Have Vonage? Cancel it.

But not really.

First of all, I’m sure plenty of you are wondering what Vonage is. Simply put, it’s an awesome service that has allowed us to keep our last US home number through four countries now. Friends, family, and business contacts in the US can call us on our old US number, and a phone in our German (or Swiss or Italian) apartment rings. We have a box from Vonage that we hook up to our high-speed internet and a telephone, and we’re good to go. Voicemail messages get sent to us via email, so even when we don’t have the Vonage box with us, we can find out who has tried to contact us and hear the messages.

Now on to why you should cancel if you have it. I have it on good authority (ie, not only have I tried this, but one other person I know, too) that Vonage is willing to offer two free months of service to customers who want to cancel their accounts. Just call to cancel (the only way to cancel is by 1-800 number – very annoying when we wanted to cancel but didn’t have the Vonage phone to make the call from!), and hold out until they offer you two free months of service to stay. Woo hoo, free phone!

So why did we want to cancel? It’s a little pricey if you don’t make that many calls. For us, we pay around $20 per month for up to 500 minutes of outgoing calls. While we have been happy with the service so far, we realize that we probably don’t make/receive enough calls to the US per month to justify spending $20 for a US line, especially given how rarely our friends and family in the US bother to call us (want to prove me wrong? Call us! Just remember the time difference…).

There are numerous other cheap international calling schemes out there, too. Skype is probably the most famous (but didn’t work with our crappy Swiss internet, so neither of us is in the habit of using it). We’re also test-driving Rebtel right now. I’ll let you know if we like it.

What do you other expats use to make phone calls to the US?

A little to the left

Obviously mainstream conservatives in Germany are very different than those in the US, but still I tend to forget which party Merkel is from. Both the fact that she is a woman and that she grew up in the East make me want to love her a little. And the fact that she won’t take a shoulder massage from Bush makes me like her even more. This is confusing for me, because I can’t remember the last time a conservative in the US left a positive impression on me in any way, shape, or form.

As seen on Marienplatz today: angry Serbs

I won’t claim to know enough about the issue to have an opinion I’d wish to post here, but I do want to share some photos of the anti-Kosovo-secession rally that took place at Marienplatz (the main square in the center of Munich) today. We decided to swing by and check out the rally after seeing this thread on Toytown Germany (an oddly-named website that caters to the English-speaking community in Germany). I do not recommend trying to read the thread (although there are a couple points when it made me laugh out loud).

There was a stage and speakers and a decent-sized crowd, many of who were holding signs and Serbian flags. We didn’t see any counter-protesters to speak of, but I’ve heard there was a pro-Kosovo-independence rally last weekend.

Too much screwing

This afternoon I was going to finally finish putting together our Ikea guest bed. I had plenty of time set aside, so I should have been able to get it done today, right? Except I forgot about the screwing. Or rather, I forgot about how painful non-stop screwing can be. My palms are red and raw from constantly rubbing against the end of the screwdriver. And as you can see from the photo, there is still a lot of screwing left to be done. Oh, the glamorous life of an expat!

So, um, no guests yet.

Hmmm… wonder what kind of search engine traffic this post is going to bring in?

At last, the Americans may know the joys of German teen angst

Even though Germany has some great home-grown musical acts to offer, rarely does a German artist make it across the Atlantic to the US (as opposed to American music, which makes it over here to Germany far too often).

If I had had to bet on which German music was going to make it big in the US next, Tokio Hotel would have not been where I put my money. So good thing I wasn’t betting: A Wild Welcome to a German Teen Pop Band.

Tokio Hotel is the group which required riot police protection at the train station in Zurich. Apparently they are re-scripting their German hits to have English lyrics. Lucky you, you people who don’t speak German but want to sing along with Bill! (Yes, I admit to knowing the name of the porcupine-headed lead singer. Do you still respect me?)

Edited to add: Stupid YouTube took down the awesome video that went with this post. But never fear, I have found you this one entitled Sexy Pool Talk instead.

Why Uri Geller is lame

In an effort to get to know my new home country, I’ve been diligently checking out German TV. On of the shows currently on is The Next Uri Geller, a show in search of Germany’s top mentalist.

I can’t bear to watch this show. It’s just too stupid, even for my relatively low standards. All the tricks are basic and banal, and none of the contestants can hold my interest. But the lamest part about the show has to be Uri Geller himself. In case you’re not familiar (as I wasn’t before I saw this show), Uri is an internationally-famous self-proclaimed mentalist who has been around since at least the 60s, and whose greatest power appears to be his ability to bend spoons. The main difference between Uri and, say, David Copperfield, is the fact that while David calls himself a magician and fully admits that he does “tricks”, Uri insists publicly that he really does have some mystical power (and this despite the fact that he’s been exposed as a fraud multiple times).

OK, so let’s suspend our disbelief and say that Uri Geller really has special powers. Why is it that he hasn’t come up with a more useful or impressive application of these powers than bending spoons in the past 50 years? I mean, come on. Spoon bending? How does that a show make?


Not going home to Zurich

After over a month of sleeping in my own bed (for a change), it was time to move around a little bit. So last week I hopped on a train and headed back to Zurich for a quick visit.

It’s always strange to go back to a former home city for the first time. It’s like talking to a former boyfriend you haven’t seen since the break-up. There’s so much familiarity, but you know your relationship as you knew it was over. You’re not sure how it will play out from here. Shut up, I never said I was good at metaphors.

Zurich is more familiar than Munich, but I don’t live there any more. I’m also not Swiss, and I’m not from Zurich, so what is our relationship? Do we mean anything at all to each other now? Am I just a tourist when I go there now?

Despite my best efforts to temporarily un-degrüezi-fy my vocabulary, I seemed to be tossing around “Gruβ Gott!” left and right. I’m tempted to drop all regional greetings from my vocabulary entirely and reverting to the textbook “Guten Tag” no matter where I am…

Naturally I fit in a trip to Sprüngli to pick up some Valentine’s Day truffles for my husband (hey, I’m a good wife), but the highlight of the trip was definitely seeing my Zurich-based friends. I miss them!

Beer superlatives

Finish this phrase: “Gut, besser, ____” (“Good, better, ____”)

I’ve always been under the impression that the correct answer was, of course, “Paulaner”. So why is it that I keep seeing these commercials for Gösser, a little-known Austrian beer?


I was starting to think I was going a bit crazy, but recently a German friend confirmed it, Paulaner really is the one who originated the slogan in connection to beer advertising:


So what’s up with that, Gösser? Why are you stealing Paulaner’s slogan? And more importantly, why do I have nothing better to blog about than beer commercials? I need to get out more.

German train hazzards

So the other day I was reading this post by Brian in Munich about how he is having to extract elderly Germans from his reserved train seats all the time. And while I found the post amusing, a part of my brain was protesting: surely he doth exaggerate about the frequency of such occurrences. Oder?*

Flash forward a few days to my first train trip since moving back to Germany. Ticket and reservation in hand, I board the correct car to find… an adorable little gray-haired German lady in my reserved seat. In my politest High German (have I mentioned that I speak High German? Because two years in Zurich made me almost forget that fact.) I told her that I believed that was my seat she was occupying. She happily produced her ticket so I could inspect it and compare it to my own. The seat and the car were correct. As I was beginning to doubt my own sanity, I asked to see her ticket again… and noticed that it was for a train that ran a week ago.

As she apologetically moved to an unreserved seat across the aisle, it was all I could do to keep myself from giggling and telling her about this blog post I had read…

To be fair, my seat for my return trip was empty when I boarded the train, bringing the statistical prevalence of confused-elderly-German-in-train-seat to a mere 50%. This is on the Munich-Zurich route; statistics for other routes may vary.

* “oder” is the German word for “or”. It is often used as a tag question, with a similar meaning to “isn’t it?” or “right?”

Austrian snow therapy

We would be awfully bummed about moving away from Switzerland in the middle of ski-season… if we hadn’t moved to Munich. The oh-so-conveniently-located Austrian Alps are close enough for easy day-trip skiing. Unfortunately this season hasn’t been as snowy as we would like, but the Austrians seem to be pretty good at filling in the gaps with man-made snow.

There seem to be dozens of resorts to choose from. In January we hit Kaltenbach, and just yesterday we were in Alpbachtal. Kaltenbach had a nice variety of runs, and our enjoyment was greatly enhanced by a covey of skiing witches. Alpbachtal was a little short on the blue (easy) slopes, but I managed to stay entertained for the entire day (and conditions were even good enough for me to successfully navigate a couple red runs). We also enjoyed riding the charmingly antique single-chair lift.

While lift tickets seem to have comparable prices in Austria and Switzerland, equipment rental is noticeably cheaper in Austria (skiing pro that I am, naturally I own my own, but Scott is still renting until he finds a snowboard he can fall in love with that doesn’t have a wild west theme painted on it). From what I’ve seen, Switzerland has more ski areas that are easily reachable by train than Austria does. We’ve heard that Germany’s Garmisch is a quick and easy train ride away, but haven’t had the chance to try it out yet.

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