1. Watch 2. Learn 3. Repeat if Necessary

Well hello strangers! Plenty to get to today, I promise.


Friday wound up being super awesome, despite having an entirely inauspicious start.  That was, specifically, waking up in the pre-dawn (this seems to be happening a lot) sobbing after having a terribly realistic dream my mother died of some drawn-out illness.  I can't help but appreciate the thoroughness of this particular cruelty - my dear old subconscious withheld the dream until I was conveniently on the other side of the world and can hardly call my family without jumping through hoops of fire.  Thanks subconscious!  Doing me another solid, one day at a time.  Anyway, enough brooding.

When I woke up for the second time I was inexplicably chipper, and headed off to work with a grin perma-pasted on my face.  I think this was partly because it was sort of sunny out (a major achievement for Hamburg) and because I can't believe that my job is actually sitting around drawing and trying to be creative all day... for the most part.  I spent the morning in exactly this manner while blasting Girl Talk and The White Panda in my headphones.  Oh yeah, we get to wear headphones at work too.

During lunch I went out with a couple of coworkers who I haven't eaten with yet, and got to bond with one of them over our shared love of the delightfully eccentric Werner Herzog.  I was surprised to learn that Herzog isn't that well-known in Germany, despite his total awesomeness.  If you ever get a chance you need to see some of his films.  Most people have heard of Grizzly Man, but my favourites were My Best Fiend, and his version of Nosferatu.  I've been accused previously of over-selling My Best Fiend, which I suppose you could call "niche-humour", but I find it totally brilliant.

After lunch I mostly sat around getting Photoshop tutorials, then everyone ended the day early with a beer, which felt entirely European and super awesome.  Come to think of it, I think that was the first beer I've had since arriving in Germany.  But that really isn't important.

After work I had just enough time to get changed and make myself presentable before it was time to head out to a coworker's place for dinner before clubbing.  In North America the practice seems to be to have a light dinner or no dinner so that 1) you don't feel bloated while dancing, and 2) you get a buzz more easily.  Here in Europe it is quite the opposite: you have a solid dinner so that you can drink all the more while out.  Just a fun fact.  The place we went to was called Terrace Hill, and it's located in - this is the COOLEST part - an old bomb shelter.  It's this giant concrete affair with towers and a large patio.  To get in you're ferried up in an elevator, complete with an Operator.  I confess one of my favourite parts of the evening was right at the beginning while we were in line.  I was saying something to a member of our group when a gentleman ahead of us in line asked if I was American, to which I of course replied that I'm Canadian.  Well, it turns out he was from Minnesota, but was familiar with British Columbia after having lived for some time in Seattle.  But really I was just delighted to hear someone with a North American accent.  Of all the things I thought I would miss I had never even considered accents, especially since everyone knows foreign accents are hot.  But meeting someone from sort-of-home just made me feel a tiny bit less lonely and far from home.  Now as for the two questions I know you're all burning to know: 1) Was he hot? and 2) Was he single?  Well, 1) yes, he was exceptionally good looking, but 2) he had a boyfriend, because of course every man I find attractive is either in a relationship, gay, or both.  I wish there was a way of letting Mother Nature know she's wasting her time weeding me out of the gene pool - I already chose not to have kids, so can I please get a date now?!

But I digress.  The club night was lots of fun, and it was a novel experience to have people remarking about my accent all the time.  But this brings me to a Europe-rant that's been brewing since my arrival.  Everyone smokes here.  And they smoke everywhere.  All the time.  While it's illegal to do it indoors, many people at the club just lit up inside anyway, which drove me crazy.  Smoke gives me terrible headaches, and it makes your clothes smell like a homeless person (my club outfit is now quarantined in the cleaning closet).  Off the top of my head I can think of..... one person who doesn't smoke.  There are a few I don't about, but the safer bet on this continent is that they probably do.  It certainly isn't stigmatized here the way it is at home.  Grumble.  Let's just hope I don't get lung cancer from second-hand smoke, because if I do I'll be PISSED.

One possible consequence of all this smoking, however, is in general the women here are all skinny and are often also tall.  This was entirely apparent at the sports-themed club night, where most girls were in some form of spandex and a sports bra.  Obviously not everyone looks like a model, but obesity and extra fat are not nearly the problem they are States-side.  Not feeling short and fat may be more of a challenge than usual, ugh.

Anyway, true to their reputations the Germans' party stamina was faaaaaaar superior to mine (we didn't even get to the club until 11:30).  Goodness knows how long they stayed for, but despite liberal consumption of vodka redbulls by quarter to four I felt like I was going to fall over and decided it was time to go.  My friend accompanied me to the metro station and got the ticket for me, then pointed which way I was to go.  If only things had stayed so simple!  Sure enough I got on the train, but after getting on was convinced that I was headed in the wrong direction.  After giving it some thought, I got off at the next station and caught the next train in the opposite direction while feeling frustrated at my bumbling.  However, after four or so stops I - of course - realised that I had been mistaken, and that now I was truly going in the wrong direction.  Damnit!  So, once again, off I got and climbed on to the train going in the right direction.  I finally got to the stop I wanted, got off, and then tried to find my way out of the Underground, planning to walk home.  As it turned out I just wound up at the stop off for the other line that ran through that station.  For once my luck came through and as it happened this train would take me practically to my doorstep.  So on I got, and at last I crawled into bed around 5am.


Despite the exceptionally late night I woke up around 10am.  Since I still hadn't gotten an alarm clock I decided that I would use Saturday to figure out how the metro worked and to go find an alarm clock.  After studying their website for a short while I deduced which line to use (only one train this time!) and how much to pay the ticket machine.  The ticket machines, thank god, had a nice and obvious British flag at the bottom so you could view the menu in English, after which things became pretty simple.  If you're ever coming to Germany, there are three important things to know before you take the metro.  The first is (obviously) which line you need to get on to.  The second is how many zones you'll be moving through, and the third is the name of the direction you're travelling: it is really easy to lose your sense of direction underground.  If you know these three things though, you're set.  So my travels on Saturday wound up being about a million times easier than Friday night and much easier than my travels last Saturday too.  Just like last Saturday I started the trip off with some Starbucks.  Even though it's not amazing coffee it reminds me so much of home I can't resist it.  Also, the interior of the one I was at yesterday was absolutely stunning.  It's right next to the Hamburg lake, and it had a balcony level above main floor, much like the dome of a church.  The walls, pillars and ceilings are all painted in a Rococo/Baroque type style, and next time I go I'll take my camera so you can all have a look.  After my dose of caffeine I hunted down some home-accessories type place I FINALLY FOUND AN ALARM CLOCK.  It is bulky and ridiculous but it was both a clock and alarm and therefore I bought it.  Setting the alarm was a fairly simple matter, but I have discovered that turning the alarm off is quite a different matter.  It's one of those old-school clocks with two buttons and zero directions.  I have concluded that I must turn on my alarm in the late evening, and simply turn it off when it fire-alarms me into wakefulness.  Oh yes, that's the other thing.  It sounds like a goddamn fire alarm.  I can just imagine how fun this will be.

Anyway, because alarm clock shopping is about as fun as sweater lint and I had an entire day to kill I decided to have a good wander around Hamburg's shopping district (a dangerous pastime for my credit card).  I had had my heart set on finding some lilac coloured trouser shorts after falling in love with a look I saw on College Fashion a few days ago:
I absolutely love everything about it.  I already have the shirt, the belt, and matching shoes; the only missing piece was the shorts.  Unfortunately, despite bright trousers' popularity this Spring/Summer I couldn't find these anywhere.  Finally I found some trousers that were the right colour (and even on sale) at Urban Outfitters.  However, these had flaws.  They weren't quite Jodhpurs but they were close: slim in the calves, fuller at the hip.  The fabric was also on the flimsy side, to the point of transparency if you weren't wearing the correct undergarments.  All in all, I felt they made my ass look big and my legs look short, which was waaaay too much to overlook.  I don't like adhering to strict fashion "rules", but one I do try to follow is no matter how much you like something on someone else, if it's not equally fabulous on you then DON'T BOTHER.

This isn't to say I went home empty-handed though (bahahahahaha imagine!).  No, instead I hit the cosmetics counter at Chanel, who I have discovered does makeup unlike anyone else (a post on this to follow), and then got some aviator sunglasses - an item I've wanted for a long time but have had difficulty finding an adequately light and flattering pair.

Now I'm going to introduce a debate that has me quite conflicted.  About two years ago I became friends with a girl in a class I was taking.  She happened to have a purse that I admired every time I saw it and I made a point of finding out the designer, who turned out to be a British brand called Mulberry.  They make beautiful, understated, classically-designed handbags in staple colours.  The purse stuck in my head, and I don't exaggerate when I say I had a dream about it once.  However, being a student I had never had the kind of money necessary to invest in one of these bags previously, and I've never even seen them sold in Canadian stores.  And then it all changed.  While I was out last Saturday I was exploring a big high-fashion department store and there, in the corner, was a Mulberry collection, and amongst it was what I've come to think of as my bag.  Now I hardly need to tell you this, but I'm one of those people who can justify just about any purchase, no matter how ridiculous and/or expensive.  Therefore it is nothing short of miraculous that entirely-without-self-control me managed to make it out of the store without this purse.  What stopped me, of course, was the price tag, which works out to be about 1/6 of the budget for my entire stay in Europe.  Were this the end of my trip I would get it without hesitation, but since there are still three months and countless adventures ahead I am hesitating to spend that kind of money.  The thing is, it's not often that any purse holds my attention for two years, which I would consider a good indication of lasting love.  Furthermore, it's a classic design and classic colour from a reliable label, so it stands to reason that this would be an item I'd buy once and own forever.  Everyone knows one good purse is worth five "meh" purses, which is probably why they cost so damn much.  As I mentioned earlier, I don't know whether these purses are sold in Canada, which means now would be a good time to get one and it also means I'm not going to have to look at it on the arm of every woman I see once I get home (I hate the omnipresence of brands like Louis Vuitton).  If I get the purse, it will always be a reminder of this trip; something special I got in Europe.  Finally, it turns out I'm going to have much less time off from work than I had anticipated, and so I won't be doing the kind of moving about I had thought I would.  So, there isn't going to be quite the financial drain I thought there would be.  So would it be so very bad to buy the purse?  I can't decide!!  Votes please???!!  To aid in your decision making, this is the much-discussed purse:

So, having (arguably needlessly) spent money, I headed home and went to bed nice and early. 


Today it poured rain, so I did the sensible thing an lazed about in bed watching movies, cleaning, and getting some laundry done.


All the good ones are taken

Enough said.

Now on to everything else!

Well, let's start with last night, which sure was interesting.  That is if by "interesting" you mean "terrifyingly unsettling", and not the kind of terrified unsettled-ness you get from an (early) M. Night Shmamylaningananangyynan movie.  Nope, at approximately 3:30am I was woken by what I can only describe as a blood-curdling scream.  I've got to say, of all the ways to be woken from a deep sleep that is easily the worst.  It had all the prerequisites for awfulness: I was in the deepest sleep and therefore disorientation was maximized upon waking; it was still pitch dark and therefore scarier; I'm in a whole different country and totally isolated; I don't have a phone to call the police; I don't even know the phone number for the police (hint: it isn't 911 here).  Anyway, I awoke to a scream followed by sounds of arguing which went on for perhaps ten minutes.  After the initial "fight, flight or panic"response, I realised that it was a bunch of men speaking some kind of Arabic dialect, and the scream had been one of those yodel-type things that they show crazy terrorists doing in bad films.  I swear I'm not lying.  Some more listening led me to believe that these geniuses were out on one of the balconies continuing their totally-normal Wednesday night revelry.  Now as much as I was tempted to go out and tell these stereotype perpetuaters to shut it, I decided the wiser decision would be to hide inside and try to sleep.  Really Germany?  What next?!

Anyway, as for work, things are still going pretty well.  We had a conference call today (most of which I didn't understand since it was all in German - sigh) which was exciting!  Unfortunately the ideas of mine they had initially liked need some more tweaking before they're quite right, but on the bright side the Creative Director really liked a different idea of mine that had been passed over before, so I'm pretty pleased!  I also got to do a little more copywriting, which I find alternately frustrating and fun (in a challenging way).  I've also been spending some time getting to know my coworkers a little more and am fitting in more comfortably at the office - there are some really cool people here.  I feel like I've said this in every post but literally every day I get a better understanding of this business and its different components.  While I thought I might enjoy things here I didn't think things would be this great so soon!  I still have a ton of work ahead of me (especially in Photoshop, which seems to be my Achilles heel) I really enjoy the creative process.  Every day brings something new and challenges a different part of imagination.  It's quite exhilarating to feel like I am making progress in building a career for myself, something that is exceptionally difficult in this economy.  But enough of that.

Today I finally got up the courage to go grocery shopping!  It's been a full ten days since I arrived, but I just couldn't bring myself to get groceries, which has never been a favourite activity of mine.  Anyway, it wasn't quite as hard as I imagined it would be.  Most things are recognizable, but some things you kind of have to guess at, like what kind of milk you're buying or what-the-fuck-kind-of-cheese-is-this?  I wish I hadn't gone on an empty stomach though, because somehow I came home with a jar full of Nutella (blame it on Europe) and one or two other comfort foods.

Well that about concludes this entry, I'm off to skype with my sister!  I'll try and update Saturday since on Friday night I'm off to a themed-night at a club downtown with some of the girls from work!  It should be a lot of fun and craziness, so I'll do my best to keep track of all the stories for you.  Until next time, tschuss!


Redemption is sweet

Aahhhhhh today was such a good day!!  I feel I have at last (at least until my next error) proven myself useful at work!

Today started out like most other days do, with people trickling in the morning and slowly getting themselves into the work mindset.  For the last few days I've been working on ad ideas, so I came up with a couple more suggestions and then moved on to something different: copywriting!  For those of you who don't know, copywriting is when you create the text that is within an ad, in particular the slogan or tagline.  I've never done any copywriting before but it was certainly an interesting exercise (it felt a lot like writing an essay, surprisingly), and I we'll see how well my ideas are received later in the week.

It was after lunch that things really started looking up.  Those of us in Creative got together and shared our ad ideas for the campaign we're working on.  I wish I could say more about who the client is and what we're doing but they actually had me sign a contract saying I would do no such thing.  Anyway, since I've never been in Advertising before I had expected my ideas would be laughably inadequate and unoriginal.  As it turned out, my coworkers really liked three of my ideas, which we will present to our Heads of Department tomorrow.  I can't believe it!  I feel like Don Draper, but minus all that infidelity and such.

Now it's perfectly possible that tomorrow I will make some colossal slip-up and feel once more like a total imbecile (knock on wood), but for the time being I'm going to enjoy the sensation of usefulness.  It doesn't hurt that I also have a blossoming crush (haven't had one of those in years) on a coworker.  I wont say any more since that would be ridiculously imprudent, but it certainly makes the days go by a little faster and more pleasantly.


Lost in Translation: Saturday Adventures

Update: So in my tired state yesterday I completely forgot to mention purses!  Much like every woman in British Columbia seems to own a Coach purse, every woman here owns a Longchamp purse.  Big, small, neutral or colourful these were on the arm of nearly EVERY woman I passed.  Only a very particular version of the Longchamp bag though, which is the canvas (?) style with chocolatey brown leather straps.  While the bags are fairly cute and functional they aren't an item I felt particularly drawn to.  In fact, Longchamp makes a lot of other much nicer purses, so I can't quite grasp this style's popularity.  But to each their own.

Hello all!

So at long last I can give you what I know you've been waiting for: the down-low on European style.  I will say that I haven't been here too long though (obviously) so all I can offer at the moment are my immediate impressions and observances.

Since today is Saturday I decided I'd use the extra time to get some shopping done in the downtown tourist area.  Ordinarily this wouldn't be an all-day trip but because I'm a huge coward I didn't feel up to using the transit system just yet.... so I walked (it's about 4km each way).  On the way there this just meant a pretty long trip, but after several hours of wandering through stores I managed to forget my way home and got completely lost.  My favourite part was when a crazy looking lady wearing a multi-coloured poncho and accompanied by a dog started lurking in my peripheral vision.  At this point I was carrying several shopping bags and frowning into my copy of Lonely Planet's Guide to Germany so I looked very much like a vulnerable tourist.  So, since I was already lost anyway, I just started walking in circles until she wandered off somewhere else.  While it's perfectly possible that I'm just paranoid and she was just a harmless pedestrian I figured I'd rather not find out the hard way.  Anyway, thank god Hamburg is so flat, because I was able to spot a familiar skyscraper and from there figure out how to get back to my apartment.

But that's really not the point.  The point is that I finally got a taste of the main shopping district and had a good look at what everyone was wearing and selling.  The first thing I've noticed about German style is every woman seems to own a military-style jacket.  Not the trench or Imperial styles, but rather the World War II style army green kind.  I would say about 65-75% of the women I passed today were wearing some interpretation of this trend.  So, of course, I bought one.  The other ubiquitous item I noticed were Oxford flats.  Much like military jackets these were everywhere, and while I didn't get any today (my feet were swollen so there was really no point) I have every intention of getting some later.

Another popular item here are trousers.  In particular a specific kind of trousers, which I believe are sometimes referred to as "Jodhpurs".  These are slightly baggier at the top and taper down at the ankle.  While it's a style that no doubt would look awful on me, both men and women alike are sporting this look here in Hamburg.  So far that's what I've primarily noticed, though one woman at work has a really interesting way of pairing neons with dramatic black and white patterns: more on that later.

During my adventures I also picked up an ivory lace dress, which is a trend the world round this season.  Also some black jeans, because work is actually unbelievably casual and they're a useful item to have anyway.

And so this brings me to the last of my purchases: books!  I really needed some entertainment at home besides German TV and the internet, so I went and found the most ridiculous romance novels I could find (set in Europe of course).  I figure maybe if I spend enough time reading about fictitious dates then maybe I'll manage to get myself a real one.  Though with this whole culture difference right now that feels rather improbable.  Who knew?


What Doesn't Kill You Will Still Be Ridiculously Embarrassing

There are a lot of things people don't tell you before you go to a new country.  Maybe they don't tell you because most people travel with friends, or because most people don't start new jobs in countries where they cannot speak the language.  Regardless, the last few days have been.... eye opening.  I have never felt so out of my element, and I'm generally a very self-assured person.

Today got off to a supremely rocky start.  I arrived at work only to find that the laptop they've been having me use was not where I left it.  I immediately recalled that the office has, in fact, had several thefts over the last few months.  Cue panic.  For the next half hour or so I did my best not to cry while we waited for the guys who work in my department (currently I'm in Advertising) to arrive.  They had left after I did last night and we (myself and the secretary) hoped they might know what happened to it.  THANK GOD as it turned out one of them took it home since that way it wouldn't be stolen.  At that point I actually did start to cry.  Brilliant way to start the morning.

And, of course, things only got better.  The laptop they gave me to work on did't have any of the Adobe software [Adobe is a company that makes a range of specialized products for graphic designers, advertisers, and photographers; for example Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator], and it's too expensive to install it, so they had me working on someone else's computer who is on holiday at the moment.  But as soon as it came time to log in, I realized that (after switching purses this morning) I forgot my passwords at the apartment.  FUCK.  So then I waited around a bit to try and get a hold of the IT guys, but this was taking forever so I just ran back home, got the passwords, and returned.  Having finally signed in to my computer, we then tried to get me connected to the server that has the work I was supposed to be doing today.  We tried every damn password they assigned me before finally giving up and calling IT.  Well, it turns out that IT had to get permission from the Creative Director before they could grant me access to any of the servers.  And, wouldn't you know it our Creative Director WASN'T HERE TODAY.

This just feels like the latest in a string of mildly humiliating experiences.  Everyone is really nice, but in most cases not overly friendly.  I had been told about the famous Northern German frostiness, but mostly wrote it off as prejudice or the consequence of shy travelers.  This is not so.  The culture is, in fact, significantly more reserved than our culture in Canada, and so it has been a slightly depressing adjustment to make.  Everyone at work is really young, and while it's nice to be around people around my own age (most are in the 25-35 range) it makes me feel more ignorant when they have to explain something to me.  On top of that there's the language issues.  My poor coworker must have spent a half hour trying to explain what we needed to modify on a logo, and finally it turned out it was an exceptionally simple change that is well within my capabilities.  Trouble is that some words that are spoken the same in both languages - for example "logo" - but have slightly different meanings, which I'm sure you can imagine causes all kinds of trouble.  And it doesn't end there.  The keyboards here are arranged differently, and the computers are all in German too.  So every time a dialogue box comes up, every time I open an application, even the navigation bar at the top of the screen is ALL IN GERMAN.  Why don't YOU try figuring out what "Datei", "Bearbeiten", "Ansicht", "Chronik", etc means?  Through blind luck I was able to get to System Preferences and adjust the main language and the keyboard input to English, so at least I can now type at my usual rate without getting a "ü" where I might have gotten ",".  Unfortunately for all the languages changes to register I would have had to restart the computer, and my luck has been so bad over the last few days that I honestly did't think it was worth it today.

So the moral of the story is I spend most of my time feeling like a complete fool, which is not my favourite sensation.  Luckily the Advertising department's Creative Director is a very friendly sort.  His new favourite pastime is to teach me German swear words and then have me repeat them when anyone from other departments comes into our office.  Yesterday I learned "Deine Muder", which I gather is comparable to "fuck you".

My day actually wound up improving in the afternoon.  While technology in general still seems to hate me, most other things perked up.  Since we weren't able to get a hold of the Creative Director we wound up just using a flash drive to get me the relevant files, so I got to spend the rest of the day actually doing something productive.  Better yet, it was stuff that I'm familiar with and felt confident working on, so it was a really nice change not to feel incompetent for a few hours.

At lunch my two work friends came by to invite me to go pick up some groceries.  Often here we will grab a few groceries and then make group meals with 5-7 other coworkers, which so far have been both healthy and fairly tasty.  At work we also have an espresso machine, which makes impressively good coffee.  I haven't tried my luck with the steam-arm yet since it's apparently quite delicate, but eventually I'm sure I'll get around to making lattes and such.  We also get unlimited beverages (water, iced tea, and a bunch of weird European stuff) which helps cushion the blow of life generally sucking.

After lunch there was a bit of a lull in the advertising department's work flow, so the two boys (for simplicity's sake I'll call them Boy 1 and Boy 2) and girl-whose-name-I-can't-remember-or-pronounce invited me to play darts with them, which is an ongoing game in the office.  On the wall they even have a chart keeping track of everyone's wins.  Luckily Boy 1 is also new, and has only been here about two weeks so I'm not totally alone in my unfamiliarity.  He's quite shy but once you start talking to him he's really nice; he was the one who saved my laptop, so I feel rather indebted.  During work I sit across from Boy 2, who is the one who has to deal with me most often.  He's unfailingly kind, patient, and very polite.  I feel so guilty interrupting his work flow all the time to ask questions, but it has motivated me a lot to learn quickly and make up for it by being an asset.  Both Boy 1 and Boy 2 are in their mid-twenties.  Like I said it's a young office.  Girl-whose-name-I-can't-
remember-or-pronounce spends most of her time with her headphones in and she sits across the office so I don't know her very well.  I would guess she's in her mid-twenties too.

For the last part of the day the whole first-floor team gathered in one of the conference rooms to watch a film put together by a couple of members about an advertising festival they had attended.  I didn't understand most of it, but some ads were quite funny and we all got to sit around drinking beer and wine and eating chocolate and popcorn while we watched it.  In Germany they put sugar on their popcorn, which is of course totally bizarre, and when I told them that we use salt and occasionally cheese they all thought it was disgusting and hilarious.

Anyway, by the time the presentation ended I had just about enough time to shut down my equipment and head out.  It turns out that we're going to the Reeperbahn next weekend, so I'm thinking I might take tomorrow to go to the downtown area (about 4km away) and do some shopping/exploring.  If there was ever a time for retail therapy it's NOW.  Apparently they have lots of Starbucks down there and I could really use a taste of home, and I am also dying to get some english books so I'll have some entertainment besides my computer.

Until today I had no internet in my apartment, and I still have no phone.  I am learning just how essential these things are to life outside your home country.  I haven't spent any money yet (besides a coffee or two) because I don't know where to find anything.  I had no real way of finding this out besides walking, and when I get home I'm usually so tired (since I've been getting up at dawn every day) that I barely have time to change before I fall asleep.  On top of this the very few occasions I've actually gone into a store are really frustrating because I can't read any labels, and I don't exactly have a phone that can translate for me.  I had thought the most difficult part of this trip would be the end: saying goodbye, leaving Europe, feeling homesick after being away so long.  On the contrary, the first few weeks of this seem to be the hardest.  Cut off from the world, missing friends and family, not knowing anyone, being unable to do anything, not understanding the language.  I suppose the silver lining is that it can only get better.  I just hope it gets better fast.
That about covers things, and now hopefully you're all much more aware of the hazards of working overseas.  It is nothing like I imagined, but I will say this: once this experience is over I am quite sure it will have provided me with skills and abilities that will prove invaluable.


I sense a tradition in the making...

Wow, only 24 hours since my last update and so much to say!

Well, today started out much like yesterday, only instead of waking up at 5am I woke up at 4am.  I'm not sure if it's the jet-lag or just the light streaming through all those great windows (eye roll) but I can't seem to keep a normal sleep schedule these days.  I laid in bed for about an hour, then concluded I wouldn't be falling back to sleep so I wound up doing yoga in my apartment for an hour as the sun rose.  And yes, it was just as awesome and relaxing as it sounds.

Present circumstances have been making me weirdly responsible lately.  I didn't bring any books with me and can't find a bookstore, so unless I feel like watching German television my entertainment is limited to reading articles from my University days that are still on my computer.  For example, last night before bed I started reading a piece by philosopher Richard Dawkins on the "sieve effect" and his argument against a "designed universe".  So essentially my recreational time these days is divided between studying and exercise.

Today was my first day at work, and I spent most of it wringing my hands in total anxiety.  Don't get me wrong, everyone has been very friendly, but it was like being the new kid at school.  It's not just that I'm new, it's that I was taken into literally every department of the company and introduced to rooms full of silent people.  This was an entirely new experience for me as I come from a small town and have always had friends with me.  The names are all impossible too!  I won't lie, sometimes it sounded like they were making it up on the spot.  Everyone has difficulty with my name too, though that's not uncommon.  The department that I'll be working within has decided they're going to just pick a nickname for me, which sounds like a pretty good solution to me.  Luckily for me this department is a close-knit group of friendly people, and I think of all the departments it will probably be the best suited to me.

The low point in the day, however, was lunch.  It is awkward enough when you are in a room full of people you don't know who all know each other and are chatting.  Now, imagine that they are all speaking a language you don't understand.  Ta da!  That was how things were.  Try joining THAT conversation.  You can't.  It's impossible.  All you can do is wait, fidget uncontrollably and wait for someone kind enough to speak English to you.  Luckily this happened, and I swear I'm not lying when I say that - as it turned out - the coworker who started talking to me is a Swiss PRINCE.  Apparently he married a princess a while back and now they're a happy royal family, though without an estate.  I was kind of dumbstruck when I found out.  I've been in Europe all of TWO days and I've already met royalty for Christ's sake!

Two of the girls at work have taken me under their wing, so to speak, and they invited me to join them for lunch break.  The four of us (the secretary is coming as well) are all planning to go out this weekend in the notorious Reeperbahn, Germany's red light district, which also has many bars and clubs.

After lunch I spent most of my time waiting for the tech guys to solve laptop problems, and then started reading up on a new client of ours.  For the next few weeks I'll be learning under the Consulting team, which will be very different.  Things may change however, since I've been asked to pass along my portfolio to the head of the Creative department so they can have a better idea of my capabilities.  Sometimes I feel like I'm living in Mad Men.  The office itself is quite something; it used to be an old factory, but my bosses bought it and converted it into offices.  It's almost entirely white, and all the departments are separated by glass walls.  There are meeting rooms for each floor where the staff will gather weekly to circulate updates on projects, clients, and company news.  You can imagine that it's a very modern-looking place.

One of my coworkers asked me today what the most challenging thing was that I'd had to deal with since coming to Germany, and I told him it was the doors.  True story.  The doors here are somewhat ridiculous.  They pretend to be like ours but really they're just imposters.  They have round handles you see, but these don't turn, they just sit there mocking you while you struggle.  Throw my issue with keys into mix and you have a disaster waiting around every corner.  Additionally, some of them close in unpredictable ways, which resulted in me walking into a door in front of at least five of my coworkers.  Probably my most graceful moment of the day.  When I arrived at work this morning (never having been to the building before) I tried to open the front door and failed.  After glancing to either side of the building for another entrance and staring at the (German) buzzer labels in agony, thankfully a man came along and helped me.  Turned out it was one of those "push not pull" situations and I felt incredibly stupid.  Oh, and it gets worse.  I step into the building and am met with another door, this one locked for realsies.  I have no idea how the secretary knew I was standing there but she buzzed me in and my embarrassment ended... temporarily.  I have now discovered that you get a card-key that you wave in front of the door to get in, but I still have no idea how guests are supposed to do it.  Who knew doors could be so frustrating?

Well now isn't that something!  I am now watching a group of thirty or so protesters passing down the street flanked by about sixty members of the Polizei (the police).  I'm beginning to wonder what I won't see while here.  I have no idea what they're protesting, in case you're wondering.

Well, that about covers my day.  My next mission is to go find an alarm clock, which I desperately need.  I'm not going to bother contemplating all the ways in which this could go wrong, as at this point the list is infinite.  No doubt I'll have another jam-packed day tomorrow and will write another update.


Wilkommen aus Deutschland

Hello all!

So it has finally happened - I am in Germany!  I am currently doing the MOST stereotypical activity for a traveling North American: sitting in a cafe sipping an espresso and eating a croissant.  Life's goal has officially been achieved.  Now on to the stories!

Where to start?!  Well, the flight wound up being comfortable enough, though I didn't get much sleep because it was so LOUD.  And I managed to get the worst seat: center of the center.  The plane flew in an arc up over the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Greenland so as it so happened the sun never went down on us - hard to go to sleep with all that happening. 

As luck would have it though, the gentleman next to me happened to be a tall, blonde-haired blue-eyed and generally handsome Dutch guy.  And no, I cannot pronounce his name correctly.  The flight became infinitely more bearable with someone to talk to, and now I have a friend I can visit in Amsterdam.  It's hard to imagine my journey getting off to a better start.

It turned out it was a really good thing we made friends because when we arrived in Frankfurt I had NO IDEA what to do.  It’s one of the ten largest airports in the world, and you have to be shuttled around from your plane to the arrivals terminal by buses.  As in city buses.  And sky trains.  Yeah.  I know.  Anyway, luckily Mr. Dutch (as he shall be referred to) seemed to know his way around and so things went pretty smoothly, but of course just as soon as I got to the right gate the PA system announced that the gate had changed… to the opposite side of the terminal.  Cue running.  After I got to the real right gate I discovered the flight was running late by about 20min to an hour.  Sigh.  My lucky streak continued though, because a German sports team was wandering around the Terminal and made for excellent eye candy.  Eventually I got on the plane (though this time I was next to an old guy who just slept the whole time) and things were all good from there.  Getting out of Hamburg's terminal wasn't nearly as confusing and getting my baggage was a breeze.  A secretary from the company I'm working for came to pick me up, and she has been exceptionally friendly and helpful.  She took me to the apartment I'll be living in, which is pretty damn nice!  I'm on the eleventh floor and have a beautiful view.

Anyway, after a shower and a nap I had to go out to find a payphone to call my family.  That done, I headed back to the apartment, where everything was fine until I got to my door, and couldn't for the life of me open it.  No matter how I turned the key nothing would happen, and having no phone and no phone numbers to call I started to panic.  Just as I was headed down to the concierge (who wasn't there anyway) I ran into an old man, who thank god spoke English.  I think the most useful German I have so far is "spreken Sie English?"  Anyway, he was very kind, and at first thought that I needed a whole other key, but eventually he tried it in the door and HALLELUJAH it opened.  After several minutes of close study this morning I discovered that you have to turn it 360 degrees twice then pull and give an extra 20 degree twist.

The area of town I live and work in is beauuuutiful.  This morning (I woke up shortly before 5am - thanks jet lag!) I went for a walk to get to know the area and it's filled with cute townhouses and lovely brick churches.  There are cobbled streets EVERYWHERE which perfectly fulfill my imagined Europe.  There are also trees everywhere.  Today my secretary friend told me that for every Hamburg resident there are three trees, and it's one of the greenest cities in Europe.  They're beautiful, all deciduous and old and they give the city such character.  I'm told I live in one of Hamburg's wealthier districts and it definitely shows.  There is SO MUCH TO LEARN though.  For example, so far I have learned:

- The ground floor on an elevator is marked "E", not "G" or "U"
- Sidewalks have strips of darker brick, which are essentially bicyclist highways.  DON'T walk in these and check before you cross one otherwise you are likely going to be run over.

There are red brick churches everywhere here, and one close to me tolls the hours, which I absolutely love.  Also, the emergency sirens (police, ambulance) are different here, which I found way more exciting than I should.  That will probably wear off soon though.

Today two coworkers took me to lunch, one of whose name is similar to Manuel but more difficult to pronounce.  Something like Maniel.  They are very friendly and very nice, and the way they tell it there are lots of young people at work.  Apparently everyone is very excited to meet me.  I start working tomorrow and am a combination of nervous and excited.

I think the most amusing thing I've encountered so far was on TV.  In an effort to pick up more German I turned it on and started flicking through the channels, at which point I came across none other than Dawson's Creek dubbed in German.  HILARIOUS.  Better yet, it was followed by an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 ALSO dubbed in German.  You haven't seen 90210 until you've seen Donna whine "David!" in a heavy German accent.

As for future plans, one coworker has said we will go visit Berlin in August, and try to get to Potsdam to see the castle there as well.  I hope I'll get up to Amsterdam to look around and to see my plane-friend.  Hopefully getting to know people will continue to be this easy, because goodness knows everything else is hard enough.  Before leaving I realised that everyone would be speaking German all the time, but it didn't exactly occur to me that all the signage is in German too - a difficulty indeed.  The crosswalk signs are also different.  Rather than having three stages of "walk", "don't walk", or "get off the fucking crosswalk" there are just two: "walk" and "don't walk".  That's not so confusing.  What are confusing are the yellow thingys next to them.  Some of them are for blind people to give and audio signal for "walk" and "don't" walk.  Those ones are marked by three dots.  The others (I suppose) are just for regular people.  It's looking like a sink or swim type of situation.

Anyway, that about covers it so far.  I will try to update again soon, and I am trying to get a feel for the fashion here.  Once I have a decent sense of it I'll get a post up dedicated to it, but for now all I've noticed is an absence of skirts.  But maybe that just because of the weather today.

Until next time, tschüss!


Can someone please tell me...

When did Neville Longbottom get HOT?!  And it's not even geek-chic, it's a full-blown smouldering sexy.  Talk about coming out of left field.  Hats off to you Matthew Lewis.


Coming up next...

Over the years I've developed an appreciation for premium denim.  Jeans are an item we wear almost daily, and they have a versatility that is rare in the trend-centric fashion world.  As such, I am 100% behind investing in good quality denim, and can personally attest to it making a big difference.  When I started testing out the premium denim market, however, I had no idea what I was doing.  Basically, each maker has a strength or a particular person they cater to, but you can't know what/who that is until you've tried.  So, in the interest of giving prospective denim buyers some help, I will soon be reviewing some of the major brands I have experience with.  In the near future I'll give a breakdown of Rock & Republic, J Brand, Seven For All Mankind, Citizens of Humanity, and maybe Earnest Sewn if I can get my sister to give me some feedback.

Marvelous Manicure: Lady Sings the Blues

Alright, so this is going to be just a quick post since I have to spend the rest of my afternoon packing.  While in the city yesterday to pick up my passport I made the mistake of checking out Holt Renfrew's Deborah Lippmann counter.  Well, surprise surprise, I found an absolutely stunning colour and had to take it home!  It's called Lady Sings the Blues from Lippmann's All That Jazz collection.  The polish is a deep navy blue with small and large silver sparkles mixed into it.  You may remember it from when Lea Michelle wore it on the red carpet at some awards show or another.

Anyway, as for my review: absolutely love it!  Application was great; after two coats it was good and opaque.  Because of the sparkles two coats of top coat are necessary to avoid lumps.  The polish is totally mesmerizing, I feel as though I have the Milky Way on my fingertips!  I've spent a significant portion of the day staring at my hands, which is generally the sign of a great mani.

Word to the wise: Deborah Lippmann polishes are on the pricey side of the polish spectrum.  While you can probably get them for less online, in stores they retail for about $24.  Most of the time I find that a ridiculous amount to spend on nail polish, but I will say that it is worth investing in Lippmann's sparkle polishes as they are unlike any other sparkle polish I've ever seen.  So if you can afford it, DO IT!


In Memoriam

The image I've posted above will mean different things to different people: to some, it is a symbol of the ongoing struggle against child neglect and abuse, while to others it signifies solidarity in the fight against a particular strain of cancer.  To me, it will always remind me of two friends of mine.

Many of you will already be aware that today marks the five-year anniversary of the car accident that killed them.  In the aftermath we banded together and it was decided that a purple ribbon would be our token of daily remembrance; a visual reminder that we were never alone in our grieving (purple because it was one of their favourite colours).  Our close-knit group wore the ribbons faithfully each day for more than a year.  It wasn't until after graduation, when we had all moved away and begun new chapters in our lives, that we gradually stopped relying on the ribbons so much.  The sense of community was lost due to our stratification, and we knew we would never forget our dear friends.  We are still close today, these friends and I.

Time has continued to pass, in the relentless way it always does.  These landmark days are so effective at reminding us of its progression.  Occasionally I catch myself thinking (or dreaming, recently) of my lost friends.  I wonder to myself if I'll ever forget their voices, their mannerisms, exactly what it was that made them so special.  It seems hard to imagine now - impossible even - but memories are so fickle that way: one day you're telling yourself you'll never forget how happy you are, and a few years down the road that moment has been eclipsed by the sheer volume of living and feeling crammed into each day.

One of the hardest things to deal with in the year after their deaths were the double-takes.  Especially at school, where I had seen them every day for years, I would frequently think I saw one of them.  It would be someone with similar hair, or a familiar way of dressing or moving that would spark brief recognition.  There would be that moment, quickly followed by an onslaught of memories and the cruel reminder of reality.  The sightings became fewer as soon as I removed myself from our old stomping grounds, but strangely enough I recently saw a doppelganger.  There's a song that perfectly encapsulates the sentiment of these moments.  It is Billie Holiday's I'll Be Seeing You, which I'm sure most of you will recognize from The Notebook.  I've been watching a lot of Mad Men recently, which makes me want to listen to jazz, and consequently I'll Be Seeing You has been stuck in my head for the last week or so.  Interestingly it took until tonight for me to make the connection between my friends and the song though.

Despite the half-decade between their loss and the present my thought process hasn't seemed to have changed.  It's as though the series of thoughts have formed little paths through my brain, well-worn over time, channels that my mind easily traverses at the smallest inducement.  I wonder what they would be doing now, though it's hardly any mystery that they'd be doing fantastically.  It seems so stereotypical, but you would be hard-pressed to find any other girls so broadly liked and so endlessly talented.  And I swear, I say that without the rose-tinted glasses that people sometimes wear when remembering the dead.  They really were wonderful people.

None of us ever learns the really big answers to life; I suspect because there aren't any.  I suppose the biggest lesson I learned five years ago today was that life is arbitrary, and you just have to make what you can of it.  That's not to say that there aren't meaningful relationships and actions and moments, I just can't believe in any kind of overall plan.

My friends, both alive and dead, will continue to be an inspiration to me.  A reminder of the durability of - if not life - then love and respect.


Listening To: Material Girl Playlist

I know what you're thinking - "TWO in ONE day?!".  Yep, that's dedication.  Or boredom, you decide.  Anyway, it's no secret that we live in an exceptionally consumerist and narcissistic society.  This has resulted in quite the array of self-congratulatory songs all about money, buying things, and being materialistic to the max.  I perused my iTunes library and dug up everything that label-dropped, celebrated celebrity, or touted materialistic values and created this, my Ode to Commercialism.  Considering the subject matter it's decidedly upbeat, with lots of fun and dance-worthy material.  Gotta make spending fun, right?  Alright, that's enough from me: enjoy it!

Listening To: Waiting... Playlist

Time has a funny way of becoming infinitely slower when you're excited for something.  While my departure for Germany is approaching, it seems to be doing so at a rate comparable to the speed of a dead slug in midsummer.  So, in characteristic fashion I've put together a playlist that draws on the themes of waiting, time, tedium, and anticipation.  Oh, and I have good news!  I finally worked out my playlist difficulties, so you no longer have to follow the links.  Enjoy!


Have a little pride

Happy Canada Day!  Here's to free health care, democracy (sort of), multiculturalism and all that other great stuff we take for granted.