Thursday, May 27, 2010

Austrian Garbage Cans

In the neighborhood where I live there is no recycling collection. Rather, one has to go out of their way, which seems completely fine and normal to everyone here, and dispose of their glass, plastic and metal waste themselves. In fact, that pretty much applies to Austria as a whole.

So after collecting a whole bunch of nasty and smelly wet cat-food cans (man, I am NOT going to miss wet cat food. Thank God my cat at home eats dry food), I have to walk about two blocks to drop off the recycling in an area right next to the boarding school. Yesterday, after minding my own business and disposing of the recycled goods like an environmentally conscious Austrian, I threw away the nasty plastic bag which carried the recyclables to the collection area. As I walked away, some bratty little Austrian girl started yelling at me about how the garbage can is a "private" garbage can. At first I thought she was yelling at me for dropping off the recyclables there, so I turned around to explain that I had been informed from my landlord that this point was where I would need to drop the items off. Soon enough, some grumpy old Austrian and some crazy blood-red haired woman came out and began arguing with me, explaining that "I would get fined" because "the garbage can is under surveillance". Okay, can I just pause right now and reiterate- the garbage can is under VIDEO SURVEILLANCE. A country so concerned about the environment and recycling (Austria was actually surveyed as the best country in the EU when it comes to recycling) wastes electricity to film a garbage can? Come on.

Anyways, I was still confused about why I was getting yelled at by a bunch of crazy overly-protective people of their collection area. Finally I realized that they were talking about the garbage can, and not the recyclable collection bins, when the woman explained what I was allowed to do. I explained that no, I do not bring my own garbage three blocks down the road to pollute their own dumpster. Rather, I like to bring my own stinky garbage 20 meters outside of my house and dispose of it there. The man kept shaking his wrinkly finger at me, but finally the woman took some sort of sympathy with the unknowing American girl when I pleaded my case that it was just an empty plastic bag I had thrown in there, which apparently, is allowed then? As long as there is no garbage in there?

And that's my rant about Austrian garbage cans. I understand that people who own private garbage cans have to pay for the service, just as we do in America. But I would never imagine locking my own can (some people do it here) or threatening foreigners with fines for putting empty plastic bags in there. Kommisch.

Animal Protection vs. Fire Prevention

It only figures that in Austria there are such strict laws protecting the rights of animals-- which, don't get me wrong, I am a huge supporter of animal rights as expressed by my refusal to eat animal products or wear anything that comes from an animal, as well as my dire need to tell the world why KFC is so horrible-- but the country lacks any home fire protection laws? I'm perplexed.

This confusion has been in the back of my mind ever since I almost accidentally started the house on fire last week. I was cooking and suddenly my pan became VERY hot. Smoke started billowing throughout the room, and I rushed to take the pan outside as to avoid filling the kitchen with smoke. Suddenly the deep sauce pan caught on fire, but thankfully it was contained within the pan and I was able to get it outside and flip it upside down before I had to remember which comes first: stop, drop or roll.

I shakily walked back inside, still in shock of what nearly happened. I walked around the house a bit and realized that there are NO fire detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and no fire extinguisher. That explains why I was never informed weeks before that the kitchen was filling with smoke from my burning beans, a feat the may have destroyed a pan... sigh. In any case, the lack of any fire prevention would be considered taboo in America. I remember growing up with at least two or three fire extinguishers in the home, as well as fire detectors in every room. When I rented housing in Minneapolis, the each unit was required to meet fire safety laws.

So what is it Austria? I recently inquired with a German friend, and she offered the idea that most homes in America are made out of wood, whereas homes in Austria and Germany are made out of stone, a material that does not burn as easily. A fair point, but what happens when, stupid idiots like me, start cooking fires, or worse-- what if there is an electrical fire? What if you fall asleep with burning cigarettes in your room, which seems more likely in Austria, where the smoking rates are at least twice that of the US. What happens then? Hope that the local voluntary fire brigade is around to help, and watch as your home goes up in flames, something of which could have been avoided with a simple fire detector or extinguisher in the house?

Is the life on an animal in Austria valued more over that of a human? When you look at animal protection laws here, it might almost seem like that is the case. It's illegal to declaw cats, have hamster balls, not have enough water in your tank for ONE goldfish (forget winning them in plastic bags at carnivals), reshape tails and ears of dogs and cats, use chain leashes, and so on. As previously stated, I think it is wonderful that the politicians and common folk in Austria care so much about the welfare of their animals. It's a fabulous example that other countries could follow. But honestly, such strict animal laws and nothing for fire protection? Wie bitte?


Another Austrian holiday weekend has passed. Monday was Pfingsten, or Pentecost in English. Each year around this time there is a huge tent festival in Simbach, just over the river, called "Pfingstendult" (duit = dult in dialect). It's a smaller scaled version of Oktoberfest, complete with carnival rides, games, vendors, and beer tents. The locals pull their "Trachten" (dirndls and lederhosen) out of their closets and head over to the tents to "make party", as my students would incorrectly say.

The festival was exactly as I had expected it; traditional Bayern songs, giant pretzels, giant Mass (1 liter) of beer, and people dancing and singing on the tables. I ended up going four days in total-- Oida! Three of the days were spent in the beer tent and one was spent with my friends and their young son checking out the rides and such.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Goodbye 4c and 3c!

Although I am technically done teaching in two weeks, I've already had exit/goodbye lessons. And it's really sad! I officially said goodbye today to the two classes that I went to on a regular basis-- the only two. That said, I still anticipate seeing some of them outside of class, but still.

Today I gave them a sheet about all the mistakes they make when speaking English. I want to make sure that they get concrete feedback from a native speaker, since their teachers are so busy teaching them other things. It was great trying to explain how to make "vet" not sound like "wet", or "thinking" not sound like "sinking".

When I asked them if they all benefited from having me in their class, they lit up and all said yes, that they learned a lot and had many chances to practice and improve their English.

I asked them what they learned from me or what they will remember. Here were their responses:

Not every American has a gun
Not every American eats fast food
Many Americans don't like to travel outside of the US (we read an article about why Americans prefer to stay in the US)
Beer pong and flip cup
Ten fingers drinking game
Never to say "What means that"
Most American stores make their products in Asia (in reference to a video on Wal-Mart)

Those were just some of the answers among many. But I love the responses from one class were related to non-school related activities only.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thanks a lot Greece

Thank you Greece for making the value of the Euro decline, and giving me the worse end of the deal once again.

When I first moved to Austria, I was relying on my own American dollars until I got paid-- about two months. The exchange rate back then favored the Euro, making me spend much more in American dollars to get the Euros.

Finally I was excited about the exchange rate, since I'm paid in Euros now. I should have planned earlier to transfer myself Euros to my American account, because now I'm getting ripped off as that Euro moves closer and closer to the value of the dollar.

I suppose I wouldn't be so worried about this if I had already paid off my outstanding credit card bill. I bought my roundtrip ticket from Munich to Minneapolis with German Expedia, a ticket of about 574 Euros, or $800 at the time of purchase. Now as I try to transfer between bank accounts to pay off my credit card bill, I'll have to transfer myself many more Euros than I had anticipated.

So, once again, as I'm leaving the country I'll get screwed over with the exchange rate. How do you say thank you in Greek?

Another long weekend

Austrian holidays are amazing. This month we have three long weekends because of random Catholic holidays. So last week I taught class from Monday until Wednesday. Wednesday evening I experienced Austrian rural culture at its finest; I went to a large tent festival called "Tennenfest" with a friend and some students of mine. Now that it's starting to get nicer out there are more and more festivals "am Land" (in the countryside). The festivals are just an excuse for people to gather under tents in villages and drink Austrian beer, listen to music, and speak lots of dialect.

On Friday I headed to Munich for the day with two friends of mine from Braunau. Our goal was clear: find Trachten (dirndls and lederhosen) and nothing else. We found a lovely Trachten shop and spent a good hour or so trying on lots of different dirndls. We were even served Prosecco from the sales attendants. It was a fabulous experience, and even more wonderful, since I fell in love with a beautiful dirndl. It was such a steal, so I had to buy it. My Austrian experience cannot be complete unless I go to a festival in traditional dress. And lucky enough, there is a festival coming up this weekend just over the river in Simbach where I can sport my dirndl all weekend. I've even considered wearing it to school, my going away party, and the plane ride home. However, I think I'll get a considerable amount of stares from people, so perhaps I'll pass.

Friday evening Heather headed over and we spent the evening with another student friend and her friends. Then we all headed over to Loks, the disco in Simbach. There was a special event going on called "Safari" with a well-known German/international electronic DJ. It was probably the best night I've had at Loks, since it wasn't so bauer (farmer) that night.

And some pictures from the weekend:

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A good ending to a bad week

As previously written, this past week hasn't been the best week for me since coming to Austria. In fact, it was probably one of the worse and most isolating weeks ever, since I was hit with a nasty double ear/sinus infection leaving me at home for a week. Add a few inconveniences, and it just wasn't very good.

So I was more than ready to get out of Braunau Friday for a weekend visit to Vienna with Heather. I needed it so much, and I had a great time. We took the first train in the morning so we could check out our schools in the morning. I headed to the BHAK 10, which is in the 10th district. One of my future colleagues showed me around and gave me the low-down. The school has about 1,500 students and 24 English teachers! That's about three times the size of the HAK here in Braunau. I'm slightly confused why I was assigned two schools, if one of them is so large. That means I'll be working seven hours a week, meaning if I don't go to the same class each week, I can foresee seeing a class every few months.

My second school is located in the third district, in a location that I'm already quite familiar with. It's really close to the Belvedere Palace and Gardens, which is a beautiful area that I can see myself hanging out in when I have some free time between lessons.

After seeing the schools, we did had lunch and coffee and people-watched for quite some time. This became a frequent past-time of the weekend, people watching to get a feel for the city and the type of people we will come into contact with next year. We then did some shopping, relaxed at the hostel, and checked out a "Chipotle-like" restaurant-- not the same, but you can't really expect much more from the bland Austrian palate.

Saturday we headed to the market, which I am so excited to frequent when I'll be living in Vienna. There's tons of fresh produce everywhere; awesome spices, beans and organic products; tasty hummus; and things that will make cooking enjoyable. After lunch and buying some new luggage, which I'm super excited about, and another rest in the hostel, we made our way over to a primarily-British TA dinner party, which we were invited to from a fellow American assistant we know in Vienna. The food was great, the conversations fun, and we got some advice and tips for living in Vienna next year.

This morning I woke up early, checked out and went to the Vienna Christian Center, a large international church with English sermons. I met a group of young adults that I'm excited to connect more with when I come back in the Fall. And we even ate at Subway today-- the only one that exists in Vienna, most likely the only one in Austria.

And it seems that my ear infections have cleared up and now I just have to deal with equalizing the pressure again in my ear... but it's coming along!

This week should be quick and easy. I've got a three-day week. Yep that's right. So let's recap how much I've actually worked recently. I went to Prague, so I was out of school for a week. We got back and had the following Monday and Tuesday off, but I was sick the rest of the week, so I didn't go. Two weeks with no lessons. This week it's just Mon-Weds. Next week a full week. The week after that Weds and Thursday, and then the last Monday in May and I'm finished! So in the month of May I'll have worked... ten days! Love Austrian holidays.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Worse Week Ever

I'm sorry the last few blog entries have just been a complaint-fest. In a way, it's therapeutic for me to just rant about life's annoyances, especially when they seem to pile up on top of each other in a rather inconvenient time in life. And I don't have anyone here to physically take some of this weight off of me, so the internet, Skype and phone calls home become my only outlet.

The whole ear infection thing is getting really old. It's been almost one week, and while my original bad ear has cleared up some, I seem to have developed an infection in my other ear. I'm not in pain, but my head is completely full and my hearing has been slightly compromised. I finished my antibiotic yesterday and I'm hoping that the remaining medicine left in my body will clear this all away. Otherwise, it's back to the doctor on Monday. Sigh for allergies to amoxicillin and always being prescribed the same two antibiotics for everything-- antibiotic resistance?

Since I've been put out from my ear infection, I've spent lots of time at home, and I'm starting to develop cabin fever. It's disgusting.

A couple of days ago, I also realized that I accidentally screwed up a PayPal transaction, one that was meant for money to go into my bank account. Instead, I withdrew money from my bank account through PayPal and deposited into that account, causing me to overdraft and slapping me with a fee.

Then I realized that when I booked my flight with Expedia, they overcharged me $120. I'm still waiting to hear back on them from my complaint.

And today, the most frustrating moment of the whole week- My iPod seemed to have deleted all of my music files, replacing it with empty space. Looks like I'm going to have to restore it to factory setting, erasing all of my music I've saved over the last five years, as well as all my important documents saved to the hard drive as if it were an external hard drive. And the night before my four hour travel to Vienna tomorrow. In fact, I'm supposed to get up in less than six hours and leave. But I need to solve this FLIPPING iPod problem.

At least I can look forward to leaving Braunau for the weekend and going to my future home :)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Going to the doctor and pharmacy-- An experience

It's official; I have an ear infection. Today I finally went to the doctor and experienced socialized health care. It's so different here in Austria. Instead of heading over to Park Nicollet and anticipating a wait of less than 20 minutes (in reference to those signs that say "if you have been waiting more than 20 minutes, please let the receptionist know), one has the option of many private practices, each staffed by one doctor and one or two receptionists/assistants. Since it's a private practice, the doctors can choose their own schedule, often have random and inconvenient hours for those working. Luckily, I don't have to worry about that.

Urgent care doesn't exist, meaning if you don't have an appointment, you can surely walk in to an office, but expect to wait. Thankfully I didn't have to wait longer than a half hour. Had I arrived 15 minutes, however, my wait time would have tripled, as a ton of people also walked-in at around 4pm.

There are no nurses who lead you back to the examination room, take your blood pressure and temperature, and enter data into the computer. I had an assistant lead me to the room, and I quietly waited for the doctor to come. When the doctor finally makes his/her presence, they begin asking questions about symptoms and enter the information themselves into the computer. A quick examination and a prescription for antibiotics and nose drops to relieve inner ear pressure (something I've never experienced, and it's quite gross), and I was out the door.

I headed over to the Apotheke, or pharmacy, to fill my prescription. As I entered the Apotheke, I noticed a huge water cooler and a few stools, thus anticipating having to wait like any pharmacy back home. (Average waiting time at Boynton clinic at the University was about 20 to 30 minutes, and we'd get those fun restaurant pagers to let us know when our prescription was ready for pickup). But when I gave the pharmacist my prescription, he opened two drawers and suddenly had everything ready for me-- no wait time at all! Which makes me wonder, what exactly are those pharmacists doing back in the States for twenty minutes? Typing out a customized label to put on my bottle? Here he just pulled out a sticker, slapped it on, and filled in the "per time" and "per day" slot: 1 tablet each time once daily. On a side note, I'm a surprised how different antibiotics can be here, despite being the same exact antibiotic. I was prescribed Azithromycin, commonly called "Z Pack", which on the first day one takes two pills, and one pill per day for the next five or so days. Austrian Azithromycin is just three pills, one for each day. I was also pleasantly surprised when the pharmacist rang up my prescriptions for a total of six euros. He didn't even ask for my insurance card. I can't believe that prescriptions are so cheap here! I think I'd pay double for that back home.

After happily getting my antibiotic, and not so happily getting the gross nose drops, I celebrated by buying a little treat from the bakery. If I can't have my mom making me soup and bringing it to me on a tray, I'm gonna comfort myself with a chocolate treat.


Prague was fabulous. And I'm so glad that my sudden ear infection came when it did, because it has paralyzed me to my bed nearly ALL weekend! I am soooo bored. I've rented two movies on iTunes, slept, flipped aimlessly through some books, attempted crosswords, slept, experimented with curry and cooking (despite my weakened sense of taste), watched awesomely bad American reality shows on Austrian MTV, slept, and spent hours online.

Thankfully my weekend was brightened for a bit when Adam came to visit on Saturday evening. Unfortunately he was also sick, so we sat around and chatted and watched some TV-- nothing too strenuous for us.

Other than Adam visiting, the highlight of my long weekend (we have today and tomorrow off from school, making it a four-day weekend) was going to the grocery store in Germany this morning with my neighbor. I was so excited to buy fresh food and not have to walk/bike to the store, but sit in a car. I think the second highlight of my day will be in a couple of hours when I go to the doctor and beg for antibiotics.