Thursday, October 10, 2019

Random Thoughts

I may be American, but I'm not an Ugly American. I try to be pleasant to everyone I encounter in my travels, whether it's a pretentious Italian mom or a filthy Spanish backpacker. Whenever somebody sitting near me tries to strike up a conversation, I take the time to reply, "Sorry, I don't speak whatever the hell that is."

Americans differ sharply by region. Their distinct personalities are hinted at by the answers they gave to a simple question from a TV journalist.

Q: Would you rather listen to Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins?

L.A. RESIDENT: Peter Gabriel, I think.

MID-AMERICA RESIDENT: Definitely Phil Collins.

N.Y. RESIDENT: Well, it depends. Do I want to be entertained or vomit?

ME: I am making a movie about skinny people who live in a lighthouse pushing logs off the world's highest waterfall.

IMOVIE: Make sure you turn your camera HORIZONTAL to film it!

When you are buying something and want to pay with exact change, don't ask me if I have a penny, nickel, dime or quarter, because I will lose more than that fishing all the crap out of my pocket.

Why I Like Sheep Better Than People

When you shave sheep all over you get sweaters. When you shave people all over you get New Jersey.

WIFE: I sure do like that necklace.
HUSBAND: Do you? Let me buy it for you, my dear.

WIFE: I sure do like that necklace.
HUSBAND: It is nice, isn’t it?

WIFE: I sure do like that necklace.
HUSBAND: Yeah, well, you like a lot of stuff.

Two men — one American and one German — are driving through Manhattan when an asteroid hits the car, crushing the American, setting his clothes on fire and vaporizing his hair.

AMERICAN: I ... I think I need a hospital.

GERMAN: Put it on the list for the next time we are here.

Hamburg is a fun little coastal town with a lot of tourist attractions, so I visit at least once or twice a year. There are several fun hipster neighborhoods, the Elbphilharmonie is wonderful, there's a world-class attraction in the rooms full of tiny, dazzling scenes at Miniatur Wunderland, and all along the short coast are excellent fish restaurants mixed with stylish modern buildings that will appeal to any architecture fan.

The Reeperbahn has to be Germany's best adult neighborhood, with blocks and blocks of every sort of entertainment from restaurants to nightclubs to drag bars to just flat-out sex clubs of every persuasion.

Nearby Herbertstra├če is so crowded with prostitutes that female tourists are warned against visiting for fear of starting a "turf war."

My husband Dieter, our friend Evelyn and I drove up one Friday last July to weekend at the Arcotel Rubin Hamburg. It's an okay hotel a few blocks from St. Georg, the city's rather small gay neighborhood. The first words the desk clerk said to us were, "We're sorry, but the air conditioning doesn't work."

Instantly my mood flipped from carefree tourist to cross-examining inquisitor. It was ninety-five degrees outside. Why would they wait until check-in to tell us this? Were they afraid -- rightly -- that if we'd been warned, we'd have stayed somewhere else? My blood pressure skyrocketed while my two German companions decided to share their thoughts.

Evelyn is a tall, ice-cold blonde with aquiline features. "That is fine," she snapped. "We are strong German stock."

Dieter is six foot nine and about a yard across. "That is not a problem," he agreed. "Germans are used to hardship."

I stared at them in disbelief before turning to the clerk. "I'm American," I said. "I need to speak to the manager."

Monday, October 7, 2019

Are some people thinking this could be, like, a diet cookie? Because I've got it narrowed down to either a tapeworm or strychnine.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

If there was one thing wrong with Audrey Hepburn it's that she didn't, know where to, put commas.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Here in Germany they sell peppermint schnappes in mouthwash bottles. It’s such a great idea! This way when people see you drinking it they’ll say, “Good for you!” instead of, “Hey, you know it’s eight in the morning, right?”

Monday, September 16, 2019

It is literally impossible for an American to get a German driver's license. Oh, they'll let you sign up with a driving school and download the app and buy the book and study for months and take the test, but there's no way in hell you'll pass. The test is thirty questions selected from a pool of one thousand, and while they will happily give you all one thousand questions in advance, even with months of deliberation and conceptualization and rationalization you'll never make sense out of them.

One problem is that the "English translation" of the book is into Great British. Trailers are "caravans," people have "behaviour," and your car has "tyres" and does "manoeuvres." Sentences actually start, "You must reckon with....", which sounds more Wild West to me. I want to answer, "Do I, pardner?"

I like this passage because it's so totally true. Is "muzziness" a word? Nowhere in the world. But I like picturing a German motor vehicles official sitting back and imagining, "So, when I take an Ambien, how do I feel? Tired? Relaxed? No.... Muzzy! That's it! Medications can cause muzziness."

Even ignoring the odd comma here doesn't help, since "reeve" means "the chief magistrate of a town or district in Anglo-Saxon England."

Google doesn't even help with words it agrees are real. For weeks I read about the proper behaviour in regards to "walking paths" and "footpaths." Don't park on them. Don't drive across them. I kept picturing Mercedeses zipping through forests when it hit me: they meant those cement walking footpaths we have in America. You know, we call them "sidewalks."

"Sunken kerbstones" also baffled me. I wondered about a country whose driving rules so heavily featured flooding. Don't give priority to cars at sunken kerbstones. Ignore cars at sunken kerbstones. Weeks dragged by before it hit me:

Driveway. Don't stop for cars coming out of driveways.

Every day I'd study more, and fume more about it. In America I'd regarded Germany as Valhalla, where everybody was smart and logical. And then I came here and realized the reason Germany was so highly regarded was because it was being graded on an EU curve. Not a genius? Less than brilliant? No problem. Just go stand next to Italy and Greece.

My irritation magnified over months of study, as the examples of their idiocy piled up. A few weeks were spent on something called "dipped headlights." References were everywhere. In a tunnel, you must dip your headlights. When you see a deer by the road, dip your headlights. I started to think, are German headlights controlled by a joystick or something? And I'm a smart guy: an idiot would have assumed there was onion soup mix and sour cream involved.

I still don't understand the reasoning but I can repeat the facts: their "dipped" headlights are what Americans call "headlights," and their "main beams" are our brights. Dipping your headlights bizarrely just means turning them on.

Here's a life-or-death instruction about markings on the road:

I can't even understand who this is talking to. Will British people read this and think, "Righty-O, Guv'nah!"? Because Americans look it and go, "Whaaa?"

Americans might also take exception with the word "recommends." We'll be tempted to stop in the middle of the intersection, and when a policeman pulls up we'll say, "Well, the book RECOMMENDS stopping back there, but I disagreed. You know, it's like going for the fish when the waiter recommends the veal."

Of course, if getting a driver's license is torture here, I'm pretty sure jail is worse.

Naturally you need to know the rules about driving past buses, so I knew it was important to memorize this:

Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? And then you come to this passage:

Here's something else the book never explicitly tells you. "Passing" is what you do to a stopped vehicle. "Overtaking" is what you do to a MOVING vehicle  So, you can pass a parked bus, but you can't OVERTAKE it. EVER. Because, you know, it's NOT MOVING. Which seems to me less a rule than, like, a law of physics, which renders the first quote as useful as, "Make sure your car doesn't float away." But remember it! Pass the test and you spend a year driving through Europe. Fail and welcome to the hell that is FlixBus.

Let's learn a bit about parking:

When I first read "up to 10 m" I assumed it was the "up to" from supermarket advertisements which means "definitely less than, all the way down to zero." You see the sign in the window saying "Save up to 90%," so you run inside and see everything is 1% off, but there's one dusty can of Spam that's 90% off and that makes the whole thing legal. At the St. Andrew's Cross I pictured somebody standing there when you pull up saying, "Today you can't stop ... FOUR METERS AWAY!"

No, in this case "up to" means "at least." You can't stop within ten meters. Now turn the page.

Yes, you got it. You can park five meters in front of a diagonal cross, but you can't stop there.

Here's a simple instruction from the book: "Parking is not allowed on a priority road outside built-up areas." Translated, this means "Don't park on the road in the country." And then I took a sample test which asked, "Are you allowed to park at the side of a priority road outside built-up areas?" My answer: absolutely not! The correct answer: of course!

It sent me running back to my translation. Apparently when they say "Don't park on the road in the country" they mean "Don't park IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD in the country." What, did you assume they meant "Don't park on the SIDE"?

I sat there staring at the book, struggling to process what I'd been dealing with. I'd spent six months deciphering their pronouncements only to discover they were facts any idiot knows. It's weird: everybody in Berlin speaks perfect English. I get two German words out of my mouth and they say, "Look, buddy, let's make this easy. Let's go for English, okay?" But then I decide I want to get a driver's license and suddenly they're all, "You want go putt-putt in motorcar?"

Whether they're incompetent and don't care or they're actively trying to keep Americans off their roads, the end result is that it's impossible for us to pass the driving test. It's a Catch-22: if you're stupid, you'll never figure out what they're talking about. But if you're smart, you could waste weeks trying to unravel things that are obvious to idiots.

One last example bolsters the incompetence explanation. Let's start with a paragraph from the official book.

And here's a question from the official quiz.

As you can see, I got it wrong. Apparently you need to "reckon" with taxis and beware of taxis and watch out for taxis and keep away from taxis but you don't need to show them "particular care." Like don't send them flowers or chocolate? Think twice about that shoulder massage?

Anyway, I hope you learned something. You can pass someone without overtaking them, you can park somewhere without stopping, and you can totally ignore people that you need to pay very serious attention to. It makes me think of relativity, and that Einstein himself would probably fail this test.

I'd like to say that frustration makes me more determined, but in truth I gave up. I stop trying to understand it and instead just memorized the one thousand mostly-useless questions and their corresponding nonsensical answers. And I passed the test. Now I just have to pass the driving test and I get to drive all over Europe.

I've got to say, I'm feeling really muzzy now.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Insider Secrets to the Top Amusement Parks

You spent eight hundred dollars on plane fare, hotels and admission tickets, and finally the day is here. How are you going to maximize the fun you get for all that amusement park cash? I'm a veteran of some of the most exciting theme parks in the world and I'm going to share with you some of my secret tips.

1. Wait for lousy weather

Let's face it: nobody likes bad weather, especially when they're visiting a theme park. I hate getting my hair mussed and PeePaw doesn't like how the wind blows his fat around. For whatever reason, bad weather means no crowds, which means extra fun for you. Just make sure you're prepared: bring a poncho and a sturdy umbrella -- and maybe stop at the barbershop on Main Street to get a sensible hairdo.

2. Go during an unpopular time of year

Everybody knows that theme parks are mobbed over Spring Break, Easter, or Christmastime. The smart mom, then, books the family trip when they know kids won't be there: like, right before exams. Since there's no chance Wally-Bob and Florabelle are getting into good schools, I figured we'd might as well enjoy ourselves.

Another secret is that most parks have gay nights, which aren't hugely popular in red states like mine. Evangelicals make up a large part of the theme park crowd, and needless to say they don't like rubbing against hunky, shirtless men -- at least when their spouses are around! Take advantage of their absence: tie a rainbow bandana around your neck and you'll blend right in with the crowd.

We had terrible weather during Gay Night this year, which means the place was deserted and extra fun. The 'Allo Guvnor! Alfred the Butler's Spinning Derbies ride was transformed into a disco, and I must have danced with Doreen, a single woman from Maine, for three hours while PeePaw napped on a bench shaped like a library book and two sweet guys named Nate and Andy watched the kids.

3. Avoid overpriced costumed-character meals

Every theme park has some elaborate party banquet where all the costumed characters show up, and all the kids go nuts. Count me out! I do not need some zit-faced high-schooler dressed as Ariel squeaking to me about undersea life when there's a table full of generic Chicken McNuggets nearby.

Sure, maybe the kids will whine, but tell them you're preparing them for real life. Every girl dreams of marrying that prince, but we all grow up to make pudding from a box for husky guys in backward baseball caps. Sure, that harsh reality might scare them, but if it means dodging a meal that costs more than their education, it's definitely worthwhile.

You’d be surprised how much time you can save by eating somewhere unpopular. In fact, it's the worse the better for me! Is it sizzling hot outside? See if the park has somewhere that serves fish. Has their taco truck been shut down for food poisoning? Three bean burritos, please! Or better yet — here's a real expert tip — go on TripAdvisor, search for your theme park, and sort the listing so the worst appears on top. There’s your place! Maybe the sensible folks steer clear of Grandma's Sweet N' Savory Snack Shack but with nobody else in the building PeePaw and I enjoyed a relaxed meal with Doreen. We were in line for Super Space Wahoo! while all the "cool kids" were still going, "Are you weally Ariel? Weally? [PAUSE] I wuv you."

(Doreen was such a sweet girl. She loved my short hair and didn't believe I had a mullet just six hours earlier. As a joke she started calling me "Butch," and she let PeePaw finish her Peaches N' Cream Chicken Wings.)

4. Go on the rides nobody likes

Everybody knows the cliche: go early and stay late. The problem is, everybody knows this and everybody DOES this. Unless you're Tom Cruise, by the time you scurry your fat ass over to Harry Potter's Oh Look Ta-Dah! ride the line will be so long you can use your $80 wand to wave goodbye to the rest of your day.

Instead -- insider tip alert! -- go to the attractions nobody likes. Maybe rides sponsored by chemical companies aren't quite as much fun as flying elephants and fairies, but when there's no line you take what you can get. And how else will you learn how weed killer is made? I personally didn't find it interesting but it got Wally-Bob to stop drinking it.

You'll also be surprised how much you enjoy a country dance jamboree led by muskrats who look like the Jonas Brothers. PeePaw loved it when Doreen and I danced together. And sure, the Half-Baked Hotel isn't anybody's all-time favorite attraction, but my kids really liked trying to get all that luggage up the circular stairs.

So, do your homework. Is there a roller coaster that couldn't scare a cat? Maybe a boring old carousel? They can be surprisingly fun, though my kids could have died every time PeePaw yelled, "Look, Doreen, I'm riding on an ostrich!" Is there a slow boat ride that goes past portable toilets? Head for that. The line is probably short, and it can come in handy when your stomach finally decides what to do with that Mango Maple Churro.

You’ll also win bragging rights: really, your neighbor only went on four rides? You went on fourteen, and you got a coupon for fifty cents off weed killer.

5. Go to a cheaper park and lie about it

Knott's Berry Farm is -- let's face it -- a dismal turd of an afternoon, but it’s half the price of Disneyland so that was our next theme park trip. The kids' downturned faces perked up after Doreen told them it was actually Harry Potter World, but Voldemort had magically changed all the signs and then turned Harry into a chicken!

Of course, nobody could have guessed that Wally-Bob would catch a chicken and then try to make it change back. PeePaw and I could barely hide our guffaws! I swear, we had the best time ever until some mean stranger spilled the beans. Our beer breakfast came to an end pretty much when the chicken did.

Anyway, I hope these tips help you. it's almost bedtime so I've got to go. Doreen and PeePaw say they want to ask me something, and then Florabelle needs my help. I told her if she said, "God bless Nate and Andy" just one more time in her bedtime prayers, I'd make her go live with them. Now I've got to make her unpack.

Monday, August 19, 2019

A German driver's license is fiendishly difficult to get. People study for years and still fail to pass the tests. Having to use the English translation of the official government app renders it nearly impossible, as you can see from my difficulty here. See if you agree with the correct answers (the checkmarks on the left) or my "incorrect" choices (on the right).

"Be aware ... that you only detect oncoming vehicles after it is too late." It's a real danger! I didn't even notice that giant white splash of headlights pointed straight at us.

Never assume a bus will pull away from a bus stop! This is Germany, so there's paperwork to fill out first.

This makes sense. If you see a blind guy, don't toot your horn. He's got to learn about electric cars somehow.

I'm not sure why, after a long drive, I'm too close to the vehicle in front. Do Germans usually have snacks or a bathroom?

I don't know why I got this wrong, since it seems straightforward. When you see this sign and then notice cars careening towards you, you should be, like, "No, you go first."

Got it: don't use the merging procedure when merging. Just randomly, out of the blue, have you guys ever won a war?

I don't know why I got the last one wrong. In Germany everybody's like "Fuck my rear-view mirrors."

This makes perfect sense. Feel free to drive in the bike lane BUT NOT IF YOU'RE TRYING TO PARK.

How do I determine my car's maximum speed? Accelerate until it disintegrates and then subtract two?

Quick question about option #1. Aren't I the traffic turning left?

Just slide right into him and he'll get the hint.

Those special bus lanes? They ain't that special.

If the cyclist stays parked there for over an hour, can I leave my car to get snacks?

Once you're across the road, though, fuck those weather conditions.

Because in Germany trucks are like sharks: if they stop they will die.

Don't drive to the right to let people pass! That's admitting you are weak. Instead, drive slowly in the goddamn center of the road while repeating, "I AM somebody."

Also when you're on a two-lane road and there aren't any vehicles within miles, be aware that botulism kills 18 people per year.

So, drive faster than you can see, and remember there's no stopping! If your car catches fire, put on oven mitts and push it towards the next exit.

"The rear parcel shelf"? Is this a Mercedes or a UPS truck? Do we have to make things look like parcels if we want to leave them on the rear parcel shelf? Can we put a sweater on it if we wrap it in brown paper and tie in with string?

Fuck those taxi drivers.

Got that? Don't bother your mechanic, just hit the road with fingers crossed.

This makes a little more sense in English: "When you start your car, keep your foot on the brake."

A cul-de-sac! Not a road closed to traffic. Got it! My mistake.

Those "special areas" in #1? They ain't that special.

Okay, I will definitely not overtake the moped before the rail crossing.

Quick question: If I ask, "What rail crossing?" can I get a driver's license anyway?

I don't know why I got this wrong. I just assumed the right answer for "What is a towed load?" wouldn't be, "You know, it's that load you're towing."

Fuck the flowing traffic on the road.

I heard Einstein once took this test, and after he read this question he threw himself off a bridge.

If I promise not to say anything bad about currywurst can I go back to America now?