Thursday, June 21, 2012

School's Out for Summer!

       Since February, I have been enrolled in a 4 day a week intensive German class.  Since I had a few years of German in high school and a few years in college (although they were long ago) I was placed in level B 2/1, which isn't absolute beginner but isn't exactly advanced.  Why they use this combination of letters, numbers, and fractions to denote the class level, I have no idea. 
       I took the class at the Volkshochschule, which is the nearest thing the Germans have to a community college.  The class tuition itself was a Christmas gift from my parents.  The class met every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 4:15 pm to 7:30 pm and was fun but incredibly draining.
       Truth be told, I don't think I really got much out of it.  Certainly not considering how much time it took.  The class isn't really geared toward people like me who have had some college level German and who have been in the country a few months and could (if wanted) comfortably live in an English speaking bubble.  The class really more geared toward people who have been in Germany for several years, function and work in the German speaking world daily, and who have been picking up German from a number of sources.  Many of them are married to Germans or have children enrolled in German schools.  While I would have preferred a standard text book with vocabulary lists and grammar exercises I could go over at home, the actual text book we used mostly featured pictures that were designed to stimulate conversion with classmates and the instructor.  It's not really a book you could learn at home from.
       We had to beg the instructor for a few basic grammar charts and rules on a sheet of paper.  We never had a vocabulary list, and we never really had any homework that took more than 10 minutes to complete.  I don't feel like I got much out of it, truth be told - but maybe I got more out of it than I think.
       Yesterday night was our last class, and we all brought food from our home countries and had a party.  I brought home baked chocolate chip cookies and homemade orange cream bars, which I thought was above and beyond of me.  But I was WAY way way off.  The woman from Colombia brought a beautiful punch bowl full of sangria she spent all day making.  A young man from the Middle East brought bell peppers stuffed with meat and rice - I don't even know how he did that while keeping the peppers intact.  The two women from China and the Philippines brought fried rice, tofu, Chinese vegetables, and homemade spring rolls.  The Nigerian woman brought chicken and a bundt cake.  An older man from the Mediterranean region brought an entire feast of felafel, hummus, salad, taziki, the list goes on and on.  Somebody put on a CD, and everybody danced and ate and chatted and had a great time.
       Much to my surprise, I found myself very sad that the class was finished.  It was such an interesting way to meet people from all over the world - people I never would have met any other way.  Sure, there were some assholes in the class - there always are.  But most of the people were just so sweet.  There were two Africans in the class, although they were form different countries and don't share a mother tongue.  One is a mid-30's mother of three and the other a teenage boy here in Germany by himself to play soccer for the local team, the rest of his family being refugees in Scandinavia.  Well, it didn't take long before the mid-30's mother of three had adopted the young soccer player as well.  She braided his hair, had him over for meals, fussed at him when he didn't wear a thick enough jacket - and he always insisted on helping her carry her bags to her car.  The Chinese woman always came early so that she could help the teenage girl (also a refugee) with her math homework before class.  There was the very sweet German teacher herself, who said that we all have her email address and if we ever need help preparing a job application to send it to her to double check first, she would be happy to look it over if we wanted her to.
       The class was, overall, an incredibly positive experience, and I think I'll take the same level again in the fall.  I'll take a different instructor who uses a different text book, but it'll be good to review the material again.  A few of the other young women in the class and I exchanged phone numbers.  The Colombian woman and I plan to meet for tea sometime soon, and stumble through it in our lousy German.  This makes me very happy, as she when she sees me, she comes up and kisses me on both cheeks.  I always wanted a friend who kisses me on both cheeks.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I Pretend to be Bill Cunningham

      With the exception of the style on view at various art gallery openings (which I have mentioned in other posts) the fashion in my German city tends to be about as outlandish as that of Topeka or St. Louis.  There are many beautiful women, to be sure, but they tend to be dressed up for work at the office, or dressed up for work at the bakery, or dressed up in their casual mom clothes.  There are plenty of nice department stores and boutiques, but this is hardly a fashion capital, and muted colors are all the muted rage.
       So, when I do see a real fashionista out and about, I try to take a photograph of her with my cell phone.  I was waiting for the subway, when I saw this woman and her absolutely amazing orange shoes.  Are they not the most fantastic shoes you have ever seen?  Don't get me wrong, I know they probably are painful enough to be a way of making witches confess in the fifteenth-century - but seriously!  They just look fantastic.
        My mind was blown once again, when I saw this amazing older lady outside the ballet.  (I whited out her eyes to be polite)  I didn't get a great picture, my phone camera is kind of crappy - but isn't this woman outstanding?  She has a black and white toile-de-joy jacket with hot pink pumps, a hot pink purse, and a giant hot pink flower pin.  She was a work of art!  The huge hair helps too. 
       I also get sad when I see horrible, idiotically expensive dresses in store windows.  Let me show you this one.  Look at this ridiculous thing.  It is some sort of horrible fabric with an awful pastoral scene, just in case you wanted to look like a really ugly landscape painting.  The worst part is how the sleeves are actually longer than the dress.  This looks like something that somebody who didn't quite make it to the final 3 on American Idol would wear to go to a beach party and be found in the next morning, having died in a lawn chair of a cocaine overdose.  And it was $149 Euros - about $190 in USD.  I kid you not.  Almost $200 to be able to be dragged to rehab in a polyester mural of a meadow.  You would would have some serious nose-wiping sleeves, though, if it came to that.
      Nevertheless, I think that monstrosity might not be as absolutely awful as this horrible white dress I saw.  It has a deep V neck that's so deep and that the V goes all the way to the navel.  Who ever thought that was a good idea?  Fine - Jennifer Lopez wore that style once a decade ago, and it was all exciting, and everybody took her picture, and that's grand and all - but this is a wedding dress.  In a wedding dress shop window.  Who would wear that?  Is that something you wear to the church in front of your grandmother?  What is the market of people who want to show their navels on their wedding day, live in smaller German cities, and are in the market for a dress that costs more than most people's rent?  Is that more than .003% of a person? 
       As the great street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham says, "He who seeks beauty, will find it."  I agree, Bill, but as I say, "She who seeks ridiculously overpriced hideous dresses in store windows will blog about them."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Right Hand Rings - AHHHHHHHHHHHH

     There are many things that Americans and Germans do differently, and most of them are really six of one / half a dozen of the other, type situations.  One of them is what hand people wear their wedding rings on.  Traditionally, Americans wear their wedding rings on their left hands, but Germans, traditionally, wear wedding rings on their right hands.  It's soooooo not a big deal. 
     I know an American woman who wears her wedding ring on her right hand because she doesn't have a left hand.  I know a German woman who wears her wedding ring on her left hand because it was messing up her tennis serve on the right hand.  I have another friend who wears no wedding ring at all because she's a hospital social worker, and she's in and out of patient rooms all day and night, washing her hands 45 thousand times, and she thought better to just wear no ring.  It's all ok, everybody still loves everybody else.
     But this topic of conversation came up between some Americans and some Germans last week, and one young American woman explained that a diamond ring on a American woman's right hand is a power symbol, one that denotes that she is independent (financially and socially) and that she wants to treat herself. 
     Forgive me, but Crap on Cheese - that right hand ring hogwash is nothing of the kind! 
     There was no such thing as a Right Hand Ring until 2003, when DeBeers decided it wanted to find a new way to sell diamond rings to single women.  It, and very successfully I might add, came up with the concept of the Right Hand Ring with the advertising slogan: 

Your left hand lives for love. Your right hand lives for the moment, your left hand declares your commitment. Your right hand is a declaration of independence.

 Are you serious?!!!  I remember thinking at the time, cynical college student that I was, that nobody would fall for that shit.  Little did I know that within a few years, one of my friends would say to me, "You know, I think I might buy myself a right hand ring.  I really like the message that it sends."
      Ok - the message that it sends is not, "I am an independent woman!"  The message is, "I am such an idiot, I let a corporate advertising slogan convince me that buying its products would declare my independence!" 
      Yes, there are many things that a financially independent woman can do to declare that independence.  She can pay off any debut she might have, buy a house or condo, donate money to a cause she believes in, save for retirement, and, of course, also buy herself something pretty and luxurious - just because she wants it.  But for goodness sake - let's not actually internalize a marketing slogan.