31 July, 2006

Because I'm just a girl

Went down to the school today to get S registered for 2nd grade. Because of the language difference we've had to think long and hard about whether to have him repeat 1st grade or move on to 2nd. From what I understand, though, the German system is less stringent in the first couple of years than the Belgian one, and he's way ahead of where he should be, which should give him some breathing room.

M offered to go with me to help with the discussion, but I'm determined to be independent, so I turned him down. Looked up a few words and phrases before I went and figured I'd do fine.

Got an appointment with the Principal and he was SOOOO disparaging. Stopped just short of patting me on the head. He told me that S would have to start off in first grade, do a few months, and then if the teacher thought it was a good idea that they would move him.

Which means starting over twice! I tried to discuss it with him further but he kept looking at his watch and even said "Yes, yes, I'm sure it's different in America." (I hadn't told him I was American-- he must have just picked up on my accent.) I almost spit on him!

Of course it's different in America, as it is in every country! And I wasn't belittling the German system! The fact is that our experience is in Belgium where he has already completed one grade and should move on to the next one!

And then he dismissed me. I was so angry that I called M, who then got so angry that he hopped into his car and drove down to the school. A European businessman. In a suit. And then all of a sudden the principal was singing another tune! Even though M said exactly the same things I had, in exactly the same polite way!!!

So he's now swung back 180 degrees, said literally: "We can do whatever you want". From No to Yes in one easy step!

I know that this isn't a typical German phenomenon and that these kind of things will probably happen to me in every country, but it just pisses me off that I wasn't taken seriously partly because of nationality but mainly because of my gender.

Makes me want to go out and chop wood or operate power tools! I probably could have beaten the principal at arm wrestling-- I'm thinking of throwing down the gauntlet next time I see him...

30 July, 2006

How to make an outstanding first impression

M brought a new colleague home for dinner last week. I was happy to meet someone new and eschewed frozen pizzas to cook a real meal. On the menu? Homemade gazpacho, greek salad, warm rolls-- I even cooked turkey for the man!

So they arrive, and we all hang out in the living room for a while and chat. Then it's time for me to turn into Kitchen Princess and impress our guest with my culinary skills. Got up and walked majestically toward the kitchen. I should have just passed on, walked out the front door and not come back, because it was all downhill from there.

The turkey started cooking a little bit faster than I'd expected so I was in a hurry to serve the gazpacho. In my haste I must have balanced one of the bowls on the edge of the countertop; as soon as I'd filled it it crashed to the floor and exploded, drenching me waist down with soup.

Picked up the biggest pieces of glass and tried to nonchalantly leave the kitchen, but my skirt was soaked through and was dripping everywhere, leaving tomato-drenched footprints with every step I took.

So, brilliant thinker, that I am, I closed off the kitchen door, took off my skirt and put it in the kitchen sink. Just a quick wardrobe change and I could be back in a flash to save dinner and my reputation as a normally-functioning human being!

As I was sprinting down the hall to our bedroom a movement caught my eye. I turned to look and my heart sank. In my panic I'd forgotten that the door to the livingroom was still open and provided our guest full view of my half-nekkid gallop.


Double gulp.

Hey, at least he's not a neighbor...

Quick, hide the tofu!

I seem to have infiltrated the secret brotherhood of meat-eaters. Why is it that almost every well-meaning German I meet insists that that they can hook me up with a good butcher??!!

It's almost always the first thing they mention when I ask where they buy their groceries!

I'm almost afraid to reveal that I'm a vegetarian-- that might be the final straw that causes them to snap, hunt me down and reinact the Salem Witch trials.

Maybe I should start rubbing a little bacon grease behind my ears before leaving the house?

29 July, 2006

Houston, we have liftoff!

We now have internet at home!!! Fabulous!

After a three-week hiatus I seem to have worked my way through the worst of the symptoms while trying to kick my internet addiction, though. No longer shake uncontrollably and can now see straight for short periods of time. Am going to try to start back in a more controlled way.

Don't know who I'm kidding, though, we all know I'm going to end up right back in the gutter again-- some days I can completely relate to the characters from Trainspotting...

M has finally finished up his marathon three-weeks'-worth of meetings. Which means we might actually start seeing him again on a regular basis. It would be nice to have an adult around to talk to. I mean other than the dog, of course...

So my quest to make a name for myself as the neighborhood crazy continues. S and B have somehow obtained inside information that there's a British family living on our street. Have no idea how they know this, but it's good news since I am becoming desperate to meet someone that I can talk to using a vocabulary larger than 30 (mangled) words! I've instructed them that the next time they run into these people that they should ask them where they live so that I can go introduce myself.

And then yesterday, destiny struck! We were on the way out the door when a woman walked by with her daughter. They were carrying a gym bag and were obviously in a hurry. For some reason I was struck dumb while my kids danced around me pointing and making meaningful hand gestures. In my panic I froze and then did the most intelligent thing that came to mind-- I sent B to run after them and introduce himself.

So my brand-new best friend had reached the end of the street when I saw B catch up with her. They stood there for a while, and then they all turned around and stared at me, and, sensing a lull in the conversation I waved for B to come back.

He arrived panting, but beaming with pride at the importance of his mission. After a long and confusing grilling I got the following summary of the conversation:

B: Asks them IN GERMAN if they speak English
Victims: Yes. Why? Do you?
B: Uh. (This is his new clever way of answering in the affirmative. Kind of his own private joke, but nobody else gets it.)
Victims: Oh. (Pause) It's very hot today, isn't it?
B: Uh.
Victims: Do you REALLY speak English?
B: Uh.
Victims: Ummm, we've got to go.
B: (turns and sees me waving him back home like a GREAT BIG RETARD!) OK, Bye.

I'm afraid that at some point I'm going to have to adopt some sort of costume before I leave the house. Am considering investing in a false moustache and some Groucho Marx glasses...

I'm nothing if not elegant...

One evening last week I was out front skateboarding with S and B while they were bicycling on the street. We were just finishing up lap 299 when we turned around and saw M's very distinctive car turn the corner! His business dinner must have been cancelled! YAHOO!!!

Was so excited I started jumping up and down and waving. Even did a little happy dance in the middle of the street! And then he got closer and I froze mid-hop.

It. wasn't. him.


Yet another neighbor struck down by Operation Betsy.

He kind of twiddled his fingers as he drove past. Actually I think that was a small diversion so that I wouldn't see him locking the car doors and grabbing his can of mace.

I was mortified. But, determined to clear my name, I followed him to his driveway and approached him sheepishly as he stepped out of his car.

Using my best German I smiled and stammered out something that must have sounded like:

"Sorry I am. Me thinking youse my husband."

the only thing that could have made the situation worse would have been if I'd have pulled out a hip flask and had taken a swig.

Actually, now that I think of it, I wish I'd had an alcoholic beverage with me. It would have made the walk 'o shame back home so much more palatable...

25 July, 2006

In his world this makes perfect sense...

I was in the kitchen yesterday making a dilled tofu spread to go with hot rolls for supper when S walked in.

S: Are you going to put that in a jar and go out and sell it for 2 Euros?
Me: No, because then you wouldn't have anything to eat for supper.
S: Sure I would because I'd use the money you'd make to go buy an ice cream...

20 July, 2006

Making a name for myself in the neighborhood

Mentioned in my last post how great all of our neighbors have been. They're very friendly and are incredibly patient with my rudimentary German. Very few of them speak any English-- really, like no English whatsoever! Which is fantastic, because we're forced to speak German and with M gone I'm getting a total immersion crash-course that money couldn't buy!

Have had a couple of hilarious mishaps so far, and wonder what people must think of me. Like the time I wanted to tell the neighbors that when we moved we didn't bring any of our wardrobes (schranken) with us, but instead I said "kranken". It took me a second to realize that I'd said we hadn't brought any diseases with us from Belgium. That raised a few eyebrows.

And then there was a neighbor who was very proud of her custom-made cabinet in the kitchen. Normally if I don't know a word I can just use the Dutch one and say it with a semi-German accent and I'm fine. So I wanted to tell her I thought it was a clever solution. The Dutch word for 'clever' is slim, but in German schlimm is apparently bad / nasty, which I didn't realize until I looked it up after I got home... oopsssssssss.

Oh, and I can't remember anymore what my dictionary said the word for "petting" is, as in "Do you want to pet my dog?" but it turns out that it actually means "to grope" which has caused all kinds of consternation... :-)

18 July, 2006

Alive and well

Hi everyone! Checking in from the local Internet Cafe, which is actually a couple of computers hooked up at the community center-- THANK YOU LORD! Was telling a friend yesterday that my Internet deficiency is reaching dangerous levels and that I might end up losing some limbs from the sheer deprivation!

Other than that things are great! Better than I could have even hoped for, actually. The move went smoothly and most of our boxes have been unpacked.

S and B started going to the local kindergarten this week, which is such a blessing! They actually have a program that runs through the summer, which means that S & B can spend their first couple of months together and get a head-start in German for when school starts in September. It's also a relief because I was running out of ways to entertain them-- was afraid I'd have to take up clogging or something!

The area is even more beautiful than I'd remembered. Our house is perched near the top of a very large hill and looks out over the valley. There are some huge birds (bigger than a hawk, smaller than an eagle, bigger than a breadbox) which glide overhead in wide, mesmerising circles. With the warm summer weather I keep feeling like I'm staying in a resort hotel except that I'm the one that has to vaccuum up the doghair when it gets ankle deep.

So many people felt compelled to tell me before we moved how closed and unfriendly the Germans (and especially the Schwabians) are. But our experience so far has been quite the opposite. The neighbors have gone out of their way to introduce themselves and are unbelievably patient with my halting German. Have had some funny misunderstandings so far, though-- will post those separately.

Guess I'll close this for now. Thanks for your words of encouragement and kind e-mails! Should be back online at home soon, and until then plan to drop by the community center more often. Someone's cooking tomato sauce here somewhere and my mouth is watering! It just adds to the surreal quality of the whole experience...

You're WHAT?!

The boys have picked up a smattering of German words so far. Their favorite at the moment is schweissfu§en (sweaty feet) and they manage to work it into an impressive number of conversations.

S asked M to quiz him on vocabulary this weekend:

M: What is Dog?
S: hund
M: Good! What is Cat?
S: katze. But Papa, these are too easy! I want you to give me a whole sentence!
M: OK. How about: Ich liebe meiner Frau
S: (smiling triumphantly) I'm leaving my wife!

03 July, 2006

Pulling up stakes

Movers are here. Three very nice men who somehow manage not to laugh at M's and my bizarre mix of Dutch and Deutsch. The result of our stumbling efforts at communication is similar to the horror you'd create if you crossed a chihuahua with a labrador-- how they continue to maintain a straight face is beyond me.

Maybe because it's hot as Hades. We're all resorting to desert guerrilla tactics to conserve energy and life forces.

Oma and Opa dropped by last night and took the kids and pets with them to NL for a week. After which I sort of imploded. I have officially had it. A year is a long time to work towards something about which you're only lukewarm, and having to give up S and B for a full week was the proverbial drop that made the bucket spill over.

Our lives are now parceled up into carefully-wrapped, well-labeled but otherwise anonymous packages. Desolate rectangular outlines now adorn walls where pictures used to hang. Goodbyes that stick like a fishbone in my throat and fester there unchecked.

It's time to euthanize this stage of our lives because it's already got one moldy foot in the grave. And I've got to get out of here because some moments I feel like I'm choking and there's no air to be had...

01 July, 2006

Open House. HELLO!!!!????

Davezilla posted this picture today and it cracked me up!

We're having an open house today. in a country where people just don't do open houses for some reason.

So here we are. Halfway through hour #5. With only one visitor so far. And he is our realtor.

tap tap tap. (fingers drumming on the table.)

~staring at each other. somewhat annoyed.~

Every hour so far has been like one spent with wet sand in your bathing suit. While sitting on hot pleather seats in stuffy old car with no airco...

The kids are starting to sound kind of rowdy in the next room. And all of a sudden I have a sinking feeling-- you know, the kind you get just before stumbling upon a cannibalistic ritual. (Or anything else which would make today's photo look like a walk in the park....)