Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sick in Berlin

I’ve been horribly sick for the last 3 days with what is most likely a cold turned sinus infection.  I will spare you the details of my sickness, but suffice it to say that I slept approximately 14 hours last night and still feel like crap.  If we were at home, I would have been home sick and in charge of taking care of 2 small children.  Luckily, we aren’t at home and I have the best husband in the whole wide world who has obligingly taken over all care duties for the past 3 days. 

There are 2 ironies in my life surrounding being sick in Germany:
1.  I studied German health care and understand it from a systemic level fairly well. 
2.  If my children were sick, I would know exactly who to call and what to do here.

Ironic because: I frankly have no idea who I should call when I have a ridiculous infection that is really just begging for a simple broad spectrum antibiotic. 

Instead of going to the doctor, I’ve stayed in bed and attempted to rest it out.  If only my body would cooperate by concocting a simple fever to fight off the infection.  Boo body boo—bad form!!

I did send Andy to the Apotheke here to pick me up some Nyquil-type-substance so that I can sleep.  I should have of course expected a teeny tiny European-sized adorable bottle of blue gold.  However, I did not expect the exorbitant price for the stuff.  The tiny bottle of 3 doses cost us €10!  That’s €3.33 per dose! I don't even want to think about the exchange rate on that one.  Below is a picture of the stuff that did indeed taste like Nyquil, but does not contain the same ingredients and was not quite so syrupy as I remember Nyquil to be.  
The Apotheke is a bit like a pharmacy at home, with some fun little differences of course.  When you walk in, 90% of all the medicines are behind the counter where at least one “Apotheker”  is standing.  You tell them what brings you there, and they give you the medicine(s) for whatever ails you.  This is how we have procured several bottles of kiddy ibuprofen, cough medicine, and other fine goodies.  If I could get my butt out of bed, please believe me that I would go there and ask them for an antibiotic.  As it is, my head starts pounding in my ears when I stand up and…again…details…sorry. 

Instead, I sent Andy to the Apotheke for Nyquil only, armed with a few choice phrases auf Deutsch.  Upon hearing his funny accent, the Apotheker did not even wince or attempt to switch to English.  Andy returned €10 lighter with the requested bottle. 

In other news: in the 3 days that I’ve been sick, I’ve also managed to schedule 4 interviews, 1 of which is on Friday.  Must. Get. Better!  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Living Abroad Problems

There are some really funny memes floating around on the interwebs about problems of a specific nature.  I particularly love the 1st WorldProblems and 1st Grader Problems.  I’ve come up with a few problems in the same comedic vein from our time here so far. 

1. The doctor speaks English, but the staff does not.  We purposely chose a pediatrician here in Berlin who speaks English so that they would be able to put our kids at ease by not having to speak/understand their second language, and so that both of us parents can adequately communicate and understand the doctor.  Point in fact: all Germans have had some form of instruction in the English language at some point, but not all of them use it regularly or remember it all the time.  So even though our pediatrician speaks English, and his staff at some point studied English, his staff was extremely happy to not have to struggle through their rudimentary English with us.  Let me also assert here my utter vocabulary failure when it comes to insurance and doctor’s office terminology. 

2. Cool Because I’m American? Since coming to Berlin, I have been told at least 10 times upon revealing my citizenship that I am cool.  I am not by any stretch of the imagination cool.  I am a mother with 2 small children, a graduate student with a paltry wardrobe, and a wife who routinely wears sweatpants all day at home.  I never wanted to be cool either, well, except for about a week in the 6th grade before I realized that I could never tease my bangs or peg my Guess jeans just like the coolest girls in my grade.  Anyone who has said this to me here, has also been under the age of 25, so I’m going with the assumption that they just want to impress me with their use of the American slang term of “cool” and don’t actually think I am.  What’s funny, is that surely the word “cool” is out of style now, but I live such an insulated grad student/mommy life at home that I wouldn’t even know what to tell them would be cooler to say. 

3. Autocorrect in 2 Languages SUCKS!  Autocorrect in English (my first language) is bad enough, but I’ve set my phone to toggle between English and German so that I can send texts and emails in both languages.  This is a really useful tool to have, so that it doesn’t keep autocorrecting my German to English words or vice versa.  But autocorrect is buggy and sometimes comes up with hilarious corrections that are just horrible, and when you add another language to the mix, it really gets crazy! 

4. English Rape is a term that I’ve been using for several years now.  I define English Rape as being forced to speak English against my will.  I speak German.  I did not come to Berlin to speak English or to help you practice your English.  Whenever someone insists on speaking English to me I now ask them where they learned English.  If they learned English at home and it is their first language, I obligingly speak English with them.  If they learned it at school and are nice about speaking it with me, then I might reluctantly speak English with them.  If you are not nice at all about speaking English to me, such as switching immediately to English upon hearing my accent and refusing to answer my questions in German at all, then I will persist in speaking my hilarious accent for you and will NOT switch to English out of spite.  English rape is a real problem in Berlin, where it is most definitely possible to never learn German and get by fine as an English speaker, but I’m not going to take it anymore.

5. Not Knowing is the biggest problem we have as foreigners living here.  This is a pretty all-encompassing and consuming problem sometimes, and takes on many forms.  A short list of things we just don’t know because we’re not from here:
            -Where to buy things
            -When/what all the holidays are
            -What’s the appropriate attire to wear for all occasions
            -Formalities—with whom do we use the formal and informal terms for you (Sie/Du)?
            -Who to ask?  (Luckily we have some very understanding German friends, so this isn’t always a big     problem for us and we sometimes end up being the experts for other Ex-Patriots here.) 

Living abroad comes with a definite set of culture-specific rules, regulations, and customs that we are finding out about during our journey here. The best way we have come up with for dealing with the sometimes massively frustrating problems we encounter by being foreigner’s here, is to just laugh at them—both the problems and the cultural prescriptions behind them. 

Did I mention that we really do love it here and are having a great time?     

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Gym Babysitting Failure!

Today in order to give Andy a break (aka: a chance to clean the floors of our apartment without a 19 month old to wrangle simultaneously), I took Mayzie along to the gym with me.  This was the second time I had taken her, but it did not go so well this time as last for at least two reasons.  First let me tell you about the babysitting room, and then I’ll get to the reasons. 

My gym here, like the one I went to at home, has a babysitting room filled with toys, other kids to play with, and a couple of babysitters to watch all the munchkins while their parents sweat some stress out.  The room at my gym now is actually bigger than our entire apartment here is, and has an attached bathroom with cubbies for the kids to keep their stuff in, parking spots for strollers, a gigantic changing table, a breastfeeding chair with magazines, and other kid accoutrement.  There is no television in this room, unlike the one at our home gym, and there are almost always two or more babysitters there, also unlike at home.  When we arrived at the room, there were 5 kids there already.  2 were infants (one of which was asleep), 2 were at least 3 years old, and 1 was around the same age as Mayzie. 

I signed Mayzie in on the sheet, and proceeded to get her settled in by having her help me put her coat and things in the cubby.  We got out her snack that I had packed, and she sat down at the table to eat it.  I gave the babysitter a few instructions, said goodbye, and went to the changing room.  I changed into my clothes and walked to the weight machines.  I finished 2 sets of leg presses on the machine, and then the loudspeaker came on in the gym asking for “Mayzie’s mother to please come to the front desk.”  First the adorable 19 year old behind the desk said it in German and then tried to start to say it in English.  He looked notably relieved when I arrived at the front desk before he could get the whole thing out.  I winked at him and told him that I understand German perfectly well and he doesn’t have to practice his English for my sake.  The time elapsed from when I signed Mayzie in to when I picked her up at the front desk was approximately 10 minutes!

 The babysitter announced that Mayzie just would NOT stop crying and I had to take her immediately as she handed her to me.  10 minutes of crying?!?!?!  That was all it took for you to give up lady?  10 minutes of crying?!?!?!  Surely you are not a parent, as 10 minutes of screaming crying is a fairly typical thing for a 19 month old to do when they don’t get their way.  I surely hear at LEAST 10 minutes of crying every day, typically MORE!

When we went back to the babysitting room, 1 baby was gone, but the other 4 previously mentioned kids were still there.  I took a quick assessment and realized that all of these children were being quiet.  None of them were crying at all, and one of the babysitters pointed out the fact that one of them comes every day to the babysitting room—as if that was supposed to make me and my screaming child who obviously has abandonment issues feel better.  What really gets me about this whole thing, is that this was NOT the first time I had brought Mayzie to the babysitting room alone.  Last time I brought her, she played quietly in the room for more than 1.5 hours, and they never had to make some announcement for me to come console her. 

We left as quickly as possible, and I was pretty much fuming the entire walk to the bus stop, for 5 minutes at the bus stop, for 10 minutes on the bus, and for at least 20 minutes after we got home.  This is the deal: I pay for the gym.  I pay for the gym so that I can go sweat some of my stress out.  I need to be able to take my kids there sometimes and not to worry that I won’t actually be able to work out because the babysitters can’t handle them.  There were TWO babysitters and 6 children, and they couldn’t handle a crying kid for more than 10 minutes!    

I will admit two mistakes in this process:
1. I opted out of bringing the stinky monkey this second time.  I had brought him along last time, so perhaps he would have been the calming factor that she needed this time too.  I just really don’t like the idea of him leaving the house to possibly escape never to be seen again.  Just the thought makes me shudder! 
2. I wrote down that I would stay for 2 hours.  Perhaps the very thought of having to deal with a crying Mayzie for 2 hours would be too much to bear, but honestly, I only wrote that down so I wouldn’t feel obligated to rush through my work-out and shower to get back as quickly as possible. 

I am also wondering what the policy at the gym IS on crying kids.  If they come to get me after only 10 minutes of crying, then do they only take well-adjusted, non-sick, un-faze-able kids? Perhaps Mayzie is not Germanified quite enough yet to qualify to hang out in the super-cool babysitting room at my gym alone.  Next time, we’ll take her with her monkey and her sister so that hopefully Mama can have an actual workout instead of 40 measly leg presses and an angry dash to the bus stop. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Un-American Products

A few weeks ago, I posted a picture on my Facebook page of some “African Style” chips that we found at the grocery store.  We all had a few laughs at the very idea that an entire continent’s style could be captured in a single chip flavor and pondered if they would ever be sold in the USA.  

We had actually found a different brand of chips that were “African Flavored” here too.  Upon reading that, Andy exclaimed, “Made with real Africans!”  We had a good laugh and forgot to take a picture, so hopefully we can find them again. 

This week Andy purchased some new shampoo for the girls: 
Can you see what the scent is called?  Look again! 

Yes, that’s right, he bought our children “Jungle Fever” scented shampoo! 
The manufacturers did at least manage to put some pictures of Jungle animals on there, and I know that American idioms are not always translatable.  But seriously Germans, COME ON!!  You make my critique of institutional racism far too easy sometimes! 

Last but not least, I bring you an amazing ice skating show that is currently being advertised all over the city: Holiday on Ice! 
I don’t know about you, but when I think about Holiday on Ice: Fesival I definitely think it will include the hits of Mr. Phil Collins!  Please do not take this as an insult Mr. Collins, because I most assuredly appreciate your music, especially since I heard you with Starlee Kine on This American Life a few years ago.  I just have a hard time believing this would be a big seller in the USA.  By the way, they are featuring the song “Inthe Air Tonight” which I absolutely do not associate with anything holiday or festival related since it is a decidedly angry tune with an accompanying urbanlegend about witnessing a drowning referenced by Eminem in another angry song. 

On the reverse side, Andy recently found an entire clearance rack of t-shirts with gigantic American Flags across the front in faded-out colors at a store here.  I can definitely see things like that at home in the USA, though it is usually around the 4th of July.  German patriotic wear is much harder to find here, though easier than when I first started coming in 1997.  That is a post for another time.  J


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