My very own advent calendars

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Obviously you know all about advent calendars by now. On December 1st, I regretfully noted that I did not have my own. I must admit I did not make any for anyone either unlike in the past years where I had time to make advent calendars for more than one person. Maybe this should be a new stress index: the ACSI, advent calendar stress index. If you do not have time to make any calendars for your friends and family, your ACSI is at 50 and with each calendar you make your ACSI score lowers. No one will ever get to 0, I suppose, but I am sure some people get down to 25!

Ingrid is at least at 49 – she presented me with this completely self-made advent calendar on the evening of December 1st. So lovely! It holds 25 doors with drawings that have to do with us (and my cat). Twenty-five because she accidentally drew number 22 twice. Or as I like to put it because I am worth an extra door.

I also got a beautiful calendar with precious little pictures all the way from the U.S. from my former host sister Kate. So I have two calendars to open each morning – such bliss!

Like an adult

The definition of who is an adult and at what age adulthood starts is certainly highly subjective. At least I do not believe 18-year-olds to be adults (geez, no). Still, there are these ideas one has about how adults live and what adults do. Obviously adults work (check) and live in their own apartments (check). For me, adults are also people who own their own Christmas tree. I have had two Christmas trees before which were quite small and this year, I made it to a medium-sized tree! There is definitely some growing up going on here – I am growing with my tree maybe?

Discussing wall colors. Like an adult.

Discussing wall colors. Like an adult.

Going through the Baumarkt. Like adults.

Going through the Baumarkt. Like adults.

Driving in the car. Like an adult.

Driving in the car. Like an adult.

What else do adults do? On their free day, adults work off all their responsible-adult-to-do-list. Sleeping in is sleeping until 9.30 (I remember the times when my regular schedule was sleeping till 11, but nowadays I get too anxious to waste precious time I could use for household chores), and then one has a proper breakfast with one’s Ingrid. After that it got even more adulty when we took out the trash, got into the car (the car! Only adults have cars in the city.) and drove to the – major adult alert – building supplies store. On my initiative! I used to hate and by all means avoid those stores. What is happening to me…Anyway, Ingrid and I went there and I supported Ingrid in choosing and buying the stuff she needs for her first own apartment. Ingrid has the ability to make me feel even more adult because I have bought paint/nails/laundry boxes once in my life which is at least one more time than her. Finally, I forced her to go to the garden section with me and the incredibly nice shop assistant (if you even need good service go to toom in Wandsbek) who at the latest by the time Ingrid said grumpily, “I don’t care which Christmas tree she takes, I don’t even want a tree, I am the man in this relationship” thought we were a couple.

Carrying up the Christmas tree with back pains. Like an adult.

Carrying up the Christmas tree with back pains. Like an adult.

When we came home with the tree, we ate proper lunch with vegetables like adults and then we lay down on each our sofa taking a after-lunch-nap like adults. Ingrid then went to work and I started cleaning everything and exchanged the light bulb in the range hood – only adults would care about that. And I put up the Christmas tree. I think today I aged 10 years!

P.S.: Nevertheless, I am super behind with everything, have not even looked at the pile of paperwork and bills. Bad adult.

I swear I know Swedish

At the Swedish Christmas market, I learned how to calculate really fast. When people paid 3,75 Euro with a 100-euro-bill.

At the Swedish Christmas market, I learned how to calculate really fast. When people paid 3,75 Euro with a 100-euro-bill.

Five years ago, I remember taking a look at the TISUS sample test. I only read through the first page and thought: Well, this is hopeless, I would never ever pass this. I cannot even talk two minutes about bostadsbrist let alone 20. When I moved to Stockholm first and ended up feeling so much more comfortable in English, I decided: Well, maybe you can only learn and master one language at a fluent, high level. When I was placed into the lower level group at Stockholm University’s Swedish courses after the placement test, I thought: Well, maybe I am actually bad at this. 

But today I got the results of the TISUS test I took a couple of weeks ago and I am thrilled to report that I passed! I officially know Swedish. (On a university level.) What a relief. This is living proof that you can learn anything that your brain finds relevant (let’s not go into the reasons why my brain finds a language spoken by almost no one relevant). It even instills hope in me for my Farsi language acquisition. One fine day. Maybe.

Today was an eventful day at work including a long meeting with our new Swedish client. It is a big shame I can’t talk about it, I wish I could tell you, but I guess you just have to ask me in person. In the evening, I strolled around town waiting for my friend Marita to arrive at the central station so that we could cultivate our transit friendship. Marita was – jetset alert – flying from Italy via Hamburg to Stockholm (a few days later though) and of course I want to meet her at the central station for a fika. Even if we only had 30 minutes, it was a pleasure. You can almost pretend to live in the same city and happen to be bump into each other at the station.

Oh, look, I "happened" to find one of my best friends in the station's bakery!

Oh, look, I “happened” to find one of my best friends in the station’s bakery!

And tomorrow is the big day when three of my friends, Tabea, Christian and Michelle, are coming from North and South to visit me! Not very like me, I am still rather unprepared but I took a day off so I hope to be able to get a Christmas tree. Yes, you heard right…!

 

 

(Headline: My friend Emily, a native English speaker, sometimes accidently writes incorrect English to me. She usually follows up directly with “I swear, I know English!”)

And this is what I came home to, after a day that lasted from 6:50 to 21:15. It is Ingrid's last night as my housewife, eh, housemate which is really sad but it was a very lovely last evening.

And this is what I came home to, after a day that lasted from 6:50 to 21:15. It is Ingrid’s last night as my housewife, eh, housemate which is really sad but it was a very lovely last evening. Please note that I polished my brass candle holders, something that might become my new hobby. The effect is tremendous! Such rewarding work!

Two blondes, a brunette and Schiller

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Yesterday, Ingrid and I were honored by Anna’s first visit to my new apartment. Ingrid came home to find us sitting on my bed reciting Schiller. Isn’t that what you normally do with your 15-year-old friends? Maybe you should! When I asked her what she had been reading on the train, she answered “Kabale und Liebe” (engl.: Intrigue and Love) with a lack of enthusiasm, “it’s for school”. My face lit up and I explained excited that I also had to read it 13 years ago and loved it so much that I wrote my favorite quotes down and pinned them to my book shelf where they remained for ten years. Driven by my heart’s desire to get Anna into Schiller (who, next to Shakespeare, is one of my heroes), I read my favourite parts to her aloud. I was under the impression that she was quite amused, especially by the great Hofmarschall von Kalb, who figures as the jester, and whom my mom and I quote every now and then.

Ingrid came home and being the intellectual lady she is, she did not look too bewildered by the scene but instead asked if she should get my copy from the book shelf so we could read with assigned parts. In the end, we did not but she went to make us pasta with Mediterranean vegetables – vegetarian, healthy and pretty to look at.

After dinner, we entertained ourselves by learning how to pray the rosary (this sounds far weirder than it was. Anna had a bracelet with an integrated rosary and we noticed we don’t really know how to pray the rosary), trying to gain insight into which enneagram types we are and then we got our left-over helium balloons, inhaled the helium and read Schiller to each other again. I suppose you begin to understand why I do not need a TV to pass my evenings?

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MARSHAL. You drive me distracted! Whom did you say? Von Bock? Don’t you know that we are mortal enemies? And don’t you know why?

PRESIDENT. The first word that I ever heard of it!

MARSHAL. My dear count! You shall hear—your hair will stand on end! You must remember the famous court ball—it is now just twenty years ago. It was the first time that English country-dances were introduced—you remember how the hot wax trickled from the great chandelier on Count Meerschaum’s blue and silver domino. Surely, you cannot have forgotten that affair!

PRESIDENT. Who could forget so remarkable a circumstance!

MARSHAL. Well, then, in the heat of the dance Princess Amelia lost her garter. The whole ball, as you may imagine, was instantly thrown into confusion. Von Bock and myself—we were then fellow-pages—crept through the whole saloon in search of the garter. At length I discovered it. Von Bock perceives my good-fortune—rushes forward—tears it from my hands, and, just fancy—presents it to the princess, and so cheated me of the honor I had so fortunately earned. What do you think of that?

PRESIDENT. ‘Twas most insolent!

MARSHAL. I thought I should have fainted upon the spot. A trick so malicious was beyond the powers of mortal endurance. At length I recovered myself; and, approaching the princess, said,—”Von Bock, ’tis true, was fortunate enough to present the garter to your highness; but he who first discovered that treasure finds his reward in silence, and is dumb!”

PRESIDENT. Bravo, marshal! Admirably said! Most admirable!

MARSHAL. And is dumb! But till the day of judgment will I remember his conduct—the mean, sneaking sycophant! And as if that were not aggravation enough, he actually, as we were struggling on the ground for the garter, rubbed all the powder from one side of my peruke with his sleeve, and ruined me for the rest of the evening.

Party Debrief

Compared to last weekend when Ingrid and I, exhausted from our tedious daily lives, sat on the sofas the whole Saturday evening, this weekend was very eventful. When I finally made it to my parents’ town (I had to ship off all the ebay stuff I had sold – which included my beloved collection of books on the Swedish royal family, I decided I can carry all the photos in the yearbooks 1977-2007 in my heart instead of having them in my book shelf), my mom and I embarked on a mission for which I was especially commission in my function as balloon-expert and color-scheme-connoisseur. Despite some difficulty and initial service-desert-Germany-feelings, we suceeded in buying 50 (in words: fifty) helium-filled ballons. While those were filled, we also shuttled guests to and from the train station with constant phone coordination (“Where are you? We need the car!”) to the planning headquarters, i.e. my parents’ house. We then took a car completely filled with balloons which fully obstructed the rear view. In short: there was a lot of commotion going on!

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When I arrived to the party site, I made my way to the hotel room and it took me double as long as usual not only because that, let me say, estate was a true maze but also because I met all the guests in the hallway who had just come from their rooms. Very nice indeed, here a grandpa, there a friend of the family, hello, hello!

The glittering party started traditionally with a dinner buffet which was very delicious and my grandpa phrased what I also felt, “I wish we were like camels so we could eat now for the next eight days. But I am already full and tomorrow morning, I’ll be hungry and there will be none of this exquisite food left.” My thoughts exactly.

DJ Ingrid kicked off the night’s dance and quickly, the dance floor was filled with ecstatic (mostly) female relatives of mine shaking it. Previously, I have only been able to advertise DJ Ingrid because I am personally so fond of her, but now I can fully vouch for her excellent DJ skills. She managed to make the music flow so smoothly from one song to another, catering to all age groups’ needs (even my grandpa’s who nonchalantly waved to her every now and then), that everyone seemed to have their share of good fun. One sign for that is when my feet hurt like crazy and I am dead tired and still have to get up again and again because it’s that song and than that song and oh, that one!

I also had somewhat of an age epiphany. The family members that are younger than me used to always be children, but now they’ve grown up and some of them had become excellent party material. Such a joy to dance with the boy who suddenly is taller than you and the girl you used to babysit that now knows the same songs as you. One of my cousins had brought his girlfriend who was introduced to me with the words, “That’s Merle, she’s new”. This very young girl won my heart by saying, “Wow, you live in Hamburg, that must be so cool”, “I guess you’re older than me, you must be, like, already twenty or something”, and (to her boyfriend), “You never told me you had such a cool cousin”. Read and repeat: These are the kinds of things you should say if you want to make friends. 

The lavish celebration continued well into the wee hours, there was even a five story midnight birthday cake brought in by my mom, and unfortunately I do not have a single photo of anything. But they say those are the best parties: when you don’t have time to take photos.

This morning, I could definitely feel the effects of the late night yesterday, and we did little but entertain the far-travelled family and give Ingrid a dose of family exposure which she coped with brilliantly. (Maybe because so many other female relatives were also called Ingrid?)

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Ingrid and I also stood at the door of the party location and gave away balloons to passing people this morning, thus accidentically giving the place a better reputation. From children to grandmas, everyone was very delighted.

Ingrid meets my cat. They instantly bond.

Ingrid meets my cat. They instantly bond.

I have a housewife now

“Can’t wait for tonight! I made tea for when you’re back and a set of culinary choices that you can take with you for lunch to work”. “[Photo of the dishwasher] Which programm should I use?” “When are you coming home? I am going to stock up on candles and toilet paper until then”.

These are the kinds of text I have been getting this week. What’s happening?, you are wondering. I will tell you: I got myself a housewife. Suddenly I understand why this life style model is so popular in Germany. You have someone at home who can do the grocery shopping, welcome the electrician, cook your lunch and very important, use all the living space that goes to waste by you sitting at your office desk ten hours a day.

When you come home, there is someone waiting for you and you get to talk about your day and tell all the crazy stories. I think that’s quite nice. I am still training my house wife, so she learned this week how to do the egg test. (On German television, we had a show called “Bride School” where young women were trained to become a 1950s housewive. #onlyingerman #backlash) I think everyone should know the egg test so I will make this a service post:

Fill a bowl with cold water and place your first egg inside. Is your egg sinking to the bottom? Congratulations! It is fresh no matter what the date on the carton says. If the egg floating on the top, you do actually need to throw it away. This is a time-tested secret and I want you all to start using it because we must not waste food and you know that. 😉

Who’s this housewife now? You might have figured already. It’s fabulous Ingrid who temporarily moved in with me. Now she can use all the six aprons I own.

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P.S.: I don’t make her do all the above-mentioned housework. 

Guest Post: True friendship is waiting for someone else’s Telekom-Mann

I am sad to say that there is right now nothing that works in my life and instead a complete list of crap going on. I am seriously on the edge of reason (you can ask my mother who gets to hear it all) and my resilience to turn the crap into ironic posts is exhausted. Luckily, there is Ingrid who can even make the Telekom-Mann-incident (or non-incident?) sound funny. Also, I am going to scream at Tele2 on the phone tomorrow during my 12th (no kidding) phone call to them.

Voila Ingrid’s first guest post!

I’m doing something Helen suggested a long time ago…I’m writing in English. Thanks to many clicks from abroad and since I’ve always followed her advice. Even though I’m risking even more typos than in German I’ll give it a try. So here you go. I’m automatically happier using English anyway. English, the language of comic relief, the language most of my friends speak and the language of gerunds, my favorite grammatical construction. Wait what, you don’t have a favorite grammactical construction?

So apparently my previous blog posts are deceiving people into thinking I have an awesome life. Yesterday a comedy fellow even claimed my life was dope like Kanye West dope. I’m sorry about that. So let me assure you: no it ain’t dope. Not at all. Yes, I’m doing what I enjoy: music, arts and being on stage but it can be tough from time to time. Tough in like when your dj equipment breaks and you start singing instead. Tough in like when the audience doesn’t laugh at you but at someone else’s lame jokes. Also tough when the art connoisseur says about your favorite handmade painting “well if you take down the paint at least it’s wastepaper”.

As a proof of how undope life can be take this day for example. As I’m writing these lines I’m sitting in Helen’s apartment waiting for the Telekom-Mann for the past 7 hours. Since Helen has to be at the office I took my work to her place waiting here for him since 8 in the morning. So who’s the Telekom-Mann? Basically a technician to set up your internet. To be more precise he’s rather a mythical creature whose presence cannot be perceived and whose arrival cannot be foreseen. He usually emerges when you’re not home or in the shower or when I’m waiting for him like today. He is similar to the DHL-Mann, another mythical creature who’s hard to grasp delivering packages! But at least the DHL-Mann leaves a note where to pick up your package. You cannot pick up the internet. I didn’t even dare to go outside for coffee. There’s still no Internet, sorry Helen, I tried my best. Later tonight I will go to my swedish choir practice which is not that of a dope thing I could impress Kanye with either. There’s hope for no more lame blog posts though: Tomorrow I will be playing a show in Bremen. The city of Beck’s beer and Bremen’s Town Musicians (basically 4 outcast animals forming a band standing on each other’s back enjoying their sunset years. I do love gerunds.).

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The post first appeared on ingridwenzel.de today.

German summer

When it's hot, you feel how well populated the city is. Masses of people are in the park.

When it’s hot, you feel how well populated the city is. Masses of people are in the park.

 

As I write this, I know some of you will strongly disagree with me. But I just need to say it: I am not made for German summer. The current Hamburg weather does not gladden me at all. Since a few days, we are experiencing what is typical for German summer. Something that I had successfully forgotten after a few summers up north where there is usually a soft breeze and temperatures do not exceed 28 degrees celsius.

German summer can basically arrive at any time between March and October. You never know when, you never know how long it will last, you never know if it will come back. Here, you wake up to 26 degrees, no sunshine. You step unto the public transport that is not air conditioned. (Wtf, really.) In this sauna that you share with all the people of the rush hour, the sweat starts trickling down your back, and you are standing face to face with the other passengers. There is hardly a way to dress appropriate for both office and weather. I mean, we have a rather lenient dresscode policy but we are still expected to be fully covered. Also, the office has air conditioning so you cannot dress too lightly there anyways.

By lunch, the heat wave has boiled the air to 34 degrees. There is barely any wind even though we are at the harbor. The air is unpleasantly humid. You remember that you have tried to darken all the windows in your apartment, but you already know that by tonight when you come home, the place will be hot and sweltering. The sun has come out during the day at least and the young students opposite your work take off their shirts on their baloncy, opening a bottle of cold beer. In the evening when you are about to leave work, the clouds gather and the wind starts to blow. The natives know what is about to happen, and it happened yesterday, too. And the day before.

You have to always bring an umbrella in Hamburg, they told you. But not in 34 degrees heat, you thought. Wrong there, dear friend. This is like a tropical wonderland and after the sultry heat of the day comes the thunderstorm. The rain pours down, the thunder growls and the lightning makes you startle. Last night’s thunderstorm took six lives in West Germany.

To me, it seems like an allegory of the Swedish and German mentality. The Swedes pride themselves for their lagom approach while the Germans stick to the attitude of Wenn schon, denn schon. The Swedish summer is not too warm, not too cold, just lagom. The German summer makes a real effort, if there’s hot weather, there is seriously hot weather.

I personally stick to the motto of an Englishwomen, Jane Austen: “What a dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps one in a continual state of inelegance.”

If it's 34 degrees, it is okay to eat two ice creams, Ingrid says. Less than an hour after this was taken, the rain poured down on Hamburg.

If it’s 34 degrees, it is okay to eat two ice creams, Ingrid says. Less than an hour after this was taken, the rain poured down on Hamburg.

Five things I have not adjusted to after three months in Germany: Packing groceries

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Last week was my three month anniversary being back in Germany. Given that I am executing a repatriation challenge here, this prompted me to reflect on my integration process. I have pretty much mastered the art of riding metro line 3 (i.e. I only go to the wrong platform but realize before getting on the train that this is the wrong direction) even if it still happens that I call it the “yellow line” because Stockholm’s metro lines are colored, not numbered. I have successfully re-registered with the German health insurance, a process that took several months. I have even gotten a hold of an apartment and moved! Furthermore, I am not surprised anymore that people speak my native language around me and I always greet people correctly, avoiding the cheerful “Hej!” in all places that are not the Swedish Church.

Are there things I still have not adjusted to? Oh yes, there are many. Welcome to my series of Five Not Yet Readjusted posts.

Number 1: Not yet readjusted to  The stress when packing your groceries

 When you grow up in Germany, you learn a lot of very, very useful skills. You learn to think and discuss thanks to good education, you learn to work hard and goal-oriented, you learn to respect your parents, you learn to not spend money you don’t have. And you learn to pack groceries. Very fast.

As a little girl, I always accompanied my mom to Aldi, the cheapest store with the quickest cashiers. Aldi is the place where the above mentioned skills all unite. (Except for the thinking because you do not question why Aldi is so cheap.) When you stand at an Aldi checkout, or actually any German grocery checkout, the cashier will swipe your stuff so quickly that you have to be trained to pack it all into your tote bag (plastic bags are for people who have no ecological conscience). Not only does the cashier stress you, there is also very little space to pack the things and 25 % of the German population is waiting in line after you, giving you the evil eye if you are not gone within 10 seconds. Ingrid says, she feels particularly German at the cash register. “I feel proud when I am faster than the others, superior when other customers are slow”.

I never realized this could be a problem for anyone because obviously you put your things on the belt/conveyor (what’s the word for Warenförderband?) in the correct order right from the beginning: canned foods first so that they can go into the tote bag first and eggs last so that they won’t break. When you are two people shopping, you have beforehand decided who is Chief Financial Officer (handling the negotiations with the cashier and payment) and who is Junior Packaging Manager (packing up everything). Of course you position yourselves according to your responsibility and manage to be out of the way for the next customer within seconds. Is there anyone who does not do it that way?

Eh, yes, Swedes. At ICA (and also at Lidl), you relax in the queue, maybe checking your phone, and when the cashier does her work, you observe, letting your food slowly glide away. The first months in Stockholm, it freaked me out to be standing there, doing nothing.

Now, I usually notice when the first products are scanned that AHHH I need to put my hands to work here! Everyone is eyeing me suspiciously wondering why the girl up there does not move but just stares at the cashier. And she even has a plastic bag. Geez, she must be a dumb foreigner.

Introducing: Heling Agency

Ingrid's phone on the table is playing, "Så länge skutan kan gå", her favorite because of the vanitas-element

Ingrid’s phone on the table is playing, “Så länge skutan kan gå”, her favorite because of the vanitas-element

On Tuesday, we were obdiently sitting in our church benches, practising every spring song Swedish culture has to offer for our spring concert. It feels like we are literally singing every song you are supposed to sing in Swedish spring and I can say I highly approve, partly because I have to learn all the Uti vår hage and Sköna maj and partly because I think they are excellent representatives of Swedish traditional music for the concert. Because that is what we want: to transport Swedish heritage to the public. I highly recommend attending our concert on May 24th. (Yes, I mean you too, Felix!)

So as we are sitting there and I am concentrating very hard on getting the alto voice for Sommarpsalm right, the choir leader starts talking about advertising the concert. “We’ll need a nice poster”, she says and immediately looks to me. “I think you’re good with these things. You should do it”. I am puzzled that she thinks I am the best person to do it and now in retrospect, I understand: the choir leader has seen the notices we made for my apartment hunt, and she did not know that this was a joint effort of the incredibly talented Ingrid and me. I accept the task only to say, “If my dear friend Ingrid over there helps me, sure”.

After practice Ingrid and I sat in my living room upstairs in the church and started brainstorming. We brainstormed so much that we decided we should have a name for our creative duo (because who knows what else we will do in the future) and give ourselves fancy titles. So now we are the Heling Agency for Feel Good. Ingrid is the Art Director (obviously) and I am the Visual Supervisor and Copywriter. We only need to find someone who wants to start paying us, too. 😉 If you need a choir poster, an apartment video, a book on bowls, a new text to an ABBA song, or simply need to feel better, you can hire us.