Dear readers, Alex here; please find a special-guest blogpost from our friend Gina— Gina took almost every pic below; I inserted them into the text. Thanks, Gina. I’m getting pushed off my own blog. ;)
Impressions and Lessons Learned on a Visit to Deutschland (and a town in France)
I recently had a wonderful visit with the continually adventurous family, and Alex invited me to blog about my time in Germany. Instead of writing a long narrative, I thought I would just share some specific aspects of my trip—what I learned and experienced while I was there.
- Though I have been to other countries in Europe, it was upon my arrival to Frankfurt airport where I discovered the aloof Euro-smile (or the non-smile… perhaps what most of us know as a glare).
- Germans will stare, and possibly even laugh, at someone’s misfortune, but rarely offer help. I discovered this while traveling from the airport to $peµer (and almost fell backwards down the escalator), as well as after I crashed, flew off my bike, and landed on the sidewalk in $peµer. Alex and Cati explained to me that there is even a German word for a happiness brought on by another’s misfortune: Schadenfreude. After learning this, it seems less surprising …I guess.
- Soft pretzels are an anytime food in Germany (similar to a bagel, according to Alex). And of course why wouldn’t they be? They are delicious. I, however, only had two on my visit, but both were for breakfast.
- Germans like to include pickled vegetables in their salads—in fact I had one salad that only had fresh greens and the rest of the veggies included were pickled. I actually liked it quite a bit.
- People seem to be allowed one napkin each, per meal, in Germany (and you’re lucky if you even get one—you may need to ask for it). I still wonder what would happen if someone asked for a second or even a whole stack of napkins.
- Perhaps the reason they don’t favor giving away napkins, is that the Germans are very serious about recycling and the disposal of garbage. There are at least (on my count) four different receptacles to a typical public trashcan.
- German beer is really, really tasty. I kind of wish I had one right now….
- There are also some very lovely white (Trocken) wines in Germany. We had one while in Friensheim that was phenomenal.
- Also, when toasting in Germany (Prost!), you must look the person(s) you are toasting with in the eye. Otherwise it’s considered rude and insincere.
- I had a very tasty traditional Palatinate meal when we visited Frienshiem. It included, meat, meat, and meat, as well as sauerkraut and onions (with a fruit garnish). One of the meat items was Saumagen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saumagen), I’m not quite sure if it was the real-deal, but I actually really liked it.
- I agreed to try, what both Cati and Alex agreed was delicious, calamari at this lovely tapas restaurant in $peµer. Unfortunately, my opinion has not changed about it. I did love the rest of the food (and the wine) we had there, though.
- In Baden-Baden (at Caracalla Therme) I discovered that Germans are very comfortable with nudity and their bodies (regardless of shape and form). All the men wore speedos and almost every woman, except perhaps those who were over 60, wore bikinis. It made me wonder, whether or not, if they would be shamed into “modesty,” if they came to the U.S., as we all seem to be.
- When riding around town on an unfamiliar bike (and being on a bike for the first time in a while), it’s probably a good idea to avoid a large beer with lunch (particularly if lunch is a salad). Also, when riding a bike in Germany, don’t get nervous about getting out of the way of the car behind you and try to jump the curb (after just having a large beer with lunch). …My knee is still somewhat tender and my leg has quite a hideous bruise that’s taking its sweet time to go away.
- Germans must not have as much concern about kids getting access to cigarettes because there appeared to be cigarette vending machines on every corner.
- Halloween is bigger in the U.S., but it is (somewhat or beginning to be) celebrated in Germany. I had the fortune to see Nina and Natalia all dressed up in costume and makeup looking so adorable and excited to “trick or trick” (as Nina would say). You really can’t get much cuter than kids who are already criminally cute dressed up in kitty-princess-fairy costumes.
- From my experience there, and after speaking with Cati and Alex about it, the only reason I would ever want to learn German is if I absolutely had to. I am very impressed with the apparent ease they both spoke it (I realize a lot of effort went into that and still does).
- Thankfully, most Germans (in the areas I visited, anyway) speak some English.
- If you visit Strasbourg, France, it is a good idea to prepare yourself with some French phrases. Unlike my experience in Germany, there seemed to be very few English speakers there. Fortunately, I remembered more French than I thought I would, and understood it well.
- Strasbourg is an interesting, old city, and I think I’d like to go back sometime, but perhaps with others, and particularly with someone more skilled with French than I. (Of course I could just review and practice my French…)
- Apparently, I can pass for German or French (or just European). While traveling about, a handful of people asked me questions in both languages. Of course once they heard me tripping over the few words I know (with my very American accent) I gave myself away.
- My Spanish may be worse than my German. When Nina thanked me at one point (gracias), instead of saying de nada, my pronunciation made it, “with cream.” However, I definitely understand a lot more Spanish than German.
- When my brain tries to think in terms of a foreign language, it immediately defaults to Italian—despite my five+ years of French classes. I am happy to say, I speak Italian with much more ease (usually) than any other foreign language.
- From what I can tell, the only real difference between a mall in the U.S. and a mall in Germany is that, in Germany, you can stop and have a glass of wine at a well-stocked wine cellar kiosk.
- The quickest way to Nacho’s heart is to get Alex and Cati to feed him twice in less than an hour. (Whoopsie!)
- One of the quickest ways to Nina’s and Natalia’s hearts (or at least to get a lot of affection from them) is to show them cartoons or give them candy.
- Taking the trains (Bahn) in Germany is very easy and I felt completely safe on them. It was also a source for some German language lessons. I quickly figured out what “Ausstieg rechts” and “Ausstieg links” meant.
- The security guards at the Frankfurt Main Airport are very thorough. Once I made it through, I thought, “the least they could have done is bought me a drink first.”
- Flying first class is wonderful, but it still has the same funky air in it as the rest of the plane—especially, if your neighbor hacks, sneezes, and breaks wind during the whole flight.
Overall, I had a lovely trip visiting with Alex and Cati, the girls, and Nacho. (I was even laughing about my bike accident the next day when I thought about how, while I tried to get myself up off the ground, I heard Cati yell out to Alex, “Gina’s down!”—as if we were on military operation.) $peµer is a beautiful place and it was wonderful to see my friends living happily in this quaint, but happening, town.