Nudity

So it appears to me that nudity is a, “thing,” here.  Jesus, I’m no Puritanical old man, but it’s kind of odd to me.  Granted, the fact of the matter is, I grew up in the US.  The only place you can see naked women in the States are in Strip Clubs, movies, and the privacy of your own computer, with the door locked in case someone comes in.  But I just think it’s weird.

Today I was picking up some groceries from Rewe, a grocery store at the bottom of the department store in Anger, and on my way back to the tram stop, I saw a man in a wheelchair.  The fact he was in a wheelchair is mostly unimportant, except for the fact that on his wheels, there were pictures of naked women, sprawled out with their legs open, breasts bared for all to see.  I mean…  What?

The point I’m trying to make is that Hedonism isn’t  in my blood.  It’s not my style, and the arguments against Hedonism are what I was HOPING being a philosophy major would help me learn.  No, instead I just learn about the Cartesian Circle, an argument SO BAD, that there’s a name for it.  We’re all products are environments to a certain extent.  Well, shit, I don’t like public nudity, and sex is actually important to me, so it’s really weird walking around and seeing tits everywhere.  Well, at least I won’t end up like Nietzsche, going insane from the syphilis I contracted from all of the mindless sex.

Next story: the spring carnival they hold here was up for about 2 or 3 weeks.  I went twice: once when my ex was visiting me in April, and then again when my friend Wesley visited me.  The carnival is now long gone, but the thing is, there was this bakery shop in the carnival that was poorly ripping off “The Little Mermaid” with Poseidon and his trident, and then just like… 6 naked mermaids with their breasts out for all to see, just chilling on a sign, at a carnival, to celebrate spring, mostly populated by 9 year olds.

It’s just weird to me.  I know I can’t rationalize it, and I know I can’t explain it, but Jesus, Germans are pretty damn open about nudity and I’m not loving it.

But what can you do?  I mean, seriously, is it just that Americans are prudes?  Are we the sexual pariahs that I feel we are?  We cling onto these outdated tacits of Puritanical thinking because it’s who we feel like we should be, but we evidently aren’t getting with the rest of the world?  IS there a reason to be concerned with public nudity, as it is so widely espoused in Germany?  I would like to say yes, but I can’t tell you why.  It’s just how I feel.

Socrates once argued that all pleasure can’t be good, by citing the fact that by scratching sores and boils when you’re sick may feel transiently good, but ultimately causes you harm.  Now, that’s a terrible argument if you ask me, but since it was Plato who wrote all of the Socratesian dialogues, I’m not surprised.  Plato was a God damn moron.  The Republic?  Really?  Why are we discussing that shit more than 2,000 years into the future?  But I digress.  The heart of the argument is true: all pleasure can’t be good if it ultimately causes us pain.  It’s about moderation of pleasures, at least I think that’s the case.

Jesus, this topic leads into a whole different array of conversations that need to be discussed for it to make sense.  Morality, for instance: does it exist, to what extent is it relevant, is there an intrinsic good as Kant was so fond of saying there is…  There’s a lot of stuff to consider.  And I guess just BEING here is making me really think about all of that.  It’s making me consider if nudity, or sex, or self-indulgence of any sort, is really a, “sin,” and I mean that far more in a moral, or spiritual sense, as opposed to a religious one.  Because if there are naked girls on billboards on the regular here, maybe the problem is me.

P.S.  I’m going on a date on Friday!  I met a German girl.  Her name is Annette.  I hate first dates…  It’s always so awkward, and I never know what to say…  But, I thought it fitting to end a post on hedonism, and nudity, with the hedonism and nudity I hope to experience in due time.  Until next time, my friends.

Classes

So I’ve decided that this is a pretty good time to talk about something that I feel like a lot of people are curious about before they study abroad: classes.  What are they like, and how different they are from classes in the States.

Well, I can tell you right now, classes here are pretty much amazing.  Not for the educational quality per se, but just from my short time here I can tell: studying abroad is a student’s dream, ESPECIALLY if you don’t want to do much work.

Allow me to elaborate.  I guess my point isn’t that classes here are easy.  I’m taking two 6 LP classes on 17th Century Poetry and a seminar on Edith Wharton.  It’s a lot of reading, and I have to do a 30 minute presentation and write a MINIMUM of 4,500 word essay at the end of the semester to get the equivalent of 3 credit points back at UMW.  But there’s a pretty substantial silver lining.

For instance, grades don’t matter.  Let me rephrase: grades aren’t as IMPORTANT.  See, as long as I get the equivalent of a C, which I believe is a 3 in the German grading scale, I get the credits for my classes, and it does not affect my GPA in the slightest.  Now, I’m not trying to brag, but I have a 3.86 and I worked damn hard for those grades.  I’ve gotten ONE B+ since I’ve been to college, and the rest have been A’s and A-‘s.  Plus, I’m graduating early, as a double major in English and Philosophy.  I guess my point being, needing to get a C just to get credits for a class that have no bearing on my GPA, is like a dream come true.

Additionally, I’m American.  There’s no real importance of that outside of the fact that 3 of my 5 classes are taught in English, to people whose first language was NOT English.  I’m a God damn pro at English.  I HAVE BEEN MY WHOLE LIFE.  It’s my area of study, for Christ’s sake.  I’m not saying I’m a better student than ANYONE here.  I’m just saying…  The fact I literally think in the language I’m having classes in definitely puts me at a slight advantage to even the most adept German speaker of English.

For instance, I’m taking a class called “Introduction to English Phonetics and Phonology.”  Now, I got the class approved, and I will be getting credit for it.  For those of you not privy to the “standard dialects” of English, if you will, there are two.  There’s Received Pronunciation, the dialect spoken by the United Kingdom and taught in Europe, and General American.  NOW I DON’T MEAN TO BRAG, but I have a pretty damn standard General American accent.  Plus, I took a class on Phonology last semester.  I’m getting elective credits for this class just because I needed to take at least 12 credits and 24 LPs to be a student here.  And Professor Lorenz says he doesn’t care which dialect we use, General American, or Received Pronunciation.  I’m a big of a leg ahead of the other people here.

There are two really weird things that I’ve noticed about classes here.  First, that there are variants of credits (LPs) you can get for a given class.  For instance, in my 17th Century Poetry class, you can take it for 3 LPs, or 6.  The literal difference between the two is is you take the 3 LP option, you don’t have to do the 4,500 word paper at the end of the semester.  But regardless, you’re in the same class as everyone else.  So if Steve is taking a 3 LP class, he’ll be in the same class at Brian who is taking the class for 6 LPs.  Granted, that’s my laymen’s understanding of the system, but to me it’s mindblowing.  You can literally chose to do less work if you want to…

The next thing that I thought was really weird was just how the class timing works.  All classes are scheduled in two hour intervals, once a week.  But…  You only have an hour and thirty minutes of class.  For instance, I have a German class at 8 AM on Monday mornings.  I don’t have to BE there until 8:15, since the class doesn’t start until then, and I leave at 9:45, before the class is technically over.  I get why they do it: so everyone can get from the class that they’re in, to their next class, but I feel like it just makes more sense to be like, “Hey, classes are from x:15 until y:45.”  Because this is where it gets confusing: your professor can tell you that class starts at the hour on the dot.  My Phonetics Professor, for instance, wants to start class at 14 Uhr on the dot.  Not 14:15, 14.  So you then have to really plan out who wants you where, and when.  You can simplify this process a whole lot, but evidently some kids need 30 minutes to get from one class to another on a campus that is SOMEHOW smaller than UMW’s campus.  We get 10 minutes, and we do just fine getting from Jepson to Combs.

Like I mentioned, classes are once a week.  It’s kind of nice not having to go to class all that often.  I knew that coming into it, but I guess I’m just surprised that I only have 1 class every day of the week.  It’s kind of nice, but kind of boring at the same time.  I am taking the bare minimum of classes to get 24 LPs and 12 credits, but I feel like a lot of other people aren’t.  As such, I have a lot of spare time because I’m not doing much.  Since my freshman year, I’ve only taken 16 credits or 18 credits per semester, and the only reason I took 16 my freshman year is because the damn science requirement forced me to take a Biology class called Phage Hunters that was 4 credits due to the lab, and you can’t take more than 18 credits without paying extra.  This is a breeze compared to back home.

So far, I like my teachers, save one.  My German professor.  Now, I didn’t LOVE my prep course professor, but she was nice, and I did learn some stuff.  But this woman…  I have two classes with her and I literally can’t understand a damn word she says.  And she REFUSES to speak in English.  Like, everyone in class is probably BETTER at English than German, and if no one is getting it, why not just explain what it is in English?  But no, that’s not kosher for her.  The thing I dislike most about her is what I mentioned earlier: I cannot understand her AT ALL.  I hear that people that speak Standard German look down on Bavarians, who have a funky accent evidently.  And THEN, that Bavarians and people that speak Standard German LAUGH at Austrians, because they’ve evidently screwed up the German language so much that it’s laughable.  This woman speaks worse German than an Austrian.  It’s awful.  She’s no Professor Rotter, I can tell you THAT much.

My 17th Century Poetry professor is really nice, although a little timid.  And the thing I find so interesting, is that his job is literally deciphering English and American literature, so he must be good at English, but every two seconds he says, “Um…”  It never fails.  It’s as though he’s actually thinking about what to say as he’s thinking it, while being a professor of English literature.  My Edith Wharton professor is really cool, though.  She worked in the banking industry or some crap before she became a professor, and her English is top notch.  The other thing I like about that class is the fact that a class on Edith Wharton doesn’t really attract too many male students.  There’s a huge stigma nowadays about men not wanting to read female authors.  It’s why J.K. Rowling abbreviated her name: because she didn’t want men to not read Harry Potter.  As such, I’m the SINGLE MAN in a class of 15 women.  Nice…  Very nice indeed.  Plus, I’ve started “House of Mirth” and it’s pretty good so far.  It’s always nice to like the literature of the class you’re in.

My last class is my Phonetics class which I’ve mentioned.  The thing I find really interesting about my professor is that I didn’t even realize he was German until someone told me he was.  He has such a strong Received Pronunciation accent, that I literally thought he was British.  It makes sense.  I mean, his job is teaching Germans how to speak English in a British way, so it all checks out.  But still, it was really cool.

An important thing to note here, is that Germans are pretty damn serious about attendance.  In 3 of my 5 classes, I’ve been told that if I miss more than 2 classes for WHATEVER reason, I automatically get a 5, which is an F.  That is insane to me, since while participation and attendance are important in the States, unless you miss EVERY SINGLE class, there’s no way you’re going to fail based on attendance alone.  That, I think is a good thing.  Even if I don’t always LOVE having to get up and go to class, it makes sure that if I am going to skip class, I’ll have to plan it out and have a good reason.

The final thing I will say is that Germany needs to get its shit together with the whole “class registration,” thing.  First, you have to sign up for classes, which is hard enough since they release classes you can register for in spurts, and classes fill up REALLY quickly since every student is allowed to register for classes as they come out, when they come out.  In other words, it doesn’t matter if you have 120 credits, or 0, you register for the same classes when they are posted.  Next, after you sign up for classes, if you miss the first class, you probably won’t get in, since the professor has a huge say in who gets in and who doesn’t, and if you pick up the class a few days after it was, he may just say, “Sorry, you didn’t come to the first day, so you can’t get in.”  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The website here that you use to actually register for your classes, is mindbogglingly difficult to navigate.  My dad is a computer technician.  And I can tell you right now, even HE would have some trouble signing up for classes here.  But back to what I was saying, the final cherry on top of the disaster that is German class registration, is the fact that even though you’ve registered, even though you’ve been to classes for about a month, even though it’s obvious you want to take the classes you signed up for, some time into the semester, you have to do what is called, “Booking.”  That means that you have to go online and say you’re taking the classes you’ve already said you were taking when you registered, print out a form, and have not only your academic advisor sign it, but the International Office (presumably just for International students) and then turn it in to some bureaucratic office in the main hall.  Just…  Why?  Why make it this difficult?

All of this aside, I have enjoyed classes here.  I feel as though this University gets a bad rap because its relatively new compared to the older, and more prestigious Universities in Germany, but hey, so does UMW.  And I love the fact I decided to go to UMW.  Erfurt has a good school system, and I feel like all of my professors love what they do, and know a lot about what they’re teaching…  Even if I can’t understand a word of what one of them says.  I think one of the things I’ve learned being here is that unless you’re going to Princeton, or Harvard, all you’re paying for is a name.  How much you learn, and what you do with your college education is up to you.  People don’t  become professors out of necessity.  They do it because they love it, and they love teaching.  You can get a good education anywhere.  You just have to try.

Experiential Learning

You know, my understanding of the whole “experiential learning requirement” is that it’s supposed to be about learning about life in some way.  You can get it from doing an internship.  You can doing it from studying abroad.  You take the experience you learn from doing something in the, “real world,” and apply it to your life in some way that you couldn’t see from just going to class.  But I kind of think the whole institution is a joke.  We’re all going to learn about the world in our own time.  There’s no reason to require us to take some stupid class, or work for some asshole, or go to some random country, just to get it done.

I think my girlfriend is going to dump me.  And I must be honest, the terms of this blog requirement are rather vague.  I have to talk about whatever I experience here.  Well, I’m experiencing that the girl I’ve been dating since before she left for Ireland is about 2 weeks from leaving Ireland, and wants to leave me.  We made it over the gap.  We both made it to Europe, and were happy until last week.  And I didn’t do anything wrong.  She’s just found time for everyone else other than me.  What else can that mean?

Experiential learning…  That’s a little redundant, isn’t it?  Isn’t ALL learning experiential?  I mean unless you’re still deluded enough to believe that “rationalism” is the real, functioning, way that the human brain works, you’ll realize all learning is empirical.  So why make it required?  Tabula Rasa.  I mean Jesus, John Locke figured it out about almost 400 years ago, why are people still contriving to find it otherwise?  And it’s not even though he was the first to think of the human mind that way.

The liberal arts education is a joke.  Why did I even go to UMW?  Well, because it was either Rutgers University, or TCNJ, both of which were essentially high school round 2, and I really wasn’t about that life.  Plus, I hate meeting people.  I really do.  I find it absolutely abhorrent.  That’s what I’ve hated most being here.  I got into both Rutger’s and TCNJ, by the way.

They say a liberal arts education prepares you for life.  I think that’s false.  I think most people would agree that’s false.  What prepares you for life, is life.  Not learning about how Amoeba reproduce, or about how Hegel was far more of a deist than a Christian, despite what many older interpretations may consider him, or how Stephen Crane was a naturalist, not a realist, a slight, but important distinction.

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

-Stephen Crane

I’ve always been an absurdist.  Albert Camus started the tradition, in case you didn’t know.  It’s the belief that ultimately, life is absurd, in that any attempts for human knowledge to attempt to make sense of it will ultimately fail, since we do not have the capacity to understand life on a fundamental level.  If there is a point to life, we’ll never know for sure, so why care?  That’s what I believe.  And I’m proud, that even if I’m wrong, I promise you right here and now, that I didn’t even look up that definition as I wrote it.  Even if I’m wrong, that’s what I believe.  But I digress.  As Camus said, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”  The rock drops from all our hands at some point.  I’d imagine Stephen Crane would find that philosophy rather enticing, even if he didn’t believe it entirely.  Naturalism is hardly a stones throw from absurdism.  One’s more of a nihilism, and one’s a sort of existentialism.  All that really differs is the meaning to life.  I guess that’s a big one, though.

Bob died recently.  He was my friend.  A good friend.  I won’t pretend we were the best of friends, but he always was able to make me happy, and I always looked forward to his company.  That’s a rare quality, in anyone, really.  And I say that sincerely.  I feel like people say stuff like that because someone’s dead and they feel they should, but Bob really was one of the best men I knew.  He was smart.  I was in One Note with him.  It’s funny, I remember Ian once called him, “The Sage of One Note.”  He was nice.  I never ever was angry at him.  Everyone knows how easily they’re offended.  To never offend me, someone that’s easier to offend than a damn bear, is a damn accomplishment.  I’m sad he’s gone.  I was supposed to live in his apartment next year, after he graduated in the spring.  I don’t want to anymore.  I’m not a superstitious man, but I don’t want to live in a place where your friend has died.  Everyone lost a lot when Bob passed.  He was one of the few people that truly deserved to be remembered, even if he didn’t DO anything to be remembered by.  He was just a kind soul that made everyone happy.  That has always been a rare quality.

I’ve been watching Game of Thrones lately.  As such, I feel as though I’ve gained a bit of a penchant for being dramatic.  But this is what experiential learning means to me: it means going to a country to learn a language you don’t speak, to have your girlfriend dump you, and your friend die, and come back alive, and eventually find the courage to be happy just the same.

I’m past the point of “culture shock.”  I know I’m not unhappy because of GERMANY.  But my life has gone to Hell in a hand basket since I’ve been here.  Well, Jesus.  This is a BLOG about LIFE.  Professor Rotter, if you truly find my post offensive, I will deter from doing anything like this in the future.  All you need do is let me know.  But I haven’t been this unhappy since my grandmother died my Junior year.  Granted, I’m a kid of no small privilege.  But still.

So I ask you: what is the point of an experiential learning requirement if you don’t talk about your EXPERIENCES?  And forgive me, I’m hardly being sarcastic at you, but more the whole institution.  This has been on my mind the past few days.  It’s been eating away at me.  I have to say something.  I hope you understand.

My friend told me this once: everyone is the center of their own Universe.  Ain’t it the truth, though?

 

Money

It has been a while.  I’ve been out and about getting to know people, seeing things, and just overall getting acclimated.  But one of the things I didn’t realize was how damn expensive it is here.  You pay more money for less food.  I recently went to a Bavarian style restaurant and I had to pay 16 Euro for my dish.  It was just some Schnitzel and fries, but still, that’s roughly a 22 dollar meal, and I can tell you right now, I wasn’t exactly full.

And travel isn’t exactly cheap, either.  I can take the Greyhound from NJ to Fredericksburg and back for a round trip ticket of about $60.  That’s a five hour bus ride.  But here, the two and a half hour train ride just to get to Erfurt from Frankfurt was 56 Euro.  And that was one way…  The only saving grace of transportation here is that we have free access to the trams, but that came at the cost of around 195 Euro for our semester contribution.  If schooling is free here in Germany, then why am I required to pay that much for a piece of paper with my name on it saying I’m studying at the University?  I’m not saying it’s unfair, it’s just counter intuitive almost.

It’s hard to make friends unless you’re spending money, too.  You have to go out and meet people at pubs and things of the sort.  So far that hasn’t been too many, “let’s just hang out in each others rooms” hangouts yet.  Maybe that’ll change with time.  For my financial stability, I certainly hope that it does.

At this rate, I’ll bankrupt my parents in a matter of weeks.  It’s so strange that everything at UMW is covered in tuition and housing costs.  You get a meal plan and you get to eat so many meals and even though the food isn’t great, at least you won’t get hungry.  You pay for your apartment for the semester that you are going to be there.  Here, you pay everything at a monthly rate, and it’s rather inconvenient, to say the least.  All of this clerical stuff isn’t exactly fun.  80 Euro per month for German health insurance.  200 Euro a month for my apartment.  You have to pay for your “semester contribution” just to have a student ID.  I just feel like there is a better way to get all of this stuff done as opposed to make a million little appointments on a monthly basis.

Because at least if you pay for all of this stuff at once, in a huge lump sum of money, it may be a lot, but you don’t have to worry about it for later.  Your finances are what it costs for you to do whatever it is that you want other than eat, or live in your apartment.  I will say, even if I hate it, I do appreciate how actually living on your own is now.

I have to plan out everything.  I should have been the entire time, but I just recently took a look at my bank statement, and it is not a very large number.  And I guess in a way, that’s a good thing.  It’s teaching me responsibility.  But I can’t say I enjoy having to estimate my monthly costs on Schnitzel and ground beef alone.  It’s quite a bore having to see if I have enough money to buy another beer, or what have you.  It’s definitely not fun having to take out 200 Euro once a month and give it to someone just so you can live in your apartment.  It’s rather sad.  Well, maybe sad isn’t the right word.  But I don’t know the right word.

 

Capitalism in Germany

Now, right off the bat, I want to make it clear that this post will be for the most part void of any subjective statements about Capitalism, but more an observation of how it manifests itself here in Germany.  But here’s the thing…  MORE STORES NEED TO BE OPEN ON SUNDAY IN THIS COUNTRY.  It was ridiculous, I went to Anger hoping to peruse some stores and maybe make some purchases for things that I needed in my apartment, and next to nothing was open!  I mean Jesus, most of Germany identifies as Atheist, so why is it they adhere so strictly to Blue laws and traditions?  Maybe I’m just from suburban New Jersey, where the earliest most things close on Sunday is 9 PM, but still.

And it’s not even that stores aren’t open on Sunday, it’s that they close SO EARLY EVERY OTHER DAY OF THE WEEK.  I went to Anger literally yesterday to get some groceries and by the time I got there it was 8:02 and they were closing the grocery stores in the basement of the mall.  Most stores are open on SUNDAY in the US longer than stores in Germany on weekdays.  It’s just so strange to me not having such an available access to what I want, when I want it.

But additionally, the only things that ARE open late tend to be American companies.  Burger King is a pretty consistent theme here, but for instance, whenever I walk around late at night through Anger, Burger King is the place that is ALWAYS open.  An American company is the one that defies all traditions, be it closing at 8, or closing on Sundays.  I just looked it up right now, and the Burger King in Anger is open from 10AM-2AM on Sundays.  That’s an infinitely many percent increase in time availability on Sundays compared to just about every single other store in the immediate area, since they literally do not open at all on Sundays.

Another thing I have found particularly noteworthy here just by looking around is the rather aggressively disdainful atmosphere that this city/University has towards Capitalism itself, which is so strange considering I grew up being taught in school to arbitrarily hate anything inspired by Karl Marx.  For instance, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen signs that essentially amount to saying, “DOWN WITH CAPITALISM,” since I’ve been here.  I think one of my favorites so far has been the fact that there is a quote on a short stone wall right in front of die Mensa and Cafe “?” that says, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Capitalism is like a beauty that kills itself from gluttony” with a picture of Marilyn Monroe between  the, “kills,” and the, “itself.”  I don’t know if that’s just a small percentage of rather radical students, remnants from the time when the DDR was still a country, or just a regular part of life here.

What is strangest to me is the fact that this attitude is so pervasive.  In the States, yes, you have left leaning Democrats, and even outright Communists and Socialists.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it would never get to the point where people go around the city making graffiti, talking about how we need to finish what Marx started, and overthrow the Capitalist Fat Cats.  In fact, if you did that in the States, you would probably never be able to have a career as a politician, since everyone in the US is so terrified of any sort of political or economic system that isn’t full blown, free market, Capitalism.  The humor, of course, is that we don’t even have free markets.  That’s the first thing I learned in Macroeconomics: even America, the bastion of free markets, freedoms, and free people, does not have even remotely close to truly free markets.

I will say this though: for all of the differences between American business practices and German business practices, almost ALL of the workers I met here have been not only happier, but nicer than most people that I see at work in the States, save that angry little man with the phone…  It’s as though people are somehow…  Happy to be working.  I swear to God, even the few times I’ve had to get fast food when I’m here, you’ll find young adults, up to older people, smiling behind the counter, saying, “Wie kann ich Ihnen helfen?” as though they don’t mind that they’re literally flipping burgers for a living at minimum wage (admittedly, it’s probably a LOT better than minimum wage in the States), doing the same thing, day in and day out.  It’s actually astounding.  And I don’t know what to attribute that to.  Maybe it is the shorter work days.  Maybe it is the higher wages allotted to them by law.  All I know is that if I ever need a job before I get a full fledged career, I want it to be in Germany.

I work in the food service industry back home.  I work at the restaurant chain called, “Ruby Tuesday” and I do pretty much everything except cook and serve there.  I host.  I bus tables.  I run food.  I expo, which I would explain, but it’s not at all relevant.  I can tell you some stories about flat out RUDE people that seem to think that just because they’re going out to a restaurant, they’re entitled to treat everyone at the restaurant as their own personal slaves.  People are jerks.  And everyone I work with hates working at Ruby Tuesday, because the food service industry is awful.  And when I host, 99% of the time, my job doesn’t involve showing people to their tables, or helping out the servers, or anything like that.  It’s just listening to the rest of the restaurant staff complain about how much they HATE their job, and how they want to quit, but for monetary reasons, or (for the students) their parents are making them work, they can’t.  And it shows in the way they approach tables, and how they talk to their customers, and how willing they are to react to every whim that their customers may have.  But I just get the impression that that cannot happen here, and I know how naive that sounds, but for the love of God, if a 20 year old girl can give me a burger with a smile, and with a laugh, even try to help me pronounce the words to my order better since she can tell I’m  American (the German word for “pickles” is something I will never be able to remember, nor pronounce correctly), then there’s just something fundamentally different.  I don’t know the cause, but it’s just mind blowing.

This is what I’ve learned: if I ever have a mid life crisis and want to kill myself from the monotony of my job, all I need to do is move to Germany, and apply for a job at Burger King.

First Impressions

Well I made it.  And let me be clear, I made it like…  a week and a half about at this point.  I’ve mostly been trying to get used to the whole “Being in Germany,” thing that I really didn’t take the time to keep up, or even make, a blog.  So for all intents and purposes, it would appear that I have some making up to do.  But fear not: I shall stride forward as though nothing was the matter.

To begin, my time here has been not easy.  And not easy in the way that I didn’t really expect it to be difficult.  As I arrived at Frankfurt Airport, it took me more time than I feel it should to navigate to the train station, and seeing as I was too proud (nervous/embarrassed) to ask for any help, it took me longer it probably needed to, to get there.  From there, I managed to get my ticket to Erfurt and due to a reading error most likely due to sleep deprivation (at that point I’d probably been up for 20 hours), I didn’t realize the train that I needed to get on was literally in the station for 7 minutes and a minute away from leaving.  I snuck on the train to avoid further embarrassment, and made my way to my destination.  Staying awake on the train was difficult because I hadn’t slept in so long, but due to an ultimate fear of missing the stop for the Erfurt Central Station, I forced myself to stay up for the two and a half hour ride to Erfurt.  And a last stitch effort to inspire confidence in my abilities, I even re-read Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” for the fiftieth time (let’s ignore how he calls travel a “Fool’s Paradise,” for now).  I got off at my stop after being terrified for 15 minutes prior to my arrival that I had been right all along in not getting onto the train originally, only to find my tutor had not arrived at our designated meeting area.  So I waited.  I waited for about 45 minutes, and just as I was about to say, “Screw this,” and leave, there Marius arrives.

Marius is a nice guy.  Nice enough, but we don’t sincerely connect.  But he really does try.  He took me to my dorm, and seeing as we hadn’t gotten the pillow, sheets, comforter, etc., that I had put down I was going to pay for, we went on this grand journey from there to Michael Friedrich, to Frau Linder (Who was taking the day off), to the head janitor in the basement who ultimately wasn’t there, to calling the  janitor on the emergency number he provided and having him, quite begrudgingly, come to my room in about 45 minutes with the sheets and such.

The next day, Marius and I did a lot of other errands.  The first major thing I’m surprised by is how God awful I didn’t realize I am at German.  And that’s not to say I don’t think I’ll get better, and that’s not to say that I didn’t have a wonderful teacher, because I did (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).  It’s just to say that I was a student of an American University’s class of German for merely a year, and that’s nowhere NEAR enough experience to actually understand what the Hell is going on around you.  I mean seriously, even that only means I have been studying German on and off for about 8-9 months in a year, only 2 1/2 hours of every week, give or take another hour or two for homework.  It’s just not enough to really be prepared for what you experience when you first arrive.  When we got my phone that day, I remember we had to go back 1986315 times because first we couldn’t make any calls/text, then the internet wouldn’t turn on, then the internet that had been turned on wasn’t the internet for my phone itself, but the ability to just connect to the internet.  And the last time we went, we did not manage to catch the sweet, young woman that we had the first million times we visited.  Instead we got a very curt, angry, little man, that spoke a million miles a minute, and clearly had no desire to help us, or do anything at all, really.  And in that moment it hit me: I’d be so completely and entirely lost if Marius wasn’t here holding my hand, getting all of this done for me.

Because I guess that’s what I feel like a lot of people studying in Germany sort of assume.  We think that everyone speaks English, and even if you can’t speak German, it’s cool, because they’re dying to learn English.  I’ve heard from other friends abroad that that’s the case in a lot of foreign countries, and one of the main reasons that they didn’t actually learn the language of the country they visited.  Everyone just wanted to talk to them in English.  But as the man threw my phone back at me and said something that I could tell meant, “Change the phone’s settings to German,” I immediately knew this man did not speak a word of English, or perhaps, more to the point, had no desire to help out some stupid American fix his phone troubles.

So that’s the main thing I realized.  And you know, it was really terrifying before I came, and even more depressing once I got here and found myself unable to understand a good portion of what happened in the conversations going on around me.  I was afraid I would never learn German or be decent at it, and I was overwhelmed at how ill-equipped I was.  And I think that was the biggest thing that hurt.  It really wasn’t that I couldn’t, because I had that idea going in that it would be difficult.  It was just HOW difficult it really was going to be going forward.

But since then, things have looked up.  I’m in the same Deutschkurs as my fellow American, Anneka, which is nice because we’re always there to fall back on each other when the anxiety of meeting lots of new people becomes too mentally exhausting.  The Deutschkurs, while not particularly difficult, is challenging in that it’s really helping solidify foundational German language concepts that we have had to spend not as much time on in class back in the States, due to time constraints.  For instance, I can honestly tell you right now that I FINALLY get when to use, “bei,” and when to use, “zu,” and when to use, “in,” or any other preposition of those annoyingly exception ridden two way prepositions.  Our professor is certainly no Herr Rotter, aber Frau Völz is a nice professor and even if her stalwart refusal to speak English may be make it difficult to understand what’s going on at all times, which is all the more confusing since everyone in the class save one Italian is much better at English than they are at German, she still is imparting useful and important information.  I plan to finish the class, and then take a few more German courses during the semester proper to make sure I’m consistently speaking German while I’m here.

Anyways, I shall close with this: I don’t really know how this is supposed to go.  Like, I don’t know what I’m really supposed to talk about, how often I need to write (clearly, as evinced by this being my first post since I’ve been here), or how much I need to write.  But I’ll do my best to write two more times this week to make up for the time I haven’t written while here, and I’ll do my best to write about something that I genuinely find interesting, or worthwhile to write about to make sure I’m not just writing down thought fragments and passing it off as an entry.  It’s been difficult settling in.  But I think I’ve finally made it to the comfortable stage.  We’ll see.

Tschüss!

Jordan William Reece