How to Not Be Okay with Your Body in a German Spa

A LONG COMPLAINT POST ABOUT MY PRUDISH AMERICAN SENSIBILITIES IN THE GERMAN SPA CULTURE, ENJOY!  Sorry in advance about all the words involving nakedness!

I saw ten penises in five minutes. An occasional sighting of breasts certainly, but an overwhelming amount of penises, guts, peacock flexing, muscular bodies, and what is that? Oh, it’s another penis. I also saw people’s eyes. Maybe that’s a weird thing to say, but it is an important note to make. People are staring at each other, unblinkingly, completely nude. No turning away politely, just unabashedly staring. Why are we doing this? Why on earth are we here? Can I go die now?

The intention was innocent enough. My German boyfriend bought me a spa gift certificate for Christmas. Somewhere, years ago, I recalled the infamous German spa culture (for Americans, not so strange from a global perspective), but I apparently let it slip away to be replaced by current spa propaganda of cucumbered eyeballs and sipping on detoxing winter spritzer. I thought about plush bathrobes and flipping through German magazines. The reality, even at an incredibly expensive and fancy spa, was quite different. You even had to bring your own towel. Rude.

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(image from: https://craftymemories.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/20120607-213605.jpg?w=672&h=372&crop=1)

I am a personal prude. I don’t mind being one. I enjoy wearing non revealing clothing, or not drawing attention to myself in a sexual way. I’m like an enthusiastic school teacher. I am all business with a splash of color and wild hand movements, and zero suggestion of sex appeal. I am always going to be someone’s neighbor, sister, or great aunt. If you’re not my lover, my mother, my BFF, you aren’t seeing anything but my hands and face. Maybe part of my wrist if I’m flirting with you.

It is an important note to say that I don’t mind others being flamboyant, showing all the skin the world has to offer. I can imagine being at a strip club, blouse buttoned up past my neck and well above my chin and politely applauding both men and women shaking what their mothers gave them. I truly think human sexuality and the human form (in all forms, gender fluid people, old people, overweight people, handicapped people) is beautiful, captivating and fascinating. I think people should be their authentic, freest versions of themselves whenever possible. And my most authentic self happens to be free when wearing an impenetrable lifeless potato sack.

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(image from: http://www.dw.com/image/17416893_303.jpg)

Within five minutes of being in the spa in my dowdy one-piece suit, a man who works there tells my boyfriend in German (also wearing a swimsuit, for emotional support) that we’re not allowed to wear them due to “hygienic reasons”.

LET’S THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A MOMENT.

As you sit there, comfortably at home in America (yes, this is written from an American perspective!) , how many bets do you want to make that “a man who works there” at an American spa would say the exact opposite. “Oh sorry, you can’t be nude for hygienic reasons”. When will the lies stop! He then offered the helpful suggestion that if I spend time in the sauna (where, you guessed it, I have to be naked) I can slip off my swimsuit shoulder bands underneath my towel so it’ll look like I’m naked. Great pro-tip, Dude! Too bad it wouldn’t have worked in the slightest!

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(image from: http://foryourmassageneeds.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/German-Sauna-Etiquette-What-to-Expect-Do.jpg)

Listen, I tried my best. I got undressed from my bathing suit, wrapped myself tightly in my huge towel and walked with “fake it till you make it” confidence into the sauna. It was unbelievably hot inside (Germans like pain), and there was a single man, lying spread eagled enough so the gods could see his genitalia. He takes a long, piercing look at us asked if we speak German. He then proceeds to tell my boyfriend that we aren’t allowed to wear towels in this sauna. He then, in English, looks at me and says,

“You must not be ashamed of your body.”

Excuse me? Pardon me? What? I cannot hear you over the sound of my mind shutting down. Do I know you? Are you my therapist? Something snapped in my brain. I think this is what rage feels like. Can a marshmallow, sunny, neighborly person feel rage? Yes, yes she can. And it is blinding.

Men sit in a mobile sauna that is mounted on a four-wheel drive truck in a forest in Barnaul

(image from: http://blogs.reuters.com/oddly-enough/files/2008/04/sauna-2-360.jpg)

Where is my boyfriend in all of this? He’s trying. He’s jumping around, telling me how brave I am, trying. It isn’t his fault, but it is his fault. It’s my fault, it’s Germany’s fault, it’s humanity’s fault. To not have the choice of being naked or not, in a supposedly relaxing retreat, seems like a recipe for a panic attack. And it was. I started unraveling very slowly.

Why wasn’t I leaving, you might be asking yourself. Your whining is annoying, to say the least. And to that, my answer is simply my American sensibilities. My passive-aggressive, trying not to hurt someone’s feelings attitude. This was a gift, after all, and we had a massage appointment at seven. I know now, in hindsight, I should have left. I was deeply uncomfortable. The fuel of my rage should have caused me to pack up my things and run. But I didn’t. I stayed, and I fumed. I pouted. I winced. I cried one tear that dried up instantly in the sauna. I soldiered on like this was a prison sentence. At one point I was literally shivering. Who knew being at a five star spa would be so traumatic?

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(image from: http://www.atravelbroad.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/sauna-pic11-738×355.jpg)

The saving grace was the swimming pool. Surprisingly, you can wear your swimsuit in the swimming pool. And I did. I put all of my anger and frustration into kicking back and forth, even with five naked people swimming next to me, along with my newly nude boyfriend. I swam and I swam. This wasn’t swimming for relaxation or fun, this was to expel the anger I had in my heart. And it was working. If I didn’t focus too hard, I won’t see a penis. If I don’t focus too hard I can forget that I’m here unwillingly/begrudgingly. That is, until my boyfriend, the dolphin that he is, decided to swim under me and accidentally kick my inner thigh, hard.

It was just that kind of day. A kind of day you hope to have only once in a lifetime.

Eventually, I was so cold we decided to go into the jacuzzi one last time. This time, naked as stated in the German rule handbook. I squinted my eyes so I couldn’t see who was around me and stepped in the bath. The boyfriend turned on the jets so no one could see anything but bubbles. I let my body relax for 2.5 seconds finally. That is, until I looked around. My boyfriend, being terribly nearsighted, was deeply blessed by being able to take his glasses off at will.

You can’t be bothered by what you can’t see.

I can see everything. I can see the other whirlpools being occupied by middle aged men solely staring at me. I can see that there are no other women here. I can feel my body tensing up, and my toes and fingers curling in on each other through the bubbles. These men won’t leave, and if they do, more men will replace them. I have to get out of this water, and I have to let five men, aged 45-70, ruthlessly stare at my chubby, cold, anxious, but ultimately womanly body. I felt a flood of 15 year old memories of depression, self consciousness, distrust, and feeling less-like-a-woman-and-more-like-an-object come over me like a tidal wave. I’m surprised I didn’t slip, so all of these naked men could swarm over me to show concern.

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(image from: https://media.cntraveler.com/photos/53ea8e8fdd4d6a0b75ef9df1/master/pass/etiquette_002p.jpg)

There are articles (some written by me) solely based on the “German Stare”. The stare is unmoving, unwavering, and only when it burns a hole in your heart do they turn away. Living here for eight months, I had gotten used to the staring. But being naked in a sensual bathhouse with mini waterfalls and glowing pools of water and 100% nudity was like the staring Olympics.

At this point, everyone is threatening. It wouldn’t matter if these men were clones of the Dalai Lama. If there were a couple hundred Dalai Lama’s naked, I would be unnerved.

Finally, mercifully, the massage came. I requested a woman, because I just CAN’T, you guys. No more penises in my vicinity please. And she started massaging my shoulders.

“You feel tense here.” she said. I think I may have whimpered. At this point, I was so tired of my nakedness, and so tired of skin in general, I just laid there, my lifeless body accepting her massage without comment.

But she had comments. As if to add the icing on this cake of a day, she decided to start talking and not stop. Her excitement about being able to speak English turned my moment of silence into a firestorm of one sided conversation.

“You know, Americans are so shy with their bodies.”

“You know, I massaged a stripper once and she had the biggest fake tits I’ve ever seen.”

“You know, so many men who get massaged by me always come back and ask if I do more than massage.”

After the massage, I went up to the lockers, put on my layers of clothing silently, and left. I was spent.

So, what does one learn from this experience? What avenue of psychological hypothesis should I be strolling down? The best explanation I can muster as I attempt to wipe the kopfkino (that’s “head cinema” in German) from my brain, is that I found a limit. We all have them. Trying new things until running face first against a wall. They could be with math, home improvement projects, sexual adventures, etc. So, the result of this unintentional experiment is: I don’t want people staring at me when I’m naked. I don’t want my potential mailman seeing me in the nude. The guy I accidentally didn’t tip enough at a restaurant glancing at my nipples. I don’t need the woman whose children I teach to take a gander at my bootylicious backside. I have my worst nightmares for that.

How to Not Be Okay with Your Body in a German Spa

Things I Miss about America

These is a list I’ve compiled about things I miss about America since living in Hamburg, Germany.

Cookies:

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Hamburg has a wide, beautiful variety of pastries. They also have cookies here, but they are usually prepackaged and interestingly enough often have the American flag on them to signify that perhaps cookies are an all-American treat. Go figure! I have yet to find a really delicious cookie here. You know what I’m talking about. Ooey, gooey, fresh out of the oven, mouthwatering inducing cookie. Oh god, I think I’m crying.

24 Hour Convenience:

Every single Sunday, or often any time after 8, one cannot go to the grocery store. Things are closed up, probably for, you know “so people can have a life” or some such nonsense, but for an American whose WHOLE LIFE revolves around convenience. Fast food, 7/11, etc, this was and is a struggle that my pea-sized brain cannot get over. Every Sunday it’s like I have a memory of a goldfish. What? Nothing is open? But I wanted to buy a bunch of socks I don’t need and dry lifeless cookies to cry over again.

American Pleasantries:

Don’t get me wrong, people here, once you crack their reserved Hamburg exterior are extremely friendly and warm. I have had little to no problems in that department. I’m more talking about listening to other people. When you see teenagers on the train laughing, all other people stare at them disapprovingly. Sometimes the noises you hear all of your life, when they become absent, it’s surprisingly alarming. People are quieter here. People shush there children more here. You would think that could be a GOOD thing, all of this quiet, but I miss the way people communicate in the US! I miss being annoyed!

American Takes on Ethnic Foods:

All of the Mexican food places and Thai food places I’ve been to here are LACKLUSTER FOR MY ALL AMERICAN TASTE BUDS. I don’t think for a second that American versions of these foods are more authentic, they just have different spices, and my sentimental heart/gut misses them daily. Every time I eat Mexican food here (I am on a forever-quest), all it does is remind me of what I am missing. Chipotle (Yes, I still ate there through the E.coli crisis, I am not ashamed) those delicious hole in the wall taco restaurants, Don Jose’s with my mother, Jesus even TACO BELL. They call cilantro coriander here, FYI. Why.

Air Conditioners/Deodorant:

Americans like our stores, our cars, our houses at sub arctic temperatures. Spending last summer here, in the 150 degree humidity in hours and hours of public transportation with people raising their armpits unintentionally in my direction, it really makes you realize that Americans have grown up in a space and time bubble dedicated to avoiding body odor or sweating, while some Europeans are alllllnaturalllaaaaallleeeeeeee. (that’s me falling backward from the occasional whiff of body odor so strong it causes a physical reaction.)

Variety:

Yes, this is my third mention of food. In grocery stores in Hamburg, I would say the MOST variety you get on a particular item would be in the gummy section. They love their Haribo gummies here. I’ve been buying the giant gummies that have 25% more juice. That probably means they are healthier, right?

Other than that, you maybe get 10 or so varieties of chips, three kinds of ketchup, etc. I WANT MORE. I want to stand in front of the chip aisle and just be mystified for hours. I want to gaze up at the glistening bags of untold secrets and truly be confused about what I want to buy. So many brands, so many flavors, why did I only write “Chips” on my grocery list when in reality I’m buying something far greater. Here, you don’t get to be confused. Only one kind of tortilla chips for your guacamole (that you have to make yourself unless you want this weird bagged goo) curiously a lot of paprika flavored chips, and then a corner dedicated to Pringles. Why Pringles. Why. Perhaps that’s a post for another time.

 

Until Chipotle Stops Haunting My Dreams,

Sarah

 

 

Things I Miss about America

Trying to Live in a German Apartment

You would think it wouldn’t be so different, living in an apartment in a big city. I am not in a German countryside village. I have internet, a McDonalds within walking distance, and police sirens out my window. But as I have complained about before, Germany tricks you into thinking you have things figured out and then those comforts are pulled out from under you. OH, YOU. OH, GERMANY!

The Light Bulb in the Bathroom

When I first moved into my apartment, within a week, the light bulb in the bathroom went out. Okay, I thought, I’ll go get that replaced. I look into the socket where the light bulb is wedged and scowl. I don’t know what I’m looking at. The light bulb is tiny, it’s unreasonable, it’s seemingly a LED baby hybrid parallel universe entity that I have never, ever seen before. What do you want from me? I ask.

I moved another lamp with another questionable (weirdly long) light bulb in the bathroom. I asked friends for help. They all say, “Oh just awrgfhhhhawrtgatwrt2tgaefg  and take it to the sbouhbffbuahurioabmfdjghhetjh to get it replaced!” Sure, I say. I’ll go do that tomorrow. It’s been five months now.

The Stove Symbols

Contrary to popular belief, I did not study hieroglyphs in college. Also a myth, just because I’m a half-Italian woman, that doesn’t mean I know how to cook. So, luckily for me, I don’t really need to understand and digest the highly complex and completely confusing symbols that a German (maybe all European???) stoves possess. I know the one for frozen pizza, and I refuse to progress into baking in fear of destroying my sanity.

stove

The Mini Shower

I don’t get this one at all. There are some TALL people here. Tall people means long limbs. Why do they have extremely tiny box showers with no hopes of bending over to shave your legs, pick up your soap, breathe properly…Why are we doing this to ourselves, fellow tall people? Forget Halloween and 24 hour convenience stores, can’t you Americanize yourselves on this ONE THING and make large, luxurious bathrooms? I know you have all of these quaint, compact, European things of yesteryear, but MAYBE THIS CAN BE AN EXCEPTION. PLEASE. I DON’T KNOW WHEN I WILL EVER SEE A GIANT BATH AGAIN.

minidollhouse

The Wunderbar Windows

Here is a positive (surprise! I’m not negative 24/7!) Germany has windows that, once you turn the handle up, it acts as room circulation, turn to the middle, it opens completely, and turn to the bottom it closes. It’s ingenious. I’m still in awe of it. Want your kitchen not to overheat? TURN THAT HANDLE UP, BABY. Want to do a big dramatic opening your windows for a beautiful summer morning? TURN IT TO THE MIDDLE, SWEET THANG. Freezing cold and want air tight windows for these cold winter evenings? DOWNTOWN, GINGER BROWN.

I’m going to go to sleep now on my not-quite-a-double-but-bigger-than-a-twin German bed now.

Guten Abend,

Sarah

Trying to Live in a German Apartment

Medication Is An Educational Present from your Well-Meaning but Clueless Great Aunt Mable

Six months ago in April, I was finding it difficult to breathe.

I am not going to talk about the giant scope of mental illness. Though I am a sufferer, I am not a mental health professional. What I will say is that as someone who lets the Anxiety and Depression Sister Duo tap dance their way to terrible stardom in her brain, there are times when their dance routines are unspeakably unbearable.

In April, in the midst of my joblessness and lack of direction, the unbearableness happened again. Every single day I was crying. I started crying when someone looked at me, I cried when I received a rejection email from a job I applied to, I cried when I had to go to the grocery store. When they say you are 70% water, they aren’t lying. There are just buckets of water inside of you.

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I also don’t think it is wise to talk about the word “suicide”. How do I bring up this word without sending a hailstorm of concerned, well-meaning individuals crashing down at my door? In April, I was not suicidal, but I was driving down Suicidal Avenue. I think a few more left turns and I would have perhaps hypothetically been leaning in that direction.

If you have had depression, you know what hopelessness feels like. You know what the world looks like through your darker-than-a-blackhole-sunglasses. It is a terrible picture that seemingly has only one end. I had no meaning and no direction, and it was scary. I was legit scared. Think of a scary movie and multiply it by approximately 13512462464.

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In April, I decided to take medication for my near and dear chemical imbalance. After ten years of trudging through it with natural and homeopathic techniques, this FINAL STRAW of brain explosions in April caused the flood gates to open and I realized my bi-weekly acupuncture appointments and nature walks weren’t going to cut it anymore. Though I have an uncomfortable relationship with medication due to years and years of always getting more side effects than treatment… it felt extremely urgent to try it one last time.

And so! For the past six months, I have been on anxiety/depression medication. These meds not only stopped the waterworks, it effectively got me to Germany. It helped me pack up my micro-apartment in Seattle, fly to a foreign country, and start a new life in a place I have never been to before.

For that I am grateful.

I am now in Germany. A place even a year ago I would never have imagined being. What! Why! How!?

HOWEVER

Some miracles have a tiny man behind the curtain. Every yin has a yang. Here is a carefully orchestrated list of how one small pill has changed my life for the better and the worse.

  • The Good: I can now stand up in front of a group of adults and eloquently express myself without shuddering like a chihuahua in winter. 
  • The Bad: I have become forgetful and chronically tired to the point of losing my jacket, my keys, my train of thought, and what I purchased from the store five minutes ago.
  • The Good: I have successfully gone on dates with exotic German men without feeling intimidated or weirded out that there are cultural differences or that I am an odd human being.
  • The Bad: I often feel neutral about everything now, including affection and romantic gestures. Another day, another make out session. Who cares.
  • The Good: The pills have given me confidence to take more fashion risks, and feel better about my poochy pear shaped body.
  • The Bad: My lack of discipline has now caused me to purchase an exorbitant amount of clothing, pastries, and junk! A  brand new character flaw I have never had before. I used to be thrifty!
  • The Good: I have been able to successfully navigate a new city, create a Facebook group, be extremely social, and nurture new friendships with minimal emotional breakdowns.
  • The Bad: For some unknown reason, these pills have caused me to have ZERO tolerance for creativity, meaning my creative (AND REASON FOR EXISTING) well has all but dried up. My long nights of painting, writing and self reflection have effectively gone out the window.

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THE (current) VERDICT

After a hard look at myself in the mirror, I decided where my priorities are and what I want my future to be like. I am not the Sarah I was in April. I am German Sarah now. And German Sarah, although mostly still unknown, is a different beast entirely. After heavy consideration, I am weening myself off of the medication and going back to perhaps a more potent, Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde situation…Something I am familiar with, but in a new and improved environment.

So far, in day four, I have gotten my first German hair cut, had a mild depression episode about loneliness, and have finally written this blog entry after over a month of silence.

I want to try my best to become friends with the monster, the aspect of myself that is terribly imperfect. Perhaps if navigated correctly, I can produce interesting results.

mermaid

I’m quickly realizing that progress can look less like a straight line and more like a giant circle. The ol’ two step forwards, one step back waltz. But that infuriating circle is rolling somewhere, damn it, and I need to know where it is taking me instead of buying my 47th scarf at the mall while eating a mediocre doughnut.

Crying One Second And Laughing The Next,

Sarah

Medication Is An Educational Present from your Well-Meaning but Clueless Great Aunt Mable

I Met Someone

Today marks the day that I went on my 30th “first date” through this crazy and wacky experience called online dating. This last person actually called me after our date (about ten minutes ago) to specifically say that he has no interest in me at all romantically. Thanks, Philip! You’re also a real peach! Good luck calling women evil and not asking your date a single question on the next round!

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Yes, meeting 30 people for any consecutive amount of time is bound to come up with interesting storytelling anecdotes, but other than that… excuse my German… it has been a shit storm. I have hated every minute of it. I have liked a lot of men with no reciprocation, and visa versa… the men who like me I am really (really, really) not into.

I have built a lot of character over the past two years. Quitting a seven year relationship and trying to find yourself again will do that to you, I suppose. But one thing is clear: the more I date, the more patterns of human nature emerge, and it becomes painfully apparent that this whole typical online dating thing SIMPLY ISN’T WORKING. Hell, I even moved continents to see if that would help! Spoiler alert: it might be worse here.

For the past few months I have taken a long, hard look at myself and asked what I really want…and the truth is, unless I find someone that truly complements me, this whole trying-too-hard thing isn’t working. Settling doesn’t seem like a real option for me, even if I am GETTING OLD. Mutual chemistry has to be there. And if it isn’t? Besides the sadness that late night brings from time to time, (like trying to find something and you have forgotten what it looks like)…I am surprisingly comfortable being alone.

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I have HATED the fact that I am a serious relationship person when seemingly everyone else is super flamboyant with their sexuality. I have HATED that I felt I am not “attractive” enough, thin enough or feminine enough to be considered desirable. These residual feelings of inadequacy stem from childhood and they creep up every time a “Philip”, or someone I am actually interested in go out of their way to say mean things. The words filter in my brain and spiral down to my heart and sits until it rots. I have always taken things too seriously, and I hate it.

All of this hatred aside, I realized something terribly important in my near 30 years of existence. I realized how strong I am. How different I am. How loving I am. I love so deeply. I really am not an asshole. I am funny, and smart, and often confused, and creative. I truly am soft. I don’t have the edges of traditional sex appeal, it is true, but I have the curves of a loving, caring, open person. The smile of a neighbor and a sister. The belly of a laughing Buddha after too many doughnuts. The hugs of a grandmother and an aunt. No…believe it or not, I am not a nun, I DO have a libido after all, but I am not a sexpot either. I can be so much more than just one thing, and to find someone to appreciate me as a whole complicated being is not going to be easy. It isn’t going to be a list of boxes that need to be checked. It has to be something that I haven’t come across yet but viscerally I know it exists.

So, yes, on that note, DUDES, I have met someone.

It just happens to be myself. Yes, this is a cheesy self love actualization blog post, suckers!!!!!

But do you realize how important that is to find in a sea of codependency, self hatred and loneliness? I am capable of thriving (not just surviving) by myself and not everyone has had the opportunity to do that. I don’t need another person to make me feel worthy. Would I have asked for this if it wasn’t forced upon me? Probably not. But the longer you live the more opportunities you have to learn valuable albeit HORRIBLY PAINFUL life lessons. I think it is important for radical self acceptance and love, especially when you are bombarded by society and your own habitual brain telling you otherwise. I MEAN LOOK AT ME:

I’m seriously pretty cute and not boring. I am a catch, a chubby neon orange mermaid really, and not just any sailor is meant for my unique siren call.

I’m not going to wait for a phantom anymore. I am going to ride my bike, eat a lot of cake, laugh a lot with friends, teach English to willing participants, cry over spilled milk and not go to sleep past 11 because that is irresponsible. I am going to accept my flaws wholeheartedly, eat less meat because I love animals too much, turn 30 next year, and finish writing my pre teen sci fi novel that I have been sitting on for half a decade. I am going to be fat. I am going to giggle uncontrollably at cute dogs and babies. I am going to be TOO soft and overly sensitive and too nice. I am going to be strong, resilient and not give up on the things that matter most to me. Of course I want a relationship, a lot of people do. But I am cutting the strings that bind me so tightly to a fantasy that has caused me way too much suffering.

So, GIRL, YOU SWEET THANG YOU, I love you. And that is more than enough. More than enough, enough, enoughness.

Sexy grandma hugs to you ;),

Sarah

I Met Someone

When in Doubt, Eat

Wow! I have taken a looooong hiatus from my blog writing. A month in a half in internet time is like five years! You all thought I was dead!

…WELL, I WAS. I decided to spend my afterlife on the internet too. I mean, what else am I supposed to do? Frolic with the angels?

(Side note: This was the first time I’ve ever written frolic and it feels weird. Shouldn’t there be a K? Anyway.)

During the last month in a half, my computer broke (by ghosts, I’m not kidding this time!), and I moved from one tiny room in a popular part of town to one giant apartment in a less desirable part. Also during this time I created and nurtured a blossoming bouncing baby facebook group called:

Hamburg Food Enthusiasts: English

It’s important to note that it says ENGLISH, because even though I’ve lived here for over four months, my German vocabulary has only expanded to about 30 nonsensical words. Hooray! Burgermeister!

Within a week of starting this group, it grew with such determination I thought for sure that I was going to spontaneously combust. YES, I know my blog handle HAM IN HAMBURG implies that I’m a dramatic, normally socialized person who loves to be the center of attention. Well, the truth is I have a love-hate relationship with people that I battle with internally on a daily basis! SO! Love ya!

As it stands, this mutant I’ve created has over 230 people in it, and we go on bi-weekly journeys across Hamburg to try new and interesting cuisine. 10-20 people show up at any given time, and I have to…like reserve stuff, and entertain!

 

It’s been crazy! And I’ve met some wonderful, lovely people in the process.

(Note: Some of these people aren’t solely from the food group, but it felt important anyway to note how much I’ve enjoyed getting to know them anyway)

And the FOOD, the whole point of this process, has been mildly disappointing to amazing.

In some ways, this group has helped me connect with this city on a spiritual level (and by that I just mean being well-fed) and gain some friendships I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to create. Thanks, internet!

Of course, there are some cons having to be the leader of a very active group. I’ve had to kick out a couple of people (one was a dude that was hitting on women, the other was a woman who called me a dictator! Cool!) and also orchestrating events is this crazy long process with a lot of hoops to jump through. I’ve also had to pretend that I knew a lot more about food than I do (I feel there is a long distance between “enjoying eating anything and everything” and an official “foodie” and I’m trying to breach that gap as we speak).

But it has been worth it. This group gives me the illusion that I’m popular which obviously has been my goal since the beginning of my life, it helps me orient myself in the city, and make connections/build friendships in a place that I knew very little people.

There is also nothing like being forced to go outside when you want nothing else but to stay at home in your pajamas eating oreos because you have literally 20 people counting on you to be there. 😀

In conclusion, I give this 4 out of 5 stars. Will try again. Sweet and salty with a tangy aftertaste.

Sarah the Burgermeister

P.S. In case you happen to be in Hamburg, the places we tried are: San Khao Thai Food, Paulines (brunch) La Quesadilla, and Ashoka Indian Food. ALSO JUST IN CASE THE INTERNET POLICE COME: The pictures are all taken from my food group and I politely asked if I can use their faces in my very, very popular blog that I assume only my mother reads. Guten Tag!

When in Doubt, Eat

A Day in the Life of an English Teacher in Hamburg

The weather in Hamburg is seemingly unpredictable. Each morning I wake up, stare out of the window, check my phone, as if there is any comprehension in understanding what 80 degrees with thunderstorms mean. My friend sends me a link to an English news site; a tornado warning. How do you dress for tornado weather?

I check the time. I give myself ample amounts of time for the Hochbahn, a subway system that is meticulously on time throughout Hamburg. During rush hour, every train comes at exactly four minutes apart from each other, with only a few seconds of leniency. If you’re not there right when the Hochbahn arrives, you miss it. Some how people know when it’s coming, an every-4-minute schedule memorized, but I give myself plenty of wiggle room. My morning routine is not down to the minute (yet.)

I step on the train. If I get on at 7:52, there is a huge crowd of people. Standing room only. You are forced against someone else (And oh, deodorant is often only a suggestion here), or huddling in the corner away from making eye contact. At 7:56 there is no one. A deserted landscape of dark red or dark blue fabric patterns.

hochbahn (hamburg.de)

Alas, I made it to the earlier train. People everywhere. Some are tired, they are closing their eyes while placing their heads on the window. Some are alert. They are staring intensely at each person for 3-5 seconds. Sizing them up, taking them in. Oh, the staring. When first arriving here, the staring was a slap to the face. What is wrong with me? Why won’t they smile when I smile? My American habits of smiling while staring gets immediately put to bed. After two months, I have started staring back. People watching has become an Olympic sport!

I make it to the English school I’m teaching at 30 minutes early. This is common. Lesson planning is a never ending process. If you planned your lessons the night before, you must make copies. If you didn’t plan anything, you better hurry up. A grammar lesson is first thing.

In Hamburg, if you’re aiming to be an English teacher, unless you’re fluent in German, you’re teaching adults. Adults want full integration. I am put in a room with 3-7 adults. Most are older than me, and come from all over Europe and beyond. 2/3rds are of German descent, and 1/3rd encompasses people usually from other countries near by. Turkey. Russia. Bolvaria. A beautiful kaleidoscope of accents and pronunciations.

A Russian woman with puffed up lips and a bedazzled dress robustly says, “YOU GO TO THE MOVIES?”, interviewing her partner. A 50-something German man with a round pot belly and half moon glasses at the end of his nose replies, “Yes, I’m going to see an action film starring Arnold Shwarzenneger.”

It’s nearing afternoon. I have a company class outside of Hamburg city proper, maybe 30 minutes if I’m lucky, 50 minutes if I’m not. Again, I need to give myself ample time to not get lost. I also need to eat something, desperately. The sliced lunch meats I grew accustomed to in the states taste different here and I can’t stomach them. I’m often at Dat Backhus, a chain bakery with assorted sandwiches and unknown desserts, which I partake in more often than not.

dat-backhus-mit-neuem-gesicht-in-den-harburg-arcaden

“Spreken zie English?”

Over and over I ask. Do you speak English? 82% of the time it’s a yes, particularly with the younger crowd, but less common with the older crowd. This time it’s a no. I enthusiastically point at a fresh looking mozzarella sandwich with sliced tomatoes. I then smile and nod at a white chocolate chip cookie. They love white chocolate here. Coffee (or Kaffee) is the same word, and is much needed. Standing in front of a crowd of students, presenting yourself and your persona over and over again is exhausting.

The company class has 2 out of 5 people absent. One is at a meeting, another is on holiday. British English is more common here, and I find myself saying “holiday” instead of vacation and “colleague” instead of co-worker more and more often. I give them a spiel about Donald Trump.

“The number one question people ask me is: why do Americans like Donald Trump?”

Which is true. Germans are seemingly fascinated with a character such as Trump. Because they are B2 level (not beginners, not fluent, yet) I hand them a fairly engaging article about the reasoning behind why certain groups of people support the Republican candidate. They seem interested, and a discussion ensues.

It’s already late afternoon. My phone is running low on data (Monthly, pre-paid plans can do that to you, especially if you’re continuously lost.), and I have to try and find the bus that will take me back to the subway. Confusion sets in, and I just start walking towards the general direction of the Hochbahn station. It’s a mile in a half away. The app that tells you what bus to take but does not tell you how to get to said bus. Thank God for comfortable clogs I bought before leaving for Germany. Comfort of standing on your feet all day out trumps fashion.

I get home and the sun is thinking about calling it a night. She’s looking at me through hazy clouds, squinting and rubbing her eyes. I feel the same. She pulls the covers over her head and a sudden downpour showers the streets. I forgot my umbrella.

When I finally get to my apartment (or is it flat?), my roommate, a 50-something glamourous woman is home, chatting with someone in German on the phone. It’s only 6:30, but I’m slipping into my pajamas, and disappointed I didn’t pick up something for dinner too. The European championships are on (soccer, or is it football?), and she is squealing at the TV. Germany is known for their exceptional soccer team.

She is a friendly woman, though perturbed that a late-20s girl isn’t out drinking with her friends, discovering the night life, or doing something more proactive than watching another series on Netflix. She seemingly, at 25+years my senior, has infinite more energy than I do. Walking around in her underwear, animatedly chatting on the phone, curlers in her hair. She and I have had many conversations in her underwear now, and my American sensibilities have been constantly questioned.

Though I have lived alone for 7 years or so, it is seemingly impossible to get your own flat once you first move to Germany. The paperwork is neverending, and I found myself using an American Idiom more than once.

“What came first: the chicken or the egg?”

One cannot get a job without two letters of intent from prospective companies, that you have to meet in person. One cannot get a flat without a residence permit that can easily take 2-3 months to get. One cannot get a bank account without a place to live. Everything hinges on something else, and often I find myself asking, how did I get here? Where am I going? Will this ever end?

And then, gradually, it does.

The paperwork gets sorted. The clouds start to part. And the sun starts to set over Hamburg in an egg yolk yellow hue.

Tomorrow is a new day, and I have to plan on how to teach Present Perfect Continuous.

 

 

 

A Day in the Life of an English Teacher in Hamburg