A Place For My Stuff

I finally got around to viewing some of the commercials from this year’s Superbowl, and this one just left me feeling unsettled.

About five months after I got back to the US, I talked about the level of insanely overwhelming choice in grocery stores here.   At the time, I was still shopping the way that I did in Germany- one or two canvas bags of food at a time.

Since then, I’ve expanded my shopping a little bit, but not very much.  I still carry canvas bags into the grocery store, but sometimes I take plastic bags away with me also.  My grocery habits are more expansive than they were while I lived in Germany, but they’re still nowhere near what they were before I lived overseas.   I’ve actually taken photographs of every load of groceries I’ve purchased in the past sixteen months, so maybe I’ll come back to that in a future post.

Since I got back, I’ve gotten a car and an apartment and all the trappings of American life-  I’ve purchased a television and a vacuum, a microwave and a toaster.   I’ve populated my apartment with furniture, although a large percentage of that furniture came from Ikea.

Here’s the thing, though-  I’ve never felt truly comfortable with simple accumulation.  Those who have known me for years know that I had a slightly anti-stuff mindset even before I lived overseas.  I’ve always gone through cycles of decluttering, and of getting rid of stuff.  My aversion to just accumulating belongings is borderline pathological.

Perhaps that aversion is part of why the Rocket Mortgage commercial leaves such a terrible taste in my mouth.  It’s more than that, though.  This commercial represents everything that I think is wrong with America’s consumer-driven, greed-centric culture.

“Buy a house so you can fill it with more stuff so you can support the economy so more people can buy houses that they need to fill with stuff.”    Lather, rinse, repeat.

Maybe I’m in the minority here, but that cycle of buying and buying and buying doesn’t make me feel good.  Even without getting into the environmental effects of this cycle, or the politics of finance, it just feels skeevy somehow.   Buying to support buying to support buying feels so pointless, and basing a business model on the idea that other people should spend their money that way… well that just seems evil to me.

What do you think, readers?  Is there a Mr. Burns type behind this whole endeavor?  Or am I just overthinking it?

[Retro Post] Stuff That Makes Americans Go “Bwuh?!”

Editor’s Note: What follows is a post which was completely written in April of 2014.  For some reason, it languished in my drafts folder for the next twenty months until I just noticed it now.  I probably didn’t feel like it was finished, and I assumed I’d come back to it later.   It’s possible that some of these observations found their way into other posts, but I wanted to post this entirely in its original form anyway.  This is a snapshot of my mindset roughly halfway through my time living in Germany.  Here we go!


After more than two years in Germany, it’s easy for me to forget just how much I’ve adapted to life in Germany.  These things are all normal facts of every day life for me, but I never experienced them in the United States.

Unexploded bombs are a regular occurrence. Several times a year, I see news articles about how U-Bahn service in this city or that city had to be suspended because a crew of workmen found another unexploded bomb left over from World War II.   Typically, they either contain it or do a controlled detonation to dispose of the ordinance and then life goes on as normal.  This happens so often in Germany that nobody thinks it’s unusual.  I think it’s amazing though.

You don’t have to try the door handle of a toilet stall to know if it’s occupied.  The stall doors here have color markers built into the latch similar to what you see on airplanes that go red when the stall is occupied and are either green or white when it’s free.  It’s a tiny, simple thing, but it’s absolutely genius and I will desparately miss it when I get back to the States.

Almost everyone brings their own canvas bags to go grocery shopping.  Canvas bags are a crunch-granola thing in the United States-  most grocery shopping in the US involves leaving the store with a slew of plastic or paper bags.  Here, the stores sell the canvas bags at the register and actively encourage you to bring your own.  Additionally, there are no grocery baggers here-  when you ring up your groceries at the cashier, you have to turn around and put it all in the bag yourself.  I love the idea of canvas bags, but I’m really looking forward to having a bagger again-  I always feel like I’m in a panicked rush to bag all of my food before the next person’s groceries are slid down the ramp by the psychotically fast cashier.  Grocery shopping should not be that stressful!

Ice cream is perfectly normal almost every day, even in January.  It’s slightly harder to find ice cream in the winter-  many of the Eis stores close up shop for the winter or change to other products (like crepes!).  There’s always a few places to get ice cream though, even in the dead of winter, and Germans love their ice cream so much that I’ve seen a man eating ice cream at -18C.  That’s right around 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Walking in the bicycle lane makes me uneasy.  The sanctity of the bike lane is very important here, because bikes are used much more commonly than in most places I’ve been to in the United States.  Most people will ring the bell on their bikes to alert you that you’re in the way, but not everyone is that nice.  Some will just run you down.   Incidentally, bicycle bells are standard equipment on most new bikes here, for exactly this reason.   I’ve gotten so used to this aspect of life here that if I walk in the bicycle lane, I feel skittish.

Late night television commercials border on pornography.  Short and annoyingly repetitive commercials appear on broadcast television for various phone sex lines.  This doesn’t happen on every channel, but it’s always on at least one channel after 11PM.  I would include a YouTube example, but the little jingles can be annoyingly catchy and I’m not cruel enough to earworm anybody with that today.

Is there anything about where you live that non-locals would find surprising?

Throwback Thursday: Repatriation day plus one year.

A lot of my friends do this thing on Facebook called Throwback Thursday, where you post a really old photograph of yourself, but I realized a few days ago that this Thursday would be the first of October.  It’s been precisely one year since I left Germany to start my life over here in South Florida.

In that time:

  • I spent just over four months living in my brother’s spare bedroom which was also his office after my return.  I’m still very grateful for his hospitality-  by staying there, I was able to find an apartment on my own terms.  When I moved to Germany, I had to live in a hotel for three weeks while I searched for my apartment.  This was significantly more relaxed.
  • Soon after my arrival, I inexplicably won a Bose SoundLink Mini in a contest from my web hosting provider.  Thanks, DreamHost!
    soundlink
  • On my first weekend back, I attended the wedding of a man I’ve known for more than twenty years now.
    wedding1
    I brought Amelie as my date.   I first met Amelie a few years ago, and we officially became a couple during my last year in Germany.  This was the first time we went to a wedding together.  Amelie wore a Valentino dress, and she looked awesome.
    valentino  wedding2
  • I reacquainted myself with Tijuana Flats.  Amelie introduced me to Shake Shack.
  • I relearned the convenience of grocery shopping whenever the heck I feel like it instead of having to do it before 8pm on weekdays.
  • About a month after my return, I purchased a car.   My previous car was sold when I moved to Germany, so I was starting from scratch.  After much deliberation, I decided on a Mazda 3 hatchback.  This decision proved beneficial later, when Amelie and I bought all new furniture for my apartment at Ikea.  The storage in this hatchback is insane.
    mymazda3
  • Amelie and I have gone to many, many concerts since my return, including some long time favorites of mine (Information Society, Kraftwerk, Weird Al Yankovic) and some favorites of hers (My Morning Jacket, Barenaked Ladies, Paramore, Pixies) as well.
    Kraftwerk Information Society
  • During the late January trip to California to see Information Society, Amelie and I briefly visited with my old friend Miri in the Sacramento area.  Less than six months later, Miri took her own life.  That sucks.
    lastcall
  • Back to fun stuff!  Amelie and I have also been to six theme parks in South Florida since my return-  all four Florida Disney parks, and both of the Universal Studios parks.  We are now Disney annual pass holders, because it’s so close!
    homer
  • On the fifth month, I moved into my own apartment, a one bedroom affair boasting 617 square feet of space.  It’s 150% the size of my apartment in Regensburg, yet somehow feels smaller.  This can probably be accounted for by the actual kitchen, which does eat up a bit of space.   Totally worth it, though.
  • I spent five weeks in Japan for work, and I’m only about a quarter of the way through posting those photographs.  This was the 27th country outside of the US that I have visited.
  • Work also sent me to Utah for a week.  It’s not as fascinating as Japan, but it’s still pretty darn scenic.
  • Edit: I didn’t realize this until I hit publish, but this is the 350th post on this blog.  I thought that was momentous enough to warrant a post-publish edit!

So the running total for this last twelve months:  One wedding, one funeral, one new country, three out of state trips, and lots of concerts and shows.  I wanted to write a great deal more, but one thing that I’ve noticed in the last year is that time goes much, much faster here.  I often feel like I don’t have enough time to write everything that I want to write.  In Germany, it felt like I had a great deal more time to write and so forth.

This doesn’t mean I’m not having fun, though.    While I was scrolling through my phone’s camera roll for this post, I noticed two things:  First, that I’ve taken better than five thousand photos in the past year, just on my phone.  That’s not even including the ones on the big camera that I take traveling.   I take a LOT of photographs.  I think I may have an addiction.  Second:  In a huge percentage of the pictures, I’m with this girl, and I’m smiling like a fiend:

amelieandi-1

That’s because I have a great time with her. She’s the Bonnie to my Clyde, and I love her to bits.  I don’t usually talk about her much here in great detail, but anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while has seen her name and her picture lots of times.

Last October, I came back to Florida.  It wasn’t until I was with Amelie again that I was truly home.

amelieandi-2

So what have you been up to for the last twelve months?

Vaping, Flavored Water, and Too Much Damn Choice

strange-return-itchy-feet

It’s been just over five months since I moved back to the US, and the wonderful Itchy Feet comic above is spot on.  I feel like I’m mostly re-acculturated, but there are still things that take me aback.

For example, the Vaping trend is out of control here.  Before I moved back,  I had no idea what Vaping was, but it’s everywhere now.   There are stand-alone stores, and an entire industry has popped up around electronic cigarettes.  The technology has evolved to the point where people are charging their cigarettes with USB ports and changing out modules to reduce the amount of nicotine or flavor their smoke with applewood or whatever.  Some people claim they want to use this to quit smoking altogether, but this seems to me like the opposite of that.  To me, this looks like they’ve simply designed a more efficient nicotine delivery system.

That’s not the only trend that surprised me.  There has also been an exponential growth in the flavored water market.  I’m not talking about the pre-bottled flavored waters that I was used to before I left.  No, this is an entirely new market segment filled with people who simply can’t bear the taste of regular old water.  When I was a child, we had Hawaiian Punch and Crystal Light, and those brands still exist.  But there’s also all of this now:

somanywaters

At least we’ve decided as a people to hydrate properly.

For the first four months I was here, I still shopped for groceries as if I were still living in Germany.  This was partly because I was living with my brother and I didn’t have a full kitchen or pantry to fill, but some of it was simply habit.  I had spent three years shopping with my own canvas bags and only buying as much as I could carry in one go because I would have to walk it back home.   Now that I have a car with a hatchback, my quantity has increased, but I’m still not shopping quite like a person who lives here.  I blame Cheerios for that.

You heard me.  I said I blame Cheerios.

When I left, there were three Cheerios flavors.    There was Honey-Nut Cheerios, Multi-Grain Cheerios, and plain old infants-love-’em plain flavored Cheerios.  Not so, now.  If you look closely in the picture below, you’ll see Multi-Grain with peanut butter.  You’ll see chocolate cheerios.  There’s apple-cinnamon Cheerios and Cheerios with protein added.  In one store, I counted twelve separate varieties of Cheerios.

The breakfast cereal aisle has become the Cheerio-verse.  When did this all become so complicated?

cheeriomultiverse

Grocery shopping in the US has always been an exercise in overwhelming choice-  remember when I posted the picture of the peanut butter and jelly aisle?  It’s gone over the top, now.  Even something as simple and ordinary as Matzos suddenly has at least a dozen possible varieties.

::sigh::

somanymatzos

I also still feel like I’m boiling inside my skin any time the temperatures crests above 75 degrees Fahrenheit (or 24C,) but that’s a gripe for another post.

What’s your favorite breakfast food?  Is it double-chocolate protein Cheerios?

Movie Ratings In Germany

Last week, I went to see the remake of RoboCop.   The movie itself wasn’t bad, as remakes go, and I think it was a pretty fun flick.  That’s not what this post is about.

After the movie, I had a discussion with a bunch of people about the movie, and one of them asked about the rating-  apparently some of my friends hold the viewpoint that RoboCop with a PG-13 rating instead of 1987’s R rating just isn’t acceptable.  Never mind that the things you can do with a PG-13 in 2014 would make an R from 1987 toss its cookies.  That’s not what this post is about either.

The exact question posed was, “Was the rating over there the same as here?”  This, I immediately realized, would be an excellent topic for a blog post.

In the US, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has been giving films those familiar ratings since 1968: G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17.   In Germany, there’s a similar organization, the Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft, or FSK.  The FSK classifies films under the following categories for both movie theaters and television broadcast:

FSK_ab_0FSK_ab_6FSK_ab_12FSK_ab_16FSK_ab_18

  • Ohne Altersbeschränkung (FSK 0): This means no age restriction.  This is pretty much the same as a G rating in the US.
  • Freigegeben ab 6 Jahren (FSK 6): No children younger than 6 years admitted.   This is similar to the PG rating in the US.
  • Freigegeben ab 12 Jahren (FSK 12): Children 12 or older admitted, and children between 6 and 11 only when accompanied by parent or a legal guardian.   Films in this category can generally be broadcast on TV all day. This is similar to our PG-13 rating.
  • Freigegeben ab 16 Jahren (FSK 16): Children 16 or older admitted, and nobody under this age is admitted.  This rating can be broadcast on TV only after 10 PM unless approved by special permit or re-edited to secure an FSK12 rating.  This is similar to our R rating.
  • Keine Jugendfreigabe (FSK 18): “No youth admitted”, only adults.  This is the local equivalent of the NC-17 rating in the US.   Movies with this rating can be broadcast on TV after 11 PM. However, nudity isn’t all that unusual on broadcast television here, especially later at night.

All the above ratings also contain the phrase “gemäß §14 JuSchG” (in accordance with §14 of the Youth Protection Law), which means that they are legally binding.  This differs wildly from the MPAA’s ratings, which are merely recommendations and are not actually legally binding.

Oh, and RoboCop has an FSK12 rating here, in case you were curious.

If you were a movie, what would your rating be?