Catherine Gracey

Living Life, One Misadventure At A Time.

Not Cool, Douchebag! NOT Cool!

Tuesday seemed to be all about men.

The first incident was while I was walking down the street in Wiesbaden. A man was walking the other way, looked me up and down, and said “sehr schoen, sehr schoen”. Then he continued walking down the street with no further interaction.

This sort of incident is one I put in the feel good but totally harmless category. Who doesn’t like being told that she’s very beautiful by a man who clearly doesn’t expect anything in return? Sometimes it is nice to have confirmation that you’re looking good. I’ve had a few moments like this one while in Germany, and they have added up in my head to come to a giggly I-love-German-men conclusion.

Fortunately for that man, he was not trying to talk to me after the next incident of the day.

I was back in Mainz, and had remembered that I wanted to look at a particular landmark. It was a bit out of the way, and late in the afternoon, but I figured it was still broad daylight and totally safe to go. I was armed with a map and a phone with GPS, so I was confident that not a lot would go wrong.

Less than a hundred metres away from my destination, a man was walking down the street in the opposite direction. He veered towards me, and I found myself casually pinning my purse against my side.

He tried to start a conversation in German, but I didn’t understand what he was asking. I apologised and told him that I did not understand him. Usually this is enough to end most conversations, but he switched to English.

His first question was if I knew where a particular bank was. I told him that I did not. Then he asked if I knew where a supermarket was. I told him I did not, and would probably not recognise the brand even if I had seen one.

He considered this long enough that I began to hope the conversation was over. He reeked of alcohol, and any points he might have had for being fairly cute were totally eroded by his stench. I began to move away.

Then he spotted my map, and asked if I knew where the main city was. If this was what it took to get rid of him, I was happy to oblige. I showed him my map, pointed out where we were, and showed him roughly which way to go. He stared at my map long and hard, and then followed this up by asking where the train station was. I pointed in the direction, and told him to start walking.

He switched tactics and asked where I was going. I told him the landmark that I was heading towards, and assured him that I could find it by myself. It felt as if he had asked too many questions, and I was getting very uncomfortable about talking to him.

At this he nodded and turned to leave, groping my breast in the process. This was no accidental grope, because his hand was there for far too long, and there was no hurried apology afterwards. No man feels for that long without knowing exactly what he’s doing.

I stared at him, incredulous, and began swinging with my purse. Fortunately for him I had removed the dictionary I normally carry, so I misjudged the momentum required and missed. He took this as his cue to leave, and continued down the street as if nothing had happened.

Instead of continuing on my way, I stood there watching him to make sure he really did leave. I was furious, and mentally preparing myself to lay him out cold if he turned around. But he just kept walking, turned the corner, and was well out of sight.

I decided to continue on to the landmark. It was one of those buildings that are easy to miss if you are coming from a particular direction. I was keeping a careful eye on my map, so I knew I was going to walk past it. Found it easily, took a photo, and then looked around.

The guy was standing about 50m away from me, on the road I would have come back on if I had continued past the building. He was talking to someone on his phone, and had his back to me, ever so casually watching the road beyond where we were. He was also in a position where he would have seen me long before I saw him if I had made the mistake.

At this point I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I fled, wondering if anything had actually happened that was worth reporting to the police, or if it was just my fears getting the most of me. I decided against making a report because I was uncertain if he had broken any laws, and honestly I’m not sure I wanted to invest enough time into finding out.

On my way back to the hotel I realised its location is marked on my map. I told the receptionist about the incident, and asked her to call the police if anyone by his description came looking for me. She assured me that they wouldn’t let him near me, and apologised that such a thing had happened.

I’m truly grateful that (if it had to) this incident happened after I have spent so long in Germany, and not on the first day. If this had been my initial impression of German men, I would have crossed the border and not looked back. I have a hundred examples of charming, considerate, thoughtful men to base my opinion on, and not just this one douchebag. It is just such an unfortunate end to my stay in Mainz, which is a city I had really been enjoying until that moment.

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Goodbye, Translator Man

I say goodbye to my boyfriend tomorrow, which essentially means I also say goodbye to my German translator. He will go home after a week in China, and I will have two more weeks in Germany by myself. If I am going to make use of that learning through immersion thing, this is my chance.

It is difficult for me to say how much German I have picked up. The consensus is that I have improved considerably. My accent is better, my vocabulary has expanded, and I am making much more creative use of the language. Basic conversations are not a problem, and in very limited situations some people do not realise I am an English native speaker.

One of the biggest hurdles for me on this trip has been topics of conversation. The things that are taught in early language lessons are not the sort of things that people here want to talk to me about. Strangers are interested in where I come from, but they always ask in English. The family and some friends of my boyfriend talk to me in German, but they want to know about things that I cannot communicate.

My goal for the final two weeks is to expand my vocabulary enough to understand what is going on around me. I want to read advertisements and comprehend them. I want to be able to explain things to people without sounding like a simpleton. I especially want to listen to the scandalous gossip of old women in ice cream cafes.

I am looking forward to getting home and talking to our German friends about our trip. They will be the true test to see how much I have picked up, and how much is wishful thinking on my part. I hope that I will be able to talk to them about all of the things I was unable to talk to people about here. It would be nice to join in their conversations when they switch to German.

The thing I am most hopeful for is that my boyfriend will be proud of me at the end of these two weeks. I don’t often want the validation of a man, but it would be great if he decides that I can safely talk to people unsupervised. The only thing better than that will be when I agree.

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Regional Codes

I cannot remember the last time that I bought a DVD without the 0 regional code. So many DVD players are now universal that it seems pointless to release a DVD with any other regional code. I haven’t had an issue with a DVD since the distributors gave up on the Australia code as an amusing little joke. I’m not even sure which code we had (was it 4?), and I don’t care enough to Google it.

Artistic piracy is something that I’m not a fan of. My philosophy is that there are a whole lot of artists who have worked incredibly hard on these products, and their entire career is based on the assumption that if I like their work I will follow their rules of distribution to show my appreciation. If someone wants to release their book free for two days, release a free software trial, or make their music video available for me to watch on YouTube, then great, sign me up. Otherwise I would prefer to borrow from a library or a friend if I don’t want to purchase.

When I first arrived in Germany, I thought it would be a great idea to buy a lot of local DVDs. Language dubbing for movies at home is patchy at best, but in Germany I am almost guaranteed that they will come with German. Since all of the movies I would like to buy were initially released in English, it is typically the first alternative language on the disk. I like to watch movies in English with the German subtitles turned on, and then watch again with the languages flipped.

My plan for the purchase of these discs came unstuck when I began to look at the covers. Every single DVD I have wanted to buy is coded for region 2. I have no idea if these discs will work on my player, and with prices ranging from 5-25 euro, I am remarkably uninterested in stocking up on movies that I might be unable to watch. There is no possibility for me to return the movies to the store within the returns period if I cannot get them to work at home.

This leaves me with a dilemma. How can I watch the movies if I legally purchase them? Buying a German DVD player seems stupid since I already have four Australian DVD players and we use a different power system anyway. I could try to find someone in Germany who would be willing to rip them for me, but at that point I might as well download them from the internet since it will be a lot faster and easier for me to do.

I wonder if the big businesses that scream about online piracy realise that they are the ones who are now pushing me towards is. Their ‘clever’ little games to trap me as a consumer are just encouraging me to walk away and join the very thing they protest. In this instance, they are rather fortunate that it is German I want to learn and not Chinese; I wouldn’t stand a chance of working out which is a legal DVD if I went shopping there.

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Taking It Slow And Easy

I am currently in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a city that by its nature doesn’t have an overabundance of modern conveniences such as air conditioning and elevators. This wasn’t an issue on my last visit here, but this time Germany is experiencing a heat wave, and I haven’t properly acclimatised to the summer weather yet.

My POTS symptoms had been under control before I came to Germany, but after a month of following the diet that I am able to get, rather than the one I would typically eat, I am feeling a lot of symptoms again. I can’t say that I missed many of them: the dizziness, the lethargy, that vague sick feeling.

It would be easy to become filled with self pity about this and launch into a stream of poor-me, but I have no intention of going there. Instead I am choosing to see this as a confirmation of all the things that I have been doing right over the past year. Salty food truly is the key for me. The exercise I have done to build up my muscular strength has helped enormously, but alone it is not yet sufficient. Still, this hard work has taken me from being catatonic on the couch to being slow but still out there in the world.

The reappearance of my most frustrating symptoms could be a great excuse to minimise what I do in Rothenburg, but I am not letting that happen either. True, I can’t do as many things as I would like to, but I can do them at a much more relaxing pace. Yesterday I spent a few hours sitting in the castle gardens. I can’t recall the last time before coming to Germany that I sat in a garden by myself for a few hours and just let the world pass me by. It was great, and something I might not have taken the time for if I had felt better.

I have also spent a lot of time creatively working here. The worst of the midday heat just crashes me, but rather than fighting it I am letting my body rest. When the night air cools, I am refreshed and alert. After so many hours during the day letting creative inspiration flow in, it is easy to let it all flow back out again and onto the page. New projects are taking off, old ones are gathering pace, and despite how unwell I currently feel, I am progressing at a pace that I would be pleased with if I felt well.

Regardless of the benefit I am still finding in my day, I hope that this heat wave is over before I have to haul my backpack back to the station. I will be very, very sad if it isn’t.

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Rathaus Glockenspiel in Munich (Spoiler Alert)

For the first time today I bothered to stop and watch the Rathaus Glockenspiel in Munich play at 11am. After two collective weeks in Munich, I decided that I wanted to know why the clock can fill the square with tourists.

The clock tells two stories from Munich’s history. The top story is the festival surrounding a 16th century wedding between Wilhlem V and Renata of Lorraine. To celebrate there is a joust. On the first pass the knights are unsuccessful, but on the second pass the Bavarian knight knocks his opponent from his horse. The second story also comes from the 16th century, and shows the coopers dancing through the streets after a plague.

When the knight was defeated, the tourists around me gasped with amazement. People stared, pointed and gaped. The sound of a hundred cameras was drowned only by the noise of applause.

I looked around, confused. It was an insight into the reaction viewers might have had when the clock was first displayed, now with added cameras. But that reaction now? Why were people applauding a clock?

Sitting in the cafe facing the motionless clock and watching the square empty of onlookers, I realised that I no longer have much amazement for mechanical things because I understand too well how they work. Watching the dancers spin left me curious about the system of cogs and their placement, not surprised that they were able to perform a complicated pattern.

I am left wondering if my natural curiosity and willingness to look beneath the surface of things have somehow robbed me of an innocence that leaves magic in the world. I am able to appreciate the ingenuity of the artist, less so the art itself. I could see myself congratulating a man on a job well done, but applauding a public display? It is harder to imagine.

As I finished my lunch the Glockenspiel began again. I watched both it and the other tourists. It is a beautiful piece of design, and worth watching if you happen to be at Munich in time to see it.

Sorry for ruining the surprise ending though.

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End of the German Road Trip

The current phase of our trip around Germany is nearing its end. The two weeks of city hopping have gone by in a blur of photos that will possibly be the only way I remember most of the places we have visited. I have met an impressive number of new people, done things I had never expected to do, and utterly worn myself out in the process.

My next important goal is to decide what I want to do for the two weeks while I will be on my own again. Initially I had planned to attend a German language course, but the cost had dissuaded me. Over the last few days I have done more research and found a few other schools. The one I am looking at is it considerably cheaper, and has an intake each week.

It is difficult to objectively evaluate how exhausted I am at this point. My body aches and I just want to spend a week or three sleeping. Sitting down in a classroom environment every morning sounds ideal, mostly due to the sitting down component. But will I learn anything during this time, or have I pushed myself too hard for the timeframe?

I am struggling with the benefits of self learning versus structured learning. We are undoubtedly in a world where a certificate is prioritised over experience. An outsider’s opinion is worth more than an insider’s facts. Everything needs to be verified, evaluated and quantified. A course can provide all of these things, but can it provide the depth of understanding that working things out the hard way can deliver?

My biggest hurdle with German at this stage is vocabulary. I have begun to understand enough of the grammar to form complicated sentence structures. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough words to plug into my complicated sentences. My dictionary is not perfect, but it is able to provide most of the missing words I need. Practice is the only way I will recall them. Courses provide ample opportunity for practice, but so does the real world.

I have until Monday morning to decide what I would prefer to do. The school has advised that I can enrol on the day, which gives me a single weekend to plan two weeks of study and travel. After being asked by so many people here what I plan to do, even I am feeling a bit curious how this will turn out. Regardless of which option I choose, I do know for certain that I need to learn how to order the correct quantity of cake and other desserts.

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Did Jesus Blink?

The camera I am travelling with has a feature where it detects faces. If someone blinks when the photo is taken, it will display the picture with the question “Did someone blink?” It then marks the face it thinks has blinked, so that you can decide if you want to take another photo.

It’s a nice feature, and has been providing us with a lot of mirth over the trip. My boyfriend rarely has a face, but other random objects such as windows, trees and cobblestones frequently do. Our running joke has been “does that statue have a face? Lets ask the camera.”

While we were in Leuven, Belgium, we went to Sint-Pieterskerk. I sat down and took this photo:


It is difficult to see, but hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the image is a large cross. Attached to this cross is the typical image of Jesus.

As I aligned the photo, the camera identified a face on the cross. I was quite surprised given the distance and the lighting. When I clicked the button, the camera asked the question: Did someone blink?

I stared at the camera. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or stare in horror. I’m not a theologian, but I’m fairly sure my camera was blaspheming in the middle of a large cathedral. Not being certain, I decided to go and ask my boyfriend.

We stood there beside the cross contemplating whether or not the camera was somehow sinning before deciding that the only way to know was to look up at Jesus. Sure enough, his eyes were closed.

For the first time in this trip, my camera was correct; Jesus did blink.

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From A Land Down Under

Every international trip that I take seems to acquire a particular theme song. The song will be in my mind, or on the radio, or somehow works its way into a long running joke. Without question, the song for this trip is A Land Down Under by Men At Work.

It is being played everywhere, and I have heard it every day for the past week. This is one of my favourite songs, so I can’t resist grooving and singing along to it. I don’t care where I am at the time. For those who are unfamiliar with the song:

We were in Leuven, Belgium, over the weekend visiting some friends we met in Australia. We were standing in the market looking at the old buildings when the song began to play through speakers that were set up for the festival. I began to sing, and my boyfriend quickly joined in. Our Belgian friends laughed, and one said he had listened to the song so many times before they moved to Australia.

They joined in the song with us, and quickly we reached the verse about buying bread from a man from Brussels. I laughed, and suggested that we could go there. The two cities are close to each other, and the idea of walking into a bakery and asking “do you speaka my language?” was hilarious to me.

Our Belgian friend, who is at least 6’4” and muscular, pointed out that I am sick of eating bread. Then he assured me that no one was going to provide me with a vegemite sandwich in their country.

What a pity.

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German Radio

We have been on a road trip around Germany for the last few days, which means we have been listening to a lot of German radio stations. The announcers are speaking in German, but most of the songs are in English. If a German song comes on, my boyfriend tends to change the station.

I have asked a few people in Germany how much of the music they can understand. Most of them can understand little, which could explain why I have heard Achy Breaky Heart played on the radio in 2012. Some words filter through the language barrier, but most song preferences are based on sound and rhythm.

One problem I am having with the stations is that I know most of the songs they play in English. I want to sing along, especially because I haven’t heard many of them for years. The English songs that they play tend to be catchy, and it is hard for me to ignore them.

Unfortunately, Germans tend to be German. They care about things such as schedules and timing. If the station needs to play five minutes of music, but the available songs are three minutes long, they will play two songs and chop out one minute of music. Sometimes this means the final verse will be abandoned from both songs, and at other times the final song will just be stopped in the middle.

I am currently trying to process a sequence that included the first two thirds of Break My Stride blending suddenly into the middle half of Allentown (it began mid-verse and ended mid-verse) and having that abruptly halt for a commercial. The only benefit with transitions like this is that I am no longer wondering about my memory. After spending the first day of driving wondering if I was imagining additional verses or getting songs confused with each other, I can reassure myself that it is the German radio stations doing it to me.

But I do have to question why Achy Breaky Heart is one of the few songs that was played in its full glory.



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Our Killer Wildlife Stories

As we are travelling, we are frequently asked which is better: Germany or Australia. We are diplomatically answering that they are too different to compare easily, which naturally leads us to a discussion about what is different.

After we cover the basics about weather, economy and culture, we quickly move on to the animals. Both of us are finding way too much enjoyment in explaining to friends and family that the wildlife of Australia wants everyone dead.

They have heard of kangaroos, emus, and koalas. After establishing that these animals are what they expect them to be, they begin to think of the crocodiles and sharks. We then launch into explanations about the snakes and spiders, usually to a lot of repulsion and horror from those around us.

The best part of these stories for me and my boyfriend is that we are being honest. This isn’t like a trip to some other countries where the pleasure comes from seeing what we can get other people to believe about Australia. The raw truth is more astonishing and creepy here than anything we could come up with.

When we finish telling them about the various animals that can easily kill you in Australia, we are nervously asked if we have ever come into contact with them. Both of us have a very easy, laid back “sure” that horrifies them even further. Several have sworn that they could never go to a country so dangerous, and are amazed that we are so relaxed about living there. They ask my boyfriend when he will come home, and how I will come with him when that time arrives.

It is in moments like these that I realise how relaxed Australia is about some things, and how totally out of touch we are as a culture about others. Snakes the length of a house being curled around the central beam of your roof? Hilarious. Spiders that can hospitalise you hiding in the bed? A minor irritation. Driving at 94km per hour in a 90km zone on a public holiday when no one else is on the road with you? Say goodbye to your licence for your dangerous and crazy driving ways.

There are plenty of things about home that irritate me, but there are also things about Germany that drive me mad. By the end of my trip here, I expect that I will have a much better idea about German culture and lifestyle. I’m looking forward to the day when I can give a better answer to the preference question than “it’s very green in Germany”. If I stay here much longer, I might have to switch to “how do you race your boats with so much water in the rivers?”

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