Defining “home”

A Facebook friend — also an American living abroad — recently wrote a lovely and insightful post that started with the question, “What does home mean to you? Can I go home to visit my parents in the US and come home to Switzerland? Are both places home or is neither?”

It made me recall how we pondered this same question back in 2012, as we were in the middle of moving to Germany (at least, so much as one can “ponder” while being as incredibly task-loaded and emotionally drained and sleep-deprived as we were).
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Xerion: inveterate thief, seasoned traveler, cat

Some cats are just indiscriminately friendly, rubbing up against any ankles that come by, purring and begging to be petted. Xerion was not one of those cats. We will always be incredibly grateful to the cat sitters who were willing to look after her well being when we traveled (including once Googling how to reprogram the auto-feeder), despite the growls and hisses they typically got in return.

The cats that “dog people” imagine to be the norm are aloof and uninterested in hanging out with the humans who coexist in their living space. Xerion was not that type, either. Toward those select few whom she’d decided were “hers”, she was fiercely affectionate – a professional lap-sitter, shoulder-sprawler, and snuggler-in-bed whose non-stop purring when we’d return from a trip made it abundantly clear how much she’d missed us in our absence.

There is also the image of the archetypal cat as a picky eater, refusing deli meat if it’s more than a day old and accepting only the choiciest fare, carefully selected for the highly refined and ever-evolving feline palate. That definitely bears no resemblance to Xerion; the stories of her antics driven by her food obsession are countless and hilarious (though sometimes only in retrospect). There was the roast beef tug-of-war; the years-long auto feeder saga; the streak-of-tortie-colored-lightning meringue snatch; the rotting turkey neck stolen from the trash can; the crater eaten into the side of the unopened food bag that we had thought was safe in the closet; the ongoing arms race when we lived with another cat and had to come up with ever more elaborate methods to make his food accessible to him and not to her . . .

Perhaps the best summary of Xerion is that she was a cat with an incredible amount of character, who came to embody her name more than I’d ever imagined. It was originally her tortoiseshell coloring – mottled black and orange – that inspired me to seek out a name associated with the transmutation of lead into gold1. But as it turned out, it was her entire manner that would undergo a dramatic – if never fully complete – transformation from feral beast into domesticated feline. Continue reading

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Überschlag-Schiffschaukel: 4, Eve: 1

“Quick question, please: Is she sleeping or still awake?” I asked the guy working the person-powered ship swings (Schiffschaukeln) a litte before 8 p.m. last night. I was referring to the two-year-old in the kid-carrier/hiking-backpack I was wearing.1

He peered in, then confirmed that she had indeed fallen asleep during the 10- to 15-minute lap that I’d done around Oktoberfest with exactly that goal in mind.

“Great!” I replied, “Then I’d like to give the invertible swing a try!” Continue reading

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Of nose bears and swamp beavers

Yesterday’s visit to the Greifswalder Tierpark (zoo) repeatedly called to mind the helpful German Animal Names Flowchart that was doing the rounds on Facebook a while back. Among the Greifswald residents are many of the animals that the chart covers:

  • ocean piglets (Meerschweinchen) = guinea pigs
  • spike pigs (Stachelschweine) = porcupines
  • water pigs (Wasserschwein) = cabybaras
  • wash bears (Waschbären) = racoons
  • threatening chickens (Truthühner) = turkeys

A number of their neighbors aren’t on the chart but could be, such as:

OK, so maybe that last one doesn’t seem so silly to English-speakers . . .

We also saw many animals whose names don’t have quite as much entertainment value (e.g., Kängurus, a Dingo, and Alpakas). Even though they don’t have room for any big animals, like nose horns (Nashörner), it’s really a wonderful little zoo (in addition to being a fun place to amuse oneself with literal translations).

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Life with a seven-month-old

On the term Nimmersatt
The children’s book title The Very Hungry Caterpillar is translated into German as Der kleine Raupe Nimmersatt — literally, The Little Caterpillar Never-Full. As a parent of a Nimmersatt, I enjoy greatly that this noun exists.

I confess that when I first heard it, though, it did remind me of the term Never-Nude, and this was good for a giggle. (This is an “unusual” condition experienced by a character on the T.V. series Arrested Development. For those who have not seen it, suffice it to say that there is a certain humorous absurdity in a classic children’s book making one think of Tobias Fünke, not unlike the absurd humor often found in the show itself.)

On the importance of Strumpfhosen
Speaking of states of undress . . . one might naively think that a Body (onsie), a Hose (pants), and Socken (socks) might be a complete set of things in which to reasonably dress one’s baby (along with the diaper, of course). This would not, in fact, be correct.

When dropping our baby off at the Krippe (daycare) in just such an outfit, I was holding her such that the pants had bunched up a bit. One of the teachers caught a glimpse of exposed baby calf and exclaimed something about naked legs. My daughter’s teacher, who was coming over for the hand-off, asked the baby, “Bist du nackt?” (“Are you naked?”)

“No, she’s not naked! She’s wearing a onsie, and pants, and socks!” I might have replied. But instead I meekly asked, “Ist das nicht richtig? Sollte sie auch—”

“Stumpfhosen,” the teacher completed my sentence with the answer, kindly but firmly. Tights are, it seems, an necessary addition to the outfit described above. Pants with feet are also an acceptable alternative, as are footed sleepers (both of which the baby had worn to daycare previously without incident). But calves, it seems, must be kept meticulously covered.

Maybe, come summer, the tights will become optional? I won’t count on it, though.

(finally posted 26 March 2015)

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Scrabble auf Deutsch

firstwordBelieve it or not, this was, in fact, the first word played in our first German Scrabble game. (“Brau” is the imperative conjugation of “brauen” (to brew).)

The History

Despite having enjoyed quite a variety of board games growing up, and despite being a fan of word play in general, it somehow wasn’t until my junior year of college that I played Scrabble for the first time. It had to be explained to me that while, yes, one could get create multiple words in a single play, all of the letters one put down had to be colinear; my strategy of building in one direction, making a right turn, and continuing in another was not, in fact, permitted. I managed to get past this disappointing blow to my budding technique, though, and in short order I was hooked. Continue reading

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Dirndl vs. Lederhosn (thoughts on traditional Bavarian dress from an American living in Mecklenburg-Vormpommern)

How’s that for a disclaimer on the title? In any case, my musings started when I was in the real (a Target-like super-store) about a month ago, saw a display of Oktoberfest wear, and was surprised to see that the selection included women’s pants.

“How egalitarian!” I thought. “Good job, Germany!”

Later, when I found myself in Munich for a work trip during the start of Oktoberfest, I was reminded that Greifswald is both physically and culturally fairly far removed from Bavaria.

Traditional Tracht is still extremely gendered, as exhibited by this guide of what to wear to Oktoberfest. The news (tabloid) magazine Focus has a chest shot with the caption, “Dirndls accentuate the female charms particularly well.” (“Dirndl betonen die weiblichen Reize besonders gut.”)

Nevertheless, the official Munich website for the event does have on the front page of its photo section a link to a gallery full of women in Lederhosen, accompanied by the caption, “Lederhosen instead of Dirndl: The leather shorts are only for boys with tight calves? As if!” (“Lederhosn statt Dirndl: Die Krachlederne ist nur was für Burschen mit strammen Wadeln? Von wegen!”)

The gallery itself is from 2009 and doesn’t seem to be working consistently, although the photos are still there, along with the caption, “Whether in combination with a classic checked blouse or a saucy dirndl top, the lederhosen is in no way inferior to the dirndl when it comes to versatility. Of course, she is also perfect for the partner look with matching man in traditional costume.” (“Ob in Kombination mit klassischer Karobluse, kessem Dirndl-Oberteil – die Lederhosn steht dem Dirndl in Sachen Vielseitigkeit in nichts nach. Perfekt geeignet ist sie natürlich auch für den Partnerlook mit passendem Mann in Tracht.”) In case you, too, want to check otu the photos, here they are:

Furthermore, the page on Octoberfest fashion (Wiesnmode) includes the section “Burschen (und Madln) in Lederhosn”. Two of the women from the previous gallery made it into this “best of” collection.

But in Germany, as in the U.S., men in women’s clothing tends to be seen as intensely abnormal. Does that say more about society’s view of men (who are more constrained in their gender role than women) or women (whose traditional role is so objectively undesirable that it seems ridiculous that anyone would want to explore it willingly)?

7 October 2013

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How to move your cat to Germany

What’s the very first thing you research, when you just begin to think that maybe, just maybe, the prospect of that job overseas might be more than just a wish and a sigh of “Wouldn’t it be nice if that were an option?” What’s the deal breaker, the thing you absolutely need to check from the beginning, lest the whole idea be unworkable? Is it something about immigration laws, costs of living, or language requirements? Is it, “Can I bring my spouse?” Or do you figure that your spouse is clever enough to work things out for himself, that languages can be learned or relearned, that bureaucracies can be navigated and budgets can be worked out, and instead start with that most fundamental of all inquiries: “Can I bring my cat?”

In the case of moving from the United States to Germany in the summer of 2012, the answer was, “Yes, and it’s not even as difficult as you probably thought.”

germancatXerion mentally tallies the number of bratwursts she will require to forgive the indignity of being outfitted with an alpine hat while living in northeastern Germany.

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