A friend (Sophie) came to visit this week before a research stint in France for the summer, so I had a travelling buddy this week! Sophie wanted to see some Germany, so we did day trips to Cologne, Maastricht (ok, this is Netherlands. But it’s close.) and Düsseldorf.

Highlights of the week with Sophie:

  • Not having to cook. Huge bonus. No dishes. (Sophie graciously paid for several meals. Thanks Sophster!)
  • For the love of chocolate. I am totally ok with her obsession with chocolate.
  • Sophie bringing me an adorable Muggle badge, a super-cool keychain, and a bag of half-eaten Skittles, which she did not realize one could find in Europe. 
  • Getting cultured. Girl loves her art, and holy crap we saw a lot of it. I feel like at this point I might actually be able to recognize some of these painter guys.
  • Taking a tour in DUTCH of some really cool caves and actually being able to understand a reasonable portion of it! It’s like super weird dialect-y German!
  • On that note, being a useful German (and a little bit Dutch) translator was really fun! It is very empowering that I can communicate effectively and help somebody else to be understood.
  • Going into multiple Catholic cathedrals, including treasuries thereof (that means relics, my friends…dead Catholic bones in fancy gold bejeweled containers), when neither of us are remotely Catholic… we had to look up what all this crazy stuff was. 
  • Park and garden exploration! I love green things. 
  • Walking around with Sophie, the most curly-haired person in all of Germany! We stood out like whoa! 


Normally I assume that language differences in the US are minimal. I’m from the east coast, and understanding people from the west coast is like, not a thing. We pretty much sound the same. (Other than the south. That’s another thing entirely. You just have to enjoy the y’alls and ma’ams. Deciphering the drawl is an excellent game. It’s not that difficult, really.)

But, as I have found out, sometimes we have different slang. My friend from Ohio sometimes asks me if I want a cookie. I say yes, because of course I want a cookie! What world is she living in where I wouldn’t want a cookie?! Apparently, this is intended as a belittling technique wherein the belittled is supposed to be made to feel like a kid. I see an inherent flaw in this reasoning. Who doesn’t want a cookie?! She claims that if something is “salty”, it does not describe a taste, it means that whatever it is is generally not good. For instance, “This presentation is salty!” would mean that the presentation was not good, annoying, a pain in the rumpus, etc.

And now, I have two points which are completely unrelated to each other, but are vaguely related to that intro.

1. German slang confuses me. Mostly because I can (usually  sometimes) understand it but am extremely wary of using it. I can speak mostly normalish, but it is also not hard to tell I’m not actually German (sometimes people mistake my accent for British, or can’t tell at all, which is always a moment for a brief victory dance/ fist pump). This means that I feel a bit silly when I try to use the more slangy words/ phrases. It just feels like I don’t really have the right to use them, not having learned them, you know, naturally or whatever. Plus I get worried I’ll use them wrong. 

2. More peripherally related, traditional Syracuse summer fare includes Dinosaur Barbeque. Oh, for a pulled pork sandwich! And of course, salt potatoes (which are salty, but not salty, if you catch my drift). I have recently found out that this is not just a Syracuse thing, the Germans do it too! It got started in Syracuse because we were a huuuge salt mining town, and the Irish immigrants who worked there put their “inferior” young potatoes in the giant salt boiler thingies and had them for lunch. They’re pretty excellent… adding all that salt to the water increases the boiling point of the water (colligative properties, man!), which means it actually cooks the potatoes better. Plus the potatoes get this outer layer of salt that seals all the goodness in and it makes them super creamy on the inside. Which is super awesome. It makes me happy that Germany does them too. 

FO (= finished object) !!

FO (= finished object) !!

This is what happens when I get bored of knitting at night: I start writing python programs to tell me how much more knitting I have left. The number of stitches left in this particular case is a tad discouraging. 

This is what happens when I get bored of knitting at night: I start writing python programs to tell me how much more knitting I have left. The number of stitches left in this particular case is a tad discouraging. 

Oh, Momma.

Mother’s day was this past weekend, and I got some massive bonus points because I not only remembered Mother’s day, I remembered far enough in advance to send a hand-written card from Germany. And it got there in time. Boo-ya! (Sidenote: I like to think words like ‘boo-ya’ and ‘chillax’ are coming back in style.)

So I was thinking about how awesome my Momma is, and I feel like I should share the following little tidbit of information with whatever tiny corner of the internet I can reach. My mother is an engineer (it appears to be a family thing), which for a very long time I never gave a second thought to. Engineering seemed like a totally normal profession, my Momma is a smart cookie, seemed like a good match to me. Around the time I went to college, I realized it was a little out of the ordinary… I didn’t have any friends whose moms were engineers, and I had been getting the spiel from engineering universities (engineering departments seem to always have gender statistics handy) and they just loved to talk about how many women they had in their departments. This is when I started to get clued in. My Momma was like a needle in haystack, a DNA mutation, that one crazy squirrel that waterskies, etc. I mean that in the nicest way possible. I was proud. Respect, Momma. Then I forgot about it. Because Carnegie Mellon Engineering has a pretty normal gender ratio, particularly in Chemical Engineering, so my personal experience made me not question things. When things are 50/50, you forget that it was not always this way.

In Germany, things are different. There are other women in my classes, sure. Just not a lot. It’s pretty freakin’ noticable. For a while in the beginning it didn’t really process, but when it did, it worried me. I’ve always thought of Germany as relatively liberal, at least compared to the US. But they apparently don’t really promote engineering as a career for women as much as the US, and it shows. And then the realization dawned that my Momma had it way, way worse. There may not be a lot of women in Process Engineering here, but there’s about a steady five to seven in most of my Process Engineering classes. My Momma had herself, and sure, things were changing, but not very quickly, and there were people who didn’t exactly welcome her with open arms. There were far more obstacles in her way than there are in mine, and for that, my Momma deserves some recognition. 

Props, Momma.

(That is another word I am hoping is making a come-back.)

Mnemonic device

Normally, I’m pretty on top of what people are saying to me. And I’m beginning to feel like my speaking is mostly fairly acceptable and not one hundred percent horrifyingly embarrassing. But occasionally those fickle neurons misfire, which was the case in my lesson this week, when I mixed up the words for Major and Minor (I have a major brain block for these two), and got a bit of a lecture on German music terminology and just general music stuff. 

So my flute teacher ends up on key signatures and parallel major and minor scales and things and she tells me the German mnemonic device for sharp and flat key signatures. For flats, it’s “Geh’ Du alter Esel, hole Fische" (Go, you old donkey, fetch the fish)  and for sharps "Fritz brachte Esther Astern des Gesandten Cesars”. At this point, she correctly assumed that I had no idea what Gesandten meant, and described it to me as an old term for a boat. Enter massive confusion. For a while, I thought it was like a sunken boat or something for some reason. I know mnemonic devices are supposed to be a little silly, but Fritz brought Esther aster from Cesar’s sunken boat just seemed suuuuper weird. Too weird. But I went with it. Because mnemonic devices are weird. 

I just looked it up, and she wasn’t saying Boot for boat, she was saying Bot for ambassador! (Well, technically, it’s more like envoy, but basically the same thing). So much more sense. 

Deprived American gets antsy.

Every few months, when the weather messes with my brain by starting to change again (currently we seem to be stuck in rain phase), there comes a point when I remember all the normal foods I associate with this time of year and feel deprived. My  carefully curated lists of comfort food have been rendered useless, and as a child who was known throughout her extended family as the one who, when taken to a French restaurant, refused to eat anything but the butter patties (molded into soldier shapes-for the discerning toddler), this can be a problem.

Sure, you can find recognizable brands, but they can almost entirely be found in the candy aisle. And that’s the thing! There is a lot of good candy. Chocolate, I admit, tends to be held to a much higher standard. But there is just no snack that can compare to Goldfish. Snacks in general tend to be neglected. Grape-flavored things seem to not have caught on (mostly this affects my popsicle choices), and granola bars exist, but are a bit weird. (Secretly, I believe they just don’t have the zeal for high-fructose corn syrup that Americans do.) I mean, granola bars are basically Müsli in bar form, so you would think Germany would be more psyched about them, but apparently not so much. 

Other than the candy aisle, there is one smallish space where you can find some American brands, and that is the cereal section.  So when I was feeling a bit down about not being able to tell people I like to bite the heads off of Goldfish without people thinking I’m some sort of mass killer of beloved childhood pets, I decided to take a sampling of American cereals made in Europe. 

Here goes:

Frosties (Frosted Flakes): taste pretty much indiscernible from their American counterparts, not that their counterparts were all that exciting to begin with. Satisfyingly sugary!

Froot Loops: Disappointment! Apparently artificial coloring is something Europe is not super into. It makes for way less excitingly colored Froot Loops. Also they were not as excellently sugary as their American counterparts. 

Cinnie Minnies sp? (Cinnamon Toast Crunch): Perhaps became soggier slightly faster, but otherwise perfectly acceptable. Also contained a Hot Wheels car! Hours of entertainment. 

(Chocolate Rice Krispies): Because plain ole’ Rice Krispies are not exciting enough for Germany. I forced myself to try the chocolate though. They also included a PRIZE! I got a Star Wars themed spoon. Made my day. 

It occurs to me that the main attraction of most of our cereals is sugar content.

Change, the second.

UPDATE: The coin situation has changed as follows:

Managed to get my flute teacher to take a fifth of my lesson price in 20 cent coins. This still left me with about a billion 1, 2, 5 and 10 cent coins to get rid of.

During my significant travels of the past few weeks I accumulated a heck of a lot of postcards to send, resulting in the need to buy 3 € worth of stamps. Naturally, I thought to myself, “What an excellent way to get rid of all this ridiculous coinage!” Little did I know that there are RESTRICTIONS on how many coins one can use per transaction. (For the inexperienced, this limit is a very strict 15 coins. I got about 1.40€ in before the machine shut me down. I’d been using 10 and 5 cent coins only.)

Lastly, I have managed to accumulate non-Euro coinage now as well! Not very much (Thank God.), but I now have both a sampling of Forint from Hungary and Czech Koruna. How cool is that?!

Just after taking this photo, a middle aged German couple walked by, staring at me like I was a crazy person. Which is really completely fair, seeing as I had strewn a (very clean and freshly blocked) knitted item over a (rather dirty) tree branch and was incessantly taking photos of it from various angles. Realizing they were staring, I subsequently decided it was a good idea to subtly edge my way behind the tree and wait them out. 

Just after taking this photo, a middle aged German couple walked by, staring at me like I was a crazy person. Which is really completely fair, seeing as I had strewn a (very clean and freshly blocked) knitted item over a (rather dirty) tree branch and was incessantly taking photos of it from various angles. Realizing they were staring, I subsequently decided it was a good idea to subtly edge my way behind the tree and wait them out. 

Small change

I have a problem.

OK, I have a lot of problems. Like my serious aversion to cleaning. It’s getting to be a major problem. The problem being I have to come up with increasingly obtuse reasons to avoid it, such as *gasp* finally filling out some official paperwork that’s been sitting on my desk for two weeks and making post-it note origami (I have quite the menagerie). But the problem I am talking about here is change. 

book end!

This is what I mean. This sucker is freakin’ heavy and getting heavier every day. Thus, a few months ago I started using it as a book end. It works really well. I have some pretty enormous books behind that bag and they have not budged an inch! So what is the problem, you ask? The problem is that my rate of coin accumulation seems to be increasing slowly but steadily, and I am beginning to be somewhat concerned that in four months time when I am packing for home I will realize I still have this massive stash of euros and have absolutely no clue how to get rid of them. Plus, I have a gut feeling that while packing I will find other stashes of coins that I have stuffed in a pocket in some bag. 

Right now the only solution I can think of is to buy small groceries one at a time. Which does not seem particularly efficient. Or perhaps just keep buying an ice cream a day until I exhaust the coin supply. 

Somehow that second one seems much, much better.