Rainy day

16 05 2012

In German, a dandelion is called Löwenzahn – “Lion’s tooth”. In French, it’s a pissenlit — roughly translated, “wet the bed” — because of its apparent diuretic qualitites. And if you pronounce dandelion with a French accent, it sounds like “dent de lion” – lion’s tooth!




The Name Game – or Why I Decided to Take His Last Name.

2 05 2012

One of the things that has popped up while wedding planning has been the name game. Who takes whose last name?

(The above phrase seems to be pretty popular on Pinterest,  and it made me laugh when I saw it!)

First of all, disclaimer: I support the right to choose. Whether you’ve taken his last name, hyphenated, kept your maiden name, he’s taken your name, you combine your name into one, or you end up with a completely different last name altogether, I think that’s great! These are modern times, and all of the old traditions don’t really apply anymore these days. It’s not as important to carry on a family name as it was in the past, and most of us aren’t royalty who don’t really have a choice in the matter. (Although who really knows any royalty’s last names, anyway!?)

Here in Germany, there isn’t quite as much freedom with the name choices as there is in the US. There’s no Princess Consuela Bananahammock, as Phoebe in Friends decided on, faced with wonder at all of the possibilities when the man at the registrar’s office told her she could choose any name she wanted. On a similar note, even naming newborn babies is regulated here, and you won’t end up with any names like Peaches Honeyblossom, Tallulah Pine, Sage Moonblood, or Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen. None of that here. In fact, baby names must be gender-specific and on a list of approved names! But I digress.

So for German law, you’ve got four easy choices when you get married. 1) Both of you keep your own names, 2) she takes his name, 3) he takes her name, 4) or you can hyphenate both names, but only the woman has a hyphenated name, and then the children get only the husband’s last name, as hyphenation cannot be passed down.

With those choices available, the current trend is to keep your own names, which in my opinion is great when both partners have a professional life in which their name is essentially their brand. That’s probably why celebrities often keep their own names. I don’t know anything about their real choice, but can you imagine Angelina Pitt or even Brad Jolie? Not likely. And in Germany, keeping your maiden name seems to be the cool thing to do, though it is also practical because most couples who get married are already in their mid- to late-thirties and already have an identity built up around their names.

Enter my decision: I have decided to take his name. There are definitely pros and cons for me, which I plan to explain here. Let’s start with the cons, since for me, the pros outweighed the cons enough to make the change.

Cons of giving up Gilmour

  1. Gilmour is a nice name, and I can’t help but smile every time people compare it to the Gilmore Girls. Plus, Sarah Gilmour is also the name of a model whose famous father, David Gilmour, is a member of Pink Floyd, so it will probably drive down my blog hits when I change my name. (Kidding!)
  2. It’s higher up in the alphabet, and my new last name will move me down to S, the 19th letter of the alphabet. It’s not a big deal, though, but it probably means we’ll be waiting a bit longer to watch our kids graduate from school, as those kinds of things are usually done in alphabetical order.
  3. After I got engaged, I started to feel nostalgic about my maiden name. It is kind of a weird feeling to give it up…
  4. My new initials will be SMS, which is what Germans say for text messages. They’ve even made a verb out of it: simsen. “Ich hab dich gesimst!” I once heard a German friend of mine say. And if you shorten it to just the first name and last name, SS is not really a great letter combination here, considering German history…
  5. Everybody knows my heritage. They can automatically see that I’m not German, and though 9 times out of 10, people guess I’m from England (God knows why…), at least they can see that I’m not from around here before I even open my mouth.
  6. Paperwork. I am soooo not looking forward to that. Especially changing the American stuff, where they won’t know what an umlaut is or how to use it, and I will likely have the same problems as Tobi has had with different versions of his name floating around out there – Stäbler, Staebler, Stabler. People without umlauts in their alphabet just don’t understand how it works.
  7. Gilmour is easier to pronounce than Stäbler. As hard as I try, I just can’t get that ä without sounding Schwäbisch (a dialect from Stuttgart, where his family comes from). And my mother told me the other day that she also has trouble with it and could use some pronunciation lessons on my soon-to-be new last name. Ha!

Pros of choosing Stäbler

  1. Growing up, I always assumed I’d take my husband’s name. Yes, that’s the traditional thing to do, and that’s likely  why I dreamed of it as a kid. But for me it’s a nice idea to have a family with one name, where it’s clear to people that we belong together. And we won’t have any difficult decisions later on on what to name the kids.
  2. Sarah Stäbler acutally sounds really nice. I pronounce my first name the American way, and Stäbler the German way. It just has a nice ring to it!
  3. It will fit in my passport. Since I am not hyphenating my last name, I won’t end up with something ridiculously long to fill out on forms, like Sarah Michelle Gilmour-Stäbler. My fingers got tired just from typing that!
  4. Tobi is already really well-known in his business with his own last name, and even though he thought Tobias Gilmour sounded really cool (by the way, it’s pronounced Toe-BEE-us, not Toe-BYE-us), it’s good for him not to have to change his name. Although I think he would have been willing to, had I insisted, and that is really cool of you, Tobi!
  5. Okay, so the language nerd in me comes out: I freaking LOVE the idea of having an umlaut in my name! Apart from the stress of it when dealing with non-German speakers (see #7 above), I just think it’s so awesome to have a character in my name that doesn’t exist in my own language. Besides, it could be worse – saying “it’s like an ‘a’ with two dots over it” is easier than trying to explain the Eszett (ß)…”it’s like a capital B with a long tail, and it’s pronounced like an S”… One of my friends saw the address on my wedding invitations and thought it was actually a “p”. Peter, my best friend and fellow language nerd, took great pains in writing a beautiful Eszett in my street address on a recent card he sent me, and he pointed it out to me so I could admire his handiwork. So anyway, yes. Ä is cool!

So even though I have a few more cons than pros, the point that carries the most weight is having the same family name. And for me, it’s a nice way of combining our cultures and accepting that Germany is a really big part of my life right now and, with a German spouse, will be in the future.

What is your personal preference about changing your name? Did you run into any initials trouble like my SMS, or my mom whose maiden name Susan Arlene Wood had her initials change from SAW to SAG when she got married…? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Happy weekend, folks!

21 01 2012

It’s a snowy, sleety day out there this weekend. I’m leaving in a few hours to head out to Lüneburg to meet my friend Jessica for a late lunch. I have a feeling it’s going to be a pretty busy weekend!

So enjoy your weekend, everyone! And if you’re looking for a laugh, here are my two favorite videos I saw online this week:

One Happy Dog
(click to see movie – there was no embedding option)


a pretty great movie with a chameleon:

Just where exactly are we supposed to drive?

31 08 2011

I worked out in the ‘burbs yesterday evening, just on a cover class for another coworker.  I rode there with Steve, another teacher who has a class at the same company.  After we got off the bus and started walking to the address of our class, I remarked, “Wow, we really are in the suburbs!  They’ve even got a Burger King with a drive-thru!”

But, as Steve pointed out, the Germans call it something different: a drive in!  Would you look at that!?

Now the question is, do they mean this….?


Neither, of course.  Especially not that last part.  But this really cracked me up!  It’s kind of like when they change the titles of American movies to yet another English phrase that the populace is more familiar with.  (Example: the French title of Date Night is Crazy Night, and the Korean title is Broken Date.)  Well, English is such an international language, so a large number of people know at least a few words in English, so why not keep the COOL English feel to the title and just change it to words people understand? (– and  can pronounce, for that matter – “thru” often ends up sounding like “sroo” in both French and German!)  But if they change the phrase, they should first check the meaning of the new phrase, shouldn’t they?

Top photo mine; bottom photos, click for source

Red light green light

21 07 2011

Germans are pretty serious about red lights.  Okay, when you’re driving – that makes sense.  But pedestrians also adhere to this rule.

I’m sure that when I was a kid, I always had to wait with my mother until the light turned green before crossing the street.  But now, having worked in DC and lived in Paris – two big cities – I got into the habit of crossing when it was safe, regardless of the light.  I’m not sure what the actual rules are on that in DC, but in Paris, there are definitely no rules, or at least nobody follows them.  Seriously.  I remember hearing a German lady call out behind me in Paris last year, “Hey, the light is RED!” as I crossed the street with a crowd of other people.  There were no cars coming at the time, and I laughed at her comment, thinking to myself, “How typically German.”

So, I must admit I got used to that, crossing the street whenever I personally deem safe.  It makes no sense to me to stand there and wait when there are no cars and I could cross safely.  If a police officer sees you do this in Germany, however, they can and will give you a ticket.  So far I’ve been lucky.

This is the button you have to press (by resting your hand on it – pretty cool, actually) to signal to the signal that you’re there and want to cross.

But the kids!

I was in one neighborhood once where I saw a sign underneath the pedestrian traffic light that said, “Nur bei grün – den Kindern ein Vorbild.”  (Only cross on green!  Set a good example for children.)  Something similar to this sign, found on another blog whose author, Wolfram Heinrich Aldersbach (what a name!), points out that the grammar of the sign is actually not quite right.  As he says, it implies that you should only set an example for kids when the light is green.  So, implicitly, not when it’s red.

(Picture from his blog.)

Because of this mentality, I am actually more likely to stand there and wait for the green light when there are children present.  But I stand there cursing this written (and unwritten) rule, and imagining myself back in Paris, fighting through the insane mass of cars, bicycles and pedestrians, moving every which way and almost running you over multiple times a day…

On second thought, maybe it’s not so bad in Germany!


8 06 2011

Germans have the reputation for being hard workers.  Ask someone to describe the German way of doing things, and you’d get such positive words like efficient, effective, high-quality, precise.

And that much is true.  “Made in Germany” is a mark of quality, and the Germans really take pride in that.  But as serious as the Germans are about work, they are even more serious about their time off.  Every evening after work is called “Feierabend”.  Word Reference defines it as “finishing time”…though I prefer to think of it as “quittin’ time” (and always in a southern accent, of course).  Come 8 p.m., almost all stores are closed (some even before that, at 6!), and you’ll hear coworkers wishing each other “einen schönen Feierabend”.

The best part about this word is that it’s a compound word, like many German words:

Feier = celebration, party
Abend = evening

So, literally speaking, they’re going off to their party evening.  I love that!  Maybe they don’t think of it that way, as a party (or maybe they do?), but either way – I love thinking of finishing the work day as a celebration of some sort.

It’s the time to pick up some flowers on the way home, or cook something delicious for dinner, or watch something fun and exciting on TV, or go out with friends.  Doing something to just celebrate having made it through another day of hard work.

I think I’ll celebrate with a nice glass of wine and try out this new grilled chicken with lemon basil pasta recipe from The Pioneer Woman.  But that means I have to run out to the grocery store first and get some basil and cheese.  Good thing Feierabend at Lidl at the train station isn’t until 10:00 p.m.!

Doctors and nose holes

13 05 2011

My finger is better, by the way.  I had an appointment this morning at the doctor’s office to get it checked out.  Ironically, it kind of healed itself last night, and looks quite good this morning.  But I had to go anyway, since I had an appointment.

So I got to the office and, as usual for any doctor’s office anywhere, waited 30 minutes after my appointment’s scheduled time until I was actually seen by the doctor.  I didn’t feel like leafing through the magazines available on the coffee tables there, and mostly just stared at the fish in the fish tank while I thought over and over about what I would say to the doctor and how I would say it, exactly, in German.  I was too nervous to think about anything else.

But I noticed something about German waiting rooms, which I had forgotten about since my last visit.  Each person says “hallo” to all of the others when they come in, which totally surprised me.  As friendly and outgoing as most Americans tend to be, I am pretty sure that we don’t say hello to the others in the waiting room.  I’m not sure why that is.  Americans tend to talk more openly to strangers about very personal things (like my mom, for example – hi mom!), but apparently the waiting room is the exception to that rule.  Not that the Germans go any further than “hallo“, of course.  No personal information or conversation beyond that.  But they do say, “tschüss” (bye) when they leave.

Another big difference was that there was a coffee machine in the waiting room.  How cool is THAT?  They also offer you a cup of coffee while you’re at the hairdresser’s.  I’ve never taken them up on that, but perhaps I should.  You know.  Get the real European experience.

Anyway, back to the appointment.  When my name was called and after I followed the doc back to her office, I explained to her why I originally came (and did a fantastic job using the vocabulary I’d learned after my Apotheke experience last week, I might add).  She took a look at it and agreed it looked perfectly fine now.  So then I used the opportunity to ask her about my allergies, and what I could do for that.  She recommended that I make an appointment with the another doctor in the same office who does allergy tests, and she prescribed me a nose spray for the congestion.  Also, I learned some more new medical vocabulary.  Apparently the German word for nostril is “das Nasenloch” – nose hole.  I love it when language is straightforward like that!

Now I’ve got some medicine, as well as some zinc pills that the pharmacist convinced me to try.  Let’s hope it helps!  Then maybe my students will stop learning wrong vocabulary from me because of my stuffy nose – things like “good afternood” and “broob” (broom).

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