It's a mixed bag

It's been a long time without posts, I know, but this one is extra-long and ends with a surprise.

Last night I returned from my weekend in Düsseldorf, which wound up being incredibly fun.  Coming back to Hamburg has been consequently rather bittersweet.  When I arrived at my hotel on Friday evening they informed me that my room had been upgraded free of charge.  It turned out to be this big suite with two levels and giant floor to ceiling windows.  I had a comfortable amount of time to shower and change before meeting up with my host, the friend of a friend's ex-boyfriend.  In cases such as these there's always a decent chance that the person you'll be meeting will be boring, obnoxious, awkward, or in some way totally incompatible with you.  Luckily for me, my host was both courteous and friendly, and pretty handsome as well.  We met up with four of his friends at their favourite local bar, and as it turned out his friends were pretty fantastic too.  Amusingly enough (given we're all in Germany), not a single one of them was German.  Two are Irish, one is Swedish, one is a European mutt, and my host is Danish.  The best part about this array of nationalities was that each of them would make ruthless fun of the others for accents and quirks that were unique to their homelands.  It was some of the funniest conversation I've ever been party to, and I don't think I've laughed so hard since arriving here.

After hanging out for a while at the bar we decided to go to another, starting what would becoming something of a pub crawl.  The European-of-ambiguous-descent wound up heading to a club, but our party of four was no worse off for good times.  The bar was a combination of brewery and bar, where the beer was served in these little glasses that can't have been more than half a pint, if not less.  Waitresses would come around carrying a tray of these glasses, and would keep count of how many you had had on your coaster.  We half-joked we would try and fill the whole edge of the coaster but wound up making it just under halfway, which was probably a better idea.  I'm pretty sure we may have taken some shots as well, but I won't pretend that I was paying close attention.  Once we had finished enjoying ourselves there we moved on to another place that was well-known for it's Friday nights.  However, once we arrived it was completely empty.  And I do mean completely empty: besides the staff we were the only ones there.  So, we each had a beer and then promptly moved on.  I think the next place we went was also the last, a little Irish pub.  We set up camp in a corner, at which point I switched to water, though that hardly helped, since until then I had been keeping up with the Europeans who are truly prodigious drinkers.  Hmmm... come to think of it I think we started chatting with some North Americans, but I can't really remember the specifics.  Anyway, that doesn't particularly matter.  After staying there for however long we all piled into a cab and called it a night around what I assume was 5am, because no one leaves before then.

I slept a few hours, and then ventured out to explore a little of Düsseldorf.  Unfortunately my late night had me rather tired, so my heart (unusually) wasn't into the shopping.  Also, in typical German fashion I got caught in a downpour wearing nothing but a cardigan and a sundress.  Magnificent.  Nonetheless I wound up getting some super cute shoes, and super cheap coat which I've come to the conclusion is ugly-pretty.  Saturday night I met up with the same crew as Friday but larger.  This time there were several more Swedes, an Italian, goodness knows who else and maybe even one or two genuine Germans.  It was a little intimidating to begin with as the whole group had gone to high school together and the evening was something of an informal reunion for them, but luckily I was able to chat with the boys I had met on Friday night and not feel too awkward.

After everyone had arrived, settled in and had a few drinks we all migrated to a (different from Friday) Irish pub a couple of streets away for some more drinking.  I can't say I totally grasp the necessity of moving around so much but I wasn't complaining as it's excellent fun.  We didn't stay there overlong before heading to a popular club, SUB.  Once there we bought a table and good times ensued.  The music was a mix of techno and hip-hop, and was fun but not didn't leave a lasting impression as there was so much else to be distracted by.  Dancing was great and everyone had a good time, but I saw the most ridiculous thing!  Inside the club there was a man carrying a bouquet of roses that he was trying to sell.  Apparently these guys are all over the place, because nothing spells romance like "Hey, I didn't think about this ahead of time or put any effort in whatsoever, but do you want a flower?  Yes, in the club.  Why wouldn't you want a flower while dancing?"

We stayed at SUB until probably 3 or 4, at which point the group started to split: my host needed to get home for an early morning, while the Irish lads and some others were set on staying out.  After a little debate I decided to stay out, since there's no way of knowing if or when I'll ever see these people again.  We all headed off to some other club, dancing and chatting with equal frequency.  Our last stop of the night was to the same Irish pub we'd been to last on Friday night, but I don't recall staying very long.  When closing time finally came around it was getting light out, and so I convinced my escorts (there were only two at this point) to show me the Rhine river.  This was probably one of my favourite parts of a fantastic weekend: despite that it was effing cold and I was wearing a summer dress, and despite that it was about 6:30 and I'd had no sleep, it was still something like magic.  In true European pastoral style the far bank of the Rhine had a flock of sheep on it, baaaaing away happily.

When I finally got back to my room it was 8am, and I had only two hours to sleep before it was time to pack in preparation for check-out.  Once that was done I left my suitcase with the front desk and went in search of some Chamomile tea and somewhere comfortable to lurk while waiting to meet up with my host.  He was kind enough to come and collect me from the hotel, after which I got to see his home and meet his family and hang out for a little while before he dropped me off at the airport.  The flight back was short and I slept on and off for most of it.

And now I am back.  I wish I could just appreciate having had such a superb visit, but honestly right now I just feel awfully bitter.  I feel like I could be having just the same amazing times in Hamburg, but I just haven't met the people yet.  It is so damn difficult meeting people here.  Honest to god it is no myth that northern Germans are aloof.  While I know many lovely people at work they all seem to be in a different mindset or leading their own independent lives.  We work long hours all the time and I suppose what little free time is left is allotted to responsibilities and relationships.  Because hey, everyone here is either dating or married, even though much of the company is very young.  Today was particularly frustrating.  The people I met in Dusseldorf had all attended an International School together and so their common language was English.  Additionally, they were supremely inclusive and so friendly that I may even be visiting one in Dublin.  The switch back to constant, incomprehensible German and German... formality is just beyond depressing.  While I still without hesitation acknowledge that I'm incredibly lucky to be here I can't help but feel that this is my own fault for picking somewhere so unfamiliar and culturally different.

In Germany's defense, my coworkers seemed to pick up on my depression so one of them made me a Mountie poster for my desk.  It has this slightly rotund RCMP officer on it, and above him it says "Just like home" in letters filled with the Canadian flag.  To my embarrassment my eyes welled up and I nearly cried, but sometimes the little things can mean so much.

Come September 1st I'll be relocated to a new department called Ligalux, which primarily deals with design, though honestly this is such a vague description I have no idea what to expect.  I'd like to hope that moving will mean expanding my group of friends, but now that I'm more familiar with German ways I'm just worried I'll feel even more lonely and that it will be hard getting to know people.  It also means reintegrating, which last time was stressful, embarrassing and frustrating.  On the plus side I'll be learning more about this business, and I certainly won't be bored.  For the last couple of weeks we've been pressed for an important pitch, and for me it has meant long hours and late nights filled with odious and seemingly arbitrary image searches.  I won't be so sad to leave those behind.

Sigh, I suppose there's a fairly important part of this that I'm leaving out: namely romance.  The trouble is it's so very complicated, and I'm never certain how much of those details I want shared with both the wide world and my readers who also happen to be related to me (hi mom and dad!).  Well, suffice it to say I met someone.  We're both history majors and talked for a while about our studies, and he actually liked that I'm intelligent.  It was refreshing to have some academic discussion without backlash, as twice previously I've had gentleman I've dated remark that I'm too smart and it's inconvenient for them (of course not to my face).  After history we bonded over music, and the night carried on with discoveries of many such shared interests.  The night ended with a shared kiss as the sun rose over Düsseldorf and the Rhine.  But on to the problems: he returns to school off the continent within a few weeks, whereas I am firmly entrenched here until my return to Canada, at which point I will be even further away.  While this would be enough of a romance blockade all on its own, he - like every other worthwhile man on this godforsaken continent - has a girlfriend.  Tony Bennet may have left his heart in San Francisco but apparently I left my morals in British Columbia.  This of course turns what would otherwise have been a promising encounter into something tinged with guilt.  I suppose everyone has their own definition of cheating, but if you count a kiss then I guess that makes me the "other woman", a role I was never interested in playing.  I don't envy him though, for whom this will be much, much worse I imagine.  It's just frustrating.  I'm not saying that I'm currently stuffing my face with Ben & Jerry's while crying along to P.S. I Love You (though the thought has its appeal), but it sucks to meet someone you really click with but to so immediately have little hope of any kind of continuance.  The most rational part of my head is telling me that given that things have started with pseudo-cheating they would probably be doomed from the start, but right now the louder part of my head is the part shouting "But he was so CUTE!  And had an accent! And was tall!"

In all likelihood he woke up the next day feeling guilty, and no matter how much he liked me will probably do his best to forget it ever happened.  The sooner I accept this and give up on any future communication, the better.  In the meantime, maybe I'll get some of that Ben & Jerry's after all... if I can find it in this ridiculous country.


The fine line between dream and nightmare

Sorry for abandoning you for the last week, unfortunately events conspired to restrict my internet access and disposable time.

The rest of last weekend wound up being just as fun as Friday evening was.  I woke up Saturday morning feeling chipper and energetic, so I decided to finally do some tourist-y things in Hamburg.  One of the city's main attractions is its Rathaus (Parliament), an impressive baroque building in the downtown core.  I managed to find my way there without too much trouble (though it turned out I took the long route there) and got to go through some parts of the city I haven't explored yet.  I joined the next English-language guided tour, and while waiting for it to start I took in the sights in the Rathaus' breathtaking courtyard.  The baroque style is one of my favourites, and the building was most impressive.  It was the first time since getting here that I've really felt like I'm in Europe.  Luckily Saturday's weather was gloriously sunny and beautiful, which also added to my overall enjoyment of the adventure.  The tour was fairly informative, though for some reason one genius couple decided to bring their squalling infant along with them.  Honestly, the thing was less than a year old and very obviously did not want to be there.  I don't know what they were thinking but it annoyed the hell out of me.  For the most part my tour group was composed of elderly, overweight, and therefore slow-moving people, which I thought wasn't nearly as exciting as it would have been had they all be tall, dark, young and handsome potential dates.

After the tour I went on to explore the Alsterarkaden, a collection of shops looking out over the city's canals.  Just as I was entering this area I happened upon a large crowd enjoying the antics of a street performer.  This was perhaps my favourite part of the day, because he was absolutely hilarious.  He was set up in the middle of the pedestrian avenue with a sound system, a marionette, and a small piano.  I don't know how it worked, but with a remote he would change the songs playing so that the lyrics serenaded passersby.  So, for example, when a woman all in black passed by, a song came on that sang about a woman in black.  Often the lyrics (from what I could understand) would make a comedic point about whoever it was, and I must have stood there for at least a half an hour.  He even played a song at me, which I gathered was some kind of love ballad.  After having been thoroughly entertained for quite some time I approached him and donated some money, at which point he played the wedding march and got a hearty laugh from the crowd.  I hope I have a chance to see him perform again, because it was fantastic fun.

After a brief stop at my favourite Starbucks I headed back to my apartment, after which I moved on to the more mundane weekend activities of cleaning, chores, and grocery shopping.  I'm pretty sure I spent the better part of Sunday watching movies or reading, because nothing much stands out.

Unfortunately the week wasn't quite as awesome as the weekend had been.  It was one of those weeks where you're constantly tired and there's always another issue to deal with.  Also, the weather has been appallingly bad, especially given it's midsummer for Christ's sake!  Rain nearly every day, and miserably cloudy.  My phone still wasn't set up, my internet was being inconsistent, and I was getting increasingly stressed about my travel arrangements for this weekend.

Depending on how much attention you've been paying to these updates you may be wondering why I'm writing today - wasn't I supposed to be in Düsseldorf?  Well, yes, I was.  But thanks to a series of unfortunate events and faulty communication it turned out that this weekend wasn't going to be a good time to visit, so I had to reschedule my flight for two weeks from now.  This was fairly disappointing for a couple of reasons.  The visit is so that I can see an old school friend, and I was really excited to see someone from home - it's no secret I've been mad-homesick recently.  Also, I was looking forward to seeing more of Germany and getting a break from Hamburg, whose weather has been ridiculously bad lately.  Well, like I said things didn't work out so I rescheduled my flight, but of course it turns out that the weekend I am now supposed to be going down is no good either: my friend won't even be in Germany!  So now I get to call the airlines again (they'll be laughing all the way to the bank about this) and reschedule again.  One begins to feel as though this visit will never happen.  To his credit though my friend called me (my phone would get incoming calls but wouldn't make calls) which went a long way to cheering me up and helping with homesickness.  It's still going to be a while before we visit I think but I suppose I'll just have to be patient.

For a reason I have yet to determine when I arrived at work on Friday I felt awful.  I had a terrible headache (+ light and noise sensitivity) and felt slightly nauseous.  Luckily it was a fairly quiet day so after completing my first assignment of the day I mostly just sat and waited for my pain killers to kick in.  When I still didn't feel better by lunch, my coworkers told me to go home, get some rest, and feel better.  I did, and wound up sleeping for most of the afternoon, but I wish I had felt better and could have stayed at work: it was my coworker's last day with us and so that afternoon we were going to have a goodbye party, which I expect was rather fun and would've liked to have attended.  Oh well.  On the bright side before I left work we FINALLY sorted out my cell phone, and I can now make and receive calls!  I tested this out by calling home, which was probably exorbitantly expensive but totally satisfying.

In other good news I've finally gotten around Germany's inadequate English book selection.  After trudging through a thoroughly awful Nicholas Sparks novel (what was I thinking?!) - it was so bad that I actually wished bad things upon the female protagonist - I decided I needed to find an alternative source of literature.  So, when talking to my padre on Friday night he told me to download the Kindle reader and start buying ebooks.  Glorious ebooks!  Cheap (even in Canadian dollars), immediately accessible, a wide selection, and I won't have to leave them behind when I finally return to North America!  The first ebook I've started is the first book in the Game of Thrones series.  I managed to catch a few episodes of the HBO series and was curious as to how the books measured up.  Also, the books are ridiculously long, there's tons of them, and they're escapist lit that can distract me from the fact that I'm totally isolated.  Bonus!  So far it's pretty good, and I'm thoroughly impressed with how closely the TV series stuck to the books.

Today, like every Saturday, I went downtown to run errands and shop.  I have been on a quest to find boots (I brought only flats and sandals with me) lately since the weather has been so awful.  Unfortunately I have found nothing that I like for anything close to a reasonable price or a good fit.  Either they're exorbitantly expensive or they will pinch my toes.  So, no boots for me.  However, I may have a new favourite store.  It's called Mango, and I think they have it in the US but nowhere I've seen in Canada.  I would compare them to Forever 21 or Zara.  The stock is trendy and reasonably priced, so it was fun to have a look at what they were offering.  I also picked up a scarf I've been eying at a local boutique for weeks.  It's cashmere the colour of seafoam (or Tiffany blue), and it went on sale, which made my mind up quickly.  Once I got home I returned to my now-standard routine: grocery shopping, dishes, and cleaning.  But you probably don't care about that.

Today - like last Saturday - was brilliantly beautiful and sunny.  On these days I love Hamburg and am delighted to be here.  But, unfortunately, these days have been quite rare.  The weather here frustrates me endlessly because it's so unpredictable.  It can go from sheeting rain to clear skies to ominous clouds and powerful winds all in the course of an afternoon.  I find it impossible to dress for and am always either dying of heat and too many layers or woefully under-dressed for the weather.  I wish the city would just make up its mind what season it's going to be and then stick to it!

Hopefully this week will be easier than last week, but somehow I suspect this is unlikely.  I am supposed to be visiting some family in Lyon (Southern France) this weekend, and so I expect the planning for this will work me into some kind of stress-fest.  This Friday the firm is having their summer party though, which I'm really quite excited for.  Besides that it's just work as usual and I suppose I'll need to sort out what to do with my Düsseldorf flights.  Sigh.

Anyway, my book calls and I've covered about all I can think of.  Until next time!


Shmammered Freitag

Hey y'all.  I am writing to you - for the first time - totally hammered.  You may be asking yourselves, "Why was that fact necessary?"  Well, my friends, it was.  And whether or not it becomes obvious to you why this was an important part of this narrative depends entirely on how astute you are.  Did I use that word correctly?  I don't know, how about you tell me?

Anyway, let's get on to some updates.

The last time I wrote you I'm pretty sure it was Sunday, which is a shame because that means that I now have to cover like five days of material while I'm clearly incapacitated.  I'm not going to lie - I can't really remember a damn thing that happened between Monday and Thursday, so I suppose it wasn't anything important.  I would guess it's mostly boring stuff like "I worked" and "work makes me feel super fulfilled" and "my family discouraged an impractical purchase (the purse)".  This is really the only stuff worth knowing, because everything else is not memorable enough for even me to recall.

You may be wondering to yourselves, "why is she writing on her blog while drunk? Isn't that the worst idea ever?"  And for the most part, I would agree with you.  The trouble is that when I was in my second year at University a special thing happened.  I forgot about an essay, went out with friends, proceeded to get inordinately "influenced", returned home and then remembered that "oh hey, I have an essay due tomorrow!"  It was only at this point that I began my Primary Source Analysis.  After having written it while practically incoherent, I then handed it in, and several weeks later it was returned to me along with my Professor's remark that "This was so original!  It was such a departure from the other students' lines of thought!"  Wow!  Maybe that's because none of the other students got drunk and wrote their papers.  Just saying.  Anyway, the point of that sort-of-long and probably pointless narrative was that apparently some of my best writing happens when I've had a few drinks too many.

So on to the story.  While I'm sure Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday were fascinating I can't really remember anything about them right now.  Only that they were rainy and humid, like the majority of Hamburg's weather.  As for Thursday.... eugh, it's like a test I haven't studied for.  This will take some thought.  Ummm.... Okay, this week the guy who was on holiday in Romania came back, so they have relocated me to a different desk (I was using his computer) and now have me on a trial version of Adobe CS5.5.  This is in some ways an improvement and in some ways not: for starters, finally everything is in ENGLISH THANK GOD.  But, unfortunately, the screen is pretty much the size of an 8.5x11, which when you are trying to accomplish some graphic design seriously impedes your ability to judge the look of something.

No, I still haven't bought the purse, mostly thanks to the obscene degree of parade-raining that my family has engaged in.  However, I make no promises that it will not be mine by the end of the weekend: technically this afternoon I had planned to go to the grocery store, but I blew that off for drinks with my coworkers.  I don't remember the conclusion I was trying to arrive at, but it had something to do with unspent money and irresponsibility... I think.  Whatever, clearly it didn't matter.

That reminds me though: it would seem my coworkers are finally comfortable around me.  I have deduced this from the fact that Canadian jokes are now the primary source of entertainment in the office.  Whether it's looking up clips of Robin Scherbatsky (Germans LOVE How I Met Your Mother) and "Canadians afraid of the dark" or "Canadian Idiot", my coworkers derive a particular kind of joy from poking fun at Canada.  They especially love Mounties.  Not anything in particular about them, just the idea of them.  I guess Due South was a big thing here or something.  But you get the idea.  For the most part I just find it funny, because honestly what else can you do in this situation?

I don't remember much about yesterday, but I have a vague feeling it was frustrating.  I think this had something to do with rain (surprise!) and generally not knowing what-the-fuck was going on with work.  We are working on commercials at the moment, which I have ZERO experience in and am clearly not good at creating.  The silver lining is that Thursday is now over, and it is Friday!

Today was a pretty good day.  It started out pissing rain (of course), but once I got to work I go to do vector illustrations and sketches, both of which are within my acquired skills.  This meant that I didn't have to ask a lot of questions and for a while I got to feel like not-an-idiot: this is rare.  At lunchtime my coworkers (The Boys) invited me to join them, which I consider a total rite of passage and an exciting phenomenon.  The one girl who works in our office had a wicked hangover today, so she just chilled inside to recover.  The point is I feel like little-by-little I am fitting in in this bizarre land of different people.  Lunch was good, and The Boys even invited me to join them for after-work drinks at the pub this evening, which I of course accepted.  I managed to spend the entire afternoon being productive, and when the day finally ended (late, of course) we had several beers and played darts together.  A particular highlight was TWICE this afternoon members of different departments came by to have me check their English writing.  I loved it!  At last, something I've studied and am good at!  It was a refreshing change to feel sure of myself.  I wish I could find the words to describe how totally awesome this set-up is right now, but words are failing me so you'll just have to use your imagination.

A group of us headed up to the pub, and two post-work beers were quickly followed by 1 long Island Iced-Tea, 2-3 (I lost count) shots of "Mexicana", 1 shot Tequila, 1 shot Sambucca, and God knows what else.  I had been told not to try and keep up with the Germans before getting here but it's a lot more difficult than it sounds.  What ensued was a rather hilarious evening of getting to know my coworkers better.  I won't hesitate to say that I like them all very much, though the "friendship" process here is much different than it is at home.  Mostly it just takes longer.  Plenty of jokes were made about the learning process and the culture differences, and hopefully on Monday things will be better and more awesome rather than slightly awkward.

In other good news I managed to book a ticket to visit my friend in Düsseldorf today, so next weekend I'll be off to the airport to have more adventures.  I am super excited about this since the prospect of seeing someone from home conjures up the kind of excitement usually reserved for chocolate.  Hopefully I'll also get some sight-seeing done, as Düsseldorf is apparently quite lovely.  Mostly I'm just happy I'll be seeing someone from home, who understands my personality and who I don't have to "tread lightly" around.

The remainder of this weekend will hold the following for me:
- Find an English-German textbook
- Grocery shop
- Look for some shoes that AREN'T flats
- Sort out trip to France
- Respond to emails
- Return fire-alarm clock
- Do some sight-seeing

Super exciting, I know.  Anyway, I am super tired and ready to pass out, so hopefully this is an adequate update for now and you'll be sated until my next post.  Good luck understanding any of this. 

Now, the German word for "cheers": Prost!