Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bathroom Renovations

Over the last two weeks, some serious bathroom renovations have been going on in my apartment building. This has meant noise, arguments, general filth, and some serious amusement. Here are some of the things that have been observed:

1. Bathtubs are left in the landing area of each floor - this area isn't exactly big, either (maybe 1m x 2m)

2. A big pile of sand was dumped outside the entrance to the building - it is then brought up to the respective floor in bags

3. Cement is mixed on your living room floor - who needs technology when you can just mix all the ingredients together on your very own floor

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Enta Mosri? - Are You Egyptian?

Apparently I’ve been challenged to a game of Scrabble by Luli. Probably won’t happen for a couple of weeks, but stay tuned for the result. She’s talking like she created the game, so I’ll just have to put her in her place by showing her the inherent superiority of Canadian English.

Now to the point…

As has happened for the past two days, I missed the train by 1 second, only to have another empty one arrive 1 minute later. Under normal circumstances, I’d have to wait 5-10 minutes for the next one. This is always appreciated. Thanks Cairo Transit Authority.

Anyways, as I was standing on the platform, I heard “Fen Mogamma? – Where is the Mogamma?” I turned to see who said it and who the person was saying it to and realized that I was the only one within earshot. After performing my first ever Egyptian headshake (I learned the other day that it means “What did you say?”, and is not to be confused with the more noticeable Indian headshake), the guy’s words were repeated.

Hmm…I just got asked for directions by someone who looked Egyptian, had a baby in his arms, a wife, with baby in her arms, next to him. He obviously wasn’t from Cairo, as the Mogamma is the most menacing building in town—it just reeks of bureaucracy. But how could I say, “Go up the flight of stairs, turn left, go through the turn-style, make another left, go to the American University Cairo exit, walk up the stairs, and look for the building that’s shaped like a semi-circle,” in Arabic? Obviously that wasn’t possible, so I just pointed in the general direction and said, “Hinna. – Here.

Same thing, right?        

Monday, January 29, 2007

Cairo's Champions

You know you’re a Cairo Champion when you live in makeshift sleeping arrangements out in the desert, with what appears to be the sole purpose of serving tea.

One of the more appreciated moments yesterday morning was the cup of tea at the half-way point of our equine excursion. Our hands were frozen from holding on for dear life, and I believe the Australian, Natasha, had never been so cold in her life (even in Switzerland).

The tea guy had a little fire going, plenty of cups, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of sugar, tea, and gallons upon gallons of water. How did he keep the fire going if there are no trees in the desert? While I very astute observation, it appeared that the man could make sand burn (in fact, branches were brought to him).

His sleeping arrangements were modest: a piece of foam and a blanket inside a makeshift “tomb-like” structure. I’m pretty sure I’ve doghouses bigger, but that only meant that the man had to be commended for the ability to live without superfluous luxuries that we all seem to enjoy. There were a few other similar arrangements set up within earshot of our particular stopping place. So it does appear that there is a team of such tea guys.

Farzina, Mustafa, Natasha, Amr, Karim, Miguel, and myself would all like to extend our heartfelt thanks for being there with piping hot tea yesterday morning.


  

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Baladaya! Baladaya!

One of the more entertaining sights in Cairo, and free of charge if you can believe it, is walking down Talaat Harb street when the Baladaya (government police) make a surprise appearance.

Talaat Harb is perhaps the busiest street in downtown, full of street vendors, cars, and crowds. What a lot of people don’t know is that these street vendors are illegally hawking goods to whoever is willing to pay. Enter the Baladaya. They have the authority to come in and shut down anyone they happen to catch in the act of selling goods.

But the vendors have fought back by developing a system that can be likened to the domino effect. When word gets out that the baladaya is coming at one end of the street, shouts of “Baladaya! Baladaya!” can be heard cascading down a two-kilometre stretch. What “Baladaya!” really means is, “Pick up your shit and get indoors.”

It’s quite the sight. These vendors have lightning-quick reflexes and move like they just had a hot poker shoved you-know-where. Most have their livelihood on a single wooden table, so when the call comes, the table gets hoisted up on top of their heads and carried at full sprint to the nearest safe haven.  

All Before 9:30 AM

Craving pain? Bored with life? Think you’re hotter than heat itself?

Go horseback riding at 5:30 AM at the Pyramids in January. Not only will you freeze to death (ask Natasha), and achieve ultimate exhilaration (ask Farzina), but you will also become perilously close to severe bodily injury (ask Mustafa). If you reach neither of the three, you’ll end up like me: a little bit cold, fairly exhilarated, and covered in savage bruises.

Perhaps the biggest pain of all is that the Pyramids are virtually invisible on a Sunday morning in Cairo. In fact, the whole city is shrouded in a thick blanket of smoke and fog (some would call it “smog”). The locals would identify it as the latter, while the foreigners would vehemently argue that it is in fact choking smoke. And, really, how could you even consider calling it fog when the sun can’t be seen until an hour after sunrise. When it does appear, in its perfectly circular form, it’s ruby red in colour. If there’s when thing that the movie Get Shorty taught us, it’s that “they say the f*****’ smog is the reason why they have such good f*****’ sunsets.”

Strangely, my morning wasn’t finished after I dismounted from the horse. No, I had to choose to take a microbus back into Cairo, instead of taking the more expensive, yet much more convenient taxi. I ended up getting on a mini-bus at first, only to have it stop 100m later. For some reason unbeknownst to me, the driver began to rage on one of the passengers. Some no doubt choice words were exchanged, followed by interjections by the frustrated passengers. I just sat there wishing I know what the hell was going on. After a few minutes, the driver gave everyone their money back and drove off. The next bus gave me a perfect view of how smoggy it was on this day. During the short walk I had left to my place, I realized that this was a Cairo I rarely saw given my usual wakeup patterns.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Maybe I Should Buy my Technology in Canada

First came the Big Mac index, now comes the iPod Nano Index.

“The index is based on the economic principle that one U.S. dollar should buy the same quantity of goods across all countries, and that currencies will fluctuate to close any gaps in purchasing power.”  -Sympatico/MSN

The cited difference between the edible index and the durable index is that “Big Macs are made in a host of countries across the globe whereas iPods are predominantly made in China.”

Who came out on top? I was surprised to hear that it was Canada, where an iPod retails for US$144.20. So much for Singapore or Hong Kong being the cheapest places to buy the little devices.

To put this into perspective, the iPod Nano retails for $149.00 in the US, $172.36 in Australia, and $327.71 in Brazil.

What this says about the Canadian dollar is that it is apparently undervalued. That’s odd because the loonie has been hovering around the 87 cent mark…5 years ago it was at 62 cents.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Football in the Desert

Only in Egypt do you have to drive for an hour just to play soccer on a red clay field. Only in Egypt are your lungs reduced into fits of convulsion after running around for an hour.

Some Aussies, Egyptians, a Brit, and a Mexican joined me in playing a game of soccer (football) last night. We drove all the way out to a place called 6th of October City…Cairo’s new bedroom community. One side of the boulevard was lined with apartment buildings, while the other was desert. A 100 metres in was a well-lit area featuring fake-turf, dirt, and red clay soccer fields.

After about 15 minutes of running around at top speed, I was sucking wind furiously. Maybe it was the cool desert air, maybe it was the one-a-week shisha, maybe it was my complete lack of fitness. In any case, the pain was well worth it. Too bad our hodgepodge international team lost to the homogenous Egyptian side. I think we’ll get ‘em the next time, though.

Soon-to-be Fuul Master

Meet the new fuul apprentice of downtown Cairo.

There is the fuul vendor outside my apartment building that I like to go to at 2 AM after stumbling home from Horreya (local drinking establishment). I’ve gotten to know the guys as well as one can get to know people who do not share a common language. The other day, I was presented with an unprecedented culinary opportunity: spend a day working with the fuul vendor. Apparently I’m going to get paid 3 LE (enough to buy 3 fuul sandwiches) for my efforts, but that real reward will come in learning how to prepare Egypt’s staple food.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Random Canadian Facts: For Nay-Nay

Time for another Random Canadian Fact: For Nay-Nay.

Nay-Nay, did you know that the current Canadian flag has only been flying for 41 years (Canada is 139 yrs old)?

From 1867 to 1945, Canada flew the Union Jack because it was still a British Dominion. There had been talk of a new flag after World War One, but no Prime Minister was able to successfully pass the bill in parliament.

It was only after 1945 that a different flag was used, although it was still not today’s familiar maple leaf. Instead, the Union Jack was scaled down and put on the top left corner, the background was made red, and the Canada Coat of Arms was placed on the right.

Finally in 1965, something was done about getting a new, non-British flag. Enter the red maple leaf. Ever since it has been the symbol of Canada.

I seem to recall seeing other designs on those Canada Post heritage vignettes. None of them looked to good, so I’m glad our government went with the one it did.

(info gathered from canadianaconnection.com)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Domestic Disturbance

Perhaps staying at home on a holiday isn't as "anti-cultural" as one might have expected.

Right now, I'm privy to a serious-sounding argument between a husband and wife. I can't make out much of what they're saying, but there is a lot of "I swear," "I don't want," and "not good" coming out of their mouths. Hmm...sounds like the neighbour just got in on the act and told them to shut up.

It is times like this I wish I could speak Arabic.

This is still going on. Now the woman is yelling out "haraam...," which is the equivalent to blasphemy. There is definitely a third person involved...trying to calm the guy down (he continues to scream at the top of his lungs).

The argument ended up lasting for 3-4 hours. At one point, I heard the call to prayer and questioned to a friend, "I wonder if they'll stop to pray." Low and behold, the arguing ceased for about 20 minutes and then re-ignited wants prayer time was over.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Random

I have 3 TV channels in my house. All of which are Arabic.

The European Handball Championships are on and I was watching Egypt play Spain while cooking dinner. Then, a commercial for Da Vinci's Inquest comes on.

I was flabbergasted. Of all the shows in the world, it picks a Canadian one filmed in Vancouver. Apparently it's on at 2 PM most days.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Fun at the Metro

Watching the masses get on and off the metro at Sadat station every morning amuses me to no end. On one side of the doors, you have scores of people waiting clamoring to get on before the door closes. On the other side, you have scores who just want to get off, and rightfully so. But what happens when the two masses collide? I blame the door, but Simon tends to favour the “lack of courtesy” shown by the locals.  

This morning was particularly humorous. Two kids were waiting eagerly at the edge of the platform. As is customary, the train pulled up with a gathering of people at each door. Once the train stops, a few seconds passes before an alert sound is played, followed by the doors sliding open. I’m pretty sure these few seconds only make the problem worse—intensifying the eagerness of the people wanting to get on, and increasing the frustration of the people wanting to get off.

When the door opened this time, the two kids lowered their shoulders to try to barge their way on, while the people getting off kept moving forward. Needless to say, the kids didn’t stand a chance. I can only imagine that for them it was like running into a brick wall. In the words of Tom Gara, “Oh man, those kids just got owned.” One of the disembarking passengers took particular exception to the kids’ actions and started a bit of a scene. One of the kids, after getting on the train, turned around and went right to said guy only to be lambasted. The irate guy required restraint by his friends, while the boy turned around and got on the train.

Although they only went one stop, I could hear them chuckling the whole way.    

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Germany Pictures

Germany pics are up here.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Cairo's Champions


This edition of Cairo’s Champions probably should’ve come out closer to the time I went to the camel market, however there is still no denying that the Bedouin Camel Herder deserves to be up there with the newspaper delivery guy and the guy that carries bread on his head while riding a bicycle.

Camel herding is a skill no doubt passed down through the generations. This is evident at the Birqash camel market, where young herders of no more than eight years old apprentice with the legends of the skill. Small whips and sticks are provided for the young ones so that the techniques are honed before entering their prime.

Then men of market, however, a true men. Leaving aside the fact that they beat the living daylights out of camels as a job, these herders must make the long trek from as far as Somalia and Sudan—a journey that takes them through some of the most dangerous lands and across tense borders. Camel-jackings, injury, and starvation all enter into play on this epic quest.

Life in Birqash is no cakewalk, either. All around the men are crying camels, ferocious stenches, and a whole lot of s***. And, yet, they remain stoic in their demeanor. After all, who else will do such work?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Something Not Found in Egypt

The Hookup

I've lost of the number of times I've been offered hash over the past week. Seems like every time I walk by some random guys sitting on the street, one of them comes up to me and starts a conversation. After the initial pleasantries (which, ironically, are rarely pleasant) of telling him I'm from Uzbekistan and my name is Boris, the conversation invariably turns to, "If you ever need anything, you just let me know. I can hook you up."

This morning, right on cue, one of the guys came up to me and started talking. I think we'd already gone through the intial stuff a previous day, so he just got straight to the point.

"I can help you out if you need anything."
"Hmm...what kind of stuff can I get?
"I deal strickly under-the-table. You know, that kind of thing."
"What kind of things?"
"You know, the smoke?"
"Oh...that. Well, I don't smoke, so..."
"No problem. I can get you other stuff as well."
"What other stuff?"
"You know, hard stuff."
"Ahh...you mean like heroin or cocaine?"
"Shhh...don't say that too loud."
"Could you get me embarrassing pictures of government figures?"
"No, sir. But my name is Sherif, if you ever need anything."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Random Canadian Facts: For Nay-Nay

After a short hiatus, Random Canadian Facts: For Nay-Nay is back with a post about Canada’s beloved sport: hockey (ice-hockey for all those field hockey countries).

Nay-Nay, did you know that hockey is not in fact Canada’s national sport?

Everyone seems to think it is…well, anyone that knows Canada plays hockey. I guess it’s just an assumption based on our fierce devotion to watching 10 players trying to put a piece of frozen rubber in a net. Intelligent stuff, I tell you. There’s also this issue of how good we are at the sport. Few countries, with exception to the Soviet Union/Russia can claim hockey dominance. So it really makes sense that hockey would be Canada’s national sport.

There is much debate over where hockey was actually invented. Some say Russia, some say Canada. In either case, it has meant that we cannot claim it as a national sport. Instead, we picked the great game of Lacrosse.

What is Lacrosse? It was a game developed and played by the First Nations people. The object is, like hockey, to get a piece of rubber into a net, however there is no ice and barely any padding.

What you have instead is a stick with a little net on the end. You can carry the ball in this net and pass it to other people using a flinging motion. To score, you fling the ball at a small net guarded by guy that looks like the Jiffy Lube man. He has an extra big net on the end of his stick.

The game can be played outdoors on a field or indoors on a converted hockey rink. The two versions are different, but the object is still the same.

Also, a professional league has sprung up in the United States and Canada, however most would say that hockey is still much more exciting. One of the reasons for this, in my mind, is that lacrosse games end with scores like 21-19, so goals don’t come at as much of a premium. Hockey, on the other hand, has scores like 3-2.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Justified Betrayal

With a title like that, how could you not want to see the movie?

I saw the previews for this blockbuster-in-making a few months ago and indentified very quickly that I had to see it. It seemed like a good choice for my first Egyptian/Arabic movie experience.

While Egyptians and Indians would disagree with this statement, there is a similarity between both movie cultures…especially when it comes to the action genre: special effects that make you want to laugh, over-acting, fake weapons, men beating woman, and women fighting each other. See my review of Dus for an explanation on the Indian action genre.

Well, Justified Betrayal, had exactly that. The main character was this melodramatic guy who was always smoking and yelling at someone. In one scene, the main character chased another guy, via automobile, into a collection of propane tanks which proceeded to explode on impact. You then saw the main guy running towards the car in an epic display of heroism. “Just in case the violent explosions didn’t kill him, I better get in there to make sure the job is done.” In yet another scene, the main guy got gashed with a plastic knife, and then continued to beat the crap out of this other guy who was hitting him with a stick.

Oh, and this guy was cool around women, too—always beating them or shooting them. I think he was simultaneously playing three women at once, or something like that. And, of course, there was a fight between two women…which the main guy ended up deciding.

I was impressed, however, with the wit displayed by the writers. The main guy shoots his wife and brother because he suspects an affair between he two. Then he basically spends the rest of the movie being setup by the various people around him so that it can be proven that he in fact shot said people. The only thing it was lacking was a big song and dance number.

Did I feel the Betrayal was Justified? Well, that’s asking the question of if it is okay to betray your friend because you know he is getting away with two murders and should be punished accordingly. Hmmm…that’s probably going to require a night at a shisha café to figure out.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Conspiracy Theory?

I have to interrupt my German reminiscing for a second. Below is a map illustrating my situation at 2:30 AM last Friday. I was walking back from the best drinking spot in Cairo with 3 pints in me. I wasn’t so much feeling the desired effects (must’ve been all that German beer), but rather the undesired effect having to “piss like a racehorse.” As such, I was walking fast…as my legs could take me. Alas, I didn’t think I was going to make it home, so I was going through the possible alternatives. The only one that came to mind was the place you see in the picture marked with a green “X.”

I don’t want to make one thing clear: I am in no way proud of having to relieve myself in an alleyway. People do it all the time here, but that doesn’t make it right for me. However, the situation was critical and needed to transpire.


So I ducked into the alleyway and did what I needed to do. As I was turning to leave my position, I heard footsteps from behind. I thought, “Oh no, someone saw me.” I started walking back to the street, then this guy appeared directly in front of me.

“Where are you going?” he asked…in Arabic.
“Home.”
“I am a police officer,” he stated, opening up his wallet to show me his ID, which was a green card.
“Umm…ok.”
“Where is your passport?” At that moment, a guy came up from behind and started jabbering at me.
“Where is your passport?”
“I don’t have it.”
“Where are you from?”
“Canada.”
“Where is your passport?”
“I don’t have it.”
“Where do you live?”
“There,” pointing in the direction of my apartment (it was 30 seconds away).
“Where is your passport?”
“I don’t have it. It’s in my apartment.”
“What were you doing there?”
“Nothing,” I had to lie.
“Where do you live?”
“Over there.”At that point, I started walking towards home, motioning that I just lived around the corner.
“Ok, have a nice night, sir.”
What? All that and I get a “Have a nice night, sir”?

Ok, now I’m not much for conspiracy theories, but the more I thought about what happened, the more I realized that these guys must’ve followed me for a bit. When I ducked into the alleyway, one of them stood at one entrance, while the other guy circled around the back way. Maybe they thought I was dealing drugs or something. But still, it’ll definitely make me look over my shoulder next time I’m walking home at that hour.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Germany - Part 4

This is kind of an addendum to the previous post.

Johanna's comment reminded me of something I totally forgot to talk about with regards to New Years in Germany: Dinner for One.

Everything surrounding this New Years Eve television program is odd:

1. It's on repeatedly, on every channel, all night.
2. It's in English...the only thing in English on German TV
3. No native English speaker has ever heard of it
4. People do their diploma theses on it

Well, I had the honour of watching it and it's actually pretty funny. How could a butler getting wasted because he has to pretend to be 4 different characters at the dinner table and, therefore, drink from four different glasses every time a toast is made, not be funny?

On a non-German note, Canada once again dominated the World Junior Hockey Championship. That's three wins in a row.

Nice work, boys.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Germany - Part 3

Dating all the way back to September, I had had grandiose plans of a Chandigarh trainee reunion/new years party in Germany. There were a fair number of people that fit the necessary criteria in and around where I was going, so having people meet didn't seem like much of a stretch. Oh, how I was wrong....

One email went out to said people. Very few replied. So much for a large get-together...

Then there was the idea of going to Poland. It made sense, mainly because I thought I was going to be much farther east in Germany. As it turned out, I was closer to Prague than Warsaw, so we nixed that plan rather quickly.

Ok, so New Years was to be in Germany. No problem. I contacted the daughter of the Mongolian host family I stayed with, as she was in Germany and I really wanted to meet up with her. It was tentatively planned that Johanna, Benjamin, and I would celebrate with the Mongolian contingent in Leipzig.

Fast-forward to December 26th. Due to an unfortunate breakdown in communication, I found out only that day that the Mongolian girl was in fact off to Paris for New Years and, even more surprisingly, didn't even live in Leipzig to begin with. So much for those plans.

Then Christiane emailed and said she wanted to meet up with us. She called later that evening and we worked out a bit of a plan. But on the 30th, it was determined that the trip for her to Leipzig would be like 9 hours. I guess that's what you get for living at the very northern tip of Germany. So, the kibosh was put on those plans rather quickly.

Our last option was to head to the city, Jena, where Johanna's sister's boyfriend (Andy) lives...about an hour and half away. It's a smallish university town famous for being the hometown of the German poet Schiller (I think). His good buddy, Goethe, was from 20 minutes down the road in Weimar. Oh, Weimar, so historically significant and yet so presently insignificant. Anyways, Jena is situated in the former East Germany and, as such, has noticeable "scars," in the form of communist apartment blocks dominating the suburban landscape. Downtown, comparatively, is beautiful...except for this big tower rising up out of nowhere. There are little squares, churches, and statues everywhere. And there is even a street featuring some 15 pubs...aptly dubbed "pub street." How convenient that it's right across from the university.

Celebrations started with beer at Andy's apartment. We could hear the perpetual din of fireworks outside, while we drank Czech Pilsner and listening to German grunting music (death metal?). It was then decided that downtown would be our best bet, so we took our act to pub street. The fireworks could still be heard, but at an intermittent rate.

How fitting that our first pub was Irish in theme. I swear, Irish pubs are like Chinatowns and Mcdonalds outlets. If you look hard enough (or smell, in the case of Mickey Ds), you're bound to find one. We enjoyed a pint at the establishment and then headed down the street to "Cheers - The American Sports Bar." Notice a trend? Yet another pint was consumed and it was still only 11 pm.

The last themed bar left in town, apparently, was a French pub. Ok, now if Irish pubs are like Chinatowns, French pubs are like Indian steakhouses. I didn't think the French were known for their beer. In fact, I'm hard pressed to name a French beer...even with Google. That didn't stop me from getting a pint of Bavarian white, though.

Finally the midnight hour approached. We went out in a rush to the main square only to see a cacaphony of fireworks. I had never seen anything like it. Every quarter of a second, you'd hear a *pop* or *bang*. One was so loud and powerful that it made the earth shake. Everywhere you looked, people were carrying fireworks or lighting them or throwing them at people. Naturally, the most prevelant group of participants were teenagers. I had to wonder where the money came from....

If you can believe it, the display lasted for some 10 hours. Needless to say, this was a rather interesting New Years that compares closely to last year. Instead of tens of thousands of people, though, there were tens of thousands of fireworks.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Germany - Part 2

Now it's time for a little about Christmas in Germany.

We North Americans are big into the commercialization of Christmas. It's what brings us joy during the holiday season. We elaborately decorate our trees, houses, shopping malls, streets, and pretty much anything else worth decorating. When I was younger, the family tradition after my school's Christmas Concert finished was to drive around looking at the various Christmas displays at peoples' houses.

My belief prior to going to Germany was that I'd get to see this in all its glory...I had missed it last year in India. And I remember learning about German Christmas in Grade 4. It sounded really cool and in some ways much better than what we have in Canada. Now I had a chance to see for myself.

One of the Christmas decorations in my house was this interactive quilt that had you move a bear around a house and yard each day of December until he finally found Christmas in the living room. I liken myself to this little bear because I was indeed "looking for Christmas."

Airplane - no evidence of Christmas there
Munich Airport - nothing
Cologne/Bonn Airport - nothing
Downtown Cologne - nothing
Train to Koblenz - nothing
Koblenz - not much, with the exception of Christmas markets
Johanna's Parents' place - no decorations up
Schmalkalden - not much, either

Where was Christmas? Or, at least, where was my definition of Christmas? There were no lights up anywhere. No snow. No snowmen. No chrismtas displays. Not much commercialization whatsoever. When there were lights, they were just white and not very prolific.

We finally decorated Johanna's parents' place on Christmas eve, at which point it was decided that only ornaments gold in colour could go on the tree. No red, no blue, no anything. I did find this odd...as well as the fact that the tree was a blue spruce (a prickly one at that).

In the evening, we had a nice Christmas dinner featuring turkey and then headed off to church for Christmas mass. I had never been in the room where the services are held before, so this was all new to me. And the service was in German, so I didn't get any of what was said. I think that was for the better, though.

After church, we opened gifts. This is when I realized how important it is to be with a family on Christmas. Your own family can't fully be subsituted for, but it is important to be with a family somwhere.

So here's a basic rundown of Christmas in Germany:

1. They get three days off: 24th, 25th, 26th
2. Christmas isn't as much about the joy as it is the spirituality, i.e. it is much more of a religious holiday
3. Presents are opened on the 24th after church
4. Turkey is had for dinner on the 24th
5. Not much decoration is done.
6. Being with family is very important.
7. You get good potato salad this time of year.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Germany - Part 1

I don't even know where to begin. One thing I know for sure, though, is that I won't bore you with a chronological diary of what I did and where I went. Frankly, that stuff is boring. If you really want to know, send me an email or leave a comment. Instead, I think I'll highlight some of the things I found interesting and strange in the land of the efficient.

1. Everyone drinks fizzy water.

Not sure what that is about. On the flight there, I asked for orange juice and water. The idea of sparkling water didn't even cross my mind. But when I went to drink the clear liquid, I almsot gagged. Yuck. Fast forward 2 days and I found myself being offered fizzy water or juice at every turn. When it was determined that I despised the stuff, I was given a teapot with my own tap water in it to drink at the dining table (when I wasn't drinking beer). And apparently Johanna's mom couldn't figure out why I didn't like the fizzy stuff.

2. Taking rides from strangers is common.

This one isn't so strange, I suppose, but a common way for people to travel in Germany is to "hitchhike" with others going in the same direction. It makes sense for students because the train is often too expensive. So this is how we got from Koblenz to Schmalkalden. We met some random dude, and another fellow hitchhiker, at the train station, loaded our stuff in his car and took off for the east.

3. I pass for a German.

That was perhaps the most unnerving thing. On the plane I felt like an idiot because the flight attendants were talking to me in German and I had no idea what they were saying. As well, it was weird seeing white people speaking a language other than English. And boy did I hear a lot of German. My only hope for standing out as a foreigner was my toque and camera. Contrast this to Egypt where as little as the reflection of the sun off my pale skin tells me apart from the locals.

4. Stereotypical German villages do exist.

This I found to be really cool. The images of old German villages I had in my mind were verified 100% in Schmalkalden. What a magical place to leave, although I understand that it suffers from the same small town syndrome that every other small town suffers from: few jobs and restless youth.

5. Cold meals for dinner, hot meals for lunch.

It was like having dinner for lunch and lunch for dinner. Not sure I've ever had that, aside from having breakfast for dinner (which is an amazing phenomenon if you've never gone down that road). See the food blog for more info.

6. You're not in trouble if you get caught with a beer in your hand while driving.

Fascinating stuff. As long as you're below the legal limit, it doesn't matter if you have an open beer in your hand. This is completely opposite from Canada. The kicker in Germany is that if your keys are within reach when you are over the legal limit, then you're in trouble. This eliminates the Canadian classic of getting drunk and passing out in your car (if you have one) and in someone else's if you don't. Note that this is closely related to getting drunk and passing out in a snow bank.

7. There has to be at least one non-alcoholic drink on the menu cheaper than beer.

Beer isn't that cheap in real terms, however when you compare it to the price of every other drink it is ridiculously cheap. I guess this is why sparkling water exists...because it will always be a bit cheaper than beer, while still not being free. What this meant for me was that beer was the obvious drink of choice at any restaurant meal. You definitely didn't hear me complaining about that.

8. All English movies and shows are dubbed in German.

Perhaps this is not surprising, but Johanna made a good point when she said that they should at least have some English programming to help the population learn English. And after hearing Homer Simpson's voice being butchered, I was in full agreement. Ironically, the only shows they do have in English are on MTV. Oh, and that same channel shows the dirty versions of all the new music videos.


Still to come:

-Christmas
-New Years
-Leipzig
-Other things

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Leipzig-Stuttgart-Cairo

"You live in Germany?" asked the German passport control woman.
"No, I live in Egypt."
"You live in Egypt?" she rebutted with almost mocking incredulity.
"Yes. I was just in Germany for Christmas."
"How did you enjoy it?"
"Great. Lots of food and beer."
"Ahh, yes. Good food," came with a rare, if brief, smile attached to it. Then it was back to business.
After flipping through my passport's pages, she remarked in a tone completely devoid of all humour, "You have a lot of stamps in your book."
"Ya...." Please just stamp my passport. Ironically, Egypitian passport control was easier...even with my re-entry visa that was sure to cause some problems.

As I had suspected, Cairo didn't disappear during my 12-day absence. The air did seem to get a bit clearer, surprisingly, and I must say that it feels nice to be back.

Stay tuned for some serious, and furious, posting both here and on the food blog about my little excursion to the land where everybody speaks German.