Jan 292012
Witch and Gingerbread boy built
by the Creature Shop for the
Houston Opera’s Hansel and Gretel

Skipped a week.  That is because I needed a week off!  So, lets call this a patchwork sort of  catch-up blog and go from there.  First up:

The Muppets- Woot Woot!
Last week the latest Muppet movie finally made it to our area, so, of course we had to go!  I am a Muppephile.  I have always been a Muppephile.  Sesame Street started the year I was born.  Grover was My Monster!  When the Muppet Show came on the air, I became a card-carrying member of the Muppet Show Fan Club.  Jim Henson was the closest thing I have had to a living Hero.  Muppets, as a rule, make me happy.  It was sad to see their decline after Jim Henson’s death.  And, their neglect under Disney rankled.  But, watching their recent resurgence through The Interwebs has been a pleasure.  Even the aspiest among our clan understands and supports my Muppet Fandom.  So, it was with cautious hope that we approached the European Release of The Muppets.

Our local theater had been advertising movies in the original language. But, we could not figure out when they were playing, so we just headed on down there to give it a shot.  Unlike the art house where we saw Hugo in France, this is a large, modern theater much like those in the states.  They do serve beer and wine, though.  And, to our surprise, they have assigned seating!  Unfortunately, the film was not being shown in English and, more disturbingly, the staff seemed to have no clue when Original Language showings were scheduled!  But, what the heck.  It is the Muppets!  So, we bought a few treats (Commemorative Kermit Cup!  And, whoops, sweet popcorn…  Forgot about that possible.  Got lured by the smell and the promise of salty goodness.  The kids loved it, though.  Just like Kettle Corn, they said.  Very, very expensive kettle corn, thought I!)

They give you a little closeable cup in which to
put your candies after you open the bag.

Given the family-geared level of dialogue, I was able to follow along happily and fully understand about 1/2 of it.  Everyone else got more and it was pretty cute watching the kids translating back and forth for each other.  But, I did wish the Powers That Be had left the songs in English.  I would have loved to see Chris Cooper do that rap!  And, I admit, some of the more subtle humor was lost through my poor translation skills (“I’m a very manly Muppet!”- I didn’t get until I heard the song online). Whatever the case, the audience had a good time and our whole family smiled for quite a while.  Hooray for the Muppets!  Welcome Back!  And, a tip of the hat to Mr. Segel for championing the cause!

Challenges of an immigrant: What do you do when stuff doesn’t go smoothly?
So, the nice thing about moving to Germany is that they are known for their excellent structure.  Most machines work.  Most processes go smoothly.  Paperwork generally winds up in the right place.  Etc.  But, Germans are still humans and machines are still machines.  Entropy still exists.  Sh*t still happens.  And when it does, that is the time when not speaking the language, not having cultural knowledge, and basically being an outsider really start to get in the way.   Many of the techniques we might use to handle things in the states are just not options here- or are much more complicated.  Calls to service centers, which would be annoying in the US, become extremely daunting here.  Trips to the mechanic become a crap shoot not over whether they will try to cheat us, but over whether we will be able to express the issue at all.  And, governmental paperwork snafus become occasions for having the HR director for David’s work walk us through town to intercede on our behalf!  Plus, of course, all of this has to happen over the 6 days of the week things are open- during work hours!

Poor David is beginning to downright dread his frequent off-putting German petitions for assistance.  He calls these his “Hello, I am retarded, could you please help me?” conversations.  And, the truth is, we are very retarded, in the true sense of the word!  We are 40+yo adults with the social-structure knowledge of maybe a 10 year old, and the language skills of.. well, in my case a toddler!  The result is that every issue takes a lot longer to knock from the list.  And the list grows and grows.

Stuck on Stage 2

Here is a partial accounting of the issues we are currently working.  It doesn’t include things that just aren’t enough nuisance to deal with (e.g. the stove burner that only 1/2 heats):

  • David bought me a car radio for Christmas.  We plugged it in as directed, got a red light that shows it has power, but none of the controls or displays will light up.  He tried going to the store where he bought it and the salesman told him to RTFM.  That did not help.
  • There is a new squeak coming from near the wheels in the car.  And, we need an oil change.  Snow tires have been postponed because the locals told David that they only buy/use them on years when, you know, there is actually snow.  Apparently the two measly snow days we have had have not qualified, so we watch and monitor.
  • DD’s cell phone doesn’t work (much) in France.  We need to find some way to get her a phone that can call from France to Germany and back.  Right now she has to use the land lines at the school, which poses a problem if, say, the school is closed and she needs to reach us!  In France, this is a very real possibility.
  • DS’s computer freezes out frequently and becomes unusable for periods of time each day.  It does not seem to be overheating.  On the plus side, similar issues with my computer were solved by cleaning the heat sink- so one off the list, woot!
  • The television has stopped picking up cable signal.  It can play videos and video games fine, but the cable content gives errors and tells us t check cables- all of which seem plugged in fine.  Our internet is through the same cable boxes and is (knock wood) unaffected.  But, for now, no actual TV.
  • After paying the fees for our Drivers Licenses and providing all the required paperwork, we received a notice that we would soon be receiving instructions on what to do next.  Those never arrived.  Presumably we need to take the tests next, but, we aren’t even sure who we need to talk with.  And, we have still been unable to track down any copies of the German driving rules in English, though we are told they do exist.  We still have a lot of leg work to do on this one- and we have been working it for months.
  • I burned out the motor- or tripped a fuse- on my Kitchenaid mixer through an improperly installed converter.  I suspect it can be fixed- and possibly even rewired for use in Europe.  But, who the heck do you call for something like that and how do you explain what you want using the vocabulary of a 5 year old? 

Even simple things like doctor and dental appointments take more energy to get going.  And, mistakes are trickier to track down.  DH made two appointments for DD this month: glasses and dental/orthodontist consultation.  We dragged her out of school early, keeping her from a planned field trip, picked David up from work so he could be our main translator and headed over to the dental office.  Only to discover that her appointment wasn’t until the 30th!  The receptionist gave us the “you are such idiots” look and wrote down our appointment on a card.  The 30th was when we thought DD had her eye appointment.  That one had been really difficult to set up, so we panicked and figured we had managed to somehow switch the dates on the two appointments.  We RAN across town to the eye doctor.  Only to have the receptionist tell us that we were, in fact, more thoroughly complete idiots, and DD’s eye appointment also wasn’t until the 30th.  Since DD can’t manage two medical appointments in one day, we then, of course, had to change the dental- for a month later.  Thus, one non-missed appointment succeeded in garnering us *3* shaken heads of idiocy!  I think that may be a personal best for our family so far :)

I say “we” but poor David is the one who gets the brunt of it.  Since he is the most German-fluent of us, these sorts of things generally fall on him- and they would not in the US.  Nor is he accustomed to being thought of as anything but supremely competent.  So, this range of experience is outside his comfort zone in a whole variety of ways!


Speaking of competency, this week I had the horrible realization that I did not inform agencies like the Franchise Tax Board, the IRS, the California Employment Development folks, the DMV, our ex-mortgage company, or pretty much any other of the folks we will need tax documents from that we were moving to Germany.  I have a feeling this may cause me a fair number of headaches going forward.  Here’s hoping that most of the updates can be done online!  And, yeah, taxes this year may be a bit challenging.

Speed Dating for Conferences

Hogwarts had their teacher conferences about a week ago.  DD’s teacher called it the “speed dating” of teacher conferences, and that seems like a relatively apt description.  The timing was terrible, so we wound up with two kids and me in the car while David went to the parents-only conference session.  The Headmaster spoke for an hour, then parents queued up to speak with all the teachers.  David only managed to talk with 3/11 of them I think, but it still meant the kids and I were stuck in the car for 1.5 hours.  The good news is that her grades were better than we expected.  And, she is doing well in her core courses (English, Math, Science, and even her French-speaking Social Studies class).  Oddly, though, her French Art and Music teachers haven’t a clue what to do with her, and her French Language really needs to improve before next year.   

In the Swabian areas of Germany they have what they term “the 5th season of the year”.  This is Fastnacht.  Think of it as a combination of Carnival and Halloween.  The idea is that it is the time of year when the evil spirits are out and about roaming the hills and villages.  So, people dress up in costumes to scare them away, have big bonfires, have costume balls, have huge parades, and generally combine a ton of Christian and Pagan traditions from the ages.  Most of Germany celebrates Fashing, which is more the traditional Carnival. Some areas have a special Women’s Day where ladies travel the towns kissing men and cutting off their ties!  Oh my!

I pulled this from the web.  All the towns nearby are
decorated in motley like this fellow right now.

But, the Swabish put a whole different spin on it, and get far more into than other areas, I am told.  The kids even have an extra week and a half of vacation.  In fact, DS gets this vacation, while other villages nearby do not!

Technically, the season starts on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th minute of the 11th hour (11:11 on November 11th- in 2011!).  But, the “hot season” all takes place just prior to and after Ash Wednesday.  Every town has their own traditions.  There are Fool Jumping and Pretzel Blessings in one village.  Most have costume parties.  The kids do a form of trick-or-treating that is not necessarily limited to one day.  Parades may last for hours.

We are told that in Offenburg the themes have mostly to do with Witches.  They take a witch doll and baptize it.  Then over the coming days they “feed it beans”.  This causes it to grow into a huge effigy of a witch which they burn at a big bonfire!  Boggle.  First they baptize it, then they feed it, then they burn it at the stake.  I am not sure I want to follow the psychology there!

There is also a tradition where the “witches” feed the people.  They used to travel around the town bringing food to everyone- rolls and blood sausages are traditional, we are told.  But, when France took over the area after WWII they didn’t like the idea of masked people traveling the countryside.  So, instead, the “witches” now stand in windows in the Town Center and lower food down to the people below.

This should all be happening over the next several weeks, so we will try to get out to as many events as we can to report back!

Jugend Forscht

Their project is about whether plastic inhibits mold growth

Over the same period, DS will be having a little adventure of his own.  His science project for Jugend Forscht (Kid Research) will take him and his team to the regional event in Freiburg, about an hour away.  They will be staying 2 nights in a youth hostel and engaging in various activities that have to do with science- and bowling, apparently :)  I get nervous about it, but we like and trust his advising teacher.  And, as my mom likes to remind me, when I was 11 I went on a 2 week trip as an exchange student to Mexico.  So, we are looking forward to tales of his adventures!


DS has lost 3 teeth in the last 3 weeks!

Amusingly, also on DS’s Adventure File for this month: Square Dancing.  His Music class has decided that they need to learn American Style Square Dance.  Alamand Left, Promenade your partner, Swing to the Right and Do-Si-Do.  And, like my own experience in the US 30-ehem years ago, the girls apparently do NOT like touching the boys.  DS even brought gloves to school to help alleviate the problem, but, the teacher decided that the kids could pick their own partners that day, so the boys danced with boys and the girls with girls!  Silly stuff.

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