Friday, August 31, 2007

Irish Eyes, Part II

On Sunday evening the German and I made it back to Germany in one piece. We had a really lovely time in Ireland, but four days was definitely too short. We were very lucky because my friends told me that this year Ireland has had their worst summer in memory, but it did not rain the entire time we were there.

Last Thursday we took the train into the city center and walked around Dublin. I believe that the key to traveling with a spouse with very different interests from yours, is to force your spouse to only go to one place a day. Thus, each person gets to see at least one thing that they find interesting. The German wanted to go to the Guinness Museum and I wanted to go to Christ Church. Actually I wanted to go to Dublin Castle but Christ Church was on the way to the brewery. Afterwards we walked to Grafton Street and looked at all the things that we cannot afford and then we met our friends in Temple Bar for a drink. Although I drank water the entire weekend, my Irish friends insisted that I drink Guinness because it is loaded with iron and good for the baby. Despite their very persuasive arguments, I passed.

On Friday we were both a little tired from our 5 hour hike through the city, so we stayed close to the house. My friend had mentioned that there was a shopping center only a 20 minute walk from the house. We decided to try it out. At 10:30am we set out, and as we left, I swear I heard scary music playing in the background, which foreshadowed the problems to come.

When we got to the end of the neighborhood, the German looked at me expectantly.

Claire: Okay, so she said take a right and then a left. Hmm. Or was it a left and then a right? Umm. Let's go this way.

The German had no idea, so he followed my lead. And we walked. And walked. And walked. 30 minutes later there was no sign of the shopping center in sight. We saw an older man walking towards us. We asked him for directions. He told us to keep going straight and to then turn left.

So we walked. And walked. After 5 minutes we realized that the older man had not told us WHERE to turn left. The fools that we are, we kept going straight. Eventually we came across an older woman. She gave us more specific directions (like we had missed the left turn) and reassured us that it was only a 20 minute walk. I had heard that somewhere else before.

We got to the shopping center at 12:15. Because I was starving, the first thing we did was eat. It was a nice little center and we even found a Borders bookstore with a Starbucks. At 3:00 I was beat and wanted to go home.

Claire: No walking! We will take the bus. I saw that it goes to the train station just around the corner from the house.

Finding the bus stop was easy. Unfortunately there were no maps, bus schedules or anything of the sort listed. How do people know what bus to get on? We were about to learn the hard way that the bus system in Ireland is terrible and only those native to the island seem to understand how it works. I decided to just ask the first driver I saw.

Claire: Excuse me, does this bus go to Clonsilla Station?

Driver: Clonsilla?

Claire: Yes.

Driver: Sure. That will be 3.80.

I only had a 10 Euro bill and 3 Euro in coin, which did not make the driver happy.

Driver: Let me think. Nope that is 2.80.

I dropped in the 3 Euro and to my amazement received no change. He printed out a receipt with the tickets and for the change. My friends told me later that you have to go to the bus station office in the city center to get your change. Who actually does this?? I am sure that they make a killing off of the tourists.

We got on the bus and went to the top. After we passed Clonsilla STREET and the driver started to head for the highway, I started to worry. After we passed the Dublin city limits and I saw a sign for the city center, I knew we were in trouble. In no time at all (actually it took almost an hour) we were in downtown Dublin, which is no where near where we wanted to go.

The German suggested that we stay on the bus. "Eventually he will drive back around to Consilla." But I had seen the traffic already backing up. It was 4pm and everyone was trying to get out of the city. I saw the Tara Street Station and yelled, "We are getting off!"

We got off the bus and ran to the train station. I knew that the train would be much faster than the slow bus in getting us back to our starting point. What I had forgotten, was that the train would be even more crowded than the bus. We were packed in like sardines and had to endure the stuffy conditions the entire way home.

After the uncomfortable ride and another short walk, we FINALLY made it back to the house. It was 5:20pm. I was exhausted. My friend came out of the living room as we walked into the house. "How was your day?" he asked in a tone a bit too happy for my mood.

Claire: Ugh.

I headed upstairs and took a nap, hoping that sleep would erase the memory of our 4 hour (round trip) adventure. Fortunately, the rest of our trip did not involve public transportation and was uneventful; until we got to the airport,which is when we discovered how Ryan Air makes its money.

At the counter we only hand one piece of luggage to check in. It was 7 kilos overweight.

Check-in Tyrant: You can take out 7 kilo or you will have to pay 56 Euro.

Claire: What am I supposed to do with 7 kilo of stuff?

Check-in Tyrant: I don't know. Put it in your hand luggage.

Claire: We don't have any.

Check-in Tyrant: Well, then you will have to pay. I cannot check you in if you do not pay.

Claire: They did not charge us in Bremen.

Check-Tyrant: Well, this is Dublin. (She said in a very matter of fact, self-satisfied tone, as if this suddenly explained everything.)

When we got back to Germany were happy and tired and so excited to see a working, logical public transportation system.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Irish Eyes Are Smiling

Today I am making a very special post from . . . Dublin, Ireland! In an attempt not to be the boring married couple that some of our friends accuse us of being, the German and I jetted off to Dublin yesterday. Also, the flight was really cheap.

Ryan Air , the Irish discount airline, now flies directly from Bremen to Dublin. Our tickets cost us 80 Euro per person round trip; a deal that we just could not pass up, even if it is Ryan Air. I have heard horror stories about them, but our experience yesterday was positive. I was worried that we would get to the airport late and have to pay a penalty, but we arrived to find the computers had crashed. All of the check-in agents had to prepare the boarding passes by hand. I felt pretty bad for them. The seats were definitly small, but the trip was only 1 hour 30 minutes, so I could live with that.

I have been to Ireland before, but this is the first trip for the German. By the time we went to bed last night, he proclaimed that the Irish accent is the best thing he has ever heard, even if the people talk so fast that sometimes he does not understand them. Frankly, I sometimes have difficulty myself.

I am very excited to be seeing my Irish friends again and at all of the English speaking possibilites over the next few days. Unfortunately it is a bit cool, overcast, with a chance of rain. However, we are from northern Germany and can handle it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Babies, and Bottles, and Booties, oh my!

I have not written that much about my pregnancy on the blog, because . . . well, there is not much to say. At this point (week 16) there is not much to do but wait. I guess all-in-all that makes mine a typical pregnancy.

Last week I did outgrow almost all of my clothes. I have one pair of jeans and two pair of linen pants that I can actually still button. The rest I use a rubber band to keep closed. I outgrew all of my blouses and button down shirts about two months ago. I live in pull overs and polo shirts now. Because of this sorry state, I decided to go have a peak at maternity clothes. And what I discovered, was not pretty (both literally and figuratively).

First, I went into a shop that had kids clothes but I had often seen some maternity clothes in the windows. I found some rather nice looking pregnancy slacks. "These might be perfect for work," I thought. And then I saw the 89.99 Euro price tag and left them right where I found them. Second, I went over to H&M, which what my only friend with a baby recommended to me. I found a few cute tops and some more jeans. At only 29.99, I was more in the mood to buy. I picked up a pair in my normal size (42: hey sizes are different here!) and went to try them on. I could not even get them over my thighs. I got so depressed that I put them back and walked out of the store with nothing.

I would like to point out that at 4 months, I have only gained 10 pounds, which my doctor says is just fine. In fact, I have gained it all in my stomach and my chest (which is now huge; I am afraid of what is going to happen when the milk comes in). The German actually thinks that I have lost weight in my face, neck and arms. So riddle me this, Batman. Do pregnancy pants exist in a different universe where size means nothing?

I have also started to read extensively about pregnancy and childbirth. It freaks me out a bit. If I don't eat my vegetables one day, I panic that my child will have a neurological disorder. If I drink a cup of coffee, I am afraid that the kid will have ADD. After reading that sleeping on your back puts pressure on your circulation including your aorta (holy crap!), I did not sleep a wink.

The German is very good about calming me down and we both agree that if I continue to worry, then we might as well set up the therapy fund for the kid right now. Although, most of our money will be going to other things for the kid in the next few months. Because, what people don't tell you - kids are freakin' expensive! And I am not just talking about pregnancy pants.

Out of curiosity, the German and I went into "Baby World" the other day. Choices, choices. There are cribs and bassinets, strollers and car seats, play-pens and swings, changing tables and wardrobes. I saw a really nice stroller: 450 Euro. Yup, I will always pick out the most expensive thing in the store. Babies have start up costs equivalent to those of starting a company. Actually I think the start up costs for my company were lower. However, we are going to bite the bullet and get what we need (and I want). I was a hand-me down kid, and so out of principle I only want shiny, new things for my child. Don't worry, I am sure that will go away after the first 1000 Euro is gone.

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PS I have registered a car before in the States. So, I do know what it involves. For those wondering, we actually DID have proof of insurance when we went to the DMV. It just was not the specific proof that they wanted to see. What we SHOULD have done was call our insurance agent when we moved. We got the damn Doppelkarte in the mail today and with it a list of stuff that you need to register your car. We are headed to the DMV tomorrow.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bureaucracy and Other Four Letter Words

Did you know that the first person to define a bureaucracy was the German sociologist Max Weber? In Wirtschaft and Gesellschaft (1922), he defines exactly what a bureaucracy is and its impact on society and politics. Since then, Germans have perfected the art of bureaucracy and people like me have been complaining about it.

Although the German and I wanted to do as little as possible this week, we did have to get moving yesterday and today. When two work-oholics get married, they often have little time for the small, but important tasks that need to get done. These tasks often involve a German "Behoerde" and bureaucracy, which I always dread. However, it was all no longer to be avoided.

The first item on our list was my visa. Although I got my passport a month ago and I started the process to get my new visa, I had not yet gotten the final "okay." There were still a few pieces of paper work that needed to be brought in. Yesterday morning we made our way over to the county immigration office.


In order to get my permanent visa, the German and I had to sign a document that we are not involved in a "Scheinehe" (fictiousious marriage). We also had to produce proof of our income. This is to insure that I will not become a "Sozialhilfeempfanger" (welfare recipient). We also had to prove the size of our house and our monthly mortgage payment in order to determine if we can actually pay for it (all of this goes back to Germany not wanting to give me welfare). I have a lot of experience at the immigration office. I came armed with all of my papers.

Immigration Officer (IO): I need to see proof of income.

Claire: He is a teacher, a "Beamte" (civil servant). Here is his last pay stub. I am self-employed and own my own business. Here is the financial report on my business, which my tax consultant prepared, as well as a table breaking down the rest of my income from last year.


The IO looked it over. His eyes widened a bit. The German said later that the IO was probably shocked that a teacher earns more than he does.

IO: Um. Great. Now I need some proof about your living situation.

Claire: Yes, I was not sure what you wanted. So I just brought everything.

THUMP! I dropped my big "House" binder on the table. The IO's eyes widened once again. I flipped through the binder a bit.

Claire: I could give you a copy of the house plans so that you can see how big it is.


IO: Um. No, that is not necessary. But I need to see how much you pay per month on the house.


I am sure that the IO thought he had me with that one; I know that the German did. But never underestimate a man's ability to underestimate an anal woman's filing system.


The German: Oh, I think the credit / mortgage contract is at home.


Claire: No it isn't. [I flipped from the "plans" section of the binder to the "mortgage" section of the binder. I pulled out a copy of our mortgage contract.] Here you go. I believe the information you need is on page 6.


I gave the IO my best smile. Everything was in order. There was nothing else that he could possibly need. He asked us to sit in the hall. Five minutes later he called us back in. He had printed out my new visa and put it in my passport. I knew that it would be relatively painless because I am pretty well organized. Also I know the key to getting through German bureaucracy: simply bring all of the papers you have.


However, I had gotten smug too quickly. Our next step was to get our cars registered. Since we moved to Wildeshausen in February, we have not registered our cars in our new county. This is probably slightly illegal. But on the other hand, we simply have not had the time to do it. Thursday afternoon we walked downstairs from the immigration office to the DMV.


German: Do you have the "Fahrzeugbrief?"


Claire: Fahrzeugbrief? What's is that? I brought copies of the insurance certificate, the car registration card, the inspection report and the payment stub for this year's taxes. That is all I have in our files. What is a Fahrzeugbrief?

German: Oh, its the longer version of the registration. It is probably at home. We can drive quickly and pick them up.

Claire: Um. If you say so, but I know those files, and I am not sure its in there.

We drove back home and the German looked through my filing system. He did find the one for his car, but not for Smarty. I knew that he wouldn't as I had never seen the thing before. At this point the German panicked a bit.

German: Oh, yeah! I think it is at my parent's house.

Claire: [in a bit of disbelief] At your parent's house? 45 minutes away? You are with holding things from the filing system?!?

Thursday afternoon we drove to his parent's house to pick-up the Fahrzeugbrief. This was not so bad, as we had a nice time chatting with my mother-in-law and wound up going out to dinner with her.

This morning we went to the DMV for the second time. I got a number for the line and the German filled out the paper work. We only had to wait about 5 minutes and then we were in. We sat in front of the woman and she looked over our papers.

DMV Worker: [with a bit of a scolding look] You don't have the "Doppelkarte" (double card).

German: [a bit confused] Doppelkarte?

DMV Worker: [sighing] Yes. The Doppelkarte is a small postcard size card that you get from your insurance company when you move to a different county, which has your new address on it.

German: But is our insurance certificate not enough?

DMV Worker: Afraid not. But I am sure that there is an office for your insurance company in Wildeshausen. Why don't you go get one and come back. Oh, and don't forget. We close at noon today.

I swear, if looks could kill, that woman would be dead right now. The German and I were pretty sure that there is no office for our insurance company in Wildeshausen. We went into town to the place the DMW worker mentioned. It was a different insurance company. We went into the tourist info office and sure enough - the closest insurance office was in Bremen, 30 to 40 minutes away.

By this time it was 11:00. We drove home in silence; mostly because I was fuming. I found the entire episode utterly ridiculous. We called our insurance agent when we got home. They are sending us the card per post today. Hopefully we will get it Monday and can go back to the DMV again . . . for the third time. Let's hope that the third time is a charm.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Dirty Little Secrets

I joined a new blog circle: Expat Women. You will notice the icon in pink on the right side of my sidebar. For any woman contemplating a move to a different country, it is full of tips and information. It also has some great stories and features by other expat women. I saw a “confessions” section. It inspired me to write this.

_________________

I have a confession to make. It is not pretty. It is not uncommon, but it is most definitely NOT something that people talk about. I live away from my home country because my husband wants to live in his. Most of the expat women that I know in this country are here for the same reason. Either we fell in love with a German or we followed our husbands for work reasons. We are “love immigrants .” And although we come out of love . . . we are not always happy about it.

This is my confession. In the life of every expat who immigrates for love, a little resentment will occur. You may love your partner deeply, but there are often times (whether because of homesickness or culture shock) when you will look at your spouse and wonder, “What the hell am I doing here?” The better version is, “I left my country for you. What have you done for me?”

Webster’s defines resentment as, “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.” For me resentment usually occurs during the holiday season. Why does he get to spend time with his family and I don’t have any time with mine? Sure, my family is slightly crazy and dysfunctional, but they are loveable nonetheless.

I firmly believe that these feelings are normal. In fact they often pass quickly, but there are some important things to keep in mind, so that this natural feeling does not become a major problem.

First, it is important to acknowledge the feelings and talk about them when you have them. Do not wait until later when you are feeling particularly down in the dumps. You may say something hurtful in the heat of an argument. Also, your partner is there for you. If you talk about it, they may help you work through your feelings. (This is part of my two rules of marriage: always fight fair and communicate.) As you talk about it, you may begin to realize how these feelings are really just part of something else; something else which can be fixed.

Second, feelings of resentment occur often because we do not see this foreign place as our “home.” Therefore, it is important to carve out a life of your own when you move to a new place. Find girlfriends. See them often. Go to an English speaking movie. Join a Stammtisch. It is okay to do things away from your partner. It will help you make your life in the foreign place more “yours” and not just “his.”

Finally, remember the love that brought you to this new place. When times are really tough for me, I try to picture what my life would be like without my German. As the years pass, it becomes more difficult to imagine. He is a part of me now; for better or worse. And that means excepting him and all of his German-ness.

I am no expert. There are just some thoughts I had based on my experience. If you have these feelings and they increase in occurrence and persist, then you should talk to someone about. Also, know that you are not alone. We all have our dirty little secrets.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

You're My Obsession

R&R agrees with me. Over the past two days I have managed to do absolutely nothing productive. My day involves moving from my laptop to the sofa to the washing machine (okay, so that part is semi-productive) to the dining room to the bed. I have slept about 20 hours and read MANY blogs. I have also caught up on my favorite new show: Das Perfekte Dinner (The Perfect Dinner).

This show has a very simple premise. Every week 5 people from one city are chosen (they do apply beforehand, so they are not random people off the street). Every evening one of the 5 must cook dinner (appetizer, main course, dessert). At the end of the meal the other four contestants rate the meal on a scale of 0 to 10. At the end of the week, the individual who scored the most points wins 1500 Euros.

I have no idea why I am addicted to this show. Perhaps it is because I get new recipe ideas from watching. Perhaps because it is hilarious to see how some pompous idiot falls flat on his face. Either way, I enjoy it so much that I would like to apply to be on the show. However, the German has given me a very firm "NO" on that.

There is only one thing that bothers me. How do you define "the perfect dinner?" It is amazing some of the reasons that some people deduct points from each other. For example, one person thought that the table decoration was too much. Another person complained that, "Although the food was very good and I am full, it was not a complicated menu to prepare."

Does that mean that the perfect dinner has to be complicated? Last night that was not the case. A perfume maker tried to incorporate as many "scents" into his menu as possible. The result was overwhelming for many of the guests and he only received at total of 29 out of 40 points.

For me the perfect dinner involves a warm host (or hostess), lots of good food, and good conversation. I hate small portions and it does not have to be complicated menu. In fact, where I am from in the South, it would be considered pretentious to make something too complicated and terribly rude to not offer someone seconds.

After discussing this with the German, I realized that the perfect dinner may not always be the same thing in every culture. In fact in some cultures, "less is more" might be perfect; or perhaps even "over the top is better."

Although I will not apply to be on the show, I have created my "perfect dinner menu." It is called "Southern Hospitality."

Appetizer: Shrimp and Grits with Hush Puppies

Main Course: Pulled Pork BBQ with Cole Slaw and Baked Beans

Dessert: Peach Cobbler with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

I am very curious about this. Please post comments. I want to know, what is your idea of the "perfect dinner?" Do you think that the definition of the perfect dinner is the same across countries?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

3rd Annual Ex-Pat Blogger Meet Up

J has been busy organizing the next Ex-pat Blogger Meet Up. The "where" has been chosen: Dresden. However, the "when" is still up for grabs. If you are interested, click here and let him know your preferences.

I have never made it to the meet up because I usually teach on Saturdays. This year we are going to the States for fall break, but perhaps enough people will vote for Nov. 17, and I can actually go this time.

Even though I have never been, I have met many of the participants, and they are all lovely people . . . even the German agrees. So, make your voice heard! Vote Now!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Dancing on the Ceiling

So on Saturday my 30th birthday came and went. And you know what . . . it feels like 29. I am not sure why turning 30 freaked me out so much. But I firmly believe that in life, we just have to get used to things. The past two days I keep pestering the German to ask me how old I am.

Claire: Come on! Ask me!

German: [sighing] Fine. How old are you!

Claire: I am 30!

We did not dance on the ceiling at the party but we did have a good time. I allowed myself a glass of sparkling wine, which upset my tummy. I think it was the acid and not the alcohol that did it. I was gleefully happy because two blogger buddies made it, Mausi and J. Besides a lovely wellness basket, they gave me the best birthday present - the opportunity to speak English for about 24 hours.

The German and I spent yesterday cleaning up and today I am happy to say that I am taking two weeks off for some much needed R&R. I still have some work to do, but a lot can be done at home and I will only go into the office twice.

The last two weeks of the kids course were difficult. The kids were okay, but my energy levels sunk with each passing day. By the last Friday, I thought I was going to pass out. Everyone kept telling me that it is "good practice." Yeah . . . right . . . I will never have 10 kids, so I hope I do not need anymore of that kind of practice.

I had my 15th week check up with the doctor today. I found out that my iron was low, which may be contributing to my fatigue. So it is onto the iron pills I go. He did an ultrasound today and we clearly saw our little one. There were definitely hands and legs and a big head and a strong heart and spine. It was actually very touching. The baby started moving its arms during the procedure. I cannot decide if it was waving or trying to suck its thumb. We want to know the sex but there was nothing to see. "Maybe next time," the doctor said.

I have been a bit slack on my blogging the past two weeks and I am really looking forward to catching up on reading, commenting and posting. Thanks to everyone for their birthday wishes. It means a lot to me. Bis dann!