Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Company Doctor... (and mandatory appointments)

Der Betriebsartzt is what he's called here... he's a company doctor who works every Tuesday and Thursday. If you're sick (just make sure to be sick only on Tuesdays and Thursdays), you can visit him, and he'll try to help the situation.

Last week, I had a rather sore throat, headache and stomach ache, so a dear coworker went with me to the doctor. The assistant gave me cough drops and tablets. Yup, just gave them to me. Now I know why about 40% of my salary is taxed. Cough drops!

If you're feeling sick, then it's nice to have a doctor right in your building that you can visit. But what I don't appreciate is a phone call I received yesterday afternoon. Someone from the HR department called me and said I was overdue for my appointment with the Betriebsartzt.

Ahh... I already have a bad name in the HR because of the work permit drama, losing my company ID card, and trying to get through security with a camera and a ridiculous amount of CDs. Maybe I shouldn't push it with the doctor issue. But I'm an American... I have to be pushy, annoying and questioning. ;)

HR: "Hello, Frau Barber, our records indicate that you haven't seen the Betriebsartzt yet."
Mary: "That's right. I haven't been sick. The cough drops work miracles."
HR: "Each employee needs to have a standard physical check-up... you need to schedule yours as soon as possible."
Mary (starts to panic): "But... but..."
HR: "Frau Barber..."

And then comes the catch phrase... "so ist geregelt...", which, roughly translated, means, "it's a rule/law in some rule book somewhere, so you'd best stop asking questions and immediately do as you're told." This is where most people quickly become silent and obedient. I guess if something is "geregelt", you have to follow it... but I can't help asking why it's even "geregelt" in the first place. This is a very standard phrase, used for processes and obligations that no one seems to agree with, but follows through with anyway.

All that to say, I'm feeling rather pressured to visit the Betriebsartzt because it's "geregelt." But... what if I don't go? What if I don't want a doctor poking and prodding and looking at me when I feel perfectly fine, other than a scratchy throat? Will I lose my job if I don't go? Will they make me clean toilets instead of making financial forecasts? Is that part of the rules? What if they do find something a little funky? Will I lose my job? Why does the company concern itself with my health? What does it matter to them?

I told a coworker that I didn't want to go, and he looked at me as if I were crazy. Everyone goes to the doctor, he told me. I proceeded to ask what would happen if I were to refuse. Impossible, he said. It's "geregelt." You can't refuse.

Darn, I can't break free of my question-protest-start-a-fire-take-it-to-court-whine-and-complain-challenge-the-rules-American way of thinking.

What's a frustrated American girl to do while in Europe? :)

Eh, I'll make the silly appointment. When in Rome...

Lyric of the day: "If you're down, he'll pick you up... Doctor Robert. Take a drink from his special cup... Doctor Robert. He's a man you must believe, helping anyone in need... no one can succeed like Doctor Robert." (Thanks to the Beatles!)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Welcome to my humble abode, Part I: The Hallway

The moment has arrived... now that my camera is back in my possession, it's time to upload some photos of my lovely flat.

For a clearer and larger picture, just click on the picture itself...

Today, I'd like to show you all the entry-way. In the following picture, we're standing in the hallway right outside my doorway... there are three main rooms... straight ahead, you can see my bedroom... on the left is the living room/kitchen, and on the right is the bathroom. Or "toilet", as they would say in England. That's right. The "toilet" can be both the literal toilet as well as a room. Hmm.

Now we're actually in the flat...

This little box is right on the left when we walk inside... I'm not sure what it does, and I keep forgetting to ask. I do know, though, that if you rapidly and simultaneously flick all the switches, little sparks are generated. Just kidding. :)

The little black hanging thing is my work ID card. It's a horrible picture, which is why it's facing the wall... I already see a horrible picture when I look in the mirror in the morning... once a day is enough.

Here are the pictures hanging on the entry-way wall... aww, my chicas. :)

And, the entry-way table... me gusta mucha Ikea. If you look closely, you can see where I ran out of paint and didn't quite finish re-painting the lower part of the hallway walls. Ah well.

If you ever come visit, you can hang your coat and scarf here... *hint hint*

Stay tuned, folks... next time, it's Part II: The Bathroom.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Tea and biscuits, anyone? (spoken with a British accent)

British people. Why are they so darn fascinating? They're technically European, but they speak English. They speak my language, but with a sophisticated twist. And they produce people like the John, Paul, George and Ringo. What more could you want in a country?

This past Sunday, I spent the day at Bizarro Mom's (whom I'm now officially allowed to call by her first name). Some new people from the church were also there... three were from GB, and two of the three couldn't speak much German. Throughout the entire day, there was a fascinating mixture of German, British English (BE) and American English (AE). Until Sunday, the only exposure I'd had to British people was on Beatles Airways and in the London and Manchester airports.

The difference between BE and AE is more drastic than I'd realized. They even use different prepositions!! For example, Harry* said that "A is different to B." We would say "different from" or "similar to", but not "different to."

Some of the sentence structures even differ, though I can't recall any examples at this point. I do remember noting that the structure was more similar to German than to AE.

On Sunday, I learned not only some new German words (as I do every day), but some new English words. For example...

BE: chips = AE: french fries (or is it now freedom fries?)

I discovered that one when Gladys* said that she was "baking chips in the oven." Why would anyone bake chips? Then again... I was amidst Germans and Brits, so who knows what crazy stuff could happen?

BE: crisps = AE: chips

Does Paul McCartney really say "crisps" instead of "chips"?

BE: biscuits = AE: cookies

Mmm, now I want tea and cookies. And I'd like to take delicately small sips while holding the cup with my little pinky finger pointed elegently outwards.

BE: nappy (nappie?) = AE: diaper

Who came up with that one?

Be: peg = AE: clothespin

This actually makes sense...

Also, they pronounce the words "paw", "poor" and "pour" the same. Sure, in AE we pronounce "poor" and "pour" the same... but at least we differentiate between these two and "paw." They do not, however, pronounce "rider" and "writer" the same, as many AE speakers do. Thank goodness the Beatles wrote their lyrics down for us Americans... otherwise we wouldn't know if "Paperback Writer" was actually "Paperback Rider." Though there are some obvious contextual clues.

'Twas an interesting afternoon... I was also surprised at how well everyone spoke English (I'm not referring to the Brits and myself here)... Bizarro Mom's English was great, as was her son's (who spent a year in Canada... is Canadian English similar to AE? to BE?) and several other people's from the church.

Though I now realize that Tony Blair and I speak a rather different language, he's still my international political crush. *sigh*

Lyric of the day: "If you really like it you can have the rights; it could make a million for you overnight. If you must return it, you can send it here... but I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer. Paperback writer." (Thanks to the Beatles!)

*name changed to protect privacy

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Espionage Accusations and Confiscations

Though I managed to waltz through three airport checkpoints and fly internationally with a false ticket, I can't manage to make it through the Zugangskontrolle (entrance/exit security) in my own company.

Yesterday, after a relatively long and busy day at work, I went through security, as I do everyday. This time, however, I was stopped and questioned by one of the security guys. I don't know his name, but for the sake of the story, let's call him "Frankie."

Frankie (squints and looks closer at the x-ray screen): "What's that in your purse?"
Mary: "Oh, that's my camera."
Frankie: "You know cameras aren't allowed on the premises."
Mary: "No, I didn't realize that."
Frankie: "Of course no cameras are allowed in here. Everyone knows that."
Mary: "Had I known, I wouldn't have brought it in... I'm sorry, but I didn't know."
Frankie: "Yes, you DID know. You signed."
Mary: "I signed?"

Needless to say, I felt like a complete idiot after this conversation. Evidently, in one of the piles of papers and forms I'd signed in my own blood, the fine print said that no cameras are allowed. Frankie then proceeded to confiscate not only my camera, but my CDs as well.

The next day, one of my co-workers received an official e-mail from the security people, with the title saying something along the lines of, "Privatkamera und CD Mappe mit 33 CDs in der Zugangskontrolle bei der Fr. Barber (Personalnummer XXXXXX) gefunden." Or, "Private camera and CD case containing 33 CDs found on Ms. Barber (Personel Number XXXXXX) in Security." As if I were a criminal. How much does diplomatic immunity cost? Is it even possible to purchase it?

Let's stop and think about this: if I really wanted to commit espionage (which I most certainly do not!), I would be smart about it. I would read up on all of the rules. I would know exactly what's allowed and what's not. I wouldn't break any obvious rules. I wouldn't haul a camera around. I wouldn't carry 30+ CDs with me. There are better, smarter, securer, and less obvious ways to transfer data. *Ahem*

I did receive everything the next day, though a co-worker had to pick it up for me and check to make sure I didn't have any confidential data CDs or illegal pictures.

Frankie was outside smoking a cigarette today as I was headed home... I smiled and wished him a nice rest of the day.

Lyric of the day: "Secret Agent Man (Woman, in this case), Secret Agent Man... they've given you a number, and taken away your name..."

Monday, January 09, 2006

Headed Heavenward (hopefully!!)...

Yesterday was my first Sunday back in Germany, and it was wonderful to be at church and to see everyone once again. At this point, I'd normally turn all sappy and write how much I love everyone there, but I know some of them read this, so I'm slightly embarrassed to take that route. :)

It has been a little difficult being immersed in German 24/7 after a 2.5 week break, and I've noticed that I'm not able to follow as quickly and closely as before, but we'll give it a few more days and hopefully things will be back to normal. Retrogression... fun stuff. As long as there's an equal or greater amount of progression later, all will be well in the language realm.

There was a New Year's service at a little church in a nearby city yesterday, and I went with a dear family from my church... because of the New Year, everyone was asked to draw a little card with a verse and lyrics. Mine was quite lovely.

First, the verse...

"Selig sind, die reines Herzens sind; denn sie werden Gott schauen." Matthäus 5,8

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." Matthew 5:8

Then the lyrics...

"Mach mich reines Herzens, daß ich Deine Klarheit schauen mag in Geist und Wahrheit. Laß mein Herz überwärts wie ein Adler schweben und in Dir nur leben."

"Create in me a pure heart, so that I might see your clarity in spirit and in truth. Let my heart float heavenwards like an eagle and only live in You."

This is a wonderful prayer for the New Year. Purity. Clarity. (Sanity?) In both spirit and truth.

There's also an eternal perspective here... a heavenward-floating heart as opposed to one that's weighed down, unable to truly fly, and focused merely on the temporal. Also, the heart isn't simply looking upwards into the heavens, but is actually floating up into the heavens. It's doing something. It's more than a thought or an idea; it's an action. Yes, thoughts and ideas are wonderful things... but unless they're acted upon and applied, they're meaningless (the high marjority of thoughts, that is... gotta give Aestheticism some credit here...). Ideas ought to be a means to an action, not an end in and of themselves.

Anyway. I think I'm going to laminate the card and put in on my fridge... next to the postcard of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the gang. :)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Mission Cowboyhüte: Successful

(Cowboyhüte = Cowboy hats)

I'd like to take a moment to pause and officially thank American Airlines for (a) not questioning me regarding the bulk amount of Cowboy hats I brought to Germany and (b) not confiscating them. *applause*

This Saturday, I visited a very dear family from church and gave the kiddos each an authentic Texas (made in Mexico... but at least not China) cowboy hat. I've always thought the things were rather goofy, but I have to admit everyone looked pretty darn cute in them. It's so out of context, yet so perfect. The littlest kiddo wasn't there, so that's why I'm in the picture, wearing her hat.

And a close-up...

Typical of Germany, we had cake in the afternoon... here are some more photos...

The two on the outside are Bizarro Mom's kids, and the ones with the cowboy hats.

And another family from church... she likes to wear green pants and paint. :)

And another...

Here's Bizarro Mom in a cowboy hat... maybe I should have brought four back.

And here's her husband, eating cake.

The girls are cooking up something, though I'm not sure what...

Some of the guys repaired a bicycle, which was quite interesting.

'Twas another fabulous day in Deutschland...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Making the World a safer, happier, better place...

... by bankrupting one corrupt airline at a time. Yes, that's right. I'm going to need your help in fighting the Evil Empire commonly known as American Airlines. By sharing my flight experiences from the past couple of weeks, I'm hoping to shed some light into the darkness, helping you, too, to resist the AA Force.

I'm going to sprinkle actual conversations throughout this blog, in order to (1) help you understand the situation more clearly and (2) to provide much-needed comic relief throughout this horror story. :)

It all began a week prior to departure when I received an E-mail suggesting I contact the airlines, as my itinerary had been changed. Upon contacting AA, I was told that the final leg of my flight (from Chicago --> Austin) was cancelled, and that I had to leave for Austin the next day instead. Yes, there was a later flight (at 6:30)... but they wouldn't book it for me, as it would only give me 30 minutes to make it through customs.

Mary (to a colleague): You won't believe what just happened... my flight to Austin was cancelled!
Uwe (a colleague): What do you mean "cancelled"?
Mary: Cancelled. Storniert. I have to leave the next day.
Uwe: The airlines can just do that? Aren't there laws against that?
Mary: Not in the States, evidently.
Uwe: America... the land of unlimited possibilities...
Mary: Yeah... the land of unlimited *bleep.*

The trip home started off nice enough... Bizarro Mom took me to the airport, and helped me check in... and I had a nice, comfortable flight (including British shortbread cookies) from Duesseldorf --> London.

In London, however, the drama began as soon as I handed the AA Agent my boarding pass...

Agent (spoken with a British accent): Are you with a Mr. Bardsley?
Mary: Pardon? No...
Agent: Whose ticket are you flying with? Where did you get it? Who are you?
Mary (starts to panic): Um, this is the ticket I was handed in Duesseldorf...

Sure enough, upon closer examination of my boarding pass, I realized that it had the name "Spencer Bardsley" on it. I was ushered behind the counter, and asked to please sit still and wait as they investigated the situation. After multiple phone calls, they determined that I had no criminal intent, and they asked me to identify my baggages before boarding the plane.

The frightening thing in this situation is that I made if from Duesseldorf --> London not only under someone else's name, but under a male's name. There were even three checkpoints, where they "checked" my boarding pass, my passport, and me. What does that tell you about airport security? What does that tell you about the security agents? What does that tell you about AA? And, most importantly, what does that tell you about my femininity?

Fortunately, I was moved to business class as a result. Talk about a different world. Ok, SAT prep time...
Coach class : Business class, guys with Texas drawl : guys with _____?*
(a) floral shirts
(b) eyeliner
(c) British accents
(d) skills

After making my my way to my comfy business seat (yes! Leg room for freakishly tall people!), I was still in a state of nervousness. As I began to frantically write in my journal, the guy sitting next to me asked if everything was ok. He was a Mormon, which is important later on in the story.

Mystery Mormon: Are you ok?
Mary: Actually, the craziest thing just happened...
Mystery Mormon (looks at me like I've lost it): Hmm?
Mary (proceeds to tell the above story): Yada yada yada...

After telling him what happened, I couldn't help but look at his nametag. Lo and behold, it said "Elder Bardsley."

Mary: Is your name, by chance, Spencer?
Mystery Mormon (with bulging eyeballs): Yes...
Mary: Aha!!!
Elder Bardsley: How do you know?
Mary: You're The One! I had your ticket!

Sure enough, I happened to be sitting next to Elder Spencer Bardsley in business class. What are the chances?

Touching down in Chicago was rough... I did not want to be there, and I did not want to spend the night there alone. During the landing, I decided two things: (1) I was going to fight as sweetly and tactfully as I could to make it back to Austin that night. (2) I was going to anticipate having to spend the night in Chicago, so as not to get my hopes up, only to have them dashed.

Mary (at the AA ticket counter): Hello *smiles sweetly*, I'm supposed to leave for Austin tomorrow morning, but I'm wondering if there's a flight leaving for Austin tonight instead.
AA Agent: No, I'm sorry, there's not.
Mary: Actually, it's only 6:20, and I know that there's a flight that's supposed to leave for Austin at 6:30. Could I go stand-by or make it on that one?
AA Agent: Oh, actually, that one was delayed. It's leaving at 7:00. But you don't have enough time to make it to the terminal. It's 45 minutes away.
Mary (through tears): You mean I'm missing it by five minutes? What if I run? Can you call and see if it's been further delayed?
AA Agent: No. I can't call anyone. Plus, we can't delay the flight for one person. You can't make it.
Mary: Are there any other flights leaving for Austin tonight? Has anything else been delayed?
AA Agent: No, I'm sorry.
Mary: Would you please check? Please just check the computer once more.
AA Agent: Actually, a different flight has been delayed until 8:00.

And so it went, back and forth. As soon as she demanded that I pay for the flight change from Saturday morning to Friday night, I asked to speak to her supervisor. The original/cancelled flight was Friday night! Once the supervisor showed up, things were straightened out, I was printed a boarding pass, and was sent on my merry way.

Of course, I had to call my parents to let them know I would be arriving that night instead of in the morning... but sure enough, my German cell phone didn't work in the States, and sure enough the payphones weren't working (I even remembered to carry USD with me!). The perfect solution: ask an AA Agent for help!

Mary: Is there any way I could borrow your phone? My cell phone is out, and the payphones aren't working.
AA Agent: There are payphones right over there.
Mary: I realize that. I tried three of them, and they're not working.
AA Agent: I'm sorry, but I can't fix the payphones.
Mary: But do you have a phone I could borrow, as they're not working?
AA Agent (walks away): I can't deal with this right now.

I'm not exaggerating; this is seriously how the conversation went. Thank you, AT&T commercials, because within five minutes it dawned on me to call Collect. Which means that within about six minutes, I was on the phone bawling to my poor mother.

The fun ended as soon as I tried to board the plane and handed the agent my freshly printed boarding pass.

AA Machine (spits my boarding pass out): *beep*
AA Agent: There must be a problem with your boarding pass.
Mary (starts going into convulsions): Pardon? It was printed 30 minutes ago.
AA Machine (spits it out again): *BEEP*
AA Agent: Your seat seems to be nonexistent. Well, I'll just print you a new one.

Sure, I appreciated that she printed me a new one right then and there... but what concerned me was that she had just told a stand-by passenger that there was absolutely no room on the plane. How in the world was she able to print a new pass for me? There was something rotten in the state Illionois that night...

That Friday was literally and figuratively one of the longest days of my life. Literally, due to the time change and figuratively, due to the drama.

Every bit was worth it, though, to see my parents and three beautiful sisters waiting for me in Austin! My five favourite people! I never knew a hug could feel that warm and nice... :)

All that to say... if you have a choice, do not fly American Airlines. Fly Continental. Or United. Or Southwest. Or hitchhike.

*the answer to the question is (c), British accents. Which are as plentiful as tea and shortbread cookies on Beatles Airways.

Click here to e-mail me!