Q&A Time, Part 3!

A short while back, I posted an ‘Ask Me Anything’ post.  Some folks used that as a chance to ask for advice in advance of their upcoming travels to the area, and I tried to answer what I could of those in regular e-mail.  Some of the remaining questions are really interesting, so I’ve decided to do a series of “You asked, I answer” posts.  Let’s get started!

Here’s a question from Rarasaur:  Is there any object (not food related, that’s too easy) that can make you homesick?

I thought about this one for a while, and my answer is no, not really.  I put very little personal investment into things.    Everything I own right now is either in a 5×10 storage unit in Florida, or in my 45 square meter apartment here, and neither one of those locations is anywhere near full.  People can make me homesick.  Flavors can make me homesick.  Sometimes even smells or songs or the  memory of what something feels like can make me homesick.

But an object?  No.  Just no.

Here’s another question from Rarasaur: Is there a habit or custom that you’ve picked up in Germany that you’d take home with you forever when you come back to the States?

There are a few, I think.

I suspect that my consumption of consumer goods and my handling of trash and waste will be forever altered by my time here.

I take my shoes off at the door of my apartment now.  That’s not specifically a German custom, but I didn’t do it before I moved here and I’ll probably keep doing that.

I carry canvas bags to the grocery store with me now because you pay for the plastic bags you need at the grocery here.  I’ll probably keep doing the canvas bag thing when I’m back in the states.  I also buy a lot less food here because I have to carry it all home with me on foot.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I can think of off the top of my head.

Here’s yet another question from Rarasaur:  Have you learned about any particularly interesting German artist/cook/painter/writer/politician/whoever that Americans never really speak about, but all Germans know?  If so, pass on the knowledge, por favor. :)

Before living in Germany,I didn’t know about Karl May, the author of the Winnetou novels.  I didn’t know about “Dinner For One.”  I didn’t know about German media folks who are household names here like Michael “Bully” Herbig or Stefan Raab.

Beyond that, I’ve mostly just learned a great deal more about names that are not completely unknown to me as I travel to the places that were part of their lives, because I research the hell out of everything I see and everything I write about.  Living in Europe puts me in a fantastic position to learn about these names, because the signs and history are all around me.   Johannes Kepler lived here in Regensburg.  Napoleon was here for a time, after he was wounded in the Battle of Regensburg.  Albrecht Dürer lived in nearby Nürnberg.   I learned more about Falco when I went to Vienna, and somehow missed seeing his gravesite when I was walking around Vienna Zentralfriedhof.  (And I learned more about that Mozart guy, too.)

Do you have anything you’d like to ask?  The Ask Me Anything post is still open!

Public Holiday: May Day

One of the many things I had to learn when I got to Germany was the different holidays. Many of the holidays that I’m used to from the US just aren’t a holiday here.

Thanksgiving is a great example of this. Most of the Germans I’ve met don’t know anything at all about Thanksgiving. I got here in the middle of November, and I was fortunate enough to meet a lot of folks in the local ex-patriate crowd right away.  This allowed me to attend a Thanksgiving dinner in the local Irish pub. As one of the actual Americans in attendance, I spent a fair amount of time explaining what the foods represented, and what little I could remember from grade school about the background and story of the holiday. I also fielded questions like “how on earth do you eat this cranberry sauce goop?” It was a highly entertaining time. Plus, there were twinkies.

But I digress. The first of May is a public holiday here in Bavaria. It’s a holiday in much of Europe, actually, but the Bavarian holiday schedule doesn’t always match up to the rest of Europe. It does today, though, which means that most business are closed, and everyone goes out and enjoys the newly minted sunshine for a change.

May Day, first observed as a public holiday here in 1933, is also referred to as Labour Day here, and I’ve been told that sometimes there are activities related to work and employment, but I haven’t seen any.

What I have seen is a lot of Maibäume, or maypoles.  These started to turn up at the beginning of April, and they usually show up near churches or main village squares from what I’ve seen.  I’ve done a bit of research, and the date that it goes up varies- in some instances, it’s put up on May 1st, and might be left up for the duration of the month.  In some cases, the pole itself is left up year round, but without the decorations.  The placing of the maypole is often followed by a dance,  or Tanz in den Mai (Dance into May).

There is a wealth of information online about maypole customs and decorations in other countries, but I’m focusing on what I’ve seen here in Germany.  The poles I’ve seen have been blue and white, which is the colors of the Bavarian flag.  They’re also covered in wreaths and some other decorations which, according to The Google, usually depict local crafts and industry.

There’s another element to this tradition though, which I quite like.  On the night of the last day of April, many men erect small decorated maypoles in front of the houses of their sweethearts, with a decoration attached in the shape of a red heart with the name of the girl.  The genders reverse on leap years and women leave the maypoles in front of their sweetie’s house.   This is often done in secret, and it’s up to the person leaving the maypole to decide whether to remain anonymous or give a hint to their identity.

Happy May Day, everyone!

German Customs 101: Mahlzeit!

One of the more amusing customs I’ve seen since I moved to Germany is the usage of the word Mahlzeit.  Loosely translated, the word means “meal time,” but it’s used in a few different ways. Some people use it as a greeting even away from food, but I haven’t seen that as much.

The most common usage, and the one that I see every day, is that when someone goes to eat lunch, most people who see them say ‘malhzeit.’   This seems to happen any time in the afternoon, and I’ve seen references that say that any meal after about 11am but before late afternoon qualifies. Once you get to early evening, it shifts to guten abend.

The first time I ran across this, I was mildly incredulous.  When you leave the office to get some food, it’s not uncommon for everyone in the room to say mahlzeit to me.  The person leaving is supposed to say mahlzeit as well. When someone else is leaving, everyone says mahlzeit to them.  When you’re already sitting and eating, people who wander into the kitchen to get coffee also reflexively say mahlzeit.  I’ve had days where four or five people have walked by and said mahlzeit in a row-  the desire for privacy is actually a pretty good incentive to leave the office for lunch.

Some, just to be contrary, say ‘guten appetit.’  I always want to say “marsite,’ which sounds similar enough that most people wouldn’t notice, but references pool decking instead.