Sunday, December 9, 2012

German Speaking Update - 2 Year Mark

I can’t believe it has been two years since we have moved to Germany.  We have been through a lot and have had so many experiences, both good and bad, during our time here.  I wanted to give you an update on how our German language skills are progressing.  The actual answer actually depends on what your reference point is.  If your reference point is my German a year ago or two years ago, than you would say my German is much better.  If, however, you expect to have a conversation with me in smooth German, you would think I have some sort of mental disability.    This was evident with my new colleague, Henning, who joined our group as a new PhD student back in March.  I was explaining a story or situation to our other colleagues one day and he couldn’t believe how sloppy my German was.  He was expecting something more, like a fluent German speaker (I am still not even close to that.) However, my other colleagues, who have known me since I got off the plane two years ago, were impressed how good my German was becoming. 

Personally, I am disappointed that my German is not as strong as it should be after two years.  On the other hand, I am content knowing that trying to become a fluent German speaker is like a climbing Mt. Everest.  Many try, very few succeed.  A really important part of speaking German to me is not being able to write an eloquent email or speak in perfect dialect.  It is rather to carry on a nice conversation with our neighbors when we see them, or make small talk with a nice old lady at the grocery store (grocery store lines here are typically really long and people stand very close to you often infringing on your personal space, so this is an important part of day to day life).   I can carry on with my hair stylist and chat with the friendly person on the train (though, I can tell you this is a rare occasion.  On a train, I am most likely to using my German to yell at someone or make a nasty remark at the unfriendly German commuters.) 

Unfortunately, communication gaps still exist.  Recently, as I was getting my haircut, the hair stylist asked me if I had just washed my hair in or with ‘Spül-something.’  Thinking that she was saying ‘Spülbecken’, or ‘sink’ in English I said, ‘No, I took a shower.’  She looked at me with a puzzled look on her face.  I thought about it for about 10 seconds and thought,  ‘Spülung means conditioner.  That would make more sense because she was feeling my hair.’  One minute after her original question, I finally answered correctly, ‘Yes, I used conditioner.’*

*Footnote:  I brought a recent Men’s Health magazine that had Liam Hemingsworth (from the Hunger Games) on the cover because I wanted his haircut and the picture could describe it much better than I could in German or in English.  I mentioned to the hair stylist that I was actually going to be on the cover of that magazine next month.  She believed me…until I told her I was kidding.   I am pretty sure it was a ploy to make me a return customer (it worked), but I felt pretty good about myself.   

It was a Friday, and my Friday German is much worse than my Monday German.  People at work already are aware of this phenomenon.  They know that come in ready to talk German at the beginning of the week, and some time after Wednesday, I slip back in to default English mode.  By that point, my brain doesn’t want to think more than it has to and we get by in English. 

I haven’t taken an official German course yet, but I now have a speaking partner that I meet with every Friday.  Opting for the ‘experiential’ learning option, I am constantly learning from mistakes.  There are a couple of reasons why I am choosing not to take a course and learn organically. 
1.     Because I am not learning from a textbook, my German comes out more naturally.   I didn’t say more accurately, but I am not translating English to German in my head and then speaking it.  When I talk to people who have learned German strictly form a class, the conversation sounds very forced.  It might be more accurate, but it seems much more choppy.  That means when I am on (having a good speaking and understanding day) it sounds really good.  But when it’s bad, it’s really bad.
2.     German classes are very theoretical.  I would be bored out of my mind learning that way.  Please give me some practical applications.  It’s just my personal preference on how I like to learn.
3.     I don’t have to really be fluent, so there is not a ton of urgency to become the best German speaker I can possibly be.  There’s this thing called a Dissertation that needs to remain the priority over German learning. 

One disadvantage of not taking an official course is that I can’t quantify my progress from experiential learning (i.e. take a quiz and receive a result to see how well I am learning.) Therefore, I have made my own unofficial progress checker.  My framework is really quite simple.   Here are the three levels of feedback to test your German speaking/conversation skills. 
After talking with someone for a few minutes, the German will ask you where you are from or you can hear over people speaking about you in a public place.  There are three (possibly four) classes of feedback. 

0. You are flat out an American. 
Definition: This means you don’t know any German and don’t care. 
Current Status: I graduated from this after about six months in Germany. 

1. They think you are either from England or Australia. 
Definition: You are clearly not a German, but you are attempting to speak German, but are clearly at the beginners level.  You are saying the words and are able to get by, but you are clearly not a native speaker.  People, in general, are happy that you are learning the language, but language gaps often persist. 
Current Status:  I have been stuck in this class for most of our time here and am trying to consistently make it (and remain) in the next level. 

2. They think you are Dutch.  
Definition: You are still not German, but you can speak the language well, but it is still not your mother tongue.  People from the Netherlands are incredible with their English and German speaking abilities.  Unlike Germany, it’s not just the well-educated or young people in large cities who can speak English.  Pretty much everyone in the Netherlands, young and old, rich or poor can speak really good (confidently) English.  For some reason, many German’s know the language really well, but aren’t nearly as confident speaking German as the Dutch. 
Current Status:  I have recently overheard some people on a couple of occasions referring to me as the ‘Hollander’ in their conversation after overhearing me speaking German.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s a huge compliment and a big step forward in my German speaking.

3. They think you are from Germany. 
Definition: Pretty much self-explanatory.  This is the ‘Mt. Everest’ step that I probably won’t ever hear (maybe Dylan will hear it before we leave) and I don’t have an answer for that right now if someone asked me.  Fortunately, I have a lot of time before I will have a snowballs chance to answer that question. 
Current Status:  Only in my dreams.

In the meantime, I will continue in the next months to solidify my transition from Australian to Dutch on my official German feedback scale.  I will update you again as I continue to learn from my experience. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Playing Man to Man- The First Week (and a half) With Two Kids

With Dana’s Mom leaving this past Monday after staying here for nearly one month, we were back to holding the house down on our own.   To sum things up the day she left I used my best Billy Packer impression (college basketball announcer), “The Foltice’s start the week in a MAN TO MAN.”  Already feeling the effects of sleep deprived, Dana didn’t think it was funny.  

We had grown accustomed to having everything cleaned, washed, and cooked for the last few weeks that it was tough adding those tasks back to the schedule.  I worked this week, so it was especially tough for Dana to step into her Mom’s and my accompanying role.  

In Germany, paternity leave works quite differently than in America.  In America, the Dad typically gets one to two weeks paid time off after their child is born, in addition to their normal vacation time.  In Germany, a new father can take a minimum of two months (not a typo), up to 12 months.  Most German men settle on three months.  The downside is that they get paid 67% of their normal wage, but from what I understand, it is tax free up to 1800 euros per month (a fairly livable wage for most German’s).  If you want to take less than two months off (my sweet spot would be 1 month…long enough to help with the baby and stay refreshed, but not so long that Dana kicks me out of the house.) you can only use vacation days.  Don’t feel too bad for us German employees that don't take Paternity leave, I receive 29 vacation days, plus holidays, so I have some extras to use. 

Nevertheless, I changed my mind from taking three months off back to not taking any time off about 20 times…almost as many times as Dana’s birth plan changed.   I felt like Fred Flintstone with the Great Gazoo coaching me, ‘Hey dum, dum.  Why don’t you take the three months off.  You may never get the chance to take this much time off again.  On the other hand, you will get really bored and you will still have to do most of the same work.  Tah, tah.’

Anyway, my final decision was to keep working.  

My other part time job for the last couple of weeks has been filling out paperwork, something that is a huge part of German living.  I thought that it was taking me so long because the forms are in German, but even when I have a native German speaker helping me, it took us almost four hours just to complete some of the forms.  We are, though, becoming quite proficient at organizing the mountains of paperwork.  This was evident when we went to Dusseldorf and took care of Brady’s passport and birth registration at the US Consulate.  We had everything we needed and zipped through the entire process.   It was a breeze.  Meanwhile, we could overhear the other American’s complaining that they couldn’t complete their paperwork because they hadn’t brought all of the required documents.  Listening to their complaining made us feel happy that we were living in Germany and we don’t have to overhear (often) other English people whining about stupid things.   I told Dana that these people must not have tried to get an Authentalstitel (Work Visa) yet.  That will really give them something to complain about. 

Just like playing man to man defense in basketball, communication is a very important component to being successful.   In our case, I forgot about this when we had Dylan, but our conversation topics become so strange when you have a newborn.  The top three conversation topics include:

1.     The color of Brady’s poop.
2.     The amount of Brady’s poop.
3.     The texture of Brady’s poop.  Was it hard or soft?

It isn’t until we have covered all three topics until we ask about each others day, how Dylan’s day at kindergarten was, or what we should do for dinner.

Our man to man was in top form Thursday night, when Dylan came down with croup yet again.  This is old hat by now, but it is always stressful and it always comes about an hour after we fall asleep.   I took over Dylan duty, trying to get him calmed down and breathing normal again.   Dana took over Brady duty, trying to keep the boys as separated as possible.  I stayed with Dylan until morning and Dana stayed with Brady in an opposite room (I think I got the better deal of the two as I was able to sleep more than her.) 

We have friends coming to visit us (last Friday) for the weekend and we have tried to limit their expectations down to pretty much zero.  Hopefully, they stay friends with us after this weekend is over.  Stay tuned.

Update:  Our friends Amy and Rob have come and gone this past weekend.  (We’ve been really busy, so my editor, Dana, hadn’t gotten around to making me sound somewhat coherent this week. I will post it anyway.)  In my humble opinion, I would say their stay was a success.  Of course, my definition of success is that we are still friends…not sure if they actually had a good time.  We set extremely low expectations before they came and they seemed to be okay.  It also helped that they have a (almost) 3 year old boy themselves, so they were okay with Dylan’s constant burping and farting (and subsequent laughing) all day long.  

UBC Münster Basketball game in the evening

Preussen Münster (3rd League) Soccer Game during the day

Soccer Game

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Catch Up Post - What You Missed in the Last Six Weeks

The last six weeks have been a blur for us.  I am sorry we didn’t take the time to post updates, but I remain fairly unapologetic because at the time, we really didn’t have much spare time to send blog posts.  Now that I have a few minutes, here is a quick update from our last six weeks. 

Monday, August 6

I started a two week, between semesters, vacation.  It was going to be our last vacation as a family with only one child, as Dana was about 8 months pregnant.    For practical and financial purposes, it was a stay-cation, meaning we were going to stay in Hiltrup for the duration of the vacation.  As the vacation time approached, I wrote out a list of stay-cation ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ that I planned on blogging about.  My ‘Do’s’ included, ‘workout each day, go to the driving range 3 times per week, extend my daily Bible reading/devotional time’.  My Don’ts included things like, ‘Sleep too long’ (a vacation problem of mine) or ‘Don’t check the stock market.’ I barely check my Hotmail or Facebook accounts, but I check the stock market incessantly.  It’s like heroin.  If I don’t know what the market is doing each day, I can’t stop thinking about it.

I digress.  Monday August 6th, started exactly as planned.   Take Dylan to Kindergarten in the morning, workout for an hour immediately afterward, hit a bucket of golf balls and work on my horrendous putting at the driving range, get washed and pick Dylan up…all before lunch!  I couldn’t have scripted it much better.  Vacation was off to a great start. 

Tuesday, August 7

Dana is now having a lot of pain in her leg.  Undeterred by her desire to spend a girl’s night out with her new English speaking friends in Münster and watch a screening of Footloose, she goes out for the evening. 

After a great time out with her friends, she can hardly walk up the stairs afterward.  This was a sign of things to come. 

Wednesday and Thursday, August 8-9

Dana is out of order.  She can’t move and remains in bed for the next two days.  Nurse Bryan handles the household chores, child care, and cooking.  These things were not on the ‘Do’ list. 

Friday, August 10

We asked the Doctor at Dana’s weekly appointment about the debilitating pain in her leg.  The Dr. said that this was normal pregnancy pain and that the baby had shifted downward and was probably sitting on a nerve, thus giving Dana a lot of discomfort.   She advised Dana to stay in the house and not have too much movement, if possible. 

Saturday to Thursday, August 11-17

Each day, Dana is in more and more pain.  She was in so much pain it brought her to tears just to go to the bathroom.  Like idiots, we wait to see the Dr. until her set appointment on Friday morning. 

Meanwhile, I have cycled through my repertoire of cooked meals and dinner ideas and we are back to the top of the order.  Dana was able to help me expand my cooking portfolio by instructing me from the bedroom.  I wonder to myself if she is doing this on purpose just so I can learn how to steam broccoli or make sloppy joes for the family.  Needless to say, this was not a fun week for anyone.  Insisting that I stick to my ‘Do’ list, I try to sneak out for an hour every other day.  Instead of working out or playing golf, I am so tired from my new job (respect to all of the house frau’s) that I choose to go outside take a nap instead.   

Friday, August 18

I will skip over the excruciating details of trying to get Dana down the stairs and into a taxi to get her to the Dr. in the morning.  Let’s just say it is something that Dana and I would like to both forget.   When we get to the Drs. office, it was quite evident that we needed some extra care (it was probably either the crying or me carrying her that tipped them off), so they told us to get to the Hospital as soon as possible.  We borrowed a wheelchair and I pushed her up the street to the Hiltrup Hospital. 

I left Dana at the hospital after checking her in, packed her luggage back at the house, and picked Dylan up from Kindergarten.  Again, these were not on my ‘Do’ list. 

I had essentially been on my own for Dylan for the last week and a half, but having Dana in the bedroom was really helpful.  I now found myself totally on my own without a cooking coach.  Worst of all, walking the dog a couple times a day proved to be a really long and arduous process.

Monday to Saturday, August 20-25

Dana remains in the hospital all week.  It has now been determined that she has a blood clot in her leg.  After a rough first trimester of pregnancy from January to March, having Shingles in May and June, she now has a blood clot.  We have been lovingly calling this ‘The Year of Dana.’  The risks of a blood clot during delivery are potentially extremely dangerous.  We are really scared.   On the bright side, this did increase my Bible reading and devotional time for both of us. 

I am officially back from ‘vacation’ this week and I am more stressed than when I left two weeks ago.   This entire week was a complete blur as each day I would take Dylan to Kindergarten in the morning, go to work until noon, pick Dylan up, visit Dana in the Hospital, get Dylan to take a nap, dinner, shopping, cleaning, blah blah blah.  Oh yeah, the dog.  He still needed to be walked.  It was exhausting.  I would try to do some extra work while Dylan was napping in the afternoon, but some days I would fall asleep during the process of trying to get Dylan asleep. 

Sunday, August 26th

Help is on the way!  Dana’s parents come for a visit.  This had been planned all year, and it couldn’t have been better timing.   Dylan and I picked them up at the airport in Düsseldorf around noon.  We made it to the Hospital around 5 pm and were able to celebrate Dana’s 22nd birthday in the cafeteria.  I had literally bought her gifts at the last minute (12:55 pm. earrings purchased, and 12:59 pm frame purchased for her Münster poster).  Both stores closed at 1:00 pm.   

The party goes on without a hitch.  Dana is feeling better and is starting to move around a lot more.  The Heparin shots for her blood clot seem to be helping. 

 Monday, August 27th

After 10 days in the Hospital, Dana is allowed to come back home for a week until her scheduled C-section on September 4th. 

Thursday, August 30th

Oops.  The Drs. at the hospital call and let us know that they mis-counted the days of her pregnancy and that the C-Section will be on September 11th.  They asked if the September 11th date would be ok because…you know, September 11th.  We were asked this repeatedly.  We figured it would be a good day to be born because there is a chance it would become an American holiday, so having no school or work every Birthday would be nice.  Besides, moving the C-Section back a week would put Dana past 38 weeks, which is much better than 37 weeks from a brain development standpoint. 

Friday, August 31st

Dana’s parents have been extremely helpful all week long.  Her Mom immediately stormed into action and soon had our place in tip top shape.  Dana’s Dad walked Oscar for me and helped me with some long neglected house projects.  It was a really nice week. 

I rented a wheelchair to push Dana around when we went out and about.  It was not a robust as Dylan’s kinderwagen and I nearly tossed Dana out of her chair at the first two bumps.  I still haven’t heard the end of those mistakes.  Sigh. 

We tried to the best of our limited abilities to show them a good time around Münster.  

Opa and Dylan

18th Century sidewalks + wheelchair with wife in it = fight

Pinkus Brauerei in Münster

Oma holding the fort down with Dylan

Monday, September 3rd

I went with Dana’s Dad back to Düsseldorf in the afternoon to get him checked into his Hotel and show him around the city (i.e. check out a couple of Breweries.)  He had an early flight the next day back home.  Dana’s Mom extended her stay until the end of the month.  With everything that was going on, she couldn’t stand to leave us as we were.  We were so happy she decided to stay. 

Tuesday to Sunday, September 5th – 9th

I go back to work for the remainder of the week and things are almost like normal.  This was to be short lived because by the end of the week, the C-section date was upon us.

Monday, September 10

We admitted Dana back into the Hiltrup Hospital on Monday morning and talked to the Doctors about her procedure the next day.  It was a little nerve wrecking, but mostly exciting.  The nurses were so happy to see Dana again.  How many hospitals have nurses that give you hugs when you come back? 
On her way to the Hospital...the only pregnancy photo on record

I get the call in my office in the afternoon from Dana…there has been a change of plans.  The blood clot had become bigger and they were moving Dana to the University Clinic downtown.  We reluctantly agreed that she should go to the Hospital where they have more specialists, but we were sad that the friendly nurses and Doctors were no longer going to help us through the delivery. 

Monday evening, I get a call from Dana, who is really upset.  Evidently, there had been another change in plans.  The blood clot, which started at her groin, was now so big it was almost down to her knee.  More stress, more uncertainly.  The doctors there now coming up with another birth plan.  Maybe they would do a natural birth.  Maybe they would wait until her water broke, whenever that happened.  But, maybe we still do a C-section.  What started as such a pleasant day had ended in disaster.  As the birth rooms at the University hospital was filled to capacity, she was put in the overflow room.  As friendly as the nurses were in Hiltrup, the nurses were cold and well, really unhelpful.  A lot had changed in one day. 

Tuesday, September 11

A lot of waiting today.  A lot of plan changes.  Maybe we have the baby today, maybe tomorrow.  At least the waiting for potentially two weeks option was off the table. 

The good news is that Dana’s blood clot was being treated more effectively.  She had not been taking enough medicine before.  Like I said, whether she liked them or not, she was in much more capable hands. 

Wednesday, September 12

There was finally room on the schedule to deliver.  It was going to be natural and it was going to be induced.  We had a 6 hour time frame where they could take Dana off of the Heparin and bring her blood back to normal. Also because of the Heparin, Dana was unable to take any pain killers or have an epidural.

The inducing started around noon.  Nothing really happened, as they just gave her a small dose.  We had quite an enjoyable afternoon, drinking coffee and talking in the cafeteria.  It was also nice to just be there and spend time alone with my wife.  We even asked ourselves, ‘Does this count as a date?’

To sum up my mental state at the time, I asked Dana this question as I was finishing the last few boxes of a crossword puzzle. 

Bryan:  Hey Dear, can you please help me with this.  Three letters for a popular deli sandwich, hyphenated.  I have so far, B (blank)  T.  
Dana:  (Looking up from her book)  Are you serious?
Bryan:  Yeah.  It’s two consonants, so I has to be a vowel.  BAT? BET? BIT? BOT?  BUT?
Dana:  BLT!  It’s BLT!  How did you not know that?
Bryan:  Oh yeah.  That fits!  Let’s pretend that I never asked that question.

The action really started at 4pm when Dana took a second dose of whatever the inducement pill was.  We were advised by the ‘Hebamme’ (a nurse trained in delivery) to walk around for an hour and come back with an update.   Our Hebamme was awesome, but she didn’t speak a lot of English.  As the delivery wore on, Dana ceased to understand any German whatsoever and it was up to me to be the translator.  So, that was my role in addition to sacrificing my hand (and its normal circulation) to be mutilated for the evening.    

The next four hours are graphic and personal, so I will ‘yada, yada’ up until 8:45pm…. Brady Robert Foltice officially arrives via natural birth!    He was 3.555 grams /7 lbs. 14 ozs.  and 51 cm long (20 inches).  He missed the 3.900 grams over/under set in Vegas, but that was probably a good thing for Dana.  The blood clot stayed in place, thank you Lord, and Dana resumed her blood clot medicine a few hours after her delivery. 
Family photo (kind of)

Dylan and Brady

Friday, September 14th

I received the call from Dana while I was at work to come pick her up.  She was being released from the Hospital.  She is quickly recovering from her delivery and both she and Brady are doing well.  Oma is staying around until September 24th and things are started to get back to normal, albeit with a new baby in the house. 

This pretty much catches you all up with the latest happenings.  I intend on doing better with the frequency of blog posts. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Having a Baby in Germany

At the time of writing this, I'm 33 weeks pregnant with Baby #2. This time around is obviously different for several reasons: Primarily we're having this baby in Germany and secondarily we're not bombarding you with obnoxious weekly photos of my ever-growing belly bump making perhaps the most narcissistic and boring blog posts ever. (Who's idea was that last time, anyway? Surely not mine!) FYI - with Dylan we diligently took a baby bump photo each week.  With this baby we have taken exactly 0 baby bump photos.  When he's older maybe I can pass off a few of Dylan's as his and he won't know the difference.

But I've been asked by several people to write about the differences between prenatal care in the two countries, so I'll do my best although I have a pretty severe case of "baby brain" and have been pretty foggy-headed since around month #4 so keep that in mind.

At first I wasn't really impressed with the Frauenarzt (OBGYN) because the one I went to in Borken refused to speak to me in English.  Now, I know that being in a foreign country means speaking a foreign language and I don't ever presume that someone must to speak to me in English ... BUT when you're at the doctor who's about to do a really personal physical exam and you politely ask him in German if he speaks English and he replies (in perfect English, no less!) "Yes, but we're in Germany, so we speak German here," you're going to think this guy is a total jerk, right?  I mean, I'm there for a medical exam not a language lesson, so my thought was if he can make it any less awkward for me while I disrobe and lay on an exam table for him, then he should probably help me out and speak in English.  The other reason I didn't really like this guy is that for every question I had about how my reproductive system was functioning, he chalked it up to "Stress."  I began to feel that it was a cop-out answer for him not wanting to explain things to me in either language.  But, once I got pregnant and he started earning a lot more money from my insurance company, he got much friendlier and lo-and-behold the English came forth much easier for him.  About mid-way through the pregnancy we moved and I switched doctors.  I really like my new Frauenarzt and she has no problem speaking to me in fluent English, thank goodness.

There have been two big differences that I've noticed with the prenatal care. First, at every monthly (and now bi-weekly) doctor's appointment, they do an ultrasound.  It's really awesome to get to see the baby's growth each month and even though they don't always print out a picture (that costs extra, I think), it's very reassuring to wrap up the appointment with a private screening of what the little squirmer is doing in there.

The second big difference is that I always felt like in America the nurses really put the fear of God in you about potential yet extremely rare birth defects and complications and put a lot of pressure on you to do a bunch of extra expensive tests.  The nurses here definitely brought up all of the tests as an option, but I just didn't feel like the pressure to have the tests was the same.   And they certainly didn't use scare tactics that the US nurses did who would go on a big lecture about a rare birth defect and make me terribly afraid then slip in at the end "Now, this test isn't covered by your insurance and costs $400.  Should we go ahead and do it?"

I've also had to hire a Hebamme or "Midwife" for assistance after the baby is born.  This Hebamme will come to the house several times after the baby is born and help me out with any questions about feeding, weight gain, sleeping and other post-baby issues.  I meet with the Hebamme for the first time next week to go over all the details.  I, thankfully, was recommended one here in Münster who speaks fluent English.

I also happened to take a tour of the hospital closest to our house where I plan to have the baby (unless he comes more than 4 weeks early, in which case I'll need to go to the larger University Hospital a little further away) and although I probably only understood about 15% of the hour-long presentation by the head doctor, I at least know which floor of the hospital to go to when the day arrives.  I also learned that most of the on-staff Hebammes and Krankenschwesters (midwives and nurses) speak some English, so that comes as quite a relief also.

Here's a "baby bump" photo.  Dylan and I were waiting for the bus to go to Kindergarten.