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.

An Austrian German sentence has rhythm like this.

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.

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