The adventures of a born-and-raised-in-Michigan girl (OK, woman) who's moved to Bavaria with her husband, kids, and dog.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

One Year Ago Today...

I arrived at Munich airport with the kids, dog, car seats, and a lot of luggage.

It seems simultaneously a very long year and a very short one. I guess I have pretty much settled in here, things are mostly familiar and I can maneuver fairly well on my own with my spotty German skills in most situations. Sometimes I even surprise myself (or get compliments on my German). Yikes! on that point, given that I know nothing about grammar and have yet to study, even just a little bit.

This time of year the Christmas Markets are gearing up in every town, as the official Advent season begins this weekend. Last year it was the first "touristy" thing we did, two days after we arrived. This year we plan to go beyond just the Ingolstadt and Nuremburg markets and venture into other nearby cities to see some of the other historic Christmas celebrations. It will be good to get us all out of the house and Martin has a few vacation days left to burn up before year end (I need to make him promise not to work on the house for his "vacation").

So I thought I would take time away from talking about the holidays, house remodeling projects, and grocery scrounging to mention all the little things that have -- or have not -- changed in my life over the past year. The bigger things are fairly obvious (I think!).

What I've Gotten Used to Now:
  • Smoky, salty meats. At some point my taste buds must have adjusted; I really didn't know that until Emily visited in July and commented on the different flavor in most deli meats and sausages... and then I remembered my initial impressions too.

  • The landscape. No longer driving around drinking in all the architecture, I can drive around now without that "sensory overload" feeling... everything just looks normal and familiar to me now. Of course, everything looks normal when I drive around Michigan too. I wonder if we travel somewhere (Spain? Austria?) if it will look and feel different or not. Maybe it requires going a larger distance from home base now to get that "gee, I'm on vacation somewhere different" feeling again.

  • Traffic circles. Speaking of driving, those little buggers are kind of intimidating when you're not used to Sooo Many of them (I recall one on the east side of MSU's campus but don't remember another one in Michigan... correct me if I am wrong!). Now they're old hat for me. Good thing, because they are everywhere.

  • No TV. Sounds weird, probably, but it was pretty easy to get used to no television reception (due to winter ice on the roof we postponed the satellite dish installation, and then got carried away elsewhere in the house). It's just been a really low priority, probably because we didn't watch much true TV in the U.S. either (just "Six Feet Under" and movies, essentially). When we first arrived we spent a few months going through our video collection. After that got boring (March), we signed up for's knockoff of the Netflix service. Works pretty well and keeps us current, as video rental stores (or automated DVD rental vending machines) are a little more far-flung over here. We are still without a satellite dish or cable line to the world of TV. We get all the news via Internet anyway, so we are not as far out of the loop as you might think. The one and only time I really missed TV was on November 18th for The Game, as well as for all the Bo coverage. Sometimes the Internet just falls short.

  • Typing on a German keyboard. Something to do with the laptop (the main Internet computer for 10 months) and getting the wireless LAN set up with the T-Com software, we had to switch it over to a German keyboard layout. Except the printing on the face of the keys is still the English layout. And I touch type. And I've never used or seen a German keyboard. So basically the y and z are reversed, and all of the punctuation is in really funny places to make room for all those umlaut characters. Believe it or not, I am totally used to it now, and have to really think when I type on an English keyboard. (But I still don't know where the asterisk is, or where the greater than and less than signs are, which I need for HTML!)

  • Life without radio. I never listened to the radio much before, maybe in the car a bit. Here, with our U.S. car, we have trouble getting in stations. Why? Because U.S. radio stations are all broadcast on the "odd" frequencies... 96.9, 88.3, etc. and here they are broadcast on the "even" frequencies. Yep, you guessed it, our U.S. purchased car gets fuzzy reception on most stations as it is .1 off (plus or minus) from any actual broadcast frequency here. Things you don't think about (or know about). When you do hear the radio (Bavaria 1, 2, 3, or 4, for example), it's nothing great. DJ chitter chatter that I can't understand (too fast, too colloquial) and lots of oldies (it is completely normal to hear something from Supertramp's Breakfast in America while grocery shopping). Very strange.

  • Less technology. Gradually we are building our household tech level back up. In August we got a GPS traffic assistant (everywhere we go, it's new to us, even around town). In September I finally got a smart cellphone (lived without any cellphone for ten months). But just in general, there is a lot less technology here in everyday life. Take getting a prescription refilled... I used to use the pharmacy automated phone system to enter a prescription number and then pick it up a couple hours later. Here you have to appear at the doctor's office so they can imprint your insurance card on the presciption (then wait while they track down a doctor to sign it), then take it to the pharmacy to be filled... the pharmacy itself consists of pills and a cash register. No computer to check for prescription conflicts, insurance coverage, etc. That's all handled at the doctor's office. And so on. What's amazing to me is that it doesn't bother me at all... it's just the way it is here so you don't even think about balking at it.

What I Still Can't Get Used to:
  • 24 hour clocks. I know that 17:00 is really 5:00 and 20:00 is the kids' bedtime, but other than that, I pretty much have to calculate it. Of course, the clocks I glance at the most in the evening (microwave, oven) are in the 24 hour format. Whenever possible, I program the clocks to the 12 hour format.

  • Super short days in November (and December and January). Sorry, but a 7:30 or even 8:00 a.m. sunrise is just not acceptable, even if it is only for a couple months out of the year. (Coupled with the dense fall fog that we get here in the Danube river valley, it makes early morning driving tough!)

  • Forget getting groceries after noon on Saturdays. Sure, the big supermarkets are open until 8:00 p.m. (closed Sunday), but the selection of meats, produce, etc. is pretty wiped out after noon on Saturday, so Monday through Friday is a far better bet. So on Friday (or Saturday morning) you have to shop for enough fresh stuff to hold you over to Monday. I tend to shop twice a week, not daily (as most Germans do), so you would think this wouldn't be a problem... but when you decide at 3:00 on Saturday to make XYZ on Sunday afternoon, you had better be stocked up on your ingredients! At this point, I am simply not in the habit of being that organized with menu/meal/kitchen planning.

  • Tearing off aluminum foil or plastic wrap. It sounds stupid, but I still go through the motion of opening the box, unrolling what I need, and pulling to rip along the box using the built-in cutter blade. Whoops! No built-in blade. Again. (Our teen babysitter tells me that most families mount an elaborate multi-roll cutting contraption on their kitchen wall... can you say Ugly??). So I am saving the boxes with the blades in them that we have leftover from the U.S. and plan to reuse them (instead of retraining my brain or using scissors).
I think that's about it, in the "small things" department. I hope this finds everyone healthy and happy at the start of the holiday season.

Tonight, I am going out with the German moms playgroup -- we are getting together to make Advent wreaths (something I am only passingly familiar with), which seems to be one of the many ways people celebrate the season in their homes each year.

So, slowly, I am beginning to assimilate the surrounding culture... or maybe it is simply the lure of the season's "glow wine" instead. I guess it will take another year to figure it out.


Post a Comment

<< Home