31 March 2011

America vs. Europe - Grocery Store Edition

Dogs are theoretically forbidden
from Austrian grocery stores.
A recent trip inspired me to point out some of the more comical differences:

-Whereas American supermarkets are known for hiding the milk in the back of the store to make you walk past all of their other offerings, Austrian grocery stores are more likely to apply this principle to beer and wine.

-American grocery stores usually provide free and limitless shopping carts, while Austrian stores usually require a small deposit for each cart, presumably to discourage theft, although I think that anyone who really wants a shopping cart is willing to pay €.50 for it.  (Tip: Austrian shopping cart dispensers also take American coins!)

-America: 168 open hours per week. Austria: 72.  See: Gemütlichkeit.

-Produce in Austrian grocery stores often needs to weighed and labelled by the customer - a task that I think many Americans would be incapable of.  I myself have gotten majorly scolded for forgetting.

-Supermarkets in America often provide customers with free bagging service.  The lack of such a service in Austria has surely destroyed a potential job market for teenagers, ex-cons, retirees and other qualification-impaired individuals.

-Peanut butter here is 100% more expensive and you get weird looks for buying it.

And for today's German lesson, I'd like to point out how amusing it is that the names of German meals can also be used as verbs, which is certainly not the case in English.  Thus, das Frühstück is "breakfast" and frühstücken is "to breakfast."

29 March 2011

The Danube

Swimming in the Danube - I'm the one
on the right.
I spent the last weekend in the Wachau wine valley town of Krems an der Donau, which as the name suggests, is an der Donau - on the Danube.  During my stay and at the suggestion of my impulsive and lightly-unhinged friend Luke, I even went swimming in the river, which was about as warm as the frosty Wiener Eiskaffee I had the day before.  In honor of this foolish undertaking, I recount here a brief history of the Danube River:

The Danube is Europe's second-longest river, behind its pompous and overbearing competitor - the Volga in Russia.  It flows through ten countries along its course from the Black Forest in Germany to the Black Sea in Romania.  It has been an important trading route for centuries and often provided the northern border for the Roman Empire, before they gave in to the excessive drinking and overt laziness that has since characterized that part of the world.       

Earlier in the day I enjoyed a poppy-seed
ice cream cone, another activity for
which the weather was not appropriate.
Culturally, the Danube has featured strongly in Austrian, and more generally, Central European works for centuries.  It figures prominently in the Bulgarian national anthem and lent its name to Johann Strauss's The Blue Danube waltz (German: An der schönen blauen Donau), which is arguably the unofficial national anthem of Austria.  The waltz, incidentally, is played ad nauseum in all major tourist traps, especially the Prater amusement park, where it is played in a maddening loop that park employees must really hate. 

After the Austro-Hungarian Empire disintegrated in 1918, Austria's control of the river was reduced from 2,840 km to just over 300.  Austria, now a landlocked country, shed its navy save the intrepid, if silly, Danube Flotilla, which continued to sail up and down the river protecting nothing until it became too comically irrelevent to maintain, in 2006. 

The Danube has since become a major destination for international tourists as well as Austrian bathers allured by both its beauty and the utter lack of bathing alternatives.  I'm told that, in the summertime, the oddly California-sounding Vienna City Beach Club is extremely popular with Austrians both clothed and nude.  The Donauradweg bike path runs more or less the entire length of the the river and Austrian portion of the route is supposed to offer a fabulous ride, especially when done downhill, from west to east.  I have ambitions to one day bike the 340km portion from Passau to Vienna, although I may not get to it this year, as my bike is about half the size it needs to be for me to use comfortably. 

Overall, the Danube offers a number of enticing activities, although these do not include March skinny-dipping, which remains ill-advised...

26 March 2011

Sample Dialogue #8

In English class, during a presentation on fantasy vacations.

Student: I don't think we will have any problems in the Bahamas.
Scott: Do you think you will have any language problems?
Student: No, we can speak English really good.
Another student: Well!

And in honor of the animal stickers from the grocery store that I've started collecting (yes, they are meant for kids), today's words of the day are some of my favorite animal names in German.  Das Stinktier is a skunk (literally, stink animal), das Faultier is a sloth (literally, lazy animal), and der Hundertfüßer is a centipede (literally, hundred legger).

21 March 2011

This Old House

My Coordinates
During a long chat over Gugelhupf with my landlady yesterday, I got two good earfuls of stories about the house where I live in Waidhofen - some funny, some tragic, some touching.  Omitting the boring parts:

The house was built in 1905 by some guy named Leopold Fallmann, whose name is still on the house.  It's been in my landlady's family since 1934, at which point in time it housed four entire families (it now houses one American, one Austrian, and one Hungarian, whose German is about as good as the cat's).  During this time one family lived in my two-room apartment and another in the dining room across the hall.  They apparently hated each other so much that they often threw their buckets of human waste against each others' doors.  There was no plumbing.

During the war a Nazi tank ran out of gas directly in front the house and later exploded.  It burned for three days and blew out all of the windows on that side of the building.  My landlady's father later stole a wheel from the tank and used it for his rope-making apartus, while the local children used the cannon as a balance beam.  Another time a Nazi drove by the house and screamed to the balcony, "Ist hier Klagenfurt?"  To his dismay Klagenfurt is, and was, about 95 miles away.

After the war, retreating Austrian soldiers marched along Weyerer Straße, a half a block from my house, on their way to Vienna. They were, apparently, not in an especially good mood.

During parts of the occupation, which lasted from 1945 to 1955, the house quartered a Soviet soldier.  He took up more than his fair share of the living space, but was quite nice to the children.  He taught them Russian words and gave them lollipops, which they had never seen before and did not know what to do with.

Things have quieted down since 1955, although in the past year two hens were eaten by a badger and one rooster drowned after being chased into a large puddle by n'er do well neighborhood cats.  Turns out they're as bad at swimming as they are at flying.

And for anyone who was curious, the answer to the fake headline quiz was "Foreigners Seen J-Walking: Police Take Action."  This is for the best, as the foreigner in question would almostly certainly have been me.

19 March 2011

Local News Highlights

Newsworthy is a relative term
Six real headlines from the local newspaper, Der Ybbstaler. One is fake, see if you guess which!

"Vandalism at Schnabelberg: Viewing Platform Badly Damaged with Chainsaw"

"Fifty Tons Artificial Manure Stolen"

"Guesthouse Death Continues: Waidhofen's Gastronomy in Crisis"

"Foreigners Seen J-Walking: Police Take Action"

"Rolling Stones Drummer Charlie Watts Rocks Amstetten"

"His and Hers Ski Race Planned at the Forsteralm: Costumes Mandatory."

"One Night Around the World: Boy Scout Ball 2011 - Ball Pleasure of a Special Type."

Answer to be included in the next update.  Please feel free to post your guesses as comments.

15 March 2011

Miscommunication - Pi Day Edition

Pi Day - The day when math teachers
attempt to reconcile Americans' love of
pie with their hatred of math.
For those who didn't realize, yesterday was Pi Day, so called because it was March 14, or 3.14 - the first three digits of pi.  I tried to explain this to one of my teachers and I failed for the following revealing reasons:

1. Austrians, and Europeans in general, write dates "backwards" (to Americans).  Thus yesterday was 14.3 and not 3.14.
2. Austrians don't really ever think about pie.  They're proud of their cakes and would probably never be caught dead with a slice of Mrs. Smith's PreBaked Dutch Apple Crumb Pie, even though Apfelstrudel is more or less the same thing.
3. Even if you met an Austrian who, despite all odds, loved both pie and geometry, he wouldn't even get the pun, as pi is not even pronounced the same way in German.  It's pronounced like "pee" and somehow "Pee Day" is just not as appealing.
4. Austrians, to generalize, just don't understand puns.  It's why Austrian crosswords are so inferior and about 20% as difficult.

And in honor of Pi Day, today's word is unendlich, which means, predictably, "infinite."

12 March 2011

Most Interesting Lessons I've Taught So Far

Advanced English vocabulary
For every mind-numbing lesson I've had to teach on banking vocabulary and Heathrow Airport, I've gotten to teach at least one on a more interesting topic, often one that allowed me some amount of creativity.  A partial list of the more interesting ones is below, although I should admit that "interesting" means I found it interesting and certainly not that the students necessarily shared my enthusiasm.

-Is Paul dead?
-Is Tupac dead? (the class firmly decided that he is not...)
-Human vs. robot Jeopardy! match
-Facebook (I printed out my friends' profiles and made students assume their identities)
-American artists*
-Pop art*
-Ivy League lightbulb jokes (match the college to its stereotype!)
-Bobbing for apples
-Misunderstood lyrics
-Are you a Republican? (turns out they're not)
-The death of the Sony Walkman R.I.P.
-Comparing James Bond actors
-E-Books (just kidding, that sucked)

And I'd be happy to share any of these lessons with struggling English teachers or really bored Austrians.

*Stars indicate that I was completely unqualified to teach this lesson, but did so anyways.

09 March 2011

Sample Dialogue #7

In the classroom, in English.

Scott: So who do think the narrator is?  A guy or a girl?
Student: A girl.
Scott: Why's that?
Student: She's talking about her feelings.

07 March 2011

The Wiener Eistraum

Wiener Eistraum, at night

The Wiener Eistraum, which translates ridiculously into English as "Viennese Ice Dream," is a massive skating rink set up in front of the Rathaus in Vienna and hosted, appropriately, the season-closing grand finale to my illustrious ice-skating career in Austria. 

Unlike the modest indoor skating rink in Waidhofen, with it's oomm-pahh music and rentable training penguins, the grand Wiener Eistraum (live webcam is sadly no longer functional...) was not for the faint of heart.  It consisted of two large rink areas and several one-way paths that wound around trees, lights, and speakers.  Some of the paths were strenuously uphill while other were frighteningly downhill.  Like so many ski slopes, the rink was also filled with fearless rocket-children apparently yearning to take me out at the knees.

My friend Emily and I had an excellent time skating around and managing to stay upright the whole time.  The highlight of the night, however, was passively watching the mesmerizing Zamboni, or Eisbearbeitungsmaschine in German.  We were far from alone in our fascination with the machine's magic ice-melting powers and its driver's expert cornering maneuvers.  I found it reassuring to learn that Zamboni-watching is an international phenomenon. 

04 March 2011

Na Endlich. Skifahren!

Until yesterday, 2011 had been a long, hard winter of bearing questions from my students and co-workers regarding whether I had been skiing, how many times I'd been skiing, how good I was at skiing, and what I thought of Lindsey Vonn - often followed by disappointed, confused, and even disgusted looks after I admit that I have never been skiing in Austria and have no opinion about Ms. Vonn.  Who is she, exactly?

Me, arriving at the train station near Forsteralm.
My proud grimace disguises my overwhelming fear of
falling off the mt.
But all this has changed now that I've officially been skiing in Austria!  And what's more, I lived to blog it.

My friend Sophy and I had been delaying a trip to the very nearby ski mountain Forsteralm for months and we finally made it, with a just few days left in the season.  I had found it difficult to gather the motivation, as I am (or was...) certainly a nervous, anxiety-ridden greenhorn of skier, as those who witnessed my one and only attempt at skiing in the USA last year could attest.  Yet I like to think that I control my fears and not the other way around, so I headed for the slopes.

Although the mountain is not far from Waidhofen, getting there without a car does require scaling a massive hill by foot.  Fortunately we were picked up by a generous Austrian named Fritz, who, like everyone I met in Waidhofen, was somehow related to someone I work with.  Later in the day Fritz treated us to some delicious hazelnut schnapps at the Austall lodge and even offered us door-to-door service home.

As for the actual skiing, I was skittish at first, but after falling once and remembering that it doesn't actually hurt that bad, I started to gain confidence.  Other than that introductory fall at the top of the mountain and a later, regrettable incident on the t-bar lift, I stayed on my feet the whole time.  Toward the end of the day I even got an unironic compliment from a real, live Austrian.

It was a perfect day for skiing, as the weather was warm, the snow still powdery in places, and the slopes virtually free of fearless rocket children - my least favorite winter sport hazard.  We also got lucky and scalped our ski passes at a big discount (my first crime in Austria, shhhh...).  The resort itself is nice and its lodge, like many other unsuspecting corridors in Austria, transforms into a nightclub on the weekends.  Unfortunately I think it's too packed with teenagers for me to ever dare enter.

All in all, it was very successful trip and, unlike my last attempt at skiing, I didn't even bring home any bruises as souvenirs.  In fact, I've been inspired to try out skiing in the Tyrol, where I'm told the season can last as late as May. 


02 March 2011

Denglish = Deutsch + English - Proofreading

Although I freely admit that my students are usually quite proficient in English (in many ways better than I am in German), they do regularly make a few mistakes that sometimes make me smile and sometimes make me cringe.

"What did you do this weekend?"
"On Friday I made lots of party and all day Saturday I learned English."

"What did you do for Valentine's Day?"
"I was by my boyfriend and I become chocolates from her."

"Can you German?"
"I cannot.  Can you English?"

"Nice to meet you." (upon >10th time meeting you)

"What did you do this morning?"
"I stood up at 6:30 and then I drove with the bus to school."

"And you?"
"I also."

These mistakes tend to make sense when translated literally from German, but sound rather comical in English.  Hearing "Denglish" is usually a sign that language learners are still thinking in their native language and then trying to translate in their head, which is certainly not the most effective way to speak a new language, although I too am guilty of it.  Especially when I say things like, "Ich will morgen meinen Freund in Wien besuchen/I want to visit my boyfriend in Vienna tomorrow!"