Friends all-over the world

When I came back from my last short trip to England, a coworker asked me where I’d been. “England”, I replied. “Visiting my cousin and a couple of friends.”
“You have friends everywhere, don’t you? Pretty large network, impressive.”

I get that a lot. “Oh you’re so lucky to have friends in XYZ”1

Am I now? Before we answer that, let’s look at my definition of “friend”. If you read my first blog post you already know that I’m pretty indiscriminate.

If you call me on a random day, at a random time with one of the following:
– “Olli, I’m so sorry, but I’m stranded at the airport/train station, could you come pick me up and could I crash on your couch for a night or two!”
– “Holy shit, I messed up, I need to talk!”
or something similar and I say “Sure, I’ll be there in a bit” then I consider you a friend.
As in: I will actually try and move things around even if it’s a major nuisance for me.

So yes, at the time of writing this, my definition of “friend” contains more of you readers than you might possibly think. And it’s easy to get from acquaintance to friend.

To be fair, I’ll already do quite a few things for acquaintances I like, but I’ll probably be less willing to go out of my way for something insubstantial.

Anyway. Yeah. Friends all-over the world. Lucky. Really?

I am shy. It probably doesn’t look like that when you first meet me over the internet.

<Crystal> are you shy ollie?
<ol> if he is, the rest of us are fucked
– IRC, 2005

I am not the type to go out to a bar, fair, festival and just “make” friends. I’m fine if you approach me, or if I have an actual subject or reason to talk to someone anyway, but if I’ve never talked to someone before, I’ll need a while to get talking.2 Once I get comfortable, or get to know someone and my subconscious realizes “Hey, they like me”, I’m usually good.

That is why my social circle extends much further into the internet than into my actual surroundings. I like most of my coworkers well enough, but most of those I’d actually spend time with live more than an hour away3 and I kinda want to get away from most things workrelated once I’m out of the office.

My friends from school…well, from the 56 people in my class4 I still have actual regular contact to 4 and their girlfriends/wives.
Then there’s another couple, he was a year ahead of me, she’s his girlfriends. And that covers my actual local friends I go out and do stuff with. Every couple of weeks.
The rest are people I might meet at the birthday parties of one of my friends. We have a great time and wont see each other again for a year.

So yeah, I have a lot more friends in various corners of the internet, than around here. I’ve been an internet resident since the late 90s, when we had free internet at school in the time we were just waiting for another class to start. I started getting into webchats and forums, that died down when I left school, went to the military for a year5 but I got back into it when I got internet at home and started working.

I’d go back into the old webchat, joined an internet radio station, discovered IRC and started making friends, at first in Germany exclusively.

The first meet-ups happened, later I got invited to a Italian-American wedding in Italy.

In the first meet-ups I was the quiet, shy guy. Getting used to things and people, sticking to people I already knew pretty well. In the follow ups I came to be one of the regulars, one of the guys who’d always been there.

We had a6 series of three or four meet-ups with the most mixed group you could imagine. Participants ranging in ages from 14 to 50, some bringing their own kids and dogs. We’d rent out a camp ground, put up tents, ate together, sat around the campfire in the evenings, play games, drank quite an amount of beer and wine and enjoyed pure bliss.

Basically we were one big family. Everybody looked out for each other, relationships were started on some of those. And we got depressed when we got back home, to our lives. Imagine a weekend full of bliss, joy, catching up, playing games, socialising with people that are basically a family away from home. Then you get home. Nobody there. You unpack, sit down and just think: “What now? Uh. Lonely. TV boring. Book boring. Video game boring.”

So you log into the chat, the gang is there, you talk about the weekend for an hour or two, log off again. BAM, sad. Of course, you get over it, but it’s never easy.

Meet-up hangover.  Post-Meet-up depression. Whatever you call it, I hate it. Considering I just came back from one a few days ago, I’m holding up remarkably well, probably because it was my first with that particular group.

But that’s not where it stops. I have lots of friends, good friends, people that I love to death, that I only meet in person once a year. If I’m lucky. A few more I’ve met three times in ten years. There’s people in America, the UK, the South Pacific and even Germany that I love to death, and that I’ve met once. Some of them I doubt I’ll ever see again, not in the least because it’s a massive investment in time off work, time and money just to get there.

If I take this further, since I’ve started using twitter about a year and a half ago, I’ve found quite a few people I’d start calling “friends” according to the abovementioned definition. I haven’t met most of those yet. And thinking about maybe never getting to meet some of them is almost physically painful.7

The internet, infinite possibilities to make friends you’ll never see.

On a side note, that also covers the question: “What would you do with an infinite amount of money on the sole condition that you are not allowed to give it away for charity or investment!”
I’d travel. All the time. See all the places, meet all the people, make new friends through them that I meet again the next time I pass through. I’d probably only stop at home long enough to get my passport renewed.

Time to come to an end.

To sum it up:
– I have only a hand ful of local friends that I don’t meet often enough.
– Whenever I meet groups8 of my friends, which doesn’t happen enough, I get sad when I get home.
– I have friends I never met face to face or only once

“You’re lucky to have friends all-over the world, Olli”
“Yes, on average I see them once every 3 years. How lucky is that?”
“Oh.”

Would I want to trade them for local friends?

Not for anything in the world. Oh, and if you happen to be near me, need anything or want me to visit while I’m on vacation in your general area9, let me know. I’ll be there. I’ll be sad when I get home, but it will be worth it.

Footnotes
  1. South Pacific, all corners of the US, England, Austria, South Africa, Canada, all across Germany, etc. []
  2. I work in sales. Hahahahaha []
  3. and I don’t want to be a bother. Ha! []
  4. there were others, from orchestra and such, but I have hardly any contact to those []
  5. I don’t have any contact to the temporary friends I made there. Some where actually nice. []
  6. well, actually several, with different groups, but same difference []
  7. might just be RSI from being on the computer too much in the past few days []
  8. ranging from 1 to 20 []
  9. and we’ve talked before. Don’t be creepy. []

Olli’s Saturday School – How not to die of thirst in Germany

Hello class!

Today we are going to cover some language quirks you might encounter in Germany when you get thirsty.

Let’s start with something simple. Plain old water.

The German word for water is Wasser.

If you order one at a restaurant, you might get asked if you want a (large) bottle or a glass.

bottle = Flasche
glass = Glas

Don’t go around ordering cups of something that is neither milk nor tea or coffee, because people will usually think you are talking about one of these:

Most cold beverages will be served in a Glas.
There are of course plastic or paper cups which are called Becher. To confuse people some more, a becher can also be a large cylindrical ceramic mug.

But the watery confusion does not end here. You will also have to decide whether you want your water still or sparkling.

Still water can easily be ordered as stilles Wasser.
If you prefer the sparkles, there are several options. You could try ordering Mineralwasser which translates to1 mineral water. Trouble is, depending where you are that does not necessarily include bubbles.
If you want to be absolutely sure, you can order your water mit ((with)) or ohne ((without)) Kohlensäure, that being the word for CO² or carbon dioxide, the stuff of your sparkly dreams.
You’re better than that, of course. Having me as a friend, you probably overheard me saying2 that sparkling water is called Sprudel in Germany, short for Sprudelwasser.

Well, good luck with that in northern Germany. Ordering Sprudel there will get you a nice glass of…lemonade.
Unless you go the full way and order sauren Sprudel3 which in some regions will be recognized as sparkling water, instead of the default süßer Sprudel4.
Confused enough? What? You don’t drink water anyway, because it tastes too bland? Well go ahead, order a Limo, short for Limonade.

In most restaurants, unless they serve specialty or homemade stuff, that will get you a generic corporate brand carbonated yellow sugar water. Fanta is not only a brand name, but also a synonyme for all of those. If you prefer the clearer type of liquid diabetes, you could order a Zitronenlimonade.

Zitrone = lemon.

Right now I’m not sure if there’s a difference between Zitrone and Limone in Germany, despite the word being hardly used at all. A lime is a Limette. So, yeah, it’s a lemon lemonade. As opposed to an orange lemonade. Jeez, just order a Cola instead.

Still confused? Don’t complain, the English speaking countries go all-out with their confusion. I have no idea when to order soda, pop or whatever else you call your soft drinks.

Don’t go ordering a soda in Germany. They might assume you’re talking about Sodawasser  which is a slightly soapy sparkling water, because of it’s NaHCO³ contents. Unless you are in one of the place where it is a synonyme for sparkling water.

Footnotes
  1. you guessed it []
  2. or I even told you []
  3. sour sparkle []
  4. sweet sparkle []

actually we are German

My first visit to Scotland was in September 2003, with the class from my professional school back then. Holy haggis, it has been nearly eleven years now. Back then my accent probably was even more noticable than it is today, and it has been described as stereotypically German by a friend from Georgia.1

Anyhow, we had just arrived in Edinburgh, unpacked our stuff and still had some time to have a look around the city, armed with cameras, cash, a map and a really good mood.

After walking about a bit we discovered a cozy little pub in Fleshmarket Close, the Halfway House.2

Halfway House Edinburgh

 

A few minutes in a married couple, obviously tourists, entered the pub. They had a good look around and eventually decided to stay and asked us what we were eating.We decided to have a drink and some food each and were not disappointed. After food3 and pints had arrived we settled down and started enjoyhaggis, stovies and beering our dinner.

I had to repeat my reply4 several times, and finally the man understood what I was saying. He turns to his wife and says: “I can’t understand this Scottish accent.”

The whole place was dead silent when I piped up:

Actually, we’re German.

Everybody in the pub had a good laugh at this, so I asked where they were from. It turns out the couple is Australian, which might explain the face the man made when I told him I was having haggis.

Footnotes
  1. I was a little disappointed, but he said it’d get me all the girls there, so… []
  2. I made a point of having a pint and a snack there every subsequent time I visited the city []
  3. Haggis for me and Stovies for Wassili and Hermann []
  4. and explanations []

Olli’s Saturday School – Buying things in Germany

As we covered tipping or “Trinkgeld geben” in last week’s lesson, I figured we’d continue the money-centered theme this week. Who knows, maybe it will come in handy when you plan your next vacation.

So here’s a few words.

cash = Bargeld1

The adjective2 that goes with that is “bar”

debit card = EC Karte (EC = Euro cheque)
While the term “Debit Karte” would be logical to use in Germany, it’s not actually used and will confuse people. Other terms are Geldkarte (money card) or Bankkarte (bank card).

credit card = Kreditkarte

Now the following will be a hard truth to swallow for most Americans. You will not use your credit card in Germany a lot. Get used to carry a little cash around. If you have a debit card, make sure it will be valid in Germany, not all ATMs or payment terminals will take every card. If your card has a Maestro symbol on it, you’re probably good.

Wait, what did he say? No credit card?

Yup. When I’ve been to the states, I’ve used my credit card a lot. Booking into a hotel? Getting my rental car? Paying at a fast food restaurant, a souvenir shop or a pharmacy? Pretty much everything apart from hot dog stands, I guess.

That won’t happen in Germany. Most places accept debit card, but you still should ask first. It wasn’t that long ago that even some supermarkets wouldn’t.3

In any event you will not be using your debit card to pay for amounts smaller than say 10 Euro.

I’d list the places that likely won’t accept credit cards, but it’s easier to list places that I am certain will.

Large hotels in cities.
Car rental agencies.

And that’s pretty much it. Restaurants? Maybe, but make sure to ask first.
Supermarkets, electronic retail stores, McDonalds, most non-fancy shops? Nope.
Gas stations? I wouldn’t count on it. The so called “free”4 stations: Most probably not.

You know what’s a common thing to buy with large a mounts of cash? A car. Yup. You can always ask for a discount when buying a car at a dealership and paying cash. There’s no actual reason behind that anymore, it’s a weird sort of tradition.

Something else, by the way: Sales tax. Or Mehrwertsteuer (Value add tax)) as the common term in German is.

Americans are used to a tax added to the price tag. In Germany, if you go shopping, eat at a restaurant or order something from an online shop, the price you see on the price tag or in the brochure or wherever will be the final price.
In fact, it is illegal for business who advertise to consumers, to NOT include the sales tax in the price designation.

In case you are interested: It’s 19% on most common things and less on books and things you buy in restaurants and hotels to eat in.

So, happy shopping, I guess.

And as always, if you have questions or suggestions for the next post, feel free to send me a comment, tweet or use the contact form on this website.

 

Footnotes
  1. literally and etymologically bare money []
  2. or is it an adverb []
  3. I am not joking. Ok, it’s been maybe a few years, less than five []
  4. non-chain []

Papillon

A while ago in a twitter conversation about lifechanging books, @CairnRodrigues mentioned Henri Charrière’s Papillon, a book I have read.1
That book actually has some relevance for me when you think about turning points in life. Somehow.

13 years and about a month ago I was about to take my oral and final examination for my Abitur2.
The subject was geography. I was neither worried nor comfortable with it. I never had any phobic reactions to exams but I didn’t go into them as if it was nothing either.
In theory, this examination could cover anything we talked about in the final two or three years at school. In fact, the three students that had to go through this exam, me included, had a meeting with our teacher and we got a few subtle hints on what to prepare for.
And, of course, the usual “keep up to date with the news, it’s always good to work current events into what you have to say”.

Tradition had it, that during the two days of the examinations the students of the year before the final provided cake and coffee for those being under the scrutiny while waiting and preparing. So a few of us sat there, waiting, munching cake without much appetite, until our respective teacher came in, led us to an empty room and handed us a sheet of questions to think about for about 30 minutes.
After that they put a collar on us and led us to the gallows3.

When I entered the room, I noticed a few things.
The front desk, where I would sit.
All of the schools current geography teachers, including the headmaster and one teacher who always made fun about geography but apparently wanted to see how I’d do ((he was my history, German and philosophy teacher at the time)) were looking at me. Oh dear.
There was a map and the blackboard.

My geography teacher led me into the room, ushered me to the front desk and said: “Feel free to use the map or blackboard if you want to show or visualize something!”

What I said was something like “Ok” or “Thanks”.
What I thought was “I’m not going to get up from this damn chair until this ordeal is over!”

Next I talked for maybe ten to fifteen minutes about the questions and information they gave me to prepare, a little bit about US oil policy, climate in different locations and I think agriculture in Northern America.4

After that I answered a few questions, responded to a hint or two. Then the teachers grilling me looked at each other. “Ok?” “Yes.” “Good.” *nods all around*
Then one of them asked me the final question: “Is there anything you want to add, maybe something you read in the past few days…?”

I knew what they were talking about, but I have always been bad keeping up with current events and even though I knew it might be relevant, I never bothered during the wait for the big day. I pretty much went about my days the way I’d always done. I read through my materials about the topics relevant for the exams, but that was pretty much it.

My answer to the questions provoked a few things. One of them made a “He didn’t really just say that face”, anotherone just grinned, and then my teacher said: “Ok, thank you, you’re done here. You will all get the results tomorrow at 4PM.”

What I said was: “Papillon, but I doubt that will help me here!”

I got 12 out of 15 points, if anyone cares.

Footnotes
  1. woo! []
  2. the secondary school certificate  required to study at a university. which I didn’t. []
  3. examination room []
  4. Germany approaches Geography in a very global way, it not only covers locations of places, but also economy, climate and maybe even politics and the way they might be affected by geographical conditions. It’s a coincidence that this year NA was part of the topic []

Olli’s Saturday School – Learn some German!

Hello everyone!1

In a twitter conversation with the awesome @CairnRodrigues, @emmyshine and @EliseValente I got reminded of an idea I had several times before, and I just now decided to go for it.
In the IRC channel I took residency in, I sometimes break out in impromptu German lessons when someone mentions something that…well…inspires me.

So why not turn this into a regular blog thing?

I will try to keep this regular, on Saturdays and post fun and entertaining things about the German language, and maybe even some stuff related to it, that is different to what’s in your part of the world.

If there is anything you want to contribute or even know more about, please2 shoot me a comment, tweet me or message me whatever way you feel is appropriate.3

So, today…tipping for services! As some of you might now, there are vast differences in how tipping works throughout the world.

But language first. The German word for a tip is “Trinkgeld” which translates to “drinking money”. French is “pourboire” by the way, which means the same thing4.

It is generally assumed5 that the German6 word for the practice of giving waiters or other people providing services money stems from the implied wish to have a drink on the givers health.
Basically a “good job, have a drink on me” gesture.

The practise has been recorded in Germany since the late middle ages. Other countries have bathing money7, tea money8 or in some countries the word even translates to “bribe”. In today’s Japan and China tips are considered an insult.9

Where the English word actually comes from is disputed, and todays “grande nation” of tipping, the USA, actually considered abolishing it in the late 1800s and following decades. Unions frowned upon it, it was considered an aristocratic habit and in Washington, Mississippi and Tennesse tipping has been punishable offense in the early 1900s.

The current practise of tipping in the US, a mandatory 15-20% service charge in restaurants, bars, taxis and other places is probably well known enough among most of my readers. It is also why Americans have a reputation of being good tippers in Germany.

In Germany tips are common but not required in any way. If you are looking for a guideline, numbers like 5-10% of the bill are numbers you can go by. Most people just round up to the nearest reasonable number, depending on how high the bill actually is.
For anything under 10 Euro, people often round up to the nearest Euro just to save you the time and trouble of dealing with small change10.
A bill of 20,35 will probably be rounded to 21 or 22. 47,30 would be rounded to 50, etc.
Pretty much the same goes for Taxis, hairdressers and that sort of stuff.

So how do we actually tip? When paying cash, we’ll either give the exact amount that we want to pay and say “Stimmt so.” which translates to “It’s okay” or “That’s right!”, short for “this is the amount I want to give”. It is basically a way of saying “keep the change as a tip”.

If we don’t have that amount or if we pay with credit or debit card, we will usually say “Auf 20” or something, which basically means “give me change for 20” or “bill the card with 20”.

Questions? I hope you took notes, there might be a test.

Footnotes
  1. Hello, Dr. Nick! []
  2. PLEASE []
  3. I even have a contact form, but it hasn’t been used yet []
  4. it literally means for-drinking []
  5. and it is kind of obvious []
  6. and French []
  7. Turkey []
  8. China, Russia []
  9. What? Do you think I have been servicing you in this matter only because I accepted extra money? []
  10. yes, we’re talking cash here []

of squirrels and men

This is a squirrel:

squirrel

Or rather a picture of a squirrel1 I took in Hyde Park, London, in 2012.

Apparently us Germans2 have trouble pronouncing that word correctly. Some people find an immense joy in this.

 

Some people have to learn, that goading or taunting me, or calling what they think is me bluffing, is not always a good idea.
Granted, one of these people might be yours truly, but that is not the subject of this blog.

 

 

Well, about two weeks later, I remembered this exchange.

 

I did my part, now I’m waiting.

 

 

Update: Two of my friends oversease have risen to the challenge. See their valiant and quite successful endeavors here:

Cairn Rodrigues mangles the German language in squirrely ways

Lady Squirrelicorn squirrels up a unicorn. or something.

Footnotes
  1. well, two []
  2. and other German-speaking Europeans []

the soapy taste of joy

I have a slightly soapy taste in my mouth.

 

But I’d better start from the beginning. I had a pretty crappy Monday and was somewhere between bored, annoyed and frustrated due to job-related things1 when saw a tweet from @meganpaasch.

A new blog!

Since she’d been wondering aloud2 whether she actually should post it, due to its personal nature, I was curious. And I could use the distraction.

The tl;dr3 is, that even on utterly crappy days you will find something good. Maybe it’s something inconsequential, something silly, something utterly out of context, totally useless and all. But it will make you smile and relax a little. You just have to look for it. For Megan, a soap bubble made her think and realize that a few things about HER crappy day had been pretty good.

And you know what else? The forecast tomorrow calls for sun. I think I’ll go outside and blow some bubbles. Maybe one of mine will be carried off on the breeze and go on an adventure like the one I saw today. And maybe it in turn will make someone else’s day. I’d like to think so. Wouldn’t you? – “Bubbles” by Megan Paasch

Well, what can I say…the blog made me smile and think about bubbles myself.
My sister recently celebrated her 30th birthday. There was a 5ish year old girl, daughter to one of her friends, who was immensely entertained by my sister’s boyfriend. He was blowing bubbles.

Back when I was a kid, 10ish years old, when I spent the summer holidays with my cousin’s family in France, we often were on dish-duty. One afternoon, doing the dishes, we used so much soap that we made quite a mess and spent most of the afternoon blowing bubbles with nothing but our fingers. We had one hell of a time.

Cut to the present, later the same afternoon.

Coworker, happily: “I am going to see my niece this weekend, feels like months that I’ve last seen her. I should try and find a little present, maybe something musical!”
Me: “How old is she?”
Coworker: “About two and a half.”
Me: “How about a little soap-bubbles set instead?”
Coworker: “Hey, that’s a neat idea. I should check at the 1-Euro store one of these days.”
Me: “They’re 0.55 Euro each.”
2nd Coworker: “Did you buy one?”
Me: “Two. So if you need one, I’ve got them in the car…”

I didn’t get to blow bubbles that day, the weather was a little grayish.
The day after, though…

The day after4 I learned a few things:
– it is pretty hard to take focused pictures of your own soap bubbles
– when the wind is picking up, a bubble might pop or get blown back at you before it leaves the wand. Hence the soapy taste on my lips
– it’s still as fascinating as it was when I was 20-25 years younger

So go make some soapy water and blow bubbles…in the kitchen, on the balcony, in the garden or just somewhere!

Even if it leaves a soapy aftertaste, it’s totally worth it!

Footnotes
  1. don’t worry, all is well, it just was a Monday []
  2. atweet? []
  3. although you should totally read it, it’s really good []
  4. which technically is yesterday, if the everlasting present is the day this post is going live []