS.  Maybe they were confused.  Maybe I am confused.

An interlude, PULS: PULS is a system for signing up for classes, but only some classes use it.  Other classes require an email to the professor to sign up, and other classes just bring a sign-up sheet to the first lecture.  PULS is kind of confusing, but linguistics doesn't use it, so that's okay.  Unfortunately, it seems that the PULS graphical schedule tool will refuse to permanently hold classes that don't use PULS, so I'll have to use a different graphical scheduler, presumably Google calendar.

Third, Linguistics: There are a lot of exciting classes available, and about half of them seem to conflict with Russian level 3.  The stakes are pretty high here, because I'm leaving after one semester.  Many of the interesting classes are listed under "Master," but are specified for students in their 6th semestre and above.  I think this means I can take them.  I hope so.  I'll be meeting with some professors in the coming days.  

A single good thing: There aren't classes on Friday.  There just aren't.  So, for probably the only time in my college career, I'll have no class on Fridays.  Not that I've ever been anything but classy.

12.4.09

Photos

So it turns out that photos tend to look a lot better if you put them in Picasa 3 and click the "I'm feeling lucky" button.  Anyone with photos should do this.  If you start now, you can be done by lunchtime.

Also I've begun adding links to my facebook albums on the right side of the page.  So you can see the things!

11.4.09

My library...

...looks like this. I still miss Widener.

What is cheap in Germany

It's pretty expensive to live in Europe, but lots of things are cheap in Germany. Read about some examples, if you dare! For this post, read 1€ as $1.33. Also keep in mind that Germany bizarrely has a 7% tax on food (which is included in the supermarket prices--it's a VAT). Taxing food at the grocery store seems mean-spiritedly regressive, and it puzzles me.

Cheese: I bought 134 g of Burlander cheese to-day for 1,04€. This actually works out to about 3,-€ a pound, which is not actually cheap, but the point is I can buy a very small amount, which is actually all I need. This way I can try many different new and exciting cheeses at low cost (this part is where Huy is jealous and Jeremy is completely indifferent.)

Yoghurt: -,25€ per thing! Wow!

College: Studiengebühren (a fairly new obligation for German students) are either 500€ or 1.000€ per semestre, I forget which. Anyway, I'm exempt by treaty from those fees, so like whatever. The Semesterticket, which gets you free public transit throughout Berlin and the state of Brandenburg (meaning I can effectively go to Poland for free), costs 250€. Room rent for me is 215€ per month, and that's kind of at the high end. Pretty sweet.

Bread: Half a loaf of delicious and nutritious whole grain break costs -,49€! And if that's not good enough for you, you can buy fresh baked rolls at the bakery that seems to be just outside every grocery store for -,07€ a piece! Et cetera!




Spices: I bought some cumin and some ginger to-day, in non-tiny quantities, for a total of about 2,70€. That's cheap, right? They had a bunch of little cyclinders of spices for -,99€ a piece, which was completely unexpected to me.





Spraypaint: It must be cheap, because every available surface (even in the absolute middle of nowhere) seems to attract it quite lavishly. And it's not even as if anyone makes an attempt to do a nice job with it. Spraypaint must be really cheap. Voici:




Alcohol: You can buy a 750 ml bottle of wine at Kaufland for 1,15€. What? On second thought the wine I saw may have been Weinschorle, which would mean wine mixed with sparkling mineral water, but I'm pretty sure Weinschorle goes for less than 1,15€ a bottle.

Ido classes...why?  This poster claims that Ido is not actually as artificial as often assumed.  Who is making these assumptions?  Who has actually heard of Ido, besides me?  And of course it's artificial; it's an artificial language.

Also I love that the word for yellow is "flava."

Sometimes my camera takes video when I ask it to take a picture!

video

9.4.09

Golm

There is a little story, that I think is very nice, that I forgot to tell anyone.  Вот!

My dorm is approximately a 10-minute walk from the centre of a little village called Golm, which is actually an Ortsteil of Potsdam.  The second day I was here, I discovered that the dining halls close for dinner over break, and I had not gone shopping.  So I was faced with a decision: go forage, or starve.  I elected to take a walk to Golm, which I hoped would have at least one eating establishment.  It turned out to have exactly one (as far as I could tell).  This establishment was called the Walch Café, and was completely empty, except for one dude reading and sipping a Coke at a table outside.

I realised the place would be awesome when I entered to find this tiny and very friendly dog wandering about in the complete absence of humans.  This is quite typically German; grocery stores have to actually specify "no dogs." Eventually a fairly elderly woman came out of what was presumably the kitchen carrying some food.  I took my seat at the single booth, where the dog had taken up residence, and ordered something called a Großer Reiherberg, which is actually the name of the hill directly behind the café.  I didn't order anything to drink, as water always costs money in Germany, and I was happy to go back home and drink from the tap.  

As I ate, I got to watch the German version of Big Brother, which largely involved several people making fun of this one woman for having no understanding whatsoever of German politics, and several times had to turn down offers of something to take my leftovers home in.  I protested that, as the Reiherberg was basically the only thing I had eaten since breakfast, I would likely finish the whole thing.  When the other customer came in to settle his bill, he had an American accent, so I talked to him.  It transpired that he was an American whose wife was from Columbus, doing some research at the nearby Max-Planck-Institut.  After he left, and I finished my Reiherberg (which was extremely delicious, although it looks a little greasy in the photo), I sat watching Big Brother, and when offered something to drink, I gave in and ordered a water, as I was quite thirsty.  I then engaged in conversation with the woman, who was called Erika and was very pleasant.  I learned that her own daughter had emigrated to Sweden, and that she did not get many students as customers because students are so poor.  When I settled my bill, she did not charge me for the water.  And then she ran back into the kitchen and returned with a bag of bread and fruit and cheese, for which she would accept no payment.  This ended up being most of the next day's nourishment for me.  

I am trying to work out how often I can come back and not have her scold me for spending too much money.  The prices there are actually quite reasonable.  Germany is pretty great, I think.

8.4.09

Bemerkungen

The office for visiting students here is having an event called a Running-Dinner, which would in English probably be called a "progressive dinner."  According to Wikipedia: progressive dinner (US) or safari supper (UK) is a dinner party in which each successive course is prepared and eaten at the residence of a different host. It is essentially a variant on a potluck dinner, with travel involved.

The culmination of this event is called "Das Running-Dinner Come-Together."  Can anyone translate?

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I have met this German dude who enjoys pretending to be an American.  His American accent in German is quite as convincing as my own.  The sentence he chooses when he wants to sound American as possible?  "Haben Sie Burger XXL, bitter?"  

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I have now been told variously that I sound Dutch and that I sound Sächsisch.  That's not so great, as I'm actually working on my Berliner Akzent.  We'll see if I have more success in the future.

Русский язык, à l'Allemande: a boring story with no pictures

To-day, I took a madatory test to determine which Russian class I will be placed in.  The test was, inexplicably, at 9 am, and took place on the Griebnitzsee campus, which is fifteen minutes by train about 50 minutes by bus away from the Golm campus, where I live.  The train runs infrequently, so I had to catch the 8:00.  As we settled ourselves to take the on-line test at nine, it transpired that the proctor didn't know the password, which ended up being, after an hour of failed attempts, "einstufungstest_up_spz_ru_2009".

The hardest part of the test was figuring out what the German instructions meant.  And German is a language that I actually speak.  Seriously, I missed 6 questions, three of which were because I blanked on the conjugation of дать.  The test was over in half an hour.  I then had to make my way back home using the least direct bus route ever devised.  The only redeeming feature of the trip was that I had twenty minutes between my bus-rail connection at the Potsdam Hbf (Potsdam Central Station).  The great thing about Potsdam Hbf is that it's just like a mini-mall.  I was therefore able to purchase some delicious milk and a soap dish at Kaufland (translation: buy-land) which is just like an inferior Target only with huge amounts of alcohol.  It makes so much sense to put your shopping hub at the same place as your transportation hub, doesn't it?

I have just now received an email stating that I can enroll in UniCert III/1.  This is a little terrifying.  For instance, here is the course description:

Данный курс предназначен для студентов всех профилей обучения. Тематически языковой курс охватывает актуальное развитие России в различных сферах жизни, таких, например, как  образование, социально-демографическая ситуация, образ жизни и здоровье, инфраструктура и тому подобное. Также затрагиваются актуальные события, происходящие в России во время занятий по курсу.  

На основе письменных и устных текстов у студентов развиваются различные виды навыков чтения и аудирования, а также передачи содержания с выражением собственного мнения.

I can't really read this at all.  I think I'll go talk to the Russians and see what's up.

6.4.09

Do Germans drink too much?


The view from my bus stop.

The running situation here in Golm is basically ideal. There are all sorts of paths through the woods, which provide soft surfaces so that my knee and foot don't break. I went for a run yesterday with my room-mate (flat-mate?), Maik, who is pretty great except insofar as he is always trying to speak Berlinerisch to me, which I have a great deal of trouble understanding. We ran for about 45 minutes, and when we got back, which was at quarter to twelve, he immediately went to get a beer, and offered me one. He subsequently decided not to have the beer, as he had to study, but it was still a little disturbing.

German word of the day:
Grillparty! That is what will be happening in about 15 minutes. Germans will presumably drink too much there.

American Smile!

What does anyone think: is the amount of smiling a person does mostly culture-dependent or individual-dependent? Do Americans smile more than other people?

Two days ago, when a German was taking a picture of some people (a German, two South Americans, and me), she said “American smile!” (in English). I thought she was making fun of me, but the Germans explained that this was basically the equivalent of “Say Cheese!” among younger Germans. Do Americans really smile that much? I know some fairly grumpy Americans.

Free speech

Does anyone know the status of free speech in England? While I was wandering by the Exchange in London at about 22:30, I was stopped by a couple of bobbies, who wished to know the identity of the rolled-up poster that I was carrying. Because of massive protests scheduled for the G20 the next day, the police were out in force that night, and they were apparently confiscating protest materials. Fortunately, my poster was a map of the London Underground (a miracle of design, by the way). Me and the bobbies did some joking about how any representation of the Underground was inherently a protest, and we talked about my being from Ohio, and then they let me go on my way. I, being slightly flustered, didn’t get a picture.

English gastronomy

Since I was only to be in England for three days, I resolved to eat as Englishly as possible. At Gatwick Airport I began my quest with the purchase of an egg and watercress sandwich from Marks and Spencer’s Simply Food supermarket. They had a deal whereby I could obtain a sandwich, a small bag of crisps, and a drink for a mere £2 (about $2.80—not a bad deal at all). The sandwich was delicious. I planned to save the crisps for later, but ended up eating them on the bus. They too were delicious; it turns out that Salt and Balsamic Vinegar is better even than Salt and regular Vinegar. The drink was called “Florida Orange,” and I expected it to be juice. It was soda. I was carrying the half-empty bottle in a bag in my pocket when I arrived in Brighton. Now, in Brighton, according to Kristy, everyone goes out partying every night. Thus, when I arrived at 6:30, lots of English young people were stumbling along the waterfront. The pictured girl noticed me taking a picture of the pier and said “Oooh. Tike a pikchah of me boy the waaaaawtahfront.” So I did.

Her friend took my soda from my pocket and ran away. I didn’t really want it, so I just walked away. The English people were confused. I wonder what they did with the bottle.

Other things that I ate: a Cornish pasty. [no photo, no story]

Tea and a scone [picture, story]: [0670]

Apparently in a seaside town such as Brighton, it is impossible to find a place that will serve you tea and a scone at tea-time. Kristy and I wandered around for about an hour (or maybe more?) in search of a cafe that had scones. We finally found one by the train station. Both things were delicious. Kristy had Coke and a muffin. I felt superior. Except taking pictures of food is really awkward.

Fish and chips, half pint of Old Speckled Hen, half pint of cider [picture, story]: [0672]

I literally asked the waiter: “What drink is the most British?” He couldn’t decide between a bitter and a cider, so he gave me both. Then he asked if I was Canadian. I’m not sure what that was aboot. Two drum beats and a cymbal crash. The fish and chips was okay, the drinks were delicious. Apparently, when you pour them together, it is called a snakebite. Also delicious. According to the waiter, a snakebite should be followed by a Guinness for maximum drunkenness. I did not follow my snakebite with a Guinness.

Shepherd’s Pie, IPA [picture, story]: [0801]

Picadilly Circus (the Times Square of London) is a terrible place to try to find food. Everything is expensive, and half the places are TGI Friday’s and Benihana and things. We walked a little distance and found a decent-looking pub. Upon again inquiring as to the most English dish, I ordered a shepherd’s pie and mash. Which did not arrive for a full hour. I was therefore awarded a free pint of IPA (I had been drinking Coke) and was refunded the full cost of my meal. The pie was pretty good; the IPA was delicious, and the £12 was extremely useful later.

Lamb curry [no picture, story]:

In London there is a street called the Bricklane, in which there is a three-block stretch containing about 30 Indian restaurants. It is insane. But delicious.

Jelly Babies [picture, story]: [0910]

Apparently, the English are obsessed with these things. They like to give them out as small prizes. They are basically gummy bears covered with powdered sugar and with slightly hard outer coatings. I like the blackcurrant flavour.

In conclusion:

English cuisine: albatross out of Ethiopia stars. Because star ratings are so arbitrary!