Category Archives: Culture Shock

My experiences living in Germany and reacting to the new language and culture.

The Top 5 Weirdly Specific, Totally Irrational Fears and Phobias of an American Expat Living in Germany

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“…and THIS, children, is the face of insanity!” — Image Credit: Okko Pyykkö (https://www.flickr.com/photos/data_op/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License.

We’re all afraid of something — spiders, heights, confined spaces — these are all common phobias. And while they scare the everloving shit out of me too, I have an additional set of fears which are far weirder and less rational than the rest. Fears I have always had, but which have been made far worse since I became an American expat living in Germany.

Phobia #5: Getting Lint in My Pee-Hole

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“Things way flow out, but NEVER in.” — Image Credit: Marc Diego (https://www.flickr.com/photos/132739655@N07/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License.

Few things are more sacred than my urinary meatus. It is the very keyhole behind which my soul is locked, and therefore, never to be sullied. Still, I have an intense fear of getting lint — or any other foreign object — lodged inside it. I cringe at the very thought. In fact, I am cringing super hard right now.

I suspect this fear stems from a moment in my childhood when I was at the playground near my house. Like most playgrounds, this one sat atop a thick layer of bark dust. I recall finding an unusually long piece of bark dust, then proceeding to run around swinging it over my head like a pirate. Soon enough, I needed to climb the play structure in order to better command my swabbies, but I only had one free hand. Thinking I was the smartest pirate ever, I jammed the bark dust into the waistband of my shorts and started climbing. By the time I got to the top, what was once a sword had exploded into a thousand merry splinters, one of which worked its way into my tiny piss hole. “Yarr, Matey! Batten down the hatches and–HOLY FUCK IT STIIIIIIINGS!”

What does this have to do with Germany? Well, I refuse to sleep naked. You see, occasionally, the summer months in Germany are actually hot, and air conditioning is a very rare indulgence in this country. Even though it is obviously the greatest thing ever, Germans tend to see air conditioning as wasteful and, in some cases, even unhealthy. Since my wife and I don’t want to be the only assholes on the block with an A/C unit sticking out the window, we must escape the heat through a pair of oscillating fans and our own nakedness. But therein lies the problem: As I’ve already explained, I am irrationally afraid something will find its way into my glue chute. That I’ll roll over while I’m asleep and crush my boner headfirst into a pile of sock lint, resulting in a massive infection and a trip to the emergency room, where my inflamed bongus starts shooting out whole socks like a malfunctioning clothes dryer.

Phobia #4: Sitting with My Back to the Door

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“Someone is sneaking up behind me right now. I KNOW it.” — Image Credit: Ralph Daily (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ralphandjenny/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License.

I’m just a nerd who sits at home all day making pretty on the computer. I am not a secret agent. I am not a criminal, nor am I an assassin, so realistically, no one is out to get me. I have absolutely no reason to fear having my back to the door in public places, and yet, it still bugs the holy Christ out of me. Restaurants, classrooms, offices — really anywhere I must remain for longer than a few seconds — are all spaces in which I am compelled to position myself so I can see exactly who is coming through the door at all times. Sure, I can white-knuckle my way through dinner at a sushi restaurant with a steady flow of foot traffic behind me, but I’ll look over my shoulder so many times my wife will eventually throw down her chopsticks and switch seats with me just so we can both relax.

This anxiety is all about control. I have no control over people when I can’t see them, and that makes me feel vulnerable. When I can see them, I feel as if I at least have a chance to protect myself and my wife from danger — even if I don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. Like, if some halfwit marches into a cafe and lights the place up with an assault rifle, at the very least I’m going to throw a salt shaker at him. Maybe even a dinner plate or something. Bang, bang, bang… “Fuck youuuuuuuu!” SMASH! …NEWS FLASH… American Expat in Germany Saves Dozens of Lives by Incapacitating Gunman with Fennel Caprese Salad.

What does this have to do with Germany? Well, public transportation in German cities is pretty sweet. My wife and I don’t need a car; we ride our bikes, take the bus or hop on the U-Bahn. You know what sucks about the U-Bahn though? There’s always a door behind you. Unless you want to stand up the entire time at the front of the train with your back pressed against the driver’s booth, staring the other passengers in the eye like some creepy homunculus, people are going to be entering and exiting right behind you. It sucks, and that’s why I always ride the U-Bahn with a tiny canister of pepper spray in my pocket — my thumb hovering nervously over the button — just waiting to ruin someone’s day.

Phobia #3: Drain Cleaner

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“Pictured: The burning tears of Gomorrah.” — Image Credit: Mike Mozart (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License.

Chemical drain cleaners are scary as hell. Have you ever used one, like Drano, Liquid-Plumr or Rid-X? God damn, that shit will eat through anything, and it’s not exactly discerning; It’ll burn through the wad of soap scum clogging your shower drain just as easily as it will your wrinkled scrotum. With this in mind, I handle drain cleaner like unstable dynamite; delicately tiptoeing my way through the house, keeping the bottle at arm’s length and my face turned slightly away while wearing an expression of dainty horror. Basically, like the world’s biggest pussy.

I am deathly afraid of getting drain cleaner on my skin, and I am 100% convinced it will somehow, magically, wind up in my eyes and blind me for life. Like, the fear itself is so strong it could blow a fuse in my brain, short out my instinct for self-preservation and replace it with the impulse to pour heinous amounts of acid directly into my eyes and mouth. This, in turn, causes more fear, which makes the impulse seem even more real, resulting in a thought loop from which I cannot escape, and proving — once and for all — I have lost my goddamn mind.

How does this relate to Germany? Well, renting houses and apartments — rather than owning them — is much more common in this country. Lots of Germans rent their homes their entire lives, but the universal problem with renters from any country is they rarely care about the place they’re renting. They don’t own it, so fuck it, right? On top of that, cheapskate apartment managers never fix things when they break. You’ve got to handle problems yourself, and that’s where drain cleaner comes into play. See, if your wife has long, sexy German hair like mine does, your shower drain will clog with hairballs at regular intervals throughout the year. This will force you to either buy a plumber’s snake (yeah right, that’s gross) or resort to the use of chemicals. And since my wife has deemed all things pertaining to clogged pipes as “icky” and “a man’s job,” I must regularly face my fear of drain cleaner — or as I have come to call it, “Cowering in Fear of the Devil’s Hot Acid Ejaculate.”

Phobia #2: Dogs

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“Oh, how cute! A pretty princess and a handsome gentleman… with razor-sharp knives in their mouths.” — Image Credit: Pets Adviser (petsadviser.com) — Subject to CC 2.0 License.

I used to love dogs, man. When I was younger, I had no fear of them whatsoever. But that all changed back in Portland, Oregon, in the mid-2000s, when I made the ingenious decision to try and break up a pit bull fight in my underwear.

You see, I was renting a room in a house owned by a woman with a pit bull. There was another renter living there too, and he also owned a pit bull, but neither of these two idiots had the slightest clue how to raise dogs like these. So, I woke up one Saturday morning to the unmistakable sound of dogs fighting over food in the kitchen, but it wasn’t just the usual snarling and barking; what I heard was two pit bulls trying to kill each other.

Not my problem, I thought to myself, rolling over and pulling the pillow down over my ears. But the bloody murder just got louder and louder, until it was clear one of the dogs was about to die. I jumped out of bed — out of anger and annoyance, not heroism — grabbed the canister of bear mace I kept (and still keep) next to my bed, and walked into the kitchen wearing nothing but a pair of thin, blue boxer shorts.

There was dog food, blood and hair all over the kitchen floor, and the woman who owned the house — whom we shall refer to as Muffinbrain McTouchedinthehead — was trying to bodily heft one of the pit pulls up and out the back door. She wasn’t strong enough to pull this off though, especially since the other pit bull had locked its jaws on the dog’s hind leg. I got Muffinbrain’s attention and offered to use the can of mace in my hand, but she insisted I try and pull the second dog away and separate them instead. I don’t know why, but I went ahead and grabbed the dog’s collar and yanked it back. It worked, but stupid goddamn Muffinbrain let her dog get away, and it charged across the kitchen and sank it’s teeth into the second dog’s neck. Of course my fingers were in the way, and to this very day I have the scars to prove it.

Anyway, it was at that moment when I absolutely lost my shit: I was basically naked — my exposed flesh vulnerable from all angles — bleeding and pissed off, so I pulled the safety guard off the canister and bear-maced the holy shit out of pit bull #1. Not yet satisfied, I firehosed pit bull #2 for good measure, then gave them both a few departing shots as I walked back to my room. I got dressed and left the house, but not before seeing Muffinbrain still in the kitchen, coughing and gagging on the atomized pepper spray in the air, and the two pit bulls standing there with vacant looks in their eyes — like nothing happened. In retrospect, I think the mace had temporarily blinded them, but they handled it calmly and professionally, like the purebred assassins they are.

How does this relate to Germany? Well, Germans like to bring their dogs with them everywhere. Restaurants, cafes, department stores… even the U-Bahn. You can’t get away from the filthy little beasts, especially here in Hannover. And every time one gets close to me — even if it’s just a little Pomeranian puffball — I am convinced it will bite me and I must resist the urge to punt that little fucker like a football.

Phobia #1: Young Men

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“We cannot be hurt. We cannot die. And together, we will bring an end to all that is good and decent in this world.” — Image Credit: fakeyoursmile (https://www.flickr.com/photos/fakeyoursmile/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License.

I ask you, is there anything more dangerous than a group of bored young men between the ages of 16 and 25? Having been one myself, I can confirm, yes, they are, in fact, the most dangerous species on the planet. (And they stink too, secreting a perpetual musk of assholes and armpits.)

Young men are selfish, loud, rude and oblivious to the people around them. Of course there are exceptions; I’ve met many kind and considerate young men. But the vast majority have brains which are not yet fully developed — like half baked lumps of monkey shit — so they literally cannot imagine how their actions today might result in negative reactions tomorrow. This is why they get obnoxiously drunk, drive too fast, get into fistfights and think of little else beyond finding girls willing to smooch their he-chicken.

What does this have to do with Germany? Well, I must admit, I do feel a bit safer around young German man than I do American ones. This is probably because Germans are far less likely to own guns, but also because they just don’t seem quite so… aggressive. But then you have young, German, frothing-at-the-mouth soccer fans, and being trapped in an U-Bahn car with these drunken idiots after the big game makes me feel about as safe as a fat-tailed gerbil in a sack full of cats. “So, uh, has everyone already eaten today? How about them flea collars, eh? Itch like a real bastard, I bet! Heh heh… oh my God please don’t kill me.”

Summary:

I have to say, given the morbidly obsessive and wildly irrational specificity of my phobias — especially as they have been exacerbated by life in Germany — I must award them with a solid 4 out of 5 Merkel Diamonds:

Merkel Diamond from Angela Merkel, Prime Minister of Germany
However, this is not a perfect score: If you think you can top any single one of my fears in terms of overall weirdness or potential to incapacitate you as a human being, the comment section is wiiiiiide open…


Graphic Designer in Portland, Oregon and Hannover, Germany - Grafikdesigner Illustrator Copywriter

How One American Expat Celebrates the 4th of July Outside the United States

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“Wait, what day is it again?

How One American Expat Celebrates the 4th of July Outside the United States


An interview with the author of ‘Oh God, My Wife Is German,’ conducted by ParcelHero.com

Parcel Hero – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

1. Why are you a resident in Germany? Where in the US are you from originally?

I am originally from Portland, Oregon, but I moved to Hannover, Germany, in order to be with my wife; a beautiful, smart and (unintentionally) hilarious German woman. With her adorable linguistic mixture of Deutsch and English — better known as Denglish — she often says things like:

“Why does our time on earth have to be limitated?”

“But maybe I can spend money. I am the bread maker now.”

…or…

“It is time to get out of the bathtub now… my fingers are getting schrinkled.”

2. How will you be celebrating the 4th of July this year?

To be perfectly honest with you, I generally forget about the 4th of July every year, much like I forget most holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. However, if I should remember it this year, I will spend the evening worrying about the house we own in the States — and the likelihood that it will be swiftly burned to the ground by some mouth-breathing neighbor kid with a popsicle in one hand and a Roman candle in the other.

3. Where will you be celebrating it? (eg: a specific restaurant, party, etc.)

After calling my rental agency and confirming our house has not, in fact, been reduced to smoldering ashes, my wife and I will probably watch A Game of Thrones while eating a pizza and then pass right the fuck out.

4. What do you miss most about ‘home’ on the 4th of July?

I’ll miss the heat. July is generally pretty warm in Portland, but here in northern Germany? You just never know. It could be warm, but it could also be cold or windy — even rainy — because the weather here is always threatening an early return to winter… as if it were designed by Mother Nature herself to gently crush all joy from the German soul, keeping it focused upon the robotic task of producing the world’s finest automobile components.

— Oh God, My Wife Is German.
www.ohgodmywifeisgerman.com

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Expats around the world should check out ParcelHero for international delivery, collected from your door, by the couriers you trust, at www.parcelhero.com

And if you’d like to find out more about life as an American expat in Germany, check out some of our other posts, like this one: Five Things That Suck About Living in Germany


Discovering Konya, Turkey: The Top 10 Preconceived Notions Dislodged from My American Brain

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Welcome to Konya: City of Tulips, Tourism and Tea (Oh my God, so much tea…)

My wife is German and I am American. We live in Hannover, Germany, and though I’ve learned a lot about Germany over the past couple years, I know virtually nothing about other countries — especially those to the East. I hate flying and I’m a bit of a misanthrope, so in the Spring of 2015, when my wife informed me we would be taking a 1-week trip to Konya, Turkey, my mind was assaulted by a dazzling slideshow of Middle Eastern stereotypes, misconceptions and false expectations — all of which contributed to a borderline panic attack followed by persistent numbing of the testicles.

Before our trip, I could not have found Turkey on a map, and my only real experiences with Turkish people had been here in Germany. (All of which were positive — and that’s a damn good thing — because at 5% of the population, Turks comprise the largest ethnic minority in the country.) Therefore, I am ashamed to admit this — and will deny it vehemently should the subject arise in mixed company — but here is the sum totality of what I expected to find when I arrived in Turkey:

  1. Sand
  2. Heat
  3. Overpopulation
  4. Women wearing veils on their heads
  5. Men calling me an infidel and attacking me with flaming scimitars

In terms of sand, heat and overpopulation, well, that was just my childlike brain transposing Turkey for Egypt — a version of Egypt based entirely upon Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. I did see women wearing hijab (veils covering their hair), but obviously I was not attacked by anyone, and not once was I called an infidel. My wife and I have since returned from our trip and I am now sitting in the safety of my home office blogging about it while I should be working, but my pre-trip ignorance went well beyond this initial, fearful, knee-jerk reaction. What follows is a list of the top 10 assumptions I’d made about Konya — and Turkey as a whole — and the resulting knowledge I probably should have had in the first place:

1.) Turkey is in the middle east, right?

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“Yeah. No. Sort of. I don’t know.” — Image Credit: The Emirr (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:The_Emirr) — Subject to CC 3.0 Unported Copyright.

The definition of the term “Middle East” varies wildly depending upon who you ask, but one thing is absolutely, 100% certain: it scares the merry hell out of a lot of Americans. For many, the Middle East is a blanket term for any Muslim country residing to the southeast of western Europe. (You know, where things start to get weird.) But until World War II, Turkey and its neighbors along the Mediterranean were known as the “Near East.”

Since traveling from Germany to Turkey and back, I am of the opinion Turkey is more like a bridge between Europe and the Middle East; a Middle East-Lite, if you will. The flight time from Hannover to Istanbul is only 3 hours, and Turkey and Germany have been flirting with each other since the Ottoman Empire. Hell, Turkey has been negotiating to join the European Union since 2005, so, if anything, I was a little disappointed by how “Middle Eastern” Turkey wasn’t.

2.) Turkish Airlines sucks, I bet.

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“I saw the pilot doing his preflight inspection, but maybe I should go ahead and have a look too…”

As I’ve said before, I hate flying. To me, one airline is no different than the next: just a pleasant logo slapped up side a dick-shaped coffin. But I figured Turkish Airlines would suck just a little harder than the rest. I didn’t even have a good reason why; just straight-up judgement — no facts.

You know how, when you see that MADE IN GERMANY stamp on a certain product, you kind of think to yourself, “Well, those Germans probably know what they’re doing…” yet when you see MADE IN CHINA, you just assume it’s a toxic piece of shit? It was kind of like that, only I really didn’t even know Turkish Airlines existed before this trip, so in my mind, it had neither a positive nor a negative reputation — I just wrote the whole company off because I literally knew nothing about it.

Oh, and as it turns out, Turkish Airlines was ranked 5th among the top 100 airlines in the world in 2014. Jesus Christ, they beat the hell out of my beloved Lufthansa (ranked 10th), and KLM was way down there in 32nd place. And as for the airlines of my homeland? Sheeeeeeit: Delta was 49th and American Airlines came in at 89th place. Last place was some company called Kulula, operating out of South Africa. (Let’s all agree not to fly that one.)

3.) Turkey is totally, like, Muslim, isn’t it?

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Look at that pointy tower, just stabbing at the sky all day long…

Again, I’m still not really sure about this one. Islam is the largest religion in Turkey, with well over 95% of the population registered as Muslim, but since 1924, the country has been secular and does not recognize any official religion. Of course, all public schools — from elementary to high school — hold mandatory religion classes teaching Islam, so… I guess so.

All I know is, in Konya, I saw a lot of mosques. Those pointy sons of bitches where just everywhere, and each one staggered its call to prayer by a couple minutes so as not to barrage worshippers all at the same time. The effect upon foreigners like me, however, was like being encircled by bullhorns, each one taking a turn blasting my eardrums out my anus.

In retrospect, I think it just seemed like there was a mosque on every block because we specifically visited a bunch of mosques. That, and their pointy towers — or minarets — can be seen from really far away, so they appeared to surround us. As for the Muslim call to prayer, well, in Konya it was actually only 6 times per day. (But still, it was played over loudspeakers, and I hate loud noises, so that shit was truly annoying.)

4.) Muslims in Turkey are super extreme, right? Just like in those other scary countries?

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“I see you there, you little religious fanatic…”

I can only speak for the city of Konya on this one, and judging by the dozen or so friends we made there, I can safely say no, no one seemed radical or even particularly conservative regarding their faith. A couple of our friends would just slink off once or twice a day for a couple minutes, then rejoin the group. I seriously thought they were using the bathroom or taking a smoke break or something. They were like prayer ninjas. One of our best friends said she didn’t even bother with mosques; she just prayed at home — once in the morning and once in the evening.

But you know what I liked best about the way I saw Islam being practiced there? It was subtle. Yes, the calls to prayer were obnoxious, but the people were super chill about their religious beliefs. They didn’t even talk about religion unless I asked some stupid question, like:

073-tile-mosaic-allahME: “Hey, what’s with that wacky symbol I keep seeing on all the mosques?”

TURKISH FRIEND: “From right to left, it reads, ‘Allah.’

ME: “Yep. Shoulda seen that one coming.”

5.) Aren’t women totally subjugated in Turkey?

This is a tough one. It would seem the rights of women are far more respected in Turkey than in countries like India, but two things still gave me pause:

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“I love you honey, but this thing on my head itches like a bitch.” — Image Credit: HENG FU MING (https://www.flickr.com/photos/58362996@N04/) — Subject to CC 2.0 Generic Copyright

Many women still wear the hijab, or traditional headscarves.
Muslim women wear hijab for lots of reasons, and not all of them are religious. Sometimes it’s just tradition or the style of a particular area. What I don’t like is when women are required to wear them — especially not when it’s done for the sake of men. If a guy wants his wife to hide some aspect her beauty, I immediately suspect that dude of having a little wiener.

Interestingly, head coverings were banned in Turkish universities, libraries, public buildings and government buildings until late 2013. The ban has since been lifted, yet roughly half of Turkish women still cover their heads for religious or cultural reasons. In the big cities, like Istanbul and Ankara, most women actually don’t cover their heads at all. In Konya, for every woman I saw wearing the hijab, there was one standing right next to her who did not. Either way, it seemed like there was no pressure to wear one, and women were free to dress however they liked. (Hell, they could have gone completely topless, if anyone had been interested in my opinion.)

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Women are separated from men during worship.
The idea behind separating women from men inside of mosques has to do with distraction during prayer. Diversions, especially those of a potentially sexual nature, are thought to hinder both men and women, and distance them from Allah. This results in a tradition where the men pray up front, and the women pray while hidden behind a wall.

I respect the religious traditions of all people, so long as they don’t include hurting anyone, but this one still bugs me a little. It figuratively and literally places women in a position of secondary importance — at least to my American sensibilities — and I know for damn sure my German wife wouldn’t stand for it:

ME: “Honey, I don’t feel close enough to God when I can see you in my peripheral vision. Please go behind that wall with the rest of the ladies.”

THE WIFE: “Good idea. You’re gonna need to pray really hard for a new wife.”

6.) What’s with all the Whirling Dervishes in Konya?

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“Oh, I get it. They’re just really creepy clones.”

The Whirling Dervishes — more accurately known as the Mevlevi Order — were outlawed in 1925 by the Turkish Republic, and survive today as a nonpolitical organization for cultural history. The twirling performances of the Mevlevi have since become a big tourist draw, especially in Istanbul and Konya.

The Mevlevi believe in performing their dhikr (Islamic devotional acts) in the form of a twirling dance known as the Sama. This dance represents a spiritual ascent through the mind and through love, literally turning toward truth as the follower abandons his ego and arrives at the “Perfect.” Apparently, the dancer then returns from his spiritual journey as one who has attained a higher level of perfection and is able to love and be of better service to creation as a whole. (We Americans achieve this exact same state by rubbing one out to internet porn and reaching for a cold beer.)

I’ll be real honest with you; except for these statues in the Mevlana Museum, we didn’t see a single Whirling Dervish while we were there. Why, you might ask? Because in Konya, they only perform on Saturdays — exactly the day we arrived in and departed from Turkey.

Next time, you dizzy dancers. Next time…

7.) What are those weird rock formations? Anthills or something?

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“Come closer, foreigners, for the Termite Queen demands sacrifice.”

This would be Göreme National Park, home of the Rock Sites of Cappadocia. The Cappadocians (later known as the Cappadocian Greeks) actually lived inside these caves before the time of Herodotus, so we’re talking in the 400s BC here. Early Christian frescoes decorate the insides, and I’m sure archeologists find them very interesting, but I gotta say… if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all. That said, it’s easy to forget there was a time when being Christian meant somebody was probably trying to kill you.

Cappadocia contains several underground cities, like the Kaymaklı Underground City, which was used as a hiding place before it was chill to be Christian. You’ll find all kinds of very creative traps inside, like large round stones to block doors and holes in the ceiling through which defenders could drop spears upon invading armies. (Like a child’s drawing of just the coolest dungeon ever.)

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The crazy mountains, hills and “fairy chimneys” of Cappadocia were formed when volcanic eruptions blanketed the area with lava. Wind and water eroded everything except the isolated pinnacles you see today, many of which look exactly like giant horse dongs.

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8.) Isn’t alcohol illegal there? Great. This trip is gonna suck.

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“Here’s your last beer for a week, Sir.”

The consumption of alcohol is prohibited within the Islamic faith, but to my surprise, I learned alcohol isn’t actually illegal in Turkey. However, according to one of our Turkish friends, it is a huge pain in the ass to find. Supposedly there are a few stores and restaurants which sell it, and apparently you can arrange to have alcohol at special events, but I sure as hell didn’t see any hooch in Konya.

And you know what? It wasn’t necessary. We had an awesome time. But having never visited an effectively dry city before, I noticed two interesting phenomena:

  1. Omnipresent Smoking
  2. Polite Conversation
025-turkish-cigarettes-with-sex-warning-libido

“Forget cancer and emphysema — these things will break your joystick.”

Holy Christ do they smoke a lot of cigarettes in Konya. Especially the younger men. Never before have I seen so many packs of swarthy youths — all dressed to the nines — standing around chain smoking cigarettes. Just strutting around, gabbing endlessly, hoping to catch some young woman’s eye. They’re like strutting peacocks with absolutely nothing better to do on a Saturday night than suck coffin nails and look dashing.

As for polite conversation, this was something I noticed only after going out to dinner in Konya a few times; we met up with our friends, walked into the restaurant sober, and walked out of the restaurant sober — our bellies full and our heads clear. This meant everybody stayed nice and polite. No risky jokes. No swearing. In an odd way, sober conversation feels a little less honest than one had over a few drinks, because everyone has their impulses under control. People are little less themselves. On the other hand, sober conversation is generally of greater value, because people’s thoughts aren’t overly emphatic. There’s nuance and insight to be gleaned. So maybe, just maybe, a little bit of inhibition is a good thing.

Then again, beer rules, so here’s to you, Konya. Prost!

9.) Do they really drink that much tea in Turkey?

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“One more glass and I’m definitely gonna hurl.”

YES. Oh my God yes. In Konya, we drank a lot of çay (pronounced Chai), which is a black tea, though it appears dark red when served in traditional Turkish glasses. It’s also served with cubes of beet sugar and a tiny spoon. (I heard it was a compliment in Konya to loudly clink your spoon inside the glass as you stir it, so I made sure to clink the holy hell out of mine.)

I saw people drinking tea at all hours of the day, but especially after lunch and dinner. In fact, if you order one glass of tea, you’re pretty much obligated to drink 3 or 4, because they’re gonna keep parading the stuff out until you do. And if you’re like me — a nonsmoker with no access to alcohol and precious little to contribute to any given conversation — there’s really nothing else to do, so you’re gonna keep right on drinking those little cups of tea until you barf.

I kept asking people if there was actually any caffeine in the tea, and the answer seemed to vary from person to person. What I gathered, by the end of our trip, was that what we were drinking contained no true caffeine, but rather natural and/or herbal stimulants of some sort. Of course, this was concluded through a massive language barrier, so for all I know, we could have been drinking hot goat piss.

10.) Do they have real toilets in Konya?

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“Nevermind. I’ll just hold it for the next 7 days.”

It depends upon your definition of “toilet,” but if you mean the sitting down, flushing kind, the answer to this one is: sometimes. I saw a lot of stalls like the one in this picture — squat toilets — where you perch yourself over a simple hole in the floor, drop your stink nuggets, then use the pitcher and faucet to rinse your shame away. I also saw stalls with holes like this one, but with running water and a flushing mechanism. And of course I saw a few Western-style flush toilets too. It depends where you are. Posh restaurants in the middle of downtown Konya are more likely to have Western-style toilets, but little villages on the outskirts of town? Oh, you’re squatting. And if there’s no toilet paper, just pray there’s running water to use when you’re done, because you’ll be using your left hand to clean your sweet little cinnamon ring.

I think my wife used a squat toilet exactly one time in Konya, and only to go pee. Still, she was not at all happy about it when she came out of the bathroom. She was even less happy after regaling me with her experience, only to have me shrug my shoulders and say, “Hey, when in Rome…”

Now, you may be asking yourself if I used a squat toilet while we were in Konya, and the answer is, no; my bowels have the ability to power down like a cowardly robot when confronted by unfamiliar surroundings. But the second I got back to our hotel room? Oh my God. Fireworks.

Summary

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“Would I like another glass of tea? Oh, no thank y–aaaaand you’re giving it to me anyway.”

I can’t speak for any other cities in Turkey, but I do know one thing for sure: Konya rules. You should definitely visit this place. It’s beautiful. We had a fantastic time, saw amazing sights and learned a lot, like how to do Konya’s traditional spoon dance, and the fact that we really like ayran — the national Turkish beverage consisting of cold yogurt, water and salt. (The yogurt is pretty gamey, and it might even make you gag the first time it hits your tonsils, but you’ll learn to love it like a porn star.)

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“Here comes the money shot.”

Of most importance, however, are the Turkish friends we made. My wife and I can tell already some of them will be lifelong friends. Now, I know there are exceptions to every rule, and jerks can be found in every country of the planet, but I’m gonna go ahead and make a sweeping generalization anyway: There’s just something inherently warm, friendly and inviting about Turkish people. They’re nice as hell, and for some inexplicable reason, they love Germans. And that’s really the way to my heart: Be nice to my wife, and you’ve got me as a friend for life.

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Thank you, Konya. We love you.

 


If you would like to read another post regarding our international travels, check this one out: German-American Couple Visits the North Sea, Denmark and a Whole Hell of a Lot of Sheep

Culture Shock in Germany: An American Expat Is Horrified by His Discovery of German ‘Schreber Gardens’

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“And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod…” — Photo Credit: Patrik Tschudin (https://www.flickr.com/photos/patsch/) — Subject to CC 2.0 Generic Copyright.

Dear Germany,

I have a confession to make.

When I first arrived at the Hannover airport back in 2012, my wife met me at the security gate, we picked up my luggage and boarded the S5 train on our way toward our new home. About a mile or two outside the city, I saw a vast wasteland of the most depressing houses on earth; tiny little shacks — too small even to hold a car — complete with miniature windows, flagpoles, chain-link fences, yards and gardens.

“My God,” I whispered to my wife, barely containing the tear which threatened to spill from my eye, “those poor, poor people…”

I marveled at the thought of living in such a confined space. Would the toilet be right next to your head as you slept at night? What about running water? A kitchen? Heat during winter? Holy Christ, are people raising children in those things?

I was disgusted by the idea a city like Hannover could thrive within spitting distance of such wretched slums. What sort of mayor allows a cesspool of humanity like this to decay in his own back yard? A sick one, that’s who. And then I took a closer look at these little nightmare shanties, all huddled together for warmth like derelicts around a burning car tire…

“You know, for a bunch of filthy untouchables, these Germans bums sure decorate the shit out of their huts.”

And it was true: Each little house was manicured with tender, loving care. Like dollhouses for God’s sullied children. They were freshly painted, complete with trim and decorations on the front door. They even had tiny chimneys and gutters. The yards were immaculate and the gardens were actually growing real, live, fruits and vegetables. I even saw a miniature trellis supporting a beautiful red climbing rose… like a single wish of hope in an otherwise hellish quagmire of despair.

“These are the best hobos ever!” I declared loudly, not only for my wife, but for the rest of the train car to hear as well.

“Those are Schreber gardens,” said my wife. “We call them ‘Schrebergärten.’ People who live in the city rent them so they can garden on the weekends. When I was a kid, I used to have sleepovers with my friend in her family’s Schreber garden.”

She was right. Apparently, the “Schreber Movement” started in Leipzig, Germany, in 1864. European industrialization in the 19th century brought tons of people into German cities, and most of them were very poor. As a way to improve their lives and put more food on the table, they used these little plots of land outside the city to garden, work outside in the fresh air and have a place for their children to play. These days, Schreber gardens are more of a hobby than a necessity, and though I’m sure there are some young people who continue to enjoy them, all I’ve seen are super old people with their hands in the dirt and their asses to the sky.

And so, Dear Germany, I must apologize; I am sorry for assuming so many of your citizens were living in abject squalor. I just didn’t know! I mean, I own a house in the States and I hate yard work — I couldn’t imagine paying someone for the chance to weed my own vegetable garden. That’s just crazy talk. But you go ahead and do your thing, Germany.

Do it real good.

 


 

If you would like to read another post regarding my adjustment to life in a new country, check this one out: American Expat Receives Terrifying Haircut at Turkish Hairdresser in Germany

Tips from an American Expat: Everyday Products You’ll Miss after Moving to Germany

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Survey conducted by Dan, blogger and owner of Live Work Travel USA. He’s my opposite — a German expat living in America — like my evil mirror image from a parallel universe. Or am I the evil one? (Clearly one of us has to be destroyed.) But first, Dan asked me…


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“Welcome to America.” — Photo Credit: Ruth Hartnup (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ruthanddave/) — Image subject to CC 2.0 Generic license

What food items do you miss most from America?

Mexican Food
Now, I realize I just named a type of food that comes from an entirely different country than my own, but hell — Mexico is right there. We’re like passive-aggressive neighbors; all smiling and waving to each other from across the street, then talking massive amounts of shit as soon as we close the front door. “Oh. My. God. Gladys, did you hear what Mexico did today? That slut.” So, I don’t miss that, but I do miss burritos. Big, sloppy, disgusting burritos the size of a newborn baby. Hell yes. And real guacamole. And tortilla chips that aren’t powdered with artificial flavoring, like some weird, evil German’s idea of what nachos should taste like. (Hint: nachos should taste like salt, not Satan’s jockstrap.)

Real Hot Sauce
Tapatio. Sriracha. Dave’s Insanity Sauce. Blair’s After Death Sauce. Mad Dog 44 Magnum Pepper Extract. (Why are these names so violent?) Now, most of these anus-burners can be ordered online, but not all of them. Real hot sauce is hard to find in Germany. Oh sure, they’ve got Tabasco in almost every store, but I said hot sauce, not red vinegar for complete pantywaists. My wife suggested I look in some local Indian and Asian food stores, and she was right! I found my precious Sriracha sauce. Problem is, the bottles are tiny, so they’re the same price if I ordered the big daddies and paid for the shipping, but still! Victory, I say!

Out of Season Fruits and Vegetables
I understand all of the reasons why eating locally-grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables is a good idea. It’s good for the economy. Good for the environment. Good for your Mom (zing!). But I’m American; we simply cannot understand the idea of not getting whatever we want, whenever the hell we want it. “Mangos in December. Strawberries in January. No, I have no idea where they’re coming from. What’s the problem, hippy?” So I guess I don’t really care about any one fruit or vegetable in particular; what I care about is that I’m being forced into becoming a better person. When it comes to self improvement, I want it to be according to my schedule — ideally while on a comfy psychiatrist’s couch or readily available in pill form.

Real Ketchup and Mayonnaise
When you order French fries here in Germany, you will typically be asked whether or not you would like them to be, “red and white.” This means half your fries will be drowned in mayonnaise, and the other half in ketchup. Since every American on earth knows dipping your French fries in mayonnaise is black magic communist devil worship (with herpes), I’ll skip over the concept itself. But dude, there is something deeply, terribly wrong with German mayonnaise. It tastes sweet, like Miracle Whip. I hate it, so I basically just avoid anything in this country that has a chance of filling my mouth with thick, white, porno goo. And then there’s the ketchup. Now, I’ve seen Heinz ketchup in the grocery store, but that’s not what you’ll get on the “red” side of your fries — you’re gonna get a weird, thin mutation of ketchup which tastes, inexplicably, like salsa. It’s like the retarded younger brother of ketchup, and nobody knows who the father is.

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“What… what in God’s name is THAT?” — Photo Credit: mike germany (https://www.flickr.com/photos/bestgermanfood/) — Image subject to CC 2.0 Generic license

Which German foods do you like, that you wish you could get in America?

Real Liverwurst
Lots of Americans think they know what real liverwurst tastes like, but they don’t. And they hate it. This is because major supermarket chains in the States sell pink, mass-produced paste called liverwurst, but it tastes like salty foreskin. It wasn’t until I moved to Germany that I saw the full spectrum of liverwurst — every brand, flavor and texture — like a horrifying pâté rainbow in the sky. Yet even after sampling the real deal, I still wasn’t sure about it. My gag reflex remained on high alert: “Hey boy, what do you think you’re trying to sneak past us here? Didn’t we already talk about this back when you were 12 years old, when you smeared this shit on a cracker at that Christmas party? You spit it out into a napkin right in front of the host. Guess this is one lesson we’re gonna have to teach you twice.” What I’m saying is, it took me about 6 months to really make friends with liverwurst, but after I did, I loved it. I also enjoy the fact that so much of it is made from young pig and veal livers, because their youthful energy reinvigorates my own liver and repairs all the damage I’ve done over the years.

Weißwurst
You know Weißwurst: those white sausages served in a steaming ceramic bowl with a lid on top? They’re short, thick and perfectly smooth — like zombie dicks. I think they do sell them in some German restaurants in the States, but I’d never really noticed them before. Now I love these things! I don’t even cut the peel off, like I’ve seen the Germans do; I leave it on because I like the way it pops in my mouth. It reminds me I’m eating an animal which has literally been stuffed up its own ass, and that just seems so right.

Schinkengriller
Okay, now these sausages are the long, thin, dark red ones you see at German festivals. And since I apparently can’t stop talking about dicks today, I’m gonna go ahead and say they look like really long dog dicks. Like a full yard of the proudest Doberman ever. And there’s something saltier and tastier about Schinkengriller than the other sausages. They’re my favorite. I just don’t understand the tiny rolls and slices of white bread they’re served with. If you’re gonna jam your meat into a piece of bread, at least use a hotdog bun or something long enough to make the whole thing feel welcome.

Maß
And of course, in America, I wish I could more easily find 1-liter glasses of beer for sale. Hell, with the exception of local festivals and events, there are only a few pubs here in Hannover that sell them at all. This is probably due to the fact that Maß beers are really more of a Bavarian thing. (And Bavarians regard the rest of Germany the way Texans regard the other 49 states of America — with a playful sense of entitlement masking the fuck off attitude underneath.)

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“He must work out.” — Photo Credit: Alex-501 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/60705975@N08/) — Image subject to CC 2.0 Generic license

Other than food, what products do you miss from America, that you wish you could get here in Germany?

Cheap Clothing
Seriously. Buying clothes in Germany is a painfully expensive ordeal. Especially when it comes to jeans. You can go to some ethically dubious chain and find yourself some cheap blue jeans, but there’s a decent chance some sweatshop child will have sewn a message into the tag: MEN’S JEANS, SIZE: LARGE, MACHINE WASH GENTLE, OH MY GOD PLEASE GET US OUT OF HERE.

Stain Sticks
Stain sticks and sprays are laundry products you can apply to stains immediately after they occur, and then sit on your lazy ass for up to a week before doing the laundry. Stains come right out. Maybe they do sell them here in Germany — or something like them — but I can’t find them anywhere. One time, I spilled red wine on my blue thermal sweatshirt, so my wife applied laundry detergent directly to the stain. Just got the spot wet and rubbed that shit right on in there. Ran it through the washing machine and BOOM; my sweatshirt was covered in these massive, hideous white blotches — like I’d just lost a fistfight with a bottle of chlorine.

Standard Shower heads
Not handheld shower heads. I’ve talked about this before — how Germans love their handheld shower heads — but they’re not for me; I want the hot water to rain down on my head and shoulders like I’m standing beneath a waterfall. It’s soothing. Holding on to the source of the water keeps you from relaxing, and it’s not like the water won’t eventually reach your anus. Jesus. You don’t have to blast the poor thing with a jet of water like you’re suppressing a riot.

Standard Toilets
To be honest, most of the toilets in Germany seem to be standard, as opposed to low-flow. I haven’t encountered too many low-flow toilets here, but when I did, it sucked miserably. Your stinking loaf drops onto a dry shelf, where it remains until you flush. Then it streaks its way into a tiny cup of water before (hopefully) disappearing. You might be surprised just how effective a generous pool of water can be at stifling the true potency of your stink nuggets. Chances are, if you’re American, you’ve been taking standard toilets for granted your entire life. I sure as hell did.

Nighttime Mouth Guards (dental guards for sleeping)
Seriously, why can’t I buy these things in Germany? I clench my jaw at night so hard I am literally cracking my own teeth. Every dentist who has ever looked into my mouth has said, “Wow, your teeth are so straight… and you’ve really never had braces? But jeez, what’s with the nighttime grinding? Here, let me fit you for a €300 euro dental guard — one which your insurance may or may not cover — I have no idea…” And then I get to explain I use $10 dollar night guards from the States, and then the dentist acts like he or she has absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. (Oh, but they do, those sons of bitches.)

Over-the-Counter Medicine
NyQuil, DayQuil, Advil (Ibuprofen), Tylenol (Acetaminophen), Zicam, Excedrin, Claritin, Dimetapp, Neosporin (topical antibacterial) — you know, the basics. You can buy some of these things in Germany, but you’ll have to make an extra trip to the pharmacy (Apotheke) to do it. Oh, and you’ll have to speak to a pharmacist about them too, describing all of your disgusting symptoms in detail before they’ll hand over the goods. “Hi, I have a runny nose. Yes, snot is coming out of it. No, the snot is not brown or yellow. What? Did you just ask if my snot is thick? Look, can I just please have the nasal spray so I can breathe again, god damn you?”

Prescription Drugs
Germany and America have different regulations for prescription-strength medicines, so you can’t always find the drug you need here. This sucks pretty hard for expats like me. I’m American. I’m accustomed to blasting what ails me with the chemical equivalent of a howitzer. If I’ve got a headache, I don’t want to just get rid of it; I want to smash it out of my skull with a hammer. if I can’t sleep, I won’t politely ask insomnia to leave me alone for the night; I’ll stab that bitch right in the windpipe. And when seasonal allergies come around, I’m not going to gently usher them out the door; I’m going to give them two rounds to the chest and sprinkle cocaine on their bodies for the cops to find.

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“Too many shoes. Getting nervous.” — Photo Credit: Travis Sanders (https://www.flickr.com/photos/travis_sanders/) — Image subject to CC 2.0 Generic license

Are there any German products you wish you could get in America?

House Shoes
Oh sure, we’ve got shoes we choose to wear indoors. They’re called slippers. What I mean are the kind of dedicated footwear every German owns — super comfy, donned the moment you set foot in your home — and typically stored in an orderly fashion in the entryway. I don’t mean like at a party hosted by some asshole who makes you take your shoes off and throw them in a haphazard pile in the corner so you can worry about them being lost or stolen all night long. I’m talking about house shoes; they make you feel at home, peaceful and relaxed, because they’re yours. Kind of like that scene in Full Metal Jacket: “These are my German house shoes! There are many like them, but these ones are mine!”

Scratchy Towels
Thin, scratchy towels are the norm here in Germany. This may sound like a negative, but it isn’t; I used to hate scratchy towels, but have come to love how easily they wick the water from your body. Hell, they downright suck the water off, and they exfoliate your skin at the same time. Like sandpaper that’s juuuust soft enough not to scratch off your fun bits.

Dynamo Lights
Dynamos are lights for your bike which run off the power generated by the rotation of your tires. I’d never seen one before moving to Germany, and I was immediately impressed. Who wants to slap a pair of batteries into a plastic case and then replace them every couple months? I love the idea of generating my own light — like Gandalf saving everyone’s ass at the end of The Two Towers: “At dawn, look to the East!”

Tilt and Turn Windows
These things are yet another example of genius German engineering; a tilt and turn window can tilt inward at the top or open inward completely from the side. Germans invented them, and they rule. (Which is why the rest of the European countries totally ripped off the design.) In America, most everybody has windows the slide up or to the side, and I don’t know about you, but I am constantly breaking these things. Also, I am the clumsiest man alive.

Predial Numbers
I don’t know how they work, but in Germany, you can call America for less than a cent per minute using something called ‘predial’ numbers. They’re usually just 5 or 6 digits dialed before the country code, but only certain service providers allow them. Also, the caller has to be using a land line. But still, awesome! Predial numbers — in addition to Skype, WhatsApp, Instant Messenger, email, letters and postcards — were vital during the time my wife and I were in a long distance relationship. We talked every single day, for an hour during my lunch break Monday through Friday, and then 4-5 hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Christ. Just thinking about all those months of heartache makes me want to cry all over again. I’m crying right now, in fact. Like a little bitch.

Effective Public Transportation
U-Bahn, S-Bahn, Bus, Fernbus, Metronom, Regionalbahn, IC, ICE — just about every German city provides access to all of these options. In the States, only a handful of cities even have a subway, and at this moment I’m having trouble remembering any of them except New York. NYC is lousy with subway trains, but I come from Portland, Oregon; we have the bus and a light rail train called The MAX (Metropolitan Area Express). Oh sure, you can hop on a train up to Seattle or something, but it sucks. Takes forever. We need high-speed trains, man!

Summary:

Until I received this survey from Dan, I never really thought much about foods or products I missed from the States. And I definitely hadn’t thought about things from Germany I might miss back home. I just didn’t care. What can you do about it anyway? Forgo clean undies by stuffing your suitcase full of hot sauce and prescription drugs? Shit, I’d rather get caught smuggling dildos.

The availability of American foods and products in Germany is actually quite impressive. In fact, I have to award Germany 4 out of 5 Merkel Diamonds for its effort:

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But the truth is, if you want to live in a foreign country, you have to adapt. That’s what every good expat does. In fact, the only thing I truly miss from home is the luxury of not having a language barrier. I miss my ability to handle minor tasks and solve problems without applying a bunch of time and effort. I am terribly lazy, you see, so I have to preserve what small amount of vital energy I have left. If I don’t, my wife will find me passed out on the floor because I tried to read a German baking recipe. “Salz, Zucker… that’s ‘salt’ and ‘sugar,’ probably… oh my God, what is Schlagsahne? Some kind of cream, right? Hitting cream? Aw Jesus…” BOOM! — I’m on the floor.

Thank you, Dan, for asking me these questions and prompting this blog post. And thank you, Reader, for reading it. If you’d like to see another one, check out: InterNations: An American Expat Answers Questions About Living in Germany


Thinking of moving to the US? Ever wondered what life is like for expats on the other side of the pond? For information on life as a German expat in the United States, visit Dan’s site:

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Live Work Travel USA


 

 

Halfwit Thieves Fail to Steal Bicycle from an American Expat in Germany

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This is my bike. I call her, “Chain Bang.”

Remember that glorious trip my wife and I took to Bremen not long ago? This post concerns the moment immediately after we returned to Hannover, when we stepped off the S-Bahn to retrieve our bicycles.

It was way past midnight, and our two bikes were the only ones left at this particular stop. My wife rides one of those fancy Dutch style cruising bikes, which fits her personality perfectly: beautiful, classy, and designed to make you sit up so straight it’s like you’ve got a stick up your pooper.

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“Wouldn’t YOU rather steal this one?” — Photo Credit: Umberto Brayj (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ubrayj02/) — Image subject to copyright (CC BY 2.0)

Her gorgeous cruising bike was completely unmolested, while my previously-owned, €50 euro bike had obviously been the victim of a failed kidnapping, beaten, and then left for dead. Man, it makes no sense to try and steal mine, when they could have tried to steal hers. My wife takes great pride in explaining this to me, however: she uses two separate locks — a thick cable lock, and a rigid horseshoe lock. Apparently, two high-quality locks are enough to tell bicycle thieves to fuck right off, while my one, €10 euro, pencil-thin cable lock says, “Step on up and try your luck, you penniless guttersnipes.”

But my bike is hardly worth one lock, let alone two. When I ride it, I have to hunch over to reach the handlebars — real earnest-like — so I look like I’m trying to run everybody off the road and smash their children. The dynamo-powered light on the front has all the candlepower of a firefly, and the brakes are more interested in loudly announcing my arrival than they are actually stopping it. The chain creaks like it’s going to snap at any moment, and the bell on the handlebars makes exactly two kinds of sounds: a quiet, Please Ignore Me Entirely, sort of PING, and a GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY WAY BECAUSE I’M AN ASSHOLE, BAH-D-D-DUH-RIIIIIIIIIIIING!

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“Oh, she may look harmless enough, but believe me, Chain Bang cannot WAIT to end my American life.”

Aaaaaanyway, as I was unlocking my bike, I noticed the handlebars had been cranked around so hard they were backwards. Like perfectly, 180 degrees, Exorcist backwards.

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“The power of Christ compels you!”

I thought that was odd; I didn’t remember trying to twist my bike’s head off before we left for Bremen. And that’s when I noticed there was also something wrong with my chain. Namely, it had been yanked so violently it no longer formed a simple loop — it had taken on a mutated “S” shape.

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“I need to see my chiropractor.”

It wasn’t until the next morning, upon closer inspection, I saw the clumsy laceration in the plastic casing. This chain cost me €10 euros, like I mentioned before, so what exactly did the thief and/or thieves use to try and cut through it? A pocket knife? A pair of pliers? A claw hammer and a prayer to Thor, God of Thunder?

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Bike: 1, Thieves: 0

Whatever they used, it didn’t work. My little bike chain held fast, and the thieves walked home using the dirty feet God gave them. I have to give credit where credit is due, however; they yanked on my bike so hard they managed to break off the kickstand. Seriously. Snapped it right off.

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They bent the front rim so it rubs against the tire, and they even twisted the mount of my headlight so badly it snapped off completely a few days later, leaving the light itself to dangle in the air like an exhausted scrotum.

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So now, I get to lean my bike against things, rather than stand it upright, and I have to use clip-on lights to ride at night. Whatever. I can put up with these things. You know what really sucks though? They stole my bike pump.

Yes, I was fool enough to keep a €7 euro tire pump strapped to the back of my bike, but I was also idealist enough to assume an item of such little value would go ignored by even the lowest of criminals. Hell, I valued the €1 euro bungee chords wrapped around the rack on the back of my bike more than the pump itself, because a new pump is available at every Rossmann in Germany. But new bungee chords? Man, I gotta go all the way downtown for one of those sons of bitches.

In the words of Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction: “Boy, I wish I could’ve caught him doing it. I’d have given anything to catch that asshole doing it. It’d been worth him doing it just so I could’ve caught him doing it.” Can you imagine? Let’s say there were 3 of them, all visibly intoxicated. One dude is grunting like an ape, yanking on my bike chain with a pair of rusty pliers so hard he gives himself a hernia, another dude is dutifully holding the handlebars without a single conscious thought in his skull, and the third guy is throwing up in the blackberry bushes. “Aww forget it,” says the guy with the pliers. “Janez, quit screwin’ around in those bushes. We’re walkin’ home…” And then they all get drilled by a train as they cross the tracks.

Unfortunately, in good conscience, I cannot award the efforts of these would-be bicycle thieves with anything more than 1 out of 5 Merkel Diamonds:

Merkel-Diamonds-1-of-5

Seriously, if you can’t steal my bike, you can’t rightfully call yourself a German. A real German would have jacked my bike with premium bolt cutters and a sleek BMW getaway car, leaving a note behind, reading: “I am very sorry to have stolen your bicycle. Do not blame the Polish. Please write a letter of complaint to your bicycle lock manufacturer.”

– – – – –

Would you like to read another blog post about life as an expat? You might like this one: American Expat in Germany Nearly Killed by an Acorn, Vents His Shame upon the Biggest Spider in the Universe

The Top 10 Worst Things about Joining a Gym in Germany

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“There’s no place like home…” — Photo Credit: istolethetv (https://www.flickr.com/photos/istolethetv/) — Image blurring added — Subject to copyright (CC BY 2.0)

My wife and I finally joined a fitness center here in Hannover, Germany. I haven’t been a member of a gym for over 3 years, and needless to say, things have gone a little soft. (Damn you, German pilsner. You sweet, delicious bitch.)

Both of us were super psyched the day we joined — we couldn’t wait to work out, get our sweat on, and then go back and do it all over again the next day. This is the honeymoon stage of gym membership, and it is temporary. Sooner or later, going to the gym becomes just another necessary evil in your daily routine. Reality clears your vision and you begin to remember, oh yeah, exercise sucks, I hate it, and I want it to be over as soon as humanly possible.

Beyond the actual exercise is the fitness center itself. I cannot help but notice the differences between the gyms to which I’ve belonged back in the States, and my new gym here in Germany. It’s a small, local gym — not a national chain — so I don’t know if all gyms in Germany are like mine, but I’m going to go ahead and make totally uninformed, sweeping generalizations about them anyway:

The Top 10 Worst Things about Joining a Gym in Germany


 1.) The membership fee will shrivel your pink parts.

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“Good heavens, I can no longer tell if I’m circumcised.” — Photo Credit: Freddie Murphy (https://www.flickr.com/photos/fpmurphy/) — Image cropped from original size — Subject to copyright (CC BY 2.0)

You’ve seen them before: those massive billboards with a couple of sexy halfwits advertising a gym you can join for “JUST $19.99 PER MONTH! WOW!” Of course, here in Germany, that’s €19.99 euros per month, which, at the time of this blog post, converts to $25.33 US dollars. Still not a deal, right? But then you actually go inside the gym, talk to somebody and find out it’s only €19.99 per month if you sign a 1 or 2-year contract and pay for it all up front. (Month-to-month payments at my gym range from €35 to €50 euros, so after a couple years, you can tell your kid his or her college fund might be gone, but hey, “Do you see any other dads at the park with guns like these? Pow pow!”)

Oh, and even with the 2-year contract, I still had to buy some kind of “start-up” package, which amounted to my membership card, a water bottle with the gym’s logo on it, and a coupon for 1 free personal training session with Arnulf the Human Drumstick.

2.) Not all gyms are open 24 Hours per day

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“This view is GREAT for stalkers.” — Photo Credit: Mike_fleming (https://www.flickr.com/photos/flem007_uk/) — Subject to copyright (CC BY 2.0)

The biggest fitness center chain in Germany is called McFit. My wife tells me the “Mc-” part of the name is a play on the worldwide brand recognition of McDonald’s, but that just makes me think of fat people running on treadmills with Chicken McNuggets dangling in front of them as bait. “Almost got ’em, tubby!” Anyway, McFit is one of the gyms which is actually open 24 hours per day. My gym, on the other hand, seems to be operated more on a schedule of whenever the hell they feel like it. On Monday they open at 6:00 am, but Tuesday? Oh, then you’ll have to wait until 8:00 am. As for Saturday and Sunday, well, you can go ahead and kiss their shapely asses until around 10:30 am.

Now, It’s not that I actually need my gym to be open around the clock — it’s that I need consistency in my life. I’m like Rainman when it comes to my workout routine; if I’m not done by exactly 8:15 am every day, I start hitting myself in the head, screaming, “Qantas never crashed! Qantas never crashed!”

3.) You can only wear “indoor” athletic Shoes

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“Another wonderful Christmas gift from the in-laws.” — Photo Credit: SuperFantastic (https://www.flickr.com/photos/superfantastic/) — Subject to copyright (CC BY 2.0)

The very first day my wife and I walked into our gym, the girl behind the counter informed us we could not use the exercise machines because we were wearing “outdoor” shoes. Apparently, one cannot simply enter the gym wearing a certain pair of sport shoes and then wear those same shoes to exercise. You need a pair exclusively for indoor use, the girl explained, or else the machines get dirty and worn out. Jesus Christ, it’s not like we were wearing soccer cleats and stomping through puddles of scalding hot tar and broken glass. (Although now I kinda wish we had.)

The real problem with this indoor shoe policy is that it basically forces you to change your clothes twice: from pajamas into dress clothes at home, then from dress clothes into sport clothes at the gym. What else can you do? Are you really going to stroll into the gym wearing shorts, a t-shirt and black leather dress shoes? Probably not. So your options are to buy an extra pair of sport shoes exclusively for indoor use, or show up at the gym fully dressed in the clothes you’ll be wearing for the rest of the day. This is the routine I’ve been going through every day, and it still makes me want to fastball my footwear at the vapid girl behind the counter. “Guten Morgen, Herr–” *BOOM* “–GAAAHK!” Size 11 Adidas to the windpipe.

4.) The employees are all Functionally Retarded

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“I’ve got a tough question about physics. Hey, I’ll just ask this guy…” — Photo Credit: Noodles and Beef (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ekigyuu/) — Subject to copyright (CC BY 2.0)

Speaking of the people behind the counter, most of the individuals who work at gyms tend to slant more toward brawn than brains. For example, my wife and I had to speak with 5 different people — on 5 different occasions — in order to get ourselves properly registered at our gym. The first person gave us the wrong price, the second person gave us the wrong contract (this was the owner of the gym, mind you), the third person registered us in the system but lost our files, the fourth person gave us our key cards and free personal trainer certificates, and the fifth person took my wife’s personal trainer certificates away because of some mistake made by the first person. Jesus Tits, I want to slap these people so hard they’d forget an entire year of elementary school.

Part of the problem is that a lot of them are super young — like high school or college age — but the rest are just plain stupid. Like, I wonder what would happen if I licked this light socket, stupid. Obviously this isn’t a trend specific to Germany; fitness centers around the world are owned and operated by people with steaming dog shit between their ears. Of course there are exceptions — some genuinely intelligent people who just happen to work at a place with the lofty goal of making sweat drip from your naughty bits — but not many. I’d say 9 out of 10 staff members at my gym could debut in their own after school special: Today’s episode, ‘TOUCHDOWN!’ tackles the growing problem of steroid abuse among high school athletes, starring Hunfrid the Lovable Halfwit.

And get this — there’s this one super yoked, super tan personal trainer at my gym who smokes cigarettes every day right in front of the building. Next to the front door, so you have to pass him to go inside. Man, that’s like a vegetarian at a barbecue; nobody wants to see that shit.

5.) There are No Water Fountains

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“For but one sip of water, I would sell my eldest child…” — Photo Credit: ilkerender (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ilker/) — Subject to copyright (CC BY 2.0)

I don’t know about the other gyms in Germany, but mine has absolutely no drinking fountains. In American gyms, you can’t go more than 10 steps before taking the corner of a fountain in the dick. Here? You have to bring your own water bottle or buy one from the brain trust behind the counter. And if you forget your water bottle and don’t have the cash on hand to buy a new one? Guess what, Thunder Thighs? — you’re drinking straight out of the bathroom sink. (And yes, I’ve done this before. Many times.)

I don’t know if my gym is trying to make money by selling hideous water bottles, or if management thinks water fountains are wasteful, but as an American, I demand to see a readily available source of ice-cold, triple-filtered water just goddamn everywhere.

6.) They’ve got “Grunters” here too

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“Wait, what kind of gym IS this?” — Photo Credit: istolethetv (https://www.flickr.com/photos/istolethetv/ — Subject to copyright (CC BY 2.0)

You know who I’m talking about: They’re always dudes, and they’re always making loud, totally unnecessary grunting noises while lifting weights. I thought this was just an American thing — I really did — but I was sorely disappointed to find muscle-bound attention whores thriving here in Germany as well. And sometimes they aren’t even muscle-bound! Sometimes they’re just average or even subpar human specimens making all the noise! Do they seriously think anyone gives a shit? Even the dolled-up chick on the StairMaster just wants to work out and go home so she can watch The Bachelor. The last thing straight women are looking for at the gym are rock-banging howler monkeys.

In my opinion, gym grunters fall into 2 distinct categories:

  1. Hans and Franz: These are the guys who genuinely believe all the extraneous noise and loud breathing are integral parts of a good workout. They thrive on quick bursts of manic energy — grunting is just part of it — and they don’t give two flying dicks if you don’t like it.
  2. Hansel and Gretel: Just like in the horrifying children’s story, these guys didn’t get enough love from their parents. (Seriously, read the original story; Hansel and Gretel’s parents left them out in the woods to starve to death.) What I’m saying here is, these poor fellows really just need a hug. It’s not sex they’re after. It’s not really even about attention. It’s about confirmation. “Yes, you’re a good boy, Hansel. You lifted those weights very well and you really are a worthwhile human being. Now please, shut the fuck up and do your next set of deadlifts in silence.”

7.) Locker Room Talkers ruin the ambiance

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“Enjoy this moment of peace, for it WILL be destroyed.” — Photo Credit: flattop341 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/flattop341/) — Subject to copyright (CC BY 2.0)

In men’s locker rooms in Germany, the first thing you’ll notice is that pretty much everyone keeps to themselves. It’s nice, clean and quiet. No one says a word until somebody leaves: the person says “Tschüss!” and then everyone else chimes in unison like a bunch of naked choir boys, “Tschüss!” and then silence descends once again. It’s pretty weird. But saying goodbye to a stranger when you have literally not exchanged a single other word before is not the problem. The problem is locker room talkers.

These are the guys you never actually see working out. They tend to wander around the exercise machines annoying people, and then hit the locker room where they continue to talk to anyone who will listen. And they do it naked! Just standing around all day long (probably leaning against your locker), displaying their uncut dongs with an entirely unjustified amount of pride. I guess it makes sense though; Germans are all a bunch of shameless nudists at heart.

It’s as if they come specifically to talk in the locker room. (My wife says the gym is probably the only place they get to form social bonds because they have horrible, ugly wives at home.) And God forbid you get two locker room talkers together, then it’s a hellish concert of loud voices, gratuitous laughter and old man nutsacks swinging to the rhythm like a pair of metronomes.

8.) The showers are set to timers

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“The ONE enjoyable thing about going to the gym… and you take it from me.” — Photo Credit: Amy Clarke (https://www.flickr.com/photos/amyelizabethplease/) — Subject to copyright (CC BY 2.0)

I don’t know if all gym showers in Germany turn off automatically after 15 seconds, but mine sure as hell do. Literally, you press the button and the water runs for 15 seconds before turning off, then you have to hit the button again. My wife likes to tell me this system is in place because Germans are more fiscally conservative and more environmentally conscious than Americans. To this, I reply, yes, I am American, and yes, we tend to be a wasteful people, but everyone should have the right to a continuous flow of hot water while they soap their gnarlies.

In a shared bathroom, the water coming out of your shower head is like a cone of safety; it provides hot water, pressure and soothing white noise. Now imagine you are washing your anus when your personal cone of safety disappears. Everything goes silent except for the squishy scrubbing sounds you’re making, there’s no water hitting your body — so there’s technically no reason for you to be there — and all at once you go from a guy dutifully cleansing himself to some weirdo in the corner with his fingers in his ass.

Judging from the other hideously naked dudes in the shower, the idea is to get your body wet all over, and then, after the water stops running, soap yourself up real good and hit the button again to hose it all off. This might be a reasonable method, except for the fact that during the minute or two when it’s off, the water temperature drops down to penis-shriveling zero.

You know how I deal with this? I punch that god damn button as hard as I can — as often as I can — and make sure to stay in the shower longer than anyone else. Longer than the grunters. Longer than the loud talkers. Longer than the super old bastards who are so decrepit it’s like they’re moving in slow motion. Oh yes, I’m still in the shower long after they’re all gone, taking my revenge upon the entire timed shower system, my overpriced gym, the country of Germany and Mother Nature herself… 15 seconds at a time.

9.) Locker Room CLustering is universal

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“Excuse me, but you’re invading my comfort zone.” — Photo Credit: Trevor Butcher (https://www.flickr.com/photos/27888428@N00/) — Subject to copyright (CC BY 2.0)

Everyone has a favorite locker, or group of lockers, at the gym. Typically, it’s in the most private area — spacious, with the most room to maneuver — and as far away from other people as possible. You know who else likes that particular area best? Everyone else.

This is how you wind up with a giant room full of freely available lockers, and 3 naked dudes packed into one corner like wildebeests at a watering hole. I call this phenomenon locker room clustering, and it happens in every gym around the world. In fact, as you read this, some poor sap has just undressed and is turning around to grab his toiletries — only to find himself nostrils-deep in some dude’s loins.

Good Christ I hate when that happens. This is why I go out of my way to choose the worst locker at my gym. It’s the one right up front — the one everybody passes when they first enter the room — and which can be briefly glimpsed by everyone on the cardio machines when the door swings open at just the right time. “That’s right, shoppers; today in the meat aisle we’re featuring Grade-A, 100% American tube steak, but sadly, some greedy young German woman already bought it all…”

10.) Going to the gym sucks no matter where you live

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“Even with the place all to myself, my heart pumps with hatred.” — Photo Credit: Dr. Abdullah Naser (https://www.flickr.com/photos/abraj/) — Subject to copyright (CC BY 2.0)

Half of the complaints I’ve raised in this post are specific to Germany, but the rest are just part of the overall gym experience. Going to the gym blows, but we have to do it anyway. (With the exception of my old German integration class, it’s probably the only thing for which I pay money that I genuinely hate.) But for most people, going to the gym is a luxury. Like, if only they had the time, money or basic mobility to go work out, life would be truly grand. Not for me; I’m one of those rare assholes who is honest with themselves about how much going to the gym sucks, but does it anyway.

This is probably why my wife and I cannot go to the gym together. Oh sure, we can travel there together, but that’s where the fun ends. She’s a teacher, you see. She’s always busy, so she’s grateful for any opportunity to go. She’s relaxed, takes her time, speaks politely to the staff, and smiles at everyone because she’s genuinely happy to be there. I, on the other hand, am a freelance graphic designer and I work from home, so I can go anytime I wish. I speed through my workouts with a hateful grimace on my face because I can’t wait to get them over with. I just want to go home and get back to work. Hell, I’d say the gym is the one place on earth where I am openly hostile to people (which would explain why everyone gives me a wide berth, like my body language is telling everyone they can go fuck right the hell off).

So with all of these points in mind, I’m going to go ahead and rate my German gym experience thus far with a solid 3 out of 5 Merkel Diamonds:

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… but if you absolutely love your German gym, by all means, tell us about it in the comments section. (Our chubby fingers eagerly await the opportunity to mock you for it.)

Would you like to read another angry blog post about life as an expat? You might like this one: American Expat in Germany Nearly Killed by an Acorn, Vents His Shame upon the Biggest Spider in the Universe