Expat Thanksgiving: how to make pie from pumpkins

PumpkinPie 1

There are certain laments you hear amongst American expat communities the world over. “I miss peanut butter!” “Why is there no good Mexican food here?” “Where can I find canned pumpkin?” After several years out of the country, most of us learn to adapt to these grueling hardships one way or another. There are expats who lug giant suitcases full of ranch dressing and jello back from every visit to the US. There are those who just fill the peanut-butter-cup-shaped hole in their lives with exotic local sweets (Cadbury Egg, anyone?). And then there are those of us who use such deprivation as an excuse to expand our skill sets. Which is why I know how to make pumpkin pies without using canned pumpkin. Continue reading

Ask the expat: Oktoberfest duds and tent tips

I’m searching for an outfit for Oktoberfest this coming September, and I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction. Should I even dress up? I don’t want to offend anyone. If it is cool to wear an outfit, where do you recommend I get one? Is it stupid for me to get one of those cheap Halloween ones? All my friends are going to dress up; I wanted to at least attempt to get an outfit, but legit lederhosen cost more than I want to spend. Any help would be appreciated. Also, can you recommend any tents or easier ways to get into tents?

-Brian C.

Oktoberfest without dressing up is like a Halloween party without a costume: it’s still a lot of fun, but the right outfit can make it even better. I’d say at least half of Oktoberfest attendees show up in tracht (dirdls or lederhosen) these days, locals and foreigners alike. I’d definitely encourage you to dress up if you can find a way to do it without cutting into your beer budget (and Oktoberfest beer ain’t cheap). So what are your options?

  • Spring for real lederhosen, which will probably run you over €100 (more with shirt and socks). That’s definitely a lot to spend if you’re only planning to attend Oktoberfest once, but on the other hand, you’ll have a kick-ass Halloween costume for the rest of your life. You could try your luck on ebay, or pick some up in Munich. There are tracht shops all over the city center (including about a million branches of Wies’n Tracht und Mehr, which at the very least keeps me entertained with its ad campaigns).
  • Go for fake lederhosen, such as those made of plastic or the Bruno variety. I really, really don’t recommend this route. Look at the guys in the second photo down on this post. You don’t want to look like that.
  • Skip the lederhosen all together and go for a different look. Get a hat or an authentic checked tracht shirt for around €20 and wear it with jeans. Or a lederhosen t-shirt – cheesy, yes, but still much, much better than actual fake lederhosen.
  • Wear a kilt. They have nothing to do with Oktoberfest, but our Scottish friends think it’s a great idea.

Women have it easier: an Oktoberfest-ready dirndl can be picked up on ebay for $50 or less (but please stay away from the mini-dress catastrophes on Amazon), and they look just fine. There are also some good deals to be found these days in the many tracht stores along Tal, in the center of Munich.

As for which tents I recommend, it depends on what you’re looking for. All the big tents have more in common than they do differences – big beers, long benches, cheesy music, buxom waitresses – but they all have slightly different personalities. I suggest showing up early on a weekday (when you can still wander into all of the tents) and checking out several of them.  The Hacker tent, Ochsenbraterei, and Schützen Festzelt are all solid choices. The Hofbräu tent has a frat party vibe, and seems to have the highest foreigners-to-Germans ratio. The Weinzelt has wine and fancy food; the Käfer tent has really fancy food and low ceilings. The Hippodrom is where the celebrities hang out, perhaps because they are attracted to colorful streamers.

As far as getting into tents, my main advice is this: go early, and find yourself an unreserved table to park at for the day. On weekends you have to arrive when the tents open if you want a chance of getting a table for the day (although sometimes the tents open back up in the late evening). On weekdays you can usually walk in and out of tents freely until late afternoon, when they all fill up. Since this year is the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest, it will probably be more crowded than in years past. You also might want to check out my advice for first-time Oktoberfest visitors.

Hey readers: anyone have any great tips on where to get decent-looking lederhosen on the cheap? Please share!

Ask the Expat
is an occasional feature here at This non-American Life. If you have a question for me, go to this post to find out how to submit it.

Ask the Expat: Where to go for a great vegan meal in Munich?

Quick question that I can’t seem to uncover on your blog…. we’re in Munich Wednesday overnight and want to have a superlicious vegan meal. I’ve got a happycow guide to the city but if you had to recommend a veg place, where would you go? Thanks!

Usually I am lazy and wait months, at least, before answering questions, but since Wednesday is right around the corner I didn’t want to miss the chance to help a fellow vegetarian out. Munich has a good handful of vegetarian places, all of which are vegan-friendly, but two restaurants pop into mind for a great evening. Actually a third pops into mind, too, an amazing vegan place called Saf, but tragically it closed down last year. I’m still bitter about that.

First up I’ll mention Prinz Myshkin, Munich’s most well-known vegetarian restaurant. I’m a fan of the high-ceilinged-white-grotto decor as well as of the extensive menu, which ranges from sushi and Indian to pasta and pizza. For a vegan I’d recommend the mixed antipasto platter (ask for a vegan version) and the mixed sushi plate, if you’re into that kind of thing. Reservations are generally a good idea but on a Wednesday you should be able to get a table without them.

My second recommendation is Vegelangelo. This is a quirky little place, but the food is outstanding. It’s a small, interestingly-decorated restaurant run entirely by one woman. The service can be slow at times, since she is the host, cook, waiter, and cleaning staff, but if you’re not in a hurry then the cuisine is definitely worth the wait. The menu here is also eclectic; the Linseneintopf is amazing. Even though the restaurant usually doesn’t fill up (and often feels a little too empty), reservations are recommended so she can plan for you.

And as a third suggestion I’ll toss out another idea – picnic in a beer garden. In all of Munich’s beer gardens you can bring your own food as long as you buy your beverages there. Get some creative takeout or groceries and throw your own vegan feast in the most Bavarian of settings.

Both restaurants are within a 10-minute walk from Marienplatz, and there are beer gardens all over the place. Hope you find a great meal.

Ask the Expat is an occasional feature here at This non-American Life. If you have a question for me, go to this post to find out how to submit it.

The Oktoberfest answers you’ve been searching for

As is to be expected, this week I’ve had an explosion of hits from people googling their last-minute Oktoberfest queries and questions. Why don’t we take a stab at helping out these folks, shall we?

oktoberfest reservations
A little late for that, buddy.

cheap dirndls
Try Ebay.

oktoberfest munich first time advice
You’re in luck, I wrote a whole post about that.

is there sex at oktoberfest?
Hmm. Probably?

oktoberfest regensburg 2009
You’re close, but actually it’s in Munich.

where to buy lederhosen in munich
These days you can buy them all over the city, but I’d recommend heading out to the Loden Frey outlet store or the giant Wies’n Tracht & Mehr on Hanaurstraße. Both are near the Olympia-Einkaufszentrum U-bahn stop.

oktoberfest reservations tents
Yes, Oktoberfest reservations are in tents.

oktoberfest munich without a reservation tent
No problem. See my tips.

oktoberfest sex stories
Well, there was this one time… not. Perhaps Penthouse should put out a special Oktoberfest issue. Or feel free to leave your own story in the comments.

oktoberfest pictures with lederhosen
Here’s one of my favorite Oktoberfest lederhosen pics, taken at an after-hours party across the street from the Wiesn.

oktoberfest peeing
There’s no peeing at Oktoberfest. You just have to hold it in. OK, I guess you could use one of these.

how to get a last minute beer tent reservation oktoberfest
Call or go by the tents’ offices. Check the tents’ websites (Oktoberfest.de has convenient links to all of them) to find out where the offices are and how/when you can reach them. But don’t get your hopes up too much – it’s probably not worth the effort.

training for oktoberfest drinking
The jury is out on how to best go about this.

oktoberfest signs
Signs that it is Oktoberfest: 1) more drunken lederhosen-clad hordes on the U-bahn than usual; 2) puke at your tram stop.

oktoberfest waitresses
have mad beer-carrying skillz. And are usually grumpy. But you would be too.

nudity oktoberfest
Yes, there is nudity at Oktoberfest, most of which is of the unfortunate, pale British variety.

what are the waitresses called at the oktoberfest
Hmmm. Any ideas?

expat dirndl oktoberfest
They let us wear the same dirndls as the locals, actually. Here’s mine. It’s the tourists who have to wear the funny ones.

drink as much as you want 10 euro munich
You can totally do that at Oktoberfest. I mean, assuming you only want a liter. That’s enough for anyone, right?

preparation for oktoberfest drink water
Nah, then you’ll just have to stand in that godawful bathroom line even more often. Instead, prepare by 1) going out and buying some tracht and 2) getting a lot of cash out of your bank account.

Tomorrow’s the day…

Ask the Expat: practical Oktoberfest advice for first-time visitors

Can you post some guidance for Oktoberfest ahead of the event this year for those of us who want to attend? (At least I no longer think it’s in Oktober :) )

OK, so my last post containing Oktoberfest tips was not particularly comprehensive. This time I will do better.

To start with the very basics, Oktoberfest is a giant festival consisting of beer tents, rides, and vendors selling carnival food and souvenirs. It takes place at Munich’s Theresienwiese (often referred to as the Wiesen or Wies’n) and runs for around 16 days starting in the second half of September (this year it’s September 19th – October 4th). Entrance is free, and everything else is pretty expensive. Tents open at 10:00AM (9:00 on weekends) and close at 11:30PM. There are 14 large tents and a handful of smaller ones.

You have to be in a tent (or on a tent’s patio) and sitting down at a table to get beer. (OK, so there’s also the beery-go-round, but that’s not what you came to Oktoberfest for.) This sitting-at-a-table-waiting-for-beer is sometimes not as easy as it sounds. Pretty much all of the tents get full to capacity every day of the festival, at which time the doors are closed and guarded by big, angry (and sometimes bribable) bouncers. This happens by the early evening on weekdays and by about 9:05AM on weekends.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to get inside a tent, it’s now time to get down to the business of finding yourself a seat. Many tables will have reserved signs on them, usually with a starting time for the reservation. If you are there well in advance of the reservation time, you may usually sit at the table and be served beer, and the waitress will kick you out at the appropriate time. All tents have a section of tables that are never reserved, usually near the center of the tent.

Hacker Pschorr Tent at Oktoberfest, Munich

Unless you’ve arrived at 10:00AM on a Monday, don’t expect to find an entire empty table all for you. Choose a table with some available space, ask the people there if the seats are free (Ist hier noch frei?) and sit down. The waitress will be by more quickly than you expect. You’ll find a crumpled, soggy menu somewhere on the table. It will list a variety of heavy foods, a couple of non-alcoholic drinks, and beer, which only comes by the liter and in one variety. Be glad you don’t have to spend too much time thinking about what to drink.

If you want to be able to easily find a seat, the best time to go to Oktoberfest is on a weekday in the morning or early afternoon. As long as you keep consuming food and drinks (and you sit at an unreserved table), you can stay as long as you like.

At times when the tents are full, it’s still often possible to find a spot on a tent’s patio. There you can eat and drink, but you’ll miss out on the music and atmosphere going on in the tent. Although tents are usually full by the early evening each day, sometimes they open up again later on, after the early shift of drinkers starts crawling their way home.

If you insist on attending Oktoberfest on a weekend without a reservation, do this to get into a tent: arrive at the Wiesen by 8 AM, choose a tent, and stand in the large mass of people outside the door. When they start letting people in a little before 9, make a run for the tables and start looking for one without a reservation sign (or one that is reserved just for the evening – you’ll be ready to leave by then). Cell phones are useful in this scenario, as the people in your party can split up and whoever finds a table first can call the others. Enjoy that 9 AM beer.

All of the large tents have live music for most of the day (starting around 11). The daytime band is usually oompa-like and somewhat traditional. At some point during the afternoon they will be switched out for a younger, hipper band which will assault your ears with Walking on Sunshine and Cowboys und Indianer. This is usually the time when the dancing on the benches commences. Be prepared to jump up and join in or find your head surrounded by gyrating leather-clad asses.

And on that note, I think I’ll wrap this post up. I’ll post a couple of follow-ups in the coming weeks as Oktoberfest draws nearer. If you have any specific questions, ask away!

Ask the Expat is a semi-regular feature here at This non-American Life. If you have a question for me, go to this post to find out how to submit it.

Ask the Expat: how to eat zucchini flowers

Do you ever post recipes? I had somewhere heard you could eat the zucchini with their flowers, but I’d never seen it done.


One of the reasons I was so excited to start a balcony garden was realizing that I could have a cheap and plentiful supply of zucchini flowers. Yum yum yum.

Zucchini flowers are quite easy to cook and eat. You can pick (easiest with scissors) male or female* flowers, preferably on the day they bloom. Wash them gently, inside and out, and pat them dry with paper towels. Pluck out the sexual organs inside, if you’re so inclined. The flowers can be refrigerated and kept for a day or so, but it’s best to eat them the same day you pick them.

Continue reading

Ask the Expat: a week in Bologna

My husband and I are planning our trip to Europe this summer and have decided on spending some time in Bologna. I think we want to make it our home base for about a week. We will likely be there the last week of August after my husband finishes a course in Ireland. I have read things are quiet in Bologna at that time, but that is really what we are looking for. We are considering a day trip to Venice and a trip to Parma to do the food factories. Would you have any other suggestions? Any must-sees or eats in Bologna or other cities to visit? I really wanted to see more of Tuscany, but didn’t think that was possible without a car which we won’t have. This will be our first trip to Italy and we are really looking forward to it. We did way too much hopping last year so while we want to see a lot of things we are also looking forward to some relaxing dinners and great wine.

- Lori, Blondie in Brazil

Good choice! Bologna is a lovely city, and there are tons of great day-trips you can take from there – Ravenna, Ferrara, Modena, Verona, Florence, Milan… you can check out the Trenitalia site for travel times. Bologna is a train hub for northern Italy, and the number of interesting destinations within 1-2 hours is practically endless. Since this is your first trip to Italy, I’m tempted to encourage you to hit some of the big, famous bits, such as Venice and Florence, both quite convenient to Bologna, but make sure you fit in at least one smaller town, too.

Since you also mention wanting to see some of Tuscany, consider Siena or Montepulciano. Both can be reached from Bologna by train/bus in around 3 hours (so maybe you’d want to go for an over-night).

In Bologna itself, I’d recommend: the museum at the Accademia; gelato at Grom; pizza at La Mela; a stroll through the small food vendors in the area between Piazza Maggiore and the two towers; a look around the interior of San Petronio (keep your eye out for the fresco of the two-headed people eater); several hours of just wandering around exploring the city center. If you’re up for a longer walk, head up to San Luca, a basilica up on a hill just outside of the city. You can walk under zig-zagging porticoes most of the way up.

Now for the big caveat: August can indeed be very, very dead in Italian cities. Not just slow, but practically shuttered down. In Milan at least 3/4 of restaurants and shops were closed down for multiple weeks if not the whole month. It got very hot and felt deserted. Bologna is similar, from what I remember (it was many years ago that I lived there). Honestly, it could get pretty boring spending a whole week there with not much open, and not much restaurant choice. The main holiday is August 15th, so the farther away from that you get (ie, as late as possible in the month) the more open you will find things. If you can re-juggle your schedule to push your time in Italy into September, all the better. Cities in other European countries don’t get nearly as ghost-towny as Italian cities do in August.

Bologna is known for its food, and the wine is cheap and plentiful, so you should have no trouble fulfilling that part of your vacation goal.

Have a great trip!

Ask the Expat is a new feature I’m trying out here at the blog. If you have a question for me, go to this post to find out how to submit it.

Ask the Expat: how did you get here?

Hey, can you point me to any past posts that tell a bit more of your story? How you became an expat (nomad)? Thanks again!

-Bonnie, The Blue Suitcase

I admit, this blog is definitely missing an “about” page, which I always intended to add whenever 1) I got around to switching blog platforms or 2) Blogger started supporting pages that aren’t blog entries. So far neither one has happened.

The short answer to your question is that we moved to Munich after my (American) husband got a job here with a local company. But that’s only part of the story; Munich is basically my 5th expat adventure in Europe, and each one began differently. Here’s a quick run-through:

Bologna, Italy, was my first experience living in Europe, during my junior year abroad in college. I was hooked.

My second expat gig was as an English teacher in eastern Germany. I applied for and received a grant from a foundation which was trying to bring more native-speaker English teachers to eastern universities, which were sorely understaffed after the wall fell and demand for English skyrocketed.

Fast forward a few more years (and careers) and I’m working in New York for a finance company. I’ve expressed my desire to eventually be transferred to one of the foreign offices, but I don’t expect it to happen for a while. Then the company opened an office in Milan, Italy, and decided to send someone from the New York office to staff it. Suddenly that college Italian was coming in handy, as it got me a job in the new office. I was off to Milan, new husband in tow.

At a certain point we decided we were ready to be done with the situation in Milan, but we wanted to stay in Europe. My husband started applying to jobs in a couple countries, and that led to him working for a company in Zurich, Switzerland (which is when I started writing this blog).

After about two years in Switzerland, we started itching for another new adventure, which led to more job applications around Europe, which led to our current situation in Munich. We’ve been here for a year and a half, and have no plans to move on anytime soon.

Ask the Expat is a new feature I’m trying out here at the blog. If you have a question for me, go to this post to find out how to submit it.

Ask the Expat: search term edition

Most ‘Ask the Expat’ inquires come to me as comments or emails from readers. These, however, come in the form of search terms that bring people to my blog. Gotta love site stats.

american gaydar doesn’t work in europe
Yes and no. If your gaydar is set to detect mainly visual cues, then well-dressed Italian men and German women with short haircuts are likely to give you a barrage of false positives. But with a bit of fine tuning (and a voltage converter), you’ll find that your American gaydar can become useful in Europe, too.

german and american life difference
This one is easy. In Germany, the beer, public transportation and unemployment benefits are better. The Mexican food, friendliness of people, and availability of ice are worse.

mexican food in germany
Is not worth your time (see previous answer).

reality tv germany
Not as sophisticated as the American version. Although one can watch Flavor of Love and Rock of Love here, Germany has thus far failed to produce compelling equivalents. In the meantime we entertain ourselves with Germany’s Next Top Model and DSDS.

what kind of job can an american have in europe
Well, you can be a runway model coach, or a revered pop icon. Those are basically the only two options I can think of.

expat basel blog
Try The Big Finn.

swiss view on nudity
Well, I hear that from the men’s restroom at the Bauschänzli in Zurich, one has a view of the topless sunbathers next door at the Frauenbad.

how did the hair dryer change american life
Um, it made it fluffier, and more blown out?

should i move to zurich

swiss german horrible people
No, not all of them.

waste time internet

Ask the Expat is a new feature I’m trying out here at the blog. If you have a question for me, go to this post to find out how to submit it.

Ask the Expat: temporary or permanent?

Hey Jul: I see that you have lived in some of the most difficult countries in Europe to obtain citizenship (Switzerland and Germany). Are you planning on making your stay permanent or are you planning on coming back States side?

I really don’t know if we’ll ever move back to the US. We have no plans either way. Certainly if we do stay in Europe for a longer amount of time, EU (or Swiss) citizenship would make parts of our lives easier (and allow us to vote in local elections), but it’s not essential to staying here long-term. So far I haven’t lived in a single country long enough to become eligible (the number of years required for eligibility varies from country to country – from a few years in Ireland to over a decade in Switzerland).

If we did live in Germany long enough to become eligible for citizenship, I doubt I would apply for it. Germany would require me to give up my American passport, and I don’t think I’d ever want to do that. Permanent residency will just have to do.

The main reason I don’t want to to return to the States just yet? I’d have to find a new name for this blog.

Ask the Expat is a new feature I’m trying out here at the blog. If you have a question for me, go to this post to find out how to submit it.

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