Kim's Austrian Adventure

My year as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Graz, Austria. Yes, there are other cities in Austria besides Vienna.

18. September 2007

Oh hi, blog!

I've moved to a non-Rotary-related blog. Comment if you would like the link!


3. April 2007

When languages collide

  • Reading: Peter Altenberg: Vita Ipsa: Kaffeehaus

  • Listening to: Of Montreal: Hissing Fauna, are You the Destroyer?: Gronlandic Edit

  • German Word of the Day: Akzent

  • Translation: accent

  • Example: Wenigstens rede ich nicht Englisch mit deutschem Akzent./At least I'm not speaking English with a German accent.

I’ve been home two months now, but my default language is still German. I first noticed it when at the Detroit Symphony, where I kept accidentally dropping my program into the lap of the guy next to me and saying, “’schuldige”.

Then I came out of my room one morning last week and greeted my dog in German. He obviously did not care, because “snausage” is the same in both languages. Yesterday evening, when I was running on the elliptical machine, I was highly confused, as I knew I could not possibly be running THAT slowly… wait, it was in miles, not kilometers. (Side note: I was driving to Bowling Green, Ohio for Amy’s recital on Sunday and on the way noticed a sign that said “Toledo: 10 miles, 16 Kilometers”. I mean, wha? Ohio just putting up km signs around Toledo? They are terrible drivers, have annoying football fans, and now they put up km signs in an inconsistent fashion? Do you all see why the people in MI hate the people in OH? /rant.) On the other hand, I felt I was superhuman while working on the weight machines, until I started converting everything to kilograms.

I’ve been reading German books, watching German movies, and speaking German while talking to myself, which makes it all the more hilarious when people catch me. This does something to my brain, convincing me that the people all around me are speaking German. I guess it’s just something I want to hear. On the flight home I tried to absorb every last drop of German, from the flight attendants complaining about annoying, non-German speaking passengers to the pilot’s warnings of turbulence.

There is, however, one area where I simply cannot bring myself to speak German, and that is the use of German words in the English language. Soon after my arrival in Graz, Chrissi asked me if we used German words in English, and I could only come up with a few, like "über" and "Zeitgeist". Throughout the year, I would bark words at her, mid-conversation (with her or anyone else). The words had nothing to do with the topics at hand, but I was so excited that I had thought of another German word that we used! "We" being everyone else except for me, of course. Language snobs (I prefer the term "purist") don't do that sort of thing. Unless we're talking with another person who also speaks the language. Then we like to show off. To each other. Or is this just me and Adrienne?

The words are often pronounced with an American accent that makes my skin crawl. Words like

Fahrvergnügen (always pronounced "far-fig-newgen")
Gemütlichkeit (oh, they will never truly understand it unless they have lived in Austria!)
Leitmotiv (I actually like this one, especially when it comes to music. Also, it's difficult to mispronounce.)

Wow, that's a long list. A guy was recommending me wine over the weekend and said that the Spätlese was particularly good. Except he said "spaatleeza". I almost fell over.

Similarly, there is a list of English words used in German that annoy the crap out of me. I'm typically not annoyed with how they are pronounced (I always manage to flip-flop them -- I pronounce them in German when they're supposed to be in English and vice versa), but that everyone is being so LAZY and just using English words instead of German. I understand certain technorati terms like blog, computer, and browser, but these?

Boss (der Chef)
Business (das Geschäft)
Camping (das Zelten)
checken (kapieren - I will admit I like this one)
City (die Innenstadt/das Stadtzentrum)
Consulting (die Beratung)
Cranberries (die Preiselbeere - not exactly, but still)
Homepage (die Startseite)
Image (das Ansehen)
Juice (der Saft - Eva and have I a special hatred of this one)
outen (sich offenbaren)
Queue (die Warteschlange - I'm surprised they even use this English word, as they DO NOT KNOW HOW TO STAND IN LINE!)

I would say one word and they would correct me. I don't mind being corrected -- in fact, I encourage it, because I want to learn from and fix my mistakes. Sometimes I thought that they were saying words in English because they were conversing with me, though -- like I wouldn't understand if they said it in German. Now I know better.

Oh, there is one German word that I use in English all of the time: Schadenfreude. I like this one more because of its definition than the way it rolls off of my tongue.

"Schadenfreude ist die schönste Freude (denn sie kommt von Herzen): "Schadenfreude is the most superb kind of joy (since it comes directly from the heart)."

10. Februar 2007

Don't Turn Around (O-O-Oh)

  • Reading: Wolf Haas: Der Knochenmann

  • Listening to: M. Ward: Four Hours to Washington

  • German Word of the Day: Fernweh

  • Translation: defines it as wanderlust, which is funny -- defining a German word with a German word.

  • Example: Es kommt mir vor, dass Fernweh und Heimweh jetzt das gleiche sind. (Kommt natürlich darauf an, wo man sich befindet.)/ It seems to me that wanderlust and homesickness are the same thing. (Of course, it depends on where you are.)

A week ago, I was trying to sleep at the Frankfurt airport. Part of me would rather be there than here.

I didn't anticipate coming back to the States being hard; after all, I'd done it before, and back then I had been gone for an entire year. It would be easy peasy: come back, find a job, finish my degrees, move out, etc.

Yeah. This whole "becoming a responsible adult" thing? Sucks. In addition to that, I have to adjust to my Fernweh/Heimweh/whatever you want to call it. I'm still thinking six hours ahead to Austrian time. (This could be why I'm up at 4am.) Yesterday was the first time in a while that I hadn't been to a Rotaract meeting, and I think that was the first concrete realization that I won't be back in Austria for a bit. At 1:30pm I was itching for a Murauer. (Can one have Bierweh?)

How to cope? Currently, reading books by Austrians and listening to Falco. I have exhausted YouTube's collection of Falco videos, which delight me to no end.

Alles klar, Herr Kommissar.

6. Februar 2007

A few questions

  • Reading: Wolf Haas: Der Knochenmann

  • Listening to: Poni Hoax: Budapest

  • German Word of the Day: neu anpassen

  • Translation: reassimilate

  • Example: Es wird immer schwieriger, mich neu anzupassen./It gets harder and harder for me to reassimilate.
    While cleaning out my desk, I found a paper from way back in 2002. It's a list of questions that were asked of German exchange students in America, and it makes me cringe.
  • Can women in Germany pick their own husbands?
  • Do you guys drink beer for breakfast? (Kim note: if you haven't gone to bed until 7am or woke up after 12pm...ahem)
  • How can you guys drive in a big city when there isn't a speed limit?
  • Do you have trees and mountains?
  • Are there still signs that say "No Jews Allowed"? (Agh. Do we still have signs that say "Whites only"?!)
  • How do you wash your hair?
  • Is Hitler still your president?
  • Do you have any cars other than Volkswagen?
  • Do you have the color white?
  • You have your own language? I thought you spoke English with an accent!
  • Do you ride horses to school?
  • What do the stars in Germany look like?
  • How many months do you have in Germany?
  • Are there problems on the German-Chinese border?
  • Do you have something like democracy in Germany?
  • Is Germany a part of Russia?

I would say that none of these questions would be asked about Austria, but that's probably just because most Americans think that Austria is a part of Germany.

2. Februar 2007

Am schönsten ist die Steiermark

  • Reading: --

  • Listening to: --

  • German Word of the Day: heulen

  • Translation: to sob

  • Example: Am Flughafen werde ich bestimmt heulen müssen./ I'll definitely have to sob at the airport.

Here I am, leaving my Alpine locale. Eleven months ago I was retardedly depressed, wanting to get away from here as soon as possible. Now, Eva is on my bed, telling me not to leave, while I stare at my naked walls and realize that is really has been eleven months. Everything looks like it did at the beginning.

Now, I love saying "net" instead of "nicht".

Now, I say "a bissl" instead of "ein bisschen".

It's the little things that do it: friendships, drinks, inside jokes, Uno games, mix CDs, bottles of prosecco, making pancakes together... it doesn't matter what language you do them in: friendship is universal. I'll should stop before this gets too cheesy.

Oh, but I'll continue... I know I was born American, but I feel less and less like one. In the beginning, the girls joked that I was half American and half German. Now, I feel more Austrian than anything else. Maybe half German half Austrian? The question is, where did my American go?

Well, I still jaywalk...

30. Jänner 2007

I love the 90s

  • Reading: David Sedaris: Me Talk Pretty One Day

  • Listening to: Arcade Fire: Neon Bible: Intervention

  • German Word of the Day: weinen

  • Translation: to cry

  • Example: Als die Chrissi mit dem weinen angefangen hat, musste ich auch gleich weinen./When Chrissi started crying, I had to too.

Busy packing and pretending that I'm not leaving, but I saw this and woke up my roommates because I was laughing so hard. How does one explain Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer?

(Thanks to

22. Jänner 2007

"Who puts the phrases in these guidebooks anyway?" or, How Kristen and I almost went to Italy.

  • Reading: Journal

  • Listening to: Kim's songs of America: David Bowie: Let's Dance

  • German Word of the Day: Regen

  • Translation: Rain

  • Example: Ich habe Schnee lieber als Regen./I like snow better than rain.
      I've been reading "The Risks of Sunbathing Topless... and Other Funny Stories from the Road" (great read, especially while traveling). On the way back to Munich from Neuschwanstein Castle, I mused that our trip had run surprisingly smoothly so far.
        Don't ever do that. I've discovered that while traveling, it's better to be pessimistic, so that when (if) things go right, you end up pleasantly surprised. If you have a touch of the Eternal Optimism like me, however, it's difficult to be pessimistic.
        Kristen and I were booked on a night train from Munich to Lucerne with a train change in Lugano. We would arrive in Lugano (in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland) at 6:08am and be on our way to Lucerne (in the German speaking part) at 6:55. My alarm on my phone was set for 5:45. Fantastic.
          I gave up hoping for a good night's sleep after my ticket was checked for the third time. It seemed that, just as I was off to la la land, there would be a knock at the door. Putting on my best smile, I politely asked the passport guy for a stamp. No dice. (It was then that my frustration with Swiss German began.)
            Every hour on the hour my eyes opened. The last time I checked the clock on my phone it was 4:30am.
            The train stopped moving and I groggily eyed the door, waiting for some other Crazy Swiss to demand my passport or ticket. When no one came, I looked over at Kristen, who asked, "Are we here?"
            "No way," I replied. I hadn't heard my alarm go off. A glance out of the right window showed some random sign in Italian. My hand flailed around my bag and, upon locating my phone, I gasped. Six twenty-two am.
            "Holy CRAP! We're HERE!" I shouted, running around (as much as one can in a six seater compartment), simultaneously throwing on my hat, putting my shoes on the wrong feet, and tripping into the hallway. From the left window I saw "Lugano" -- the sign I had seen at first was a supermarket.
            Before we could drag out our bags, the train started to move. Kristen and I stared wearily at each other.
            "We'll just get off at the next station," I said, wondering exactly where that was. As I turned, I stepped smack into two guys, who came into our compartment and started blathering away in Italian.
            "Ummm... English oder Deutsch," I said.
            "Oh, you are American? [insert stereotypical Italian hand gestures here] We are from Sicily. You know, mafia? Bang-bang-bang-bang-bang! [Shooting noises, more gestures]"
                        I searched through my Western Europe guidebook for a way to describe our situation. Unable to find the phrase "We missed our train, " which would be a really excellent phrase to learn in many languages (I'm looking in your direction, Let's Go), all I could find was "I am lost."
                        Their eyes lit up. "Come with us to Milano! We makea a party!" This dubious phrase was entirely too Borat for words and I didn't want to hear any more suggestions from these guys.
                        Italian with occasional English-sounding words prevailed, with Kristen and I helplessly agreeing to take pictures with them. (They'll probably end up on or something similar.) The train started to slow down and we lunged at the hallway, throwing our bags and ourselves off of the train.
                          "Arrivederci!" our Italians yelled at us, waving from the window.
                          All of this after two crazy, jet-lagged days in Munich, a lot of non-sleep, and before 7am.
                            I looked at the map in my guidebook, finding the stop where we ended up alighting. It was Chiasso, Switzerland. The next stop was Como, Italy.
                              So close.

                            11. Dezember 2006

                            • Reading: Wladimir Kaminer: Russendisko

                            • Listening to: Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Date with a Night

                            • German Word of the Day: Löschzüge

                            • Translation: Firetrucks

                            • Example: Die Löschzüge sind an uns vorbeigefahren./The firetrucks drove past us.

                            Around six-thirty Sunday morning, our doorbell rang. Twenty times. I chalked it up to drunken idiots and buried my head under my pillow, trying to go back to sleep. Then, the door opened and shut, which confused me, but not enough to get me out of my cocoon of blankets and warmth.

                            Then, the fire alarm went off. I heard the collective groan of my roommates and we staggered about, trying to find clothes to wear. I managed to put on everything I had worn the night before and shuffled to the shoe rack, grabbing the first shoes I could find. (They were blue and pink Sauconys. No, they didn’t match, but I don’t really care at 6:30am.) Poor Chrissi ended up in high-heeled boots and her bathrobe. The head of the dorm burst into our room, screaming at us to get going. Then she looked at me and started translating – for some reason, she had forgotten that I SPEAK GERMAN. I reminded her as such and wrapped my scarf around me in a dignified manner, sweeping past her to the stairwell.

                            Once outside, we speculated as to what had happened. We smelled smoke when up on our fourth floor, but once we were at the ground level we couldn’t smell it anymore. I thought that the party on the terrace the night before had sparked it all, with some reveler forgetting to put out his cigarette completely. None of us had a clue what was going on.

                            Cue the flashing blue lights of the fire truck. Then, cue the fire truck blowing past our dorm (I thought taxis not finding my dorm was bad enough) and half a mile up the street. In the crisp morning air we could hear the truck in reverse, backing up and finally noticing the group of students freezing in the winter air.

                            There were a total of three fire trucks, four police cars, and five ambulances, blue lights ablaze. None of us were very concerned, though, as the fireman seemed to be very relaxed, chilling next to their trucks.

                            Around 7:15 we were allowed back in. When the five of us got back into our apartment, we all started to gag – it was thick with the smell of burned plastic. Turns out one of the drunken revelers from the party the night before had cooked something around three in the morning and forgot to turn off the stove, ruining the backsplash and shorting the electricity. Adding to the stupidity: the boys had taken the battery out of their fire alarm a year ago. If it had been there, they would have noticed the smoke a lot sooner. The door to their apartment is always open, which usually seems stupid, but in this case was a potential lifesaver, as it allowed the smoke to get into the stairwell and trip the alarm.

                            The cleaning lady is happy because it’s one less stove for her to clean.

                            3. Dezember 2006

                            Viele Grüsse vom Krampus

                            Originally uploaded by Kimmikers.

                            • Reading: Patrick Süskind: Das Parfum

                            • Listening to: Georges Bizet: Carmen: Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre

                            • German Word of the Day: schlagen (past tense geschlagen)

                            • Translation: to hit

                            • Example: Die Krampusse haben mich zwei mal geschlagen!/The Krampusses hit me twice!

                            Say hello to Krampus. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about him:

                            "Often the subject of winter poems and tales, the Companions travel with St. Nicholas or his various equivalents (Father Christmas, Santa Claus), carrying with them a rod (sometimes a stick, bundle of switches or a whip, and in modern times often a broom) and a sack. They are sometimes dressed in black rags, bearing a black face and unruly black hair. In many contemporary portrayals the companions look like dark, sinister, or rustic versions of Nicholas himself, with a similar costume but with a darker color scheme.

                            Some of the companions take on more monstrous forms. Krampus and Klaubauf are variously depicted as horned, shaggy, bestial, or demonic. In many depictions the Krampus looks like popular images of the Devil, complete with red skin, cloven hooves, and short horns.

                            In some of the Ruprecht traditions the children would be summoned to the door to perform tricks, such as a dance or singing a song to impress upon Santa and Ruprecht that they were indeed good children. Those who performed badly would be beaten soundly by Servant Ruprecht, and those who performed well were given a gift or some treats. Those who performed badly enough or had committed other misdeeds throughout the year were put into Ruprecht's sack and taken away, variously to Ruprecht’s home in the Black Forest, or to be tossed into a river. In other versions the children must be asleep, and would either awake to find their shoes filled with sweets, coal, or in some cases a stick. Over time, other customs developed: parents giving kids who misbehaved a stick instead of treats and saying that it was a warning from Nikolaus that "unless you improve by Christmas day, Nikolaus' black servant Ruprecht will come and beat you with the stick and you won't get any Christmas gifts." Often there would be variations idiosyncratic to individual families.

                            In parts of Austria, Krampusse, who local tradition says are (typically children of poor families), roamed the streets and sledding hills during the festival. They wore black rags and masks, dragging chains behind them, and occasionally hurling them towards children in their way. These Krampusumzüge (Krampus runs) still exist, although perhaps less violent than in the past.

                            Today, Schladming, a town in Styria (my state!), over 1200 "Krampus" gather from all over Austria wearing goat-hair costumes and carved masks (which usually cost about $1400), carrying bundles of sticks used as switches, and swinging cowbells to warn of their approach. They are typically young men in their teens and early twenties and are generally intoxicated. They roam the streets of this typically quiet town and hit people with their switches."

                            I got hit by a switch and screamed both times, freaking out the kids around me. The Krampusse are really nice to the children, shaking their hands and patting them on their heads, but they enjoy taking unsuspecting American exchange students by surprise and whacking them on the arm/butt. I got hit with a switch twice today.

                            Apparently they only hit the bad ones.


                            25. November 2006

                            Turkey for me, turkey for you...unless you're a vegetarian

                            • Reading: Roman Sandgruber: Das 20. Jahrhundert

                            • Listening to: Elysian Fields: Bleed Your Cedar: Star

                            • German Word of the Day: die Lebensmittelvergiftung

                            • Translation: food poisoning

                            • Example: Hoffentlich werde ich die Mädels nicht vergiften./Hopefully I won't poison the girls.

                            It was 1pm. I took the turkey out of the fridge and promptly freaked out, placing a call to my mother.

                            "It will be fine, Kim." She hadn't even said hello. Mother's intuition or something.

                            "But it's so... gross. Like, it's... I have to reach inside, don't I?"

                            "Yes, but I promise it's not so bad. You can do it, Kim."

                            "But what if it's not done? Food poisoning, mom!"

                            She talked me down and I tried to stare down the turkey, but to no avail. Eventually I threw it in the sink and rinsed it for a good fifteen minutes.

                            Other items on the menu: macaroni and cheese (for the vegetarians), stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy (Julia tried to talk me out of the potatoes, but Christina, the other American, backed me up. I ask you, can Thanksgiving sans mashed potatoes even exist?), pumpkin roll (which I've been "testing" since it was finished) and Christina's chocolate-pumpkin cake. I keep trying to stress that this is NOTHING compared to the usual fare. We are, however, in Austria, so I suppose I'm luckily I'm even celebrating Thanksgiving at all.

                            I'm thankful for, among other things, my Gösser Bier. (But I wish I had some Murauer!)