Le Jour du Grand Prix…

Or the Eurovision final approacheth!

We’re in a particular, perennial pile-up of post-easter holidays right now. It starts with Good Friday (Karfreitag), which careens into Easter Sunday and Monday, then in the middle is International Labor Day (Tag der Arbeit – always May 1). We’re in the bad patch now, with Ascension last week (Christihimmelfahrt), then Pentecost on the 28th (Pfingsten, another Sunday-Monday combo) and finally, Corpus Christi (Fronleichnam, or ‘happy cadaver’ as the direct translation would suggest) on June 7th. All days when everything is closed and, often, when your whole doctor’s office or Kindergarten takes two weeks off. Continue reading Le Jour du Grand Prix…

Beware the Ides of March

Yeah, I know. We’ve still got a couple weeks ahead of us on that topic.

But a colleague of mine plans to return to Germany / Regensburg / the office on that day after a big long business trip around several of our company’s Asian locations. When asked, he said he’d return on March 15th, which you and I know as the Ides of March.

I said

Whoa. Be careful.

He said


I said

March 15th! On that day Julius Caesar was murdered!

He said

Cliff, what are you talking about?

I said, with disbelief

Um, “Et tu, Brute?” and all that?

His eyes told me he had no idea what I was talking about.

I said

OK, March 15th is pretty famous as a bad luck day because Kaiser Julius got stabbed in the back by people he trusted on that day.

He said

Wow, Cliff, you know a lot about history.

He walked off and I stood there, shaking my head. This is country of Asterix and Obelix. This is the country whose Gymnasien made me sit through 4th-year Latin classroom instruction, reading Pliny the Elder and tales of Roman conquest and exploration throughout Gaul and Brittania (uh…18 years ago…maybe things have changed since then). This is Shakespeare’s spiritual Heimat (as far as they are concerned). This is the country of Roman baths and where people know what Q.E.D. stands for.

But the Ides of March — or even the significance of March 15th — is a mystery? But that reminds me of a similar incident a few months ago: another guy in our same office is getting married on May 8th.

I say

Congratulations! May 8th, May 8th, May 8th, why does that sound familiar to me?


Oh right, ‘L’ — I guess you’re capitulating, huh?

L says

Uh, what?

So then I told him about V-E Day, and how Russians celebrate it on May 9th, and all I got were those polite nods and grunts you receive when the conversation has lost its relevance and can we please just go back to looking at our computer screens?

Final thoughts from Edinburgh

Actually, these are from the air after having departed Edinburg on our way to our connecting flight in Amsterdam. I’m posting them from a hotspot at B24, waiting for our flight to Munich.

(Parenthetical paragraph: Thanks Adam, for the Schengen-non-Schengen explanation of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport and the concourse / security queue layouts. I told a ticket agent at Edinburgh what a pain Amsterdam can be for that very reason. Fortunately, it was pretty painless today, too.)

Edinburgh has an impressive bus system – at least based on outward appearances. 3GBP for an adult day pass is a pretty good deal, if you need it. Turns out we didn’t, based on where we were staying and what/how much we wanted to accomplish each day. We only used the bus twice – one trip out to Cramond and one back. You see busses, hundreds of them even, out on the street at all times of day. But if you don’t know exactly which bus you need or where it stops, good luck. The signage is awful — self-defeating actually, since often we couldn’t read the bus numbers at the stops until having reached the bus shelter, as OTHER bus signs were obscuring the ones we needed to see. Why bother with signs at all then? And it didn’t do us much good to try to figure out on the bus system’s website where the stops are on a real map (not just a schematic). I’ve seen that Google Maps has started marking U-Bahn stops and routes for Munich (and presumably other metropoles) on the maps for that area. That’s “brill” and a long time coming. Now every city needs that, for all their lines.

How about that Starbucks Gingerbread Latte? Pretty freakin’ tasty. Finally a reason other than Frappucinos to head into a Starbucks. I think I had three of them this trip. Seems like there was a Starbucks on every other corner around the bigger streets in New Town.

Shepherd’s Pie eluded me on this trip, but not for lack of trying. We did manage to snag some fantastic Indian (“curry”) take-out on our last evening. An original West Cornwall pasty at the airport on the way home and the fish-and-chips towards the beginning of the trip meant that we got enough native British stuff to eat. Especially considering the amount we brought home from Marks & Spencer to prepare/consume at the apartment.

When boarding planes, why don’t they get a PROPER boarding order down to a science? Sure, Extra-Special Lesser Deity Gold, Silver and Silver Plus can get on the plane first, for all I care. But why not implement a Window, Middle, Aisle seating order? We’ve all got boarding passes denoting the seat. Wouldn’t that make more sense? Over and over and over again passengers seated in the middle or aisle have to get up and let the window-seat passengers get to their window, just because they boarded out of this order. Seems like a simple solution to getting the sheeple onto the plane and seadted more quickly doesn’t it?

I don’t banter well (anymore). I think I used to; I must have lost this skill somewhere over the last five years. I wonder if the UK, or maybe English-speaking countries in general have banter-prone cultures. It’s not that I mind making small talk about practically nothing among those I know or want to know better — but the cashier selling me a hat and a shirt at Marks & Spencer doesn’t seem worthy of getting my life story, or even the circumstances which brought my American accent to his cash register. When forced, my answers are usually clipped and humorless. Clearly this also presents its own distinct disadvantage: potentially missed opportunity. We dined at a restaurant with a perfectly lovely and chatty waitress here in Edinburgh. She inquired as to our accents, wanted to know where in the U.S. we’re from, how long we’d be staying in Scotland, and even divulged that she too is a native North American (from P.E.I. to be exact). Sarah played along much better than I. Good thing too, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have gotten her tip to visit Cramond Island or at least the shore at Cramond, a town on the coast of the Firth of Forth (love saying that). We had a nice walk from the #41 bus route down into the village at out to the shore, where lots of people and their furry fetching friends were also out for a stroll along the seashore.

I wondered if this was evidence of the supposed superficiality Germans sometimes claim Americans exhibit. I mean, if that’s originally a British cultural artifact, then it makes sense that we as Americans have absorbed it. But the Germans don’t claim that the Scots/Welsh/Irish/English are superficial, do they? That’s an honest question, since I don’t know enough people from the British Isles to ask whether Germans accuse them of being superficial in their interpersonal activities.

I think Sarah nailed it when she said it’s simply a more frequent readiness to smile, shoot the breeze, etc. When we asked for extra help around here (with catching a bus, directions inside the airport, etc.), we got more smiles and chuckles than we bargained for every time. Even passers-by on our stroll along the shore at Cramond made pleasant, cheerful comments of encouragement. It was actually quite…warm. I think I can see how others might classify Germans as culturally cold if they were coming from a place where random pleasantries* are frequent and above suspicion.

Here are the best shots from our last full day, Sunday, in the Edinburgh area. It was a great trip for the city and it did well to convince us that we’d like to see more of rural Scotland, perhaps by flying into a big city and renting a car for a BnB-hopping adventure next year.

*And I can see that the term in itself is subjective. What is an objective term for those things?

How newsworthy is the media itself?

Tim Russert died recently. He hosted a news/politics show on an American TV network, a show that I’ve admittedly never watched, and he apparently died rather unexpectedly. Sounds sad, like it would be for anyone with a personal connection to him. But I have some honest questions: why have there been three segments on Larry King Live about this? How is it relevant to CNN International’s web or television viewing audience? I don’t get it.

I don’t watch a lot of German TV. In fact, I don’t watch a lot of any TV*, which is included in our cable package as part of our rent (and we pay into the GEZ just like we’re supposed to). But I can’t shake the impression that other cultures wouldn’t flood television or other information sources talking about the death of a person with a similar role.

I mean, do Germans even know the names of their nightly newscasters if you stop them on the street and ask? Maybe they do (but I sure don’t). But I really wonder if this is a particularly American phenomenon. Maybe I’m losing touch with my own roots the longer we live over here, or maybe the limited TV exposure (thanks Mom and Dad) at home growing up didn’t foster a perceived personal connection to the voices and faces in the glowing box. Is this perceived personal connection, or the implication of its existence, a symptom of something very unsettling in modern popular American culture?

I guess what I’m asking is:

  • Have kids grown up with so much television exposure that there is a personal connection to media personalities? Of course it’s a one-way street, so how sick is that? I’m guessing television watching hasn’t decreased at all since the time my skull was still soft, so what are the implications for today’s kids?

  • Is it important for Pfizer, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKlineBeechWellcome and the like that you are fully aware of the Tim Russert tragedy so that you can ask your doctor* about their exciting new product lines designed to keep you — and your other TV-family members — safe from circulatory system problems?

Now that I’m complaining about the media coverage on the media coverage, it feels like I’m part of the problem, and I’m getting a little woozy from looking into that infinite series of mirrors.

Time to head out to the ol’ ballpark. Stay tuned.