Friday, August 23, 2013

The Pimmelman Story

Bryan has been bugging me to write about the Pimmelman story on the blog for a while now, so here it is.  This illustrates how it can sometimes be really difficult (and funny) raising a bi-lingual child when the child's grasp of the foreign language begins to surpass your own.

A few months ago, Dylan came home from kindergarten saying a new word - Pimmelman.  At first he just used it around the house, trying it out on different things like calling Oscar and Brady "Pimmelman," using it during his playtime by one Lego man saying "Pimmelman" to the other Lego man and whatnot.  It's not unusual for him to come home from Kindergarten with new words - usually it's from whatever lesson they're doing or a book that he read, so I kind of assumed that Pimmelman was the name of a character in a book (nilpferd, for instance, is one such word he came home with that we weren't familiar with.  It means hippopotamus).  But Pimmelman was cropping up so much in his daily ramblings that we finally asked about it.

He said with an impish grin that his friend Luciano taught him the word (Luciano is a friend from Kindergarten who seems to be the source of a lot of mischief) but he didn't know what it meant.

We were starting to get suspicious that this wasn't a savory word, but sometimes he just says nonsense words that don't mean anything just to be funny.  A few days later his friend Luis came over to play.  Luis came armed with the Pimmelman word and as they were playing in Dylan's bedroom I could hear them shouting "Du bis die Pimmelman!" "Nein, DU bis die Pimmelman!" and thinking they were really funny.  The boys were getting really riled up so I took them to the park to burn off some energy, and the whole way there they were pointing and laughing at people walking by saying stuff like "Da ist die Pimmelman!" (There is the Pimmelman!).

After a few hours at the park on our way home, we saw one of our neighbors unlocking his front door and Dylan and Luis stood at his fence chatting with him. They started off with the typical "I'm Dylan and this is Luis.  We're four years old." And one of them asked him his name.  He said "Christian" and Dylan pointed his finger at him and shouted "Nein, du bis die Pimmelman!" and he and Luis ran off laughing as hard as they could.  We then came up to a young man sitting in his convertible with his girlfriend eating ice cream and Dylan walks right up to his window and shouts "Hallo Pimmelman!"  I ushered both boys home a quickly as possible and scolded them for their rudeness.  Later that night, I tried looking it up in Google translate, but to no avail.

A couple of days later we were walking to Kindergarten and I was talking with another Mom when Dylan pointed at someone across the street and said "Pimmelman!" I told him to be quiet then I asked the other Mom if she knew what that word meant.  She explained that it was kind of like calling someone a "dick" or more precisely, "dick man."  It was at that moment I wished I could reverse time about one week and apologize to our fellow Hiltrup residents for my bi-lingual "pimmelkind."

As a sequel to this story, we are now trying to get him to stop saying "Du bis doof!" which means "You are stupid."  He knows he's not allowed to call someone or something stupid in English (he actually reprimands us if he hears us say the word stupid).  But he's figured out a work-around for this problem and thinks we won't know what he's saying if he calls something stupid in German.

Impish grin.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Good Old Fashioned German Tongue Lashing

A few posts ago, Bryan alluded to my run-in back in Borken with the grouchy, old German couple who insisted that Oscar was destroying their bushes (Oscar wasn't, by the way, until after they yelled at me at which point I made sure to always walk him by their house to do his "business").  I handled that situation by rolling my eyes and telling them to get a life (spoken in English - altercations fluster me to the point where my bi-lingual skills disappear almost completely).  But the larger question here is not necessarily why do the Germans dislike dogs and their owners, but why do they dislike just about everyone and are not ashamed to say it?

What is up with all the stranger-on-stranger yelling in this country?

Two typical German strangers on a street corner.

Bryan and I have a few terms for it; we're not sure which is better. Vote?

  1. PDS - Instead of PDA - Public Displays of Affection - the German version is PDS - Public Displays of Shaming
  2. GTL - Jersey Shore fans know this as the cast members' daily routine of Gym-Tan-Laundry, but here in Germany is is a "German Tongue Lashing"

I witness the PDS's on a weekly basis and am sometimes on the receiving end.  Most often, people get really riled up when others don't follow the rules when using the cross-walks and bike lanes.  This is a big issue with Germans, although I'm not sure why. Why does a complete stranger care if I started crossing the street towards the end of the green light and instead of being marooned in the median for 5 minutes I walk a little faster before the cars get their green light?  This happened to me recently and a man behind me (who chose to wait in the median for the next green light) shouted at me "Ah ah ah - I see what you are doing." How do you respond to this? I wanted to shout, "Mind your own F-ing business!" but instead just rolled my eyes and moved on. He was, after all, stuck in the median (sucker!) and I was on the other side free to go about my day.

If I am crossing the street and am close to the border of the bike lane (but not over it), is it really necessary to ding your bell at me incessantly and angrily shout at me to get out of your way as you zoom past? Some friends of ours recently got into an altercation about this and the angry bikers actually circled back for a second round of bickering after their initial pass-by.

Here's another example of PDS - someone stole the flower arrangement out of the planter in front of a restaurant by our house and for weeks afterwards there was a sign posted in the empty dirt that said "The flower arrangement was STOLEN!!!" When they finally replaced the flowers they updated the sign to this:

It says "A second try! The complete first flower arrangement was stolen!"  They even put it in a plastic sleeve to protect it from the rain.  Seeing this sign every day for about 6 weeks really bothered me.  Why couldn't they just get over it?  So I did what felt right - I stole the sign. I was secretly hoping they would put a new sign up that said "Our sign about our stolen flowers was stolen!"

I have actually had a few worse individual encounters with people than the Borken Dog-Pee Police, one of which still gets my blood boiling. Here's the story:

I was bringing Dylan to kindergarten one day and had Oscar with us for his morning walk.  Near the kindergarten is a vacant, overgrown lot (a rarity here in Germany where nearly every swatch of land is immaculately gardened) and therefore has become the de-facto pooping ground for the local dogs. It looks kind of like this:

Would you let your dog poop here?  Probably.  Would you let your kid play here? Probably never.
On this particular day we stopped for a minute and Oscar stretched his leash the entire 6-meters (about 20-feet) into the center of this untamed, overgrown area and he had is "morning constitutional" and we went about our way.  It seemed like a luxury to me to have him poop somewhere where I didn't have to pick it up.  Unbeknownst to us, another kindergarten mom was hiding behind a tree watching this whole scandalous act and pounced on us when we departed sans poop-in-bag.

She got right up in my face wagging her finger at me and screeching reprimands for what a horrible person I am for letting my dog poop in an area where - get this - all of the children play.  (I've never seen a single child in this area because a parent would be crazy to let them run freely in there.  I have, however, seen about two dozen various dogs taking a dump in there.) She noticed the poop bags that we have tied on to Oscar's leash and was actually commanding me to go back into this wooded area and pick up his poop.  She wanted to stand there with her hands on her hips while I did a walk-of-shame into the waist-high bushes to scoop Oscar's poop.

My German comprehension is good enough to understand everything that she was saying ("You should be ashamed of yourself.  Go back there right now and pick it up. I see you have bags.  It's disgusting that you let your dog poop where all of our kids play and run, etc."); however, I don't have a good enough command of the language to really reply and stand up for myself.  So Dylan, Oscar and I stood there shocked while she shouted and shoved her finger in my face and told me what a bad person I am.  I finally cut her off and said in German "I'm taking my son to kindergarten now, goodbye." It was the only thing I could come up with in German, when all that was running through my head was "Hey Lady - Go F#$% Yourself!" And we walked away leaving her simmering on the sidewalk. It was a rare instance where I did the right thing (walked away), but I soooooo wish I had done the wrong thing (cuss her out).

Dylan asked me what her problem was and I told him that she was just having a bad day and to forget about it.  He still talks about the mad lady who yelled at me about Oscar.

Here's the deal, German people - have you ever thought about a different confrontation style?  Had this woman approached me calmly after witnessing our dump-and-dash and mentioned that kids coming home from school might take a shortcut through these woods (as improbable as that is) and maybe I could have my dog defecate somewhere else, I would have received the remark probably with a bit of embarrassment at being confronted and would have told her I'd keep Oscar out of there from now on.  No hard feelings, we move on.  But instead, I'd basically do anything to know where she lives so I can save up a week's worth of his poop bags and dump them on her yard.

This is the thing I don't get about all of these GTL's and PDS's - a gentler approach would do everyone a world of good.  Maybe the general German public wouldn't walk around with sour looks on their faces and foreigners wouldn't feel "The Coldness" if people were just a little nicer to each other in their daily interactions.  Maybe if everyone didn't play Dog Police, or Cross-Walk Police, or Bike Police, or Kinderwagen Police, or Sidewalk Police and minded their own business, then people wouldn't immediately be on the defensive whenever someone tries to talk to them.

All of these GTL's have left me a bit jaded and frustrated (can you tell?), and I'm with Bryan - the next person to wag their finger in my face about basically anything is probably going to get 3 years of pent-up profanities. Let's just hope Dylan's not around to witness it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Breaking the Ice With Germans - You're Only 3 Hellos Away

If you aren’t familiar with the research I am doing here at the University of Münster, I am working on my PhD in Behavioral Finance.  I am fortunate enough to conduct a number of experiments here for my dissertation.  

If it would fit my dissertation topic (it doesn’t) I would do an experiment with a large group of people that I have tested myself with success (again, I am only a sample of one).  

I think that it takes 3 friendly hellos before the hello is authentically reciprocated.  Other people, both Germans and foreigners, have told me how unfriendly the store clerks and restaurant staff are here in Germany.  I will agree that it is not the same ‘customer experience’ at these places compared to America, but it may not have to be.  3 Hellos are all you need.  (This is sounding like an infomercial now.)   The three responses to the 3 Hellos are as follows:

Hello 1 = Strange look.  No response. 

Hello 2 = Strange look.  A tentative hello back. 

Hello 3 = Friendly smile.  Reciprocated Hello.  

It takes 3 friendly hellos for the store clerks to go from this ...

to this!
I have tried this at virtually every store we shop at in Hiltrup and the success rate is astounding.    I get friendly hellos at the grocery store from the people stocking the aisles.  That’s normal in America, but I know that’s totally not normal here.  Here is our top list of friendliest store/restaurant owners (in no particular order):

Ti’ Amo Döner/Pizza place.  The nicest people own this shop.  The owner always comes and talks to us to see how we are doing and gives special drinks and candy to Dylan. 

Ice Cream Shop – Again, really nice owner and waitresses.  Dylan has a crush on one of the new waitresses (Dana says that she is indeed really cute, so I definitely need to check it out myself…for Dylan, of course) and said upon seeing her, “I like her.  She’s very cute. Can I go pay for our ice cream now?”

Tapas y Vino – This is the Spanish restaurant right below our house, so this is always a great last stop on our date nights.  The owner is very nice and is Peruvian, so we get to speak Spanish with him while we are dining there.   We are so motivated to get caught up with our Spanish (that we learned in school) that we booked a month long trip to the southern coast of Spain next spring.  We will be able to test/maintain our Spanish afterwards at our downstairs restaurant. 

I issue a question and challenge to the other expats and Germans living here.  Are we weird for having a friendly relationship with restaurant/shop owners, or is this normal here?  If not, the challenge would be to test the 3 Hello system (definitely an infomercial now) to see if you get the same results.  Please let me know about your experiences. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Myth Buster - Is Germany Dog-Friendly? Not Really.

In (a very delayed) response to why Oscar isn’t more involved in our day to day activities, here is a brief look into our experience of having a dog here in Germany (for reference, see comment on this previous blog post).  I could be wrong and I can only speak from the voice of one person’s experience, but Hiltrup (and the NRW in general) doesn’t seem to be the friendliest place on earth for dogs.  Each day on my Oscar walk, I get to see lots of old, miserable people who I swear haven’t laughed since 1971.  I secretly want to see if somehow I could make them laugh, just to see if their face would break.   My mother-in-law had an old man growl at her on her last visit.  "He just literally growled at me as I walked past."  After a few visits here, she wasn’t surprised one bit and told us that she was used to "The Coldness."  Don't confuse this with our previous post about our nice neighbors who seem to be a minority of overly friendly, helpful people; whereas most other people here have an unreasonable and unjustified suspicion towards everyone and are quick to point out faults in strangers with sharp, gruff verbal confrontations on the street. 

I hate walking our dog because of "The Coldness." In Florida, Oscar was king.  Everyone in our neighborhood knew him by name and only knew me as "Oscar’s Dad."  Occasionally here, there are really friendly people who come up to me and want to know about Oscar.  Most of the time, people avoid me even to the point of crossing the street.  People veer away and sneer at me, and mothers grab their children as if I am walking a wild tiger down the street.  

The other alternative to walking Oscar down the Main Street in Hiltrup is to take the back streets.  This where these same old, grumpy people walk home from their shopping and perch themselves at the windowsill to make sure no one steps foot on their carefully crafted yards.  I am almost convinced that they age, the love they had given to their family and children is replaced by the love of their yard/garden.  

One day in Borken, Dana got yelled at so badly about Oscar peeing on some shrubs, pointing out one browning leaf out of literally thousands that was not a brilliant green, and that it was Oscar’s fault (presumably the only dog in the city!) even though they never actually witnessed his infraction. In these cases, we are never asked nicely to do something.  It’s always in the harshest 0-to-100 in 2 seconds way imaginable.  I could be wrong, but there seems to be a lot of anger behind these requests. Little do they know but prior to the tongue-lashing we rarely walked Oscar by this house, but after the old couple reprimanded Dana, she actually went out of her way to walk Oscar by their house more often so he would pee on their bushes (and maybe once or twice "forgot" to pick up his poop by their walkway). It was imminently satisfying.     

I find it ironic that the same yards that have signs of ‘No Dog Pooping Allowed’ are littered with cigarette butts and other trash. 
We respect the sign ... unless you yell at us.

If you couldn’t tell yet, I am at my breaking point.  My German level is ok enough and my anger of being talked to like that is high enough where the next unlucky person to growl, yell, or otherwise play the role of dog police is going to get 3 years of pent up frustration.  The response is going to be in German and in English.  It will likely be laced with expletives and otherwise ungodly words.  It will be relentless.  Hopefully, Dylan won’t be around for it.

We love living in Hiltrup.  Our dog-walking experiences are among the few negative experiences we can associate with living here.  So please, if you see me with Oscar in Hiltrup, don’t be afraid of us.  And definitely don’t yell at us…you could be the unlucky victim.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Nette Nachbarn (Nice Neighbors) in Germany

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now and was reminded about it after trying to fixing my flat bike tire.  The main point of this post is simply to say that we have awesome neighbors here in Germany! 

While living in Borken for the first 18 months of our time in Germany, we really became close to our neighbors and spent many evenings in the driveway talking and laughing.  Dylan would play with the other kids in our building and we would have a couple of beers, which aided my German speaking (my theory on this is that my German speaking ramps up with the first couple beers, peaks around 2 or 3, and begins the gradual decent afterward. At this point it still sounds good in my mind but does not to the person on the other end.  That’s usually the signal to go home.).  

My neighbor buddy Gerd, who is a retired worker from a large corporation, was always a. in a good mood and b. available to talk.  Gerd and his wife Julia were always looking out for us.  For example, my bike would always be fixed before I could get it to the shop because Gerd would see the flat tire in our car port (bike port in our case) and fix it.  I called him an angel because somehow my bike would be fixed overnight.   It was a miracle!  I was so impressed how friendly our neighbors were and how they would go out of their way to help us.   While the move to Münster was necessary for our sanity (I still get motion sickness watching the SprinterBus that I would take each day pass outside of the train station) we were so sad to leave Borken because of our neighbors.  I still really miss our neighbors there. 

After speaking to other “Auslanders,” I got the impression that our experience with neighbors was not typical, which makes sense.  Germans would naturally feel more comfortable living with other Germans.  I wondered how we would be received in Hiltrup. 

It didn’t take long to get introduced to our neighbors in Hiltrup and guess what - they’re really nice, too.  Everybody is friendly and nice to each other.  Most of the people go about their business here, so unfortunately, I haven’t found a Hiltrup Gerd here (he was one of a kind).  Instead, we have a female version of him - Gabby - who is about the same age and is just as nice.  She, too, is always in a good mood and always has time to chat.  She also leaves little gifts downstairs in our ‘kinderwagen’ just to be nice. 

In both Borken and Hiltrup, someone remembers to put sweets and chocolates outside our door on St. Nikolaus Tag (December 6th) for our kids.  Thankfully, we always forget about this tradition and are able to sneak the candy into a pair of shoes before the kids figure it out. 

One of the biggest aids of making our transition to Germany successful has been through the kindness of our neighbors.  It’s great knowing that our neighbors are looking out for us.  
Gerd (and Balu) - our good friend and bike angel.