Sunday, October 31, 2010

To My Siblings

It doesn't quite fit, because there are two of you, but this PostSecret made me think of you. I'm glad that we've got each other.


Friday, October 29, 2010

America agrees with me

I just read this article and I’ll admit I felt a great joy at learning that America agrees with me: Delta is the WORST airline. They got a negative score – I mean, one has to really try to get a negative score. And Lord knows Delta is really trying to be the worst.
To quote the article:

“Delta had the worst AQR among major airlines with a -1.73, and a couple of its regional airlines did even worse (see Comair and Atlantic Southeast below). It also had the largest drop in passenger satisfaction in the American Customer Satisfaction Index. According to the Air Travel Consumer Reports, Delta was number one in delays for major airlines (78 percent of flights arriving on time in the 12-month period ending August 2010) and first in consumer complaints (averaging 2.23 per 100,000 enplanements in 2010). Also, make sure to note Delta's baggage fees below, as they can get quite painful for those hauling heavy and/or large cargo.”

In addition to these general statements, I’d like to add my own personal statements. I’ve flown Delta just a handful of times. They have all been horrible. Here are my top two.

Experience One

I had just learned that my beloved grandfather had been diagnosed with cancer. My grandfather was the singular positive male influence I had throughout my childhood. His diagnosis was bad and I felt like a fundamental part of my life was disappearing.

It was about two months before my wedding and I had already booked tickets from Germany to the US. The company I work for agreed that I could work from the US and my husband encouraged it, more than aware of how important my grandfather was to me. So I called the airline company – Delta – to reschedule the plane ticket.

Delta, however, refused. Refused. It seems I had purchased a ticket at a “non-exchangable” fare rate. I still don’t know what that means. And the lovely, highly-skilled customer representative couldn’t explain it to me either – but he certainly shared his personal charm through arrogance, blatant rudeness, general incompetence, and basic meanness. I came to call this unique blend the “Delta culture”.

Anyways, I decided that I’d buy another ticket and take only the return part of the ticket I had already built. Turns out that’s illegal. You have to use the first part of an airline ticket to use the second part. Fabulous.

I’m not the least stubborn person in the world, so I called and called and called until I finally got another member living the Delta culture who demanded a doctor’s letter to confirm the family emergency. Naturally getting this letter caused a certain amount of unneeded stress and pain for my family. Why unneeded, you ask, faithful reader?

Needless because then I had to pay the “standard change fee” of some 175 euro (or something like that) to exchange my ticket. I complained to another adorable customer representative living the Delta culture who said something along the lines of “take it or leave it.”

My grandfather was dying and I wanted to selfishly spend time with him – so I took it.

I would have much more happily paid 3x175 euro to change my ticket, had it meant that I hadn’t needed a letter. Thanks, Delta.

Experience Two

On a recent business trip I had the pleasure to fly Delta from Vancouver to Detroit. Although it was an international flight – Canada to the US = international – and it was a leg in a significantly longer international flight to Germany, I got to pay something like $40 to check in a piece of luggage for a “domestic” trip. One piece of luggage. The same piece of luggage that I checked in for free from Germany to Vancouver and then later from Detroit to Germany.

Anyways, beyond the ridiculous fee that I didn’t argue with – come on, people, I was dealing with Delta and knew where that would lead to – I got to again experience the Delta culture of customer service.

After the guy at the counter tagged my bag, he said, “There we go.” I answered, “Thank you.” And started to walk away. The Delta employee actually called out after me, “we’re in Canada, not the U.S. We carry our own bags here.”

I turned around and said, “Excuse me?”

Apparently he thought he needed to enunciate more, so he REPEATED, “We’re in Canada, not the U.S. Carry your bag over there.”

You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. This lovely chap deserves a freaking medal for ‘living the Delta culture’. I doubt that I have had my entire culture insulted by an English-speaking customer representative. German-speaking, sure, but English-speaking? Never.

Unfortunately we live in a time in which rudeness and bullying at an airport or on a plane leads to the passenger getting arrested. I remained silent – although I would like to believe my look said a million swear words.


You deserve this first place prize, Delta. You suck.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Trying Something New

I enjoy writing and it enjoys me. My life is better when I'm writing. It really doesn't matter what I'm writing, just that it is happening. I studied creative nonfiction at the University of Pittsburgh; wrote a weekly column for Duquesne University while studying abroad; filled journal after journal with my thoughts and ideas; and have somehow managed to keep this blog going to the tune of 40some readers per post…I think I can say that I can string some words together.

Recently I've been stringing words together in a totally new way: I'm writing a story about characters doing stuff that has never really happened.

Yeah, we can call it fiction.

The thing is, I don't really know much about writing fiction. As in: I know nothing about writing fiction. Over the past few months I've been trying to learn something. I've been making the German section of Amazon's stock price soar as I buy out all the English fiction writing books. I’ve been cruising blog after blog after blog and watching too many vlogs, especially from the plot whisperer. Most importantly, I’ve been giving it a shot.

Here is me giving it a shot at plotting with post-it notes across our living room floor. Is it the right way? I dunno. Will I get where I need to? Yeah, I dunno about that either. Am I have a great time? Absolutely!


Monday, October 18, 2010

Integration is a Two-Way Street

The chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, is creating a wave throughout the world with her claims that ‘Germany's attempt to create a multi-cultural society has failed completely’ and ‘by calling on the country's immigrants to learn German and adopt Christian values’. This conversation was sparked in great part by a central bank board member who said Germany is being made "more stupid" by poorly educated and unproductive Muslim migrants’.

These statements are dangerous and they are wrong. I am a “foreigner” living and working in Germany and my life proves them wrong.

Before we go any further, let me state clearly that these statements are NOT a continuation of National Socialism. Not. A. Continuation. Germany does have a significant problem in topic integration, and it isn’t alone in Europe, or on the North American continent. These statements could have come from any number of leading politicians; here is one example of racial profiling from the US, my home country.

Now that we have addressed that sticky and omnipresent aspect of anything German, let’s move on. I live in Germany, have done so for almost eight years, and am a foreigner here – so I’m going to share my experience and what I know.

I know that I am not the type of foreigner that Merkel is talking about: I am white. I am American. I am highly-educated. I was born and raised Christian; Catholic to be specific. In other words: I am not dark-skinned. I am not from Africa, the Middle East, or Asia. I’m not working in a low-level job. I am not Muslim. I’m not “that kind of foreigner” – and yes, I have been told that by countless people over my eight years, even by some people that I care deeply for and about.

But, I know and have experienced that I am not German. Since I’m not German, I am by default a foreigner. End. Of. Conversation. So, while Merkel isn’t really talking about me – she is. And I’m fucking offended.

For the record, I’m also offended with the following experiences: people telling me that I’m not the “bad” type of foreigner, that they don’t mean me; that I couldn’t possibly have dated a black man, an Asian man, a Columbian man, because I seem like “such a nice girl”; that I better name my children “real” names instead of “pretend” names like Americans; that I was accosted by a stranger while shopping with the accusation that I’m taking away jobs; that I was told by someone who has never lived in my country has the “exact same values” as Germany and refused to listen that, um, no, actually not.

At the same time I’m offended that Merkel and her likes can so easily disregard the progress that has been made in the last almost-eight years. Germany is changing. Here are three small examples from my personal experience and I have a lot more:
  1. Just a few weeks ago at the Mr.’s little village’s festival, I saw groups of people standing together, laughing together, drinking together and those people were of many different ancestries and – more directly said, to make the point completely clear –skin colors, religions, and educational background. That wasn’t the case seven years ago.
  2. While shopping the other day, I almost dropped something when a Muslim woman in headscarf helped me, spontaneous and with a smile. Then we shared a few words in German, then English before we moved into our own lives.
  3. At work, I work with people from all over the world. Almost all of us have a story of active racism against us as individuals – yes, me, too, the “good” foreigner – but we also have far more stories of acceptance, of friendship, of love found. We share these stories, shaking our head at the idea that Germany doesn’t have to change but smiling that it already has.
Yet, all that said, the sad truth, is that many people believe that integration is a one way street, as shown by the demands – not requests – that immigrants “adopt” the German understanding of “Christian values”. The majority don’t see any reason why Germany (them) should change, since they (me) came here (Germany).

But, integration is not a one way street; it goes in both ways. I, the foreigner, get to change and grow, picking up and learning from the positive aspects of my host. Germany, the host country, gets to do the same, picking up and learning from the positive aspects of its new inhabitants, especially those born on its ground to “foreigner” parents. We all get to learn from each other – on our two way street.

So, Ms. Merkel, integration hasn’t failed in Germany. Just your expectations of what integration should look like. I suggest changing your view. Oh, and by the way, you’ll have to change too.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Kaffee und Kuchen

The Germans have a delightful tradition of enjoying a slice of cake and a cup of coffee on Sunday afternoons. Its called "Kaffee und Kuchen". The Mr. and I don't usually partake in this tradition; this week we made an exception.

It totally paid off.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

How to Enjoy Ireland – Steinbach Top 5

Many travelers throughout the ages have written about Ireland and just how to best enjoy it. This article is one example of millions. I’m not going to go into that side of enjoying Ireland; it’s been covered. Instead, here are my off-the-beaten track top five stuff-to-do in Ireland.

1. Take lots of walks and enjoy the secrets of the Irish countryside

2. Travel through the centuries of history

3. Visit a cemetery, stop, and sit in silence

4. Revisit the same place more than once, at different times in the day. It will be worth it.

5. Enjoy a relaxed, private Guinness – after or before enjoying one or two in the company of new friends in a pub.

Meet as many locals as possible, and animals count


Friday, October 15, 2010

Ich bin unbefristet

As of today, almost 8 years after I arrived, I am the proud owner of an unlimited “unbefristet” German visa.

I may now stay in Germany for as long as I want and earn my income however I’d like. Basically, I have all the rights all these crazy Germans do, I just don’t get to vote. As an American with a good job and German husband, I haven’t faced significant troubles staying here but there is something comforting about knowing that now I can – forever if I chose to.

Watch out Germany – you might just be stuck with me!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fun Little Tidbit – Sharing Shoes

The Mr. is about 4 inches taller than I am. I can easily fit the top of head under his chin. Yet, we wear the same size shoe. It is fun for me because I get to slip into and out of his shoes whenever I want to. The Mr. loves this about me, almost as much as when I hound him about new home improvement projects. It isn’t as much fun for the Mr, since he isn’t really all that interested in the majority of my shoes.

While in Italy the Mr. and I took a hike and his bad knee started hurting again. That made him not happy.

I was wearing my Nike Free, so we decided that we’d take advantage of our identical shoe size and swap shoes.

It was a successful change. We both got to enjoy the rest of the hike pain free, including:

A view onto the lake

Fairy mushrooms

The valley where we got engaged. We sat underneath the tree that has been since been cut down.

And even took a little moment for a kiss.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Happily Married - 17 Months

One of us mentions that we are running out of toilet paper, and we both buy a package. Sure, we have far more toilet paper than we will need in the next six to eight weeks, but we also have something to laugh about, together.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Other Side

I was in Ireland this past weekend for a very intensive creative writing course. When I stepped into my rental car in Dublin, I saw this reflection on my windscreen:

The reflection is a clever reminder to drive on the left side of the road. For me, an American living in Germany, the left side is the “wrong” side to drive on, so I need the reminder, as silly as I found it at first.

Then I started to reflect upon the past few weeks. I am currently going through a personal change process, in which I’m working on changing certain thought and behavior patterns both personally and professionally. It is an exciting time and also a challenging time. I’m quite tired a lot of time because I’m questioning and moving deep, deep down within my heart and soul. Change is tough and change is draining.

Suddenly the reflection in my windscreen wasn’t so silly anymore. Instead, I found myself wishing I had something like this as a constant reminder for all of the other changes as well.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ze Germans are Everywhere!

And aren’t they great.

I’m in Ireland this weekend and I first had the great pleasure of driving the wonderful (sarcasm meant) Irish roads in the dark to a location I’ve never been to before. It was a lovely, non-stress experience (sarcasm meant, again). But I did indeed find my target location without major incident and only a few wrong turns, and aren’t we all pleased about that one?

In the super cozy pub attached to my hotel I accidentally met some excellent tourists on their first trip to Ireland. They just happened to be from Germany. Since they will most likely never read this blog - though I totally pitched it to them - and I have no photographic proof…my view of the conversation.

Over Guinness and cider we talked about all those topics one “shouldn’t” talk about: politics, the history of Germany, the status of foreigners, the craziness about September 11, 2001, and comedians. I know I should have enjoyed the comedians part the most - but I actually appreciated their trust and openness in covering the other topics with me, a certified foreigner. I even have the accent, American passport, and German visa to prove it.

So this is my open letter to them. Thank you Robert and Anja for sharing your views. Thank you for being controversial. And thank you for referring to us, the foreigners, a part of the greater society, as “ausländische Mitbürger".

Thanks for a great evening. Next beer is totally on me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Images of Italy

Last week we enjoyed a full week in Italy, along the Lago Maggiore - also known to yours truly as “the center of the beautiful world.” In the case that you doubt said title, photographic proof:

But, it wasn’t all breathtaking views, excellent red wine, and cozy dinners for two. There were also the hours and hours of reading;

Deep conversations on the balcony with a cool beer and a warming sun;

Cut throat games of trivial pursuit;

Relaxed cappuccinos in the sun;

And, last but not least, super excellent (not just excellent) red wine.

Ahhhhh, Italy. I’m not done with you yet!

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