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Fri, 4 Apr 2003
Germany - End of my first week of classes in Germany
Friday was my second day of classes in Germany. I have classes scheduled Wednesday - Friday, but we did not have classes until Thursday for our first week. Allyn and Jason are taking the German History class that is at 8:00am, which means I rode the bus alone in the morning to my 9:50am class. I thought Allyn was going to ride alone too, but it turns out that Chad and Mark, the electrical engineers, also had an 8:00am class. The bus ride went well, although it felt a little different without having someone there to confirm the stops. From 9:50am to 1:00pm we had our computer architecture class. Our German professor seems to find it as neat that he is teaching us as we find it neat to be here. If that sounds nerdy, that's because we're all computer people.

I forgot to mention that before I got on the bus, I stopped by the administrator's room to be set up for the Internet. The sign on his door says "Fr. 08:00-11:30" among other things. I knocked on the door at 8:25am and 8:50am, but there was no answer. We have been trying all week to get Internet access, and we have had no luck! I heard that Mark and Chad got connected; I don't know how they were able to catch him.

Back to the computer architecture class... the professor lectured for pretty much the whole time. When class got out, we went to the International Office to ask about a few things. We had to give up our passports earlier this week so we could get our residence permit or something like that. We were hoping to get them back this Friday, but instead we got a letter/photocopy that we are supposed to show in case someone asks for our passport. At first they said it would take a few more days to get them back, but it eventually came out that they were told it would take 10 days for us to get our passports back. If we want to travel outside of Germany next weekend, we are supposed to ask the International Office to check on them next Friday. We got our Fachhochschule Student ID cards; they are just paper, but we are supposed to get a chip card next week. While we were in the International Office, we asked again about getting our computer accounts. When we have these, we will be able to log onto the computers in the school's labs and get to the Internet. Anita called the computer lady, and she said she would start entering our information into the system, but because she was part-time, she would not be able to get us all entered until Monday.

We left the International Office and then went to the mensa. Friday's lunch was some sort of schnitzel mit pommes frites. I think it's pretty funny that the Germans use the French word for frenchfries. It was delicious, along with whatever red sauce they poured over it. We also had some broth-based soup with possibly bits of tofu or cheese in it. A great meal for the low, low price of 2.15 euros.

We were probably in the mensa until 2pm or so. That was no problem, though, because we have absolutely nothing we need to do until Tuesday. Personally, I am free until Wednesday. That seems hard to believe! I do not remember exactly what we did all afternoon and evening. I know we hung out at Jason's and Eric's for a while. They bought a bus pass and we to our places as well. We checked for the administrator a couple times in the afternoon just in case, but he was not there (as usual). Allyn discovered that the power in his room had been finally restored; the circuit break seemed to pop when Eric plugged the American surge protector into the 220 volt outlet. Oops! (There was one flash of light from the surge protector along with a loud pop, and that was the end of the surge protector!) Eric used Allyn's computer to download the pictures from his camera. We ate a supper-ish meal at Einstein's cafe, which turned out to be mostly an overpriced cafe. We were excited about their milchshakes, but they weren't that great.

German social rules are not the same as in America. Our general experience has been that German's are not very friendly; they do not greet passerbys in the hallway, they do not seem to make much eye contact, and they do not smile at people. However, in the German history class, apparently Prof. Kratzen said practically the opposite; that Americans do not like to make eye contact. Back in our evening German class last term, Markus told us that Germans do not smile at each other; apparently smiling at people is starting to flirt with them. He warned girls that if they smiled at guys, it would be basically giving the guys an invitation. By combining all these things, I think we have come to the consensus that Germans do make eye contact with people, but they do not smile. This explains what Prof. Kratzen said; I bet most Americans would feel uncomfortable if people look at them but do not smile. Armed with this knowledge, I paid careful attention to how I interacted with people on the streets and on the bus. I tried to make eye contact with lots of people while not smiling. I noticed a number of people looking back at me, but it felt strange suppressing the normal impulse to give a friendly smile. Generally after making eye contact for a second or so, I don't know what to do. This is the point that one would normally smile-- but I'm trying not to do that. I feel that if I look longer, it would be staring, and that would be impolite. Therefore I look away. Should I do that? Sometimes I look back at them again, and they are again (or still) looking at me. What does that mean? Is this flirting? A couple times, I found someone that would keep looking back at me. Should we just keep playing this game while we are both on the bus? Should I smile? Should I look away and never look at them again?? I am not trying to pick up girls; I am in love with my girlfriend, Megan. But I am open to making friends and generally being friendly. I feel like I am performing social experiments on real, live subjects. It is entirely possible that after smiling at someone, they will come over by me and say something in German. At the point, I will either have to (1) say nothing or (2) tell them I don't know German. Both are embarrassing to me. It actually shouldn't be a real problem that I don't know German, because anyone close to my age has had English for years and years in school. Allyn and I plan to sit in the front of the bus and face backward in order to learn more about these foreign social interactions.

We didn't really have enough to fill the evening. It's okay that we aren't out until the wee hours of the night, because the buses stop running at midnight. But our last few evenings have included much more card playing than they really should have. In Ulm, it seems that most small shops close at 6pm or maybe 8pm. After that, basically only some restaurants, clubs, and bars are open. If we are hoping to stay out past 8pm, I guess we will have to do it at one of those 3 places. Our last two evenings have involved eating dinner around 6, going to the grocery store, and eating new food while playing cards. So far we have had 2 new kinds of cheese: Pikantje (or something like that) and something I completely forgot. The first one was good, except that the edges tasted weird. The second one tasted like Swiss cheese, which really only Eric and I liked. Since we are in Europe, I bet we could try a new cheese nearly every day.

The evening ended with Allyn and I playing foosball and making a list of things to do this weekend. He used his Let's Go book to find a number of touristy things to do like climb the 768 steps to the top of the Munster, and go to the Ulmer Museum. Then we went to the Haltestella, but missed the bus by 5 minutes. Instead of waiting 25 minutes for the next bus, we walked to the stop where we take bus #6. I suggested walking a new path, but we decided it would be best to follow the bus's route, so we would not miss it. We did a horrible job following the bus route, and one point we caught sight of the Munster, and it was not as close as we had expected, nor in the right direction. We adjusted our course appropriately, and we made it to the Rathaus at 11:12pm, just 2 minutes before bus #6 was scheduled. We caught it and rode it home.

We have really been working to understand the German language. While we have the most basic understanding of German from our evening class last term, it is basically impossible for us to comprehend what a German is saying when he speaks. Fortunately, we are improving. We are frequently spoken to in German, and we have no idea what is being said. However, in certain situations, when I have an idea what is going to be said, I can comprehend the words they are saying. I figure there are really two parts to understanding the language: (1) converting the sounds we hear into words and (2) knowing what the words mean. I think I have finally figured out what the recording on the bus says. First I had to figure out what all the sounds were, and then I figured out what the individual words were by reading signs and using a dictionary. The four of us having been practicing our German numbers while we play cards, and we have a reasonable shot at understanding someone when they tell us how much our bill is or ask if we have an extra 7 cents. It really pays to know that in German, Euro is pronounced "Oy-row."
Next:A weekend in Ulm - Saturday (Sat, 5 Apr 2003)
Previous:My first day in Germany (Tue, 1 Apr 2003)

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