An Obligatory Rambling Thanksgiving Post

For my Thanksgiving post, I had the brilliant idea to share some of my favorite Thanksgiving joke images today. Then I checked and sure enough, I had the exact same idea during NanoPoblano 2016. Damn it, Past Steven, why don’t you ever leave some of the good ideas for Future Steven to execute?

Since my first idea for a Thanksgiving post has already been done, I’ll have to come up with something else. Perhaps a tale of the first Thanksgiving.

No, not that one. Not the one with the folks with the buckles on their hats dining with the locals in their new homeland. I also don’t mean my favorite Thanksgiving story, the one with the dog and bird making all the food.

As an aside, can we talk about this for a second? Who ever thought it would be a good idea to have a dog and a bird create a feast for the entire group? For that matter, who thought that buttered toast and popcorn was a proper feast? (Full disclosure: childhood me thought that buttered toast and popcorn looked absolutely delicious, and in my tiny brain this meal was the height of luxury for many years.)

No, I’m actually talking about my first Thanksgiving in Germany. A quick recap for those who haven’t read this blog from the beginning: I started the blog in late October of 2011, and moved to Germany on November 11th of that year. This meant that when Thanksgiving happened two weeks later, I was alone in a new country. I hadn’t really made friends yet, and I was only just getting to know my coworkers. I was even still living in the hotel, because I didn’t find an apartment there until the following week.

What I did have was an overabundance of preparation- I had Internet-stalked the local English speaker’s Stammtisch, and had pre-emptively become Internet-friends with a few local folks. (A Stammtisch is basically any group of people that meets regularly, often in a pub. The literal translation is “regular table.” The shared topic of a Stammtisch can be absolutely anything- a photography Stammtisch, a bridge-player’s Stammtisch, you name it. Think of it like meetup.com, but in Germany and without the clunky website.)

Because I had started the conversation with other people almost before I arrived in Germany, I managed to score an invitation to a Thanksgiving dinner being held at a local Irish pub called Murphy’s Law. (This Irish pub became one of my most frequent haunts for the three years I lived there, but that’s another story.)

Murphy's Law

The pub is all downstairs, and it feels like it’s carved out of a cave. It has a front area with a small amount of space ringing a U-shaped bar and a second much larger room which left empty unless they’re very busy. I was guided to this room on arrival, and I was seated with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I really only knew one person in the room at that point, and that one only just barely, so this was socializing-under-fire.

The dinner began, and it was a warm and friendly affair. I was the only American at my table, so I found myself acting as an impromptu American ambassador. I answered lots of curious questions from the others about traditional Thanksgiving customs back in the US. I wish I could remember some of the questions they asked, but this was nine years ago and I foolishly didn’t blog about it at the time.

Someone from the nearby US Army base in Hohenfels was at one of the other tables, and they had brought an American delicacy to be shared with the group: Twinkies.

I do love a traditional Thanksgiving Twinkie.

Speaking of Thanksgiving traditions, since I’m in my new apartment here in Arlington, I’ve managed to score a can of jellied cranberry. It just isn’t a proper Thanksgiving meal if I can’t see the ripples from the can on the side of my cranberry, you know? Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure one of the questions I was asked at the German Thanksgiving dinner was about cranberry sauce. I have a vague recollection of someone being astonished that this was a food that Americans actively seek out and enjoy.

I totally just grabbed the first cranberry jelly image I found on the Internet for this.

My family also has another tradition that is incredibly silly, now that I think about it. We would always have multiple pies after dinner, so you could choose which one you wanted to eat.

That’s not the silly part. The silly part is that one of those pies is a chocolate pudding pie. It is literally just chocolate pudding in a pie crust. With a little bit of whipped cream, sure, but it had no structure after it was sliced. It was just loose pudding in a pie crust.

This image was also stolen from the web, but it looks almost exactly like the chocolate pudding pies I am used to having.

Does your family have any unusual Thanksgiving traditions?

47/52 (and 26 of 30!)

Q&A Time, Part 3!

A short while back, I posted an ‘Ask Me Anything’ post.  Some folks used that as a chance to ask for advice in advance of their upcoming travels to the area, and I tried to answer what I could of those in regular e-mail.  Some of the remaining questions are really interesting, so I’ve decided to do a series of “You asked, I answer” posts.  Let’s get started!

Here’s a question from Rarasaur:  Is there any object (not food related, that’s too easy) that can make you homesick?

I thought about this one for a while, and my answer is no, not really.  I put very little personal investment into things.    Everything I own right now is either in a 5×10 storage unit in Florida, or in my 45 square meter apartment here, and neither one of those locations is anywhere near full.  People can make me homesick.  Flavors can make me homesick.  Sometimes even smells or songs or the  memory of what something feels like can make me homesick.

But an object?  No.  Just no.

Here’s another question from Rarasaur: Is there a habit or custom that you’ve picked up in Germany that you’d take home with you forever when you come back to the States?

There are a few, I think.

I suspect that my consumption of consumer goods and my handling of trash and waste will be forever altered by my time here.

I take my shoes off at the door of my apartment now.  That’s not specifically a German custom, but I didn’t do it before I moved here and I’ll probably keep doing that.

I carry canvas bags to the grocery store with me now because you pay for the plastic bags you need at the grocery here.  I’ll probably keep doing the canvas bag thing when I’m back in the states.  I also buy a lot less food here because I have to carry it all home with me on foot.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I can think of off the top of my head.

Here’s yet another question from Rarasaur:  Have you learned about any particularly interesting German artist/cook/painter/writer/politician/whoever that Americans never really speak about, but all Germans know?  If so, pass on the knowledge, por favor. 🙂

Before living in Germany,I didn’t know about Karl May, the author of the Winnetou novels.  I didn’t know about “Dinner For One.”  I didn’t know about German media folks who are household names here like Michael “Bully” Herbig or Stefan Raab.

Beyond that, I’ve mostly just learned a great deal more about names that are not completely unknown to me as I travel to the places that were part of their lives, because I research the hell out of everything I see and everything I write about.  Living in Europe puts me in a fantastic position to learn about these names, because the signs and history are all around me.   Johannes Kepler lived here in Regensburg.  Napoleon was here for a time, after he was wounded in the Battle of Regensburg.  Albrecht Dürer lived in nearby Nürnberg.   I learned more about Falco when I went to Vienna, and somehow missed seeing his gravesite when I was walking around Vienna Zentralfriedhof.  (And I learned more about that Mozart guy, too.)

Do you have anything you’d like to ask?  The Ask Me Anything post is still open!

Public Holiday: May Day

One of the many things I had to learn when I got to Germany was the different holidays. Many of the holidays that I’m used to from the US just aren’t a holiday here.

Thanksgiving is a great example of this. Most of the Germans I’ve met don’t know anything at all about Thanksgiving. I got here in the middle of November, and I was fortunate enough to meet a lot of folks in the local ex-patriate crowd right away.  This allowed me to attend a Thanksgiving dinner in the local Irish pub. As one of the actual Americans in attendance, I spent a fair amount of time explaining what the foods represented, and what little I could remember from grade school about the background and story of the holiday. I also fielded questions like “how on earth do you eat this cranberry sauce goop?” It was a highly entertaining time. Plus, there were twinkies.

But I digress. The first of May is a public holiday here in Bavaria. It’s a holiday in much of Europe, actually, but the Bavarian holiday schedule doesn’t always match up to the rest of Europe. It does today, though, which means that most business are closed, and everyone goes out and enjoys the newly minted sunshine for a change.

May Day, first observed as a public holiday here in 1933, is also referred to as Labour Day here, and I’ve been told that sometimes there are activities related to work and employment, but I haven’t seen any.

What I have seen is a lot of Maibäume, or maypoles.  These started to turn up at the beginning of April, and they usually show up near churches or main village squares from what I’ve seen.  I’ve done a bit of research, and the date that it goes up varies- in some instances, it’s put up on May 1st, and might be left up for the duration of the month.  In some cases, the pole itself is left up year round, but without the decorations.  The placing of the maypole is often followed by a dance,  or Tanz in den Mai (Dance into May).

There is a wealth of information online about maypole customs and decorations in other countries, but I’m focusing on what I’ve seen here in Germany.  The poles I’ve seen have been blue and white, which is the colors of the Bavarian flag.  They’re also covered in wreaths and some other decorations which, according to The Google, usually depict local crafts and industry.

There’s another element to this tradition though, which I quite like.  On the night of the last day of April, many men erect small decorated maypoles in front of the houses of their sweethearts, with a decoration attached in the shape of a red heart with the name of the girl.  The genders reverse on leap years and women leave the maypoles in front of their sweetie’s house.   This is often done in secret, and it’s up to the person leaving the maypole to decide whether to remain anonymous or give a hint to their identity.

Happy May Day, everyone!

German Customs 101: Mahlzeit!

One of the more amusing customs I’ve seen since I moved to Germany is the usage of the word Mahlzeit.  Loosely translated, the word means “meal time,” but it’s used in a few different ways. Some people use it as a greeting even away from food, but I haven’t seen that as much.

The most common usage, and the one that I see every day, is that when someone goes to eat lunch, most people who see them say ‘malhzeit.’   This seems to happen any time in the afternoon, and I’ve seen references that say that any meal after about 11am but before late afternoon qualifies. Once you get to early evening, it shifts to guten abend.

The first time I ran across this, I was mildly incredulous.  When you leave the office to get some food, it’s not uncommon for everyone in the room to say mahlzeit to me.  The person leaving is supposed to say mahlzeit as well. When someone else is leaving, everyone says mahlzeit to them.  When you’re already sitting and eating, people who wander into the kitchen to get coffee also reflexively say mahlzeit.  I’ve had days where four or five people have walked by and said mahlzeit in a row-  the desire for privacy is actually a pretty good incentive to leave the office for lunch.

Some, just to be contrary, say ‘guten appetit.’  I always want to say “marsite,’ which sounds similar enough that most people wouldn’t notice, but references pool decking instead.