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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

German Christmas Card Fail

This an apology to my family. I tried my best, but nobody will be receiving Christmas cards this year. Don't blame me, blame the strict German postal service (see below).

German Christmas card

I was so good this year. I bought a pack of Christmas cards just days after Thanksgiving. They were even the kind where part of the profits go to charity. I addressed the envelopes to all of my friends and family in the U.S. I wrote personal messages in each of the Christmas cards. I even drove (well, Marco drove) to the post office just a few days into December with the intent to mail them weeks before Christmas. 

But alas, no one will be receiving Christmas cards from me this year.

This isn't my fist time sending Christmas cards to the U.S. Last year, trying to be safe and fit within the post office's size limits, I bought mini-cards that were half the size of a standard greeting card. Imagine my disappointment when I got to the post office, and the man told me that "Oh, due to the miniature format, these don't fit through the machines. Therefore, postage costs €1.50 per card instead of €0.80. 

But that was fine. I was only sending about 5 cards anyways, and €1.50 still seemed somewhat reasonable.

Learning my lesson from last year, I decided to buy a pack of (what I thought was) standard-sized greeting cards this year. Well, imagine my disappointment once again when the women at the post office told me, "Oh... these are too big. It would be €3.45 per card to send these." What?! Since I had 10 cards in my hand (and not very much money in my bank account), I just couldn't justify it. So, I didn't send the cards.

Turns out, what the Germans consider "standard" is very specific. I know it is my fault for not checking beforehand, but it is also infuriating that these Christmas cards could be sent for just €0.80 each had I cut 1.5 cm off the bottom of each card.

For reference, here is the price list for international postage in Germany (2015):

International postage in Germany
I have learned my lesson. Since the measurements for "standard" are based on the typical business envelope, instead of Christmas cards, maybe I will just send New Year's letters.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Then and Now

In November 2011, Marco took me on our first weekend getaway to the coast of the Baltic Sea near Lübeck. We stayed in a little beach house (albeit not directly on the beach), where we cuddled up in front of a wood fireplace and made a short day trip to the Lübeck Christmas market.

Four years later, Marco planned another little getaway to the Baltic Sea. This time, we ventured a little further north to Kappeln, which is about 45 minutes south of Flensburg, and the house we stayed in really did sit right on the shore. In fact, we had amazing views of the Schlei from the back of the house and the Baltic Sea from the front of the house. Once again, we cuddled up in front of an amazing wood fireplace, and we took a day trip to visit the Christmas market in Flensburg.

However, there is one thing that made this trip much more special...

Marco asked me to marry him, and I said yes!

Funny how much, yet also how little, has changed in four years.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

My Annual Trip to the German Bakery

As much as I have integrated into German culture, there is one custom I do not regularly taken part in: buying bread from the bakery.

Kürbisstuten: German pumpkin bread

Bakeries are a big part of traditional German culture, and I remember being shocked with how many bakeries there are (and how popular they are) when I first came to Germany in 2011. Unfortunately, I am not a big bread-eater, and heaven knows that I do not need more sweets and pastries in my life. So, I avoid bakeries. In fact, I have probably only bought something from a bakery about 10 times during my 3 years in Germany. That's nothing considering most Germans seem to go at least once per week.

Kürbisstuten: German pumpkin bread

However, there is one specific item that draws me to the bakery each November: Kürbisstuten.

For my American palate, pumpkin-flavored food items are seriously lacking in Germany. So, I was seriously excited when I found this delicious pumpkin bread 2 years ago, which I bought for Thanksgiving dinner. Just to clarify, this bread is not sweet like most American pumpkin breads probably would be. However, it does still have a slight sweetness, somewhat like cornbread. It is simply a delicious, moist bread with small pieces of pureed pumpkin throughout.

Kürbisstuten: German pumpkin bread

Quick side story: Marco never heard of Kürbisstuten before I randomly bought it from the bakery 2 years ago. So, when picking one up the other day, he asked the baker for a "Kürbisstute," assuming that Kürbisstuten was the plural form. It isn't. Turns out, a Stuten is a type of sweet yeast bread (Kürbis means pumpkin). A Stute, on the other hand, is a mare (female horse).

Kürbisstuten: German pumpkin bread

To eat it, I like to cut off thick slices, toast it until lightly browned in the toaster, and spread on lots of butter. The bread goes especially well with chili, in my opinion, which is also one of my favorite meals during Autumn. Mmmm...

What is your favorite German bakery item?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

German Apprenticeships (and why the USA needs them too)

Did you know that student loan debt is the second largest source of debt for Americans (mortgages are the #1)? Excuse my German, aber das ist für'n Arsch.

Apprenticeships in Germany

I have student loans. In fact, I graduated with the average amount of student loan debt for someone with a Bachelor's degree: $30,000. Luckily, this number is not increasing since college education is free in Germany. However, it is still waiting for me when I graduate and cannot keep it under deferral any longer.

But what choice do Americans have? Due to the recent trend of "up-credentialing," jobs that traditionally required only a high school education (e.g. secretary/administrative assistant) are now only accepting college graduates. But hell, who blames them? You may as well take advantage of all the unemployed graduates willing to work $12/hour in order to keep up with the minimum payments on their student loan.

Upcredentialing jobs 2

But why hasn't this problem manifested itself in German culture?

Public universities in Germany are free, yes. However, only about 25% of Germans in the same age group go to university. Compare this with 66% in the U.S. The American job market may be over-saturated with college graduates, but what other choice did those graduates have? Of those that don't go to college, only 50% are able to find a job within a year.

In Germany, there are 342 trades that offer an apprenticeship, and about two-thirds of young people choose to enter into an apprenticeship after high school (i.e. Hauptschule/Realschule/Gymnasium). 

This means that if you want to be a banker, you do an apprenticeship in a bank. You do not waste tens of thousands of dollars to get a Bachelor's degree in finance. If you want to work in radio, you do an apprenticeship with a radio station. You don't waste your time and money on a Bachelor's in communication.

Nevertheless, apprenticeships do consist of both practical and theoretical training. This usually means that apprentices spend 50% of their time training for their desired job at a specific business and 50% of their time taking relevant classes at a vocational school. 

Of course, it is an investment for a company to offer an apprenticeship. Apprentices typically receive a small wage as they train for the job and take classes. These wages are paid by the business where the apprentice is working, making many apprenticeships very competitive. 

Unfortunately, U.S. companies are not in the business of trickling down profits to employees. Even the most profitable companies often have interns working for free. So, I think it is pretty unlikely that American companies will be willing to invest in young people by offering paid apprenticeships.

Currently, apprenticeships in the U.S. only really exist for a small number of trades such as construction, plumbing, and electric - just check out the U.S. Department of Labor's website, where you can also find this great quote:

American apprenticeships

Sometimes I wonder if I would still go to college if I could do it all over again. Although I am almost done with my Master's degree, I am not exactly a passionate academic. During my Bachelor's (which I was not always pleased with), I often thought that if I were a man, I would have just done an apprenticeship in construction. So, maybe if I had grown up in Germany, I would have done an apprenticeship at a bank, doctor's office, media company, anything.  Then again, maybe not, but I would have at least liked to have the option.

Until something changes in the U.S., I guess we will just have to wait for the day when the Baby Boomer generation dies out, my generation (i.e. the new "middle class") cannot afford homes, and student loan debt overtakes mortgages for the #1 spot.

Do you think an apprenticeship system is lacking in the U.S.? Am I being too pessimistic?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Oh, the Difference One Letter Makes

I dressed up for Halloween this past weekend for the first time in at least 4 years. I was Little Red Riding Hood, and Marco was my wolf. Since Germans stick to scary costumes (luckily the "sexy" costume trend has not made it over here yet), I used liquid latex and fake blood to make scratches along the side of my face.

We had to travel by train and subway to get to the Halloween party, and Marco had not yet put in his fangs and contacts. So, our friends kept commenting on how "cute" he looked, which is not what he was going for.

"Watch out," he said, "I'm a wolf with rapies!"

Yikes. Not sure what rapies are, but let's hope you don't have that! (Obviously he meant rabies.)

Oh, the difference one letter makes...

Since the party started early, we brought some Halloween snacks along too. I made spider cupcakes and jello [vodka] worms (complete with Oreo dirt and served in a flower pot). I was pretty proud of them (even though my spiders were missing 2 legs each).

Spider Cupcakes

Jello shot worms

The next language mistake of the night came a few hours into the party, when I was striking up a conversation with a guy that I had never met before, but who also goes to my university.

The details are fuzzy, but I wanted to ask him if he "had friends [somewhere or something]."

Unfortunately, my question started with the words, "Hast du Freunden..."

Before I could finish me was giving me a weird look and telling me, "Ja... ich habe eine Freundin."

Oh no. Oh no no no. I made the word friend (Freund) plural by adding an "en" instead of just an "e." So when I meant to say "friends," he heard "girlfriend." He thinks I asked him if he has a girlfriend, and now he is trying to end this conversation as quickly as possible.

Oh the difference one letter makes...

How was your Halloween this year?

Monday, October 12, 2015

My Second Semester of Grad School in Germany

My third semester of grad school starts today (which is also my final semester of classes! YAY!). Unfortunately, I still have one more term paper to write from last semester (oops), but it will get done within the next two weeks (hopefully), so I figured I will write this post anyways.

Graduate School in Germany

Here is a review of my second semester of graduate school in Germany.

7 grad school courses
In order to graduate in 2 years, my program requires students to take 6 courses per semester. Why did I take 7? Masochism, basically. But I survived!

6 term papers
The good news: I didn't have to take any exams this semester! The bad news: I had to write 6 term papers! And actually, I still haven't turned in 3 of them... ugh.

80 pages written
I was curious, so I just checked all of my term papers to see how many pages I wrote in total. 80. Yep. That's a lot for one semester, especially when you have to do research on so many different topics.

5 presentations
This semester, 5 of my 7 courses required a presentation (4 of those were in German). I don't particularly enjoy giving presentations. I always have to remember to wear a high-necked shirt because my chest becomes all splotchy.

5 classes next semester
In the review of my first semster of grad school in Germany, I naively write that I was planning on taking 7 classes for the next semester. While I don't regret that decision, it did not make my life easy. But maybe I should be thanking past Courtney, because now I only have to take 5 classes this coming semester (and none of them sound particularly easy)!

Here's to my last semester of grad school classes!

If you like reading updates on my life in Germany and tips for studying in Germany, make sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers

Much like chain emails back in the early 2000's, some bloggers like to send around "awards" to each other that come with a set of questions for their nominees to answer. I have never taken part in one of these awards yet, but after being nominated a handful of times, I figured it was time to participate :)

This particular award is called the "Sisterhood of the World Bloggers." I was nominated by American FaultierConfuzzledom, and Ami in Schwabenland. Each of them created ten questions, but since I am lazy, and 30 questions seem like it would be a lot for people to read, I have selected my favorite from each of my nominators.

I will start with Jennifer's questions:

How did you come up with your blog's name?
As many of you probably know, my blog used to be called Courtney the Ami - "Ami" is the German abbreviation for "American." I really didn't like the idea of labeling myself like that forever, though, so I changed the name of my blog to Welcome to Germerica - Germerica being the place where German and American culture combines.

What is your dream pet?
Definitely dog. I browse the local shelter's website almost daily and dream about the day (hopefully in a year) when I finally get a dog of my own. If I could adopt a dog tomorrow, here would be my favorites that are currently at the shelter:

Sam2Sam Kopf

LjubaLjuba Kopf

SallySally Kopf

If you had the change to travel to space, would you go? Why or why not?
Maybe. If it was free (or I was super rich), I suppose it would be cool to look at the Earth from space.

If you had infinite money, what would your house look like?
If I am living with Marco, then I would want a master bedroom with 2 separate en suite bathrooms (think of all the fights that would be avoided). I would also have a big open kitchen - dining room - living room (which is hard to find in Germany). 

eBooks or paper books? Why?
Marco bought me a Kindle when I passed the TestDaF in February 2014. I have never bought a paper book since. I love my Kindle, and since I am a broke grad student right now, I always just download the free books from the Kindle store (at least I am reading something). 

Now for the questions from Beverley:

Why did you start your blog?
I started it once I made the decision to move to Germany as a way to keep my friends and family updated.

What is the best food you've ever had while travelling?
In 2012, Marco took me to Freiburg, which is where he used to study. While there, we went to a popular student restaurant called Brennessel. Now, this is a pretty cheap restaurant (they serve a huge serving of Spaghetti Bolognese for 1.80€ everyday from 18-19:30), but the pork chop I had there hit the right spot in an indescribable way. I still dream about the brown sauce that meat was smothered in...

If you could have a second home, where would it be and why?
This is maybe a boring answer, but I would have my second home in Chicago! Preferably one of those multi-million dollar brownstones in Lincoln Park.

If you were a ghost, which place would you haunt?
To this day, my mother still claims that a ghost haunted her childhood home. So, I think I would haunt my childhood home as well. Specifically, whoever is sleeping in my childhood bedroom (I always had nightmares about someone living in that closet).

Have you ever planned a trip just because a book/film was set there?
Not yet, but I have wanting to visit Bruges ever since watching the movie In Bruges.

And from Beth:

What is a blog post you wrote within the last year or two that you really like?
Probably the one about folding vs. crumpling toilet paper. It is such a mundane habit that you never even consider being culturally specific, but it turns out that it probably is! I loved hearing the responses from people about whether they fold or crumple too.

What type of blog post do you find the most difficult to write?
Anything personal or opinionated, which is why I often write more objective/factual posts about studying or living in Germany.

Is there a German TV show you enjoy watching?
Yes! My favorite German TV show is, without a doubt, Tatortreiniger. Don't mistake it with the long-running German crime show Tatort. Der Tatortreiniger is about a man who cleans crime scenes, where he meets pretty eccentric characters or gets himself into some precarious situations. It's hilarious. You should watch it (if you know German, that is, because I am not sure if subtitles are available).

Where are you on your journey of learning the language of the country in which you live?
If you were to look at my resume, you would see that I write "proficient" when describing my German fluency. I have passed the TestDaF, I am doing a German-language Master's program, and I speak German on a daily basis. Am I perfect? No. I still have a lot of room for improvement, but my German is good enough for all of that...

Which dialect (of any language) do you really enjoy listening to?
My favorite German dialect is probably Fränkisch, which is the dialect from the region in Bavaria known as Franken. I think the way they roll their "R" is so cute, especially when they try to speak Hochdeutsch, but retain the rolled "R." That's my favorite. Marco is probably disappointed that I am not answering Schwäbisch (his native dialect), but I think it sounds like a dialect for inbred farmers (I apologize in advance to all of Marco's family).

Now it is time for me to create 10 new questions and nominate new bloggers.

My questions:
1. What is the most unusual item you always have in your carry-on?
2. What is your favorite social media platform?
3. You are going on a weekend getaway 4 hours away. What do you prefer: driving, going by train, or flying?
4. What are you in the mood for: a relaxing beach vacation or a trip to a big city you have never visited before?
5. What is your favorite breakfast food?
6. Have you ever had a vacation destination not live up to your expectations?
7. What is your favorite non-US TV show?
8. You are going out for the evening with friends - what drink do you order?
9. What is your favorite souvenir that you bought on a trip?
10. And lastly, share your favorite inspirational quote!

My nominees:
Sarah at My German Life
San at The In Between is Mine
Caitlin at Life as an Ausländer

Monday, October 5, 2015

Flying Kohlrabi | Mistranslation Monday

While in the U.S. last month, the German boyfriend saw his very first hummingbird! Hummingbirds only live in the Americas, so this was something he was quite excited about. Since my parents have a hummingbird feeder, we continued to watch a group of hummingbirds fly all over the backyard for our entire two-week stay.

As we were watching the hummingbirds from my parent's patio one morning, I tried to strike up a German conversation with Marco by saying the German word for hummingbird.


Kohlrabi or Kolibri
I think this is what Marco imagined when I said that.

After a confused pause, Marco replied, "I think you mean Kolibri."

Oh yeah. Kolibri. Although, had there been a flying cabbage drinking sugar water in my parent's backyard, then that would have a been a first for all of us.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

USA Haul #2

I came back from my two-week trip from the U.S. on Friday. So, naturally, I have another haul to share!

USA Haul

Before I left, I shared my American shopping list, which mentioned some of things I had planned to pick up during my trip. Well, I got all those things and then some.

Most importantly, I got clothes. As a graduate student that did her Bachelor's in the U.S., I do not have very much money. So, I very rarely go shopping for new clothes. I actually cannot remember the last time I bought any new clothing in Germany.

Since clothes are also a little cheaper in the U.S. (especially jeans), I went to town searching through the clearance racks of nearly every store within a 20-mile radius of my parent's house. Here are the clothes (including a pair of new shoes and a bag) I bought, all of which was discounted by a minimum of 30%. The most expensive item of clothing I bought was a pair of Calvin Klein jeans, which were on sale at the outlet mall for 40 dollars.

Shopping in the USA

The Thanksgiving and Halloween decorations were also really getting to me, so I told Marco that I really wanted to bring some kind of Thanksgiving decoration back for our apartment. Still not wanting to spend much money (and worrying about the weight of my suitcase), we grabbed a dish towel from TJ Maxx for three dollars. We are using it as a kind of tablecloth/centerpiece for our little dining room table.

Thanksgiving decorations

Next on the list is, of course, was Yankee Candles. Although I have figured out that I can buy Yankee Candles online in Germany, they are much cheaper in the U.S.

Marco and I got two big jar candles: Iced Spice Cake and Fall Wreath (the labels vary depending on what store you buy the candles from, but they are all the same candles).

Since they were crazy on sale, we also grabbed some scented wax for our tea light wax melter thing (you know what I mean). Each of those little plastic containers of wax were only two dollars!

Yankee candles in Germany

If you read my USA shopping list, then you also know that Marco and I love Crest Whitestrips. We don't do them very often, but they are not available in Germany, so we always like to pick them up (but only if they are on sale, of course).

Crest whitestrips

Lastly, candy. Most importantly, peanut butter candy. You can see I got Reese's, Reese's Pieces, and peanut butter M&M's (oh how I wish they sold these in Germany). I also got a bag of candy corn, Wild Berry Skittles (the best kind of Skittles), Red Vines, and a Butterfinger.

American candy in Germany

Let's hope I can make this pile of candy last more than 2 weeks (after just 5 days, I have already opened a bag of peanut butter M&M's, the Reese's Pieces, and the Skittles - oh, and I already ate the entire bag of candy corn).

Monday, September 21, 2015

Colorful | Mistranslation Monday

-haft is a German adjective suffix. Examples of words with this suffix include dauerhaft (permanent; long-lasting), herzhaft (hearty), and grauenhaft (atrocious; morbid).  Today, however, I want to talk about the German word fabelhaft, which I always missheard as farbehaft.

fabelhaft oder farbehaft?

Fabelhaft means fabulous or mavelous. It comes from the word Fabel (fable). Add on the suffix -haft, and it becomes an adjective which basically means "like a fairy tale."

Silly me has always understood the word fabelhaft as farbehaft, which is not a real word. To me, however, it meant "colorful" (Farbe = color).

I am pretty sure that I have been understanding the word as fabelhaft as farbehaft for years. Instead of using a word like "marvelous," I simply thought that Germans used the word "colorful" to describe wonderful things. It made sense to me!

This mistranslation was brought to my attention recently when the German boyfriend was proofreading one of my term papers. The paper was about a research project I did on food fotography in Hamburg. Wanting to describe a group of pictures as colorful, I used the word farbehaft in my paper.

As he was proofreading the paper, Marco called me over to ask "What is this word supposed to be? Do you mean farbenfroh?"

"Farbehaft. Colorful. Yeah, farbenfroh means the same thing," I replied, thinking that farbehaft was a synonym for farbenfroh.

"Ok. But farbehaft isn't a word. Are you thinking of fabelhaft?!"

Then he kindly explained to me the correct spelling, pronunciation, and meaning of fabelhaft, and I was left pondering all of the times I thought Germans were describing things as colorful.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Four Happy Years

Happy 4-year anniversary, Marco! Unfortunately, we do not have many pictures together, but here are some of my favorites from over the years:

October 2011: Rothenburg ob der Tauber

May 2012: Chicago

September 2012: Pfänder

September 2012: Freiburg 

October 2012: Schloss Neuschwanstein

December 2012: Chicago (Macy's) 

August 2013: Rome

December 2013: Nuremberg

July 2014: Nuremberg

July 2014: Nuremberg (we take a lot of pictures together whenever we go to Nuremberg)

September 2014: Lüneburg

October 2014: Austria

I know it is cliche to say things like: "I don't know where I would be without you." But my life would be very different right now if you hadn't found me in that parking lot four years ago.

Monday, September 14, 2015

How to Make Homemade Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

If you didn't already know, I love Reese's peanut butter cups. Actually, I love all things peanut butter and chocolate, which is a shame since I live in Germany, where this type of candy really doesn't exist. 

After getting several shipments of Reese's and other peanut butter and chocolate candy from my family in the U.S., I finally decided to try making my own, and it actually turned out great!

Homemade Reese's peanut butter cups
Yes, those are the peanut butter cups that I made! Look at that magazine-worthy photography!

To make this recipe you will need:
  • 200 g chocolate
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
Of course all of these amounts can be adjusted to your personal preferences. I like thin layers of chocolate and a thick layer of peanut butter in the middle. I also chose to use dark chocolate instead of milk.

For this recipe, you will also need muffin forms. The paper ones work great and give the Reese's that iconic ridged look along the edge. I used silicon muffin forms, which also worked great. Best of all, they are reusable, and I bought them on Amazon for only 5€. 

Ingredients for homemade Reese's peanut butter cups

Half of the chocolate will be used for the bottom layer of the peanut butter cups, and the other half will be for the top layer. So, you should start by setting out your muffin forms, and melting half (100 g) of the chocolate. I chose to use dark chocoalte (50%), but obviously milk chocolate would be more traditional. 

If you want the chocolate to be very soft like the original Reese's, then you can also mix in a couple teaspoons of peanut butter into the chocolate.

Melting chocolate for homemade Reese's peanut butter cups

Once it is melted, spoon a thin layer into the bottom of each of the muffin forms. If you want to make sure that the peanut butter does not show through on the sides, then you should try to drag the chocolate up on the sides of the muffin forms as well.

Melting chocolate for homemade Reese's peanut butter cups

I tried to make the layers about 0.5 cm in the bottom of the forms. Some ended up closer to 1 cm, but that's okay.  Place the forms into the refrigerator or freezer to harden the chocolate. 

Silicone forms for homemade Reese's peanut butter cups

While the first layer of chocolate is hardening, mix the peanut butter, powdered sugar, and butter. You can melt the peanut butter and butter in the microwave to make it easier to mix. 

Mixing peanut butter for homemade Reese's peanut butter cups

Once the chocolate is hardened, pull the forms out of the fridge, and add a layer of peanut butter. To make sure the peanut butter doesn't show through too much, try not to let it touch the sides of the form. You can add as much or as little peanut butter you want -- I like a lot of peanut butter and thin layers of chocolate.

Peanut butter layer for homemade Reese's peanut butter cups

Let the peanut butter layer harden in the refrigerator or freezer for a little bit, then add the final layer of chocolate. You only need to add enough to completely cover the peanut butter layer. Once that is done, put your peanut butter back in the refrigerator to completely harden before eating!

Homemade Reese's peanut butter cups

Homemade Reese's peanut butter cups
Are there any other types of American candy that I should try to recreate?
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