First Post from Binghamton

August 24, 2012

So I thought only weird people lived in NYC.  Well, Binghamton apparently has them as well. Only here, as our conductor shared with us, you can’t pick them out of the crowd.

It’s 1:30 in the morning, and I should be sleeping, but could not fall asleep because the upstairs neighbor (who is not home) has allowed someone to stay at her place who decided that coming home at 12:15 am and making a racket was a great idea. (This is the 3rd night in a row, so I’d had it) Side note suggestion: when a guest in someone’s home, be quiet.

So the singer who I’m taking over the lease from, and who’s lived here a year went with me upstairs to ask the person to keep it down.  He was very nice. Turns out he plays in a rock band, and is a night owl (oh yay for me). Then out of the blue, he asks, “Are you leftists?” I’m like, “Um…like a lefty, as in handwriting?” “No. Like liberal.” He then launched into supporting our unions. Um….at this point I’m thinking to myself, “It’s 1 in the morning. Are we really having this conversation? And, uh, I don’t think classical liberal will mean much to you.”  I just smiled, and we said our goodnigts.

Now to get some zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz’s.


As my regular readers know, I love to point out the absurdities of other cultures whether foreign or domestic. I am an equal opportunity “pointer-outer”.  A friend of mine recently sent me a list of 50 things that Germans found odd about Americans. These are the highlights from a survey taken by the German magazine “Die Zeit” in 2002.  Many of my American friends may possibly look at this quizzically, because, after all, this is what you are used to. But if you are familiar with other cultures, this is really fantastic.

1. They are fatter than the Germans even though everything at the grocery story claims to be fat free or low-cal.
2. Whoever isn’t fat is a fitness fanatic.
3. Their money bills are all the same color and size – odd for a country that worships money.
4. They are so superstitious that there isn’t a 13th floor in hotels.
5. They always say “excuse me” when they happen to walk quickly in front of someone at the book store causing a momentary blockage of view for the other person.
6. Many Americans express their statements in the form of a question? That’s annoying?
7. For completely normal melancholy, they only know one word: depression.
8. Americans talk a lot about love, even when it’s just about a chocolate bar.
9. Terrible understanding of geography: Bombs in Beirut means many US tourists won’t go the opera in Bayreuth (this is probably lost on most of you, because, well, you’re American:)).
10. They consider actors completely competent in all areas of life (i.e. Talkshows, politics)
11. Peanut butter and jelly. (OH YEAH!!!)
12. They talk too loud in restaurants and public transportation.
13. Their heavy duty washing machines look like tanks.
14. They don’t see the point in learning a foreign language.
15. They even drink their milk with ice cubes.(And in the south, their wine!)
16. Millions of lawsuits against everyone and everything.
17. American boobs aren’t real.
18. Nothing costs what it claims. There’s always a tax added or
19. Ridiculous super sales that make no sense (Buy 2 shirts, get 1 pair of socks absolutely free!!!)
20. Frappuccino Decaf with strawberry flavors = living the Italian life.
21. Because they are so fat, when you go to the beloved Monster Truck Rallies out in the country, you don’t know which one’s the truck and which one’s the monster. (Ouch!)
22. Ridiculously short attention span.
23. They constantly take pills. Vitamins, minerals, powders for and against everything.
24. They talk about relationships like an accountant: “I invested so much in her…!”
25. Many have bull necks. Must be from all the hormones in the food.
26. Every politician has a side part.
27. In general, a love for helmut-like hairstyles, especially the news reporters (I would also submit those on TBN)
28. For some reason they believe: Heidelberg is Germany. Period.
29. They drink beer out of brown bags.
30. With their Double Whopper and extra large fries they drink? a large Diet Coke.
31. They all call each other by their first names.
32. Even better: using nicknames!
33. When they come home, the TV is turned on just like the lights.

No Reservation

November 15, 2011

Standing in wait. People everywhere. All frantically look around suspiciously at each other. Palms begin to sweat. Glistening beads of perspiration form at the brow. Eyes dart to and fro. The heart begins to beat anxiously in the chest. Restless legs attempt to stay in place. Strategies begin to form. “How can I beat them?”

Then you see it. It’s approaching. People begin to herd closer together with all their luggage. Elbows begin to be used for their evolutionary intent – knocking people out of the way. This makes boarding Southwest Airlines look like tea time. Then it is noticed that that train that is approaching is already full! Sheer panic begins to break out, though not outwardly. The Germans are much too refined for that. It’s an inward panic that begins to sweep the crowd. “There aren’t enough seats. I paid a lot of money for this ticket. I want a seat.”

The train stops at the platform. Now the real pushing and shoving begins. People with enough luggage to clothe a small country shove their way forward. The poor disembarking passengers fight their way through the chaos. The waiting-to-board passengers hold a collective breath until that final passenger disembarks.

Finally, the last passenger is off. And all hell breaks loose.

Cute little grandma is shoving and cussing. Mothers throw their small children head first onto the train directing them to scramble through legs to find open seats. Italian tourists yell really loudly in Italian, gesturing with gusto in different directions, but then you realize that has nothing to do with boarding. It’s just what Italians do. The French join the stampede because the French don’t ever stand in line. The Spaniards join because they think the bulls are coming. And the Americans stand around looking perplexed because they don’t know how to ride a train and, naturally, don’t speak the language. (You can always pick them out. White running shoes on a fat person).

You get caught up in the crowd, being shoved from every direction. And then you make it. You get on the train. And you see that open seat. But so does that person coming towards you. You are equi-distant from the seat. Who gets to have it?

Depends on who you are. The Germans make an all out dash and pretend they don’t see the other person. Survival of the fittest. The French follow suit. The Italians are too busy yelling to notice there was an empty seat. The Spaniards – well, I’m not sure what they think, and the Americans have just realized that the door to the train is open and perhaps that is an invitation to get on. Upon realizing there are no seats left, they begin to complain loudly.

Welcome to the Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) without a reservation.

Disclaimer: the author has been known to use hyperbole when sharing her stories. Please consider much of her posts to be tongue in cheek.

Dirty Windows

November 14, 2011

Look at these pictures. Do you see anything particular about them?

I didn’t either. But…

Germans are very particular about their windows. Well, they’re particular about a lot of things in their lives, but next to the condition of the air and always having a kleenex available at a moment’s notice, the Germans are inordinately preoccupied with the cleanliness of their windows.

A German friend came home and within the first 36 hours of being home mentioned how dirty the windows were at least 4 times. Um, really? It’s not like they’re are covered in mud or something. But in all the years I’ve lived here, there is an unhealthy preoccupation with the windows.

She even told me that her neighbors probably gossip about how dirty her windows are. I told her that 4 of my windows got lucky in the Spring when I decided to clean them. The rest? Well, like most American windows, haven’t been touched since the house was built.

Now if you Germans had screens, perhaps your windows wouldn’t get so dirty, eh?

Schlechte Luft

November 3, 2011

I told you people that the Germans were way too preoccupied with the condition of the air.

I’m with a German friend and within 10 minutes, what is said?

“Oh! It stinks everywhere! The air is so bad! (schlechte Luft) We need to open the windows!”

Point made. I lie not.

Screens anyone?

October 30, 2011

The Germans are a very logical bunch. Logic just run in their blood. However, the story below might make you question this assumption.

Story 1:
It was summer in Germany at my dear friend house. It was particularly warm and the apartment was getting rather warm. Now, the Germans and most Europeans do not have A/C because it’s not really needed. Not only are the temperatures not super hot (for the most part) in the summer, but the buildings are built pretty efficiently to maintain a constant temperature. So the way they keep their homes cool is by opening the windows in the morning to let in the cool air, closing them in the hot part of the day, and then reopening them at night. Makes sense, right? Completely. Until you experience what I experienced this one evening. My friend and I were in her living room talking and watching TV when she said, “We need to cool off the apartment. The air is getting bad (remember, Germans and their pickiness with the state of the air?) and it’s warm.” So she got up and…turned off the lights. Um. What? Of course, that’s what you do, right? You turn off the lights. Huh? So I asked the obvious question. “Um, why are we turning off the lights?” And in the “oh you dumb American” air she told me that if we opened the windows with the lights on then the mosquitos and bugs would fly into the apartment. Duh! So what’s the logical thing to do? Turn off all the lights, open all the windows and…sit in the dark. Yes, folks. We literally sat in the dark for 10 minutes in the 21st Century so we could cool off the apartment without bugs coming in. While logical, I think I have a better idea.


Story 2:
Fast forward to this past summer. Again, I was my friend’s house. As evening approached and the temperatures cooled, she announced it was time to cool down the house. Immediately, she and her husband began walking around turning off the lights. I just stood there. It was happening again. At first I didn’t say anything, just chuckled to myself. But I began to lose my composure when I came into the living room and saw the hubby in the dark on his computer and walked into the kitchen and saw her emptying the dishwasher and putting away dishes in the dark. I mean, life was carrying as though there were nothing odd about doing everything in the dark!!! The final straw broke my composure when the suggestion was made that we drink some wine, and I was asked to get the wine glasses. Stumbling through the dark to the far side of the living room, I finally lost it. Again, here I was, in the 21st Century, stumbling in the dark like a caveperson, searching for crystal wine glasses in a cupboard, behind the couch with only a bit of blue light emanating from a MacBook. I could see nothing. The fact that I live in an age where electricity exists, and I am fumbling around in the dark in order to keep the bugs out? I just couldn’t take it anymore. My loud guffaws filled the room and both German friends looked at me with X’s for eyes. At least I think they did, but wouldn’t know because I couldn’t see!!! They asked what was so funny. Which made me laugh more. I mean, really? How could they not see the irony of this situation? I actually had to explain this to them. And my dear friend, looking up from the dishwasher asked, in complete seriousness, “You mean it’s not normal for you to turn off all the lights when you open the windows and work in the dark? This is completely normal to me. I grew up doing lots of things in the dark.” I responded, “Of course this isn’t normal!!! In the US we have these things called screens!!! And here’s the irony. We use A/C and never open our windows, yet we have screens to keep out the bugs that won’t ever get in since the darn windows are never open! And yet here I am in Germany, the land of logic, where you people don’t use A/C, therefore, you must open your windows and yet you don’t have screens!!! This makes no sense!” After a moment of pondering, they found the irony and situation and also began to chuckle.

I asked if you could even buy screens in the country. I was told, that yes, it was possible, but it was rather expensive. Wha?!

Shut the window! There's a draft!

I didn’t realized yesterday while posting that I would have a part 2 to the Lufthansa story. But after a lovely Skype session with the hubby, I realized that this story had to be shared.

So, I’ve shared before on this blog the obsession Germans have with the state of the air in an enclosed space. If you are completely clueless as to what I am referring, please read here. The rest of this blog will really only make sense if you do.

I boarded the flight near the end of the cattle call. Look, I’m about to be on a plane for 8 hours. I’m delaying the inevitable for as long as a can. Plus, there was football on at the gate! Hello!? Who wants to leave that? Anyway, so I got on the flight, got my stuff all situated, settled in for my cozy flight, when to my right I hear those words. The famous words heard ’round Germany. The words that will forever bring laughter to my countenance.

“Es zieht”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the 2 Germans sitting across the aisle from me were looking around with perplexed looks on their faces complaining about the fact that “es zieht.” It was all I could do to keep from dying laughter. Here I was, not even 2 minutes into my German experience, and already I was hearing, “Es zieht.” After the laughing fit passed, my next thought was, “Um, yeah, es zieht. We’re in an air tight tube. Something has to shoot air around in here or we’re all gonna suffocate.”

So, of course, the flight attendant was called. Before I go on, though, I must give this couple credit. They were never rude. They were just concerned. I mean. Very concerned. Like the headless horseman was on his right then!!! (Again, if you haven’t read my other post about “es zieht” this is lost on you.) They relayed the message that “es zieht”, and it was cold and asked if the crew could turn the temperature up. Um. No. There are 300 people on this plane, half of them European…DO NOT TURN THE TEMPERATURE UP!!!! It will get hot and you know what happens to Europeans when they get hot? Yeah. Body stench. I’ll freeze, thank you very much.

The flight attendant said she could bring more blankets, but that was all that could be done. Well, over the course of the next HOUR AND A HALF, multiple flight attendants came by to address the concerns of the couple (who at this point had 8 blankets between them I might add. I’m not joking. I counted. Yes, I’m that retarded). And to Lufthansa’s credit, none of the crew ever got rude or short with the couple. I was floored. If it’d been US Airways or United, the first complaint would’ve gotten an ugly look and then the couple would’ve been asked to cough up $20 for an extra blanket. But not Lufthansa. They were extremely courteous. Finally, the head flight attendant, Alexander Stein (really, can you get much more German than that?) came over to assist them. He worked out some seat arrangement where the man could sit in another seat and also gave them a complaint form to fill out. All the while, speaking as though he’d been an NPR reporter his whole life.

Well, the man ended up getting up. He disappeared for a few hours, but after one my short cat naps and my routine stretching, I looked over to find him mysteriously returned and not only returned, but returned with a blanket wrapped around his head!!!! Again, this is not a joke. I’m telling it like it happened. Because, you see, folks, if he had sat on that entire flight with air blowing on him, he would’ve died. Really. In Germany if you have air moving across your face for too much time, you will get sick. Just like in Azerbaijan, where if you sit on cold metal, you will get sick (OK. So that came out of left field, but I’m making the point about old wives tales etc…go with me on this).

As we de-planed, I followed the couple out. As they passed Alexander Stein, he stopped them and, no joke, said to them “Thank you so much for bringing the situation in your seat to the attention of Lufthansa. You see, where you were sitting happens to be a spot on the plane where two units meet and so the airflow is a bit stronger. I’ll make sure this gets in the right hands.”

Now, I don’t know if Alexander Stein really will get that complaint into the right hands, but Alexander Stein treated them with immense respect, and gained mine.

Way to go, Alexander Stein! And odd couple, I hope you don’t have the sniffles today…but I’m sure you do because your psyche told you you would. Oh well…


October 24, 2011

It’s official. The only airline anyone should ever fly to Germany is Lufthansa. And here’s why. 3 words.

They are nice.

Yes, yes. I know. The Germans get a really bad rap for being rude people, and generally speaking, the population as a whole does tend to come off that way, however, they know how to treat customers when they fly.

See, I remember the days of flying internationally before 9/11. Back in the good ole days when the American carriers still treated you like you were human. Back when they gave you your headphones instead of making you buy them on board. Back when you could get a glass of wine or beer without being charged. Back when, at the end of the flight, the flight attendants would walk around with a warm cloth so you could freshen up. Back when the flight attendants were actually glad that you decided to spend money with their company so that they could keep their job.

Yeah. Um. That’s G-O-N-E from the American carriers when you fly both domestically and internationally. But the Germans haven’t forgotten. All the flight attendants actually seemed happy that we decided to fly with Lufthansa. The food was actually good (for airplane food). The wine was tasty. They gave us headphones. And they brought us little warm towels right before we landed. I was floored! Lufthansa has also redesigned the interior of their airplanes. They have managed to give coach a couple more inches of leg room by making the seats a few inches thinner. Same number of sardines squashed in the can, but they have a bit more breathing room now.

So kudos to Lufthansa! Give them your money (they were cheaper than the other guys this time, too!)!

Side note: I have also recently flown Air France to Hungary. Same story. The French are considered rude, but not in the air. Super nice. You are also allowed to give them your money.

American in Austria

August 4, 2011

I love being an American who speaks German…well, I guess I really only love it when I’m in a German speaking country. I suppose it doesn’t do me much good in Italy. Granted, the Italians don’t acknowledge any other language exists besides Italian…they are very French in that regard.

Anyway, I digress. Back to American speaking German in a German speaking country. When I’m with the Americans, obviously I speak English. I mean, I could speak German, but they just give me X’s for eyes, and there’s nothing like X’s for eyes to kill a conversation. So I acquiesce and speak English.

The fun parts comes in when the German speakers around me don’t realize that I speak German and consequently can understand them! {cue evil laugh}. Case in point. The second week into our trip here, I went out with 2 of my friends. While sitting in the tram, a group of drunk teenagers got on and sat directly behind us. Naturally, they noticed the loud Americans and immediately started talking about us. I eyed them, but they had no idea that I actually understood them. It wasn’t anything mean, just general joking about Americans, though they did try to claim our male counterpart was gay. When I translated this to my friends, they put on a good show to prove otherwise. It was rather fantastic.

I spent the rest of the ride trying to figure out how I was going to get them back. The opportunity presented itself when we got up to leave. In a snotty tone, one of the girls told us goodbye in German. I turned to her and answered sugar sweet in German, “Thanks! You have a great night, too” The stunned expression was priceless. As I got off, I said in German, “It sure is funny when the locals don’t think you can speak German.” I shot a perfect American teeth smile at their stunned faces. We all waved and walked off in triumph.

Junior Boy

August 2, 2011

“Do you wanna play barbies with me?”
“Uh…thanks, but, um, no. Wanna play with my army guys?”

Of course, I did. Are you kidding me?!

My brother and I played together all the time. I mean, not like there was anyone else around to play with, but still…I always wanted to play with him. He was my older brother! And crazily enough, he always wanted to play with me. Though not barbies. He drew the line at barbies. He’d play house, but not barbies. The four main events in our lives were sledding, riding bikes, playing with his army guys or his acquiescence to playing house, which meant him being “Junior Boy” and me being mom. That usually involved him walking around on his knees so we were at least the same height, and me bossing him around….hmmmmm…not much different than real life…

And then we grew up. Sledding went away, riding bikes turned into motorcycles, army guys turned into him actually being a Marine…but he was still Junior Boy. That one he never outgrew.

My brother left us 4 years ago today. At times it seems like yesterday, other times it seems like a lifetime ago.

I sit here at my computer today with a mixed bag of emotions. This year is tougher than others because I’m back in Austria – the same place I was when I got that horrendous phone call from my dad. Today is a day of reflection. While I hesitate to call it an “anniversary”, it is a day of remembering. It’s a time when I remember what happened, when I think about Chris – the good, bad and ugly:) – and allow it. The soul cannot live in perpetual sadness and grief, but a day of remembrance is a salve to the soul. It allows the soul to grieve, to cry, to laugh and remember. It needs that boundary to know that it doesn’t have to stay there forever, but it can rest knowing that the time is set aside for it to do what it needs to do.

I am blessed to have some wonderful friends around me here. There are a handful who know about today, and they have been extremely loving and caring. Like I told one of them this morning, what really counts is that I know that someone cares. Just a hug. Just a word of love. Just a little peck on the cheek. That’s all. It doesn’t need to be anything more. The toughest part about grief is no one really can empathize unless they’ve been there. So if you haven’t been there, just show some love.

I miss him more than I could ever express. The knot tightens in my chest and moves to my throat. But above that knot, my face can smile because I know this is not the end. I just have to wait awhile to hang out with him again…I can’t wait.

I love you, Chris.

Obit and my fresh reflections of 4 years ago.

A memorial webpage for pictures and stories.