I have sheets!

Over the past several days I've been working to improve my bedroom through the acquisition of simple things like bedsheets, which isn't as easy as it might be, given that I am trying to do it all in German.

The first difficult was in finding the bedsheets store.

Rather than doing the sensible thing and packing every conceivable sales item into a single monolithic warehouse in the middle of a square mile of asphalt parking lot with burning flourescent lights imitating the sun all night along and burning flourescent lights inside blinding you built somewhere out beyond the edge of town where it's only accessible by cars (bring a spare gas canister) and open 25hrs a day, eight days a week, 400 days a year with some smiling old person who greats you when you come in but you wonder if the smile's on the inside too because you think maybe these people aren't getting paid enough and you wander forever in the labyrinthine aisles with a cart the size of a humvee which fills up with things you'd forgotten that you didn't know that you needed until you get to the cash register and some clerk with RSI scans the items and yes I'll pay for that with plastic and you leave with plastic bags of which California uses 19 billion a year, the Germans instead build a separate store for every conceivable item. Each store is in town and within walking distance, but it's only accessible if you know where it is.

So I spent an afternoon asking people at work until I had a good idea of which store it was. Alas, the first day I found the store it was closed and a sign on the door said it would be closed by 6:30PM every day, except for Sundays when it would simply be closed all day.

So one gumptuous day, I leave from work around mid-morning and enter the store and see that they indeed have bedsheets. But I do not buy them because I suddenly remember that I have come to town to pay rent for my apartment.

Biking across town, I come to the rental office. I had visited here the previous week and figured things out. The building is non-descript and the door unmarked, unless Germans have some secret sign I do not know. Inside there is a little hallway with four doors coming off of it, none of them marked and I was reminded of Gandalf in Moria. But the first door I knocked on let into an office where a very large lady was sitting at a desk surrounded by papers. At first, I had trouble making the purpose of my visit clear, but Ping had lent me a copy of her lease and, with that produced, things got underway easily and we agreed that I would return on Monday at 10AM to sign the contact.

Now on Monday I'm back in the office and we're trying to figure things out, but this time it's more complicated because there is money to be exchanged and forms to be filled out. I do fine right up until the end when she tries to explain that the building's caretaker needs to sign the form as well, then we pull up Google and try to type back and forth, but even that is insufficient and, eventually, she says she'll take care of that signature herself.

My favourite word from this conversation is Bargeld, which means cash. It's a derivative of Geld which means money. But I can't help but think of it as meaning Bar-money.

300€ lighter, I have no more Bargeld and thus repair to the bank where I learn that neither the DAAD nor IBA have given me money yet (not that I had expected them too) and that the account is six dollars negative due to the set-up charge. Fortunately, there is an ATM, from which I withdraw what I hope will be my last installment of American-sourced cash for the trip, the transnational ATM fee being quite expensive.

I then return to the bedsheet store and pull out my dictionary, which turns out to be useless in the face of words such as Bettlaken and Bettwäsche. And how wide is my bed? Rather than using sensible terms such as twin, double, queen, king, squire, triplet, and dictator for their bed sizes, the Germans use measurements. As if people have tape measures. And they use the metric system, which my brain is convinced makes no sense… all evidence to the contray. Is my bed 100, 135, or 150cm wide?

But the store has model beds on display and eventually I find one that looks familiar: 100cm it is! I'm making progress figuring out the sheets when a frustrated-looking store lady passes by and, immediately thereafter, a storeman with broken English shows up. Together, with our Gerlish, we find a bottom sheet and also a cover for the blanket that came with my apartment, as well as the überpillow. But then things get complicated. Even with all my Germand and all his English, there is something we can't make sense of, but eventually it dawns on the both of us:

the Germans do not have a top sheet

Incredible. I suppose one day they will develop top-sheet technology, but it hasn't happened yet. It'll be nice to get out of my sleeping bag, but will it be possible to sleep without the correct combination of sheets? We shall see.

Coat hangers are, fortunately, much easy to describe. “Do you have something I can hang my jacket on?” coupled with an artistic air-drawing suffices.

I had another “adventure” recently. The adventure of the lightbulbs. I had previously found a small hardware store which had halogen bulbs for an economical price—much more economical than the compact flourescents or the LED bulbs. I had bought two of these and put one in the living room and the other in Madisen's bedroom. As a result, I no longer think it will be necessary to paint the living room in order to make it liveable precisely because it no longer looks like a dungeon.

Therefore, I bought another bulb hoping the same effect could be applied to my bedroom. Imagine then my surprise when this bulb—the same bulb I'd bought before—didn't work in the bedroom, the living room, or Madisen's room. Had I damaged it by placing it in my backpack which, admittedly, is not the safest place for a bulb? I put it in my backpack again and returned to the store the next day.

The store people are accepting that a bulb might not work, but then they place it in a conveniently-located lightbulb tester they have at their desk and, 'lo, it works! They still let me exchange it though for a bulb which is 10 cents more. Which I test before leaving the store.

But now I'm walking a dangerous line. I've noticed that my fixture is rated for 40W. The first bulb was for 42W, which I thought may have been a contributing problem. But 42W is within the safety factor that the lightbulb-holder-engineer would have built in. Is 46W still safe? Knowing engineers (literally), the safety factor is probably something like 6, but still… I ask.

Speaking a foreign language is a little like archery, I have decided. You carefully craft some arrows sentences before hand, which takes some time, draw them back up in your mind, which takes time, and then let them fly and hope they hit somewhere near on the target of comprehension. Problem is, one can't perform a similar feat to prepare for the response and there are only a limited number of arrows before you are stringing words together haphazardly. Where you go from shooting well-aimed arrows at definite targets to waving your hands at a horde of bees.

There are three store employees behind the counter and all of them begin to reply in concert. Everything gets muddied, I lose the train of conversation, and only one word pops out “Feuer” otherwise known as fire. To be sure, I ask them, “Wird dies ein Feuer machen?” They all look at me in horror, hold up their hands in the universal waving motions of “surely not” and pepper me with more conversational fragments which I don't understand.

Very well.

Later that night, I find that the bulb does indeed work. And, to date, it has not burnt the house down.

Another adventure was searching for sticky tape. Traveling and living in new places is taxing on one's sense of identity, perhaps especially so for me as my memory is heavily geographic in nature. If I can't remember where something took place, oftentimes I'll have difficulty remembering it at all. This is a problem when I think back over a week and try to remember what I've done. If I've done something in a place I've never or rarely been to before, I might not find that place in my mind and will therefore be unable to remember what happened there. It's not unusal then for there to be a little delay as I mentally fly around trying to find places.

A corollary is that being in a place I've been before brings strong memories to mind and being in a place I haven't been before can make it more difficult to remember other places. Thus, being in Heilbad is strongly disassociating, which I try to counter by putting pictures on my walls of people I know and places I have been. I carry an increasingly-thick package of these pictures with me for this purpose.

But, in order to hang pictures, one needs adhesive. Fortunately, I pass the office supply store on my way to and from work, so I knew where it was and I knew that it would be open when I dropped by one day.

I was browsing through the store looking for the tacky stuff I usually hang my pictures up with. It's nice because it comes off again afterwards facilitating future travel and usage of the pictures. A few minutes later, I hadn't found it, but wasn't about to give up. This was when the Helpful Employee Man—the owner, actually, his nametag matched the name on the shop—showed up and asked if I needed help.

This is a dilemna. If I say no, I might find what I'm looking for in another minute or two and everything will be fine. If I say yes, I'll have an Interaction.

Foolishly I choose the later, not realizing that there is a fundamental problem: I have no idea how you identify this tacky stuff in English. What I'm looking for is a bluish, grayish gooy tacky putty ball with a cooking-dough-like consistency with which you can hang things on a wall and then take them off again. I have never asked anyone in the States for this. I have always simply wandered around a store until I either found or have not found it. I realize my problem as soon as I try to explain this to the store man, who thinks of several kinds of tapes immediately. Several minutes of difficult exchanges in Gerlish later, he fetches a telephone and calls another German who speaks slightly more English. This results in my getting double-sided sticky tape. It's not ideal, but it will work.

Having purchased the tape, I have a sudden thought and they lend me their computer. Which is when I discover that even the internet does not know what this stuff is from its description. It takes not seconds, but minutes to find it. So, for future reference, it is called


And this is a link to the English wiki page and this is a link to the German wiki page. And what does the English wiki page say? It says, “Blu-tack reusable putty-like pressure-sensitive adhesive”. In other words, even wiki can't describe it well.

Once they see the German wiki page, which has brand names, they all make the “of course” sound and retrieve it from its place in the store, just a few feet from where I was when I was asked if I needed help.

Check if this is a private message just for Richard:

Krista - Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 09:48:38 (PDT)
Nope, Germans (Europeans, as far as I know) don't have top sheets. Instead, they have various weights of blankets that can be covered in washable cover-slips. They're kind of like pillowcases for blankets, and often button to close at the open end.