Sunday, October 23, 2011

MA 35

Ok, so before I move on to more exciting things like my first theater experience in Vienna, Greg's arrival, our upcoming trip to Budapest and Anna and Andrew's visit in November... I had promised a posting on the MA 35.
What, you might ask, is the MA35?! Well, put simply, it is the place you go to get your residence permit ("Aufenthaltstitel"). There are several magistrates around the city, however, all the Fulbrighters were asked to go to the MA 35 to streamline our process a bit more. And I am sure that each of us has had a *unique* and *interesting* experience. Ha.
So, you don't just "show up" or "go" to the MA 35. The process starts much, much further in advance--I'm talking months in advance. Luckily for us, the Fulbright Commission in Austria did an AMAZING job getting us prepared and telling us exactly what all we needed to bring with us (and what to do here in Vienna before we could go to the MA 35). So, before I even came to Vienna, I had to make sure I had all of my documents collected (including birth certificate and a police clearance letter certified with apostilles--and if you don't know what that is, Google it--I had to, too), my passport copied, my application filled out...

Anyway, after collecting all of these very important documents, I made my first groggy, jet-lagged trip to the MA 35 the day right after I arrived in Vienna. I was able to hand in all of my documents and they gave me a sheet of paper saying to come back on or any time after October 4 (except Wednesdays and Fridays). So, around rolls Thursday, October 6, and I prepare for my second trip to the MA 35. I am under the impression I am going there to pay my second fee and to hand in a copy of my Meldezettel.
Sidenote: Your "Meldezettel" is another form that proves you have an address of residence here in Vienna. It has to be signed by your landlord and must be turned in at the district magistrate office within three days of arrival... Are you noticing a trend?! ...By the way, we have discovered that the "Meldezettel" is your key to life in Austria. Everything from opening a bank account to getting a university library card requires proof that you do, in fact, live here (because, you know, otherwise I might skip town with that Bachmann book in my bag and they would have no way to track me down).
Anyway, I hop on the 2 tram, and head across town. Its 10 am and I am hoping to be out of there by noon at the very latest. Thursday is their long day, meaning its the one day of the week the office is open in the afternoons, so its also normally their busiest day of the week. Sure enough, I arrive there and there's a line to get in line. Literally. The way it works it that after standing in line, you are assigned a number, are told to ride the elevator up to the fifth floor, and are supposed to wait in a crowded room full of everyone else and their mother (quite literally) until your number blinks up on a screen with the room number next to it. Its all very Kafka-esque because you have no idea how long you will be waiting-- the numbers appear completely arbitrarily....367, 251, 588... so you sit, you wait, and you just watch the numbers change. I struck up a little conversation with a woman next to me from India... and I saw people with passports from Mexico, Iran, Turkey....I couldn't help but wonder what everyone's stories were and why they were here...
After waiting for about 2 hours (the Indian woman was long gone), my number was finally called. I was in the office for about 2 minutes and was told to take a "form" and go pay my second fee up on the sixth floor and to come back. Easy, just like last time. I was sure I'd be out of there within a few minutes, at long last.

So this is where it goes downhill.

I walk up to the teller and whip out my nice new Austrian debit card, ready to pay. This was the first time I had used it, but I thought to myself, how hard can it be, right? Wrong. Because as an American, I swipe the card (I'll explain that little detail later). And each time I do, an error signal keeps popping up. I start to sweat. There's a line of people impatiently waiting behind me... and a very rude and very unfriendly man staring at me from behind the glass teller window. I look at him helplessly and tell him its not working. Now at this point, if we were in the U.S. (I hate to make this comparison, but I have to!) usually the person behind the counter would lean over and see what's wrong. Or someone in line would maybe offer some kind advice. But no one budges. They all just stare. The sweat is pouring down my back at this point.
The teller doesn't bother to offer and help and tells me I have to pay in cash. I answer I don't have cash, and that the card should work because its brand new and I know I have money in the bank (but I am starting to panic because maybe I missed some activation step or something and that is why its not working). Someone from behind me in line tells me to try my pin, so I swipe and try entering my pin, but no luck. The teller, probably one of the most apathetic, rude men I have met in my life, orders me to get out of the line and go get cash. I mean, seriously, I wish I could replicate his tone and look of disdain. I seriously felt like I was in a Kafka novel, being accursed of committing a crime I had no idea I had committed. Beyond despair at this point, I ask him where the nearest ATM is and he mumbles at the post office before the next customer pushes me aside.

So I go dashing down 5 flights of stairs, rush out the door and luckily (or so I think) spot the P.O. just across the street. I run across, very aware I am committing a crime of jay-walking (this, at least, I knew--but thankfully was not caught) and up to the bright, shiny, yellow ATM, about to insert my card (I had at least used it at ATMs before and knew it worked that way!) when all of a sudden I see the notice that the ATM is out of order. That's when I really start to lose it because there are no banks in sight and we are nearing 12:30 and the offices close for lunch, so I was seeing myself stuck there until they re-open at 3:30, possibly locked out of the office and having to stand in line all over again. As my last chance, I ask at the P.O. where the next closest ATM was, and am told its about a half mile up the road at the U-Bahn station. So, off I go again ("Tessa rennt":.... die Uhr tickt... instead of "die Tasche, die Tasche" its "das Bankomat, das Bankomat!").

I am literally in tears at this point--at hot mess, as we would say back in college--mainly because I am so irritated and upset that the teller back at the MA 35 was so rude, mean and unhelpful to me. Completely out of breath and profusely sweating, I rush into the bank at the U-Bahn, withdrawal 50 Euros (my card worked!!) and then sprint back to the MA 35. By now, the main entrance had closed for the lunch break, meaning the elevators were closed, too, and I decide to give the stairwell a shot, hoping the doors were still unlocked. They were and I run all the way up to the 6th floor, slam my cash down in front of the man (who pretended to have never seen me before in his life, pure apathy). It took all I had to hold myself back from making a snide remark. I left as quick as possible, took my receipt down to the original office I started in, arriving panting, with blotchy, red eyes and a sweat-stained t-shirt.
But it all paid off, because, quite unexpectedly, the lady handed me my residence permit, meaning there will (God willing) not be any more trips to the MA 35 in the near future.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I learned my lesson with the debit card later that week at the grocery store, as I watched another person use his at the check-out. The trick is that instead of swiping, you keep the card in the machine, type in your pin, press enter and THEN remove the card from the debit machine. I must have looked like a fool to everyone else standing in line at the MA35, but then I thought, you know, how hard would it have been for SOMEONE to tell me I was doing it wrong, especially after watching me repeatedly swipe the card. Sigh. I guess the golden rule does not apply to the MA 35. I am tempted to think that Hunger Games rules are more applicable here... I mean, you know, there are districts and everything...

Ah, the little cultural lessons you learn in a new place. Quite humbling, indeed. And the next time I see some a confused tourist fumbling with his ticket in the D.C. metro, I sure as hell am going to be the first one to help that poor soul.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Die gemeinsame Sprache?!

Oh, dear little blog, I have neglected you! I just realized its been almost two weeks since my last posting!
Where to start off? Well, first off, I have internet and a residency permit!! Woo hoo!
I hate to admit it, but life without internet was getting kind of old. And I really hate admitting how much I rely on the internet--granted, its nice to be without it on vacation when you're traveling and can 'unplug' for a few days. But when you're trying to apply for jobs, work on your dissertation and find your way around a new city--not to mention stay in touch with your loved ones back home--you start to realize how much you do, in fact, use and rely on the internet.
So, when this past Monday rolled around and the A1 tech guy (A1 is just a server, like Verizon) showed up on my doorstep, I had to hold myself back from hugging him or jumping for joy. I think he could sense my excitement as I hovered over him while he installed my modem, because he asked me how long I had been without internet...heheh.
So we start to chit chat and he asked me where I was from, which brings me to an interesting topic. I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that no matter how I hard I try, people immediately can tell that I am 'not from here'. Now, see, this whole process is taking a bit of humility on my part because I am one of those people who like to try to 'fit in' and appear as inconspicuous as possible when abroad. I hate being that foreigner who sticks out like a sore thumb. (I can hear Greg right now telling me to get over myself and own up to it...) But here's the thing--when I have traveled or lived in Germany in the past, it might have taken a little while, but gradually I start to settle in and feel as if I belong. I re-adapt to the way of living, the habits, the styles and fully immerse myself again in the language. Especially the language--I've always felt confident that even if I do screw up my articles or endings once in a while, I can at least manage to speak German sounding like a German. And that is what always made me most feel like I fit in. In a way, speaking German in Germany always takes on a little feeling of "coming back home" or at least to a place that was once home.
Not so much in Austria! That's where the catch is to all this. I am settling, adapting to habits, checking out styles... but try as I might, the moment I open my mouth, I 'out' myself as "someone not from here." And then it gets kind of comical, like with the A1 internet guy. So he asks me where I am from and I answer the U.S. He then blankly stares at me. That was apparently not the answer he was expecting. So he asks me where I learned German and I said in Germany, where I lived for five years growing up. Ah, that explains it, he answers, and proceeds to tell me that I do, indeed, sound very German. That's not to say I speak flawless German, but that I speak it with a German accent, not an Austrian. Very similar, I guess, when we Americans hear English spoken by the British, Irish or Australians. I suppose, too, that I should take that as a compliment in its own right and get over the fact that I probably won't end up sounding Viennese (as my friends Jason and Wendy have managed to do!) anytime soon...But then I wonder, do people regard me more as an American speaking German or a German from America?! And even more interesting---what, in the eyes of the Austrians, would be more favorable?!
Anyway in the long run, this is definitely a much more rewarding experience in the sense that I truly do feel like I am in a foreign culture all over again, despite all the similarities to Germany that do actually exist! There is something exciting, exhilarating and incredibly humbling about encountering new cultures and feeling very foreign. But here, the things I am coming across are much more subtle, and perhaps ever more so intriguing and surprising (for fellow Germanist grad dorks--unheimlich heimlich?!).

So anyway, there is a saying here that goes the biggest difference between the Austrians and the Germans is their common language, and I think that pretty much sums up this whole scenario.

I am thinking about starting a vocab notebook including these words:
Never say "Tüte." Its always "Sackerl." (Tüte is supposedly THE word that is a dead give-away. Unfortunately for me, I haven't really mastered pronouncing the "erl" ending.)
Kartoffeln are "Erdäpfel," which some how makes more sense and speaks to the part of me that also enjoys the German words "Fingerhut" and "Stinktier"
Ba-Ba is not baby talk... it means good-bye in an informal setting
Grüß Gott is a standard greeting, regardless of your religious faith
Those searching for "Sahne" in the grocery store are outta luck...after a process of elimination, I determined that "Schlagobers" had to be what I was looking for instead
And to simplify things, my friend Verena, a German also perplexed by some of these cultural differences, told me that a "Sessel" is pretty much used as a blanket term for anything you can set your tush on.

My favorite Austrian word so far though is "Schmäh" which I am still trying to figure out. I am not exactly sure I have seen "Schmäh" being performed or not, but I hope I get to experience it at some point. It might help with dealing with bureaucrats... which I will really have to post about in my next entry. The MA 35 experience will then be fully disclosed--with all the sweat and tears it involved. Quite literally. Enough of a cliff-hanger?

with love from Vienna,

Saturday, October 1, 2011

What not to wear: The Dirndl Edition

Dear friends and family,
I am sitting in Jens' cute little apartment in Munich, sipping my morning coffee and decided to take a moment to give ya'll a crash course in dirndl shopping (based on my own experience, of course!). Thanks to one of Jens' female friends, I was well-equipped with a very extensive list of do's and don'ts when I embarked upon my shopping excision with a certain Miss P. and her friend Erin.
Dirndls basically consist of three separate pieces: there is the blouse (which is really only a half-blouse that comes only down past your chest), the actual dress and then the apron. Some are sold in sets of dress & apron combo with the blouse sold separately, and others are sold entirely separate.

So, here are the rules, as told to me by Jens' friend:
1. The skirt MUST extend beyond your knee. A short, mini-Dirndl is unacceptable by 'natives' and just looks trashy (esp. considering all the skin exposed, ahem, at the top of the dress).
2. Absolutely no zipper (again, this is what she told me, but I saw plenty of zippers on the Wiesn yesterday...). Zippers, according to my informant, are the biggest fashion sin you could commit when buying a dirndl. Supposedly buttons and hooks are the way to go.
3. Cotton dirndl are the most practical (you can actually wash them and they're more comfy), but we did see a lot of other variety--some of the more expensive dirndls are made of silk! Glitter and polyester are also frowned upon.
4. Traditional color combos are red/blue, light blue/dark blue, blue/white, green/pink, brown/pink and brown/light blue. Purple and bright pink are very "in" this season.
5. Accessories: it became evident that the alpine beauties love their bling. Most women wear huge, sparkly, colorful necklaces (think Tiffany's with added jewels) plunging into their cleavage (as if you need to draw attention to THAT), in the shape of hearts, Edelweiss or even a pretzel! You see a lot of short chokers or more understated strands of pearls, too. Also, we realized it is necessary to carry a small purse and you should wear comfy shoes! Black, small heels are the best, but we just stuck to ballerina flats. A lot of women braid or twist their hair up--but we saw some with their hair flowing around their shoulders.

There are certain upscale stores in the middle of Munich that sell designer dirndls, but being poor graduate students, our group opted to shop in the cheaper stores along the Tal (right off the Marienplatz). Surprisingly, I ended up buying the very first dirndl I tried on, and I am happy to say mine fulfills all the criteria: it goes past my knee (one advantage to being very short, I didn't have to worry about length!), its in traditional colors, is cotton and has no zipper! :)

We got Erin outfitted at the second store and finally, after our lunch break at the Virtualienmarkt, Miss P. found her dirndl at the third store. All in all, a great success!

I know people have been asking for photos--Miss P.'s birthday extravaganza at the Ochsenbraterei was well-documented on her camera and today I will be bringing my camera along to the Wiesn when Jens, Reneta and I go. So pictures will be posted soon, I promise! (perhaps I can take some today of fashion faux-pas, as well!)

with love from Munich,