BODY SHOCK!! (WITH SOCKS!!!)

Socks make a real difference.

Socks make a real difference.

I haven’t written all that much about my Euro-life on this blog (excepting the last post), but there’s one thing I feel the ladies may find amusing, so here goes.

Germans are in general much more comfortable with nudity than Americans. There’s your average beach, for example, where women frequently sunbathe topless, and there’s also FKK (freie Körper Kultur/’free body culture’), which is skinny dipping. (There may be other applications, but mostly I’ve seen the signs describing beaches.) German saunas are also nude experiences, and as far as I know, they’re mostly coed.

This seems to me to be a healthy and good thing and I’ve definitely adapted for the most part. For example, if someone accidentally saw me naked, I would not feel like my privacy had been violated. And instead of rushing to cover up (as if I had done something wrong), I honestly think I would just be like, “OK bye.” This is a very liberating feeling.

All the same, I did not land in Germany and adjust immediately. That doesn’t mean my adjustment didn’t have to happen in a big hurry.

Ladies, the ultimate in American-to-German culture shock is your first trip to the German gynecologist. Why, you might be asking. I will tell you. There is no privacy robe! Also, there is this weird thing about socks.

Basically, the almost always female nurse practitioner or doctor does your breast exam and your pelvic exam in two phases. For the breast exam, you’ll be topless, and for the pelvic exam, you’ll be bottomless.

Except for your socks.

Why are socks so important? Basically, when I realized there would be no privacy robe, American me was like oooo-kay, but then I took a deep breath and told myself, you know, when in Rome. That sort of thing. Also, what else would I have done? So I followed the nurse practitioner’s instructions and removed my pants and underwear, but left my socks and top on like she told me to. (Socks, probably because they don't want people spreading their foot fungus and stuff.)

Here’s the thing. Total nudity would have been better. There is no world in which wearing nothing but a shirt and socks in front of a human being you hardly know feels okay. It is just really weird. I felt like a baby who was running around the house having escaped from a diaper change.

Also, doctors don’t leave the room while you undress. This was also true when I had my cancer screening at the dermatologist. I basically just stripped down in front of her. However, in this case, I was also required to remove my socks, so that helped.

All in all, I’m really grateful to live in a country that isn’t so knotted up inside about human bodies. Probably we’ve all heard horror stories about some random guy who whipped it out to pee in a public place and ended up on a sex offender registry. However, this just means re-entry is going to mean reverse culture shock. Fun times!

That is all. Thanks for reading.

 

 

AIRPORTING WHILE ANXIOUS

Looking towards the main market square, our first night in Krakow.

Looking towards the main market square, our first night in Krakow.

My husband and I moved to Germany in February 2015 for his job and since then we’ve been taking the occasional trip around Europe. We often drive, but sometimes an airplane journey is more expedient. So far we’ve traveled to Italy, Greece, Austria, Croatia, and Poland by plane. Planes mean spending time in airports. Airports are my Achilles’ heel.

A while ago I figured out that I have pretty much healed from the more serious aspects of my mental health issues. (Lol knock on wood.) Anxiety though. Nope, not so much. Still here in spades. I have, however, figured out how to cause the level to plummet. Sticking to routines (especially in the morning), healthy eating, and regular exercise have gone a hell of a long way to turn me into Ms. Calm.

All that pretty much goes out the window on airport travel days. Historically, traveling by plane has brought me to near panic attack levels of anxiety. It doesn’t help that, these days, flying economy has been reduced to a near hellish experience of automated everything. You just kind of have to figure out how the process works and hope you do everything right. Not so much my thing! (Especially when I’m already feeling nervous because the terminal is loud, loud, loud and full of people.)

Yet this year was different. We took our customary pre-Christmas trip, this year to Krakow. And though the travel days were tiring (especially the trip back which was full of delays and a missed train connection), I felt about as much like Ms. Calm as I think I possibly ever could in any block of time that involves an airport at a very high level. I think I know why everything went so smoothly. Because I’ve gained a clearer understanding about when and how my travel anxiety gets triggered, I was able to plan in such a way that could lessen the strain.

I figure I’d share how I kept my shit together.

·         Time: We gave ourselves plenty of time. Sure, this sometimes meant waiting around, but I’d rather wait than have to rush. Rushing is hell. A good book helps here and so does some type of device that plays music and headphones or earbuds.

·         Packing light: Not having to check luggage cuts down on time waiting in line and means not having to manage heavy bags. For this trip, I had only my backpack. It’s a camera bag at the bottom, and then the top half has room for books, wallet, etc. It felt amazing and mobile to have free hands. My husband managed his backpack and our small, shared roller carry-on. On the other hand, for longer trips, checking luggage is often necessary. It’s just important to budget that time in and to weigh luggage ahead of time at home so there are no last minute surprises at the airport.

·         Dressing for security: I wore pants that fit perfectly without a belt and took off my winter hat, gloves, and scarf and placed them in my backpack as soon as we got to the airport. Less stuff to worry about while going through security. I also packed my watch in the outer pocket of my backpack (before security) for the same reason.

·         Know where everything is: In Europe, security is slightly different depending on what country you’re in. You always have to take out your toiletries and electronic devices (including tablets and sometimes cameras), remove your outerwear, and (rarely) remove your shoes. In Krakow, I paid extra attention to the instructions outside of the security area so I knew what would be expected of me. (For example, I had to remove my camera from my bag.) I also made sure that I knew exactly where in my backpack the items were that I would need to take out, that they were handy, and that they could quickly and easily be put back in.

·         Documents: This has been my weak spot in the past. I’ve kept documents in the outer flap of my backpack and then had to swing it around and kind of dig in the pocket to get at them. This year I made sure to have only what I needed at any one time, and I kept that in the pocket of my winter coat, which has a zipper so everything was secure. This alone cut my stress level down an immense amount. Obviously, the pocket of my winter coat isn’t a solution for air travel during warmer weather, but that’s what those little document holders that go around the neck are for. Do they look a bit dumb? Maybe. But stressing out because documents are hard to get to and hard to put away feels dumb. I really don’t mind looking like an unaccompanied minor or Paddington Bear if that allows my heart to beat at a reasonable pace.

·         Have snacks available and eat when hungry: Hangriness does not help even the best of situations and hangriness at the airport has the potential to become somewhat drastic. Biting the bullet and eating a prepackaged sandwich from an airport shop, or even just a pack of nuts or a granola bar can actually save the day.

There was probably more stuff that I did that I can’t think of now. I’m writing this on Christmas Day, taking a break from some of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, which were under the tree for me this morning. All in all, I feel pretty good about our trip to Krakow and am hoping I can figure out ways to make the next trip work as well. Anxiety sucks and this last trip proved to me that a little prep work and forethought can do an awful lot to make airports more tolerable.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and, as they say in Germany, a good slide into the New Year!

ON WHAT IS THERE

Some of the books I've picked up in English-language sections of the bookstores in Bonn.

Some of the books I've picked up in English-language sections of the bookstores in Bonn.

I think it is a true thing to say that book lovers, readers all, love to browse the shelves of bookstores. No doubt we all make online purchases now and then, and some of us, self included, may read on electronic devices, but there’s still something uniquely special about going to the store, standing among the aisles, browsing the spines. Of course, we may have goals for our shopping experience (if indeed we intend to make purchases). Maybe there’s a book we’re dying to read, or, maybe not. Maybe we just want to see what we can find.

Enter me. I live in Bonn, Germany, which, because it is in Germany, where the day-to-day language is, yes, you guessed it, German, there is simply a smaller selection of English-language books available for browsing. That being said, most major bookstores do have an English-language section, and indeed I’ve come to know the ins-and-outs of these sections at the two bookstores I most often frequent near my apartment in Bonn, Germany. Enter my browsing habits.

Don’t get me wrong. I still buy both paper and e-books online. Sometimes there is a specific book I want and the stores, which tend to have mostly newer stuff, or classics, just don’t have it. But I also browse.

And about that browsing habit…

What blows my mind (truly) is that having far less selection to choose from has actually greatly expanded my reading habits. Before Germany, I read poetry, novels, history (mostly medieval studies), and some other nonfiction. Now I’ve added essays, graphic novels, and short stories to the list. For some reason, I have found a lot of short story collections in the bookstores of Bonn. (The books are coming from the UK. Do British people especially like short stories? I find myself asking this question.)

Brief aside: The short stories entry is a big deal because now I also write them, and that’s hugely satisfying. When you only write novels, or novellas, a lot of your ideas are going to go unwritten. Short stories help heal the rift between that list of ideas we all have in our heads and the sheer possibility of getting some, or most, of those ideas down onto paper. In one way or another. (Also, it is and shall ever remain a fatal flaw to write in a genre that one isn’t widely reading. Thanks to the bookstores of Bonn, I am reading widely.)

The bookstores here also tend to be heavy on the big award winners and the authors that end up on the short lists for those awards. In the US, though, there was also a ton of other stuff to read, so I didn’t always manage to keep abreast. Not here. Nope. I’m all up in that. I am a truly informed reader. (Probably my favorite writers so far in this category have been Han Kang and Paul Beatty.)

I could go on, and on, and sometimes I do. Suffice it to say, that if I were living in the US, I would not be reading the books, or genres, I am reading now.

Here’s another example of how this works. One writer I am fairly certain I would have unceremoniously and completely ignored if his books weren’t so ubiquitous here is Neil Gaiman. I just would never have read him! (Even though I loved that movie, Stardust.) Yet in the last few days of neuro-my-brain-rubbed-all-the-wrong-ways-eyes-on-fire kind of feelings, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane has proven to be the best escape. Ever. So there’s also that.

More on this in the future, but that’s all for now. Till next week.