Friday, November 28, 2003

Get the hell out of Dodge

I'm off to Melk (an hour west of Vienna) this weekend to eat turkey, speak English, and generally be American. Should be good times. I'll give you a full report on my return.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

And I have the normal name in my family

I’m changing my name.

Or rather, I’m having it changed for me by a country of people oddly unable to pronounce the name “Erin.”

Instead, I get called Eirin—or what is actually the German equivalent of my middle name, Irene. A charming coincidence. If nothing else, it’s giving me a new appreciation for a middle name I’ve always found a little old-fashioned and boring.

I really don’t understand the why of it, though. “Er.” “In.” These are morphemes that they have in German. In fact, one of my teachers’ boyfriends is named Erwin. Drop the W, and you have me (which is also, oddly, something that former President George Bush can say re: his son…probably with similar bafflement)—what’s the problem here?

Eirin. Aye-reen. My only even vaguely convincing theory is that they’re trying to make my quintessentially Irish first name match with my stereotypically German last name. A tidy attempt from a tidy people, but not really going to happen, kids—the only way those two parts of my heritage jive is their exceeding helpfulness in avoiding hangovers and in wreaking havoc in perfectly lovely corners of the world.

No matter how often I pronounce my name, how carefully I enunciate when I introduce myself, I still get called Eirin. I can write it down, clearly demonstrating that there’s only one I, and still they persist. It’s almost like the entire country is trying to correct my pronunciation. Actually, come to think of it…that’s probably not a bad assumption. The Germans did the same thing when I lived there, and lord knows they think they’re always right.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

This is how I miss you

The other day I wanted some ketchup. Not a lot, just enough for one french fry. I thought, "I wish you were here so I could steal it off your plate."

Monday, November 24, 2003

Taking friendly deception to a whole new level

Every once in a while I like to drive M2 crazy by telling him a lie. For some reason he thinks that I am entirely trustworthy and will believe almost anything I say, as long as it's not too outrageous. I can't tell him that there are purple sheep, but I could probably get him to believe russet if I worked at it. It's a special kind of power.

Okay, now imagine that you're me, and you're surrounded by an entire country of people who will believe not only russet, but purple and plaid and five-legged, as well.

You're a little bit tipsy with the power now, aren't you? Admit it.

It's a constant struggle not to make up huge lies about America and then convince my kids they're true just because I think it's funny. I mean, I could totally get 20 15-year-olds to believe that Thanksgiving started as a pagan festival where the pilgrims ate the hearts, tongues, and livers of Squanto and the other Native Americans. I don't, but that doesn't mean I don't think about it frequently.

But even more tempting is just not doing research completely and telling small lies. I mean, if I say that Robert Burns was born in Glasgow, are any of them really going to check to see if I'm lying? Because I totally would be. (He was born near Ayr, if you're curious. It's on the west coast of Scotland.)

At some point, probably near the end of May, I'm totally going to stop being good and tell a whopping lie in class. I'm just trying to think of one that's big enough. Suggestions?

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Could Colin Firth be hotter?

The answer to that question is "No, actually, that's not possible," if you were wondering.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

And now for something completely different...

Just so you get a little taste of the fun that is life in Austria, I will now recount for you the conversation that I have with EVERY SINGLE PERSON meeting me for the first time. Ever. I'm not kidding.

Of course, you have to remember that this little joy usually takes place in German.

Erin: Hello.
Austrian: Oh, hello. You're from England, aren't you?
E: Uh, no, I'm American.
A: Oh, American! So far from home. Aren't you homesick?
E: Well, since I'm not, you know, soulless, yes, I miss my family and friends. But I'm also not five. I can spend the night away from my mommy.
A: What do you think about Bush?
E: Uh, we just met, nosy. But if you must know, I'm not a fan of him.
A: Yes, he's an idiot.
E: Hey, there, chief, I don't think you can be throwing stones *cough*Jorg Haider*cough*.
A: Interesting. Can you understand the dialect here?
E: Well, let's see. You've been talking to me in dialect for the past five minutes. So yeah, I would say I've got a decent handle on it. Or I'm shockingly precognizant, since I can predict (and translate) everything you're going to say JUST MOMENTS BEFORE YOU SAY IT.
A: That's nice. Want to come to my house for Christmas?
E: Hummana, now?

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

I'm back...sort of

Just wanted to let you know I haven't disappeared off the end of the earth or anything. I'm around, I'm doing my thing, and nothing of huge interest has happened lately. I'll report more tomorrow, hopefully.

To those of you who extended condolences about my grandmother, here and elsewhere, thank you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Let me kiss your cheek one more time before you go, Grandma C.

I know some things about her. I know that she had a hard life and that she thought her grandchildren and greatgrandchildren were angels. I know she didn't finish middle school, that she was married twice, and that she liked to write letters before her first stroke several years ago. I know that she kept a spoon rest my mother made her in a pottery class for over 20 years before she finally sent it back when she moved into the nursing home. I know she liked to wear sweatshirts—and to give them as gifts. I know that she took a particular delight in the letters I infrequently sent her, though they were hastily written and said nothing of import. I know she liked us to kiss her on the cheek when we came and when we went. I know that even though she was always far away from us, we were frequently on her mind.

I know my grandma passed away yesterday. I know that she's gone. And I know that we'll miss her.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Best. German. Ever.

I feel like this is something that could only happen in Germany. They're voting to figure out who the best German ever is.

Brought to you by the country that spontaneously decided they were just going to change their entire language a few years ago, and did so with no problems. What is up with the Germans? How did they get so organized? Lord knows their history is a mess. I can't figure it out.

Anyway, this is not the point. I'd like to annouce that I'll be running a "Best. American. Ever." contest here at Never-Never Mind, and you should all nominate people. I'll set up a bracket, and we'll vote. Then we'll pretend to be German and wear lots of black and separate our trash in an anal yet eco-friendly manner. Good times.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Litmus Tests

There are certain characteristics we all look for in friends: funny, thoughtful, patient, blah blah blah. Not all that hard to find, really. There are few people so bereft of good characteristics that they don't have at least one friend.

However, there are certain things that, when you hear a person say them, you just know an enduring friendship is in the offing. Some of mine:

Knowing that the proverb "don't judge a book by its cover" is hogwash. Particularly when it comes to actual books.

Thinking that bathroom humor is secretly quite funny. (I come from a family where poop is commonly discussed at meals. Meals in restaurants, no less.)

Being annoyed by the entire decade of the 80s.

Understanding innately that grammar is the most potent force in the world.

Having a special and enduring love for personality tests and other sorts of innocuous navel-gazing.

Realizing that really, rainy weather is the best weather.

The moment somebody says one of these things, I know that there's going to be very little they can do after that to dissuade me of their innate coolness. These things resonate in a way more general characteristics can't. Someone that I was well on the way to liking told me last night that she can't buy books that have ugly covers, and I swear the first thought to cross my mind was, "So true! Oh, I have to love you now!" The second thought was, "My mom will love you, too!" And then today we went to a craft fair with her cousin, and were kitschy and happy, and I do love her because she's sweet and funny, but most of all because she's picky about how books look. These things resonate.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Dear Austria:

Anytime you want to stop busting my balls this week, that would be great.


P.S. Peanut flakes are not a valid cereal option, so feel free to stop pretending that they are.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

If you put that on your cereal, I swear that I'm going home

You know you have to pay for ketchup at McDonald's here, right? Yeah, it's like 25¢ extra or something.

I don't understand this, because as far as I can tell, the Austrians have a national ketchup addiction. I have seen them eat ketchup on things that just make you shudder. And seriously, I got used to my sister eating ketchup on carrot sticks when she was five and I was nine, so I'm not exaggerating here.

Ketchup goes on all the normal things—hot dogs and meatloaf, you know. However, not on french fries. As Pulp Fiction taught us, they eat mayonnaise on french fries here. Anyway, ketchup on the usual stuff, and then ketchup on mashed potatoes, bread, beef jerky, in soup. I think they'd put it on the dessert if the bottles weren't usually empty by the time it rolled around.

I've seen the kids in the internat eat the leftover ketchup off their plate—by itself. Next time you want to trigger your gag reflex, just think about that. Spoonful of ketchup, straight down the gullet, no chaser. Mmm.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

But do you miss me?

So I've been in Stegersbach a month now, which is hard to believe. Time flies, etc., etc. I have the run of the dorm, which is rockin' good times—I get to use the only computer with internet, I never get punished for leaving the table a mess, I'm allowed to do my own laundry (instead of paying 8€ a load to have it done), and I can leave the room when the Heimleiter starts one of his interminable speeches about how the kids need to clean their rooms.

It's odd how quickly you become accustomed to a place, and how much of it happens without you even being aware of it. Three weeks ago I couldn't have imagined having a routine that I follow throughout the week. Two weeks ago I couldn't comprehend having friends and acquaintances in town. Last week I was confused about choir rehearsal and finding new stuff to read and God knows what. The problems are getting smaller as the comfort level gets higher. It's not home like Houston or Nebraska were home, but it's getting to be like hanging out at Grandma's: you wouldn't want to live there forever, but it's a rockin' good time while you're there.

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