Grand Canyon – The Beast

Our trip to the Grand Canyon was a day-long bus tour we took starting out in Vegas. Since we were planning on a 4-day-vacation only, we decided that one day in the Canyon might be enough! WORST JUDGEMENT EVER! If I were to choose between the Canyon and Vegas, I would have scooped more time into the nature part of our trip and wouldn’t even have bothered about staying in Sin City for too much longer. Well, I guess now I know for the next time.

I cannot express in words how great the Big Canyon really is. I hope my pictures can speak for themselves. Unfortunately they were taken with a point-and-shoot camera only. For your trip down there I would recommend taking a more professional equipment with you (if you are about as picture-crazy as I am). The scenery is even worth renting a camera kit for this occasion.

McDonalds in the desert

Our day started quite early with a shuttle picking us up from the Bally’s at 6AM. Then we were driven to the downtown part of Vegas and hustled inside our real tour bus. All together it took our group a rough 4 and a half hours of driving time to arrive at our first destination (the South Rim). The tour guide/bus driver made 3 stops along the way: First McDonalds (of course, quality food), then a resort in the middle of nowhere, where we could gulp down our lunch (included in the tour package). After this came a rest stop, just for the fun of it (and the chance to buy some authentic Indian jewelry at an amateur Navajo stand along the road).

Jose, our tour guide, was a fun guy, with a great sense of humor. He dropped us off at two locations where we had about an hour each to enjoy the scenery and walk around. This sums up to ca. 2 hours of panorama; an additional hour was spent inside a tourist attraction store – completely overpriced, naturally. But you were able to purchase some colored rocks for 5 bucks a piece – isn’t that a “great” deal?!

On our way back to Vegas we were able to see the completed bridge over the Hoover Dam. This was an awesome view, too, but it was too dark to bother about taking a picture. By the way, it completely resembled the scene in the movie Fools Rush In back in 1997.

Las Vegas – Living La Vida Loca

Welcome to Las Vegas

Vegas! Sin City! Paradise for gamblers, partie folks, rich people, and persons who like to travel but cannot afford to, and, thus, find a miniature version of various countries one next to another.
It’s been about a month since I made my trip out to Las Vegas, Nevada, together with my roommate and a carry-on suitcase, ready to have a good time and regenerate my cells from the New York hectic world.
All in all, it was an eventful trip and I’m sure I will check it out again whenever I head out West. We booked our flights 3 weeks ahead of time and got what I consider a good deal for the Easter-Weekend we were planning on going. Our hotel was the Bally’s , which I would recommend to anyone traveling on a budget and still wanting a nice trade-off compared to price. We ended up getting a room for two for only $20 per person a night (hey, not even a HOSTEL can top this) and had a view on the pool of the Paris Hotel and the “Eiffeltower.” Just pretty amazing, if you ask me! I’m not sure if we were in luck or if those are their normal off-season prices.

Hotel Pool

Anyhow, the end of April is a GREAT time to make your trip out to Vegas: The weather is not as hot as it supposedly gets during summer months (our average was 80 degrees a day), and it is not as cool as the months before. You can walk around without suffering a heat stroke and during nights a pullover or jacket is more than enough to keep you warm.

What I found quite surprising was the high amount of Brits and German-speaking individuals wandering around on the Strip, most of the time aimless and intoxicated. It reminded me of the concept of Ballerman or Ibiza for you have the same target groups (Brits and Germans), only Vegas is more high-class and has the great hotel-casinos. These are, by the way, very originally made and some are surprisingly similar to what they are representing. Forget the miniature copies of Europe, e.g. Little Venice or Paris Hotel, those are not authentic at all, but the New Yorker was a great remodel of its big counterpart. It reminded me of my current city in every aspect : You went from Midtown straight to the Village straight to the Financial District. All in 2 minutes! Great job to those who invented it! Another good one from the outside is the Excalibur: A mixture between cartoon figure castle and Disneyland. Really a pleasure to look at.


So, besides a one-day-trip to the Grand Canyon, we spent most of our time wandering around the Strip. That is after we managed to roll ourselves out of bed, check out the Bally’s hotel pool, find breakfast/brunch/lunch, and then get ready to explore. It was mostly around noon when we were ready for the Strip and I do have to say that 4 days of Vegas-awesomeness are simply not enough! It takes you a lot longer than you think to walk those entire 4.2 miles down the Strip, not including many attractions and see-worthy things offered by the hotels. We should have done it like the Brits and stayed for 9 days straight… Maybe the next time!

Lion @ the MGM

The MGM was one of my favorites: Aside from the Lions and a bright aquarium it offered many interesting shows all around the theme “movies.” We participated in a research study about a new TV show, and I guess our votes went towards the “Yes “or “No” of it being aired. Together with the votes of a representative sample of other participants, too, of course.

From there we went straight to the “Welcome to Las Vegas”-sign. Yup, that’s right, we walked! And you can do this, contrary to many Americans telling us this is an impossible thing to do. We didn’t have a plan figured out, though, so we ended up taking the RITC bus towards the Vegas Outlet, and then walked from the Town Square to the sign. It would have been the same distance than walking straight from the Strip. The trip was well worth it, as we got to take a picture of one of Vegas’ ultimate symbols, but other than that don’t bother about trying. Really!

Las Vegas Sign

Use your time for something more productive, such as …shows! And, alas, another aspect of this city which makes me want to come back. You can get a hold of free tickets for some shows if you go to the box office early enough (special deals are advertised at your hotel). A great place to get tickets from are the random ticket vendors along the Strip which are advertising a big discount. We managed to grab two for the Chippendales show on Sunday for half the price we would have paid online. So, yes, it is worth checking out their deals, even though they look like huge scam boxes. Chippendales was the only show we made it to. And it was fantastic. Never been entertained better for one and a half hours of my life than in this privatized room up at the Rio’s. Girls, you SHOULD NOT miss out on them!
The Rio Hotel is not very nice, though, it is rather rundown, the waitresses are unfriendly and the clientele seems to consist of shady, seedy, broke people without manners. Which is the running gag throughout entire Vegas, of course, but to a bigger degree in the Rio.

I am not much of a gambler (I won 5 dollars in a 1ct slot machine on my third try!) but we checked out a couple of clubs not too far from our hotel. First we went to “The Bank” located inside the famous Bellagio (don’t forget to catch the fountain show, so amazing!), but we didn’t like the group of people that particular night. Marquee is a hot insider tip, once you manage to get in; it can be found inside the Cosmopolitan.
Pure nightclub was a goody for our last night out, as we went searching for a new spot. Located right next to us in the Caesar’s Palace, and playing really entertaining music which got the crowd started. Most clubs offer promotion deals for females, so it really is not hard to find something for a fair price. You mostly don’t need to pay a cover charge and sometimes they give you drinking coupons on top of this. And yes, the myth is true, drinking alcohol is allowed on the streets throughout Vegas. I know Americans are not used to this, but Europeans would only roll their eyes and continue on drinking their 20 oz beer.

Food is another issue, though. And when I mean issue, I mean PROBLEM if you’re planning on staying for longer. I suppose it is relatively cheap if you consider the fact that tons of pounds are being flown into the desert at a relative cost. But if you’re not into deep-fried meals, then you will have an incredibly hard time finding something affordable and tasty.

French Buffet @ Paris Hotel

We tried out the French Buffet at the Paris Hotel! Go there! It is the best food we found, you get a lot of different things for your money’s value, plus it seems relatively healthy. We also tried out some Mexican places, but weren’t really impressed. Maybe it’s all my fault, though, as I am still used to quality food from Europe… O well and too bad!

Coming to a finish, it was a great trip, too short of a stay, and totally worth revisiting! Just for the shows, the fun, the weather, the people, and the one and only SIN CITY!

Fountains at the Bellagio

Off to Beantown!

Last Saturday afternoon. Birds are chirping while people are passing by or lying on the grass. The sun is not at its full height, but just about right for us to catch some rays as my friend and I are walking around, trying to get to know the area better. We are in Boston, one of the oldest colonial cities on the East Coast, one of the remainders of the first 13 colonies, and filled with monuments, churches, and ruins depicting American history before the Revolution and after.
I just came back from a lovely (albeit too short of a) weekend I spent in Beantown. It was my second time I visited but it will always be worth coming back. The first time I drove up in March of this year: It was still cold but the sun was beaming and I had, aside from having to wear my winter gear, a great time exploring the Commons, the Square, Harvard, Charlestown with the Navy Yard, and the Harbor. Please find some pictures beneath from my first trip.

boston monument
Harvard Comedy Club

boston touristy trolley

I’m not here to bore you about the historical facts and figures you can probably look up on the Internet in a glimpse anyways. So aside from the usual sightseeing tour I had the chance to go out in Cambridge, sleep over in Cambridge (thank you Sophie for being such a great host to Tom and I!), and to check out some other hotspots (not necessarily in Cambridge). My friend and I happened to stop by at another friend’s place and not far from her house there is Massachusetts Avenue close to Central Square which offers great nightlife for young people (but also suits an older crowd, in case you wondered). We ended up standing in line for the Zuzu’s,which turned out to be a really fun dance-bar with great American music. Not the typical Top-100-charts-music, but original, almost forgotten, American oldies from long long ago. The DJ that night mixed these pieces in various styles and everyone seemed to have a great time shaking it off on the dance floor. In case you’re claustrophobic, though, you shouldn’t bother showing up after a certain time, because this hotspot gets PACKED from 12AM on. And when I say packed, I mean crammed-full, body-touchy, dancing-against-strangers packed. Just for your information.

There is another bar right next to it on the right side (right as seen in entering the club, not exiting). This pub was less crowded and offered an entertaining live music band rocking the house. Also, there was no cover charge to get in, whereas Zuzu charges you a fee of $5 (and guys, this is really not a lot; I’m guessing a bunch of spots over there have student-friendly prices!). In case you get hungry, just cross the street and there will be a pizza joint open until everything closes down (which in Boston is, regretfully, an early 2AM. Welcome to the typical States-side closing hours… *grrrr*). Of course nothing compared to Brooklyn pizza, but on the bright side the prices are cheaper.

The next day we went for brunch. In case you didn’t know, brunch is a BIG thing in New York and Boston offers some great deals, too. I’m not so sure about the rest of the States, but I have seen some great offers on the East Coast, at least when you stay in the Northern part. Brunch differs from Germany, as it is from 11 to 4PM (or 3PM in Boston). You don’t usually have an unlimited buffet, but the food is still great and the portions are big. Especially in Boston – I think I just stopped eating after a while with a third of my plate still filled with pancakes and eggs (this rarely happens, I can eat for two if I have to!). We went to Johnny D’s,also in Cambridge, and sometimes it has a live-band playing, or at least music tooteling in the background. It is a bright, open room, very nicely decorated and with many servers bustling around. Make sure you don’t miss out on a parrot-sized drink (a 20 oz cup meant for mimosas or other champagne mixtures).

Parrot-sized Mimosa

Another place to check out just to see what sorts of (sometimes disgustingly greasy) food they have is the most touristy house ever: Quincy Market.
Pretty close to the Boston Commons, and if you come from that direction you might be lucky to catch some street performers and other artists doing a great job in entertaining people in front of the building. We saw two guys who pulled of a brilliant circus show worth the stop!
Also, Little Italy reminds me (sadly to admit) more of Italy than the one in New York. It has more blocks, more room to grow, and is great for stopping by and inhaling Italian flair. Don’t get too caught up by brands or popular restaurants and bakeries, I am not sure the line is really worth the wait. And it was a huge line when we stopped by…
Another great area to visit is…tadaa…. Chinatown. You might happen to walk by if you take the Chinatownbus from New York (a very convenient mean of travel at a reasonable price!). We stopped by at the Hei La Moon, a nice restaurant with HUGE portions of good-tasting chinese food! Really! If you feel like a dessert afterwards, try the 101 Bakery on 56 Beach Street just down the street (past the Arch). And while you’re there, don’t miss out on some honey-cake or the other flavors they offer. I have seldomly tasted pastries as fluffy as there. And I am from Germany (need to say more? haha)…

What I like about Boston is that you can walk to many places, despite some native Bostoners being completely horrified at the thought of this. Yeah, yeah, the goold old car can take you anywhere, or the T (subway), but walking is so much better in catching up the flair of this nice town.

And, to end this description, Harvard is a bit disappointing. I would have expected a bigger campus, a more glorious appearance,more students – in short: a more spectular place. It was surprisingly small but nonetheless definitely worth the visit.

Harvard Campus

So, what I really love about this city is the young student flair you breathe in as soon as you step of the bus and the high amount of toned and fit people you see because of the high density of many big universities in one spot.
Horray for Beantown!

7 Tips on Blogging

I know, I know what you are thinking! Only two weeks into the blogging process and she wants to give us tips on blogging?! Yes, I agree, credibility-wise maybe not the best! Sorry I cannot show you some well-deserved 5 years of experience. Or 100 blog posts to prove my point. I have merely come to see after 2 weeks of blogging that there are some pitfalls to watch out for and that the following can be taken as suggestions meant to help you become better at what you are already doing excellently! So, what I have come to find is:

1) If you have a topic, don’t push it off or wait too long to write about it!
A mistake made not only by beginners but maybe also by people who have a limited time for writing or other priorities (don’t we all have those!). And by the way, this can be said about all types of writing, from updating your private journal, composing a letter, spelling out an E-Mail, creating your own book and so on …. It is always best to write down the idea as long as it is still fresh in your head and it hasn’t been distorted by other memories interfering with it. If you wait too long, you might be at risk for forgetting the main points or the story won’t come out as smooth and well-written as you wanted it the first day you thought about it (You should have seen my draft inbox – I’ve made a point of either writing them out or discarding them right away, otherwise the posts would cluster up and never get done).

2) Make a list of topics …
…you want to discuss in your blogs or write out the main points of some stories and experiences you want to include in your online identity. This is of advantage for two reasons: First, it helps in sorting your thoughts and finding new, exciting topics while writing them down. You cannot imagine the amount of themes I wanted to discuss the first day I started writing and how I had to pause myself for a sec and to negotiate in only writing one piece a day (which until now has accumulated to a great average of 4 posts a week, not bad, don’t you think?!) Second, in case you are experiencing a case of the writer’s block (very common after party-weekends, sad moments, or in unstimulating environments) you will always have a back-up of ideas you can rely on. Matter of fact, I haven’t finished one third of the topics I included on my list and every time I want to get back to it, it seems like a new topic comes to mind, which I have to attend to first.

3) Give your post some time to proofread!
You should write what comes to your mind, but then you should also give it significant time to settle until you get back to the editing and proofreading part. Don’t write, look over it, and post. Spotting most of your mistakes will usually require you to be away from the post for a few hours; after reading your work again you might notice the finer errors. Best case scenario: Have someone else proofread your thoughts. I know this is mostly not possible for various reasons (and I did not mean copyright issues!), so just do some other work until you get back to the writing part. By the way, this is not only true for a word blog, but also when you include images. The order of the pictures might look better a certain way then when you initially posted it, so allow yourself some time of distraction and then come back to see if it still looks like a creative piece of art or needs some correction.

4) Write whatever you want! But be respectful!
Write what comes to your mind, post what expresses your deepest desires, compose whatever will make you feel better. Just be aware that, unless you didn’t select the “private” option, your ideas will float out into space and eventually reach other human beings, who might be curious to see what your page is about. And yes, after decades have passed since the internet was invented, there still exists something like an online etiquette, even though some people have appeared to forgotten what this means. If you want others to appreciate what you have written, then you have to be respectful to at least the same degree you would want others to be towards you. And, to take it a step further, you should not leave it at that, but start your courtesy at a level well above your normal buddy standards.

5) Be creative!
I believe there is nothing more boring than those awful 2 sentence posts people come up with just for the heck of posting something or because they cannot find the courage to delete their account. These are mostly the pages that are dead and inactive after a few months of blogging. So senseless, if you ask me! If you don’t have anything to post about, then come up with a great story. Or tell us about your life, I am sure it is not as boring as you think it is. Everyone expresses themselves in a different way. In case you haven’t noticed, I like to write lengthy blogs filled with a lot of information. Others care for having a picture blog to show the world where they have been on their travels or what their hometown looks like. There are a bunch of great ideas! My friends have opened up a combination of both while roadtripping through the entire US: They have included their great stories and rounded it off with some well-shot pictures!

6) Don’t take too much time “off”!
I know there are always occasions in which you cannot help it but refrain from blogging. Motherhood. Traveling without access to a computer. Not being near civilization. Blogging blues. A new job, relationship, move to another city. Yes, there are many reasons. But the longer the intervals between the blogs get, the harder it is to find back to the rhythm you had before. It takes motivation to write on a regular basis, I agree. Having an extended readership base or knowing that someone is following you is always helpful. But you have to do some things on your own sometimes and that is to pull yourself together and do as excellent a job as you did before! Just follow the tips until this point, and you’ll be just fine. Promise!

7) Don’t forget the fun factor!
Last, but not least (hehe), don’t forget that this is not a test or a pain in the butt which you have to endure. This is all about showing others what you want to share and what you have come up with in your gorgeous head while sitting in front of a computer. If jotting down a few words seems like a torture or posting images does not go hand in hand with your time limits, then there is not much sense in having something like this. But really don’t take criticism too seriously- after all, it’s about what you create and how you see things that will make your posts a pleasure to follow.

Reflecting Thoughts on a Year Abroad

Samar and I @ Brooklyn Bridge
Sushi Bar Tribeca
Magnolia Bakery

My second year in New York has come around about 2 and a half months ago. It’s weird how it differs from the first 12 months over here.

The first year abroad was crazy, chaotic, and stuffed with one event after another. Every season had its different highlights, and different things to do. Especially this time of the year was very eventful. First of all, it was the beginning 3 months, and so much exploring, job-seeking, apartment-hunting, friend-making had to be done. Just the thought of having to stay in my apartment for longer than necessary made me feel at unease because I was convinced I would be missing out on life outside. To give the weather some credit, it was one of the most amazing early springs and summers you could dream of for your first stay in a new city. As far as I remember, the end of April and the beginning of May were hitting it off well in the mid-80s (equivalent to 26 degrees Celsius and up). Just a beautiful atmosphere for sightseeing, wandering around, and discovering new parts in the City. Not to mention an early beach visit in April already and tanning by the end of May. You definitely couldn’t top that, even though it was the precursor for the many, consistent heat waves New York was suffering in 2010. At the same time Europe and specifically Germany was not having too much fun in their summer months, which made me appreciate NYC’s weather even more.

Second, it was also a time of turmoil and many deep reflections. The beginning phase was the most crucial one as it was about deciding on the length of my stay: It was up to either a six months time limit or a stay lasting one year and longer. As you can tell, I took the second option and am still here. But I have to admit that it is still a time of reflecting and thinking when it comes to determining how long I will be in New York. I know I will not stay forever or for long – those 8 years of New Yorkness I have seen in others scare the crap out of me.
It is up to the future, of course, and the opportunities that will come around. Finishing up with school is a crucial factor, which I cannot and will not push off for too much longer, and, therefore, it is just a matter of time when I will hit the road again. However, one of the initial feelings has stayed with me until now: The insecurity and indetermination when it comes to knowing when this experience and adventure will end. Which gives me a different feel for life over here. I consider it to be the base of a better, more positive outlook than the one I had before, especially when living in Germany. It gives me the strength and the perspective to appreciate everything that comes along and to see things in a brighter light, even though times are rough over here on occasion. I learned that the present moment is the most important part of our journey and that there is no need to place too much emphasis on the past and the future. Most of the things I need to be happy I already have or I am dreaming of. And dreams are there to be chased.

Third, the degree of contact is another thing I have come to notice in terms of relationships and keeping in touch with my friends from overseas: It has, sadly, diminished over the year, but, on the bright side, this doesn’t seem to affect our feelings we have for each other. I have had a few visitors over while being here. Some were friends I hadn’t seen in 3 years, mostly UWF folks

Sarah and I in Midtown

(thanks, Sarah for stopping by, reconnecting, and introducing me to Amanda!), some were acquaintances I hadn’t really been friends with from the beginning, some were family members who decided to reconnect on this part of the world (thanks, cousins!). Others were friends from Germany I hadn’t seen in a year and who I had known since kindergarten or high school. But I hadn’t had the chance to meet most of the folks from Europe again, since I haven’t paid my home a visit – yet. However, E-Mails and Skype helped a lot in the beginning. Not only in eliminating home sickness, but also in keeping each other updated on everyone’s progress and life. I have come to find, though, that those people who really want to stay in touch, always find a way to do so, and that those who have gone on to a different stage of life have found a way to lose sight. Which is perfectly fine, this is the normal cycle of friendship, I suppose. After one year it seems hard on both sides to keep writing updates and telling each other some new stuff. However, I know that I will always be able to rely on certain people, even though I haven’t heard from them in almost six months (yes, you know who I am talking about! haha). It is more important to be able to have a good time when meeting up again and feeling that, albeit many things have happened, not much has changed, and not much will affect the relationship. I am proud to say that I do have some friends who will fit into this category and this makes me master the hard times over here so much better.

The older I get, the more I come to see that it is easier to meet new people, start some small talk, and maybe even keep in touch than it was when I was younger. I have been able to find some new friends over here, too – some of which have stayed, some of which have gone back to their home country. However, I cannot shake of the impression that my purest and deepest friendships have their roots in the past and have been formed many years ago. Which makes the circumstance that I am still friends with some of these even more special. And if a visit to far-far-away has made me form this conclusion, it was definitely worth the trouble. I therefore thank you for being there, although you are not here in person. You have helped a lot!

Certain People…

You have them everywhere, not only in New York. I just happen to notice a heightened presence of them since I came here, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much. I have walked around with my eyes wide open ever since I set foot into this city and maybe my perception of things has changed to a more sensitive style. Either way, I haven’t stopped noticing this crowd of people which can be grouped into their very own category. I call them “people who are there to make you feel bad”: Certain individuals who want you to feel insecure and miserable about yourself because they themselves are not satisfied with their own life, body, current situation. It is incredible what an almost complete stranger will say to you, be it either on the train, in the streets, or at work. There is the lady that bumps into you and demands you to move aside instead of offering an excuse. There is the guy who yells something nasty at you while he is riding by on his bike instead of just minding his own business. There is the colleague who summons you to a tedious job instead of just doing it herself.

“Okay,” you might think, “What do I care about someone I don’t know? I can just brush it off or reply something back if someone gets fresh at me in public!” You are indeed very right. The biggest danger comes from people who are close to you, persons you have let into your life, folks who have earned your respect and have been trustworthy in your eyes – at least to a certain degree. It can be a co-worker you are friendly with, your roommate, your partner, your friend, or your family.

You cannot imagine some situations I have observed while walking through Manhattan. It is quite unbelievable how people behave in public in a big city like this. I remember one incident very well as if it were yesterday: A couple came out of a store, fighting already. At first I didn’t want to intervene and just stood on the side, some distance away. As the situation developed it appeared that the man was not treating his girlfriend too well, insulting her in a bad tone. She eventually started crying and didn’t want to get into a cab with him. The man grabbed the shopping bags from her (he probably thought he had the right to do this since he paid for the clothes) and wanted to force her to get into the car. Eventually he noticed that a few people had stopped and were observing the scene. Meanwhile the woman was so upset and in tears, she wouldn’t go anywhere. He shouted a last “Everyone is looking at you already!” at her, and then made his way home, turning around a couple of times while he got into the cab to see if she would follow him. This was one of those situations in which I couldn’t believe how badly some women let themselves being treated by their partners. Not enough that he had humiliated her in front of complete strangers, but he also wanted to make it look like it was her fault! I have seen other scenes, though, in which women just didn’t speak up or let themselves be (verbally) abused by someone close to them. And I wouldn’t be too surprised if this man were to pull off something even meaner towards his girlfriend as soon as they entered their house.

Well, this might be an extreme situation, others are more subtle. In general, people seem more self-centered and full of themselves than elsewhere. Those traits by themselves are not bad, of course, but they don’t help in terms of building an equal friendship in which sharing worries and listening to friends’ problems are the standard. Some persons get real cranky as soon as the topic shifts away from them and a different problem/person/real worry is discussed. It seems like they are suffering from attention-deprivation as soon as the spotlight switches to someone else. This, of course, leads to envy and jealousy, both characteristics which you can feel in the air. It is really a pity that so many intelligent people have themselves blinded by their one-sidedness and their little worries of life instead of just getting the gist of it all: To enjoy as much time as possible, to be happy you are a healthy individual, and to care for others. But no, not only do they make their own lives miserable by being egocentric, but they also try to get only the best out of you and to steal your precious time with insignificant little things so unimportant to anyone but themselves.

NYC charade

I agree with some peoples’ opinion that New York is one big theatre: People are always trying to pull off a show, in which they are the sole main character. The crazier you are over here and the more eccentric you can make your story, the better. This is, of course, very interesting in the beginning, but once you come to understand that almost everyone has originated from a “very special background” and views themselves as something so unique it is “too good to be true”, you start becoming tired and annoyed and yearn for someone who is just as normal as you are, without the charade! Someone who is unashamed of not wanting to make the big bucks, someone who is unaware that their middle-income family does not fit the 21st century fashion, someone who cares about others to about the same degree they would about themselves.

NYC Job Search Craziness (Part 1)

I went to an interview yesterday. A job interview. My first one in May and one of my first ones of this season. Actually I have been on a constant, enduring, never-ending job search since I came to this lovely place. I remember my crazy first 6 weeks here and the time it took me to sort out less than a handful of (unserious) interviews until I decided to go be a waitress for a while. This lasted for 2 months – waitressing really sucks in New York! After this episode I have been on a long, long, long search for that one lucky spot that will end all of my problems in my life, and leave me with a feeling of eternal happiness and satisfaction….
Well, a job that would get rid of my financial problems, let me live out my creativity, not bore me to death, and not make me work unfair overtime hours would be a good start for now. I haven’t found what I am looking for – yet. The New York City job market is just chaotic, over-flooded with cheap labor, and competitive to a degree that will swallow all your credentials and school degrees if someone else shows up who is willing to do the same job for much less than you could ever afford to haggle down to. And, believe me, it appears that these mysterious phantoms show up just at the right time.
But, to be fair, most of the issues I have seen when being on job interviews can be led back to the actual employers and also the companies that are looking for new employees. I have never seen so many scams and dubious job opportunities than in this city. It did add up to my out-of-failure-you-learn mental image and I feel I have become enriched in the experience of being scammers’ best ping pong ball ever.

I had this time in August and September, before I luckily ended up at my current work, when I literally send out 20 resumes or more each and every day, went on interviews two or three times a day, and even got invited to a second or third round… which I readily declined on most of the occasions. Most of the times I really felt like turning around and just running out of the office, but I put a smile on my face, made it through the tedious process, and now I can share some of the best stories with you! I knew it would pay off eventually!

This one time, I made the acquaintance with a company that was looking for administrative assistants and/or sales people. I thought I’d give it a shot, sent them my resume, and ended up being called in for a so-called interviewing opportunity scheduled the same week. As soon as I popped my head in, I was surrounded by 20 other fellow job seekers, who were eagerly filling out a standard application form in the same room. Boy, did I feel stupid! But I also felt that if I never went through this, I wouldn’t have experienced real American competition. A young man slightly younger than I (and still a college student, I suspected) handed me the same form and I sat next to an expectant-looking girl in a suit who was fervently scribbling down her answers. The form seemed like one of those ordinary ask-question-give-answer-ones and definitely nothing that would get to know me better. After answering some questions about my personality and giving the standard information of high school and college degree (pah, way to go Europe!), I waited for another 20 minutes to pass and until everyone seemed to have finished. The forms were collected and brought to a room right next to ours. After some time a man – an entrepreneur I was guessing – showed up at the door and called two people into his office. One was a tall and competitive-looking Asian guy, the other was a 17-year-old high school student. Both of them were never seen again, so we figured they didn’t meet the company’s “criteria.”

knife set

Then the entrepreneur came back into the room, introduced himself as one of the owners of this outstanding business, and told us that the young guy handing out the forms was the manager of one of his offices. We got a demonstration of how great their business was (it was a firm selling cutlery, specializing on knives for the most part), how far they had progressed within coming into existence (They had supposedly been around for 50 years! Wow, why do Americans think this is a long time? Maybe I should have told them to go compete with our 150-year-old standard businesses we have in Germany!), and how many locations they were able to open up due to their growth due to their outstanding success, of course. I have to admit that the demonstration and speech were both very professional and I was impressed at how many candidates they won over just because of their social skills. Then the older man left us with the college student who knew how to present himself well in front of our gullible group and who was giving us the gist of our future work: Selling cutlery and especially a kit of knives by knocking on random peoples’ doors and doing a demonstration. This method would insure ultimate success because if we were to win these random people over (given the fact they would let a stranger with a kit of knives enter their house), they would refer us to at least ten other people who again would refer us to a list of people and so on and so an. The harder we worked the more people we could meet and the more commission we could earn. Splendid idea! And how to determine which peoples’ doors we knock on? Well, it would depend on where we live and we could go practice in this area. I was residing in a pretty ghetto and not too safe area Brooklyn’s back then; one of those Haitian neighborhoods that scowl at white “intruders” and don’t make you feel good when walking their streets as a stranger. Just imagining the situation of me trying to sell some poor Haitian families quality knives in a socially disadvantaged area really made me laugh!
Then I looked around, noticed that I was the only white person left (there had been another white guy present who had made his way out by pretending he was looking for the bathroom), and formulated an excuse that made me get out of that place as soon as possible. Needless to say that during the entire demonstration no word was mentioned about simple administrative help, but that’s just how they get you lured into their net.

Another time I was invited to a group interview consisting of five candidates and an enthusiastic manager of a well-known insurance company. The interviewer was pretty much alright, but this was my first encounter with those wicked first round/second round interviews they pull off on you. I was the only female next to four male candidates, who just couldn’t formulate their answers right or were anything but convincing in their self-presentation. This was for a job selling insurance over the phone (I know I am good at telemarketing but this is not what I came to New York for) and the manager assured us that our salary would be mainly based on our performance, meaning we could determine our own income without having to deal with asking for pay raises every once in a while. Mhm, doesn’t that just sound like…too good to be true? Well, I ditched this job offer, too, even though the guy invited me for a second round interview only one hour after I left this dubious group situation.

(continued in Part 2)

NYC Job Search Craziness (Part 2)

(continued from Part 1)

There was one point in time during which I had this chaotic week crammed full with 6 interviews – sometimes even two a day. It was nearly as crazy as it sounds. Some were funny, such as when I was invited into the office which seemed to employ exclusively overweight people and where the interviewer was asking me questions so fast I could barely keep up and eventually mocked her by responding in an overly slow manner (I’m guessing she was on a time limit to bring in the next goose). Some were icky, such as when I entered the room which smelled like cat piss and which would have been the place I would have worked at (heck no!). Some were just tedious, some were discouraging, and some were not too much fun.

Many thoughts were rushing through my head after such scam interviews, and the main thoughts were: “Why did I come to New York, what happened to the dreams I wanted to pursue, why is it just so hard to make it over here?” I keep hearing from many people that I came at a bad time, and that it will take a while for the economy to improve. But aside from this I do know people who have found a decent job, who were able to pursue their dream, who have made it here in their own little way. So why does it seem so hard for especially me?! No answers to this…
I thought it would be of advantage to speak two languages fluently, to have experienced both Germany and the States as a home, to be acquainted to both cultures. It seems like New York makes it unbelievably difficult to make this your advantage, your one light you can sway around your head, and to become noticed. Every time you offer your skills, talents, and education, someone finds a point against you. Be it your lack of work history, be it your lack of work history in New York (This is a biggie over here! If you don’t have New York job experience on your resume, you are in a hole you have to dig yourself out first!), or be it the salary issue. This is another point which really aggravates me: So many people are willing to work on minimum wage or beneath even though they could earn well over $18/h. And so many companies offer you a salary you would have laughed upon under different circumstances but now… well, you’re willing to suppress your anger and consider this kind opportunity.

I do have to admit, though, that most of these dubious job offers I found were on…tada… craigslist! Not the most serious platform on the job market, I know. But hey, I even went to interviews for jobs I found on monster and careerbuilder and was not blown away by what they had to offer, either. But in the end I found something the first day of October; I still work there, and I am once again on a job search.

By the way, the interview yesterday was okay. It was for a proofreader position at a translation agency. They invited me to come in for a couple of tests, which were supposed to take less than an hour but which took up one and a half hours of my time. The interviewer was barely interested in my personality and went straight to the testing center. At first I thought they were trying to use my German language skills to get something out of me, maybe a free translation, but, in hindsight, it might have been their usual testing procedure. Either way, I am not too interested in their position anyhow, because it would have not been on a full-time basis and they would have only needed me for a three-month-employment. However, I might have held a door open by emphasizing that if they were to need a translator, I would be willing to chip in whenever they were in the midst of a project. We will see how this goes; I think the interviewer was quite fond of me.

It took me a while to get used to the prospect of either falling for every unserious advertisement out there or to come up with a concept of how to differentiate between serious and false offers. So, to come to an end, I have included a list of things you might want to watch out for when job searching and which might help when you are looking for decent work. It is geared especially towards craigslist, but can also be used with monster, careerbuilder, and other sites.

This is what some words and symbols mean:

Located in Times Square = biggest scam ever
Located in Midtown = probably a temp agency posting stuff like this every day to fulfill their weekly head hunter quota
Looking for recent college grads to fill in numerous amounts of admin positions= see the above point
Pay dependent upon experience = you will start out with the bare minimum, around 10 bucks an hour (sometimes it falls below – I have seen job offers advertising work for crushing $8 (!!!) per hour); and by the way, the expression “pay will accumulate with experience” means about the same thing
Temp-to-perm job = you will be employed for one or two months and then they will substitute you with another candidate; or: they will start you off hourly and then you will have a hard time asking for an annual salary with benefits
No pay raise for another year = we are too cheap to pay you what you are worth and therefore our work mentality sucks
Great benefit package included = you might have a few benefits but for most of the services you will have to pay a high share out of your own pocket; also, most benefits are only available to you after 3 to 6 months or even longer
Salesperson job based on commission = the percentage of what you see on your bank account compared to what you actually sell might be as low as 5 per cent – not very promising, huh?
Job in New Jersey not far from New York = great, now you have to deal with paying taxes for two states, if you reside in New York. Don’t do it if it doesn’t pay you more than enough!
Assist your superior with meaningful tasks and being used to fast-paced environments = you will be doing your supervisor’s job, be paid less than him, and probably scoop in lots of overtime
Occasional overtime might be the case = 12-hour-days or more are the norm, leaving you with 8 actual hours paid per day

Life in Park Slope

After living in Park Slope for over 5 months now, I consider this area worth a thoughtful review. So, to keep it short: Park Slope is great!
Park Slope is big, too. The entire neighborhood ranges well over 35 street blocks and 5 avenue blocks. It goes from the Atlantic Ave Center to the South Slope, which is the part considered around 20th St; from 4th to 9th Avenue. I live on 7th Ave, close to the F-train, and not too far from the R-train, either (it tends to switch to the D and N train on the weekend, but only if you least expect it to and almost always when you don’t need any of those lines!).
The area is often called the next “in-area.” I think it has carried this label for the past 10 years and it has led many new people to move in who want to live in a nice area in Brooklyn, but who do not want to pay the rent asked for in Brooklyn Heights or Williamsburg. Often, the Slope and Williamsburg are up for comparison, for whatever reason I am still unsure, but I can reassure you that there is nothing that comes even close to each neighborhood’s very own flair. Williamsburg is rather small, since it only stretches over about one third of the blocks the Slope does, and it has the famous Bedford Avenue which is notorious for one bar slammed right next to the other. The rents have risen drastically in the past 10 to 15 years; at about the same time hipsters, artists, and rich people have discovered what a raw diamond it might be. Right now you would pay for the same amount of space the same amount of money you can get in a compatible neighborhood in Manhattan. Is it worth moving to W-burg if you could just as well stay in the LES or some other urban area? I am not sure.

Park Slope’s rental prices are still more on the affordable end compared to the Bedford area fiasco. Sure, they have had their share of rise and fall, and even more of a rental price increase within the past 10 years. But you can still sneak in there and get a good deal, especially when you are willing to share an apartment and commit to roommates.
The area of Park Slope I call my home has everything a young heart could ask for and, in addition, it offers an oasis of peace for the times I have been worn out by the City and beaten up by rushed people, chaos, and noise. A change of scenery is always welcome and this is what the Slope can give me thoroughly. It is a safe area, with many families, young people, and not too much ethnic diversity, which I do not consider a bad thing in this case. Don’t get me wrong, I am totally for the real experience of New York, the mixed cultural groups, and the different languages spoken. But ethnic diversity can also cause conflicts and other negative aspects, and I am not looking for trouble in a neighborhood I want to live in for an extended period of time. I have been through this in my previous living situation.
As soon as I get off the train, I am surrounded by cute little shops, small restaurants (and these are ethnically diverse, in case you wondered), and bars. I can actually walk to my apartment without being hit on by Haitian guys or being robbed, insulted, spat at. It took me about a month to adjust to this newly-gained freedom – a freedom even greater than when living on one’s own: The freedom of just being who you are and no one caring about this or trying to hinder you because of feelings of inferiority and jealousy. During the winter my roommates and I went to check out the bars on our avenue and around our block because we didn’t feel like going all the way into Manhattan. We found a cute European-style bar not too far away, which was opened up by an Austrian guy from Vienna, so it supports a concept I am familiar with. We usually check out their great happy hour deals and hop in after brunch on the weekends. There are at least four other bars in close proximity to where we live and we really enjoy just going for a drink and getting to know new people who come from other parts of Brooklyn, sometimes.

If 7th Ave gets too boring, you still have the choice to go down to 5th Ave or make your way up to 9th Ave, which offers some interesting dining spots and drinking establishments, too. I usually pay 5th Ave a visit because of its 99ct stores, a vintage shop, and cheaper nail manicure. My heart still lightens up at the prospect of having my nails done for less than 10 dollars in New York. It is so unbelievably cheap compared to Germany and this not only because of the Euro to Dollar conversion.

Williamsburg might have its hipsters, its artists, its overpriced apartments, its ghetto right next door, some Polish flair coming from the nearby Greenpoint area, and Bedford Ave. But Park Slope has even better, we have Prospect Park! And I, coming from a small village, being surrounded by nature practically 24/7, and knowing what cows and goats look AND feel like, well, I would have never thought of what great use a park in New York can be. Until I moved here and was surrounded by one more endless-seeming street after another, one skyscraper taller than the other, one car noisier and faster than the other… in short: an enormous, never-ending, loud, chaotic jungle made of concrete, tar, glass and nothing even close to resembling nature in its purest form. So it is off to the park on days you just need a time-out, sit in the grass, and count the clouds in the sky. Prospect Park is designed by the very same people who have created Central Park and, some say, whatever they were unable to include in Manhattan they have added in an improved form in Brooklyn. I consider this to be a nice story and it makes the park very unique. It borders not only on Park Slope but also Crown Heights, Flatbush, and Fort Hamilton on the opposing sides. I once wanted to know how big this park really is, not only in numerical terms but in terms I could define by myself, so one winter day I decided to go for a stroll and ended up walking around the entire park. Besides some fresh air, I took some nice pictures, which are yours to share.

This was after our first big snowfall of the season in early January of 2011. Yes, the one that left us with 20 inches of snow, three days of a poorly working metro system, and one day off from work for me. Here is a good shot of what it looks like after a full-blown blizzard has hit New York for 24 hours straight.

And for your information, it took me roughly 2 hours to make my way through the beautiful, snowed up walks from starting point A back to starting point A – all the way around.
Park Slope is definitely always worth the visit and I am one lucky bird for living here and finally being able to appreciate being a resident of Brooklyn. I wouldn’t want to change it for anything right now. Until something more interesting comes along, that is.

A Dozen Roses, Work, and Facebook

My coworker sent me a bouquet of a dozen red roses to my work place the other day. It was awkward.
I guess he was really trying to make a lasting impression, I just wished he wouldn’t have made it with me.

You cannot just walk into the suite we call our office, but you actually have to pass two serious-looking security guards and sign in with the receptionist before they accept a visitor. This coworker of mine had the “splendid” idea to send up a messenger from a random flower store and to let him hand the gift to me in person. So when I got the call that a delivery was waiting for me outside, needless to say, I was very surprised. When I opened the door all I saw was a small Latin guy holding up an oversized bunch of flowers. Too surprised to even think about giving the man a tip, I walked past almost our entire office and was very perplexed as what to do with something I did not expect. A small card was inserted, on which only my name was written out. I had a weird feeling that it was someone I worked with since I had not given out my job address to anyone else. The end of this little story is that everyone who saw me with the bouquet wanted to know who had sent it and it ended up being a slightly embarrassing situation for me because I couldn’t give away the source. The coworker came up to me two days later and admitted that the flower thing had been his idea. His confession was something I had feared all along and something I had been desperately trying to avoid.

I’m not sure what kind of signs I had been giving this person to mislead him in a direction completely steered clear of a platonic friendship. On top of this, instead of being able to enjoy the gift from a so-called secret admirer, the roses just made me feel uncomfortable and not rightfully earned. I hate it when the hopes of someone else get heightened without any deep or romantic intent from my side. Maybe I am seeing this too narrow, lacking a necessary dose of humor, but I work here and I have to see certain individuals on a day-to-day basis.

Something similar awkward happened when I was gone on my trip to Vegas about two weeks ago. I had showed up for work late because my flight to JFK had been delayed for a few hours. A different friend from work had texted me about this absence and I had tried a joke by saying I was still in Vegas, got married to a guy and would be moving back to Europe shortly. She had totally taken it the wrong way and blurted out the story to everyone who wanted to know. I had befriended two girls my age on Facebook who sat two rows ahead of me in the office. What happened next was something I would have never imagined: One of the girls popped open the front page of my Facebook with two of my bosses standing behind her and trying to figure out where I was. This incident crossed the line completely and when I found this out, I deleted both girls right away. It is one thing to be friends and meet up on private opportunities, but it is another to intentionally show a superior a too personal page for his or her eyes.
Is it unprofessional to blog about your coworkers? I don’t know. I know I learned a lesson by letting them too deeply into my personal life and having added them to a Web Site considered my most personal one at present time.

And back to the “romantic” coworker:
We used to have nice talks with each other, now I pass him with my head turned to the other side. It is awkward. I have a feeling that some things should be left undone, some words should stay unsaid. And I cannot avoid thinking that somehow this has ruined a perfectly nice friendship that was just starting to unfold.

A Word on NY Homelessness and Subway Culture

This is the third day in row and I am still blogging! Yicks! Who would have thought? I already noticed that I am developing a slight addiction as I was walking down the streets in Midtown and vividly considered a few topics to talk about on here. There are just so many things that are still new, still interesting, still so different than from what I am used to.
Yesterday I almost bumped into this guy who appeared “normal” at first but, in hindsight, was probably another one of New York’s homeless people. He did not slow down but rather sped up yelling “Move out of the way, you horky” after me, while I was making my way to the subway. I surely do not know what a “horky” means and I still refuse to see this word as an insult, even though I am sure it was intended to be. I think it rather funny in hindsight, since the guy was about 30 inches smaller than I was. At the time, though, I thought it rather frightening to see such manners from a random man on the street (so not gentleman at all, but then, it’s New York) who I had meant to do no harm to at all. New York definitely teaches you to not take things too personal at times. But at others it also makes you more insecure and doubtful about your appearance and outer performance. Some days are going well, some are just there to make you feel uncomfortable and not at ease with yourself. It is the anonymity of this city that gives you a good feel about yourself when walking the streets and not recognizing a single face you pass by, feeling like a complete stranger and making you believe you can do whatever you want without too much future damage. At the same time it can also make you feel very lonely and isolated, believing you are the only one on Earth who is experiencing things the way you do and that no one will ever understand you. Some people make it out of this black hole but for others there isn’t too much hope. They end up with the wrong people, sleep on the streets, and have no long-term-goal in sight.
After doing some research online, I came up with a figure of an annual estimate of 100,000 individuals experiencing homelessness each and every year… This is an estimate, meaning the dark number could be significantly higher (or, giving it a possibility, lower, of course, too). I currently work not too far from Penn Station and every time I get off the blue subway line, I bump into a few groups of unsheltered bums who are starting off their day by getting together, chatting, blocking the entrance of a fast-food-chain and begging for money for a coffee or breakfast. At first I thought this to be rather disturbing but I surprisingly got used to it fast (as it was with many other things). I still consider it a bit awkward to run across these figures in an area which is mostly dedicated to office buildings and tourists, meaning wealth, work, and fun. I’ve heard people around me say that it is your own fault when you end up on the streets. It seems that most don’t know how big of a role psychological factors can play in this circumstance. I am not going into the depths of this but a high amount of people living on the streets has schizophrenia, personality disorders and other, hard to cure, mental diseases. I consider New York an interesting city not only in terms of living, having a good time, and meeting new people but also in terms of research. After studying psychology for three years of my life and going over the basic concepts without any real model to observe, I have come across so many living examples of pure “craziness”, it was quite a “pleasure”. Take, for example, the older black guy who was sitting on the floor at the Canal Street stop on the Q line. He got interrupted as soon as our train rolled in, but then got distracted again with his own little play of shoving a few empty paper cups around and talking to someone/something imaginary. I could literally sense the form of hallucination this man was going through, possible suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, when he was maybe imagining that by-passers wanted to snatch his cups from him. He had his own party going on right there in his head.
Once in a while you stumble across some “madmen” in the train who yell at people without looking at them or feel disturbed when you get too close to them. I will never forget the eyes of this one woman, when she looked at me like I was an infected person just because I had slightly touched her arm when getting up.

In general, New York “subway culture” (I love this term) is a story by itself. Different lines, different people. It took me about 3 months until I had a moderate understanding of how the trains worked, which line was the fastest from my house to different destinations in the city, and how long an approximate wait would take. It took me another 3 months until I got the system to a fuller extent, meaning I was not consulting my handy, mini-sized subway map on a regular basis anymore. Even today I still glance at a map once in a while to get from A to B. In the beginning I therefore lacked the time, nerves, and efforts to study these different people on the train. I developed an interest, though, after noticing that some rides where significantly more enjoyable than others. Take the A and C line, for a great example of racial diversity not carried out to its fullest extent in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The people on there are usually of African-American, Haitian, or Hispanic descent. No, this is not my biased view of how things work – this is merely of what it feeds the objective eye. To their own credit, I have to admit that both trains commute through poorer neighborhoods and areas that are considered to be rather dangerous, not only at night. These two trains always tend to give me a weird vibe once I enter, especially coming from Brooklyn. I wouldn’t call it aggressive, but I definitely would not want to start an argument with some of its commuters. It’s funny how my parents noticed this right away on their very first day of their visit and since then refused to ride the train if it wasn’t necessary.
Then you have the “L” train crowd, which goes to Williamsburg and beyond and which switches as soon as most people get off at the Bedford stop. You see many hipsters, wanna-be-creatives, and rarely anyone who appears to be ordinary.
A striking contrast to the blue line is the F-line, because it usually goes past neighborhoods which could be considered more affluent once you enter Brooklyn: Carrol Gardens, Park Slope, and then past the Russian-Jewish community around Kings Highway.

No matter what train you are on, though, the level of rudeness in entire New York seems to be the same as soon as you enter those gray wagons. Of course New York is known for generally being among one of the rudest cities in the entire country, but subway rudeness is a somewhat different story. It is a mix between taking as much advantage of an empty seat as you can, running over everyone who is standing in your way, and trying to get the best spot on the ride. Of course not everyone riding the subway is like this, but the negative examples tend to stick in my memory more than the positive ones. I have to admit, though, that taking the subway is always an experience and an adventure by itself and that because of the chance to observe the variety of different people I would not want to miss out on too many rides.

Off to the Beach!

Coney Island

Today I was in for a shock by goofing around and checking my chances of returning for a visit back home during the late summer months and/or early fall season… When I read the prices at first I had a hard time blinking (and evidently also a hard time swallowing): 900 Dollars for a flight from JFK to FRA, and this price was among the cheapest! Not to mention the 1200 Dollars and above for flying during August or July… Before seeing this amount I had seriously considered going back for a week or two. I am not sure if I mentioned this before, but I haven’t been back ever since I set foot in New York and would fairly well not mind seeing some familiar faces I haven’t got together with for over an entire year. At this moment I would have to think about a back-up plan, though, since $900 just bust my budget.
I remember the time when I bought my ticket 3 weeks ahead of boarding and only had to scrape 450 Euro (the equivalent of roughly 600 bucks) from my hard-earned savings together. This was in 2010. Yes, I understand gas prices have jumped and there have been several strikes in the air industry, but why do ordinary people like I have to suffer from this?! Well, we will see how it goes and I am crossing my fingers that some wonder happens (besides me finding $900 lying around on the street) which will give me the chance to see my common folks again – preferably this year.

Today, aside from me being in for a shock, has also brought along some lovely sunshine and a nice warm breeze back into the New York life. One year ago on today’s date this city was warding off an early heat wave, but this year summer has been having a hard time showing up. I had the chance to do my very first beach trip this year on Sunday (it had been April in 2010) and it made me wonderfully happy. A positive aspect about living here is that New York is surrounded by beaches you can visit during the spring/summer/even fall months. Yes, I know, hard to believe, but you definitely can make your summer over here as fun as possible by just packing a beach bag, hopping on a train or subway, and heading off towards a nice cool sea breeze. What is a man-made lake or ugly Baltic and cold North Sea in Germany compared to the beautiful Jersey shores and Long Island sand? Exactly, not too much! And even in Brooklyn you are close to the water. I could hardly believe my luck when I found out that I was only a 20 to 30 min metro ride from Coney Island, Brighton Beach, and Manhattan Beach. Last year I had lived on the B and Q line, which was convenient as I could stop at either beach. You just take both rains to the Brighton Beach stop (last stop on the B) and in an instant you are surrounded by Little Russia.

Brighton Beach

This culture is not entirely new to me as we have many Russian immigrants and so-called Russian-Germans living in my home country and I was friends to a fair amount of Olgas, Elenas, Julias, Dimitris, and Natalias in Germany. However, the culture in Brooklyn is very different from what I have found in Deutschland, as it appears that they are seemingly living out their Russian (or Belarussian, Kazakhstanian, Ukrainian, and so on) roots in their self-made community. I even heard Russian teenagers, who had been raised in the US for their entire lives, speak English with a Russian accent. Growing up bilingual is a great thing – I myself was raised speaking two different languages- but I have never been as intensely exposed to the American culture to the same degree Russians are recreating their roots in Brighton Beach.
Aside from language being a strong factor when gaining a cultural understanding, the area also offers many stores and businesses that enhance their culture and are directly geared towards their community. My current roommates are from Belarus (not surprisingly their names are Olga and Yulia) and they go to the Brighton Beach Bazaar at least twice a month just to stock up on their food. It is a big grocery store which offers a variety of food from Eastern European countries and many packages are labeled in Russian. For me going there by myself and not understanding too much of this language was quite an experiment. I was constantly talked and blabbed to in Russian and the demeanor of the cashiers changed completely once they noticed I was not one of them. I would not call it unfriendly per se, but it was not the politest encounter I had with one or two. Their manners are different, rougher, than from what I am used to. Even though Germany is not considered the nicest country in the world, I am now assured that cultures exist which can be considered ruder than ours. What I really enjoyed about the same area was the smaller stores and the great deals you can get when buying some fresh fruits or vegetables. The prices resemble the ones in New Jersey or cheaper and the taste stays the same. When walking around during some hot summer months, I usually became hungry from a trip to the beach and I stopped to get something you would have a hard time looking for in other spots: Fried pockets stuffed with a variable of things, such as spinach, meat, cheese, or even marmalade for the sweet tooth. They are sold by older Russian females who are standing right outside of the train station or on your way to the boardwalk.

While making my way out to the beach, I had some encounters with Russian boys trying to flirt or make an effort to talk to me, which they at first glance took me for a fellow Russian-speaker (you cannot be simply American over here, you have to be something exotic, right?!). I usually just warded them off by simply ignoring their efforts of planting their beach towel right next to me and intrusively peering over my shoulder to see what book I was reading. After a while they went away and tried for another eligible young female. At times I found their gestures amusing, but at others it was plain nerve-wracking for I really just wanted to sit by myself to tan. Sometimes I brought a German guy with me, which stalled complete interaction with any other man. More about this later, though.

This Sunday I rode past Brighton Beach or not even past it at all, since I live on the infamous F line now (a train which makes local stops) and took it all the way through to the Coney Island stop. You can take either -the F, Q, D, and N – and it will be the final stop on all four trains. As soon as I stepped out of the open door a salty ocean breeze surrounded me and led me to the long-longed-for beach. At this time of the year the people tend to not travel there as many times as they do in June, July, and August. Which makes the season until Memorial Day the best to just stop by and enjoy the sand without too much trash stuck in it. After poking my foot into the ocean I sensed that the water was still ice-cold and I hardly saw anyone go for a swim yet. Since we are right on the Atlantic coast, this makes us prone to receive cool Atlantic water year-long. I do not think the water ever really warms up like it does in the Mediterranean Sea, but you can get used to a jump in cold water when the heat wave gets you in July and August. Another thing Europeans just have to consider when traveling state-side is the fact that the sun really burns you fast. The sun is stronger than in Middle-Europe and it gets you when least expected. Even though I was only out for about 2 hours, I had brought with me a nice tan line on my arms and shoulders and a pinkish burn starting from my neck down. Ouch! Sunscreen, please!

It turned out to be a nice Sunday: The weather was a joy, a moderate amount of people was swarming around, and Coney Island was just right – not too crowded, not too deserted. The special thing about this place is that it offers attractions for every age group. Right on the water you find a form of amusement park for the small and grown-ups. I have never seen this anywhere else but would be happy to find out if any other part of the world came up with an idea similar to this one. I consider it a splendid idea, by the way, and the atmosphere makes you want to check out some of the rides. Besides the oldest wooden roller coaster in America, the place offers adventures that loop you around, water rides, merry-go-rounds, the famous “Wonder Wheel”,

The Wonder Wheel

and a park for children (Lunapark). Aside from the rides, you can buy some snacks at numerous stands or sweets at about the same amount sellers. And last, but not least, you find the popular “Nathan’s” built up right there on the beach: The spot which hosts the yearly hotdog contest on July 4th, the spot with the gourmet fast food you won’t find anywhere else… Well, it seems rather infamous when walking past, just a yellow cottage employing mostly Asian people in the summer, who barely speak English. But such is New York: You have something small that offers something people want and will talk about, and – boom – you will not be able to ward off the stream of individuals who came from 5 hours away just to try this one little thing a freak discovered… Is that a got sentence to end this blog? I think so. The end.