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.

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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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My Newly Obtained Super Power

After living 9 months in Austria immersed in the Austrian culture and German language, I can now confidently struggle with the choice of selecting German “Elementary proficiency” or “Limited working proficiency” on my Linkedin profile. For now, I’ve selected “Limited working proficiency” because I can A.) speak a limited amount of German at work, and because I still B.) chicken out on the phone and switch to English. That’s the meaning of “limited proficiency” right? Still, it might be more correct to select “Elementary proficiency” because I can A.) understand everything that 4-9 year olds are saying, and I can B.) have entire conversations with those little guys.

Scenery from the top of Katrinberg

Scenery from the top of Katrinberg

It may not be a huge step in my language learning process to be able to claim “Elementary” and “Limited” proficiencies, but still, I’m pretty stoked about my progress regardless, especially after I made an important discovery a couple of weekends ago. My husband and I went out of town with our friend Thomas who took us outside of Vienna to a tiny, 300 person town called Lauffen. There we stayed with an adorable, sweet, elderly woman named Frieda who blessed us with free housing and morning coffee. During this time away, Thomas tried to kill us by claiming there was jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery to be gawked at if we hiked up to the top of a giant mountain with him. We barely survived the hike but Thomas was right and we did in fact drop our jaws at the scene that surrounded us. He also took us to Bad-Ischl – a similarly quaint and cute town in the mountains – to tour a summer home built for and regularly lived in by Franz Josef and the ever still popular (and still dead, if you don’t who she is) Sisi, as well as to tour and taste a famous salt mine in the mountains. Following our time in Bad-Ischl, we spent quite a bit of time in Hallstatt – a gorgeous town that is unlike any town I have ever seen in Europe – and toured a well known ice cave in which I was the coldest I have ever been in my entire life. It was during these tours that I made my important discovery.

The important discovery being: Tour guides leave out stuff! And I don’t mean just “stuff”. I mean like, really interesting and huge parts of history that have to do with whatever or wherever it is that one is touring, and I now know this thanks to my German elementary/limited working proficiency. At first I felt a fair amount of nervousness as my husband and me knowingly paid to take an all-German tour of Franz Josef’s mansion, but much to my surprise, I understood our German-speaking tour guide as clear as day as did my husband and thus felt that we could do the rest of our tours all auf-Deutsch. The next tour we took, the salt mine in Bad-Ischl, was conducted in German but immediately translated into English due to the diversity of our group. This is where knowing both languages came in handy and cracked my husband and me up consistently.

It wasn’t so much the tour guide in the salt mine that made us laugh, but the short films we watched at various parts of the tour. The voiceover in the film was a German man, and ALMOST all that he said was translated into English subtitles below. What was so hilarious was that the voiceover would take minutes explaining the complexity of say, the discovery of a dead man whose body was preserved in salt since prehistoric times, or “Der Mann im Salz”, in great detail, while the subtitles below said something like:

A dead man’s body was found preserved in salt. It was important to the history of the salt mine.

Silhouette of our tour guide, probably mid-ice bear story

Silhouette of our tour guide, probably mid-ice bear story

That was it. No science, no list of facts, no explanation about how no one really knows where the men who discovered the body buried it, nothing – just, “…It was important to the history…”. A similar instance happened again while touring the ice cave. Our tour guide spoke excellent English, and we genuinely felt that we learned quite a bit whenever she switched over to translate for the English speakers in our tour group. We understood her German, but we found it helpful to know both languages in case we missed important facts during her German explanation, specifically scientific terms. For example, we knew Stalaktit and Stalagmit had to be Stalactite and Stalagmite, but if she threw a word out like “Kalkstein”, then yeah we would just nod our heads and act like we totally knew what she was talking about until she translated everything in English. I mean seriously, who doesn’t know about “Kalkstein”? (In case you’re looking to impress someone the next time you’re talking about caves and such, Kalkstein is the German word for Limestone. You’re welcome.) The best part of the tour though, was when our tour guide told us a story about a bear. The story was fascinating (and sad) – a bear wandered in the cave hundreds of years ago and couldn’t get out due to an obvious lack of food in the ice cave, so it froze and years and years later, cave explorers came in and discovered the bear’s bones. It didn’t take her a long time to tell the story, but it was very interesting and informative and so we looked forward to hearing the fuller story in English. But we didn’t hear it. Instead, in English, she went straight to, “And now we are going up this flight of stairs here…”, leaving out the bear story entirely.

I was tempted to blurt out “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE BEAR?!” in English to make sure I hadn’t missed any details and also so my fellow English speaking companions could learn about the ancient bear too, but I figured our nice tour guide wouldn’t appreciate my language flip-flop, and I also very much enjoyed feeling like I had obtained a super power. I believe all those who understood German left these tours feeling knowledgeable, informed, and further interested while all those who did not understand German left the tours feeling, well, probably exactly the same, with maybe a hint of “Does anyone else feel like the guide may have left out some things?”.


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Childlike Knowledge

A few weeks ago I allowed a disgruntled employee at one of my favorites restaurants to ruin my weekend. Most of that Saturday had already proven to be a “bad day for German” and it showed while I was ordering my food. I was slow to understand, the employee lost his patience, and let me have it in front of everyone around me – in English.

Had I brought my bag of steel nerves and quick thinking I would’ve totally handled the situation. I would have said something like, “Thank you for my mineral water. And what’s your name? Michael? Great. I look forward to speaking with your manager, Michael. Have a nice night.” Wah-BAM. He would have been speechless! But let’s face it – the only time I’m able to think on my feet like that is when I encounter someone smaller than me, like kids who talk during opening night of the final Harry Potter movie (ask my husband about it sometime).

tumblr_lwdwpzFZOG1qgt7v0o1_500Even if I had talked to the restaurant manager, I still don’t think it would have made me feel any better. The guy probably had a rough day, and it wouldn’t have changed the fact that my German was far from on target. Good friends comforted me with German-learning-struggle-stories of their own, and while that helped a considerable amount, I couldn’t help but keep thinking to myself, “What is the deal. Just open your mouth already and SAY SOMETHING.” Oh I was so frustrated. But just when I was about to resign myself to living in a Charlie Brown-sad-piano world, the good Lord sent me help in the form of a tiny, adorable 4 year old Austrian girl named Zoe.

My husband and I were lucky enough to spend all of last week with Zoe at a Spiritual Growth retreat in Crikvenica, Croatia. Every time she saw us she would yell out our names and run as fast as could into our arms and proceed to ask question after question about our current status in the cutest German you’ve ever heard. Was machst du? Was machst du jetzt? Darf ich mit dein Telefon spielen?  (She discovered Angry Birds on my phone and got addicted. So did her mom.) We learned so much from her. She refused to speak English with us, which was great because we were then forced to find words that answered her question. If we took too long to answer, she’d let us know. If we said something that didn’t make any sense, she’d let us know. If she overheard us say something to her parents in English, she immediately wanted to know what we said and we had to tell her in German. She was brilliant. And it was amazing for us because we were finally on the same level as someone else. Sure, that someone turned out to be a 4 year old, but hey. We’re great with that, and we learned so many new words from her than probably any adult we’ve spoken to because of how she unknowingly helped us log the words away in our memory.

Will and I with Zoe.

Will and me with Zoe.

For example, Rock-Paper-Scissors (in German it’s Scissors-Rock-Paper) is her number one favorite game (aside from Angry Birds). We played it over and over and over again. Now if a kid wants to play Rock-Paper-Scissors, no problem. Schere-Stein-Papier. If I want to tell someone I tasted my food, I now know which verb to use because at dinner one night Zoe tasted her grated carrots like her mom asked her to and she thought the carrots were gross. I now know about ducks, best friends, games, butterflies, nail polish, favorite colors, “that’s not fair”, phrases to use while playing Tag, and how to tell someone I very much need to find a bathroom this instant or else – all in German.

Will my next German conversation with a kindergartner go well? Absolutely. Will my next German conversation with an adult be as riveting? Well, unless we’re playing Tag or talking about butterflies it may not be as well spoken as the one with the kindergartner, but at least my confidence has been restored and my knowledge increased all thanks to little Zoe. She reminded me of the importance in trying and trying again, and how having a childlike knowledge about something is actually a ton of fun.