Thursday, May 29, 2008

I WIN!!!

Does anyone have any cookies or gold stars? Because I'm totally the winner! I rode my bike all the way from my apartment to the lab without walking once. Ha! You see, as I may have mentioned before, it's all flat until the last little bit. Then there's a long curvy steep hill, a short slight incline, a short steep hill, another short slight incline, and finally a little bump of a hill before I'm made it to the lab. It just doesn't let up. And so far my strategy had been to go a little farther each day - and today I reached the top! Okay, I'll accept your congratulations now.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Hello sports fans! I need a favor. The lab has started a pool for this year's European football championship. Since I've got nothing to lose (except 3 euro) I decided to play. To keep me from picking teams based on which uniform (or, as Georg calls them, costumes) has the best colors, or which country I'd least like to live in (the strategy that caused me to pick the Detroit Redwings for the Stanley Cup) I need your help. If you know anything about soccer, that is. I've scanned in the form - it's in German, but I trust you can figure out which country is which. If you don't know anything about soccer, but your friend/neighbor/creepy uncle does, go ahead and send it to him/her.

I've got to choose the score for each game, and who I think will win overall. I need your suggestions soonish - EURO2008 starts June 7. I'm breathless with anticipation.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

I keep finding myself in situations where I’m defending America or U.S. foreign policy. It’s strange. For example, the other day Jenny and I were having a coffee in the break room (have I mentioned how much I love that coffee maker? because I really love it) and the discussion turned to supporting American troops. I think Jenny and I took the position of “while we don’t support the policies of the current administration, we recognize the sacrifice that the men and women in uniform have made, we think that it’s noble, and deserves our support.” I thought this statement was innocuous, but the Germans at the table started it me incredulously. “I thought only Republicans felt that way” said one. Now first, that’s a pretty low blow. I dislike being told that I think like a Republican, but I kept my feelings inside. “But, like, they could die. I mean, they do die!” I said. “Because they’re trying to keep America safe for Democracy.” I realize that I lapse into a lot of clichés during these conversations. “Don’t Germans recognize that serving in the army requires a pretty serious sacrifice?” Apparently not. German men are required to do a couple of years of either military or civil service, and the people at the table couldn’t understand why anyone would choose the military.

Of course, as I suspected and as the Germans confirmed, the difference in opinion is related to each country’s history. Perhaps you’ve heard of World War II. Americans were the heroes – Germans were the bad guys. We are taught to feel proud of our military. They’re taught to feel ashamed. This sort of came up again last night at the bar where I was celebrating my birthday. I was discussing stereotypes of Germans and Americans. It’s a fun conversation as long as the discussion is superficial. “Americans are loud, Germans are efficient” – that sort of thing. Instead the conversation went something like “Americans are overly patriotic and want to bring democracy to the world without really understanding other cultures.” I don’t really disagree with that statement (but I was tempted to chant U.S.A., U.S. A. over and over again, and maybe sing that Toby Keith song anyway).

And then the conversation veered to the American invasion of Afghanistan. This is actually something I don’t have an official position on. On the one hand, the Taliban was a brutal and oppressive regime that was clearly in cahoots with Al Qaeda – who attacked the U.S. on September 11, killing thousands of innocent people. On the other hand, war is bad and the killing of innocent people doesn’t really justify the killing of other innocent people. I was speaking to someone whose position was more or less that Americans were freaked out because we’ve realized that we’re vulnerable, and so overreacted – in part because we don’t have the long-term perspective of Europeans. Since then I've been trying to figure out what I find so irritating (sorry, Jan) about his position.

Partly, I think it's because I think think he dismisses the suffering of the victims of Sept. 11 too easily (he pointed out that really, not that many people died. Not nearly as many as in the recent earthquake in China). Partly I'm tired of having people roughly my age explain to me how limited my world view is (I get it! Clearly your 20 something years on the planet have been better spent than mine). Partly, of course, it's that Jan's argument is too close to home.

I explained to someone the other day that the Americans feel inadequate when compared to Europe. You know, since they've got all the culture and the history and stuff. And so we walk around with big guns, making ourselves feel important. But clearly Europeans have equally complicated feelings about the U.S. They find us arrogant and impulsive, but everywhere I go I hear American music, and I can watch "South Park" dubbed in German on MTV.

Anyway, I woke up this morning still thinking about how Germans (and other Europeans) perceive America’s place in the world. I realize that I don't have anything particularly insightful to say about the nature of trans-Atlantic relations, but since most of my posts contain very little substance (I mean, I took pictures of myself wearing elf ears and filled an entire post with complaints about the bathroom) I’m going to go ahead and post it. Because it seems like someone could do a better job of speaking for our country than me, feel free to tell me what you think about stuff. I'll be walking around Jena wearing a Hawaiian shirt, asking people if they speak English slowly and loudly, and complaining about the scarcity of elevators and air conditioning.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Contents of the Package

So here are some pictures of me opening my birthday package - taken with my webcam from my computer. I also realized that I can do special web effects, so in some of the pictures I have elf ears. In others I was in the disco, and then in others it started to snow.

I'll write more about stuff later - I'm about to head out to a birthday happy hour at a place called "Cheers." It's an American Bar.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Birthday

As Katy points out, my birthday is Friday.

I feel a little bad writing about this, since I totally forgot Amisha's birthday. Happy Birthday Amisha! This is the first one we've spent apart in a while. Does it make you sad? Let me know if you can think of anything German that you'd like. I can send you some Kinder bars in the mail. Can someone tell Amisha that this blog has a paragraph dedicated to her? I don't want to assume that she checks this everyday like the rest of you losers, um, I mean, friends.

Anyway, I tell you that it's my birthday not to remind people, but so you can share in my excitement. I got a package!! Fortunately, my webcam camera still works, so I took a picture of it for you.

It arrived yesterday and I haven't opened it yet, which is a pretty impressive display of restraint. Unfortunately, there are still 2 more days until I'm allowed. Hopefully I'll be able to hold out.

One of the unfortunate things about sending international packages is that you have to declare the contents. If you click on the picture to make it big, you can probably see that Mom has sent me "clothes, dvd, earrings" - all of which I'm excited about. And, since I haven't opened it yet, I don't know which clothes, dvds, or earrings I'm getting.

Thanks Mom - it's pretty exciting to get packages here. I promise that I won't open it until Friday.

Also, although it's unrelated, I want to point out that I added some links over there on the left. If I didn't list your blog it was unintentional, I promise. Also, if I did list your blog and you don't want it there, let me know and I'll move it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What's up with you?

I don't really have much to say (perhaps a bad sign for the future of the blog), so I'll just give you some tidbits about my life.

1) Do you guys like The Mountain Goats? I was vaguely aware of them before I came here, but recently I've been listening a lot. I think it might be irritating to other people, but this is the advantage of separate labs. Anyway, here they are:

I think I'm especially fond of the lyrics. They're frequently featured on NPR. Check out the song featured here. Something may be wrong with me, but I walk around happily singing "I hope you die. I hope we both die." I don't mean it, but it's so catchy.

2) Quinton is turning 21 on Friday. I don't think he reads this blog, so I'll tell you that I bought him a card and some German candy (although it's apparently made in Italy) to send to him. But I don't think it's going to make it in time. Also, I'm scared of the people at the post office. Sie verstehen kein English. It's going to be exhausting.

3) I read a whole book last night. It was not a productive use of my time. The title "The Man of My Dreams" might give you a hint as to why. Don't worry, though. The moral of the story was that you have to find happiness within yourself. No man can do it for you. So that was uplifting.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Few things are more glamorous than chemistry, and so when chemists get together to celebrate their achievements over the past year, to gently poke fun at one another, and to enjoy an evening of drinking and dancing, you can rest assured that the evening will be characterized by a level of sophistication and elegance rarely seen in other academic disciplines.


Okay, here's what I learned from the Chemikerball. Chemists are big nerds - regardless of nationality.

The festivities took place in one of the student halls a short bus ride from the city. Apparently in past years it has been held in a fancy hotel, but putting it in the Mensa meant that we got dinner and cheaper booze, so it seemed like a good idea to me. As I approached the hall I found myself thinking that the primary difference in the appearance of German and American chemists may be that the Germans have better posture. Which I guess is something, but many of the other factors were similar - the slightly out of date hairstyles and clothing, the eyeglasses, the skin that's so pale it looks nearly translucent, and the jokes that no one else gets. I'm not sure if I find this reassuring or disheartening. I'm also not sure whether I'm counting myself as a chemist - surely a biology ball would have been slightly less, um, sciency.

The evening began with a program that was sort of a spoof of "American Idol" or whatever the German version of it is. In this case it was called something like "Super Chemiker" (Germans say "super" a lot) I'd like to be able to mock the specific jokes here, but the program was obviously in German so I just laughed when other people laughed. It's really a shame, because few people like geeky science humor (is there any other kind?) as much as I do. Sigh. Anyway, I think it involved making fun of specific professors, and quizzing students with chemistry questions on stage. One of the students in our lab took part, and although I can't personally vouch for Martin's acting talent I can say that he got bigger laughs than almost anyone else. At some point people were called onto the stage to drink beer and jump rope. I really don't know what that was about, but I can imagine that it might have been funny. Georg won a teaching award - a giant bottle of champagne. He generously shared it with the group - it's probably hard for one person to drink 2 L.

The program was followed by a buffet dinner. I got the fish, some potatoes, and a steamed vegetable medley. It was quite similar to buffet dinners I've had in student halls in the US, so you can imagine. The best part was the pudding bar for dessert. It may just be my observation, but we seem to eat a lot of pudding here.

Next was a raffle, which turned out to be a good chance for me to practice my numbers. And it's a good thing I was paying attention, because I actually won two things (I bought 5 tickets - there were a lot of winners). First, both Carsten and I won 5 free passes to a gym. I also won a bottle of shower gel. Not all the prizes were equally exciting. Jenny and Matt (non-German speakers) won some sort of German novel about a dog and a wolf. That'll be useful.

After the raffle came the dancing, which I was actually pretty excited about. Despite my lack of rhythm I like to dance (especially after all the beer and champagne). Normally I feel a little self conscious, but in a room full of German chemists, I wasn't worried about looking cool. I didn't dance to the band - it was a bit more formal that I expected, and for whatever reason I don't know how to waltz. Later, though, the band finished and they played some sort of dance CD. Jenny and I were the only ones who really seemed to know all the songs. The advantage to being American, I guess. The level of dancing was probably on par with what I've seen at other science gatherings. If you've been to a science dance then you know. If you don't, I'm sure you can imagine.

The ball ended a little after midnight, and people went downtown to continue the fun. I'm tired of writing now, so I'll just include a two pieces of information here. First, "excuse me, are you Spanish" is a pretty good line, while "I think Hillary Clinton is a bitch" is not. And second, it isn't my fault if those guys get fired for sneaking Jenny and me up to the top of the Intershop tower. I didn't know it was against the rules.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why I don't feel bad writing this post instead of working

So I had anxiety dreams earlier this week because I was supposed to give the seminar for the analytical chemistry department today, followed by a class on Friday about using UV in structure elucidation (Sarah pointed out to me once that I start all my stories with "so"... guess I start my blogs that way too). I was worried about the seminar because one of the professors is the kind of scary German that would make you sit in the back seat of the car if you were late meeting him in the parking lot for the trip back to Savannah. I watched him last week and he asks a series of confrontational questions about methods minutia. And I was worried about the class because I don't really have anything to say about UV absorbance. At least not enough to say - I'm not sure how much people really use it (and if you're reading this Julia - I have the lecture notes from your class, and planned to discuss the Woodward-Fieser rules but I'm not sure I can fill 1.5 hours with that).

Anyway, I went back over my slides from my defense this morning, then biked to work. When I got here (sort of sweaty and with line from my helmet across my forehead) Georg came to my lab.
"We have a problem," he said. "You are forbidden to do your seminar today."
"Oh" I replied. At this point I was trying to decide if the Germans had discovered so horrible secret in my past and would no longer allow me to research at their university. "Why is that?" I asked.
It turns out that it isn't a big deal. The University is celebrating it's 450th anniversary this year, and there will be festivities this afternoon (and, since I've decided to overuse the parentheses in this post, I'll take this moment to point out that there have been many official celebratory events since I've been here). No one is allowed to schedule anything else during this time - just in case we wanted to go to the official ceremony. I'm not sure what the punishment is, but George seemed worried, so I suspect it was something horrible like bamboo shoots under the fingernails or a mountain of official forms to fill out. My seminar was rescheduled for June 10 - but only for our group, so I don't think scary guy will be there.

After rescheduling my seminar, I checked my e-mail. One of my students (Tobias) informed me that this Friday is der Chemikerball (translation: chemistry ball - you could probably have figured it out, but those words don't seem to go together, so you might have been confused). Since one of the students in the lab persuaded me to attend, I knew all about the ball (don't worry - you'll get a full account this weekend), but since it starts at 8, I didn't think that my class at noon would interfere. But apparently there will be a funny lecture and beer and sausage starting at 10. And since I like beer and sausage as much as the next guy I rescheduled the class.

So basically, I'm free for the rest of the week. Yay! To celebrate I'm going to start considering how to teach 2D NMR.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Weekend o' fun

Bad news gentle readers: my camera seems to be broken. Hopefully I'll be able to get someone else's pictures of this weekend, but until then you'll have to just read the story. I'll see what I can find on the internet to make it more visually appealing.

Okay, because it's Pentecost this weekend is a holiday for Germans (again!). As an aside, I find it interesting that most of the holidays here a religious. No one is religious, and many people didn't know what Pentecost was (the day the holy spirit came to the disciples, in case you were wondering). Anyway, I might be annoyed if I were Jewish or Muslim and had to work on my religious holidays while the Christians got them off, but I'm not sure that many Jews of Muslims live in East Germany.

So I did two things for fun this weekend. First, I went to Erfurt to a middle ages festival. Except that it wasn't actually in Erfurt, so Jenny, Sebastian, and I just walked around the city. It was fun, except that I think Sebastian wanted to be alone with Jenny. Or maybe I was imagining things. Anyway, we ate what was Sebastian claimed was the best ice cream in Germany. It was quite good. I made Jenny take a picture, so hopefully I can post it tomorrow.
We also went to the cathedral.

Here's the picture from wikipedia. Sorry, folks. Hopefully I'll get a new camera soon.

I also bought some bedding, but I'm not really sure about it. If I get a camera I'll let you see what you think.

Then, on Sunday, most of the lab went on a bike ride to a castle nearby. And by "nearby" I mean 18 kilometers of hills away. Holy Crap. It was hard. Actually, the first 16 km or so were quite nice. I had to walk the last bit up to the castle (and frankly - it sort of amazes me that everyone on the lab, except for the Americans, can bike up a hill that's several kilometers long). But that was okay. The castle was historic, the view was nice, and Jenny and I debated on taking the train home. Unfortunately I thought that I could make it back. Bad decision. Let's just say that I'm glad guns aren't readily available in Germany. Because if I had a gun when I heard someone say "You know, when you feel completely exhausted, you've really only reached 70% of your capacity" I might have killed him. Same goes for every time someone said "No, really, this is the last hill."

I'm worried that as time goes by I'll start to think it was fun, and then I'll be persuaded to do it again. But, on the other hand, I may have been unpleasant enough that I won't be invited to any future bike rides.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

My German monolouge

The big news here is that I bought a bike. Second hand, of course. But I feel so European, I rode it to work this morning. My butt hurts. Cobblestones are not as charming on a bike with no shocks. And I'd take pictures, but my legs are too wobbly to walk down the stairs. So you'll have to get details on the bike later.

So instead I'm going to share my German homework with you. I was supposed to write about myself, and it turns out that my life seems depressing. This is how it goes:

"Ich heiβe Emily. Ich komme aus Atlanta in dein U.S.A., aber Ich wohne in Jena in Deutschland. Ich bin Biologin. Ich bin siebenundzwanzig Jahre alt. Ich bin ledig. Ich habe kine kinder. Ich wohne allein. Ich mag das Stricken und das Lesen."

I think this would only be more depressing if I could also say something like “Ich habe neunzehn Katzen.”


Okay, for those of you who don't speak German, here's a translation of my homework.

"My name is Emily. I am from Atlanta, U.S.A, but I live in Jena, Germany. I am a biologist. I am twenty-seven years old. I am single. I have no children. I live alone. I like to knit and read."

See! Depressing. But I decided it would be worse if "I have nineteen cats" was also in my biography.

Monday, May 5, 2008

German Dating Customs

Alex, a female German graduate student, has recently returned to the lab after a month of working in Norway. I haven't spoken to her much, because she left right after I got here. But at lunch today I was telling her the story of trying to find Peter at Der Klub.

"No!" she said, horrified. "If you want to find a German man you have to act shy!"
"Why?" I asked. "Won't they just miss the signs?"

Alex assures me that German men have been conditioned to pick up tiny, subtle flirtations and that anything overt will terrify them.

I can see where I've been going wrong. Ass grabbing isn't the German way.

Anyway, then both Charles and Alex instructed me on avoiding eye contact and then glancing briefly at Jenny (who was playing the part of Peter in this practice session) and then looking away, as if I was so overwhelmed by her/his masculinity I couldn't bring myself to maintain eye contact. Sort of like the women of the clan in "Clan of the Cave Bear."

I'm not sure I buy this. Sara suggested that Germans may find my directness refreshing. Of course, it hasn't worked so far, so maybe I'll give the shy thing a try.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

New Apartment: I need your advice

I moved into my new apartment this week. So far, so good - but I need some help with the decorating. I bought all the furniture from the girl who used to live there, but it seems empty. Here, walk with me and I'll take you on a tour.

This is the room that you walk into first. We'll call it the foyer. I have no idea what should be put here - I'm considering a desk, but there's not a lot of space. Alternatively, I'm considering moving the drawers to the opposite wall, and putting in a comfy chair and a reading lamp.

Next comes the bathroom. Not a whole lot to be said here, except that the toilet is properly designed, and you can hook the shower head up on the wall. Also, that's clearly me in the mirror. I should get a bathmat and some towels, but I haven't done it yet. Wait - that's not true. I have one towel.

This is the main room. There are several things you should pay close attention to here. First, there's the ugly wall color. I think I might want to repaint. Suggestions? Next is the poster on the wall. It's entitled "Dreams" and has a quote from Luisa May Alcott on it. Pretty sweet. I inherited it from the last tenant. The bed folds in half to become a couch, which is sort of convenient, but not especially comfortable. I think I may go to Ikea sometime this week to get some better bedding. Also, I don't have a pillowcase, so my pillow is wearing my t-shirt. Don't worry, it's only temporary. Anyone have suggestions on the colors for the blankets and stuff? It turns out that I hate doing this sort of thing. I miss Sarah's willingness to take it over.

Okay, so this is another view of the main room. You can see the sadly empty bookshelf and the wardrobe. Also, more of the ugly wall color.

Next, let's walk over to the kitchen. It's still in the same room, just a little over to the side. It isn't bad - there's lots of space to store stuff, but you may notice that there's no oven. I'm told you can buy a small one. Also the fridge is under the stove. It's okay, but I wish there was more freezer space. No pizza is going to fit in there. The good news is that the girl who lived there before me left me some dishes and a coffee maker. Also, the TV in the corner gets one channel in English - CNN.

Finally, the balcony. It's small, but it's sunny and I like it. I'm trying to decide whether to plant some stuff to grow out there.

Actually, the whole apartment is really sunny, which is a major advantage. Let me know if anyone has any thoughts about how to decorate.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Christi Himmelfahrt

Today is a holiday here in Germany - if fact it's two. This is May Day (Maifeiertag) which is like Labor Day, but it's also Christi Himmelfahrt. Today Germans celebrate Christ's ascension into heaven. However, Ascension Day is Father's Day in Germany and the way to celebrate it is for the men to get really drunk and rowdy. People keep warning me to watch out for the crowds of drunk men. It's actually kinda disconcerting, since there are much fewer women on the street today than on other days.

I'm in the lab now, but since it's a holiday I think that I'm going to head back to my new apartment soon and unpack. I'll post picture of it soon. Assuming that I survive the trip back through the drunken hordes.