Trying out the new camera, getting ready for the jungle

Today’s the big day — our trip into the jungles of the Sierra Madres.

I also bought a new camera yesterday from Wal*Mart (ick) because my previous one crapped out on me (it had always been a little flaky — I think it was a Medion B-Ware that they tried to sell as new). sierra madre expedition day at dawn I appear to have paid about double what this camera is selling for on places like Amazon or even at Sears, but I needed it right now and I’m hoping it won’t disappoint me. Here’s a shot from daybreak this morning.

why do you need to know that? OK, but guess what I know that you don’t know…

The company I work for likes to think about its potential future manager types about once per year (really, they should be thinking about them — me — all the time, right?). So they needed me to fill out a form stating what I studied, when I graduated, what languages I speak (and to what degree) and stuff. For this, they needed a picture of me and my birthdate, too. I personally am OK with this, but I think the picture requirement and birthdate would raise a couple of red flags in the States — either from potential plaintiffs who got passed over and want to cry “age discrimination!” or “ugly people discrimination!” or from the lawyers and HR-peeps who want to avoid those lawsuits.

So Sarah snapped a few shots of me (wearing a tie, no less!), one of which got embedded in the form I filled out for myself. I’m happy to comply with the request without a fuss if it means my hat gets thrown into the ring for advancement within the company…

…especially because I’m not wearing pants in any of these.

no, my father-in-law is a police officer

I had a big meeting yesterday in another city. “Big” doesn’t mean “prestigious” or “critical for the company’s success” here really. It just means that there were a lot of people attending, and all of them from different groups within the conglomerate. I was representing my group and as such, I decided to wear a tie…mostly because most of the other men attending these meetings typically do (and the women usually wear suits).

So I picked what is probably my “finest” dress shirt (kind of a greenish yellowish khaki color) and a dark green tie I’d bought on a whim in downtown Munich at a dirndl store some time ago, black pants and shiny new black dress shoes. Those items, together with my black leather jacket made a pretty snappy ensemble, if I may say so myself.

Due to some screw-up which caused us to sit still on the tracks for about 15 minutes, I missed my train connection in Nürnberg, so I ended up taking a slower train to my final destination. I sat across from a very chatty old lady, fluent in many dialects of German. Our conversation went like this:

“My husband was in the army for 20 years and then he became a locomotive engineer.”

“Oh yeah? That’s interesting.”

“It was always hard to predict when he’d be home so I could have dinner ready and waiting for him. One time he came home 6 hours late for Christmas Eve dinner due to some problem on the tracks! But I guess it’s pretty much the same on the police force.”

I tried to conceal my confusion by not asking what that had to do with the price of beans. Her accent was pretty thick, and I figured I’d missed something, or else she was about to tell me about her nephew the policeman or something. Or else she somehow managed to infer that I’d married a police officer’s daughter.

“So where are you headed?”


“There’s a large police training academy there, isn’t there?”

“I really wouldn’t know, I’m headed there on a business trip for the day.”

Neither of us could hear the conductor announcing the stops on our way to Erlangen. She noticed I was looking intently out the window, trying to make sure I wouldn’t miss my stop. I told her I wasn’t from around here, and then she said she noticed I was having trouble understanding her, and then she said “You’re probably not a police office either, are you?” I said “Nope, not at all,” and we both had a laugh and I finally understood what she’d been getting at earlier.

At the end of my day on the way home, I stopped at a bakery stand to get a sandwich and the guy behind the counter said something I didn’t quite understand, which I figure translated to “That’ll be €1,60, blahblahblah” (I didn’t understand the blahblahblah part). I looked up at him and asked for an explanation and he said

“you know, blahblahblah, like a friendly nickname for ‘police officer.'”

“Oh, OK. I’m not a police officer.”

“Really? But you must be a trainee or involved security or something in that outfit.”

I told him I was an American and really didn’t plan to impersonate anyone when picking my clothes that morning. I walked away while he was still trying to wrap his mind around that:

“Holy cow, I never would have known, Americans speaking German on TV sure don’t sound like that…”

So here’s what I was wearing:Here are some real German police officers, angry about somethingand here’s Peter Falk modeling the version without the leather jacket, for good measure
copsuitpolizei_02_gqPeter Falk in Polizeiuniform

I wonder if I could make that work for me somehow.

“perception is reality”

I dislike clichés like the one in the title of this post; I like them even less when they’re used to stereotype people. I hate them when they’re use to stereotype me. The week before last, an external consulting company started involving itself in my daily work. I am hopeful that this is not a Office Space visit-with-the-Bobs kind of external consultation; so far at least, they’re much more interested in my databases than my daily business.

Anyhoo, I was on a conference call with my ol’ pal H. and one of these H&Z consultant clowns. I don’t mind giving them a bit of free negative publicity — you’ll find out why if you keep reading. Herr Doktor Klown was asking for some relatively tricky queries from my baby the database. Or rather, they were the kind of simple-sounding queries that I could see myself doing over and over again because the Clownspeak was vague and ill-suited for the actual situation at hand. So I asked a couple of clarifying questions. Ol’ pal H. joked, “our American friend here is making it complicated” and Herr Doktor Klown — our service provider, the guy who needs cooperation from me — chimes in with “if he’s an American, he should be making it simpler, not more complicated, right?”

At first I didn’t understand his comment. Then he apologized, and I realized I’d just been insulted based on my nationality. He tried to explain that he meant it in good fun, and I told him my interpretation of his comment was more important than how he meant it. That’s when he pulled out the “perception is reality” (in English) comment to show me he knew what I meant, and presumably that he knew how to say it my native language, too. Congratulations, Herr Doktor — you’re a multi-lingual clown!

Then just a couple days ago, my boss called up Mrs. K. to settle the score with regard to my job description and ultimately for our residence permits. He had her on speakerphone and she didn’t know that I was in the room listening at first. He’d just gotten back from a business trip to my home town. She inquired politely how things are going in Detroit — specifically how the “gas guzzlers” are doing. I know I work in an automotive company; but is that really the first thing my colleagues think of when they hear “Detroit”? It made me mad; almost mad enough to get indignant about the kind of energy consumption Americans are famous here for…but not quite that mad. Again, I thought “perception is reality.” Even though all she knows about me is that I’m an American and I expect her to know what I do at work, Mrs. K probably wouldn’t be surprised that I am overweight if she were ever to meet me, because I spend all that time in my big ol’ truck consuming every day.

And then I thought “but I *am* overweight! I *did* used to spend a lot of time in my rather small and cute truck *consuming*. How far off was she really?”

I guess the worst kind of cliché is the one you *used* to embody and still get blamed for.

more Red Tape Annals

As you probably know, neither of is a German citizen (nor do we plan to give up our U.S. citizenship, no matter whom the vice-president shoots…except maybe us). As such, we require documentation to live and work in this country — much like legal immigrants to the U.S. This documentation has to be renewed every year. Since our residence permit (think of it as a visa, even though they’re not the same thing) is closely linked to our (my) work permit, they both have to be renewed at the same time. This clever system helps make sure that Germany’s legal immigrants stay employed.

OK, so since the German government wants proof of my employment, I need to submit paperwork to the local Einwohnermeldeamt* signed and authorized by my HR department. I still thought this would be no big deal, since we managed to get it done hassle-free last year.

  1. I emailed my local HR contact (Mrs. K.) on 09.02.2006 asking for help. She said “you gotta call/write to the corporate HR hotline, I can’t help you” — so I did that.
  2. I never heard back from them, which annoyed me. Not even a “thanks for writing to our automated service; your message has been received and your request is in progress” or similar. So, despite my preference for written communication whenever possible (for various reasons), I called them yesterday morning. A very pleasant lady said “yeah, we filled out as much as we could and sent what we had to someone in your local HR department for completion.” I asked who their contact person was, and she said “hmm, let’s see…Mrs. K, yeah, that’s it.”
  3. I then called Mrs. K. to say that the rep at Corporate HR told me they’d sent her everything they could do themselves, and she confirmed that by saying “that’s right, we’ve got it right here, but we need some more info from you in order to complete it. Do you have a job description?” And I said, “I was actually expecting HR to have an idea of the job description.” She didn’t seem to like that. She said “we need to get a job description from your boss.” I said, “he’s on a business trip out of the country, and I’m not sure when he’ll be back. Can I do it myself? Am I allowed to do that?” And she said “sure, that should be no problem.” And I tried to ask helpful questions so that I would know exactly what was expected and not waste anymore of anyone else’s time: “OK, what does it have to look like? How long should be? Are we talking about 3 sentences or 3 pages? What kind of content are we talking about here? Can you send me a template or something?” (I didn’t pepper her with these questions; it just appears that way in this transcript from my head). She said, “no, we don’t have any of that information…let’s just wait for your boss to send it to us, so we can finish off our end of it, and send it to you, and you can take it to the Einwohnermeldeamt.”

I don’t need the extra stress of trying to keep all of these other ducks in a row; I’ve got enough trouble with my own ducks. It’s times like these that I really hate working for a conglomerate. I know there are all sorts of benefits associated with that too, but the little things like this get to me sometime.

In other news, we borrowed a movie from our gym yesterday — they have a small DVD/VHS library with movies available for loan for free for a couple days as part of your membership. It’s a nice perk (our pal Birgit would call it “Schnickschnack” and it would annoy her). It was The Cooler. Sarah liked it. I didn’t, though I did give it a chance when I saw the names on the opening credits. I saw William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Paul Sorvino, and Ron Livingston were appearing in the same movie, so I expected it to be pretty good. I was laboring under a pretty severe misconception there. On an ironic side note, I have now seen *two* movies featuring Alec Baldwin and Shawn Hatosy, and they both annoyed me. If a third one comes on, I’m not going to see it.

An Einwohnermeldeamt is an office in every municipal subunit where you, as a resident (citizen or otherwise) of Germany are required to report your residence. Meaning, whenever you move, you have to report it to the government. I can’t think of a corresponding institution in the U.S. Usually, when you move, you have to tell someone, in order for your whole life to keep working properly, but I don’t think it’s a *law*. Or is it? Does the Secretary of State (for example in Michigan) require notification? I know you’re *supposed* to keep your driver’s license up-to-date, but what if you don’t have one? As far as I know, you aren’t breaking any laws if you move to a new home with different address and just don’t tell anyone. I can just picture left- and right-wingers alike bristling at the notion that they have to tell the government where they live. back up to the top