Not much to do in California at 6 am…

…except walk on the beach, or sit on the sofa on the balcony drinking coffee and staring at the ocean. Which really aren’t such bad options, once you get out of the must-make-the-most-of-time-in-US mode.

Although it’s been a mere six months since our last trip to the US, we’re still having waves of bewilderment about this strange country and its strip malls full of cheap nail salons and Trader Joe’s. The jetlag is adding to that, I’m sure. Some of my brilliant observations over the past 24 hours:

  • Everybody here is speaking English!

  • You’re refilling my coffee?
  • I can’t drink a beer on the beach? Why the hell not?
  • What is this? We didn’t ask for the check…
  • Turn off that air conditioner! Do you want me to get sick????

Alright, I’m TOTALLY kidding on that last one. I’m still an American, you know.

After 23 hours of traveling, my weary brain was confused to end up speaking German with the guy checking us into the hotel (who happened to be from Munich). Fortunately he was the perfect person to tell us where we could watch the German-Turkey game* the next morning (see photo above). And I thought I’d never have a use for a big American sports bar. I’m sure the 10-person crowd of mostly German expats at the bar was a far cry from the scene in Munich, and I’m quite sad to be missing out on all the excitement at home. It’s going to take a lot of Mexican food, dirty martinis, and free coffee refills to console me. And perhaps another walk on the beach before breakfast.

* WTF was up with those feed outages during the second half of the game? And what’s worse, we were forced to watch inane American commentator banter in the gaps. Switzerland, I am deeply disappointed with you. Hang your head in shame.

Hailstorm in the veggie garden

Yesterday afternoon I looked on helplessly as euro-sized hail pelted my delicate vegetable garden for a good 10 minutes. Deciding against running outside and using my body to shield the plants, instead I stayed in and photographed the action.

I’m happy to report everyone seems to have survived intact, although there are a few tattered leaves here and there.

Speaking of the vegetable garden, it is still coming along beautifully. We have been dining on zucchini blossoms prepared every which way (stuffed, fried, on pasta, in risotto…) for weeks now, and they just keep coming. We’ve even let a few of them grow into delicate, tender 6-inch long zucchini, which have also been lovely. The leaf lettuce is delicious, as is the arugula. And strawberries! At least a few each day. This garden thing is seriously fun.

The pea plants are blossoming, as are the rest of the bell pepper plants. The tomato plants are covered with tiny little green tomatoes and clusters of yellow flowers. Judging from their numbers, we should be rolling in tomatoes in about a month. I can’t wait.

And Felice? He was delicious.

Expats and bloggers invade Regensburg

Saturday we headed to Regensburg to spend the day at the expat meet-up organized by Christina. Regensburg is a cheap (on a Bayernpass) and easy 1.5-hour train ride from Munich, so it makes for a good day trip.

After wandering around on our own for a while, we joined the group for a guided tour of the city in the afternoon. It’s been a while since I’ve taken a guided tour of any city, and it was quite fun, even though the overarching theme (Regensburg might not look like much today, but in the past we were super important! really! Oh, and we’re very, very Italian, too!) was a little depressing.

Then it was off to a lovely biergarten for drinks in the shade before our herd of expats headed to dinner at a local Italian restaurant. It was fabulous to meet Cliff and Sarah of Regensblog, Tammy and Matthias of Coffee from a Cardboard Cup, and Tim and Heather from the Sprocket Spot, and several other non-blogging expats, too (it only seems like all of us blog…).

Us big city folk (ie., the four in attendance from Munich) left dinner on the early side hoping to catch a certain train, failed, and ended up watching most of the second half of the Russia-Netherlands game in a sports bar near the station. We were the only ones there over the age of 18, but at least we recognized the 80s music that was playing too loud for our delicate old ears.

Learning German by overwhelming force

Maß of beer, original oil paintingEven though I claim to speak two foreign languages, I’m not really a language person. I’m just not a natural at it, although I really wish I was. My typical American education didn’t exactly help, either, involving practically no foreign language training until high school, and even then it was barely given any attention. What application could non-English languages possibly have in the real world, after all? Surely being able to recite all 50 state capitals will have more of an impact on our ability to be productive members of society.

But, even non-naturals like me can learn to communicate well in a foreign language. Many years ago I passed the DSH-Prüfung, one of the highest level exams available for German as a foreign language, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement in my speaking and writing abilities. Plenty. And given that I live in Germany now, what better time to work on my German?

A while ago I read a Steve Pavlina article about using overwhelming force to accomplish a goal. It’s an interesting exercise, to think through all the things you could do to achieve a goal, even if you don’t actually end up implementing all of them. A few weeks ago I made a big long list of things I could do to improve my German with overwhelming force. Here were some of my ideas:

Formal training: find an appropriate-level German class and sign up!

Listening comprehension: watch only German television; listen only to music with German lyrics (current favorites include Xavier Naidoo and Wir Sind Helden); go see German movies; eavesdrop on German conversations on the train; subscribe to a bunch of German podcasts

Reading comprehension: read news only in German; switch to German-language leisure reading material (such as magazines and novels)

Speaking: speak only German as much of the day as possible. Speak only German with husband and friends; Speak German to myself when I’m alone; go out of my way to make phone calls in German; strike up conversations in German with strangers

Writing: send emails in German whenever possible; enter into more written correspondence in German; write blog in German only; keep a journal in German

Other: Do grammar exercises; memorize new vocabulary; work German crossword puzzles

Basically, replace all English thinking, reading, writing, speaking, and listening with German thinking, reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Easy enough, right?

The part I would find the hardest is the socializing part. I feel just as guilty going out of my way to make friends with German-speakers as I do cutting off those who don’t speak German. So, yeah, I’m probably not going to do that part. Noch nicht.

(And don’t worry, I don’t plan to start blogging auf Deutsch anytime soon, either.)

How do you improve your foreign language skills?

Tired of cycling while fully clothed?

Alas, our butts are planning to be out of town (at the Regensburg expat weekend, if you must know), and thus unable to participate in the Naked Bike Ride through Munich 2008 (NSFW) this weekend.

Which reminds me of a useful bit of German vocabulary: FKK (short for Freikörperkultur). It’s basically a fancy abbreviation referring to nudity or nudism. You’d be surprised how often these three letters come up in everyday conversation around here.

translation of the sign: open fires, BBQing, and nudity forbidden!

More honking*…

That would be for Turkey’s victory over Switzerland this evening. Sadly, host Switzerland has made a quick exit from the Euro Cup after losing its first two games. But I am happy that Turkey has a chance to continue on. Germany has such a large Turkish population that Turkey feels like a second home team.

* In Europe the traditional way to celebrate your team’s big soccer victory is to drive around in your car and honk. See previous discussion here and here.

As overheard at our table at an Indian restaurant

Indian-food novice who shall remain anonymous: “Now is this that non-garlic bread you ordered? Because I taste garlic.”

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