Monday, June 13, 2011

Saying Goodbye in Austria

This blog post could be very sentimental, sadly recognizing all the things I'll miss about Austria, (Knödel, Gemütlichkeit, teaching... to name a few) but I've decided instead to focus on the actual language involved in goodbyes. So, here goes:

Germans and Austrians have a curious tendency to LOVE greetings. Rarely do they use less than two. In stores or restaurants, perhaps just a simple "Tschüss" or "Wiedersehen" will suffice, but with friends or even acquaintances, one shows a level of affection by racking up numerous goodbyes. It's kind of like teenagers in love on the telephone ("You hang up!" "No, you hang up!").

Here are all the ways I can think of:
Tschüss! (bye)
Auf Wiedersehen! (until next time we see each other!)
Auf Wiederschauen! (until next time we see each other! in Austria)
Tschau!/Ciao! (ciao - obvious?)
Servus! (means both hello and goodbye, like aloha)
Baba! (derived from bye bye)
Pfierdi! (straight-up (Lower?) Austrian)
Auf Wiederhören! (used on the phone)
Bussi! (also mainly used on the phone... since it means kisses, it is kind of is weird in person)

English doesn't provide as many options. In fact, I can think of just a few: (Good) bye, talk to you later, see you later. Do these chronic goodbyers feel limited in my language? I think so! I once received a phone call from a woman I tutor, who left me a message in English. At the end of her message, she said a rather uncomfortable "Talk to you later. Bye! Bye-bye!", which made me laugh.

Well, that's it. I leave Austria tomorrow at 11:50 AM, and don't know when I'll be back. I do believe I'll be back someday though... at least for a vacation. It's been a long, fast, learning-experience-full, fun, stressful, growing year. I look forward to being somewhere where I can usually feel comfortable, while also looking forward to recognizing how I'm different from this year.

Tschüss! Baba! Wiedersehen! Servus! Pfierdi! Bussi! 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Weltner World Tour 2011


Yep, that's right, my brother came to Austria. It's been pretty sweet to show him around my life here. I mean, if no one else experiences it, it's almost like it's not real, right?

I'm in a castle!!
One of the silliest part of this trip has been what I like to call  "Weltners on Bikes". For those who don't know, I learned to ride a bike when I was 20. Matt has also never been a big bike rider, so putting the pair of us on bicycles makes for some strange times. On his second day here, I dragged Matt on a bike ride from Krems to Dürnstein, because he demanded that he see a castle while in Austria. Dürnstein housed Richard the Lionheart when Duke Leopold V of Austria captured him on his return from the Crusades in 1192. So, it's a pretty legit castle, even though all that remains is ruins.

Obviously to classify our trip as a "world tour", we had to go international. We decided Budapest, Hungary would be our second destination, so on Tuesday we took an early bus over there. Highlights of our Budapest visit:
  • The baths! Budapest is home to many natural springs, and we took advantage of one of baths, Szechenyi, for a full afternoon. We both had our first professional massages (and agreed they were weird), and also managed to dip our feet into all of the 18 different pools (including the very sulfur-y and very hot or cold).
  • Drinking from the "natural spring" of wine
  • Labyrinth - The hills in Buda are full of caves, which have been used for storage, transportation and safety. These days, however, they mostly function as tourist traps. We visited a labyrinth we had heard a lot about between 6 and 7 PM, when the lights were turned off and we were given lanterns. The whole thing was pretty kitschy, with spooky sounds and rattling chains and the whole shebang. The end however, was so weird. We stumbled across an "ancient" shoeprint from the Homo Consumus, followed by a huge Coke bottle fossil. Then, there were the exhibits of "recovered" artifacts, like a microphone, protractor, cell phone... etc. Finally, we turned a corner where the devil was giving a speech predicting the end of the world due to this Homo Consumus. The basic message I got was that at the rate that we consume, we too will perish. I mean, I get that people get upset about these things, but I just paid to get into your labyrinth... someone's making money off of this, don't hate me!
  • View from the Liberty Statue - After a couple long days of walking, we forced ourselves up another hill of Buda to see the sunset from the Liberty Statue. After getting lost in some neighborhoods, we were rewarded with a fantastic view of the city - totally worth it.
Budapest from the Liberty Statue
Anyway, we've also done a lot of things in Vienna, mostly my favorite things:
Café Central - tastebud overload!
  • Falafel and free samples at the Naschmarkt 
  • Coffee and Philgood Frühstück at Phil
  • Coffee and breakfast at Café Europa
  • Coffee and cake at Café Central (are you seeing a trend? Matt was really bad for the caffeine addiction I thought I'd overcome!)
  • A Tchaikovsky opera, Eugene Onegin, at the opera house (gettin' classy!)
  • Run in Schönbrunn
  • And lots and lots and lots of walking....

In other news, I leave for Seattle in 36 HOURS.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Lesson in Lessons.

Me: Which president was the first president born in a hospital? A. Abraham Lincoln, B. Jimmy Carter, C. Barack Obama or D. George Bush, Sr.
Student: Nick Carter.
Me: Whose ashes are located in a lake in California? A. Gandhi, B. Martin Luther King, Jr. C. Abraham Lincoln or D. Marilyn Monroe?
Same student: Marilyn Manson.

Oh, goodness.

Well, it looks like my teaching career is over (at least for the moment - I have no idea what I'll be doing in 3 years...). I really, really enjoyed myself and I think, most of the time, the students did too! But I thought it would be interesting to highlight some of the lessons I taught, for old time's sake. These are the ones that I enjoyed and/or I thought the students liked. I may be completely wrong about that.
  • Native Americans and whaling in the Makah tribe
  • American government system
  • Seattle (especially tourism in Seattle)
  • Globalization 
  • Idioms!
  • Fun facts about America (followed by fun facts about Austria, which I loooved)
  • Debates on nuclear energy
  • Nutrition aka Americans aren't all fat
  • Slang/Rap music in America
  • Jobs/Job interviews (someday knowing how to interview for a garbage man position could come in handy, right?)

And what about some that did not go so well?
  • Facebook (tried to create a wall-to-wall... it was weird)
  • Diner Talk! (Adam and Eve = spare ribs,etc)
  • Political parties in America (if it's not Obama, they don't care.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Things I Didn't Expect to Learn

My time here is running out. 4 days, in fact. FOUR DAYS, really!? I can count that on one hand! Bah! Anyway, my brother has been here to help me from getting too sentimental, but I still think it's good to sit back and reflect a bit.

I've learned a lot this year. I've learned how to be a better teacher, I've learned more German, I've learned how to maximize hours and hours of freetime... but there are plenty of things I learned that I did not at all expect to learn. Some of them, frankly, I wish I hadn't learned.

  • die Umleitung - On my solo bike ride from Krems to Melk (36 km) I kept passing these signs that said Umleitung with an arrow. Of course I didn't really think about it and kept going straight on the path that I knew. After running into construction sights at least 3 times, being yelled at and confused by some Austrian workers, I finally realized that maybe there was some way I should have known to go around this sight. A-ha moment! Umleitung = detour. 
  • die Geldbörse - I am superstitious about my wallets. A few summers ago, I had an unlucky wallet that I kept forgetting places. And this year, when I switched to a new wallet, I kept forgetting it at the same place: at home. One morning I managed to get to the train station 30 minutes away before realizing I was wallet-less, and then the next day I didn't realize I had forgotten my wallet until after ringing up an entire bag of groceries. During these processes, I embarrassingly said the phrase "Ich habe meine Geldbörse vergessen!" (I forgot my wallet) about 4 times, which entails that I will probably never forget that word.
  • Waltzing (and marching!) - Back in January, a friend of mine invited me to attend the Technische Universität Ball. As a part of this, we got free dancing lessons, including the traditional Austrian waltz. Anyway, Joe and I whirled and waltzed with the best of them. I have to figure out how to make waltzing cool in America... it's so fun, and not hard!
  • Things about the US - I've taught a lot of lessons about America this year, and along the way learned some strange things. Examples:
    • The biggest Native American tribe is the Sioux, with 11,000 people
    • There are more 3x more cows than people in the US
    • Great Smokey National Park is the #9 most visited tourist site in the US (I'd never heard of it)
    • There has only been one unmarried US President (James Buchanan)
    • There are really alligators in Alabama (thanks Laura Smith!)
  • How to drive a manual/die Kupplung - My friend Bianca was once kind enough to let me try to drive her stickshift. I killed it a couple times, but I guess that happens. Anyway, after having her scream some German at me while I panicked, I don't think I'll ever forget what Kupplung (clutch) or Bremse (brake) mean. 
  • How to kill 3+ hours of time, daily - This is probably the most practical lesson I've learned all year. Like I've said before, I commute about 3 hours a day to and from Vienna. What do I do to not go crazy? Read, write, listen to Childish Gambino and sleep. Done.
  • der Vokuhila - There's a free newspaper available in Austria, called Heute (=today). With one reading of this paper, you'll recognize that it's obviously of the very highest quality. For example, one time I learned that a beloved Easter bunny had been stolen from a nearby town. Anyway, this paper provides me with some interesting vocabulary. On the cover one day was a picture of Brad Pitt and the word "Vokuhila!!". This, I learned was an abbrevation for "vorne kurz, hinten lang" (short in front, long in back). Yes, Vokuhila means mullet. Considering the extreme amount of mullets visible in Austria, I'm surprised it took me this long to learn that word.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why German?

As most people know, German isn't really a "necessary" language. Frankly, I could survive in this country with just a handful of phrases, because most speak at least a little bit of English. German is rarely (if ever?) the only language someone in the United States speaks, and generally, someone who speaks German and English could probably do a better translation than I can.

So why have I studied this language for 8+ years?!

Let's go back in time. I can remember my first run in with German, which was through a friend named Stefanie in 6th grade. Her parents had lived in Germany when she was younger, so she taught me useful phrases like "Gesundheit" and "Dummkopf" (bless you and stupid head, respectively).
Two years later, we had to decide what language we wanted to study in high school; I believe that this decision changed the course of my life. Basically, I didn't want to study Japanese because it looked too hard, I didn't want to study Spanish because it was the language all the stupid people took (sorry, I was 13) and I didn't want to study French because the girls in the class were mean. So... German it was! I don't really remember much about my first 2 years of high school German except cooking Apfelkuchen once a semester, teaching ourselves "Wir alle wohnen an ein Gelbunterseeboot" (we all live on a yellow submarine.. or something like that) and kids being sent out of class to go to the principal. But I had time in my schedule, so I kept taking it.

When I was 17, I spent a month living in Kiel (north Germany). This month.... was... hard for me! I had never spent so much time away from home, and I realize now that I wasn't really ready to appreciate the differences in our cultures. Plus, I was afraid to make mistakes, and really hardly spoke German at all. So, I spent a lot of the month feeling like I couldn't communicate. It was disheartening. For some reason though, I kept learning German. German classes at Lake Washington HS got even more ridiculous. By the time I was in 4th year German, I was the only student at my level in a classroom of 30 kids at 3 different levels. Basically, I napped in the back, flirted with the 3rd year students and didn't really learn any German. Sorry Frau Taylor.

When college came around, I was automatically signed up for German classes at the University of Portland. I can remember feeling panicked when they placed me in a 301 German class. I got my first ever B in a German class that year. German, however, opened doors for me: I got to go study in Salzburg my sophomore year! By this point, I realized I was good at German if I tried, and so I kept trying, and getting better! My friends all spoke German and it became my favorite class at UP, where we could get nerdy and laugh at jokes that other people didn't understand. I fondly remember writing German papers, because the language is logical, and there is always a correct way to write it. I love that about German. Also, Germany and Austria have fascinating histories. How could I not be interested in learning more about the Holocaust?!

These days, my German isn't perfect (it probably never will be) but I can communciate really well, and can be nearly perfect if you give me a second to think about it. It's strange to think that my time learning German could be over. I don't know where life will take me or whether I will be able to use German much in the future, but it would be nice.

My favorite German sentence (if you were curious): Es gibt einen Löffel in die Geschirrspülmaschine in Schleswig-Holstein!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Semi-Retired Kind of Life

For those of you that don't know, I work a maximum of 13 hours a week. Considering I teach in around 30 classrooms of students roughly the same ages, my lesson planning (especially lately) adds less than an hour a week to that already grueling schedule.

In other words, I am semi-retired. Clearly my four years of university have made me deserve this laid-back lifestyle, right? And I believe that Austria, as a whole, is also semi-retired, so this is a great place for me to be.

There's a great German term that has occasionally be used in English: Gemütlichkeit. According to Wikipedia, its connotation is "the notion of belonging, social acceptance, cheerfulness, the absence of anything hectic and the opportunity to spend quality time." Basically, this is the Austrian lifestyle, particularly outside of Vienna. It seems to me that retired people in America finally take the time to try to attain these goals, but many of us over-worked, stressed-out Americans have no idea how to chill out.

Bench in the middle of a apricot tree grove
So what does Austria do that makes it so different? To begin with, Austria has a minimum of 25 vacation days, along with 13 public holidays. I’ve heard that often these public holidays on Tuesdays or Thursdays create a convenient Fenstertag (window/bridge day) so they can extend their weekends into 4+ day beasts. In comparison, Americans only glean one Fenstertag out of the year (can you think of what it is?). Also, Americans only take an average 12 vacation days a year, with 10 public holidays.

Despite all these holidays, Austrians are not lazy; most work approximately 40 hours a week. It’s common to start the day around 7 so as to create longer afternoons, or, I believe, to allow themselves time for a longer lunch. As lunch is the main meal of the day, it’s generally taken quite seriously. Many restaurants offer a 3-course meal for lunch for just 5 or 6 euro. I have often caught my school’s principal (and other teachers) enjoying a glass of wine with his lunch at my school’s restaurant, something that wouldn’t exactly fly in American public schools.

Bench looking at the Danube
Something I have noticed recently in Austria is the abundance of benches. They are scattered throughout the countryside, placed in the middle of fields or directly facing a brick wall. Why are there so many!? I can only guess that Austrians get tired very easily, or are often overwhelmed by their thoughts and need to sit down.

Schools are a great place to witness Gemütlichkeit. Many of my colleagues are taking part in or preparing for their sabbatical year, by working additional hours now or receiving only half-pay for this year. It’s a concept that I have only ever witnessed in universities in the States, and even then, you are expected to DO something during that time. A woman I tutor is on her sabbatical year and spends her time babysitting her grandchildren, reading, taking dancing lessons with her husband, and practicing her English and Italian. That sounds like a great retired lifestyle to me.

Anyway, as the year draws to an end (3 weeks!), I find myself worrying about what life will be like back in the States. I’m going to start working 40 hours a week two days after I return home… when will I have time to read books, nap, cook elaborate meals and gather my thoughts sitting on a park bench!?

Bench in the middle of nowhere near Mürzzuschlag

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Go Read a Book!

Today, while innocently preparing some students for their upcoming oral English exam, we had a conversation which went like this:

Me: So, if you were only going to read a book one time, would you rather buy a (more expensive) hardcover book or a (cheaper) paperback?
Student: I would purchase a hardcover book.
Me: Okay... Why?
Student: Because then I could put it on my... er... shelf. It would be the book I bought in 2011.
Me: But... would you read it?
Student: Uhm... maybe...

Upon further questioning, I found out that these kids DON'T READ. I'm serious! I asked the group when the last time they read a book for fun was, and they couldn't remember! What is happening to the world? I can remember the days when I would get in trouble for reading my book in class. Ask my mother; I was a real bookworm as a kid. I still am, frankly. Not to brag, but I've read 26 books since October - granted, I have a lot more freetime than my students, but still! Not one book is memorable to them? I was shocked, but then I thought about it, and realized that I have never seen any of my students with their noses in a novel, be it at school or on the train. What is going on!?

To help myself understand, I've made a list of possible reasons why they don't read books.

  1. They're barbarians, and Mama din't learn dem how 2 read good.
  2. The group of students I talked to are a poor sample of the rest of the student population, and the rest of the students do actually read.
  3. They really don't have much free time. This was the excuse they told me, but I know that they have free time to "make party", among other things, so why not have some free time to read a book!?
  4. Not as many books are available in German as in English. There are of course less German-speaking people in the world, and not all English books are translated into German. With a reduced selection, perhaps German-speakers struggle a bit more to find books that pique their interest?
  5. (I think this is the biggest one) These students are part of a generation which grew up around the internet. They are only 4-5 years younger than me, but I myself can barely remember a time before the internet, so I'm sure they don't at all. The internet can provide constant stimulation, allowing the students to access thousands of free movies and TV shows, while also allowing them to know up-to-the-minute information about their friends and the whole world. With such limitless, easy entertainment options, why would anyone curl up with a boring old book?
It's a pity, really. I want to read every great novel ever written (though apparently this is impossible), because stories transport me to a new world, a new mindset, better than watching some actors on a 24" screen possibly could. 

Speaking of which, I would like to briefly mention the biggest accomplishment of my life:
I have finally finished my first "real" novel, auf Deutsch.

Perhaps I should have done this earlier. I mean, I have been studying German for years - more than 8, actually, which accounts for over a third of my life (crazy!). I have read short stories, poetry and newspapers and watched some TV programs or movies, but I've never really sat down and read a real book.

The book I chose to read was actually kind of chosen for me. A friend gave me the book, Der Chinese by Henning Mankell, back in the fall. This book was originally written in Swedish, so it probably didn't have quite the same number of overwhelming, run-on, lost verbs sentences that some German books have, but it was still quite the challenge as it has 600 pages. Basically, it had to do with a murder investigation that's history went back over 150 years and across 3 continents. It was quite good in German, and I'm sure would be equally good in English.

Those non-reading students may never quite understand the extreme pleasure and pride I got from finally finishing that beast of a book.

P.S. Read A Book! <--good message, sorry for the dirty language.