Have to Have It

I came across a connect the dots book in the euro store the other day (the German equivalent of a dollar store). What caught my attention was the cartoon, dot to dot version of the Mona Lisa on the cover. For two euros, this learned art historian had to have it. I hoped that other would reveal themselves before my eyes under my steady hand.  
 I couldn’t flip thought the book because my arms held name brand window spray and toilet cleaner (half price!), a ream of copier paper, stereo cables, a phone charger for the car, resealable sandwich bags, paper towels, and an industrial pack of glue sticks. Basically the usual for the euro store. Of course I didn’t opt for a basket as I was just going in to buy one thing.
 I grasped the dot to dot book with my pinky finger and struggled to the cash register followed by my daughter, her arms just as laden with goods as mine. We spilled the must have items onto the band and shook out our cramped arms.  
 The cashier scanned our items until he came to the Mona Lisa book. He attempted to scan. Instead of the usual peeping noise, the machine grunted. The man furrowed his brow and tried again. Groan. He zapped the bar code with the hand held scanner, and again a disgruntled cash register noise.  

 “It says I’m not allowed to sell you this,” he said.

 “Excuse me?” I said.

 “The register says ‘not for sale’.”

 “But it was on the shelf,” I stated.

 I young lady in hijab appeared, her straight posture, efficient steps and keyring weighted down by metal, revealing her elevated status in the euro store.

 “Was this item alone?” she asked me.

 “I don’t know. I just grabbed it from the top of the pile,” I said. 

 “There was a huge pile of them,” my loyal daughter confirmed.

 “Sometimes it happens that items aren’t entered in the system,” she explained. “I’ll read you the numbers,” she directed her colleague.

 I didn’t care about the 2 euro book, but I admit I was fascinated by why they wouldn’t be allowed to sell it to me. I wanted to stick around and get to the bottom of this.

 She dictated the numbers as the cashier pecked at the keyboard.

 Rejected again.

 “Item not for sale,” she read off the screen.

 She called out to the store manager, “The book comes up ‘not for sale’, can I override?” “No. Then it’s not for sale,” he stated.

 Now I really wanted the connect the dots book. There must be mysteries held within its pages, I thought.

 “Can’t I just give you two euros?” I asked.

 “I’m not authorized to do that,” the manager said, “we get daily updates which items are not for sale and we need to take them off the shelves.”

 “I’ll pay you double,” I said.

 “No, I can’t do that. There’s a reason it’s not for sale. I’m not saying it’s toxic with poisonous dyes, but we’re not allowed to sell it.”

 “Toxic? Poisonous?” I repeated, wondering if the dyes could have seeped into my skin yet.

 “Maybe some of the numbers are out of sequence or something,” he volunteered.

 “Or maybe it’s DDR code,” the cashier snickered.

 “Ok,” I said, worried for our safety, and just wanting to leave the store, “it’s not important.”
 I tried to make eye contact with my daughter to get her to slide the book under the copier paper, but she was engrossed in the pages of her mandala coloring book.
 I considered snatching the dot to dot from the cashier’s hands and making a run for it, but my daughter wouldn’t be able to keep up with her armload of art supplies. I also wasn’t willing to get caught stealing a two euro connect the dots book. The Village is smaller than one thinks and reputations stick.  
 I paid for the remaining items and we turned to leave the store. I glanced back one last time at the cartoon Mona Lisa blandly gazing at me. I made eye contact with her lifeless eyes and promised I’d return and try to rescue her from the madness. Unless some other unauthorized item caught my eye.    

 

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Mother’s Day

My requests for Mother’s Day are simple: let me sleep as long as I like, until my eyes naturally open at a decent (after 7am) hour; allow me to enjoy a long, hot bath without interruptions of “Where is my Lego Ninjago™ Sensai Wu head?”, “Where is my turquoise fineliner that I left on the kitchen table last week?”, or “Where is my favorite Tshirt from the 80s with the huge holes in the armpits that I haven’t seen in ages?”; and if I dare to be bold, a meal in a restaurant so I don’t have to cook or wash the dishes, and where we all chat nicely to each other without playing on anything that has batteries or needs to be charged.  

 Fairly low maintenance, I think.
Unfortunately, the past Mother’s Days haven’t panned out as such. The children usually injure each other on purpose and my husband yells at them to let me have peace and quiet. When I suggested I go alone to the coffee shop in The Village to read a book in peace for an hour, I was guilted into staying because “On Mother’s Day the mother should want to be with her family.” 
Until the big kahuna of Mother’s Days past, Mother’s Day 2015.

 Two weeks prior to the Mother’s Day that took the cake, my husband bragged that this year the fighting and frustration of Mother’s Days past would be erased.

 “But I don’t want or need a present,” I said, “I just want peace and quiet and maybe a nice brunch out.”

 “Oh, this is something you’re going to love. Something you’ve been dreaming about.”

 “Really?” I asked, “A weekend away at an organic spa with a pile of books?”

 “No. Something with four wheels.”

 Four wheels? He bought me a car? That was extravagant for Mother’s Day, I thought. But with my husband, youngtimer auto collector and prone to making spontaneous automotive purchases, this wouldn’t be so out of the ordinary. He surfs car websites like I do shoe and golf catalogs, always looking for the next great deal, buying low, investing as little money as possible, and selling at a profit.

 I was happy with my Audi A6 station wagon with the perfect amount of horsepower (239) and a 3.0 tdi diesel engine with more torque. It was a used car, so the kids could eat and drink in the back without me worrying about destroying the original condition of the interior.  

 There was one car I dreamt of though. The Mercedes G Model, a rectangular box on high wheels. I love this model and sigh every time one passes. My husband rejected the idea of buying one because it was too heavy and wouldn’t have enough horsepower for the sporty drive I like. The models with more horsepower were also too pricey for everyday Mom’s taxi use. However, that was the only four-wheeled item I had my eye on. Could he have found one in our price range? Was this my Mother’s Day present? I decided he had purchased a toy replica of the G Model for my nightstand. 

  

 Mother’s Day Sunday arrived. The kids, in their excitement, checked repeatedly if I was awake. I gave up on sleeping in and called them to bring me my “surprise” breakfast in bed. Cuddling my cuties, my husband came in beaming, kissed me, and presented me a plastic sleeve with papers inside. 

 I opened the file, my heart beating faster in anticipation.  
 It was not a toy model or photo of a toy.
 It was not a Mercedes G Model.
   It was a photo and specifications for a 1978 Renault Alpine in metallic green.

 “I don’t understand,” I said.
 Then it clicked. Several months ago, while I read in bed, my husband perused used car websites on the laptop next to me.  

 “What do you think of this?” he asked, turning the screen towards me.  

 “What is that?” I asked while wrinkling my nose at the sight.

 “The car I always wanted in my youth. A Renault Alpine. Only 8,000 pieces made of that model. And I doubt many were made in that color.”

 “How much?” I asked.

 He rattled off a 5 figure sum, ridiculous for a French wannabe Trans Am.

 Yes, car fans, call me a heathen, but my Mother’s Day was ruined. This car wasn’t for me. This was for him. He tried to pass it off as a Mother’s Day gift.  

 “This is bullshit,” I said.

 “What? I thought you’d like it.”

 “You showed me that car before and I said it wasn’t worth the money, especially when we need to fly to The States for summer.”

 “We’re still going to The States. We have enough time to save up.”

 “You used the plane ticket money for that car?” I was shouting now, “Our holiday is two months away and we still don’t have tickets because you said they are too expensive at the moment, but you can buy this monstrosity?”

 “I promised you we’re flying to The States, and we will. The car was kind of an accident.”

 “How do you buy a car on accident?”

 “It was an online auction and I typed in what I would be willing to pay.”

 “So you’ve never seen the car in person?” I asked.

 “No.”

 “Never driven it?”

 “No.”

 “Does it even drive? What kind of condition is it in?” I began shouting again.

 “The guy from the auction house assured me…”

 “Of course he did! He’s a salesman! Auctions are caveat emptor! Once you buy it, you’re screwed!”

 “I know. That’s why I couldn’t tell you. Max said I should make it a present and maybe you’d fall in love with it and not be mad.”

 “I need some fresh air. You’ve ruined my Mother’s Day. I’m going to the coffee shop.”
 In the civilized, auction-house-car-free-zone of the coffee shop, I collected myself. I’d use this to my advantage. He’d buy the plane tickets immediately if he wanted to set this right. The car would be stored out of my sight until he found a buyer. I wasn’t about to set foot in that vehicle on principle. I would boycott Renault Alpine and the Formula 1 Renault team (sorry Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer – it’s nothing personal).  

 I returned home and discussed the terms of our truce. No, I would not be his second driver to collect the Renault Alpine in Berlin. I would have nothing to do with the car, and it would be sold as soon as possible.

 “Sure, you can sell it,” my husband said, “it’s your car.” 

  “That car is dead to me,” I said.

 My husband convinced his buddy to drive to Berlin with him on a Saturday and collect the green monster. To my surprise, the car made the journey back to The Village without problems.  

 My husband’s evaluation of the car was, “It doesn’t drive like I thought it would. It’s also not in the best condition, certainly not worth the money.”

 I don’t need to type my answer. 

 My son, car freak in the making, sided with my husband, “Wow! What a cool car!”

 My daughter, brutally honest and loyal, said, “Mama, it’s not nice. The inside is old and smells, the seats are cracked and some animals are living in the front.”

 “Animals?” I laughed.

 “Yes,” my husband confirmed, “mice made a nest in the footwell.”

 Buyer beware indeed.
 The car needed more repairs than my husband was willing to invest. He posted it on an international automobile website, and got a bite from a clothing mogul in Australia with a serious car collection. This would probably be the only Renault Alpine in Australia, he figured, at least the only one in this color.  

 “Did you tell him about the mouse family?” I asked.

 “He knows everything. But the mice are no longer living there,” he added.

 The car eventually made its way down under by ship in a climate controlled, padded crate.

 I waited for the phone call from an irate Crocodile Dundee shouting down the phone that my husband sent him a crap car with a nest of mice carcasses.

 Radio silence. 

 With the Renault Alpine now on another continent, life returned to the status quo.  

 I asked my family for no more Mother’s Day surprises.
 This Mother’s Day I’ll be celebrating with a mommy friend at an art exhibition followed by lunch in Munich’s pedestrian zone – without a Renault Alpine or car of any kind in sight. 

May Day


Today is May 1st, May Day, the day for the workers, equivalent to Labor Day in the United States. 

Walking to my butcher shop two days ago, I noticed this sight (see photo above).     Someone had sawed off The Village’s Maypole.  A maypole should look like the title image for this blog.  

 A maypole is the blue and white striped pole at the entrance to most Bavarian villages, displaying wooden figures and placards from its arms, listing the services found in the villages. It served as the Yellow Pages before such a service existed, and my theory is it was implemented before people could read, or for people who forgot to wear their distance eyeglasses.  

Maypoles are not erected every year, but rather every other year or every four years, or as decided by the volunteer firemen and their junior squad, or the youth group of the village in charge of maypole duties. The men go out into the Bavarian woods, pick the largest, sturdiest tree, chop it down and keep it hidden at someone’s farm to prepare and decorate. 

Neighboring fire departments or youth groups will scout out maypole hiding places in order to kidnap the maypoles in preparation. Or as in the my photo, they chop, saw off or completely remove the existing maypole. 

I once had a volunteer fireman in a business English class I taught. He was an engineer by day and volunteer fireman by night.
 “You look tired today, all ok?” I asked him one class. “Did you have a fire in the night?”

 “No, I was on maypole watch. We couldn’t let those bastards steal our pole.”

 “What do they do with them?” I asked.

 “Ach, we wait for the ransom note. They usually want loads of beer or a feast buffet. A party.”

 May Day is a huge deal for the firemen and youth groups. They erect the pole by hooking up a firetruck or tractor pulley and cranking the tree into position. The entire village is invited and everyone arrives in tracht, the women in dirndl with breast shelves and cleavage finally exposed to sunlight after a harsh winter. Firemen and male civilians arrive in lederhosen, calf wraps and checked shirts covered with cable sweaters or wool janker jackets. Material pulls tight across flat, strong backs as the men pound wood slats into the ground with strongman competition wooden mallets. 

Beer benches and tables cover the entire square, and traffic shuts down for a two block radius. The local Wirt, Bavarian restaurant, serves regional dishes of warmerl (pork belly sandwiches), pig roast, potato dumplings, and the beloved sauerkraut with cumin. Beer is aplenty and usually the local wheat beer brew. Women drink alcohol-free wheat beer or wine spritzers and the kids apfelschorle, apple juice spritzers. 

This is too big of a celebration to host every year, and the villages alternate. It also spares the trees and gives them time to grow. The junior firemen in The Village erected a beautiful, new maypole last year which now looks like a chomped off blue and white candy cane. We will be passing this sad sight for the next year. At least someone now has a fancy garden ornament.  

Driving Lessons: Part One 

Stuck in the end of holiday traffic last week I was reminded of the gaps in my German driving education. I was spared from taking the German driver’s license written and practical exams by trading in my expired Ohio license. By not rigorously studying for these tests, I admit there are several road rules that prove a bit foggy to me. 

 I know, for a fact, that there is no “right on red” rule in Germany. It simply is not done. Neither is flipping the middle finger to another driver, which to me, is a far more valuable tool than a right on red. Ditto with shouting obscenities at anyone else. 

I refused to believe it until my husband left an article from one of his car magazines for me to read. The article provided a helpful matrix of offenses and their corresponding fines.

 Swearing at and calling another driver names ranged from 250 Euros to 2,500 Euros, depending upon the severity of the name calling. For example, “Bekloppter” (Loony) at 250 Euros is significantly cheaper than “Arschloch” (Asshole) at 1,000 Euros. “Schlampe” (Slut) is 1,900 Euros and “alte Sau” (old pig) is 2,500 Euros, clearly a high-end insult that only the wealthiest can afford.  

 Hand gestures have a separate category. Sticking out your tongue at another driver costs from 150 to 300 Euros and the showing the “Stinkefinger” (middle finger) could lead to a fine ranging from 600 to 4,000 Euros, with the more expensive option flipping off a police officer, so an average driver would cost significantly less and fit into a tighter budget. 
 Of course the offender would need a witness. If they had a passenger or more in the car, they had a case. If it was me against an individual, then they’d have a hard time proving it unless they took a photo, and they aren’t allowed to drive and use the cell phone.

 I’m such a fast draw with the bird they’d never have the chance to catch me on film anyway.

I Was Speaking German, Right?

I have to give my local Bavarians credit. They try to understand my German and maintain a polite expression when listening to me. Most of the time. Occasionally I receive a bewildered look with the impolite noise of “Hehhh?” meaning “Pardon me?” in proper speech.
The harshest critics of my German language skills are non-native German speakers, other foreigners attempting the German language.

In the pizzeria next to The Village’s cinema, my friend ordered for her family then I proceeded to order. In German. With an American accent. Because that’s how I talk.
The Italian young lady, with limited German skills, not a thirteen year veteran like myself, said, 
“I’m sorry. Could you please speak in German? I don’t speak anything else.”
I looked to my friend for confirmation that I didn’t have too much ear wax blocking the sounds.
She smiled and looked down, avoiding eye contact with me.
“Excuse me,” my friend said in slow, perfect, high German, betraying her Bavarian roots, “my friend would like a pasta carbonara, a salami pizza without cheese and a salad with chicken.”
“Allora,” said the young server repeated my order.
“Excuse me,” I began, annunciating carefully in German, “I’m confused. What language did you think I was speaking?”
My friend choked on her water.
The young lady looked at me. 
“English?” she asked.
“I did NOT order in English. That was German,” I stated. Loudly.
I looked to my friend, whose shoulders shook from suppressing her laughter.
“It was English,” the server stated.
“No. It wasn’t.”
I couldn’t let it go.
“Ok, whatever,” she said and walked away.
I turned to my friend, “I spoke German, right? Because I don’t remember speaking English just then.”
“You spoke German,” she laughed, “I think she was confused by your accent.”
It’s such a small incident. It doesn’t attack who I am as a person. It says more about the young woman’s lack of education and experience, if anything. But I wanted an apology. I wanted her to acknowledge that my German skills were better than hers.  
We are both foreigners. I should have been more patient with her faults instead of condescending. But I felt she didn’t try to understand me, she didn’t put enough effort in with the language, and she didn’t even give herself a chance.  
As a foreigner making a life in a new country, I feel one has to do better than that.  
Because I’m trying to win the best foreigner award.

Fasting


Another Lent where I disappoint myself. Living in the predominantly Catholic Bavaria, many people give up something for Lent. Sugar, alcohol, smoking or swearing are the common vices selected from which to abstain. 

 As seen in the photo for this post, I gave up swearing and sweets. Wanting to shed the holiday kilos that I’m still carrying as saddlebags, I thought this would be the perfect motivation. I would set a stellar example for my children in my dedication and discipline. Also, the 5 Euro penalty (1 Euro for the children) per infraction should motivate too, as I hate losing money.  
Twenty-four hours into Lent the kids began bartering.  

 “What about Sprite? Does Sprite count?”

 “Yogurt with Smarties?”

 “Honey Loops?”

 “Sugar Smacks?”

 “But it’s cereal, Mama.”
This is what happens when intentions are not pure. I selfishly thought about my saddlebags and not my religion.  
My photo documents the adjustments to the fast. To my shame, no sweets for the children became 2 sweets per day only. Yes, I folded. I couldn’t hear the whining and begging anymore.    
Then came the loophole. Visiting my son’s former kindergarten to catch up with our favorite teachers from his formative years, a teacher explained the Catholic fasting rules from her church. Sundays are fasting free. Meaning, you can break your fast for 24 hours.

 I was skeptical until our local paper published an article written by a priest confirming that yes, you may break your fast on Sunday.

 Sunday at my house is now like Christmas, Easter and a birthday party in one with Xbox marathons, chocolate, Haribo, crepes and eating tablespoons of Nutella out of the jar (no double dipping though, you have to get a new spoon).

 It still doesn’t seem right to me. Can’t I/we hold out a measly 40 days?

 I owe the kitty 20 Euros and I still need to fess up to the frosting I consumed while making a birthday cake. The fasting is wreaking havoc on my conscience.  
Next year I’ll be smarter. I’ll give up lobster, Beluga caviar and 40 percent cacao chocolate.  I shouldn’t have too much of these anyway…

Fist Bump

Seeing that I speak English all day to children as well as non-native speakers where I need to speak slower and with a limited vocabulary, it’s no wonder I’ve lost a bit of my advanced, erudite English. Now I’m just showing off. I keep my vocabulary limited, nonsuperfluous. Actually, I never use words like superfluous. I tend to speak slower in English, except during my daily conversations with Mom and Sister, or with my native English speaking friends here.

What struck me lately is how I am no longer current with the latest American slang.

For example: “Drop the mic”. Continue reading “Fist Bump”