Nach Deutschland Stories and photos from Alex Ravenel's travels through Europe 2007-06-01T15:28:44Z Copyright 2006 WordPress Alex Ravenel <![CDATA[Height]]> 2006-02-23T13:31:18Z 2006-02-23T13:31:18Z Random Probably the weirdest thing I’ve experienced since getting back is also one of the things that you would never expect to really notice. Since getting back, I’ve felt like I was a giant, much taller than my very average 5′8″. It seems that everything back home–from chairs to tables to doorknobs–is placed a bit lower than they were in Germany. I find myself almost falling when I sit down from expecting the chair to be higher than it is, grabbing at empty air when I reach for the doorknob, and other funny incidents.

Just one of those random differences that you never think about.

I’m still jetlagged, and woke up at 6AM this morning. Though I can’t say that’s really a bad thing–I’ve always loved being up early, it was just the getting up early thing that was hard. Now I find myself jolting wide awake at 6AM, ready to go. I wonder how long it will last.

Alex Ravenel <![CDATA[Culture Shock; Delta Sucks]]> 2006-02-23T04:20:50Z 2006-02-23T04:20:50Z Travels Travel Tips I never thought it possible to be culture shocked returning your home country, but indeed, it is. I got to the Atlanta airport yesterday, and sitting in the food court waiting for my flight, I got to listen to people talking about American Idol, Nascar, and celebrity gossip. And see lots of fat people. And listen to mothers tell their kids to “git” back over here.

Yes, I’m back in America, and southern America at that.

The flight was uneventful, but still, reminded me of why I hate flying. In Stuttgart, I was subjected to two bag searches of my fragilely packed bags. And worst of all, I had to go through security twice, in the most assinine display of paranoia I’ve ever seen. I went through security, got my bag rifled through, wanded, felt up, etc, and then, thinking I was done, walked to my gate. Where there was another security line, where they did the same thing again.

Um, excuse me? I just did this 30 seconds ago. I’m behind security, so there’s no way anyone is here who hasn’t already been through. What, pray tell, is the reason for doing it again? I asked the officers running their hands over my crotch and pulling my bag apart again for the second time in less than a minute why this was, and they just said it was Delta Airlines’ policy. Right. So apparently, the identical security gate behind me wasn’t good enough, so they have to do it again.

You could write a book on why that is patently absurd, and why I now don’t think I’ll ever fly Delta airlines again. Another example of why the paranoia of the US has done nothing more but inconvenience a whole lot of people without actually increasing security at all.

By the way, it was my lucky day–I got searched again at Atlanta, and had to have the customs guy pull my bags apart too. At least he was nice about it.

I hate flying.

Alex Ravenel <![CDATA[It’s That Time]]> 2006-02-21T06:15:08Z 2006-02-21T06:15:08Z Travels Personal Germany Well, this is it. In less than an hour, I leave Tübingen. Last night, I went out with some friends for the last time. It worked out very well, with me seeing my two teachers from my summer Sprachkurs once more before leaving. It felt like a proper sendoff, and I’m glad it worked out that way.

All of my things are packed, and I’ll soon be catching the bus to the airport. I’m not looking forward to my 10.5 hour flight to Atlanta or my three hour layover once I get to Atlanta, but I am ready to get it over with–and certainly ready to get home.

I suppose this also means the end of regular posts here. I have a few more posts that I’d like to get up, so there will probably be a few more at some point, but nothing on a regular basis. If you’d like notification when I post something, sign up on the email list with the box to the right.

I guess that’s it then–my study abroad experience is over.

Bis Dann,

Alex Ravenel <![CDATA[Changes]]> 2006-02-19T10:29:06Z 2006-02-19T10:29:06Z Personal Germany There are a lot of changes going on right now–with me, and with Tübingen. The most obvious is that on Tuesday morning, my time here in Germany is done, and I catch my flight back to the US. I’ve been busy getting things together, packing, cleaning, closing bank accounts and cancelling cell contracts. My room is bald, with nothing on the walls or bookshelf for the first time in six months.

Beyond that, it has started to feel like spring is peeking it’s head out in Tübingen. Yesterday, the thermostat almost hit 50, the highest it’s been since November. I’ve had my window open all day, and it’s a delight to get some fresh air–and hear the birds chirping, something else that’s been missing for a while. The creek behind my dorm has melted for the first time in several months, and the weather has become completely unpredictable in that early-spring way, when it will go from sunny to rainy to windy to sunny to snowing to sunny in the span of an hour. While it’s a bit early for the flowers to start blooming, it’s a small hint of spring, and I love it. It’s making me wish that I were going to be here to see it in it’s full glory, when the flowers return, the cafes reopen, the fountains lose their winter covers, and geese and gondolas once again move up and down the Neckar. Unfortunately though, that’s not big enough reason to make me stay.

Two days and counting…

Alex Ravenel <![CDATA[New Search]]> 2006-02-18T11:37:53Z 2006-02-18T11:37:53Z Random Thanks to a very good tutorial I’ve added an AJAX search to the site. Try it out with the search bar above–it’s very, very slick.

Alex Ravenel <![CDATA[Hating America]]> 2006-02-18T10:15:49Z 2006-02-18T10:15:49Z Travels Random I’ve just found the most incredible comparison (for lack of a better word) between the US and Europe. Bruce Bawer managed to put into words the feelings I’ve felt since getting here, that despite Europe’s benefits–respect for learning and culture being primary–there’s just something about it that doesn’t quite jibe with me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, couldn’t quite figure it out… But he nailed it.

It’s a pretty long article, but if you have any interest in Europe, be it for study abroad, having lived there, or wanting to live there, check it out. It’s worth every minute.

Here’s one paragraph that sums it up very well:

“Living in Europe, I gradually came to appreciate American virtues I’d always taken for granted, or even disdained—among them a lack of self-seriousness, a grasp of irony and self-deprecating humor, a friendly informality with strangers, an unashamed curiosity, an openness to new experience, an innate optimism, a willingness to think for oneself and speak one’s mind and question the accepted way of doing things. (One reason why Euro- peans view Americans as ignorant is that when we don’t know something, we’re more likely to admit it freely and ask questions.) While Americans, I saw, cherished liberty, Europeans tended to take it for granted or dismiss it as a naïve or cynical, and somehow vaguely embarrassing, American fiction. I found myself toting up words that begin with i: individuality, imagination, initiative, inventiveness, independence of mind. Americans, it seemed to me, were more likely to think for themselves and trust their own judgments, and less easily cowed by authorities or bossed around by “experts”; they believed in their own ability to make things better. No wonder so many smart, ambitious young Europeans look for inspiration to the United States, which has a dynamism their own countries lack, and which communicates the idea that life can be an adventure and that there’s important, exciting work to be done. Reagan-style “morning in America” clichés may make some of us wince, but they reflect something genuine and valuable in the American air. Europeans may or may not have more of a “sense of history” than Americans do (in fact, in a recent study comparing students’ historical knowledge, the results were pretty much a draw), but America has something else that matters—a belief in the future.”

Perhaps part of the reason this hits such a chord with me is that I see a lot of my own changes in it. When I left to come here, I was looking very much forward to it–it’s Europe, there is so much to see and do, the people are smart, cultural, and tolerant, it’s going to be incredible. And while in many respects it has, I now see a certain naievity in those thoughts. This guy has latched onto those thoughts that were stirring in my head and managed to make them into words–that while Europe has many things going for it, in the end, it’s not the promise land, and America, for all it’s multitudes of problems, has what are in the end the more important things going for it. I feel like I could quote the whole article just because every paragraph has me nodding my head at how accurately it sums up my feelings.

I’ve been saying it for a while, but travelling in Europe and living in Europe are two totally different things, and this does an amazing job of explaining why. For all of America’s faults, I can’t wait to get back.

Also of interest, Donald Sensing has an interesting post series going on about why Europe is going to have some serious problems in the future, stemming from its incredibly low birthrate and massive influx of immigrants. It’s actually where I learned about this article and got the paragraph quoted here.

Hating America, by Bruce Bawer.

Alex Ravenel <![CDATA[Suitemate]]> 2006-02-17T10:31:41Z 2006-02-17T10:31:41Z Personal Random She’s just done it again. To give an idea of just how quiet my music is, when I turned it down one notch, I was unable to make out the words anymore, and I’m sitting less than three feet from the speakers.

I’m not chalking this one up to cultural differences anymore. I’m just going to call a spade a spade and say that she’s being totally unreasonable.

Alex Ravenel <![CDATA[Discretion]]> 2006-02-15T10:41:49Z 2006-02-15T10:41:49Z Personal Random I like to think that I’m quite respectful of my suitemates. I pick up after myself, make sure to do my part of the cleaning chores, and am careful to be quiet, especially during hours when people might be sleeping.

Apparently that’s not enough. I was listening to music in my room, at a very discrete level, at 11:30AM, plenty late enough. Nothing loud at all, no booming bass, the music was quiet enough to be only lightly heard at the other end of the room. The girl that lives next to me came over and asked me to turn it off.

Excuse me? Last I checked, I lived here too, and if I want to listen to music at a completely acceptable level, that’s my prerogative. It was 11:30AM. If it was 11:30PM, or 8AM, I might understand it, but it’s lunchtime for goodness’ sakes. And her obsession with pure silence certainly doesn’t extend to her–slamming doors as she runs out of her room at 7:30AM, or talking loudly on the phone and laughing even louder at any hour she pleases. I’ve been awoken by her more times than I can count, but when I listen to my music quietly during the day, apparently that’s not acceptable.

I’m going to try to chalk this up to cultural differences and the German need for everything to be perfectly in order, but I’m still a bit miffed.

Alex Ravenel <![CDATA[Photos Back Up]]> 2006-02-13T18:17:18Z 2006-02-13T18:17:18Z Random The photo gallery is back up, albeit with a different look. I still don’t know what happened, but moving to this new theme apparently fixed it, so I’m just going to let it be.

Alex Ravenel <![CDATA[Germany: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Part III]]> 2006-02-12T12:00:08Z 2006-02-12T12:00:08Z Germany It’s time for the third and probably last installment of Germany: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. You can read the first part here or the second part here.

The Good

  • The Countryside. The German countryside is just beautiful. Amazingly green, and covered in farm fields and quaint villages, it’s a supreme pleasure just to cruise through them. The Germans love their green spaces, and it shows. Most woods have hiking paths cut through them, and Germans thing nothing of a day spent wandering the woods. Sounds like my childhood.
  • Public Engineering. Now this is where the German stereotype of engineering comes into play. They love building train tracks, interstates, bridges, and other kinds of public works. And they don’t play around, either. Instead of maybe routing around that big hill in the way, they’ll just drill a several mile long tunnel straight through it. Or build some gigantic, towering bridge to cross a small valley on a rather minor highway. Maybe not the most efficient use of money, but wow, it’s impressive. And it makes getting around much easier.
  • Snow! OK, this is just a personal thing, but where I come from (North Carolina), we don’t really get snow. It’s great to actually see the white stuff on a somewhat regular basis. And hey, I’ll take snow over cold rain anyday.

The Bad

  • Interstate Signs. I’d say the German interstate system is one of the best in the world, except for one thing–the signs. Not that there aren’t enough, but they have seemingly done away with the compass. The signs don’t say “Interstate A-8, Direction North,” they say “Interstate A-8, Direction insignificant-town-no-one-has-heard-of.” If you don’t know the different towns, and what direction to go, you get lost. You practically need a co-driver just to sit there and look at a map the whole time and tell you where to go.
  • Business Practices. I don’t think Germans have ever heard of the mantra “the customer is always right.” You walk into most places around here, and they treat you just the opposite–like you need them instead of them needing you, and if you don’t like something, if you have a problem, tough. Customer service is non-existant. You get looked at funny if you ask a question or want someone to help you. Chalk it up to a cultural difference, but I don’t like it–I like knowing that a company will at least attempt to win me as a customer rather than treating me as an annoyance who needs to leave their store ASAP. Granted, many places aren’t like this–but it seems much more prevalent than in the US.
  • Lines. Germans don’t seem to have any problem queueing up into long lines for any reason at all. So in turn, many places understaff, and you end up waiting in a massive line for something small that would drive most Americans crazy. Maybe we’re just impatient. But it seems that everywhere I go, you have to wait in a long line to do anything. And no one complains, no one thinks that there has to be a better way–they just line up. I think this is related to the general European ability to tolerate massive crowds that would drive any American mad, but I’m not sure.

The Ugly

  • The Post Office. I would have thought that they would have had a bureaucratic organization like this figured out, but I was wrong. Expensive, slow, and, the worst offender–half of the time, they just decide my address doesn’t exist, sending my mail back to the sender. And when packages are sent, they like to decide you “weren’t available for pickup” when you were there waiting the whole time, necessitating waiting in the huge line at the main post office. And I’m not the only one–I’ve never heard anyone say anything good about the place.