beefjerky, Germany, Light Crap

A Difference of Taste

I still like to write people letters occasionally. And generally, if you receive a letter from me, it will include a clipping from a magazine or the weekly grocery store circular. When I lived in Germany, my favorite clippings were in the weekly Angebote at Rewe or Edeka. Most of the stuff was standard and of little interest, but the pictures of meat were exactly that: meat in the raw.

Big slabs of Kalbsbraten bleeding Schweinenackenbraten, pasty Hähnchenbrustfilets, or flaccid Puteschnitzel. They had it all – and all was presented rather matter of fact. Sure, there’d be the occasional decoration propped nearby, like the slices of pepper next to that floppy chicken breast below, but most of it was blissfully unadorned.


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Light Crap

Like Chips Passing in the Night


Yes, this image is copyrighted. But it depicts the problem at hand.

“Have a happy fourth of July,” the checkout lady said as I packed up my chips and beers and other fixings for the fourth.

But I just wonder how that could happen the way things are.

I was going to write a clever blog about one of the key differences between life in the US and Germany. But I’ll just get straight to the point and then to bed.

In Germany most bottled beers come in half liters.
Which is good.
Most chips and pretzels come in small bags.
Which is not good.

In the US, most bottled beers come in tiny bottles.
Which is not good.
Most chips and pretzels come in bags you could use to suffocate an elephant seal.
Which is good.

I just thought that this was interesting.


Light Crap

Maybe it all stays the same

There was a woman in my old neighborhood. And you know how people start to look like their pets?

Actually, scratch that. There were a whole bunch of people in my old neighborhood.

And it’s cliché, but it’s true.

You bike to work every day for like four years. And it’s just a 10 minute bike ride, but everyone has a routine. They walk the dog every morning and stop at the bakery for a croissant. They get on their bike after a night at the bar and wobbly ride home. They have their living room on the street side and you can look in on their daily life as you bike past. They stand at the bus stop with their kids and wave as you go by.

In fact, you join them, become part of the local fauna – the creepy guy on the trashy bike with the big yellow saddle bags who’s always staring at everyone.

And it’s all like Sesame Street in your mind and it never changes.

When I got here I wanted to make up stories about all of these people I saw. And then I wanted to go and introduce myself to each one and find out the real deal and then write about that.

I never did that.

But there’s one person I still think about. The little old lady with the brittle dog on plinky glass legs.

Germany, Light Crap

Throwing it all away…

When I arrived in Germany, Spermüll was God’s gift. As a newly arrived ex-pat working for an NGO, I had little cash to spare furnishing a home. And so I looked forward to every third month, when people dip down into their basements to find that old Ikea cupboard missing a handle. Or that bookshelf that your second child colored on in a fit of jealous rage.

You take and drag all that bulky waste (translation of Spermüll) to the curb and the next morning trash trucks come and whisk it all away. For those of us living on a non-profit wage, it was an opportunity to clash with Eastern European van drivers to scavenge choice articles.

But at some point (namely when I found a 3-foot tall garden gnome), it got old. By that time I had furnished my home with about 40% trash – mostly Ikea detritus still in good condition, but for a few dents, scratches or smells. But each successive Spermüll seemed like a bigger and bigger waste.

There seems to be no middle ground here. There are no garage sales really – I’m uncertain if it is illegal or what the deal is. There are flea markets and people will try to unload old things there, but then they’ll look at that Ikea shelf missing a handle and charge roughly 90% of what they originally paid for it. So the motivation is not necessarily on cleaning out the basement, but rather making some cash. Then if it doesn’t sell, well, then just drag it out to the curb and it disappears in the morning.

This is a problem (as you can see from the short film above). Every week, nearly every day, some neighborhood in Germany is having Spermüll.  It bothers me to think that every day, somewhere there are orange trucks loading up all of that perfectly good furniture to be taken to the dump… Continue reading

Germany, Light Crap

It’s still funny, Freund.

I’m not sure who did it first. Our name anyway. It’s German. It’s spelled ‘Freund’, properly pronounced ‘froind’, but our family pronounces it ‘frend’. Throughout my youth we were confronted with frequent misspellings and a barrage of jokes. Actually, it was only one. Exactly one. The same one, every time.

This is the image you find when you search 'fat guy cigar office chair'

This is the image you find when you search ‘fat guy cigar office chair’. Found here.

One day I drove to the dump in our old rusty Chevy with the old bumper sticker ‘I got the crabs at Durty Nelly’s’ (which I never understood until much older)  to drop off the trash. You had to stop in at the office and let them know you were bringing trash. On this particularly brisk, fall day a cute girl I knew from school who never looked my way was working.”Freund (friend),” I said sheepishly.

Behind her was a large man in striped overalls leaning hard into a creaky office chair. He had a couple chins that folded into his chest as he leaned back. His lips hung loose like those people who smoke too many cigars and once they get to the nub, it just sort of hangs there from their calloused lower lip. If I remember right, he even had some burn marks on his shirt from when he probably fell asleep smoking.

Anyway, at that instant this comic genius decided to take a moment from ogling the girl at the desk and rasped out, “Huh, hey friend, are you my friend? Wa huh, huh, huh, *hack*cough* heh, heh.”

The joke went the same way, every time, without fail. And the witty reply was always the same, “yes.”

Beyond that we would have to spell out our name for every phone call or any time we went to the bank. F-R-E-U-N-D, but pronounced ‘frend’. I thought that things would change upon moving to Germany.

Obviously I’d have to get used to pronouncing my name correctly, but there would be no more spelling it over the phone. No more confusion with the mail. No more explaining, “Nope, I don’t know when they changed the pronunciation.” Just smooth sailing.

Granted I like the fact that we pronounce our name this way against all logic of spelling, but I did think it would make things much simpler. But I’d never expected the hospitality I’d encounter here. While most people would read it properly as the German word that it is, any time I went to a bank or had any other verbal interaction and said, “Mein Name ist Freund, wie Freund,” they would write down F-R-I-E-N-D.

It seems the obvious – and very considerate – conclusion was always something around, ‘Oh, he’s American, so he must be just trying to fit in. Even though he says his name is Freund, it must be spelled the English way.’

And so now, four and a half years after moving to Germany, I still find myself having to spell out my last name. Although fortunately, I do not have to deal with the jokers anymore. No one here bats an eye.


Light Crap

Mexico via Yugoslavia


Completely rad.

I’m used to being the dominant culture in the room. Well not me personally, but coming from the US, I’ve become accustomed to seeing our influence peddled everywhere. When I’m in a multi-culti group, the language usually swings to English. When I talk about where I’m from, people instantly ask, ‘Yeah, but which state?’ (while few ask any follow-up questions to my friends from Saskatchewan*).

Looking around me in Germany, I see things like the outdoor brand Jack Wolfskin**, which seems to pull a Jack London – White Fang mashup and then adds the word ‘skin’, which gives me the jeebies in a John Wayne Gacy kind of way. Or just look back to Karl May, who caused generations of German boys and girls to fantasize about the Wild West. You don’t have to spit far to see the US popping up on the radar – in good and not so good ways.

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This is just a test

So Getty Images (sorry the link goes to the German one – usability peeve – let me decide where I want to be, don’t do it for me, jerks) has done something pretty amazing. So if you go to their site, you can jump around through their photos and then, rather than having to license to use them on your blog or whatever, you can use it for free if you use their code. I’m just trying this out, but great to see a company realizing that people will likely get their hands on creative for free anyway, so why not take credit for it where you can? And then figure out where you value-add and charge for that. Although, curious to see how this works long-run.

Let’s see, this is what came up when I searched ‘walrus coffee’.