Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I Thought I was Going to Write About a Concert I Went to, Then THIS Happened

So it's Lent, a time of year in which most Lutherans feel compelled to go to church. Epiphany? Not so much. But we are all UP in that Lent business. It should come as no surprise then that this Sunday found me and an absurdly large crowd at church. What was a shocker was this program

That's right, "Nicaraguan mass
with the swedish Victoria congregation's choir" singing along in Swedish.

So seeing the two violinists meant not that we were in for the treat of Swedish folk music but rather VERY skillfully played ranchero music played by a pack of Swedes who had been living in Nicaragua.

The choir director, who had arranged all this, then got up and introduced the Nicaraguan ambassador, who, along with her entourage, barely spoke German let alone Swedish, so she sat there smiling and giggling at some things, like most of us in the audience. Were I a betting person I would say that the choir director had done the translating too, and he'd put his all into it, but the rhythm of Swedish and the rhythm of Spanish have two different...everythings, so once they started singing, there was a lot of RUSHING TO FIT ALL THE WORDS IN THE BARS.

Oddly enough, the 6/8, 3/4 alternating time signatures lended themselves well to the bounce of
Roman imperialisten
But that was one of the minor victories to be had.

The most EnTeRtAiNiNg "creative addition" was this:

It's a verse on how G-d is in Nicaraguan towns, and the verse directly after (again, where I a betting person I would bet this line wasn't in the original tune) speaks of Her presence in a list of Swedish and Norwegian cities...and of course Berlin. Oddly enough, there were no Danish cities on that list, and that provided some very good laugh lines.

A [Seemingly Obvious] Note on Laughing in Church- at this point we had been shushed once (by a woman with snuss in her bag who left at communion, I might add) and the more forbidden it was to laugh, the more frequent and intense was the humor. It was truly something awful.

Insert random Spanish word here

The communion also turned into a bit of a fiasco, because they don't use ushers, and it was pointed out to me that Nicaragua isn't famous for its citizens' ability to self-regulate themselves into neat and tidy little lines, much to the consternation of the Swedes.

Then a couple more awkward tunes:

...some with a little audience participation:

the alternative is the 2 and the 4

And then came time for post-service coffee, when I took the opportunity to write in my program a quote from John Mayer's failed stint as a baseball announcer:

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Dangers of Cross Cultural Communication

to Sully Sullenberger something- (v) to attempt to metaphorically "get the plane's nose up" despite the fact that the "plane" is crashing into an icy river; an attempt to control a deteriorating situation

An actual conversation I had last night with a Francophone Swede (yup, you heard right) and a French girl.

Me: That band was great, fo rizzle!

Him: rizzle?

Me: Like you know, fo shizzle.


Ummm...I was trying to say for real--

Her: --but you didn't

No, I added an "izzle"


You know Snoop D-O-double gizzle

Both: huh?

Snoop Dogg

Oooooohhh!! Snoop Doggy Dogg. Yes.

<NOTE: This conversation is going NOWHERE GOOD and I should have stopped it here, but I had to Sully Sullenberger it...I felt compelled to keep going>

Well, like that song where he adds "izzle" to things...ummm...


"HOLIDAE INN!" That's the song! You know that one with Chingy and...

You know..."fo shizzle nizzle"...with the...it's slang

For what?

Eh...ummm...this a kind of moment like I talked about before, when something is "awkward" or amuseant. Oh, look, the bass player is coming this way! Let's say hi!

We are both so misunderstood...fo' rizzle

Just When I Think I Get German High School...

So I'm walking into school this Wednesday, just a normal day, and I'll admit that generally speaking WEDNESDAYS ARE RELATIVELY AWFUL!!

I say that for a couple reasons:
1. I have to wake up at 5 so I can make my train and be there for the first hour of class

2. I have a year 9 class (Imagine yourself in 9th grade...now stop please, you're annoying those around you already)
3. I am there until the 8th hour (that's like 3:30)
4. I have a H U G E stretch of nothing at all in the middle, but it's not huge enough for me to go home and nap.

Now, I'll stop there and say I love my students; they're all smart as a whip and charming, and the year 12s that I have right after the year 9s TOTALLY make the first 2 hours of the day worth it, but still...it's a trying day, not one to easily open you up for moments of whIMsY, that's for sure.

But this week has been a little different. If you're American, you'll remember Spirit Days from high school, where the student body gears up for a big game with themes like "Dress Like a Twin Day" or something:

Thank you, picture from junior year of high school

Turns out that the year 13s, the big dogs on campus here, have something similar called "MOTTO WEEK," but it's a bit less coordinated. The first day was some theme so small that I didn't even notice it happening (since this whole "80s clothes" thing took off I am so lost), but Tuesday was "Backwards Day," which I learned after quietly telling a few of the more clumsily dressed that "Honey, your shirt is on inside out...did you dress in a hurry this morning?" Cute.

Then came Wednesday (see? All tangents lead back to SOMETHING), and everyone has dressed like they've lost their g-d foresaken minds! Observe, my debate class:

I only asked for permission from 2 of them to show their faces,
so I've edited out the others just to be safe

One very sedate girl came in with a fake flower in her hair (this was like ME taking part in spirit days in high school), one girl came in 80s-to-the-MAX (the tights), and then were my two favorites:

Yes, y'all, that's a real Stetson, bought in Austin.

There's an explanation for the boy, he did an exchange year in the US playing football near the Texas-Arkansas border, where he apparently picked up southern style, football playing ability and an accent that is a continuing source of confusion and frustration amongst his Anglophone teachers ("I simply don't understand why he cannot pronounce his words!"). He showed up wearing boots, a hat, and, well, you see. Then there's this girl. She's pulling off a Grandma Clampet kind of look for the German set, complete with a wig. I was very proud of her.

She did NOT, rest assured, dress the same way for the "CEOs and Secretarial Hoes" day.


The word used for the girls was "Tussies," and, while it was shocking to see some of the girls with makeup troweled on (the students who are most like me, and therefore who I most like, considered eye liner, mascara, and a knee-length skirt Tussie-like), some of the girls wore the VERY high heels a little too well. One of the teachers in training, a great dude from France origionally, put it PERFECTLY when he said
Zhees girls weel keep zhees day forevehr. For zhem, zhey come to school Monday, zhey are steel Tussies.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Ball's In Y'all's Court

I have a challenge to my creaTiVe and WoNdeRful readers:

I am getting into stenciling tee shirts (it's fun, and I'm not too shabby at it, and it takes up a lot of time I would otherwise be spending starting a street gang), and I managed to fall into TWO Fulbright tees (not on purpose). I therefore plan on stenciling one with SOMETHING.

Description of Shirt:
It's a navy blue Fruit of the Loom with a small, white "Fulbright Germany" logo on the left.

I want to put something kind of snarky on there, and here's what I'm thinking so far:
-a ninja on the bottom right corner
-"and you're not" on the back of the shirt (that's a little braggy)
-old school nerd glasses

I put it to you, my readers, to help me come up with a decent idea.
Why am I doing this now? Well, this is what I ran into yesterday:

That's right...snow!
I need something to do to stave off the cabin fever!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Nerds on the Spree

One week ago today I was registering for the now infamous Fulbright conference of awesome.

It was a little bit of a complicated thing, see I took off work for a week to take part, but since I live in the city in which it was taking place, I was also determined to fit in at least some social appointments. This involved on the first night quite a bit of doing, since I was shucking an NU hoodie I'd worn to see D. and S. and their son at the Weissensee:

It's actually pretty nice for a city

to a more formal cardigan and better makeup en route to the opening mixer. It worked pretty well, and it turned out that even if I had shown up in a hoodie and jeans I wouldn't have stuck out much since the first two days involved 600 PARTICIPANTS (Germans, Americans, and grantees from all over Europe). It was a madhouse. On the other hand, it was kind of good for us.

You see: nerds don't socialize well. We don't bound up to each other with a bubbling enthusiasm and ask how the other party is doing. We have to, in some cases, be forced to socialize. This goes double for "mixed nerd" company. Say you're in a room full of political scientist nerds, everyone can have something in common and be armed with certain themes and sets of facts to make for a relatively interesting conversation. If there are biology nerds, music nerds, politics nerds, etc etc., you're in mixed nerd company, and you're sort of flying blind in terms of socializing. It, therefore, is a help to mash them in close to one another, so the thing you have in common is "so, I'm kind of in your personal space...what do you do?"
The next days were full of very impressive public figures, economists, sitting politicians, old party leaders, giving largely political speeches to rooms full of people, some of whom cared, others of whom didn't. I cared though. The theme was
Germany 2060 (that is, 20 years after the Wall, 60 years since Germany was created)
and they spoke about Reunification and Germany's future. They also talked ENDLESSLY about the Crisis. It was quite scary, especially to those of us hearing a deafening chorus of "no" from the job market, but my favorite speaker, with whom I ended up speaking quite a bit, was Klaus von Dohnanyi, the Secretary of Science and Education in the Brandt administration. His introduction (after an awful and self-aggrandizing speech from some Fulbright girl talking about how great she was [audible collective eye roll]) went something like this:
I know that right now everyone is talking about the Crisis in the economy, and I am not here to talk about that today. [sighs from the crowd] I'm here today to talk about our crisis with Russia!

Well, at least it's not Bernacke

To quote Sean, "CRAP-DANG!" I actually spoke with Dr. von Dohnanyi, and he's a really smart and pretty witty guy who could NOT say enough good things about Nixon's voice (that was a little weird). I also got the chance to talk with a high-up in the German Green Party, and there's something in the works regarding that, but I'll be cryptic on that situation until I can have something decent on the topic to say.

The next day brought some real drama in the form of a Town Hall Welcome by a woman from the Berlin version of the city council. This was a pretty banal speech about how nice Berlin is and how great the universities are. The Free University was even listed on the eight elites. You'll recall, loyal readers, that this was the same program that elicited such loud boos at the lecture I attended by Judith Butler. I wanted to ask about it, but when Q&A opened up, no one was approaching the mic. This made me pretty hesitant, until LaSean whispered in my ear that I should ask. So, ignoring the look of relief on the woman's face at the anticipation of a finger-sandwich reception, I jumped up and asked
Ma'am, you mentioned this list of elite unis in Germany, but this is a new ranking and so unpopular that the students have rebelled against it. How do you address this opposition?

Not so fast, lady!!!

Well, right away 6 other people leapt up to ask follow-ups, since they didn't even know this thing was going on and they wanted to know more. Haha.

That night was the music gala, which highlighted some amazing talent, and some puzzling:
Beethoven's Trio Opus 1 No.3
Billie- For Saxophone and boombox
Eisler's Songs to the Texts of Brecht (sung by a woman in--what else--a red dress)
Bartok's Hungarian Folk Songs by a COUNTER TENOR (that one took us by shock)
The Low Quartet- For one live and 3 pre-recorded basoons
and the premier of some guitar songs dedicated to the player (awkward speculation), an NU boy!

NU actually had a great showing there with 4 alums in the audience and two up on stage (I wanted to lead a "GO U" "N-U" chant, but that got shot down for some odd reason), and I have to say, we like everyone else in the audience benefited by the presence of wine at intermission. It was a glorious thing to see on St. Patrick's Day a room full of people dressed up POUNDING free wine while still trying to talk up the small list of "wine appropriate" topics, but whatever happened, it worked. We were WITH THEM for the second half of the concert. That's not to say that you should go to the symphony drunk, but a little wine to relax you helps you get into the classical music mode.

The next day was my speech, which I will say went pretty well. Good turn out, people listened, and we were lacking one speaker, so we both spoke for about 10 minutes and then split the room into a few working groups to help us make a protocol, which I have actually received some requests for, so I think we did some good.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Other Stuff I Do

I will just say that there is a lot in the works about this big ole Fulbright conference that just got finished here, but I'll give right now the highlight for me: the speech that I delivered at a panel called "Teaching diversity in Germany: A Success Story?" It was supposed to be me, this kid Andrew, and Ellen Lampert.

She is one of the smartest people about...anything. She has lots of degrees and works in the field of cross-cultural education, and all-around ninja, who lived here for some years. Not a week before the panel, Andrew backed out, leaving us to scramble for a new idea, which we found in the form of making the room help us to form a protocol for teaching diversity-related subjects and dealing with administrators and teachers unwilling to accommodate diverse needs. Ellen started off giving an intro to the whole thing and introducing me in a very flattering way, about how great my observations are and how impressed she was, which made my face turn red, but was still kind of awesome.

This was my opening speech, which got a lot of positive response from everyone there:

I will warn you that I'm just as ready for this speech as I was to be a diversity TA in the first place. Today, though, we are going to talk about and try to find workable solutions to some of the problems we collectively face. That having been said I also anticipate some jaw-dropping war stories along the way.

I want to begin by examining diversity as a concept in modern German society. We have all run into an eye-rolling disdain here for political correctness, percieved as a uniquely American habit. I will concede that while w might not have discovered it, we certainly popularized and ran with the notion. This is, however, closely tied in with American demographics. We are an increasingly heterogeneous society, for which we have constantly been developing coping strategies. We tried to deal with out differences by denying them, as in the case of the Native American genocide, by isolating and exploiting them, in the case of slavery and segregation, and after considerable public discourse we have developed, for better or worse, a strategy for attempting to accommodate--if only superficially--our differences. This was in some ways born of necessity, in a sense because if one makes an offensive comment in a diverse group, someone is bound to be offended, and we have come far enough that we are empowered to speak out against it. This is the background of the political correctness movement in the US.

Germans, however, are used--like many Europeans--to a more homogeneous society in which minorities were discouraged or intimidated from speaking out about their discomforts, engendering a society that scoffs at our albeit feeble attempts at inclusion. For them, diversity is often a buzzword, lumped in with such eye-rollers as "politisch korrekt" and "Multiculti." They are, however, living in a time of increasing diversity, with German birth-rates in extreme decline and immigration a fact of life. It is our job therefore to help Germany navigate this minefield, using our experiences as Americans.

There are, though, many obstacles in our paths, starting off with how we as Diversity Initiative TAs gauge diversity. German school administrators shy away from asking demographic questions like where their students are from and what their native languages or special needs are. Their databases, if existent, are also by virtue of being German rarely centralized. This has both a negative and positive effect. Positively, this sets up the principle that all students are the same, united by their school attendance. Negatively, this ameliorates differences and hinders consciousness of and accommodations for diverse needs.

The very definition of DIVERSITY is troublesome, because each category comes with its own set of assumptions and challenges. RELIGIOUS diversity can be the most visible (in, for example, the headscarf debates in the BaWu system) but also the least visible. Imagine at this point Catholics in Hessen forced to take Protestant Religionsunterricht, or Hindus forced to sit in classes with lit Advent wreaths. Teachers are often NOT trained to deal with or recognize these differences, denying Muslim students excused absences for some religious holidays, or not letting them out of class to pray.

In the case of PHYSICAL diversity there are different accommodations. In Germany there is no "citizens with disabilities act," and so students with physical or mental handicaps are often denied access to classrooms, courses, and sometimes even the right to take their Abitur or MSA.

Lastly we have ETHNIC and CULTURAL differences. As outlined earlier, it is often difficult to gage how much ethnic and cultural variety one encounters in a classroom short of asking the students themselves. There are also more ethnicities and short of asking the students themselves. There are also more elasticities and cultures than we as outsiders are often aware of, which can vary from one school to the next. Aggravatingly, this was one reason our preparations were so general. In Berlin, for example, there are Polish neighborhoods and French, Turkish and Persian, Russian and Italian. These are differences that are sometimes difficult to flush out and then to deal with, because (and this is something else we must be aware of) society here has different perceptions of each. When I was discussing Polaski day, for example, one of my year 10s raised his hand and shocked me by asking is Poles in the US "klau [steal] everything, a stereotype of which, though I've lived here for a year and a half, I was ignorant of.

Here we must as diversity TAs be more conscious and independently make ourselves aware of students' linguistic and migrant backgrounds, their levels of class integration, and the larger public's expectations for them.

Lastly, we run into obstacles built by the school administrators. Some of these are seemingly unavoidable, for instance the lack of time students have to take part in a diversity-themed AG. Others are seemingly more intentional:
the ignorance of school administrators regarding their student body
uninformed teachers
and the perception that we as Fulbright ETAs are merely teachers in training

These contribute to a culture in which school officials are unwilling and unable to step out and institute programs to improve their school's understanding and accommodation of diversity.

We are here today to help ourselves and future ETAs to solve these problems as much as possible by developing a protocol for future diversity participants, including
1. ways of gathering data about the school
2. how to approach the administration
3. how to in our own way cope with diversity of various kinds in our schools.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

a quick shoutout

I started yelling in a big 'ole southern accent today...why?

Remember good ole' insanely-talented A and her male companion, R?


So big shoutouts to both of them. I hope they have many international, smart, polyglottic (is that the word for "they're polyglots"?) spawns!!! Additionally, all I can think of now is that scene from Princess Bride when that guy calls it "mawwage!" Note Christopher Guest glowering in the background as the six-fingered man.

These two are NOT them
...but I wish em the best anyway


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

we discover the criminals within

Perhaps no one remembers when jazz was something criminal, when mothers and fathers would shudder and make some kind of commentary on that music being nothing more than noise. I don't. But when I think of this time it gives the sometimes stodgy (let's be real now) world of jazz some of that outlaw glamor, makes it somehow hotter, EdGiEr.

yeah...like that!!

I say all that as an introduction to the night of Philippe's and my visit to the embassy, when an invite was "shot our way" to a little jam session featuring among others Philippe's Swedish-born, Swiss educated, and current Berlin resident (I refer to him simply as "confusing" seeing as how people often and oddly think Sweden and Switzerland are interchangeable) Christian. I've met him before, heard him play trumpet, and so I was pretty stoked to see him play again. The location too was doused in "hip," Berlin's New Cologne (neu koeln).

A word on Neu
Koeln: there are certain parts of town where you know gentrification--well--has a long way to go still. nK is one such place, sporting a high Arabic population (as opposed to Turkish Xberg) and a not minor lawlessness problem. This is not saying it is a ghetto or something, but there is a park there in which most of Berlin knows you can get any substance known to man. That having been said, it certainly has outcroppings of true, cool edge, Werkstadt being one.

Metro Stop in nK

The bar was divided into two parts, one drinkin' bar in which Chris was playing and something resembling a gallery in the back, filled with folks wielding posters and that paint-on glue stuff. My impression would be that they could be described as "Trotsky-ists." They just had that kind of vibe.

The jam session, however, had a whole nother vibe going on. These cats for the most part were really on the same page, playing very chill if not a bit conventional jazz. They were 100% into it, very talented, we were having a great time.

Then, at about 9:30 PM, I saw two holstered pistols hovering past. "OMG!! I'm back in Texas!". Then I realized they were attached to two police officers. "OMG!! I'm back at AHS!!" I perhaps unfairly assumed that they were there for the anti-capitalists, so I tried to ignore them, like the musicians were doing, but Philippe kept listening to their conversation with the bartender and overheard the word "laerm" meaning "noise" as in "we got a complaint about all this noise."AT 9:30...IN NEW FRAKKIN COLOGNE!!! Like don't these guys have ANYTHING better to do?! And if we were listening to craptastic pop, would that reaction be any different?!

Well anyway we got busted, and the musicians bashfully packed it in, in order to spend the rest of the night sitting around pondering our CRIMES OF MUSIC (yes, that was meant to be a bit dramaculous). We were pretty annoyed, but then Chris' girlfriend and one of her buddies showed up all
où est la partie?
and we had to tell the story again, "blah blah blah music blah blah blah guns," so they sat down and we just had drinks and complained until very late...11...WHEN IT MIGHT ACTUALLY BE TOO LATE FOR MAKING LAERM!!!!!

Not a fan of the jazz, this one apparently^^

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Canadian embassy--why the heck not, eh?

If you have 15-20 free minutes, and you're wandering around Potsdamer Platz, you will no doubt notice the "Entdecken Sie Kanada!" signs all around the embassy. We sure did, and rather than ignoring Canada as most Americans are want to do, this time I was feeling free-wheeling enough to, as the poster prompted, "Discover Canada!" and Philippe was feeling patient enough to indulge me.

The security guard greeted us at the small entrance and said "Can I help you?" in German. "We want to discover Canada!" I said with total non-sarcastic enthusiasm. "Right this way!" he responded, like he was about to burst into a song about the joys of Canada. Then came a cursory wanding ("You beeped? No, it must have been your buttons, forget it. You won't get into trouble, eh?"), which was pretty great! Then the woman at the front desk, who you could kind of tell didn't get much new company at her job (I don't know why the rest of the world isn't as keen on entdecking Kanada) started to show us around. There was only one room that was open for visitors, and apparently one third of the screens in it were broken, with no "fix date" in sight.

The biggest deal was being made of presumably one of the most influential Canadians of all time. Gretzki? No. Mike Myers? No. Alanis? No.

Marhall McLuhan!

Way to lead with your best foot there, fellas!

As explained to me he was a "media critic from the 50s whose work is very relevant to us in this day and age." errrrr... We messed around with the screens, which displayed such media classics as "McLuhan lecture at Ohio State University." That isn't even IN Canada! It got better though; the headphones for the movie clips came from a circular black leather couch with headphone jacks; these jacks played music from Canadian artists and such radio news classics as "poor grammar in 1940s youth."

The grammatical crises of Saskatoon's teen set were gripping, don't get me wrong, but we were looking for something a bit more interactive. Thank gawd the embassy had thought of this and come up with a really cool touch-screen map game about Canadian states (it's available online too...right here), led by a bouncing graphic we came to discover was actually Bernard the Bilingual Canada Map Beaver: he speaks Quebequois AND English! This information, I have to say, could not be verified, since it came from the two front-desk-minders on their shift-change. He was in reality quite cute, a credit to whatever graphic artist firm invented him.

A-door-bell! And bearing a passing resemblance to Olive the Other Reindeer

Just for comparrison's and cuteness' sakes, I present: Olive! -->

So we messed with the Canadian provinces, killed some time with Bernard, and left, but I would here and now like to give an online "shout-out" to the Canadian embassy staff:
Thanks for being so pleasant, you guys!
Sorry your spokesman is a media critic from the 50s!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


So I am going to make a bold statement, a "hot sports opinion" if you will and it is going to be shocking but I stand by it and if it costs me my ties to society then so be it!

Showers are amazing

There, I said it. I skipped a class of one particular teacher a few weeks back to see philippe off home, with the teacher's consent, and as payback I volunteered to go to his little kids' class, the kids who repeat everything I say and think I'm cool. They are in the first hour of the day, but I didn't worry too much.

That was then.

I went to sleep last night relatively early for me and set my alarm for the regular Tuesday time, when my classes start at 3rd period. Oops. So rather than a 5:30 AM wakeup I got up at 6:30, started running my shower (solar heating means the water runs for quite some time) and looked at the clock to realize "CRAP! I SHOULD BE OUT THE DOOR IN 2 MINUTES!" no time for a shower, I ran off to school leaving behind all my pens, pencils, and paper and of course the key to the school's teacher's bathroom. I did, however, make it 10 minutes late to class, wearing a hat to cover my greasy hair and blotting off the rest of yesterday's mascara. And did I mention my throat was raw? I think I'm getting a bit of a cold. Anyway, I was "standing next to myself" as they say.

Then came the 5th hour, my one free hour, and then one last class. During this time, though, the teacher of the 6th hour class came to me and said "I can't really fit you in today." YES! SHOWER HERE I COME!

But then she gave me that annoying-as-heck face and said, "but I'll ask you to be in next week." well, next week I'm supposed to be in another person's class, so I had to orchestrate the switch "I'll take your class this week, even though it should be next, but mrs. J wants to be next." my shower was getting further away. My heart sank.

I would have settled for this even!!!

After a rather annoying class I ran back to the staff room to get my stuff and bolt, but the woman I "team teach" with cornered me to plan out a test and all I could think was "ok lady, I am standing here and feel so grodey. PLEASE just email me about that later after I clean off!" and she somehow picked up on my mental waves and let me run to the bus (great! unshowered and sweaty), but I got home, took a shower, and know what? It was pure bliss.

--Insert angelic AWWWWWW sound here--