Wednesday, December 29, 2010

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey.”

Sorry it took so long to write this blog but I was in Austria for a little while. Usually there are 2 blogs a week and you all just went one week without a blog post but this one should be pretty good so hopefully it makes up for it.

Before I talk about Österreich (Austria), there were some things worth mentioned that happened back here in good ol' Deutschland. The first being an English test. Okay, a test in English, that shouldn't be too hard for an American exchange student. We basically had to write a 100-150 word essay about the importance of conservation and how to help protect the environment. We had the whole hour to do this. So I started writing my essay and 10 minutes into the class I finished with 150 or so words. So I could either sit there doing nothing or keep on writing. Maybe it was some subconscious need to prove that I am not stupid but I chose to keep writing. So about five minutes before the bell, the teacher makes an announcement. The announcement was to remember the word limit and not to go over. As if it wasn't obvious enough that he was directing it at me, he was staring at me. I finished with over 400 words; whoops. As we were walking out of the class, other kids were like "Michael, I wanted to copy what you wrote but you wrote too much". So I lost points for writing too much and I am now that overachieving nerd. As if I needed another reason to hate English.

Now we move onto GMK. We had to go into groups and make an island. We could make it however we wanted but we had to make laws and all that stuff. What was the first law that my group came up with? No school or work, and alright I'll go for that one. What was the second law? No
Ausländer (foreigners). Awkward, I am a foreigner. So I was like "wait a minute you guys I am a foreigner." Then came an awkward pause followed by "no you're an American, you don't count". That was an interesting class.

On to Austria. I really liked Austria. It was very old world and cozy. The word
Gemütlichkeit describes the Alpine nation well. Unfortunately there is no English equivalent of the word. Wikipedia does a pretty good job of describing it.


"
Gemütlichkeit is a German abstract noun that has been adopted into English. Its closest equivalent is the word "coziness"; however, rather than merely describing a place that is compact, well-heated and nicely furnished (a cozy room, a cozy flat), Gemütlichkeit connotes the notion of belonging, social acceptance, cheerfulness, the absence of anything hectic and the opportunity to spend quality time."

There are three "C" words that I think describe Austria well and they are "cozy", "conservative" and "Catholic". People seem to think that Austria and Germany are the same thing but there is the difference right there. I wouldn't use any of those three words to describe Germany. Germany is not conservative, it's not overly Catholic (a lot of people are Catholic but it's not obviously everywhere like in Austria) and Germany is not all that cozy.

The whole reason we went to Austria was to take the annual ski trip to Sölden. Sölden is a little village tucked in at the base of the Alps. It has some great ski resorts. 10,000 foot high slopes, perfect snow/conditions and warm cable cars instead of chair lifts; it's basically a skier's paradise. I can't really describe how beautiful Austria is. You will just have to see the pictures instead. Being surrounded by 10,000 foot snow covered mountains, in the quaint little villages and eating Specknödelsuppe and Wiener Schnitzel is truly amazing.
Specknödelsuppe is bacon dumpling soup and is really good. Wiener Schnitzel is like thin cut, breaded pork chop. They are also really good. Seeing as we were in Austria, it's only right that we watch The Sound of Music and it just so happens that my aunt sent it to me for Christmas. So we all crowded around the laptop and watched it. Even the lady we were staying with (who doesn't speak English) watched part of it. She knew the story behind the movie (apparently it was based on a true story) but she didn't know there was a movie about it.

The people of Austria speak German but it is a very different form of German. I would compare it to American English and British English. British English is a completely different accent but also has some of it's own words. Austrian German has some of it's own words but also is more choppy and rhythmic than German German is.

A High German sentence has a rhythm like this.
___
Λ_____Λ_____.

An Austrian German sentence has rhythm like this.
l_l___l_l____l__l_l_.

I hope you guys understood the whole rhythm thing. It is hard to explain.

On to the skiing aspect of the trip. The first few days were very foggy/cloudy. You could barely see 20 feet in front of you. When skiing, it is not usually a good thing to not be able to see. You can't tell if you are about to ski off a cliff, if someone is in front of you or if you are about to take out the occasional mountain goat or yeti. It was still fun though. Some of the slopes were a little difficult though. They were narrow and had a wall of sharp rocks on one side and 50 foot cliff on the other side; either way, I wasn't liking my options there. As we were going up the mountain (they take you up in enclosed gondolas instead of the traditional chair lift) I was thinking "ok this is not so high, I can still see the ground". Too bad those were the clouds not the ground. I did fairly well though. I haven't skied in almost 2 years but I did better than I thought I would. After the first few days of getting back into it, I could keep up with them. Also I only got lost once and then I called them and quickly got un-lost. At the beginning of the week I saw how almost everyone was skiing without a helmet and thought they were crazy. By the last day, I threw off the reins and skied without my helmet.

The whole week people were giving me strange looks. Not rude looks but more like "ok he is calling them mom and dad so they must be his parents but they speak perfect German and he makes mistakes and has an accent". It was kind of fun to confuse everyone. One thing I liked about Austria was that the people didn't insist on speaking English to me. Most of the time in Germany, when I go to restaurants or to any stores and the people here my accent, they automatically switch into English but the people in Austria didn't.

As if I needed to be reminded that my English is getting significantly worse, there was a man from the USA who asked me to take a picture of him. Two people from the USA should speak English right? Wrong, not when of them for some strange reason keeps responding in German. Then when my brain finally kicked in and I switched over to English I spoke with the strangest accent. Wait a minute Michael, you are from the USA, English is your first language; you are not supposed to have an accent. But then I redeemed myself by speaking normal and correct English with some people from Boston on the lift.

At home the word verrückt (crazy) was literally the most used word in our family. Every time someone screwed up or did something funny (mostly Oma), everyone else chimed in with a "du bist so
verrückt." I used that word so much at home and I am not sure if it is ok to use here (it has kind of a disrespectful undertone to it) so I am very cautious with it here. The only time I use it here is when I am talking to the cat (yes talking to the cat, I am the crazy one). I miss using it everyday.

In Austria, we had this bread called "jogging bread". Of course in German it is pronounced "choking brot". The lady asked me if I wanted some choking bread and I just gave her this look like "ummm was?". It was actually really good bread though.

Here is a little insight for all of the future exchange students reading this blog. Everyone says that Christmas the hardest part of the whole year. I didn't find it all that bad. The holidays are always challenging and I figured that Christmas would be the hardest. Maybe it was the fact that I was in Austria but it was not bad at all. I wasn't all that homesick at all.

On a closing note. Dogs in Germany have it so much better than dogs in the USA do. They are allowed on public transportation and in restaurants. They just walk onto the buses/trains with their owners like they are normal people. I still wonder what happens they have to go to the bathroom or mark their territory. Also the owners of restaurants bring their dogs into the restaurants and they just chill under the tables and sleep and eat scraps. Also a lot stores leave out bowls of water for dogs that walk by. Also some restaurants allow you to bring your own dog in. You just tie him to the table and eat your meal. I can't imagine taking Flash into a nice restaurant. He would destroy the place.

I guess that's all for this one. We are going away again this week but I am taking my laptop again so you can expect another blog post in the near future. Gesundes Neues Jahr an Alle.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge."

I am not writing a real blog post today. I don't have the energy nor stories to write a good one.


I do however have a little challenge for all of you. I found some online quizzes to test your knowlege on Germany. Before you take the quizzes, you may want to read the Wikipedia article on Germany. A lot of the answers are in the article.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germany


The quizzes go from easiest to hardest. There are a good number of quizzes but each one is about 10 questions and takes like 5 minutes. The links will take you to the website and you have to choose whether to take the quiz in HTML format or flash. The flash version is better but only works on some computers. You have to have the flash program downloaded. Most new computers do have it though. If yours doesn't work then just take with the HTML version, they are the same quiz.

For the beginners...

Germany and it’s Neighbors

Play Quiz: Germany and Its Neighbors now!


Level 1

Notable Cities

Play Quiz: Notable Cities in Germany now!


A little bit harder

Germany Essentials

Play Quiz: Germany - Essentials now!


Still harder but every answer starts with a b if that helps.

German b

Play Quiz: German Bs now!


For you Deutschland fans...

Germany Essentials 2

Play Quiz: Germany - Essentials II now!


And for those readers feeling especially knowledgable about Deutschland...

Travelling through Germany

Play Quiz: Travelling Through Germany now!

Good Luck! My scores were

Germany and it's neighbors- 100%

Notable Cities- 9/10

Germany Essentials- 12/15

German B- 8/10

Germany Essentials 2- 7/10

Travelling through Germany- 6/10


Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Never let life's hardships disturb you ... no one can avoid problems, not even saints or sages."

So usually when trying to decide on a quote for the top of my blog, I open up the document that I have saved and just copy and paste the next on my list. I just pick them because they sound cool and I pick them at random. The quote at the top of this post was unfortunately not picked at random. My host family is going through one the worst hardships of life right now. I came home from school yesterday to find out that my host grandpa (the one who as of recently had been living with us) had died. He was my host mom's father and had been living with us for the past few weeks.

I thought maybe it would be a good idea to say a few things about him. To start off, he was the kind of guy who was always cracking jokes and lightening the mood. To be completely honest, I think being a jokester goes hand and hand with being an elderly German. I have never met a single grouchy one. He didn't treat me like I was a "guest" in the family which I am always cautious about when meeting extended family because they weren't the ones who agreed to host me. One thing I was worried about before I came was what to call the grandparents here. I call my grandparents at home "Oma" and Opa" so I thought that calling my host grandparents "Oma" and "Opa" would be weird. It didn't bother me with mom and dad because I don't call my parents at home Mutter/Mama and Vater/Papa. Needless to say on the first day he moved in, I called him Opa. At first he had a look of confusion but then I think he was very happy that I referred to him as Opa. He was very grandpa-ish, he gave me money before I even met him and gave me huge bars of chocolate. He was a really great guy and I know that he will be missed. The funeral is Saturday and I get to meet the rest of the extended family (they all live up North) but unfortunately this is not exactly the way I would have liked to meet them.

Yesterday the Minister came over to help out and just talk. She said some prayers and did some other things that you would expect the Minister to do but I think it was good that she stayed so long and just chatted and helped out with all the arrangements. She helped deal with all the funeral arrangements and the other things that had to be taken care of which I am guessing was a big help.

So does anyone else remember that post a few weeks ago where I talked about taking that Physics test and did HORRIBLE on. Well unfortunately we got them back today. I did how I thought I did on it. I got one point. One point which wasn't even for answering a question right. It was for spelling my name right. Thank God this didn't really count. Then I came home and at the dinner table my host mom was like "I heard about your Physik test?". Apparently the kids from my class were talking about it in the technology room where my host brother overheard and then came home and shared my embarrassment with the rest of the family. I can't say that I really mind though. Everyone is so nice about it. Everyone is always like "you are still learning German, how can you take a physics test?". So I went from having my 9th grade history teacher tack my test on the board and write "Child Prodigy" under it to being the kid that everyone talks about for having the IQ of roadkill, great. That was a real spirit breaker. In case you're still wondering, I HATE PHYSICS!

I do on the other hand love the German school system more and more all the time. Yesterday I had religion which may very well be my favorite class here. I still don't understand it though. Not that I don't understand the material but I don't understand the class. I think I have heard the word "God" maybe 3 times in the past 3 months and the same goes for "Church". We're still learning about the Holocaust. Yesterday however, she brought in the game "Twister" and we played that for like an hour and a half. I was especially surprised because this is a co-ed class and everyone knows playing Twister with boys and girls is just asking for things to become inappropriate. The teacher even played a round of Twister. I got to play a round and my Twister skills are barely better than my Physics skills but we will leave it at that. Yesterday we also played "activities" which is a game like pictionary (at least I think it is, I have never played Pictionary) and you have to explain an item and the rest of the team guesses what it is. Luckily, the class ended before I had to explain anything.

On to Biology which is always great. Yesterday was the first time since I have been here that I have been in trouble in class. I whispered something to the girl next to me and the teacher was like "and to our American guest, STOP TALKING". Yes she referred to me as "American Guest" so in the rest of this story I will refer to her as "the Cap'n" (she is Captain Seeman from the last post). Sorry Frau but what's fair is fair. So she told me to stop talking and I did. So then our class was acting rambunctious (in Biology, this is not surprising) and she started reciting "the speech". Every student knows what speech I am talking about. The "you guys are such good kids, I don't know why you misbehave like this. This behavior is unacceptable." speech. The same speech that teachers across the globe give but it never seems to actually work. So in the middle of her speech, one girl pulls out a can of axe and starts spraying it in the air; something that the Cap'n has warned repeatedly about. So I snickered a bit (about the axe thing not the speech) but it was silent so it just looked like I was grinning. She was like "Michael stop laughing, this is not a laughing matter." Everyone else was like actually laughing and I was just grinning but alright Cap'n. . We seem to have this whole rivalry thing going on. I still love this class though.

Surprisingly enough Physik today was not completely bad. We watched Mickey Mouse for half of it. Apparently our teacher likes Mickey Mouse. I am clearly not complaining though, the less Physics in my life; the better. We watched the little mini segments with Donald Duck. Let me just say that Donald's voice+German= impossible to understand. Another thing, German Donald Duck has a little bit of a language problem. He was dropping the d-word like it was nobody's business. Nevertheless, it was still funny.

One thing that I really missed from home was Yoplait Yoghurt. I ate it all the time at home and it doesn't exist here. I remember reading at home that the Yoplait company is in France and Kevin lives right on the border with France. So a few weeks ago he bought an entire case of Yoplait Yoghurt in France and brought it here. It was amazing. Unfortunately it is practically gone now. The people who live near the border are France (I think) go to France quite often to get groceries and fill up with gas. It is quite a bit cheaper and thanks to the EU there are no border checks or anything between EU countries.

Also I found out earlier this week that my half-time orientation for CBYX will be held in February in a town on the Rhine. I am excited for that because apparently the land/cities along the Rhine are gorgeous and breathtaking. I can't wait for that. It's in a town called Bad Honnef if anyone wants to look it up on Google Earth.

Germany has turned me into a total movie junkie. At home, the nearest movie theatre was like 35 minutes away and I was to lazy to go to the store to rent them so I never watched movies. I watch so many movies here. DVD's are so cheap here too (only thing in Germany that's cheap). I found a bunch of good movies for 5 Euros. I bought The Hangover, Ein Duke Kommt Selten Allein (Dukes of Hazzard), Selbst ist die Braut (the Proposal) and Marley und Ich (Marley and Me). The next movies I want to buy are Goodbye Lenin and An Kurzeren Ende der Sonnenallee (On the Little end of the Sonnenallee). They are both actual German movies.

I got another question but I only have one to answer this time. The question was "why do you like living in Germany more?"
It's just the way Germany is. There is always something to do, the villages are so great, the food is amazing and the lifestyle is so much more appealing to me. In the little villages everything is closed on Wednesdays and Sundays and for a few hours in the middle of the day. The people always say hi to each other when they see someone in the street (and not just people they know). I also really like that the parents trust their kids. Teenagers get so much more freedom here than they do in the USA. And obviously the German chocolate has nothing to do with this decision.

I got an email yesterday from someone applying for the CBYX scholarship and he said that the CBYX people gave him my blog to read. That's kind of cool that the scholarship people gave out my blog to read. It's great that the number of readers is always going up!

That's all for this one. I'll try to post one more time before 2011 but I don't know if that will happen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt to you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will."

It's been over three days since my last blog post so I figured it's about time for another one.

So in an effort to be more of a world citizen (clearly something I need to work on) I joined a website called Postcrossing. I talked about it before but it's the website where you sign up and it gives you 5 random addresses to send postcards to. Each time you send one, you receive one from another random place. I sent out my five a few weeks ago and this past week I have gotten so many postcards back. I got one from Tokyo, one from Sardegna (Italy), one from Riga (Latvia) and one from Köln (good ol' Deutschland). Admittedly only two of them were from Postcrossing, the ones from Germany and Latvia were from other exchange students. Not only is it always interesting to get mail from complete strangers in other countries but it's even better to get postcards written in complete German and Italian and not need to use a translator because you understand it fine without one.



Also, I found this website with a map of the world and you can show where you have been, have lived and where you want to go. Mine is shown below, the blue countries are the places I have been, the red are places I have lived and the green are places that I plan on going. What better way to tell your (tad bit over-protective) parents that you plan on going to Indonesia, Kenya and Peru. Ok, they are not that over-protective; hence the fact that I am in Germany right now.





This past weekend was very interesting but honestly when are they not? Friday I went into Reutlingen with some friends to go to the Weihnachtsmarkt. We walked around a little bit and then hit the Glühwein stand. So we go up and we order our wine and the lady says "id please". I had mine and the other 16 year old had his but the 15 year olds couldn't buy any wine. I still don't understand the whole id checking system here. They order a litre of beer at a bar and they don't bother checking id but they do for a glass of spiced wine? The joke was on us though because the wine was the foulest drink I have ever had. It was boiled wine, a shot of rum and a tablespoon of cinnamon. I drank like a third of the tiny mug and gave the rest to the other people. Also let me just point out that in the entire three months I have been here, that was the first time that someone asked for my id.

Then of course we went to a bar. They all ordered the same thing and I was like "whatever I'll have the same thing". That was my first mistake. She walks over with 4 huge mugs of beer. Of course it was Pils (this type of beer made with a ton of herbs) and I hate Pils. So great I have a giant mug of beer that I don't even like. Of course I was only one surprised by how much beer she just brought us. Everyone else was just like "eh, Prost!". So we just sat in the bar for like 2 1/2 hours. So we all finished the beer and then everyone was like "eh waitress, another round please!". I didn't drink a second one. The first one was enough. Way to be the killjoy foreigner Michael; story of my life. Don't get me wrong, being sober definitely has it's advantages. You can incite a snowball fight with 3 tipsy friends then watch them stumble around and slip on the ice.

Everyone teases one of the kids about being a farmer (which he's not) and about how much Swabian he speaks. It's just like joking around but it's still funny. Everyone calls him Junior but they pronounce it like an angry Swabian and make it sound like YUN-YUH! It's just like joking between friends. So he threw a snowball and hit something and I was like "eh pass auf YUN-YUH!" and everyone got the biggest kick out of the fact that I called him Junior. It's good to be in on all of the inside jokes.

One of the girls from my class had a party on Saturday. It was her 16th birthday (the age where they can legally drink. Apparently it's some sort of tradition to bring just alcoholic gifts for someone's sixteenth birthday. Unfortunately, I was not let in on that rule. So we all took the same bus and everyone had a bottle of champagne in their pocket; everyone except me. I was boring and just brought money (back to that whole killjoy foreigner thing). She received more alcohol and various drinking games than I can even imagine owning. I still can't used to the fact that parents buy (a lot of) alcohol for their child's party. I can't imagine asking my parents to fill our cooler full of beer for me and friends and then asking them to leave while we drank it. I mean I guess it would be no different than a twenty one year old doing it in the USA. All in all though, it was a really fun party and relatively low on the sketch-ometer.

I don't know what else to write about here but last week was the three month mark of my exchange. It seems like I just wrote about the 2 month mark. This year is seriously flying by. Let me see if I can summarize these past three months. It's not like I have had any major changes in the past 3 months. I have however almost completely changed how I act, think and react to situations. Also my opinion on just about every major controversial debate topic has changed from what it was when I left. I think it is safe to say that all of these changes came from exchange or from listening and learning from the people that it has put me in contact with.

Now for a little bit of honesty. The last few months before I left for Germany were split in half between being excited about going to Germany and regretting my choice to go to Germany. I don't really know why but I often thought "why didn't pick some place warm and friendly like Italy or South America". Obviously I couldn't say anything about regretting it because my parents were looking for any excuse to keep me home. It wasn't that I didn't want to go to Germany but I was thinking like "I don't know the language, the people are apparently cold and school is going to be impossible". Well alright that last one was true. The first thing I thought upon landing in Germany was not "this is amazing or this is finally happening" it was "what did I get myself into". "Did I really volunteer for a year away from home? Can I switch to a semester?" Yeah that was my first thought upon landing in Germany. As of the first three months, I do not now nor have I since regretted my decision to come to Germany. The people are not cold, the language is a work in progress but it's going pretty good and school, well it's school. Staying for a semester is not even in the back of my mind anymore. I had the opportunity to maybe stay for whole summer as well (instead of just until July 8th) and even though I am not, I definitely considered it. If it wasn't for the Thousand Islands I definitely would of stayed.

These three months have been strange. It seems like I have been in Germany for a year already but at the same time it feels like I just said goodbye to my parents yesterday. I remember being at the AFS drop off point saying goodbye to my parents and thinking "Oh for the love of God mother stop crying, it's just one year." Just one year. I knew it would be a year but it didn't sink in how long a year away from home really is. Don't get me wrong, I am glad that I am here and I may even come back here for college or something but I really had no idea what I was getting into. Oh Deutschland, ich hab dich so lieb.

So a couple of people asked me questions about Germany and here are the answers.

"What is the weirdest part of being an exchange student? Not necessarily about being in Germany but about being an exchange student in any country."

Well there is a comedic answer and a legit semi-mushy answer. The comedic answer is that basically for the first few months people carry on conversations without you and you just stand there like a lost puppy because you have no idea what's going on nor can you join in the conversation. That's always weird and never fails to be awkward. The legit answer is watching what's going on at home without you. You see friends going on with their lives and see them hanging out with new people and that is a weird feeling. You see your friends making mistakes and can't really say anything to them about it because you don't talk that often anymore. Also you start to not talk to friends at home as often and that's also a weird feeling.

"What's your favorite thing about Germany"
Well, there is way more than one. Maultaschen, the atmosphere, the people, how school is actually fun sometimes, the bread!, how much trust and freedom most teenagers have and lastly, I really like speaking something other than English in my everyday life.

"What's better Germany or the U.S.A?
I honestly hate this question. You can't even compare. It's like comparing kids, you can't pick a favorite. Well alright you can pick a favorite but you can't tell people which one of them is the favorite. There are things I much prefer in the States and there are things I much prefer in Germany. But I guess I have to answer all the questions you guys send so here's your answer. I would rather live in Germany. Sure I miss the people in the States but if they would come here I would definitely stay in Germany.

"How's the language going"
Es geht. I can for the most part say what I need to say and get my point across. I can't however speak with proper grammar. Vocabulary is not a problem. It is the grammar that I don't understand. The grammar gets easier all the time though. As far as understanding things though, I understand most of what's said to me. Sometimes I even think in German. I can't wait until the stage where you think completely in German and even dream in German.

"How can you not have a Christmas tree? That is so depressing?"
Actually we do have a Christmas tree now. We bought a real tree and decorated it last week. It is now standing in the living room. Christmas has been restored.

"Where is your favorite place you have been in Germany?"
Hands down, Schwarzwald. The Black Forest is amazing. To be more specific the town of Schiltach might be my favorite place. We were only there for a few hours but it was amazing. It was in a little valley and you could only see pine trees for miles. Also, it had that cozy, old German feeling to it.

"You seem to partying quite a bit over there?"
Not really a question but whatever. It's normal here though and it's not like we go out every weekend and get drunk and party. You go out with friends, see a movie, go out to eat. It's just like it is in the USA but just add a stop at the bar to the weekend. Getting drunk here is not normal, having a beer with friends is normal. I may be partying but it's responsible partying and I am not letting my responsibilities fall to the wayside. I see no problem with that.

I guess that's all for this one. Keep sending me questions, I really enjoyed answering them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing"

Let me just start out by telling about the great last few days I have had. Monday I had a German test. It was on the book we had to read, An Kurzeren Ende der Sonnenallee. It was a book about life in the DDR (German Democratic Republic/East Germany). I watched the movie and it was good but I also read most of the book. Knowing the storyline from the movie made it so much easier to understand what was going on in the book. For the test, we had to analyze a portion of the story and talk about the hidden messages, languages and style of the book. Haha yeah right, I can barely comprehend the blatant jump-out-at-you messages let alone write about them in a full out grammatically correct essay. Lucky for me the teacher knew this and she gave me a much easier assignment to do (guess who just became my new favorite teacher). I had to write a letter to my mom and describe Germany to her. It had absolutely nothing to do with the book but whatever I am obviously not complaining. I had a double period of Gym on Tuesday and we started a new lesson; sting pong. Sting pong is basically the contact sport version of ping pong, ie when you fail to hit the ball you have to turn around and everyone on the other team whips the ping pong balls at you (I am just surprised it wasn't Beer Pong). The loser usually ends up with multiple welts on their back. I knew of the game before I came though.Then after school we drove down to the Schwarzwald/ Black Forest, which is my probably my favorite place, and picked up my host Opa who is now living with us. It is good that he is living here now, he speaks slow and speaks real German so it's really easy to understand him.

Speaking of understanding the people here; I have come to love the German accent. Don't be surprised when (yes, when not if) I come home speaking with a German accent. What makes up this wonderful accent? Basically mispronouncing "th", "w", "v" and "r". The "th" is said like "d" but when they really try and say it, it sometime comes out like "ch". The "w" and "v" are just backwards. In German the "w" makes the "v" sound and vise versa. So when they speak English it sounds like "He is wery vise (he is very wise).". I have explained the whole "r" thing before but it sounds like a gutteral "w". I really do like this accent though. The absolute best thing about Germans speaking English is their use of British slang. In school, they learn British English and therefor end up learning rubbish instead of trash and cappy instead of hat. The other day someone used the phrase "bin your gum (spit out your gum)". The only time I have ever heard that was when I was in Ireland. I couldn't help but burst out laughing. Also in English class, our teacher was explaining the difference between British and American English and was like "Brits say tomahto but Americans say tomayto. Americans can't even say tomahto, watch this. Michael say tomahto." "umm, tomahto?" He was absolutely taken aback by the fact that I can say tomahto as well as tomayto.

Wednesday was a pretty good day too. On Wednesdays, I don't have school until 9:40 and that extra hour and a half of sleep is great in the middle of the week. Then I took a religion test and ate a pretzel. Then two more hours of English (favorite day of the school week because I get to sleep in and have a double period of English). After English we walked into Neckartenzlingen and bought lunch. I had a Döner box and it might be better than an actual
Döner. It's a layer of fries covered in Döner meat and sauce. After lunch I had Biologie and even though I hate high school biology, this is my favorite class. To start off the teacher's name is Frau Seemuller but everyone calls her Frau Seeman (it means something like Pirate). Also, she doesn't speak English. During her class, all the guys take whatever she says and turn it into pirate talk to annoy her. When you read the examples, try reading them in a pirate voice, it makes them so much better. She will say something like "ok let's get started" and someone will yell "aargh, we be setting sail then Cap'n Seeman." or "yo ho, anchors away lads we be casting off then" and of course she doesn't understand it but can tell by their pirate accent that they are doing the pirate thing again. She will respond with "ok, that's a yellow card/warning" and they say things like "ay matey, one more of those and ye be walking the plank". This literally goes on all class and I crack up laughing the whole 2 hours. I love this class.

Physik, on the other hand; I hate so much. Physics is the bane of my existence. The teacher doesn't seem to understand that I don't understand the lessons and the type of words that are needed to explain physics are way over my vocabulary. It is definitely getting better though. I spend a lot of the really boring/already known classes teaching my classmates Spanish. For some reason they really want to learn Spanish. It is depessing to see how much Spanish I have lost but it's good to get to use it a little bit.

This weekend should be pretty good. Tomorrow I am going to the Weihnachtsmarkt in Reutlingen with some friends. Hopefully we take the right train this time. A girl from my class is having a birthday party on Saturday and I am going to that.

If you haven't seen the little google translate bar at the top of my blog yet, go up and look at it. You can choose almost (more on that in a minute) any language and have my whole blog translated into that language. It only takes about a minute and can even do other alphabets like Arabic and Hebrew. I was a little disappointed by the fact that Faroese is not a language post. Yes it is a real language and it's on my list of languages that I want to learn (right after Greek). It is the language spoken in the Faroe Islands. That little group of Scandinavian Islands right above Britain that no one knows about. A sample of Faroese is "
Øll menniskju eru fødd fræls og jøvn til virðingar og mannarættindi. Tey hava skil og samvitsku og eiga at fara hvørt um annað í bróðuranda." How can you read that and not want to learn this language.

If you haven't noticed (and I am not sure how it is possible to not notice) I have changed my blog. The whole picture and layout of the blog is different. What do you guys think? Should I keep it like this or change it back?


As if this week couldn't be any better, my friend Kayleigh posted a blog post about me on her blog. It made my day today and I am really glad she did. The post was


"
Day 5. Dedicate a post to someone important to you telling them what you think about them and what you like about them (positive things)

Mike. My Best Friend. My Husband. The “love of my life”. I guess I should start off by saying what I think of you, but lets not be crazy, from my long letters, ridiculous wallposts, and our skype dates and the amount that I annoy you, I’m pretty sure we all know what I think of you. You are my best friend, its funny looking back on my life now and seeing how big of a part of my life you really are. A year ago I didn’t even know you existed and now I can’t imagine my life without you. (Well, that’s technically a lie because Ryan said names of his friends the one day and me and Alyssa sat there looking them up to see if they were cute (she wanted to pick a guy for me haha)…oops I probably shouldn’t have admitted that) But anyways I am supposed to say the things that I like about you, and maybe I give you too much credit but I like everything about you. (crazy I know) Everything from your amazing light green eyes (which I am in love with) to the reallllllllly attractive farmers tan you had over the summer and maybe even the jerkish way you came up from behind me and dunked me in my pool. I like the things that you say, everything ranging from the cute things you say to me all the way to the stupidest things I have ever heard. I like how i can literally tell you everything and you will never judge me but you will laugh at me.(everyone does, its okay) I like how I can trust you almost more than anyone. I also like how we can hold hands (on the way to tops) and I can tell you to let go because I want my hand on the bottom, and you will give me a look like I am crazy but you will do it anyways because I asked you to. :) I love our Putt-Putt skills, and our awkward conversations (that seem to happen to us more than they happen to most people) I love how whenever I am with you I can just be myself. I like your sense of humor and how you can always make me smile no matter what (which causes my mom to yell at me which I still don’t fully understand). I love your personality in general and how in the beginning I tried to act normal so that you wouldn’t think I was weird until I realized you are just as crazy as I am. I like that we are dating because we both wear pants. And I love you hair the way it is now. (just thought I’d throw that in there). I love (and miss) your hugs and your smile. I basically realized that would be ridiculous for me to list EVERYTHING I like about you, because there is wayyy too much and I think you get the point. You mean a lot to me, even though I have only known you a short time. The only complaint I can have is that I don’t like how you cant stay in one place because it kills me to see you go, but I have to let you leave. Just know that Buffalo/ The United States just isn’t the same without you sweetheart."



Before I go, I have a little topic of debate for you guys. I am not sure how many people are familiar with the DREAM act but here is what Wikipedia describes it as

"
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (The "DREAM Act") is a piece of proposed federal legislation in the United States that was first introduced in the United States Senate on August 1, 2001 and most recently re-introduced there and the United States House of Representatives on March 26, 2009. This bill would provide certain illegal and deportable alien students who graduate from US high schools, who are of good moral character, arrived in the U.S. illegally as minors, and have been in the country continuously and illegally for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment, the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency if they complete two years in the military or two years at a four year institution of higher learning. The illegal alien students would obtain temporary residency for a six year period. Within the six year period, a qualified student must have "acquired a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or [have] completed at least 2 years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor's degree or higher degree in the United States," or have "served in the uniformed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, [have] received an honorable discharge." Military enlistment contracts require an eight year commitment, with active duty commitments typically between four and six years, but as low as two years. "Any alien whose permanent resident status is terminated [according to the terms of the Act] shall return to the immigration status the alien had immediately prior to receiving conditional permanent resident status under this Act."

It's a pretty important thing to think about so I thought I would post it on here for people who didn't know about it.

I guess that's all for this one.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

Thursday we went to a chocolate art festival. They had so many different types of chocolate. I had chili-choco-ginger-curry sausage. It was a normal curry sausage but had a sauce made of chocolate sauce, ginger and hot sauce. It was pretty weird but it was actually really good. They also had a bunch of other things like imported African chocolate, chocolate art and chocolate wine/beer. I bought a bunch of chocolate covered strawberries on a stick. It was really good.

I didn't do much on Friday. I had school and then came home and studied for my SAT. We went into Metzingen and did some Christmas shopping. Metzingen is known as the Outlet City because all the major stores have outlets there where you can buy things at a good deal (by good deal I mean the same price we pay in the USA but cheap in Germany). I bought some Christmas gifts and then I bought some clothes. Then I came home, studied and went to bed.

Yesterday was a pretty interesting day. It started off with my SAT which was horrible. It wasn't particularly impossible but a 5 hour test is always horrible. I had to get up at 6 on a Saturday and ride all the way to Stuttgart just to take that stupid test. That evening I went to see
Harry Potter und die Heiligtümer des Todes. I had already seen it but I am glad I went again. I understood so much more the second time. I went with friends from school so I wasn't going to pass up the invite anyway.

The movie was dubbed and I'm guessing most of you have never seen a dubbed film. The first video below is the trailer for new Chronicles of Narnia. The second is the same film trailer dubbed into German.





Then after the movie we met up with some other people that I didn't really know. We ended up going to some bar. The funny thing is the fact that there was a sign that said "No one under 18 permitted". It doesn't really make sense because he let two sixteen year olds and like six fifteen year olds in (the drinking age for some alcohol is 16 and the hard liquor is 18 but bars can decide not to serve alcohol to anyone under 18 if they want). So we are just sitting at this bar for a while. I was staying out later then I normally do so I was trying to prove to my host family that I can handle the extra privileges and still be responsible;that plan completely backfired. So everyone is drinking and like I said earlier I was trying to prove that they could trust me staying out so late so I had one beer and made it last. Everyone else had 3 or 4 and you could tell that they were drinking. Unfortunately someone spilled their beer and some of it ended up on me. So basically even though I didn't drink much, I still came home smelling like I just took a bath in Stuttgarter Hofbrau. The funny thing was that when they tried to order another round of beer, the bartender was like "No, you are clearly underage, 3 is enough". My question is if they are clearly underage why did you serve them the first three? Now there is no point in sitting in a bar if you can't drink so we left. Did we go home? Obviously not, we walked to another bar. Another reason that my plan completely backfired was because some of the other people I was with smoke. So I also came home with my clothes smelling like cigarettes. It gets better. So last time I was with these friends we took the wrong train home (if you didn't read that story go back a few posts, it was a good one). Before I left my host mom was like "make sure you take the right train this time and know what train stops in Bempflingen". So I asked "are you sure this is our train" and everyone was like "oh yeah don't worry about it, we checked on the internet this time". So I get the train and it starts moving. About ten minutes later it drives through Bempflingen and does not stop. So I ask "wasn't that Bempflingen" "nope, that was Metzingen". It was Bempflingen. We took the wrong train, again. This time we ended up in Nurtingen. Keep in mind I said I would be home at 11 and it is now 11:05 and I am stuck in downtown Nurtingen. So someone else's mom came to pick us up. I got home at about 11:30. So how about a little recap?
I came home
1.) 1/2 an hour later than I was supposed to.
2.) smelling like I took a bath in Stuttgarter Hofbrau and then rolled in cigarette ashes.
3.) the legal curfew for people under 16 in Germany is 10 and even though I was allowed to be out later, the others weren't.

Not exactly how I had planned it to go. Luckily my host parents were really understanding about the whole train thing, trust me enough to know I don't smoke and could tell I was way more sober than I smelled. It all worked out in the end and was still fun.

Ok so if you haven't checked the photo site lately, there are plenty of new updates. If you click the "photo page" at the top of the side column it will take you to the home part of my shutterfly page. There you can see pictures from Germany, Spain or Ireland, look at the book of pictures I made and see a map/pictures of the town I live in. You can zoom in and move around and explore Altdorf. Let's see if anyone can find my house. Also I tried to install a "guestbook" on both websites but both said that others had to be members to respond. If you want to send me an email and tell me what you think of this whole thing. Also if you have any questions about Germany or wanted to suggest something to put in my blog, feel free to send me an email and ask. If you don't have my email address, ask one of my family members for it.

That's all for this one.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

There is no ideal Christmas; only the one Christmas you decide to make as a reflection of your values, desires, affections, traditions.

It's already December. For those of you who don't know, that means the best month is finally here. Germans take Christmas-spirit to a whole new level. Beginning the last week in November, Christmas markets begin to pop up in just about every city. It's not December in Germany without Lebkuchen and Glühwein (Gingerbread and hot spiced wine). I already explained it but the Christmas Markets are held in the Marktplatz of the city and local people put up big booths with hand made goods and treats. You can buy anything from roasted chestnuts to hand carved nativity scenes. They are usually packed with people so it is better to go during the day and always avoid the weekends.

Another popular Christmas tradition is to have an advents calender. The little things with a pocket for each day of advent and there is a piece of candy in each pocket. We have two. There is a huge one in the shape of a large wooden Christmas tree, for each day there are two little pouches; one for me and one for
Philipp. The second is a cloth one with pockets for each and Kevin gets the candy from that one. I am not sure if I ever explained who Kevin is. He is a cousin of my host family and he goes to college around here (he lives in Freiberg) and stays here. He stays here for a few weeks at a time and then spends time at home. As far as I can tell, just about every household has an advent calender. One thing that Germany does right is that the radio stations don't play continuous Christmas music before it's even Thanksgiving.

I almost forgot the mini-Christmas celebration. On December 6th is Saint Nicholas Day. The day where you leave your shoes by the door when you go to bed and apparently Saint Nicholas comes in the night with his "book of sins" and
fills the good kids' shoes with candy and the naughty children get twigs.

Advent wreaths are also used here but they are different. At home most of the people use the traditional 3 purple and 1 pink candle system. At our church we have 4 blue ones and silver one in the center for Christmas Day. Here in Germany they are not exactly a wreath. Its more like a collection of branches placed on a silver platter with 4 reddish candles. Each one is lit on a Sunday.

The Christmas tree started in Germany and I guess it changed drastically on it's journey to the USA. First of all, the tree does not go up in November, it goes up on Christmas Eve. The family decorates in on Christmas Eve with a wide
assortment of lights, ornaments and various other things that we don't use such as fruit and nuts. Also using an artificial tree is basically an outrage. Keeping on the topic of Christmas Eve, it is their Christmas day. The major feast, opening gifts from Santa (Weihnachtsman), the family get-togethers and all the other important parts of Christmas all take place on Christmas Eve. From what I gathered from everyone's explanations everyone goes to church on Christmas eve and when the children come home, the presents mysteriously appear under the tree. Also, the children don't have to wait until the next morning to tear into the presents, they get to open them on Christmas Eve.

Here are some of the American traditions that I am gonna miss.

1.) The Christmas lights.
This does not exist in Germany.

2.)The Christmas songs. There will be no Harking the Herald or Decking the Halls this Christmas. No offense Germany but your Christmas songs are a little boring. Don't worry though, I already found all the good ones on youtube/itunes so there will be American carols this Christmas.

3.) The whole Christmas Eve and Christmas Day thing. It is nice to have two days of celebration and get-togethers.

As most of you know by now we are going away for Christmas so there will be no church services, no sitting home with the extended family, no having to wear matching colors to Christmas Eve service (that's directed to you mom) and no Christmas tree. Even without all of that stuff, I am still really looking forward to this Christmas. It is going to be something totally new for me and not just because I am in Germany, not going to Church and not having a tree is also new. I think this Christmas is going to be a really good one!
Seeing as there is no Christmas tree this year there is mine. All set up and decorated just like in the USA.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"And thank you for a house full of people I love. Amen."

If you couldn't tell from the title, this is going to be one of those sappy you don't know how good you got it posts. But don't worry, it will make a complete 180 and end with how great I currently have it.

Everyone knows how lucky they are to have a good family. Before exchange I knew I had a great family. They always put us first, no matter what (and I am not just talking about my parents). They allow me to go to a nice private school, they let me go to Europe three times in one year and they let me move across the world for a whole year, even though they were 100% against me leaving (the truly amazing part of all this though is the fact that they floated the bill for all three of those things).

Everyone says that exchange really puts things in perspective and boy did they hit the nail on the head with that one. Today I got a package from home. It was the package from my aunt Anita that contained some Christmas presents. Thanks to the fact that the USPS puts how much the box cost to ship right on the box, I saw how much they paid for the box. And transatlantic shipping ladies and gentlemen, is not cheap. This isn't even the first box either. My parents have sent stuff, my Oma has sent stuff and so has my Aunt Anita. The boxes are filled with American candy, junk food from home or things from the USA. Back to today's box. Getting boxes from home is just a great feeling. It kind of says "hey we haven't forgot about you and we still miss you". So when I saw that I had a package from home something just clicked like "wow dude, you are probably one luckiest kids around". How many families repeatedly spend so much money to send some comforts from home to their nephew or grandson.

Looking back on it, I could have done way more to help out. Was keeping my room clean really that hard? Did I really need to complain when my mom asked me help out around the house? None of those things really were that hard. Especially considering all the things my parents did for me. My mom would literally drive out to Williamsville at midnight to pick me up from a friend's house and did I seriously complained the few times she asked if I would make Drew pasta before football practice? I am not trying to sound snobby and pull the whole "I went to Europe and got all sophisticated and mature" thing because honestly right now my room is a mess and I still have a mess of thank yous to dish out.

I do however seriously miss my family. I miss constantly reminding Oma of how
verrückt she is and making her say bitte for everything. I miss constantly beating Oma and Opa at euchre (when you read this please remember I am just kidding). I miss going over and having Friday fish fries from the Meeting Place and just hanging out. I miss Opa going out of his way to embarrass me in Tim Hortons/trying to set me up with a complete stranger in front of her parents. I miss constantly joking around with Opa. I miss being home. I miss not being able to watch the new tv because Drew plays Call of Duty like it's his day job. I miss coming home from school and knowing for a fact there would be left over pizza and wings in the fridge. There is really no way to explain what I miss about my parents. I just miss having them around. I miss going over to Aunt Anita and Uncle Rick's and raiding their fridge because they ALWAYS have good food around. I miss how whenever I was trying to be polite and said I wasn't hungry, Aunt Anita knew I was lying and made food anyway. I miss making homemade pasta with Grandma and knowing that whenever I need advice that I should ask her. I miss the jokes from Grandpa and knowing to go to him if I need help with anything.
Somewhere in the middle of the that last paragraph, it suddenly dawned on me how long a year really is.

That being said, I have a great host family too. Most exchange students don't get to go to Oktoberfest in Munich and then 2 months later to the Weihnachtsmarkt in Nuremberg. As if that wasn't enough. We are going spending Christmas skiing in the Austrian Alps. Apart from all that stuff though, my host family is really like a second family to me. You'd be surprised how close you can get to people in 3 months. They put up with my (sub-paar) attempts at speaking German, the fact that I can clean my room on Sunday and by Tuesday it's messy again and they put up with me on those days where I am homesick and grouchy (not always the greatest task). I know I already talked about it but I made a list of the foods I missed from the USA on a recent blog post and I am pretty sure we had every single one of them within a week. We are always having "family movie night" or playing some sort of board game together. They go out of their way to make my year better and it's really great.


"The family - that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to." ~Dodie Smith

Today I am in a really good mood. I just finished watching "Goodbye Lenin", which is probably the most famous German movie ever made. We watched it at orientation in D.C. and I had to rely on the subtitles. I just watched it with no English subtitles and I understood it. I may not have gotten every word but I understood most of it. I turned on the German subtitles but it is still a major accomplishment. Also I just answered the door and had a decent conversation with the lady there. Usually when the doorbell rings or the telephone rings, I give up and let someone else do it but I actually understood her and what she wanted. I don't know if I am going to keep this post. I might delete it. I don't know if I like how I worded everything in this post, we'll see.

Also if you're interested I created a new album on shutterfly for my pictures from Ireland. The web address is http://michaelsyearingermany.shutterfly.com/573. I will create one for Spain soon.