Inscrutable European Appliances

Sorry for the gap between posts. We went back to the states for a wedding, where I enjoyed ethnic food not available in our area of Germany (Mexican food! Italian-American hoagies! Authentic Chinese food!) and menus that did not have eight options containing the words “wurst”, “schwein” or “kalb” (that’s “sausage”, “pork” and “calf” for those of you non-German speakers). I also managed to forget pretty much all the German words I learned, so on the first day back when I was at the bakery and the woman behind the counter asked, “Geschnitten?” (“Sliced?”), I responded unthinkingly with “Si!” Alas.

Anyway. Appliances. How hard can it be to work a stove, you say? Our lovely furnished apartment came with a matched Küppersbusch electric cooktop, oven and dishwasher. We were lucky – German apartments don’t always come with a finished kitchen, which is a topic for another entry. I expected to have difficulty doing the °C to °F conversion, but what I didn’t expect was to be totally unable to figure out the oven settings. I suspect that in order to improve their ability to market appliances across the entire EU, Küppersbusch has done away with all actual words on their products. Instead, they rely entirely on symbols. Our oven has ten (10!) different settings on a knob next to the knob to set the temperature. One of these is clearly convection:

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But what to make of the other two settings that involve a fan?

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And triangle bars versus regular bars?

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A couple of weeks into our stay, I decided I needed to attempt something that required the oven (and that wasn’t roasted potatoes, which seem to do fine on the fan/bottom bar setting). I caved and looked up the manual for a Küppersbusch oven. Of course, the manual I found was for a different Küppersbusch oven, but the symbols were similar enough that I could figure out that the different bars indicated which heating surface was on, the triangle bars were for broil, and that our oven must be a budget model because it doesn’t come with a “Pizza mode”. “Pizza mode” is necessary because nine times out of ten, when I am grocery shopping after 4 pm, the person in front of me is buying a frozen pizza. The only baking dish included with our kitchen was a pizza pan. Apparently, Germans will only buy their bread fresh from the baker, but their pizza must be frozen and from the grocery store case.

The stove is similarly wordless, but has a fancy touch interface that, of course, goes haywire if any liquid gets on it:

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This would be merely a fun quirk but for the fact that it has a “lock” function to minimize accidents related to the touch interface. On our first day in the apartment, as we were poking around in our jet-lagged daze, Justin managed to trigger the lock function in such a way that all the cooktop would do was beep loudly and repeatedly. As you can imagine, this was completely insufferable, and thankfully some flailing with the off button (“O” in the picture) turned it off. Since then, this performance has been repeated several times, and one morning I woke and the stove had been successfully locked – possibly via the pernicious act of cleaning the cooktop the night before. Similar to the oven, I finally caved and found an English-language manual, where I learned that unlocking the stove is as simple as pressing both the lock button, the left burner “-” button and the right top burner “+” button (or was it the right back burner “-” and the left front burner “+”? Hope I don’t lock it again, I can’t locate the file with the manual in it.)

The dishwasher clearly has an on/off switch and an “ECO” setting, as you can maybe see in this terrible photo.

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It also has a pretty standard detergent holder, rinse aid, etc. All the other buttons? No clue what they do. Two different ones appear to be timers? One seems to have to do with rack position. All I know is that if you press “ECO” and close the door, the dishes get clean. One time they didn’t, and I was at a loss, so I just ran it again and called it good. Luckily, this performance has not repeated itself, so I stick to ECO and hope for the best.

Our washer/dryer (a single appliance, not uncommon in Europe) is in the guest bathroom, where, rather than being plumbed into the wall, it has a tube for the drain that is placed into the tub when in use. Unlike the kitchen appliances, this one has a surplus of words, to go with a similar-to-the-oven abundance of settings.

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This one, although less inscrutable, offers a bit of “analysis paralysis” – so I just select “Sportswear”, since that’s the only button I could read when we first arrived, and I needed to urgently wash a peed-upon cat carrier. There are three dispenser slots for detergent:

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In the center compartment you can see where I made the fatal error on that first load of laundry of putting the detergent in the center compartment, clearly meant for… not detergent? It’s finally rinsing away as part of… maybe the drying cycle. Although there are several settings for “trockener” (“dryer”), as far as I can tell those result in warm damp clothing instead of tepid damp clothing, so I’ve only used them once or twice. The expectation is that you will hang your clothes to dry, and our apartment owner has kindly furnished us with a drying rack approximately the size of a twin bed. I was sure that drying would take a while in this damp climate, but it seems to only take a day or so per load of laundry. It’s not quite up to Texas summer, when you can dry your clothes in an afternoon by hanging them on the porch, but it’s pretty good.

Justin Goes Biking

On Sunday I went on a bike ride.  And came home with slightly less dignity than before. Here’s the story:

Let’s say for the sake of argument I started on Sunday with a dignity score of zero.

I met up with a local club for a ride.  10 am start.  I leave home at 9, to ride the ten miles to the start.  I repeatedly get lost.  I ride through neighborhoods with my glove hanging out from under my chinstrap so I can operate my phone to get directions while riding.

Dignity: -1

I arrive at the ride start at 10:02.  Everyone’s there and waiting. [Aileen note: Because in Germany, you arrive exactly at the time asked, or five minutes before. No other options.] They say hi, and I spit out…German word-salad because…well. I’m not entirely sure if you know how it goes functioning in a foreign language. But for me, most interactions require a little bit of preparation to go smoothly. You have to dredge up the words and phrases you might need from your hard-drive and put them into RAM, as it were. I hadn’t done that. Boom: word salad.

Dignity: -3

Start riding.  Don’t crash into anyone.  Hold appropriate distance.  Make the right hand signals for (frequent) potholes.  Generally act like I know what I’m doing while riding a bike.

Dignity: -1

Introduce myself to a few other riders and hold halfway decent conversation auf Deutsch for ten-ish minutes.  They seem to like me!  They might even be impressed with my German!

Dignity: +3

After what is termed a “Pinkel-Pause” I get engaged in a conversation with a lawyer at United Technologies who wants to tell me about the 6 months he lived in Manhattan.  We’re having a good time chatting so I fail to pull off the upwind side (where you work harder), despite the fact that both the wind and the pace are getting faster. So basically I’m fatiguing myself, without really noticing because I’m so busy chatting.

Dignity: +3

Hit a 2% uphill grade.  Suffer complete and utter explosion.  Try to shift to little ring, realize my fingers are numb because I only have light gloves on and it’s 37 degrees outside, and I can’t feel anything to try and shift.  Nice guy called Marcus has to come back and pull me along back to the pack.  I last another 10 minutes desperately hiding out of the wind behind the biggest guy I can find.

Dignity: -2

Completely lose every last semblance of energy I ever had.  All I can see is the wheel in front of me.  It’s Marcus.  Everyone else is long gone.  I think we’re going about 10 mph, but I don’t know for sure.  Eventually he pulls over, and pulls a marshmallow out of his pocket and hands it to me, explaining five times that I’m to split it half and chipmunk it into my cheeks but DON’T CHEW!!  This works shockingly well.  I limp along at a slightly increased pace the last 5k to the start.

Dignity: -10

They point me in the direction of the train station, and tell me that I have to come back again next week so that I can get faster.  They’re very nice and pretend that I haven’t made a complete fool of myself.

Dignity: -9

So…uh. Let’s be honest. My dignity is demolished like this every time I leave the house. This was only a little bit worse than usual.  So, of course, I’m sharing my shame with you, because how else to make it better?

Traveling to the EU with a Cat

I write on this topic mainly because I have found previous blogs on this topic to be very helpful in demystifying the whole experience. Most of this is narrative, but I’ll stick some bullets at the end with important pointers.

Background:

We have an elderly (approximately 15 year old) cat that has now lived all over the South and Southwest thanks to both his prior owners and us. We knew he traveled OK by car, but as far as anyone knew, he’d never been on a plane. He’s pretty mellow when seated on your lap, but can be a little skittish in new situations.

To bring a pet to the EU, you must have a current rabies vaccine, and a particular microchip (it must be ISO-certified and has a minimum number of identifying digits). You are required to get an EU certificate of identity (verifying the chip number), health and rabies vaccination within ten days of travel, signed by a USDA-certified vet. This presented a problem to us because our lovely house-call vet (Dr. Bendall, if you’re in Austin) was no longer USDA-certified, so I had to find a local vet clinic (Austin Vet Hospital, also lovely) with a USDA-certified vet who would examine the cat and fill out the certificate. Prior to certification, the cat also had to be re-microchipped with an approved international chip, and then re-vaccinated because the EU insists that the vaccine be done after the microchipping. We had the vaccine and microchipping done in early September, since we thought we were moving pretty soon after that.

Anyway, we booked a vet appointment on the assumption that we would be moving the week we had planned (the second week of January, although as I wrote previously, our plane tickets were not purchased until two days before we left). The cat got a clean bill of health as always, with the vet and staff admiring how young he appeared to be. The vet filled out the certificate, which then had to go to our local USDA office along with a certificate verifying his rabies vaccine. The USDA office luckily was near Justin’s office, and had same-day turnaround to endorse the certificate, making it ready for EU customs.

Now the paperwork was set, what about the plane tickets? Justin had booked us on the most direct route possible, flying Austin to Newark on United and then Newark to Dusseldorf on Lufthansa. When booking, he asked the reservations agent and was assured that he was permitted to bring a pet on both flights (there is usually a cap on the number of pets that can fly in-cabin). However, long experience with airlines has taught us to verify such things. I called United to check (the flights had been booked through Lufthansa) and was rudely informed that no, we could not bring a cat on the United flight because it had been booked as a Lufthansa codeshare, and Lufthansa could not issue us a ticket for that flight that included a booking for a pet. Justin called, and rebooked the exact same itinerary (down to an identical confirmation number), except that now we were booked on the United flight, not on the Lufthansa codeshare (keep in mind, this is the same plane!) Now it was OK to bring a cat on both legs of the trip.

Moving day arrived. We had been advised by veteran cat flyers (my brother and sister-in-law had flown a cat back from Germany after their stint as expats) and the vet that sedating the cat might be a good idea. It was also suggested that it was a good idea to test the sedative on the cat prior to use, but due to the previously-mentioned accelerated timeline, this never happened. We decided to give the cat the sedative and hope for the best. It certainly worked, as approximately twenty minutes later we had what was best described as a drunk cat. He was losing track of his back legs and seemed pretty confused. Still hoping for the best, we shoved him into the carrier and headed off to the airport with our enormous pile of luggage.

The United check-in people were much nicer than their call center had been, and cooed at the cat and admired him while checking our certificate. Note to future travelers – have those certificates handy, you will have to produce them multiple times! We paid a hefty pet fee (in addition to our excess baggage fees) and headed for the part of the airport experience that had worried us both – security. Prior to security, we put the cat into a harness and hooked a leash on him, because we were a little worried he would be skittish and jump for it when out of the carrier. After all those worries, we took him out of the carrier, put the carrier through the X-Ray, and he sat calmly in Justin’s arms for the trip through the metal detector. He then did some people-watching from within the carrier on top of a seat while we caffeinated ourselves at an airport cafe.

On to the first flight! We fit the cat carrier under the seat, and that was when we started to hear sad quiet cat noises from it. He continued sort of a sad keening through a good chunk of the flight, but luckily it was pretty quiet and I don’t think the people around us could hear it. He seemed to be happiest when the carrier was on our laps, but unfortunately we couldn’t do that for the entire flight.

On arrival in Newark, we had to transfer between terminals on a shuttle bus. I got separated from Justin and was juggling both the soft cat carrier and my backpack. Luckily, some guys next to me were entranced by the cat (“It’s like you’re traveling with Garfield, man!”), and made sure the carrier didn’t fall off the seat while I retrieved my backpack before our stop. At the gate for our Lufthansa flight, we made the unpleasant discovery that we needed to pay another three-figure pet-in-cabin fee (and present his health certificate again), so I recommend future travelers doing the same thing stick to one airline if possible.

The overnight flight to Dusseldorf was uneventful. Prior to takeoff, a flight attendant came by to ask us if we were the ones flying with a pet (she kept saying “dog”, even though we corrected her to “cat”, so we chalked that up to a translation error). She wanted us to know that under no circumstances could the pet come out of the carrier, which was no surprise to us, but I guess someone must have done it some time. Anyway, once flying commenced, there were some more sad cat noises, but less than on the first flight – I suspect some of the sad noises were the confusion at the combination of the sedative and the flying. He even slept for part of it, and drank some water when presented with a plastic cup of it through the carrier hatch. When we got up to disembark, the people behind us were amazed to discover we had a cat in a carrier, which confirmed that the sad cat noises were inaudible to other people over the general plane noise. We were thinking of re-sedating him for this flight, but I think not sedating him was the correct choice; he seemed much happier once the sedative had apparently worn off.

Next up was immigration and customs. After we reacquired our embarrassingly large pile of luggage, we headed through customs, going to the ‘something to declare’ section. The Dusseldorf customs agents were not feeling particularly strict at 6 am, and were entertained when we stopped in front of them – we had to point out which piece of luggage held the cat. Once again, we pulled out our EU pet entry certificate. The customs inspectors proceeded to admire the embossing put on it by the USDA, and then marvel at the cat’s age – cooing at him in German that he couldn’t really be that old, could he?

[Side note: my brother and sister-in-law told me that if you are shipping the cat as freight, sometimes you will be asked to declare a value for your cat. We did not have to do this, thankfully, but in case we did, they told us you should value the cat as less than 20 euro to avoid paying taxes on the cat. Honestly, judging by the costs incurred to move the cat, not even mentioning the costs in vet bills, food and litter over the years, I can’t even imagine declaring the cat to have a positive economic value. Positive intangible value, yes, economic, not so much.]

The upside of arriving at 6 am was that the customs inspectors weren’t feeling particularly strict. The downside was that our appointment to get into our apartment wasn’t until 1 pm. What to do until then? Justin had the bright idea of booking us a pet-friendly efficiency hotel room (which I took to calling “the fifty-euro cat and luggage locker”). It was a godsend to have a place to let the cat out of his carrier, wash up, change clothes, and we even splurged on the breakfast buffet. The particular chain we stayed at was Ibis, which worked perfectly for our needs.

Getting the cat out of the carrier in the hotel room led to an unpleasant but not completely unexpected surprise: he had peed on himself in the carrier. He was not happy (and neither was I, since I had picked him up to get him out of it). Justin took his superior German skills off to the closest supermarket (once learning from the hotel clerk that the word for cat litter was “Katzenstreu”). He brought back some foil trays to use as a makeshift litterbox and some litter.

While Justin was off on this errand, I bathed the cat. If you’ve seen a European efficiency hotel room, you can imagine the comic potential here, since the sink was about the same size as our (thankfully) undersized seven pound cat, and there was literally nowhere to turn in the bathroom once he was wet and angry. Luckily he was upset but also kind of shell-shocked by this point, so he made only a cursory attempt to escape his fate and mainly just looked at me sadly while I repeatedly rinsed him off in the sink. Although he was a pitiful sight post-bath, he smelled much better and he cheered up pretty quickly. Once we taxied the cat, us and our luggage to the new house, he discovered new down comforters to sleep on and heated floors to lounge upon, and he’s been pretty happy ever since.

Pet Travel to the EU Tips:

-Utilize your local USDA office: not only did the Austin office have a helpful website, they also were available by phone for quick questions about how to fill out the form, who signs what, etc. They also had a .pdf that had detailed instructions for the EU form, which I printed out and took to the vet office.

-Try to book flights on one airline to avoid double pet fees.

-If you’re going to sedate your pet, try to test it out ahead of time and see if it makes them unhappy. It also could have a paradoxical effect, which you’d probably rather not find out about while on a plane.

-Use disposable pee pads inside the carrier if possible.

-If you’re going to be waiting to get into your apartment, find an inexpensive pet friendly hotel so you can let the pet out to stretch his legs and don’t have to take him on any errands you need to do.

The Backstory

Justin and I had been living in Austin, Texas for four years. He works for a large European utility company, and he had been asking them about opportunities to work overseas pretty much as soon as he realized they were available. A plan was hatched about a year ago to transfer to an office in far-southern Sweden, which was exciting. Sweden was also positive because they offer a “sambo” visa – young Swedes tend not to get married early or… ever, so they’ve evolved a set of legal rules around cohabitation. As Justin and I had been living together for more than two years (and had the cosigned leases to prove it), I would be covered under his visa and would get a work visa of my own. We got cracking on watching Swedish TV shows on Netflix (highly recommend Annika Bengtzon and Wallander) and using our Rosetta Stone Swedish.

It was indicated that we would be moving sometime around Aug-Oct 2014, and accordingly we informed our landlord (who kindly allowed us to go month-to-month, as our lease ended July 2014) and started to get rid of our possessions. As the company was not the main driving force behind this transfer, they did not offer to pay for the move. Therefore, we tried to trim down our possessions to the bare minimum to save money. This was aided by the fact that our landlord was converting the house we were renting to a furnished rental, so we sold couches, chairs, etc to many incoming University of Texas students and lived in the remains while they worked on the house and let us live in minimal furniture.

August passed, and so did September. I was laid off by the startup I was working at, but I wasn’t too worried – we were moving in October, right? October arrived with no concrete moving plans, and then the dreadful news that corporate politics had interfered and we would not be moving to Sweden. What next? As we pondered this, our landlord gave us the word that we had to move out by Oct 31 or we would have a significant increase in our rent. At the same time, rumors began to percolate that there might be an opportunity to move to Germany instead of Sweden. We turned to Craigslist, finding an eccentric furnished rental we could stay in until mid-January. We enlisted some friends to move the remainder of our belongings, and waited and hoped (and applied for other jobs – by this point we were getting a bit sick of Texas anyway).

The rumors turned out to be true; as part of a corporate reorganization, some members of Justin’s department were being moved to Germany. He petitioned to be included in that cohort, and he was. By the time the paperwork was sorted out, it was December, and we were out of places to live on January 15th, with the long holiday break in between, and no air tickets or relocation plans. We scrambled to get some estimates to move our minimal possessions and sell our cars. It was around mid-December that I started comparing the move to an out-of-control train – it was happening no matter what, and it could be clean, or it could be messy. The upside of moving to Germany was that it was a company-supported move, which allowed us the freedom to spend a little more money (and gave us the help of a professional relocation firm). We indulged in getting our bicycles airfreighted, as we were not going to have any other means of transportation.

The downside of moving to Germany was getting a visa for me. Germany is not quite as socially liberal as Sweden, and I could not show up as an unemployed person with a boyfriend with a job. It became apparent in discussions with the relocation firm that Justin and I would have to finally tie the knot. Justin realized this during a teleconference at 6 AM one Monday morning, and imparted it to me at 7 AM as I was headed out the door to jury duty, a truly romantic moment. At this point, it was apparent that we had to move in January, and there was really no time to do anything but go to the courthouse.

This realization happened on a Monday, we broke the news to our families on Tuesday and Wednesday, and on Thursday we went for a wedding license. Our friends in Austin found this whole story hilarious (a typical comment was “This is the most ‘you’ way this could have worked out”) and were excited to serve as witnesses. The next Monday, Justin cut out of work a little early and we met up at the courthouse (glamorously, he walked to our wedding, and I rode the bus with a backpack full of camera, marriage license, my grandmother’s shawl, etc.) The judge was a little perturbed that we had no requests for our ceremony and that we didn’t even have rings. We tried to explain the time crunch involved, and came up with the compromise that we would exchange the two rings that I was wearing at that moment – this was pretty comical because I have very undersized hands, and my ring did not even make it over Justin’s first knuckle. We celebrated by taking a Lyft taxi to a local wine bar for happy hour, and that was that – we were married. We are planning a family celebration in the fall.

Part of our winter vacation was spent sorting out move logistics – pickup of possessions, cleaning service on rental house, veterinary appointment for the cat, etc. Due to some paperwork snafus, we could not purchase plane tickets until two days prior to the move. As we also had to move a cat (more about this in a future entry), that was cutting it close, and we had to rebook them because initially we were booked in a code-share that did not allow pets. In addition, to my everlasting sadness, the short notice meant that we could not book business class tickets. Alas. We got the tickets, got our possessions packed up, and moved out of Austin on January 15th, the one-month anniversary of our courthouse ceremony.

-Aileen