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Expat in Germany: October 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

German Wedding Gifts: Part 4 of German Weddings

German wedding gifts are similar to wedding gifts that you would find in North America.  Gift certificates and cash being especially popular for couples who have been on their own for a while and have already bought the requisite toaster.  J.P. didn't want to give cash at the German wedding we recently attended so we decided to get the couple a gift certificate for an outdoor adventure course since they're an active couple and we thought it would be fun.   Great, a gift certificate and a card, that was easy! 
Many of the German wedding gifts came with flowers such as this one.
 J.P. kept saying that we should wrap up the gift certificate in ropes hanging from some small trees or something to this effect.  Frankly, the idea was lost on me, I didn't see why we couldn't just put the gift certificate in the envelope with the card and be done with it.  Besides, at most weddings in Canada, they have a box for the cards so if no one was going to see it anyway, what was the point of making a big fuss about it?  I assumed that Germans being as practical as they are, this would also be the case at German weddings.  I was wrong.  
This German wedding gift was my favorite.  I loved the winter theme and guessed it had something to do with skiing since  the couple loves to ski. 
As we entered the German wedding reception, much to my surprise we saw the gift table filled with very creative arrangements  - all containing a card and presumbly either cash or a gift certificate.  Oops.  Setting our card down beside  these beautifully decorated cards arrangements our gift suddenly felt rather inadequate.  I then understood what J.P. was getting at earlier, but I was surprised since the arrangements while very cute, didn't seem very practical.  I guess German practicality does not apply to German weddings - note to self!    We were quite relieved when we left the German wedding to see that there were a couple of other stand alone cards with no arrangement either.  Whew, glad we weren't the only ones, and I'll definitely be better prepared for the next German wedding I attend!

If you missed the first 3 parts of German weddings see:
Getting Engaged to a German:  Part 1 of German Weddings
German Wedding Ceremony:  Part 2 of German Weddings
German Wedding Reception & Dance:  Part 3 of German Weddings 


Friday, October 29, 2010

German Weddings, the Reception and Dance: Part 3 of German Weddings

At first glance the reception at German weddings is very similar to wedding receptions in North America.  A nice meal is served, speeches from the bride and groom and the bride and groom's family are made, and the newlyweds kiss when glasses are clinked with a spoon, but first impressions can be deceiving.

Seated at the head table with the bride and groom are the bride and groom's parents and grandparents.  Since there is no wedding party to begin with, there is no need to seat them.  I really like this idea of honoring the family and this is likely a German wedding tradition  that J.P. and I will do at our own Canadian-German wedding in Canada next year.
We also loved the heart shaped pretzels that were served at a German wedding between the ceremony and the reception. 
The other notable difference is that there is no emcee. Prior to attending a German wedding I asked J.P. if he had any ideas about who we should ask to be our emcee.  He didn't see why we would need an emcee, since in Germany the couple does this themselves.  Indeed this was the case at the German wedding we attended and it surprisingly worked quite well.  We're still undecided on this one since I like the idea of an emcee but as many of our guests speak only English or German, not both, it could be tricky to find a bilingual one.

As with many weddings, the real fun begins after dinner when the dancing starts.  The Vienna Waltz is the song of choice at most German weddings and was the case at the German wedding we recently attended.  It is a beautiful dance and we've decided that this will be our first song at our Canadian-German wedding. 
Surprise, Germans are actually very good dancers.  They certainly put me to shame with the lively Discofox, especially the groom's German granny!

Next came the real surprise with a dance, I had never heard of, the Discofox, but it is a very popular dance in Germany and Switzerland.  The Discofox is a lively dance that was repeated many times throughout the night and frequently to English pop songs.  Much to my surprise, not only are Germans good dancers,  it was the aged 60+ people in the crowd that were burning up the dance floor and doing a mighty good job of it to I might add.  Even the groom's 90 year old granny gave it a go and was surprisingly agile.  Watching granny Discofox to Britney Spears was one of the highlights of this German wedding!  While I loved watching, I really wanted to dance, but unfortunately had no idea how to do the Discofox.  Eventually we just danced "freestyle" to Banarama's "Venus" while everyone else disco foxed around us.  I felt highly uncultured and kept hoping the "Chicken Dance" would come on so I could strut my stuff, but no such luck!    If you are going to a German wedding, I highly recommend learning the Discofox before you go since Germans can dance quite well and you don't want them putting you to shame!.  See the Discofox in action.  I plan to turn our living room into a dance floor this year as I learn the Vienna Waltz and the Discofox! 

Have you heard of the Discofox?  What has been your experience with this dance?  Please feel free to share your comments below.

See also: 
Getting Engaged to a German:  Part 1 of German Weddings
German Wedding Ceremony:  Part 2 of German Weddings
German Wedding Gifts:  Part 4 of German Weddings


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Culture Shock in German Class

Recently I wrote a post about not experiencing a great deal of culture shock in Germany to date (see Culture Shock in Germany...or Not), however I must say the culture shock in Germany coming from my Intensive German class, is well... intense.

Our class has 23 students from 17 different countries and while I could prepare for culture shock in Germany by reading about German customs and getting an idea of what to expect, I couldn't possibly prepare for what happens in German class.  Complicating matters further is that not only are so many different cultures involved, but we are a very diverse group.  We range in age 17 to 57, and our income levels vary from those supported by German welfare to millionaires.  We also differ dramatically in religion from Catholic to Aethists to Jewish to Buddhists to Muslims to Agnostics, and those are just the ones I am aware of!  And of course, we all speak different languages with varying degrees of success.  It would not be uncommon to walk into our German class and hear German, Spanish, Portugese, English, Russian and Turkish all being spoken simulataneosly.  Is it any wonder that I am experieicng culture shock in Germany in my German class when I spend 5 days a week, 4 1/2 hours a day in such a multi-cultural environment?

As with most forms of culture shock it starts with minor irritants, in this case being half the class regularly coming late which disrupts the rest of the class (but demonstrates that different cultures value time differently), to talking in class when the teacher is talking (reflecting different attitudes towards both the teacher and to education itself), to not being able to have more than a 3 or 4 sentence conversation with somebody because of language barriers.  These are my personal annoyances and while none of them are major, I am finding them increasingly annoying, but at the same time, note that for better or worse, these annoyances reflect my cultural values.

I see other students struggling with culture shock in Germany in the German class as well.  Several students have made comments that they had never met a gay person before and were surprised the Brazilian student was so open about it. One of the Muslim students had it no better, when a follow student asked him if he supported Sadam Hussein and whether he had ever witnessed a stoning.    No on both accounts, but he was understandably not impressed with this line of questioning.  Another student from the Ukraine asked if you must pay taxes in Canada.  "Of course", I replied confused, until he explained to me that due to corruption, paying taxes in the Ukraine is optional.

Our German class has been running for two months and I'm still unsure of where I fit in it all and am unsure of how I will not just stand up one day in the middle of class and yell "Shut Up!” but fortunately I haven't had any outbursts yet.  I guess all I can do is keep doing the best I can, recognizing that my fellow classmates are going through the same thing and are probably wondering when the Canadian (that's me) will stop doing whatever annoying things I do that are irking them.  And despite my annoyances, I really am grateful for the opportunity to be in such a multi-cultural environment and I recognize that this opportunity may not present itself again.  While we are in German class to learn German, the unexpected gifts of learning so much about other cultures and cultural tolerance are gifts that I will happily receive and try to put to good use.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

German Wedding Ceremony: Part 2 of German Weddings

The German wedding ceremony is part 2 of a 4 part series on German Weddings.  All German weddings must first begin with a civil ceremony at the town hall.  This is usually followed by a German wedding ceremony in the church in which the bride wears a traditional white dress and the groom a tux or nice suit, very similar to weddings in North America.  However, when the wedding rings are exchanged, most Germans wear their wedding bands on their third finger on their right hand, instead of their left hand.  We've decided that J.P. will wear his wedding band on his right hand, while I'll wear mine on my left hand, a blending of Canadian and German customs. 

Unlike weddings in North America, German weddings have no attendants so no need to worry about who to choose for brides maids or groomsmen.  At German weddings, the bride and groom each have a witness, but they do not stand up with them in the German wedding ceremony.  This explains why when I kept asking J.P. who was going to be his best man he got a confused look on his face.  Our Canadian-German wedding will be held in Canada, but we have decided to do this the German way and forgo attendants.  For the record, he is going to ask his mom to be his witness....awwww :).
The German couple of a wedding we recently attended arrived together in this car
Another big difference between German weddings and North American weddings is that in German weddings the couple usually arrives together and walks down the aisle together.  I explained to J.P. that in North America it was considered bad luck for the bride and groom to see each other before the wedding and that we would be sleeping in different rooms the night before.  He thought this was the silliest thing he had ever heard and can't believe that I am serious, but I am.  This is one North American wedding custom I plan to follow.

Similar to weddings in North America, there are flower girls at German weddings and they are the show stealers no matter where they are.  At a wedding I attended in Germany, one of the adorable flower girls dropped her basket of rose petals and was so distraught she couldn't continue her duties.  So cute, although I did feel bad for her.
The happy couple with the fallen flower girl at their feet. 
 Another German wedding custom, that occurs days before the German wedding, is for guests to bring old dishes to break for good luck.  Then the bride and groom clean up the dishes.  J.P. has been at weddings where guests showed up with a truckload of dishes! Although this sounds interesting, I think I would rather just be an observer and not actually have to clean up all those dishes.   J.P. and I have decided not to include this in our Canadian-German wedding due to the logistics involved. 
Breaking dishes is a popular way to wish the bride and groom good luck at German weddings
One German wedding custom, unfamiliar to most North Americans, that we will including is the log sawing.  Immediately after the ceremony, the couple has to saw a log in half working together with one saw.  This symbolizes that working together can accomplish difficult tasks and is to serve as a reminder when the couple faces challenges in the future.  This is a Bavarian wedding custom and one that J.P. is not very familiar with (not coming from Bavaria), but one that we think would be fun to include. 
Log sawing is popular at German weddings since it demonstrates the importance of working together
What other German wedding traditions do you know of or what has been your experience attending a German wedding?

See also  Getting Engaged to a German:  Part 1 of German Weddings
German Weddings, the Reception and Dance:  Part 3 of German Weddings 
German Wedding Gifts:  Part 4 of German Weddings


Monday, October 25, 2010

Getting Engaged to a German: Part 1 of German Weddings

Getting engaged to a German is the first of a four part post on German Weddings.  Getting engaged to a German holds different significance in Germany than it does in North America.  In North America, getting engaged is a big deal, in Germany not so much (although the German wedding is a big deal of course).  We first came across this when dealing with German Immigration.  We asked if there was an Engagement Visa as there is in the U.S., but there's no such thing in Germany.  Either you're married or you're not and we were not.

The other difference is that Germans generally don't have engagement rings.  Earlier when the couple is dating, the guy may have given the girl a promise ring, (a much smaller ring than a typical engagement ring) but when he asks her to marry him, there will likely be no engagement ring.  This is different than in North America and sparked some interesting discussions between J.P. and myself.  This past year he wanted to buy me a promise ring for Christmas.  I really didn't want a promise ring as I don't wear much jewellery and thought we would be getting engaged soon and that an engagement ring would be enough.  At first, he took offense to this, saying a German girl would be thrilled to get a promise ring.  I pointed out the fact that I'm Canadian, not German and that promise rings weren't very popular with the 30 something crowd in Canada. He relented. 

Initially he wasn't so sure that I "needed" an engagement ring since we would be living in Germany where engagement rings are not common, but when he saw that all my friends  did indeed have engagement rings along with their wedding bands, he realized that this was indeed a common thing in Canada.  And as I  pointed out that even though we would be living in Germany, I would still be very much a Canadian.   He seemed to understand this logic and I am now happily wearing a sparkly engagement ring.

J.P. was true to his word though, when I arrived in Germany, I was busy checking everyone's fingers for engagement rings, and he was right, they are not popular here at all.  He said that most Germans wouldn't  assume my ring was an engagement ring, since they're not common.   Regardless of whether anyone but the two of us knows what the ring represents, I'm happy that this is one Canadian custom we adopted for our own German wedding next year. What has been your experience with German engagements?

See also:
German Wedding Ceremony.  Part 2 of German Weddings
German Weddings, the Reception and Dance.  Part 3 of German Weddings
German Wedding Gifts:  Part 4 of German Weddings


Friday, October 22, 2010

German Language Test

After much anticipation, today we had part 1 of 4 of the German language test for my Intensive German Course.  The German language test is the standardized A1 test which includes:  speaking, writing and listening.  In addition, the school I attend also adds 5 pages of grammar to the German Language Test which we were tested on today.  I don't know my score yet on the grammar part of the German language test, but am not feeling overly optimistic.  German grammar is hard with three different articles to memorize and three different cases (that we've learned so far).  Even a simple sentence such as "The book is on the table." requires you to know whether the book and the table each are masculine, feminine or neutral (for the record, the book is neutral "das buch" and the table is masculine "der tisch" and whether it is accusative case in which case you would say "den tisch" or dative case in which you would say "dem tisch".  "Der tisch" is only used in the nominative case, so in this case "Das Buch ist auf dem Tisch."  Aggghhhhh. 

 This particular German Language Test is not important, meaning that we don't get kicked out of the class if we don't do well, but I want to do well, and I want to learn German and be able to speak German without making grammatical mistakes in every sentence, but am thinking it will be a slow process.  Some days the words just roll off my tongue (keeping in mind my German Vocab is limited to 6 weeks of German school), while other days, like today, I feel like I will never learn German.  Now, I'm off to study for the listening part of my German Language Test next week.  Hopefully this part will go better.  Wish me luck!
What has been your experience learning German or another language?  Please share in the comments section below.

Samples of the A1 German Language Test can be found at A1 German Language Test.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival 2010

The Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival (Kürbis-Ausstellung in German) is the world's largest pumpkin festival and is not to be missed!  It's held every year in the Blühendes Barock Gardens next to the Ludwigsburg Castle naturally (love that a pumpkin festival is right beside a castle!)  Kids will love the whismal creatures created out of pumpkins, like the large blue whale above.  The pumpkin soup is also a must and is undoubedly the best pumpkin soup I've ever tasted.   Also, not to be missed is the pumpkin sparking wine, it was so delicious that we brought a bottle to take home with us!  This year the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival runs until Nov 7, 2010.
 This whole "island" was made of pumpkins, including the palm trees at the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival 2010.
The Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival 2010 had an underwater theme going on which as an avid scuba diver I thoroughly appreciated!
 Creative critters such as the one above were also abundant at the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival 2010.  And they say Germans don't have a sense of humor!
J.P. with the two bowls of the aforementioned best pumpkin soup I've ever tasted, pumpkin bread and the pumpkin sparkling wine.  Not suprisngly, the menu at the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival was all about pumpkins.  Pumpkin spagethi anyone?  We didn't try it, but it did look interesting.
There are over 500,000 pumpkins at the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival and did you know that there are 450 different kinds of pumpkins?  I didn't.  Naturally, the Pumpkin Festival is also a great place to buy pumpkins.  I was so excited to see spaghetti squash that I bought 3!  J.P. has never tried it before, so here's hoping he likes it as we're going to be eating it for a while.

For more info see:  Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival 2010 (all info is in German)


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Culture Shock in Germany... or Not

Before I left Canada, I was warned about the culture shock in Germany I would experience. Perhaps it's because I've lived abroad before (in S. Korea and Thailand) that culture shock in Germany hasn't seemed so obvious.  I was discussing culture shock in Germany with an American who has been here almost two years and he lamented that the only culture shock in Germany he had experienced was the lack of culture shock in Germany and in many ways I agree.    Yes, there are differences.  Canadians and Americans (I can't speak for other nationalities) shouldn't expect to move to Germany and think that everything will be the same here.  Yet despite the obvious differences:  language, different traffic rules, stores being closed on Sundays and Germans being more reserved when they first meet you, for example, I believe there are far more similarities.  Once Germans get to know you they are warm and friendly,  Germans enjoy spending time with their friends, enjoy watching movies, going out for dinner, meeting friends for a drink, watching or playing sports and traveling.  Germans also value hard work and family.  Does any of this sound familiar?  To me a lot of this sounds very familiar, so perhaps that's why I've only experienced very mild culture shock in Germany. 
 The culture shock in Germany that I have experienced for the most part has been very pleasant.  For example, more days than not, I pass by a castle (two on my way to school each day), which did not happen in Canada, but again this isn't exactly shocking, although it is very lovely.

By far the most culture shock in Germany that I experience is every day in my Intensive German class where there are 20 students from 15 different nationalities!  Now that's culture shock!

In summary, people moving to Germany from Canada and the U.S. shouldn't expect everything to be exactly like it is at home, since it isn't, but assuming you have traveled even a little bit, you also shouldn't be worried about experiencing extreme culture shock in Germany either - unless you count seeing castles on a daily basis as culture shock.

I would love to hear about your experiences of culture shock in Germany, or any other country!


Please Vote Living as an Expat in Germany as THE Top Blog in Germany

Living as an Expat in Germany is listed as one of the top ten blogs in Germany by Go! Overseas which is in itself an honor, but in addition, Go! Overseas is currently holding a reader's choice competition to see which of the top  blogs is THE Best Blog in Germany.  Please take a moment to check out the blogs, there are some good ones, and if you like Living as an Expat in Germany, please vote for it at The Best Blog in Germany, Living as an Expat in Germany.  All votes are sincerely appreciated and one vote per day is allowed.  Voting is open until October 20.    Thank you in advance for helping Living as an Expat in Germany become THE top blog in Germany!


Friday, October 15, 2010

German Vocab That Makes My Life Easier

Ironically, the German vocab that makes my life easier is not German vocab that I've learned in my Intensive German course, but German vocab that I've learned while out and about.  Here's a list of some German vocab that makes my daily life so much easier:
  • "Alles?"  As in is that all (used when shopping)
  •  "Hier oder zum Mitnehmen?" Here or for takeaway ( a special thanks to the lady from Starbucks who patiently taught me this German vocab :)
  •  "Brauchen Sie eine Tasche?"  Do you need a bag? 
  •  "Welche Größe?" Which size, to which the correct answer is either"  "klein", "mittler"  or "groß"
  • "Drucken" or "Ziehen" "Push" or "pull" - very handy German vocab to know when reading the sign on doors
  • "Ich möchte zehn SchinkenScheiben des Schinken bitte."  I would like ten slices of ham please.  I was thrilled to have learned this German vocab last week as it now means that I can order the good stuff from the deli and not just buy the mediocre packaged stuff!
I realize that none of this German vocab is mind blowing, but it's such a relief to actually understand what someone is asking me, and being able to respond, rather than just giving them a blank confused stare.

Next on my German vocab list is mastering money.  I know my numbers but when I go to pay and the cashier hurriedly tells me my total is "fünfundzwanzig Euro und dreiundvierzig Cent", (25.43 euros) I freeze, and my comprehension of German vocab goes out the window so I just round up the number.  As a result, my purse is bursting with loose change.  I took  a handful out and put it on our table while J.P. stared in disbelief asking what I was going to do with it.  I calmly told him my dilemma and that since he didn't have the same problem as a fluent German speaker, he should take it and try and use it.  Needless to say he didn't see this as a longterm viable solution, and the coins are still on our table (although he did neatly stack them).  So I guess it's time for me to master my currency German vocab.

What German vocab has made your daily life easier?


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Making Friends in Germany

I've started making friends in Germany as I've mentioned in previous posts (Resources for Expats Living in Stuttgart, Making Friends in Germany) and I've met some very nice people.  But I'm at the point now where I want to start deepening my relationship with some of those people that I've met and start getting to know people one on one, instead of only in a large group.

Although I am friendly, I am actually shy when it comes to extending the first invitation. In many ways making friends in Germany reminds me of job hunting.  However, rarely does a dream job just fall in your lap, usually you have to look for openings, which is time consuming, then once you find a potential job, apply to it, then see if the company also sees you as a potential fit, then meet to see if you actually are a fit for each other - similar to what happens when you are making friends.  So while making friends in Germany is a two way street, I've decided to be more proactive, since good friends, like good jobs rarely just fall in your lap.  It takes a lot of work to make good friends, just as it does to land a good job.

My Making Friends in Germany strategy is to ask one new person each week to do something.  This will be especially important for making German friends, since Germans can be a bit more reserved when they first meet you, but I would like both German and expat friends.  So far, despite my initial shyness, I've had great success!  I invited an American expat I'd met at several different expat functions to a movie we had previously discussed.  I've invited a Thai lady from my German course to lunch (one on one) and this week alone I invited a Guatemalan lady from my German course and her husband to dinner with J.P. and myself and we had a great time.  Although it was a week night, we stayed for 3 hours conversing in a mix of German, English and Spanish, with me frequently using all three in a single sentence.  I also invited one of J.P.'s German friends to join us for an adventure course.  He wasn't able to make it, but sounded like he would have been interested had he been free.

I have a few more people on my list that I plan on asking to do things as well in the upcoming weeks as part of my Making Friends in Germany strategy.  Fortunately, I haven't had to do all the asking and have received some lovely invitations as well which are much appreciated.  Making friends in Germany does take time and patience and it makes me thankful for the good friends I already have in Canada.  It also takes me out of my comfort zone, but I am still enjoying making friends in Germany and believe I am on my way to making some life long friends who will no doubt further enrich my life.

If you have any tips on making friends, please share them below. 
Also check out Language of Friendship by Grounded Traveler, another expat living in Germany
For more tips see Seven Tips for Making New Friends by The Happiness Project author, Gretchen Rubin


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Eat Art Exhibition in Stuttgart

I like art, but I'm by no means an art historian or all that knowledgeable about art, so it comes as no surprise that I had never heard of "Eat Art" until I saw the big sign on the Kuntsmuseum (art museum) in Stuttgart which I walk by every day.  Fortunately, the Met Club organized a tour of "Eat Art" with an English guide who was excellent.  He was very knowledgeable, but not stuffy,  and had a great sense of humour throughout our rather unusual tour.  I got much more out of it than I would have from just going alone, especially since the guide book is all in German and my German is still rather rudimentary.

The photo above shows a kitchen that rotates through the length of the Eat Art exhibition.  Prior to the start of Eat Art, they made a pot of curry, then started to rotate it (hence the mess).  The smell of curry permeates the entire exhibit which was rather unexpected and slightly overpowering
The idea of food as art started in the 1960s with Swiss artist Dieter Roth who would put the remnants of dinner just as they left on the wall such as the one above which you can see at the Eat Art show.  He also liked to use molds of various parts of his body (I'll let you use your imagination) and serve food in these molds.
 These signed glasses/mugs have been collected by Mike Rogers and Dustin Ericksen over 15 years from art openings, lectures, parties, etc from all over the worldThe collection consists of 850 signed pieces and continues to grow and and dated at an Eat Art opening held a couple of years ago and now forms a display at Eat Art in Stuttgart.  I can't say this display was exactly my cup of tea (get it cup of tea - haha), but I did learn a lot about the idea of creating self destructing art (as is the case when you use food as your medium, since it starts to rot), versus the more traditional idea of preserving art. 
  I quite liked this Eat Art display.  It is made of Kartoffelpuffer (German potato pancakes) which were then painstakingly nailed to the wall.  If the pancake broke, which they often did, they used a new one and tried again.  It took about 2 days to nail all the potato pancakes to the wall.  I found myself standing next to an English woman and we both couldn't help noticing the grease stains on the wall and lamented that the wall would like have to be replaced - so I'm sure the artist would argue that I didn't have a full appreciation for the piece.
This Eat Art display makes a statement about over consumption in our diets today with a cart buried in heaps of sugar.  In many ways Eat Art is a very political exhibition (as further evidenced by the videos of people with bulimia throwing up at the end of the exhibition)
The above photo might not look like much, but I wish you could smell it.  It was part of a chocolate room - yep an entire room painted in chocolate.  That might sound nice, but I found the smell quite overpowering.  I seriously think spending a few hours in the chocolate room at the Eat Art show could cure any chocoholic.

The Eat Art exhibition has been slow to catch on with Germans, and perhaps a rather factual review in the paper didn't help either.  Despite the fact that I didn't see any art that was beautiful, in my humble opinion, I quite enjoyed the exhibit, but this in large part since we had such a terrific guide and an enthusiastic group from the Met Club.  My advice would be to go with a guide if you really want to understand what Eat Art is all about and go with an open mind.
For more information on Eat Art.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Resources for Expats Living in Stuttgart

I feel very fortunate to be an expat living in Stuttgart, where there are several clubs for expats, making it easy to meet other expats living in Stuttgart and Germans interested in meeting expats.  I'm actually in awe of how much easier it is now compared to 10 years ago when I lived in S. Korea and Thailand and there was no such thing as Facebook or (yes I know this makes me sound old, but it's true) and you would often just find out about things by chance and sometimes just as you were leaving the country. 

A few clubs for expats living in Stuttgat that I've found while living here:

Metropolitan Club - The official language of this international club is English, but it's open to people of all nationalities.  I've found that many of its members are German, who have lived abroad, which I really like since it's important to me to also have German friends.  The age of the members varies, but is primarily 30+.  I've really enjoyed participating in the Met Club's activities since they're so varied - from movies, to brunch, to art galleries, to skiing to political debates to name but a few and would highly recommend it to anyone new to living in Stuttgart. 

Regular Tuesday Dinners in Stuttgart - I regularly attend these dinners which are held in different restaurants throughout the city, all easy to get to by public transport.  It's a great way to get to know the city and meet new people at the same time.  It's mostly Americans that attend, but Germans and Australians and other nationalities also attend as well.  Participants are generally from mid-twenties to 40 and is primarily women, but there is usually a male or two at each dinner.  I've also met some very friendly people in this group. 

Stuttgart Expat Meetups - I've only attended one of their events, since many of them are on Friday nights, held at a bar and seem to appeal to people in their 20s who are single, of which I am neither.  Having said that, I have heard it's a great place to meet people and it is a popular group with expats living in Stuttgart.  I also know many people that attend in their 30s that enjoy it, but I'm not much of a bar person these days.  They also have other events.  I went to a play and recent events have also included bowling and go-karting.

German classes are also a good way to meet other expats.  I'm currently enrolled in intensive German classes and we currently have people from 13 different countries!  I've become especially close with a doctor from Guatemala and an amazing cook from Thailand in just over a month.  

There are other resources for expats living in Stuttgart, especially for American military, in which there are at least a couple of groups that I'm aware of, but haven't participated in since I'm not American.  If anyone knows of other clubs for expats living in Stuttgart, please let me know and I will add them to my blog.

Moving to a new country can be a daunting experience, but knowing there are other people in a similar situation who are also looking to meet friends makes it a much easier and much more enjoyable experience and I'm very grateful that there are clubs for expats living in Stuttgart.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Intensive German Course, Stuttgart: Part 5

And so the saga continues in the Intensive German Course!  Things got much worse after my last post (Intensive German Course, Stuttgart:  Part 4).  Last week, the grandmother from Guatemala was told not to ask questions since this interrupted her (our teacher's) lesson plan and a Russian student was told just to focus on the correct sentence structure and not worry about the meaning.   As a result five of us contacted the school and complained (I was surprised there weren't more).  Then, the owner of the school showed up yesterday and after reprimanding us for being late from the break (I can't fault her for this, but we just weren't that motivated to return on time to our Intensive German Course), observed our teacher who suddenly became very helpful and patient in the owner's presence, much to our chagrin.  She then spoke to her in private.  I don't know what was said, but when our Intensive German Course instructor came back she had obviously been crying.  At this point the class was almost finished so we were rather concerned about what would be waiting for us tomorrow.

Today, we all tentatively entered the classroom, not sure whether to expect a new teacher or our old one, now more upset with us than ever for complaining.  Fortunately, we need not have worried.  Our old teacher returned, but she wasn't the same old teacher.  She had a smile on her face, made jokes, took time to explain vocabulary and grammar to us and gave us tips for our upcoming test.  She even kindly brought in photos she thought I would be interested in which was very thoughtful!  Our Intensive German Course was actually very productive AND enjoyable for the first time in a long time.   I don't know what tomorrow will bring but I'm hoping the old "new" teacher is here to stay.

See also:
Intensive German Course, Stuttgart:  Part 3
Intensive German Course, Stuttgart:  Part 2
Intensive German Course, Stuttgart:  Part 1
German Vocab That Makes My Life Easier


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

German Beer Festivals - More Than Just Beer

As to be expected at German beer festivals there is a lot of beer, with more than 5 1/2 million litres of beer drank at Oktoberfest, the largest German beer festival in the world held in Munich every September - October.

 What may be unexpected if you are not familiar with German Beer Festivals, is that they are actually quite family friendly and I'm not just talking about allowing children in the beer tents until 8:00 pm (although some tents do).  German Beer Festivals, called Volkfests, or "Festivals of the People" really are for people of all ages. They did originally start off as Agricultural Festivals after all.   Most German Beer Festivals open with a family friendly parade and close with fireworks.  At the German beer festival in Stuttgart, (Cannstatter Volkfest) the fireworks are set to music – can’t wait to see that next year!
Fireworks closing the German Beer Festival in Stuttgart
There is also the carnival aspect of German beer festivals and I was impressed with the number and size of the rides at the German Beer Festival in Stuttgart.  There was something for everyone from small children to the more daring rides favoured by teens and some new ones I hadn't seen before, like the swing ride, but on steroids.  It was so tall; I got dizzy just looking up at it.  Now I just have to find someone to go with me.  J.P. made it very clear that it wouldn't be him.  Any takers?
 There's also the German carnival food, with not a hamburger in sight, but nowhere else in the world will you taste pretzels as yummy as these or as huge.  Come hungry!  There's also my personal favourite, the lebuchenherz - the gingerbread hearts with sweet sayings, i.e. "Ich liebe dich"  "I love you" in English.  I have yet to receive one of these romantic gestures - hint, hint J.P. 
Buy one of these traditional German treats (lebuchenherz) for your sweetie
Families and older children will also enjoy seeing many Germans and tourists alike dressed in the traditional lederhosen and dirndls.  I still get a kick out of, but perhaps none more than seeing American friends dressed in dirndls (they look fantastic by the way!).
Dirdnls and lederhosen are a common sight at German beer festivals
So while at first glance German beer festivals do not appear to be family friendly, they actually are very family friendly.  To maximize your enjoyment at a German beer festival, I would recommend checking the website of the German beer festival you are planning on attending in advance so you can plan accordingly.  You also have a year to find that perfect dirndl or lederhosen costume so no excuses -except from me of course :)


Monday, October 4, 2010

The German Beer Festival in Stuttgart

This past weekend I went to the German beer festival in Stuttgart, known locally as the Cannstatter Beer Festival.  We were in the Göckelsmaier tent, one of the smaller tents with "only" a capacity of 3800 people.  I was told this was one of the "older" people tents and was a good thing since we were less likely to have 16 year olds throwing up on us.  All of a sudden, I wasn't so sure about this German beer festival thing.  I had been before, but it had been at 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon, not on a Saturday night.  J.P. dropped a friend and I off at 4:00 having declined to come saying he "was too old for German beer festivals" and that he was curious to see what I would think of it.  Mmmm, that was an interesting comment.  

We found our group and it soon became apparent that a German beer festival is much more fun if you have had a few beers.  Everyone around us was dancing on the benches to mediore music and we soon joined in after a few drinks.  I had thought my dancing on table days were long past, but clearly not tonight.  I enjoyed myself but was feeling worse by the minute, suffering from a bad cold and being slightly allergic to smoke.  Despite this, I made it to the wee hour of 9:00 pm then called J.P. for a ride home.  I had enjoyed myself but would have enjoyed myself a lot more when I was 10 years younger.

A few odd facts I learned about German beer festivals:
- the Göckele (roasted chicken) was surprisingly delicious and steaming hot
-a dirdnl or lederhosen is perfectly acceptable attire (but jeans are fine as well)
-the bathrooms were actually clean (this shocked me, I had dreaded going) and the wait was less than 5 minutes
-there is a lot of smoke in the beer tents and they are not well ventilated (note for those allergic to smoke)
-they do serve wine at beer festivals (note, I'm not usually that picky, but am allergic to beer, yeah, I know, but I still went to a German beer festival)
-they allow children in the beer tents until 8:00 (I ran into a lady with a 2 year old waiting in line for the washroom - who knew?)

See also:  German Beer Festivals

Friday, October 1, 2010

Love in Germany

If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then the way to a woman's heart is through her cats, or at least the way to my heart.  I'm happy to report that love in Germany is alive and well.  I have two cats, one of which (Samui) has been diagnosed with depression.  As a result of his depression, he refuses to use the litter box, but rather than do his business in just one place, he runs around frantically doing it.  One day, I counted 27 spots.   I love this cat so much but it is becoming unbearable. 
When Samui is not pooping, he is an adorable cat!
 J.P. has been a savior in all of this.  Most mornings we clean up cat poop before we've even had our morning coffee.  While this doesn't sound romantic, I find it incredibly touching that J.P. helps me every single time and does so without me asking and without complaining, even though this is less than an ideal way to start our day.
 Earlier this week, Samui decided to go on the roof after his most recent pooping spree and we couldn't reach him.  I needed to get to German school so suggested we leave him and a window open, confident he would come back in on his own.  J.P. wasn't so confident, but reluctantly agreed to leave him since he also had to get to work.  When he dropped me off at school, he told me he was worried about Samui and was going to go back to check on him, which he did and fortunately found Samui fast asleep on the couch. 

Perhaps Samui is embarrassed?
Today, the same thing happened again.  Samui escaped to the roof and we had to leave for work.  I assumed everything would be fine again and off we went.   J.P. called me in the afternoon and told me he couldn't stop worrying about Samui all morning, so after his meeting he had gone home to check on him.  But this time he wasn’t on the couch but had jumped to the neighbours balcony below, so off J.P. went knocking on the neighbour’s door below us to get our little grey cat.
J.P. with both Samui and Fuego
While none of this may sound very romantic, I find it incredibly romantic that J.P. takes so much interest and such good care of my cats because he knows how important they are to me and Samui can be "challenging" to put it mildly.  He is also on the phone at least once a week with our vet trying to find a solution.  I also find it romantic that we can find humour in something that really isn’t very funny at all.  Our running joke is that Samui just used to be depressed, but now he is fat AND depressed since his anti-depressants make him hungry all the time and the once little grey cat has grown to be quite a sizable little grey cat, that’s not so little.    If this isn't love in Germany, I don't know what it is.  I love you J.P. and thank you! 

See also:  Cats in Germany