Monday, December 20, 2010

A Magical Store, and other things

On Friday, I found Interspar.

First, let me explain a bit about grocery stores in Austria. There are a lot of corner markets (ours is called Spar, though some are even Gourmet Spar, which is more expensive!) which sell the basic things people need, you know, fruits, veggies, meat, etc. These markets are a bit more pricey, usually, but it's good when it's 14 degrees (fahrenheit) outside and I am in desperate need of eggs or chocolate. Then, there are the bigger budget stores (ours is called Hofer), which sell relatively few options at a pretty bad quality but at ridiculously low prices... we shop here often. There are also bigger grocery stores that sell normal grocery options in a much bigger selection, like Merkur, Billa, Eurospar (notice the Spar trend yet?) or Zielpunkt. Generally, we make a couple trips a week to the store so we can get the basics at Hofer and the day-to-day needs at Spar or wherever else (see Isaac's post about how to waste time, namely Tip #6).

However, on Friday I discovered the Target of Europe, and it threw me into hysteria.

Aufstrich! aka bread spread, my new love.
I'm not sure why it's taken me so long, but today while waiting for Jenni, I casually walked into Interspar about 3/4 of a mile from our house. This place was magic! I found sewing supplies, electronics, dishes, toiletries and of course of all the food options, all in abundance! Aufstrich of more than 2 flavors? Fantastic! A sizable meat counter? You betcha. Most importantly, I found floss - something our Spar doesn't have (plenty of denture glue, yes, but no floss. Really, guys? Do you not see the cause-and-effect as plain as day!?). I was blown away. I feel like I've been in denial about the real lives of Austrians. I mean, of course they need sewing supplies, and duct tape, and USB sticks... but these are things that I think I can only find in America. Anyway, as it turns out, people really are fundamentally the same, and need the same things in their lives, especially across the industrialized world. So why are we Americans all so fascinated by Europe...?

In other news, today we went on an adventure to Cobenzl, a wine area just outside of Vienna. We found a Christmas market (this is my... 9th Christmas market in Vienna? And probably my 20th total visit to Christmas markets) with lots of organic farmers market-esque things and a lot of snow. Yes, it's still freezing in these parts. I've literally never spent so much time somewhere so cold! My normal outfit consists of: two pairs of tights, two pairs of socks, warm boots, two wool sweaters, a hat, a scarf, gloves and a thick winter coat, and I'm still cold! I'm really missing the rainy Portland days. Anyway, at Cobenzl we had some lunch and found a sledding hill (!) so hopefully we can go back in January for some slidingly nice times.

Me, at Cobenzl. Pretty sky, no? Vienna is to the left, but it's cloudy.
The snow around here is beginning to cause some real problems. Airports all across Europe have been closing due to the ridiculous snow, and Frankfurt airport, where I'll be laying over, is basically closed too. Luckily, I don't leave until Thursday morning, so I'm hoping that all this mess gets cleared up so I can get home! I am absolutely eager to get out of here, though I still have about 10 lessons to teach before then. We've been listening to Christmas music and baking Christmas cookies and, well, it's making me ready to be at home. Only a few more days! I have no idea what life will feel like while I'm in America, but it'll be interesting to find out...

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Ist das die Katie?!" aka Hanging Out With Students

I thought camels lived in the desert?
Despite my anti-social tendencies, I've been pushing myself to get out of the apartment to go wherever possible! Lately I've been hanging out quite often with some of my students, because we've already got a basis of knowing each other and it's good practice for both of us since generally our language levels are about equal! Last Thursday, I met with one student, Bianca, in St. Pölten, the capital of Lower Austria. St. Pölten was mostly pretty typical (a shopping area, some churches, a city hall, a Christmas market... old news), except I immediately ran into some camels, which was weird, since it was snowing. I went to a bar with Bianca and we met up with some of her classmates, which sounds strange in theory but in practice was actually quite fun! I'm not sure if most people know this, but students really like it when their teachers are a. normal and relaxed and b. also struggling to learn something (in my case, German). Mostly I speak German outside of the school, which is fine by me. They taught me lots of German songs and I even got to waltz with some of them - because, yes, Austrian bars that play mostly American music do randomly start playing totally Austrian music. Why not? Bianca during the night referred to me as a "Vip"... meaning a V.I.P, but she rhymed it with zip. Funny how some things don't translate well...

Anyway, my German is still all over the place but I think getting better. Recently, someone told me that my written German was worse than my spoken German, which was a big surprise to me! I used to be pretty good at writing (or so I thought), but haven't really found a good reason to write in the past almost two years, so apparently that has gone downhill while my ability to mindlessly chatter auf Deutsch has picked up! In meeting up with my students, I'm also learning how to send text messages in German, or even better in dialect! Yes! I really wish I could get a Austrian dictionary so I could see some of this strange Austrian language written down... 

I'm discovering that time has adapted in my mind. Wait 8 minutes for the U-Bahn? No problem. Commute 1.5 hours to work, but also add 30 minutes to wait for the train? Ain't no thang. I think my brain is so used to constantly intaking things that I've become used to wasting time. I don't really think I've been bored in Austria yet, because there's always something I could be doing. Pretty cool. I can remember the professor of my Cross-Cultural Management class at UP talking about how he had a song he loved in Switzerland, but when he come back to the States he discovered that it was actually... quite slow, and not that interesting. (Side note: 6 months ago I never thought I would remember anything from that class.... who knew!?) I'm glad we only have to work 13hours a week  (or, 3 last week...) or I would never have learned how to slow down. Except my walking - that's still faster than a speeding bullet.

Today I was given some freedom in a class, because the teacher was at a conference, so I taught them American slang. It was so fun! Listening to a room full of Austrian students saying "sup, bro?" "bummer" and "peace out" is one of the funniest things I've ever encountered. I've noticed that English is full of contradictions. For example: "That's hot" and "that's cool"... both mean a good thing. Or, "What's up?" and "What's going down?" both ask what is happening. I'm glad I don't have to learn American, it's probably way harder than Austrian since we have so many states and our slang changes every 2 months. We also corrected the grammar of some rap lyrics, and jammed out to Sir Mix-A-Lot's "My Posse's on Broadway", just to tie it all back to Seattle. I was digging it.

In other news, I fly home in 9 days! All this Christmas music is making me anxious... Also, by the way: Austrians celebrate Christmas on the 24th. So, Baby Jesus brings all the gifts on the 24th, and then goes to help Old Man Santa Claus deliver presents to the rest of the world, because he's so old, he needs help. Or at least, that's how the story goes...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cold, Krampus and Christmas-y Things

Austria has been cold. I mean, I'm used to thinking it's cold in the winter time, but seriously, it was below freezing for over a week (18 degrees this weekend). There's been snow on the ground for 10 days! I am learning how to fashion my clothing so as to stay warm (2 pairs of tights, thick socks, scarf around outside of coat and over mouth, hat, hood, at least 3 layers under coat....), and I think I've figured out that the best solution to the cold weather is to never be alone. So, friends, I'm using you. I've gone on a couple snowy runs in Schöbrunn which are actually quite fun because of all the ice and snow! There's also some seriously cute birds in the park right now, I wish I could get a picture. One of them flew right at my face multiple times and then flitted back to its tree... just saying hello! Anyway, I'm beginning to understand what the Austrians mean when they say you'll "get used to the weather".... Currently, it's 42 degrees and I just found myself thinking that maybe I don't need a coat to go to the store!

As for some other winter wildlife... I have finally seen bunnies on the train ride to Krems! There's nothing like spying a little brown bundle of cute bounding through a huge white field. It always makes me think of the Oregon Trail game, and I want to pull out my shotgun to get me some meat. Just kidding, but I do like how our eyes recognize motion so well! Today from the train I also saw a large group (20 or so) of white swans floating down the Danube! I thought these animals flew south during the winter... but perhaps this is southern enough for them.

Christmas market at Schönbrunn
Christmastime is celebrated differently than in America, however everyone is just as excited! I've been to 8 or 9 Christmas markets already and there are still more to discover in Vienna! These markets sell all sorts of Christmas decorations and less seasonal decorations, as well as delicious food and of course Glühwein. It's kind of fun seeing what kind of goods each market has. My favorite so far is one at the Alte AKH (old hospital), which has lots of trees and the stands are set up almost as if they are in a real village. Yesterday was St. Nikolaustag, aka St. Nicholas day... so on Sunday, a few friends and I attended a Krampus run in a Christmas market at the Alte AKH. In theory, a Krampus is a beast that comes with St. Nikolaus to punish the children who have been bad, while St. Nikolaus gives the good children some candy or fruit. In Salzburg (and I think a lot of Western Austria) the Krampus come and really chase people and whip them, especially girls between the ages of 19 and 30... which is terrifying! Sadly, the Krampuses I saw this year were pretty tame. Yes, they still had the huge scary masks and wild furry bodies, but they only tickled a couple people with their whips, and even took the time to pose for pictures! It is a strange tradition, for sure, with the parents forcing their children to look at these monsters. Anyway, after the Krampus scampered around for a bit, out came Jolly Old St. Nikolaus, and then it was almost like a visit to Santa at the mall! The kids all lined up to get a second to talk to St. Nikolaus... but first, they had to walk by a Krampus. That's Austria for you.

Krampus, saying Grüß Gott to a wee child. 

My school is still great. My teachers are so funny, really! Last week I mentioned that I needed a haircut, and one of them hooked me up with the "father of her children", Heinz, who apparently is "very attractive" and everyone in the room knows. He's a nice guy (attractive? not so much, since he's like 55.) and gave me a pretty good haircut despite his lack of English (and my... German). I'm really impressed about the positive atmosphere in their staffroom - there are about 60 teachers, but they know all about each other and seem to really care. It's nice to be welcomed into the community! Some of them were slow to warm up to me, but I think my flitting about and smiling and rambling in broken German has helped me finally win over everyone. 

Classes are fun, however I'm finding myself making terrible mistakes! There's nothing like seeing a classroom full of people taking notes about something that you've said, and then realizing it was absolutely wrong! Things I've lied about:
a "telemercial" is a commercial selling you something (also known as an infomercial)
Turkey has melatonin in it
Many, many things related to the government of the United States (sorry)
...not to mention my many grammar mistakes, such as mixing up many and much. I think it's time that I speak ONLY German with German speakers, and only English with English speakers, so no one poorly influences my grammar any further. See? What I just said is such a strange formation! 

Tomorrow is the day that Mary got pregnant (obviously - that's why the baby Jesus was born 3 weeks later... right?), so we've got a holiday. In fact, I only worked 3 hours this week, and will still get paid. Thanks Niederösterreich! Never again will my work schedule be this easy.

Anyway, I'm returning to America in 16 days! Get excited, Seattle and Portland.