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Thursday, February 25, 2016

When a German Tries to Fill Out a Map of the USA

There are 50 states in the USA. Do you know all of their names? Do you know where they all are? I had my German fiancé fill out a blank map of the U.S. to see how well he knows my home country.

German fills out USA map

To start off with, Marco had nothing but this blank map of the U.S. and a pen. The first states he filled out were the ones he had visited: before we met, Marco had already taken two U.S. vacations to Florida and New York. Since we have met, he has been to Illinois four times.

Other easy ones for him were California, Texas, and Pennsylvania (he obviously would have known Alaska and Hawaii as well, but they weren't included in the map I printed off).

After filling out about 10 states, the struggle began.

German's US Map

Marco spent a long time on the East Coast and was pretty determined to get them all. Surprisingly, he actually knew all of the state names, he just had no idea which was where (note all of the cross-outs).

The funniest mistake is probably his mislabeling of Rhode Island. I blame the NFL for misleading him to believe that New England is a state.

German thinks New England is a state

Most of his mistakes were concentrated on the East Coast, which is everyone can agree is a confusing area. The poor guy also thought Washington, D.C. was a state, which I also can't blame him for.

When it came to the West, however, Marco couldn't even come up with a name for a lot of the states (except the four corners - he knew those from Breaking Bad). Not wanting him to just have a half-blank map, I let him listen to the song of the 50 states. After being reminded of the existence of states like Montana and Wyoming, he was able to place them correctly.

I also attempted to fill out the map. and I am a little ashamed of my mix-up on the East Coast. However, I don't think anyone can blame me for the mess up with Kansas and Nebraska. I mean, they are called fly-over states for a reason, right?

You can test your U.S. geography knowledge with this quiz. Just click on "play," then type the first three letters of the highlighted state.

Can you beat Marco's score of 38/50? Can you beat my score of 46/50?

Let me know how many states you can identify in the comments!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Getting Married in Germany: The Required Documents

If you didn't already know, I am getting married! Since I am marrying a German in Germany, however, this process is much more bureaucratic than romantic (at least for now).

Documents required to get married in Germany
The German fiance and I scheduled our first appointment at the local Standesamt (registry office) for Monday, February 15th at 10:00 a.m. This made for a very exciting Valentine's Day, as we were anticipating what would happen on the following day.

What documents do we need to get married in Germany? Will I need to go to the American embassy? How much money will it all cost? Can we set a date already?

Luckily, we got answers to all of those questions and more.

Before going to the Standesamt, I did a lot of research. I read about the experiences of other American expats that married Germans such as Sarah at My German Life and Marisa at Adventures of La Mari. However, just like all of the bureaucratic processes I have overcome so far, my experience is turning out to be completely different.

When we got to the Standesamt at 10:00 a.m. on that Monday morning, Mr. Standesamt-Man already had our profiles printed out in front of him (it kind of freaks me out what a thick file the German government has on me). He had also already created and printed out a list of the documents required for us to get married:

Documents required to get married in Germany

In total, here are the documents I need:
✓ Birth certificate with name of parents
       ✓ with Apostille*
✓ Passport
✓ Residence permit
 Proof of income*
 Affidavit of family status at the local registry office
 Affidavit of family status at the American consulate*

*Items marked with a star are only required in extraordinary circumstances.

Now let's go through and look at exactly what each of these documents are, and how I will get them.

 Birth certificate with name of parents (and apostille*)
Mr. Standesamt-Man was very careful to stress the importance that my parents' names must be on the birth certificate. The birth certificate also has to be issued within 6 months of when I turn it in. Since I am from Illinois, I looked at the Illinois Secretary of State website to see how I can order a birth certificate. The options are either in person, by mail, or online. Although I could do it online, there is a $13 handling fee. So, I convinced my mother to order it by mail.

In about 10% of cases, an Apostille (international certification) is also required. Mr. Standesamt-Man said that we can turn in the birth certificate without it, but it is possible that it would be rejected if the high court is unsure of the birth certificate's authenticity. Since the Apostille only costs $2 and can be ordered by mail, this is something else my mother has graciously agreed to get for me.

✓ Passport
Luckily, our Standesamt is very generous (I've read horror stories from other expats), and Mr. Standesamt-Man made copies of our passports right then and there. So, that's already taken care of (hence why he checked it off of our list).

✓ Residence Permit
Mr. Standesamt-Man took care of this for us too. I actually expected him to make us walk downstairs, pull a number, and wait in the waiting area until we could request a copy of this document ourselves (I wouldn't put this past German governmental offices). However, I was pleasantly proved wrong!

✓ Proof of Income*
Since the documents need to be checked by the high court, couples are charged a fee of 300€ to 500€ for the entire process (yikes!). However, this amount is income-based, so many couples do not actually have to pay the full amount. Providing proof of income is optional, but it can only help. If you don't turn it in at all, you automatically pay the full amount.

✓ Affidavit of family status at the local registry office
Mr. Standesamt-Man will take care of this for us when we turn in the rest of the documents. Basically, I just have to say "I solemnly swear I have never been married," and sign my name on the dotted line.

✓ Affidavit of family status at the American consulate*
This is another thing that is not required in most cases. Since it also costs $50 and a trip to one of the consulates (Berlin, Frankfurt, or Bremen), Mr. Standesamt-Man said not to worry about it. So, we will put this on the back burner for now, and hope our paperwork doesn't get rejected without it.

Getting married in Germany

And that's it! After doing so much research over the past few months, reading "No! Don't do it! Get married in the U.S. or Denmark!", I am honestly quite surprised at how little seems to be required. So far, I think it looks quite manageable, and I will keep you updated on my progress along the way.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Top 5 German TV Shows

German-produced TV series suck. Even Germans are quick to admit it. However, if you pay close attention, you can find a diamond in the rough every once in a while.

I love TV. Unfortunately, it seems like 99% of what German TV stations broadcast is either American or British TV series or horrible German reality shows. Over the past few years, however, I have found some favorites.

Here is my list of the top 5 best German TV shows:

1. Tatortreiniger

Der Tatortreinger (crime scene cleaner) is a show all about Heiko Schotte (better known as Schotty), and the interesting situations and people he encounters as he simply tries to go about his job as Tatortreiniger. I love this show for its character-driven plot and dark humor.

I also have to admit that I have a bit of a crush on Schotty, who is a walking German stereotype with his blond hair, blue eyes, love of Hamburg SV, and Tatort (see #3) ring tone. Watch the show, then maybe you will understand.

2. Türkisch für Anfänger

This is the #1 series that always shows up on lists about great German TV shows, and season 1 is definitely a must-see (especially for my fellow immigrants living in Germany). Unfortunately, the show goes downhill from there. Season 2 is pretty good, season 3 is bearable, and season 4 was almost unwatchable (although I did watch it). There is also a movie that was created after the TV series ended, but I never watched it, as I doubt it is worth the time.

3. Tatort

Tatort (crime scene) is the THE German TV series. In fact, I am pretty sure if you do not watch Tatort within the first 90 days of receiving your residence permit, you are deported from the country.

As you can guess from the name, Tatort is a crime show, but it was created with a unique approach: Each of the local public-service TV broadcasters throughout Germany, Austria, and Switzerland contribute episodes. This means that each week, you are treated to a unique story in a different city. This also means that some episodes are amazing while some are pretty bad - regular watchers always have their favorite cities and police commissioners.

The show airs Sunday evenings at 8:15 p.m. and has been since 1970, making it Germany's longest-running TV drama.  

4. Doctor's Diary

As Netflix always like to remind me, I am a fan of "TV series with a strong female lead," and this show has just that (kind of). Doctor's Diary is about Margarete Haase (also known as Gretchen), who begins working in a hospital after breaking up with her fiance. There are two male love interests, making it a bit of a stereotypical medical drama. I must also admit that I have only seen a few episodes of this show (there are 3 seasons total). However, I tend to despise German comedy (I am looking at you, Stromberg), and I found this show surprisingly funny. So, it is definitely worth a a watch for any romantic comedy fans out there.

5. Bauer sucht Frau

Yes, this is a reality show. Yes, Bauer sucht Frau does mean "farmer looking for a wife." Yes, this is technically a dating show. But let me explain myself!

Unlike "The Bachelor" or spin-off versions of Bauer sucht Frau from other countries, Germany's Bauer sucht Frau is more like a human interest story than a dating show. There are several candidates (farmers) each season, and each get to choose one partner at the beginning of the show. They can then take this partner back to their farm, where they live and work together, and, just maybe, find love.

Cheesy? Yes. But it is also hilarious and, at times, heart-warming. Best of all, you get to hear all kinds of crazy hillbilly dialects that you probably won't understand a word of  (lucky there are subtitles for most of them). If I haven't convinced you yet, just take a look at the farmers from the 2015 season!

What are your favorite German TV shows?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Marrying Young in Germany

If you didn't already know, my German boyfriend asked me to marry him, thus becoming my German fiancé. Exciting, right?! While I have received nothing but congratulations and excitement from my family and close friends, I have noticed some questionable reactions from some of my German peers.

Marco and I have been together for nearly 5 years. We love each other. We have decided we want to be together for the rest of our lives. So, he asked me to marry him.

But that's not the part the Germans have a problem with. The problem is that I am only 25 years old.

The longer I live in Germany and study at a German university, the more I see how many German students (at least at my university) tend to belong to a kind of liberal hive-mind. And according to the faux-feminist logic that women should marry and have children only after building a successful career, considering marriage in your 20's is taboo.

This reluctance towards marriage is reflected in the average age at first marriage in the U.S. and Germany (shown in the table below).

Country Women   Men 
United States
27 years old
29 years old
30 years old
33 years old

But statistics are not important here. Marco and I are choosing to get married because we want to. We feel ready. And while there my be a such thing as too young, I wouldn't question anyone's choice to get married as long as they were in a mature and loving relationship (and over 18). Heck, my mother was only 19 years old when she got married, and it lasted!

Now, don't get me wrong. nobody has openly told me that I am crazy or that I should not get married. Rather, I have just grown accustomed to questions such as "Really!?" or "But you're so young!" or "Why don't you wait?" when I tell someone I am engaged. And I am not the only one.

I was actually inspired to write this post after reading an article written by a German student at my university (who got married "young" at 25 years old). For those that know German, you can read the article here:

But don't worry. Nobody can get me down! Marco and I are hoping to get an appointment at the Standesamt (civil registry office) this week, and the wedding planning will hopefully begin shortly thereafter. So, prepare yourself posts about the beautifully bureaucratic process of marrying a German in Germany.

Do you think that 25 years old is too young to get married? At what age did you/your parents get married?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Process of Writing a Term Paper in Grad School

I have four term papers (Hausarbeiten in German) due in March. Instead of just writing them now, however, I have decided to procrastinate by sharing my process for writing a term paper.

If getting my Master's has taught me nothing, at least it has made me a master in writing 18-page papers in exactly one week. I don't even flinch anymore when every single one of my professors assign a Hausarbeit each semester, usually requiring somewhere between 15 to 20 pages of well-researched thought. Heck, last semester I managed to whip out six Hausarbeiten on vastly different topics within in two months!

As I head into this phase of my third semester, I figured I would share my process of writing a Hausarbeit with all of you.

Phase 1: Learning is great!

Sure, writing a term paper is never fun, but it can be enjoyable when the topic interests you. I try my hardest to pick topics that I find interesting and where I think the knowledge gained will help me in the future.

Phase 2: I can do this.

It's still the early stages, but I am feeling determined. I am a smart person. Who says I can't crank this thing out in one week? Or even less!

Phase 3: Can I do this?

It's a few days later, and I am still reading books and articles relating to this horrible topic. When does it end? What is the point? Why am I doing this?!

Phase 4: So. Much. Information.

I now have a source list two pages long with over six pages of notes and ideas. Am I going too far?

Phase 5: Tippity, tappity
Okay, let's just start writing. Tippity tappity goes the keyboard, and before I know it, I've got a solid 50% of the paper written. Woohoo!

Phase 6: Tap... tap... tap...

Progress is slowing, and I still have several pages to go. I am now writing over 75% fewer words per day than before, and I am running low on ideas.

Phase 7: Just two more pages...

I'm in the home stretch now, and I will not sleep until I finish. Although I am starting to feel a bit delusional...

Phase 9: Add a comma, delete comma, add comma back in
Also known as proofreading, this is the stage where I am on my last nerve and want absolutely nothing to do with this topic anymore.

Phase 10: Good enough!

Has anyone ever finished writing a term paper and thought to themselves, "Wow, that is a great paper. I feel so accomplished."? I certainly haven't. After a lame attempt at editing my paper, I reach a point where all I can think is, "Yeah, that's good enough." Then I print it out, slap my signature on it, and throw it into my professor's mailbox.

And, of course, I then move on to the unofficial 11th phase:

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