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!

-------

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.

-------

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.

-------

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.

-------

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?

------

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?"  

-------

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!

Airports!

Between 1:30 pm in Columbus on the 27th and 5:30 am in London on the 29th, a time span of 34 hours, I visited eight airports: Port Columbus International, Philly International, Frankfurt International, Berlin Tegel, Berlin Schönefeld, London Stansted, London Heathrow, and London Gatwick. I therefore feel entitled to rank them.

1. Port Columbus International: I have some home-town bias. And they have free WiFi!

2. Philly: They have a shuttle which takes you between terminals so you don’t have to go out and back through security! And they have a B of A image ATM, where I was able to change my ATM card PIN from 6 digits to 4 digits to ensure compatibility with European machines. Also they have free WiFi for college students, although I didn’t bother to take advantage of this.

3. London Gatwick: They sold me an egg and watercress sandwich! Also the airport looked really easy to navigate. Also I didn’t actually have to take a plane here, so I have no negative security experiences.

4. Berlin Schönefeld: You find out what gate your plane is at approximately forty-five minutes before departure. Cool!

5. London Stansted: It is nice enough, but is £19 and 46 minutes away from the city. It is Ryanair’s hub, and their flights are nice and cheap. I saw Air Force One there when I was taking off to go back to Berlin! I didn’t get a picture, but Ryanair was making a big deal of the fact that Obama was arriving at Stansted rather than any other airport. And they weren’t lying!

6. Berlin Tegel: It is kind of hard to find the buses. And when you do, the TXL bus is really crowded and unpleasant and takes forever to get to the city.

7. Frankfurt International: No reason.

8. London Heathrow: It is too huge. And when my bus was stopping at every terminal there, I was worrying that it might actually be Gatwick and that I might have missed my stop.

Why go anywhere, if there’s no chance of getting lost?

Does no one else share the sentiment expressed in the title of this post? Somebody back me up!

Upon arriving at London Stansted Airport, my first task was to find a means of getting to Brighton, where Kristy had kindly offered me her kitchen to sleep in and her services as a tour guide. I had made no transportation plans from across the Atlantic, as I wasn’t sure what sort of fees my credit card company was likely to charge for the service of buying a pound-denominated ticket. It turns out that I was too late for trains (unless I relished a 3:30 am walk across the London Bridge to make a connection between Liverpool St Station and Victoria Station in London--actually I did slightly relish this, but not enough to actually do it), so I decided to take the bus.

I went to the National Express counter and purchased a ticket on a 01:35 bus to Brighton for £32. I had a 04:25 connection at Gatwick airport, and was meant to leave there for Brighton at 04:55 and arrive at 05:35. This worried me slightly, as I knew that this should have been a four-hour trip.

Did you do the math? Then you think me a fool! But you have failed to account for the fact that DST began on the very night that I arrived in England, not a few weeks ago, as in America. Do you now see my worry? Let this be a lesson to you: do not assume that the English do things on the same day as we do! I made this mistake, when Kristy mentioned sending something to her mother for Mother’s Day. I, horrified, assumed I had missed the day, but apparently it comes like two months earlier in Britain. The British may celebrate Bastille Day in February, and flock to synagogues on Monday evening; I would have no way of knowing! Note: Somebody please remind me when Mother’s Day is approaching. Seriously.

When my bus finally arrived at Gatwick (after stopping at all terminals of Heathrow), it was 05:15 new time, an hour later than I had expected to arrive. This would have been all right, except the departure board didn’t list any bus to Brighton for 05:45, so I surmised that National Express had bungled the time change and sold me an impossible connection. I therefore wandered about the airport for twenty minutes in a state of righteous anger looking for a National Express ticket agent. They apparently are all asleep at that hour. Finally, I found an automated ticket machine, and asked it if I could buy a 05:45 ticket for Brighton. It said I could, and then my connecting bus arrived, so that was all right. So I arrived in Brighton
at 06:30.

I had received advice on how to get from the train station to the University of Brighton Campus at Falmer; I was to take the 25 bus. I had not, however, received any advice on how to get from the bus station at the pier to the campus. I had printed off a couple of maps, so I decided to walk the approximately three-mile journey. It was a lovely morning, and my bag was very light (thank you, Ryanair carry-on policies).



Three hours later, after, for example, climbing this hill:


and hanging with these sheep:



I saw the town of Falmer:

wherein lies the campus of the University of Brighton. After another 45 minutes of exasperated wandering, I found myself in Kristy’s kitchen. It turns out I had overestimated the degree to which Falmer was east of Brighton, and underestimated the degree to which it was north. I slept for 17 out of the next 24 hours.

How to obtain money in Europe-land

If you are considering going abroad for even a couple of days, you should open a student chequing account with Bank of America. If you do this, you will have all the cash you ever need in Europe—provided you put all the cash you could ever need in the account to begin with. You see, children, Bank of America is part of a global network of banks, including Barclays in England and Deutsche Bank in Germany, which allow their customers to withdraw cash from each other’s ATMs free-of-charge, at current exchange rates. Note: ATMs in England are called “cash machines,” or “holes-in-the-wall.”

I have now also opened an account at Deutsche Bank. In order to put money into it, I get money at an ATM and then take the cash directly to the teller. If I happen to have a few Euros left in the account when I come back to America, I can access them free-of-charge at the nearest B of A ATM. Handy.

German word of the day: Geldautomat. All of them here seem to allow you to withdraw 500 Euros with the push of a single button. My tandem-partner (explanation later) has done so by accident. How annoying.

A Joke that is Much Less Good than I Had Originally Thought

Upon arriving in Berlin on the 28th, I had my camera at the ready. Directly after landing in Frankfurt, I saw this truck. I thought to myself: “I do not think that the Germans understand the stereotype very well; it is German people who are supposed to be machine-like, not German machines that are supposed to be man-like.” My camera promptly ran out of batteries, and this is the only picture I retain from my day in Berlin before my flight to London. Let this be a lesson to you: replace your camera batteries!



It turns out that Man machines are also all over in England, whose citizens have no reputation for being machine-like. So the joke isn’t even good on technical grounds, putting aside for a moment its obvious lack of humour value. I am inclined to cut myself some slack, however, as I didn't really manage to sleep on the plane. Thanks, snoring, pillow-stealing Asian dude.

German word of the day: Mann. It means “Man.”

The Internet

I still don’t have it. Apparently I will have it by Wednesday. This would be okay, but the computer labs have very short hours, of which 0 take place on week-end days. Internet, I love you, come back to me!

German word of the day (Uni Potsdam-specific): ZEIK. Zentrale Einrichtung für Informationsverarbeitung und Kommunikation. These are the people who take three business days to switch on an ethernet port.

2.4.09

A bizarre thing to tide us all over until I get internet access in my room.

When I went to gmail.com, I got this message:

Lieber Nutzer,

in Deutschland heißt unser E-Mail-Service Google Mail, nicht Gmail.

Sie können Ihre E-Mails in Deutschland direkt unter http://mail.google.com abrufen.

Ihr Google-Team


Der E-Mail-Service von Google ist in Deutschland nicht mehr über die von Ihnen eingegebene URL abrufbar.

Allgemeine Informationen zu Google finden Sie in Deutschland wie gewohnt unter www.google.de oder www.google.com.

--------------------------------------------

Basically, this means that I can't use gmail.com in Germany, for reasons which they don't make clear. Weird.