A collection of grievances, memories, occasional musings, and everyday happenings


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Why I’m Learning Baby Talk

Friends and Followers,

Comedic Grievances has moved to its very own personal space in the blogosphere! To read today’s post “Why I’m Learning Baby Talk” as well as continue to follow along in all of CG’s stories and grievances, do go to www.comedicgrievances.com.

With much love,

Comedic Grievances

P.S. – A baby bump status report via photo awaits your arrival at www.comedicgrievances.com.


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5 Things I Love About My Expat Life

I saw this blog link up via Life With A Double Buggy and decided to give it a shot. Here are my 5 things I love about my expat life:

A Wide Variety of Successes and Failures

The very first time I made Schnitzel.

The very first time I made Schnitzel.

Nothing has made me swell with pride or turned my face an embarrassing shade of red like the expat life I lead in Austria. Just today I had the 5th or 6th humiliating experience of not understanding how a restaurant’s bathroom sink worked, and in that moment it occurred to me that this happens to me way too often, and I couldn’t help but bust out laughing – by myself – in the restaurant bathroom. (I did eventually wash my hands in said bathroom.) Being an expat has provided me with the ability to just laugh at myself when I fail at figuring out a sink or butcher every sentence I attempt to say in German. But because I’ve discovered this ability to laugh when I fail, it makes my successes that much sweeter. Once, my husband made me – nay, FORCED me – to go to the Apotheke (pharmacy) by myself to retrieve a receipt I had forgotten to get. I was terrified and had zero faith in my German pharmacy-speak. I nervously prayed the whole, slow walk there for strength and for me to not faint at the counter from fright. But I shouldn’t have been so scared. I spoke to “Herr Doktor” and explained the mix-up from the week before, and he understood me and I got my receipt. I was so happy that I ran the entire way back home and cry-laughed while I told Will how it went. When I compare my success and failure stories to ones I’ve experienced in the States, I see how way-too-seriously I took myself over there. And I can further appreciate how my expat life has pushed me out of my comfort zone, torn down my barriers and taught me to laugh.

A Family on Both Sides of the Ocean

My US family with my Vienna family!

My US family with my Vienna family!

My biggest fear in moving to Austria was that I would make no friends. I’d arrive, appear strange, scare people off with my loud voice and immediate hugging reflex, and be friendless forever. And that is not the case. I don’t mean that to say I have one thousand and one friends because Austria was so drawn to my loudness and hugs, I just mean – I have found a family here made up of the most amazing, caring and loving people. They took me in, weirdo and all, and helped me feel at home in a place where I was originally afraid would never feel like home to me. On the flip-side, I’ve experienced the fear of not feeling connected to my original family in the States, yet that too has not been an issue. We stay connected and go about it with great purpose. Seeing my friends’ and family’s faces on Skype always makes my day, and having the chance to embrace them is all the more exciting. And because of these two families, I have two places to call home on both sides of the ocean.

A Healthy Attitude of “Doing Without Thinking” and “Think First”

Sometimes trying something new is scary, like slides in a salt mine.

Sometimes trying something new is scary, like slides in a salt mine.

The expat life almost requires this healthy balance and it takes a while to develop. One can either jump right into a new cultural experience too quickly and do some damage, or one can overthink an experience and miss out on it entirely. A very light example of acting too quickly is actually my one of my top pet peeves of people who visit Vienna, and that is when they TALK SO LOUDLY EVERYWHERE THEY GO AND YOU CAN HEAR EVERY WORD THEY’RE SAYING LIKE HOW GOOD THAT WEENER SCHNITZEL THING WAS. Yikes. One way to not make any new acquaintances around here is by doing just that; that’s why I learned very quickly to study my surroundings first, then act. And also not saying “that Weener Schnitzel thing”. So if no one on the U-Bahn is speaking, I don’t speak. If everyone is speaking in a gentle low voice, I speak in a gentle low voice. My expat life has made me a student of my surroundings in order to not offend or attract attention to myself (unless I can’t figure out another bathroom sink). But my expat life has also made me jump in the water without testing it first, like eating Leberkäse (literally translates to Liver cheese and not my favorite dish) with everyone else or playing the German version of Taboo and failing miserably at describing “Taschenhund” to your Austrian teammates. Sometimes this life requires you to just do and see what happens, though I can promise I will always think too long about and definitely miss out on eating blood sausage. Can’t do it.

A Greater Appreciation for Experiencing New Cultures

Trying out yum food at a Christmas market.

Trying out yum food at a Christmas market.

Before moving here, my husband and I trained for close to a year with two families who had prior experience in living abroad. We were told about people who move to other countries and essentially wind up creating a mini version of the US with other American families within their new city of residence out of fear for the unknown. Their children go to English-speaking schools, the families visit English-speaking doctors, they hang out with English-speaking people. They do what’s familiar and only that – an easy temptation to give into and empathize with. While I definitely have days where I wish the US would just arrive at my front doorstep, mainly for Chik-fil-a and burger reasons, my husband and I have never been drawn to a mini United States of America. We try to love and appreciate every new thing we encounter, like the beauty of the German language or how everyone and their dog goes outside the second it’s warm enough. The expat life is meant to be lived, not kept in a snow globe of familiarity.

A Greater Tendency to be a Total Cheese Ball

Past study abroad students who made me cry often because of their Vienna love.

Past study abroad students who made me cry often because of their Vienna love.

I think my expat life has permanent control of my tear ducts because I’m seriously emotionally overwhelmed by everything culturally beautiful. Sometimes I see an elderly woman or man out and about, trucking along with their Nordic walking sticks like it ain’t no thang, and all of a sudden I’m teary-eyed while inwardly cheering them on as they proudly extend their number of years left on this planet. Or the students! They get me every time. My husband and I have the opportunity each year to interact with different groups of American study abroad students and we get to observe them fall in love with the city. This turns me into mush. As of late the current group has been making numerous videos of their experiences from Vienna and I can’t handle them. They’re too wonderful. I think a switch turns on after you’ve lived abroad for awhile – a switch that not only allows you to be moved by your own cultural findings and experiences, but allows you to be just as moved or even more so by others who go through and discover parts of countries and cultures that you too have experienced. So make sure you have tissues on you at all times.

ELWADB LinkUp


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5 Theories About a Couple Who Everyone Needs to Know About

I am a strong advocate for NOWTSYPDA: No One Wants to See Your Public Displays of Affection. You know who I’m talking about. The couples who see an escalator and think, “Yes. Let’s stand in the middle of a step and kiss grossly so that everyone can not only witness our passionate love, but also miss their trains at the same time”. Blechh. I see these couples all over the city – outside tourist attractions, inside tourist attractions, in elevators, on escalators, in coffee shops, outside grocery stores, inside grocery stores… They’re everywhere, and apparently there’s no stopping them, most unfortunately for mankind. However…

Vienna U-Bahn. Photo credit: Will Kooi

Vienna U-Bahn. Photo credit: Will Kooi

THERE WAS THIS COUPLE. Man. If I were into writing fiction, my book would be entirely centered around these two. They… I don’t know what happened to them, but whatever it was, it was huge. It was exciting and marvelous and life changing and huge. Alright sorry – here’s what happened: I was on my way home via U-Bahn (Vienna’s underground railway) when suddenly this handsome looking pair, probably late 20s/early 30s, sat down next to me in my section of 4 seats and boxed me in with their love. By that I mean they sat down across from each other, immediately grabbed each other’s hands, and gazed into each other’s eyes. I mean there was some intense eye-gazing going on here. At first, my initial feeling about being boxed in like this was one of inward eye-rolling and Really?, but then after a little more observation, I realized there was nothing to eye-roll about this couple but instead, something to celebrate. They looked at each other for a long time, both of them smiling in a way that said they could smile bigger if they wanted to but they were trying to keep it cool. The girl closed her eyes, still smiling, and breathed in deeply while her boyfriend/fiancé/husband put two fingers under his jaw to check his pulse. The both of them were overcome with a second wave of excitement and took to expressing it through tighter hand holding and bigger smiles. The guy chuckled and shook his head, like he couldn’t believe his life. The girl looked him and sighed, like she couldn’t believe her life.

And then there I am artistically, borderline creepily watching them through reflections of windows and glass panes. Because I’m classy.

At this point I had thought up 3 different theories, and if I can pull a CNN move here, I want to remind everyone that this is all just speculation and that my theories could be very, very wrong.

First 3 Theories:

1. He proposed

2. Boom, married.

3. They’re expecting.

The guy was the first one to speak up after what seemed like an hour of silence. As luck would have it, (and probably because God knew it was none of my business), I could barely hear a thing he said for the entire train ride. We were on a side of town that didn’t run above ground. Ever. So instead, every time this guy had something to say, the train dove into another tunnel, and much like a comedy show, he always finished up whatever it was he wanted to say right as the train came to a stop. If I’m being honest with myself, it’s not like I would have understood what he was saying anyway even if we were surrounded by a soundproof wall. He of course spoke in German, probably even Viennese dialect which is close to impossible to understand for someone who’s not a native speaker. The only thing I did hear him say, which kind of threw off my first 3 theories and then led me to develop the next 2, was a strange break he took in his story to say, in English:

“Enjoy your well crafted placebo effect.”

Word for word, that’s what he said. He said that line in English then went right back to German. So… I have no idea what that means. I assume he was telling her a story, perhaps a story about work, and someone said that to him or to someone else. Or maybe he’s actually the one who said it. Negative infinity clue about it (also about all of this). But since he appeared to be talking about work, and she was still gazing and smiling at him while he spoke, I came up with these last 2 theories.

Last 2 Theories:

4. He scored his dream job.

5. He got a promotion.

Photo credit: designspiration.com

Photo credit: designspiration.com

When I was about 2 stops away from the one I needed, they stopped talking again because they needed to look into each other’s eyes some more. This time the gazing was more intense than the last, if you can imagine, so much so that I think if our train had come to a screeching halt, they wouldn’t have noticed. They were in their own world, which was convenient for me because I wasn’t exactly the definition of subtle. Shoot, I was lost in their world! In fact I actually had to physically turn away because I was so moved by this couple that I almost cried. ALMOST. CRIED. But trust me you would’ve done the same if you had been there. They were amazing. Her eyes looked like… like she was so proud of him and if she loved him anymore than she did in that moment she would… I don’t know… she would just… combust! (which would’ve been cool and scary.) And he – he kissed her hand, ladies – in that Mr. Darcy kind of way. Oh it was too perfect. The train arrived at my stop which coincidentally was their stop. They got off, grabbed each other’s hands, walked to the escalator, then he gave her a single kiss – one that lasted all the way to the very top. Ah, romance.

Of course the rest of my ride home was spent across from a different couple who could not yell at each other loud enough, so much so that the girlfriend felt it necessary to spit her gum into her hand in order to get her point across more effectively, though personally I preferred her fuming words with the gum. Romantic U-Bahn dream world – tschüß. But at least the ride ended with a good chuckle in response to the angry girlfriend getting her gum accidentally tangled around her finger on its way back between her furiously smacking teeth. Ah, public displays of animosity.

I’ll never know what the U-Bahn couple was so worked up about, and that seriously bums me out.  I wish there was a way for me to tell them how much they impacted me during my usual uneventful train ride home; how for 10 minutes, in a world that’s often too easily darkened with stories of unhappiness and distrust, they allowed me to be a witness to their genuine, heartfelt, trusting love for one another. And because of those beautiful 10 minutes, I will never forget the U-Bahn couple.


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Cue Gloria Gaynor

Photo credit: fotozup.com

Photo credit: fotozup.com

Still trucking along in the German language, trying to add more and more words to my seemingly small range of vocabulary. Unfortunately I’m not one those with the kind of brain that soaks up new knowledge like a sponge; my brain is more like a rock for knowledge to bounce off of then roll far away from down a mountain. For as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve functioned in this way. If I’m going to remember a fact or new word long-term, it either has to be significantly important to me or connected to an action that I find funny or tragic or terrifying. Sometimes those online vocabulary training sites work for me if I keep up with it every day. Like this one that I do that “plants seeds” when it introduces new words, then I must “harvest” the seeds and “water” them daily, and when those “seeds” become “flowers”, the new words are in my long-term memory! But if I just read new words out of my German dictionary, I might as well be reading about the history of math because they do not stick in my head for anything.

One way that I’ve found to help keep new German words in my long-term memory, as I’ve mentioned before, is to be around kids. Sometimes, yes, it’s impossible to understand what they’re saying if they’re talking 100 miles a second, but when they’re talking at a normal speed or even slower (because they know I don’t speak German), I can pick up a few new words or phrases per day. The chance to significantly improve my vocabulary was presented to me this last week when I was camp counselor at a German-speaking kids camp. Though I prefer to learn words through the sweetness and friendliness of children, most of my learning came from trying to decipher the Schimpfwörter* from, you know, regular “aw man!” words. Not to say these kids weren’t sweet or friendly, but sometimes an intense game of 4Square can bring out words you wouldn’t normally use around Preacher Joe, you know what I mean? So I got to know the Schimpf* words pretty quickly as I frequently heard myself saying, “Nein! Das ist nicht ein schönes Wort!*” And then there were some words that almost sounded like Schimpf words, and in those cases I would ask the adults the meaning behind them just to be sure I hadn’t been tricked into thinking the word was “ein super schönes Wort*”.

Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 9.55.19 PMAnother way I’ve found to help improve my German, still along the lines of kids, is by either breaking up fights or needing to get onto a kid who is in the wrong. Situations such as these require immediate attention, especially if a kid is about to receive the black eye of the summer. I could let my lack of German vocabulary hold me back and just stand there and be the first one to grab an icepack, or, I could interject and list off all of the ways to say “STOP IT” that I know in an ugly sounding but totally functional way. The way I say “HÖR AUF!*” may physically hurt a fellow German-speaker’s ears, but hey, at least their kid didn’t get punched in the face. Sometimes the German that flies out of my mouth amazes me, usually because it’s not until I’m in the heat of the moment when I realize I actually used proper grammar as well as words I had no idea were in my memory bank. It’s much less intimidating to a child when the adult who’s teaching him or her a lesson is fumbling and stuttering through their “Here’s what you did wrong and here’s how you can make it right” speech, so I’m convinced that in these moments of teaching, my brain saves me from embarrassment and befriends me for as long as “Life Lessons From Holly*” spills from my mouth. Poor kids…

Now I’m back from camping in the mountains with kiddos and return to the frightening world of not-a-native-speaker-adulthood in the city. I will say that I’ve had some small victories as of late, such as successfully describing my ailments to “Herr Doktor” and purchasing medicine from our neighborhood Apotheke*. Unfortunately in this same victory I failed to get a receipt for our insurance, so after a week of my husband urging me to go back to the Apotheke to get the receipt (I was indescribably nervous), I finally did and retrieved the receipt without dying of embarrassment or being yelled at by Herr Doktor. The most important thing that I have to tell myself daily hourly secondly while I flail through this wonderful but difficult language is: I’m going to survive. Sometimes “Life Lessons From Holly” auf Deutsch* may cause a misbehaving kid to crook an eyebrow and make me feel lame, or sometimes I may buy enough lunch meat to feed an army instead of enough for just two people, or sometimes I look like a deer in the headlights in front of a large group of people. Regardless, I will survive.

*Schimpfwörter – swear words
*Schimpf – swear
*Nein! Das ist nicht ein schönes Wort! – No! That’s not a nice word!
*ein super schönes Wort – a really nice word
*Hör auf – stop it
*Apotheke – pharmacy
*auf Deutsch – in German
*Life Lessons From Holly – Lessons in which I assume immediately changes the life of every child who has heard them and later becomes a lawyer or doctor or famous movie star by their 18th birthday.


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Worst of Culture Shock, part 2: Safety in Sickness

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In September of 2012, I attended an annual women’s retreat called Frauenfreizeit, literally translated – Women’s Free Time. Frauenfreizeit takes place in the gorgeous Alps of Austria in the lusciously green town of Filzmoos. The mountain air is fresh, the rolling hills are freckled with horses and dairy cows, and the occasional yodel can be heard from a man giving tours in the town – complete with horse and buggy. In the center of the town is a tiny fairytale-like garden filled with animals – ponies, a white donkey, bunnies, birds, ducks and ducklings, and a small cat or two. In the middle of this garden lies a quaint pond, the stillness disturbed by a rickety wooden watermill that spills out amounts of water into it over and over. When the sun shines down on this little piece of Heaven, it feels as though Snow White should jump out any moment with her high-pitched notes and singalong blue birds. It really is a perfect place, especially when it can be enjoyed over a warm cup of coffee.

Up a few hills is the hotel – a typical Austrian style building with flowers pouring over every windowsill. My room came with a small balcony, and from there I could look over the town and face the enormous mountains that stand on either side of it. For meals, the ladies and I were served gourmet breakfasts, lunches, and dinners around candlelit tables next to a wall of windows for mountain-gazing. Everything felt, looked, and seemed perfect. I needed this after all; I needed free time. We had only moved to Vienna just months before, and our summer consisted of intensive language classes, culture adjustment, apartment hunting (no small feat), and relationship building. I loved the challenge of our first summer in Vienna, but it was hard, and now I finally had a chance to breathe and relax and enjoy hours of free time in a mountainous paradise.

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The women’s retreat attendees consisted of 14 older ladies (mostly cute white-haired grandmas), one girl around my age, and myself. A few of us were from Austria, a few from Germany, and a few from Switzerland. Even though there were only 3 countries represented, the dialects were from all over the place and were sometimes impossible to understand (Swiss-Deutsch is the most difficult). I was intimidated by it, being a German-newbie at the time, but figured I could hold my own without a problem. The first morning as I was on my way to join the womenfolk for class, the girl who’s around my age, Krista, pulled me aside and said, “Hey, if you get overwhelmed in there and need to step outside, it’s totally okay. No one will judge you. I’ve been in your place and had to leave class a few times last year for a breather and everyone understood. Just know you’re in a safe place here.” I was touched by her desire to give me help and advice, but at the same time, I was puzzled. I had attended close to 4 months of German-speaking church already, AND my German was good enough to allow me to skip a level in class. I was a Level A2.2 speaker! That’s high enough to get by, right?

Culture Shock laughed hard in my face. Like that kind of laughter where you can’t breathe for several seconds and then suck in a huge amount of air so you can keep laughing? That’s what I believe to be the laugh of Culture Shock. Five minutes into class and my eyes were as wide as they would allow themselves to be. I felt hot, queazy, dizzy, and outrageously fatigued. By the time the discussion rolled around I had no idea what was going on other than we were having a discussion about something related to the Bible. I pulled out my notebook and began to jot down words I didn’t recognize – Dankbarkeit, Gnade, Teufel, Zweifel, Barmherzigkeit. My list grew and was three pages long in just under 20 minutes. The lady I sat next to was kind enough to help me out, though I was worried my questions would wear her out and end up something like this in the middle of class:

“What does Gnade mean?”

“Oooh yes! That word means grace.” 

“Oh ok. What about Teufel?” 

“Devil. It means Devil.” 

“Oh… Well what about Barmherzigkeit?”

“MERCY, HOLLY. IT MEANS MERCY. THE MERCY OF THE LORD. THE KIND THAT I ASK YOU TO GIVE ME WITH ALL OF YOUR HUNDREDS OF QUESTIONS!”

“…… What was Gnade again?”

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

She was actually quite wonderful towards me and leaned over often to help me with definitions or to voluntarily explain to me what someone was saying. But even explanations and definitions didn’t help prevent me from physically feeling as awful as I felt. Regardless, I kept trucking along through the day and was able to experience hours of calm and relief that afternoon by the bunnies and ponies and watermill. I sat on my balcony for a while prior to dinner and took in the scenery all around me before I became vulnerable all over again. The next morning wasn’t any better, in fact it was worse. By lunch time I would’ve paid to speak English with someone. I would have given up lunch and dessert to speak English with someone. Done a dance, yodeled, whatever – I just needed English back in my life. Immediately. I planted myself at a table with some of the women I knew would potentially speak English with me, but I only did this so I wouldn’t look sad and alone at a table by myself. The ladies I knew who actually did speak English as their native language hadn’t come downstairs yet, so I watched the then dubbed “English Speaking Table” in order to be ready at any moment to pop on over and leave German behind. Unfortunately, the “English Speaking Table” filled within moments, and the sweet grandmas who thought they were helping by telling me to stay put so I wouldn’t have to get up, filled in the other chairs. One chair was left, and I stood up frantically to get to it before anyone else, but one last smiley grandma appeared, put her hand on my cheek and said, “Na, du sollst hier bleiben. Du musst mehr Deutsch lernen!” – translates to, “No, you should stay here. You must learn more German!”

*Insert evil Culture Shock laugh here*

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What I call the “Culture Shock Snap” snapped. My face flushed red and I slowly sat back down as if someone had just told me that Paul McCartney died (which will be a HORRIBLE day indeed). My eyes brimmed with tears as I held back the angry, immature 5-year old inside of me who wanted to shout, “OH YEAH? Well… DU musst mehr Deutsch lernen!” An embarrassing comeback that would’ve been. I excused myself from the table and hurried to my room. I collapsed on my bed and cried like I did back in high school when boys hurt my feelings. I fell asleep after a while the very way I had landed on the bed – sprawled out, half in and half out of the covers. I slept for 4 hours, and the only reason I didn’t sleep longer was because of how badly my throat hurt. Thirty minutes later I was sneezing and coughing, and by dinner time I had a full blown fever. I laid in bed miserable but not all together sad that I couldn’t participate in that night’s class. Or class the next morning. Or the following night. My fever went up and down throughout the week while my sneezing and coughing only worsened. I did leave the room once to go to town in order to get myself some Vitamin C tablets from the Apotheke (pharmacy), but for the most part I stayed sick in my room. The grandmas checked on me countless times throughout each day and brought me soup and tea and bread. They would explain in German how sorry they were that of all the weeks in the year my body chose this week to get sick. I too was sorry, as I truly did want to be with them and learn, but unfortunately the only things I learned that week were the following:

How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory are just as funny in German as they are in English.

Austrian soap operas are just as strange as American soap operas.

The makers of 7th Heaven should have produced the show entirely in dubbed-over German so we could have all been spared its never-ending drama.

Hotel rooms are boring.

Why have I waited this long to take a Eucalyptus bubble bath?

On the last day of the Frauenfreizeit, I emerged from my room to sing some last songs and watch the annual Frauen Talent Show. I returned home still sick and still “in shock” but was on the path to healing. Now, almost a year later, I’m happy to report I haven’t been sick one time since last September at the hands of Culture Shock! (I was going to say that I haven’t been sick at all since last September, but then I got sick this weekend and ruined my record.) That’s not to say Culture Shock has never visited me again, but at least it hasn’t given me anymore fevers.