Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Importance of Luften

Jasper is definitely not a fan of German culture. He is always complaining about his fellow countrymen (especially the Prussian Berliners) and how they have a pickle up their butt (his version of stick up the butt which I find so adorable.) He hates how serious and uptight most people are. Everything is always such a big deal. We both also detest the extremely un-charming German obsession with always telling the "truth", especially to family and close friends. "The truth" is invariably just your own self-righteous, overly critical and unfeeling subjective opinion. Sorry people, but sometimes a little old white lie is just oh-so-much more civilized....
Still, there are of course ways in which Jasper is quite German. One of them came up recently when we got together with my Brazilian guitarist and his wife. Marcio (the guitarist) mentioned that he was hungry and Jasper's inevitable first question was "Do you want a warm meal?" The Brazilians haven't been living here very long and don't really know many Germans (in Berlin it's very easy to live exclusively in an expat community without much exposure to actual Germans....) and it was clear they found the question somewhat strange. As far as I know, Germans are the only people who talk incessantly about the temperature of their meals. The way it should go is breakfast=cold meal, lunch=warm meal, dinner=cold meal. If you are a little more relaxed, you might eat two warm meals a day (say lunch and dinner) but definitely never three. I've never figured out what they think will happen if you do this: indigestion? gain weight? go nuts? Basically, I think it's just not done.
I didn't say anything to Jasper about this one because, after all, I decided to live here which means I just have to put up with some of the bizarre cultural quirks. Still, sometimes I can't help but roll my eyes and say, "God, that's so German!" When I do, he inevitably gets annoyed. Although he criticizes his own culture non-stop, he gets sensitive when I do (unless I'm agreeing with some of his complaints of course....) But I know how he feels. When I first moved to Berlin I was pretty disgruntled with a lot of what was going on in America, especially politically, and I complained about it to anyone who would listen. But when people came up with there own criticisms I would often get annoyed. Then again, most of what they had to say was usually just based on arrogant ignorance they had acquired from a five day trip to New York at seventeen and from watching too many episodes of Bay Watch.
Before I moved to Berlin, I never thought of myself as a typical American, but of course I was. Maybe not in my attitudes and beliefs (I would also never in a million years have described myself as bubbly....)but in my habits both socially and in practical matters. These habits are so deeply ingrained that you are completely unaware of them. When you first run into the differences you tend to feel hurt and isolated and later kind of pissed off (especially when you are aware of what the actual differences are.) "These people are crazy!" you'll start telling yourself. Your country of origin becomes saintly in a rose-colored glasses kind of way whereas the local culture is such a constant pain in the ass....
Of course, since I've lived here for ten years I have become somewhat of a Mischling, a mixture of both cultures. I'm sure I've complained on this blog before about the obsessive German habit of "Luften", i.e. opening the window and airing out the room several times a day for around ten minutes, even in the dead of winter when it's freezing outside. Although this habit has definitely made me roll my eyes a thousand times, as well as protest loudly in the middle of February, the last time I was in the U.S. I was kind of shocked by how stuffy and mildly stinky all the rooms are. When I recently went to Marcio's apartment to sing, it was obvious that he also never does the Luften (maybe it is only a German thing....) because the air was pretty stale. My first thought was that I should ask if I could open a window but then I caught myself and was pretty shocked. "Crap. I'm becoming German."
On Wednesday I'm flying to California for three weeks. I'm curious what other things I might find strange there inzwischen. I'll let you know when I get back as this is probably my last post until then. lG, Rebeccah ;)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Duo Under Way Plus Thank You YouTube

So yesterday my guitarist Marcio and I spent 4 and a half hours in a recording studio recording 3 songs. The studio was in the basement of a very nice English guy's house way the heck out in Kleinmachnow, a suburban area to the south of Zehlendorf. We were both pretty exhausted at the end but we're pleased with the results. We'll put together a MySpace page and then go out into the town and try and get ourselves some gigs. Today I spent a while browsing through YouTube for some new material. God, I love YouTube. I've made the greatest discoveries on there. One of the songs we recorded was Cucurrucucu Paloma. I apologize in advance to any Spanish speakers out there as I'm sure my Spanish is just atrocious. If it makes you feel any better, I learned it by listening to Pedro Infante:



The Cary Grant of Mexico, Pedro Infante was another YouTube discovery I made. I love all the old 50s movie clips with him singing and the Mexican beauties swooning at his feet. Of course, our version took out the mariachi and is closer to the version sung by Caetano Valoso:



I also would like to record another traditional Mexican song, sung here by the lovely Lila Downs who I discovered on- you guessed it- YouTube:



I also would love to sing a song by Roger Miller. Everybody knows King of the Road, but Miller wrote so many other amazing songs. Truly one of the greatest singer-song writers ever. I have to talk to Marcio about it, but I think I'd love to do Shame Bird:



While we're on the subject of country and self-pity, I would really love to sing There Stands the Glass, sung here is a less-twangy-than-usual version by Ted Hawkins:



And, last but not least, some fabulous gospel. Here is Dianne Strong singing Wade In the Water:



Anyway, I'll keep you posted when we have our MySpace site up so you can have a listen. :)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Three Favorites: Indulgences

Tonight I thought I'd write another post in My Three Favorites series, this time seeing if I can make Martin Luther turn over in his grave. Ol' Marty, time to put on your hair shirt because my topic (one quite dear to my heart) is indulgences. Being the person I am, it was difficult to bring the list down to a mere three, but I think I still managed to pick the top of the list. Here goes.

1. Ice Cream

Yes, my dears, Rebeccah likes it cold. Some of my fondest memories from childhood involve ice cream. My favorite flavor at Baskin Robbins (back when it was still called 31 Flavors...) was Daiquiri Ice, probably for its ridiculous neon blue color more than anything. I also liked to stir the ice cream for long time until it turned to "pudding" (i.e. melted.) I started this indulgence with a photograph of Rocky Road because that is one thing I sorely miss living in Germany. No Rocky Road ice cream and also no Peanut Butter and Chocolate (actually, Europeans can't seem to believe peanut butter and chocolate taste good together, but that is a different story...)
Unlike its American counterpart, where the rule is the chunkier the better, German ice cream tends to follow the smooth, gelato-style thinking. Although it took some getting used to, I now love the stuff just as much. This summer I got a scoop with the babies at the organic ice cream stand on Bergmannstrasse nearly everyday. These days I'm working on loosing some weight, something that does not come easily to me since I love to eat and would never consider seriously dieting (who needs the torture?!?) Basically, I have to have a reason to loose weight and my reason these days is that I love posing in the clothes for my vintage shop. If I lost another 20 pounds I could even pose in some of the mediums which would be most convenient. I got the babies a scoop today and was able to resist one for myself even though they had Pflaume Zimt (cinnamon plum) in stock. Quite a feat, I must say. ;)

2. Wine


People, seriously, I am a total wino. There is a fantastic Spanish wine shop on our street and, together with my brother-in-law, my husband and I keep the place in business. I have struggled some with this drinking thing. Severe alcoholism runs on my father's side of the family and, when you have that in your genes, you just can't help but wonder. Still, I really only drink wine. I can't remember the last time I was actually drunk (though I suppose tipsy is another story....) I don't drink to forget or suppress emotions. I drink because it relaxes me, because I like it, the taste and stuff. You know.
Then again, isn't that exactly the kind of thinking an alcoholic would have? "I may drink, but it's not like I'm as bad as that guy," they say, pointing to some bum who has just barfed all over his thread-bare trousers. Alcoholic comparisons. Alcoholic justifications. No, of course not. I don't have a problem. Or so I thought, until a week or so ago. I put the babies to bed and, as usual, went to the kitchen for a glass of wine. But then I saw we didn't have any. Although I could handle it, I was really (even physically) disappointed. "Crap," I thought. "I'm addicted." We had a conversation about this recently with some German-French friends of ours. Once, when their eldest son was in the sand box, he made a motion like he was pulling something up, then made a sound like a cork coming out of bottle. "Crap," they thought. "How embarrassing." Still, how bad is it really? I mean, a wino isn't as bad as an actual alcoholic (she says as she finishes her third (but final) glass of Vina Tobia Rose for the evening.....)

3. The Internet

Up until a few years ago I wasn't really an internet person. I did the chat room thing for a month or so back in the early 90s (what was the server called? Ex something...) and ended up with this ridiculously large bill. After that it was strictly e-mail for the most part. For the first five years I lived in Berlin I didn't even have internet access at home. I would check my e-mail at the library or at university for the brief time I studied here. Before I met Jasper I did all my internet business at one of the Lebanese Internet cafes on Sonnenallee. I was always the only woman in there. I'm pretty sure all of the Arab teenagers in the place were secretly looking at porn.
I had a conversation a while back with a friend about what we would do if there were no longer any Internet. Even the mere thought filled me with a small wave of panic. Not only do I run an online shop and write two blogs, I also am always looking up things on Wikipedia and occasionally pushing that StumbleUpon button when I need to veg (Internet has completely replaced television since we don't have one.) Right now I'm listening to my "To Write To" playlist on YouTube. What would I do without YouTube to show the babies vintage cartoons and Sesame Street for a guaranteed 20 minute break (three cheers for YouTube babysitter!!)? I've done all the social networking stuff from MySpace to Twitter to Facebook, but after a while I got tired of all of it. Still, I need my Internet time. I really don't know what I would do without it. Internet, you are 2 good 2 be=4-gotten. ;)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Unmade Beds

I had to cancel one of my classes last week because of the killer cold I got. To make up the missed lesson, we decided to meet for a movie yesterday evening. We decided on London Nights, as the British movie Unmade Beds is called in Germany (Germans often exchange English film titles for another English film title, which I've always found bizarre.) It rained all day yesterday and I had a feeling I might be going to the movies all by myself. But I still pulled out my Union Jack vintage rain boots and headed off to Moviemento near Hermannplatz (apparently the oldest movie theater in Germany, or so I found out when I read the ticket.) One faithful student did turn up, so together we sat on the plush red seats and watched the film.
I don't think I've seen a film that reminded me so much of what it's like to be in your early 20s than this one; all the confusion, the rambling, the intensity. The story follows the naive 20 year old Spanish party boy Axl, who is in London to find his long lost English father, and Vera, a moody French girl who is getting over recent heartbreak. Both of them live in a London warehouse squat where no one pays rent. I definitely related more to Vera than Axl. I never was much of a crazy party girl. I had my adventures, but sometimes I wish I had been more wild. But I was a lot like Vera: serious, intense, broodingly emotional though I didn't often show it on the outside. I remember exactly how it felt to be in love the way she is with her nameless lover and the achingly, mind-blowing emptiness when neither of them can find each other.
Since the 80s are still so "in", the movie also sometimes felt like deja vu, but more from a time when I was 6 or 10 or 14. The wanna-be Joy Division band made me roll my eyes as did some of the fashions and sunglasses. I still can't wait until the hipsters pick out a less annoying decade to cloth themselves in.....Would I ever want to be 23 again? Hell no. Not in a million years. But I still enjoyed watching a film that reminded me of exactly how it felt to be 23 way back when.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Unter die Haube

This afternoon, at around 3 o'clock, I heard loud music being played on the street a couple of houses down from ours. The music was with drums and bagpipes and obviously oriental, so I wondered what the heck was going on. Something perhaps to do with Ramadan? I went outside with a somewhat sick Miss Mia and we soon saw that it was a Turkish wedding.
Everyone was so happy and colorfully dressed that even the local Halbstaerker (bad boys) paused from making mischief for a few minutes to take a look. It was amazing to see the bride in a big white dress after she ist unter die Haube gegangen, an idiom for getting married in German (literally it means "she went under the big, old-fashioned hair salon hair dryer.")
Normally Miss Mia would have been fascinated; we often pass by this shop that sells these ornate, often gaudy dresses for Turkish weddings and celebrations and she always says we should buy some of those beautiful princess dresses; but her cold made her too cranky. After two minutes she said she just wanted to go home.
If it weren't for etsy, I probably would have forgotten what a huge industry there is around weddings in the U.S. You can't be on the site for very long without running into something wedding related; wedding cake toppers, wedding place setting, bridesmaid's dresses, a gift for the best man. Everything you could imagine to make her special day all that much more magical oh yeah, and quickly empty out your wallet.
The first time I got married it was an elopement in Portland, Oregon. We went to the courthouse two days before and they didn't even ask to see my husband-to-be's passport which I found incredible. He could have been some crazed European axe-murderer, wanted in ten states, but they didn't care. Just as they asked if we would prefer to be married in the courthouse or in the privacy of our own home, they led a young hippie guy out of the courtroom in leg shackles. "It wasn't me, man. It wasn't me," he protested. "Uh," we said. "We'll pay the extra 50 bucks and get married at home." The judge came over on March 11th with a cast on his right arm and married us in my sister's living room with only her and her then-boyfriend as a witness. In Oregon they are obsessed with there pioneering history. They will slap a wagon train on anything if they given even half the chance. Our wedding certificate had (you guessed it) a wagon train down on the bottom next to our names.
Though my second wedding was planned and more thought out in many ways, it still was held in a courthouse (though the gorgeous one in San Francisco instead). Only my family was there, we went out to dinner instead of having a reception and I wore black instead of white. But your average (German) Berliner can definitely relate much more to either of my weddings than they can a Turkish one. Most people don't get married here anyway, not even after they have kids. If they do, it would almost always be a no-frills version at the courthouse (you have to pay church taxes in order to get married in a church and they are pretty high.) I've tried to provoke some of my German students in classes before. "But weddings are about romance. They are about tall cakes and one hundred guests and big dresses." In every case they looked at me like I was crazy. If they ever were going to get married (and that was a big "if") it would only be for the lower taxes. Though I am most definitely not a wedding person, this has always made me almost a little sad.

When I walked out of the apartment today, the groom had just set free a dozen white doves. Ooos and Ahhs went through the crowd as they flew to freedom. I'm glad I saw it.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

The End Of Summer

A little over two weeks ago, summer told me it was just going downstairs for a quick pack of cigarettes, but it never came back. I feel pretty burned. No one is ready for colds and icy drafts and bundling up in sweaters and slippers even inside the apartment (as lovely as our apartment is, it does get chilly here in the winter. Need to better insulate those old wooden windows this winter round!) No one is ready for the endless leaden gray of a Berlin winter sky. If summer, alas, did have to end they could at least send us the beauty of fall: the golden light, the crimson falling leaves, the rich damp smell of moss. But, until now, we have only had a few meager glimpses. Berlin, curse you for torturing us this year completely with your weather mood swings (they say global warming, I say weather insanity....) And curse you ten times over for making me, a native Californian, talk constantly about the weather (something we never do as, of course, we take it for granted. Even when there's mudslides, we at least now they're fleeting come spring in February....) like some cantankerous old broad!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Germ-Infested Fan Causes Circulation Problems!

So this week and next week I'm teaching an intensive English course at the Technical University here in Berlin. To be honest, I was really dreading it. There was a time when I really loved teaching EFL, especially at the TU because mostly we have college students and we have no boss and can design the courses any old way we want. But I got burned out a couple of years ago and was definitely sick of students. Since the German government pays you to stay home with your baby the first year and I had two babies pretty much back to back I really haven't taught much at all in three years. I've been enjoying it a lot more than I thought it would though. The students seem so young that I have a fondness for them as if they were my own children. And it can be interesting: In class, earlier this week, I was reminded, even after ten years in Berlin, how impossible it is for me NOT to tip.
In Berlin tipping is pretty much optional and usually something people do based on the quality of the service (not that there is usually such a thing here....) The most common thing is to just round up the bill: say your bill is 7.20 Euro, then you just leave 7.50 and it's perfectly ok. (If you gave a waitress in the U.S. a thirty cent tip she would probably come out and personally kick you in the ass!) On Tuesday we did an activity on cultural differences where they had to guess certain things. One was "It is customary to tip 10% in the U.S." Pretty much everyone thought this probably was true, but when I told them it's actually more 15% to 20% they were pretty shocked. "And if you don't tip, it's pretty much like giving the waitress a slap in the face," I told them. No matter how bad the service might be in Berlin, no matter how long it takes to get my cappuccino or how surly the hipster waiter might be, I just can't not tip at least a little bit. If I don't I always end up feeling guilty. We are simply trained that way.
Although everyone seemed to accept my advice and now (hopefully) will not have any waitresses cursing under their breaths about those cheap-ass Germans if they ever visit the U.S., they found the answer to the following statement hard to take: "If you feel dizzy or light-headed you tell people you have circulation problems." All of them immediately shook their heads yes. "Of course. Everybody knows that." Ah, the old German Kreislaufprobleme. (I already wrote a post about it here.) Anytime you feel a little bit tired, run down or burnt out it is clear you are suffering from circulation problems. Duh. Everybody knows that. When I told them that no, not everybody knows that and as far as I know Germany is the only place where people of (literally) all ages are constantly complaining about this, they got that look students get when they just can't believe something, a look like they are sucking very hard on a lemon. "If you tell this to people in the U.S. they will probably at first thing you have a disease or serious health condition and later think you are strange because only an 80 year old woman would continually complain about circulation problems." Lemon-sucking faces all across the room.
I always find it funny when an entire culture more or less agrees on something that is kind of kooky (there are Germans who don't constantly say they have circulation problems of course, but they wouldn't find it weird if someone else did.) For example, the typical American fear of germs. I remember seeing girls in high school who wouldn't even touch a doorknob or towel dispenser. Even toilet seat covers (something they don't even have in Germany) weren't good enough protection for them. They always squated over the toilet, too afraid to put their butts on that germ infested plastic, which usually meant they peed all over the seat (and of course never cleaned up afterward....Thanks ladies.)
When I was in college I worked for a couple of years at the children shoes department of Nordstrom in very suburban Pleasanton, California (with a name like Pleasanton what else could it be?) Most of the other girls working there were girly suburbanite frosted hair types. All of them had a bottle of hand sanitizer in their purse which they obsessively squirted on themselves. "Geez, people. Chill out. A couple of thousand germs ain't gonna hurt you," I always wanted to say. Mostly I just rolled my eyes. I'm not even sure if you can get that hand sanitizer stuff in Berlin, but if you can, people would probably think you were a germ-phobic freak if you were constantly using it because, well uh, you kind of are. Sorry folks, but it's true. Over-the-top disinfecting is what has led to that super bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics anyway. People, please, knock it off! (Yes, I'm well aware there might be a few people who stumbled onto this post, hoping for some tips on how to sterilize their laptop, who are now making that lemon-sucking face.)
I read recently that, in South Korea, people believe it is extremely dangerous to sleep in a closed room with a fan. Any number of life threatening things can happen such as fire, asphyxiation or hypothermia. As with circulation problems in Germany and germ phobia in the U.S., if you go to a local doctor he or she will be filled with all sorts of useful advice, i.e. won't tell you you're off your rocker because they are off theirs too.
If I ever were to teach English in South Korea and were to tell my students that I've slept in a closed room with a fan running hundreds of times without suffocating, freezing to death or being burnt to a cinder, I'm sure I'd get lemon-sucking faces from there to Mars. Well, what can you do? People are strange. ;)

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