Awkward Abroad: The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”

It started at Oktoberfest. French people I had talked about Oktoberfest with told me that Germans spoke better English than Americans, so I thought that’d be true. WRONG. Everything was in German, even at the train station and at the metro and the signs for everything. It was a huge culture shock and my shoddy scribbled list of German phrases did nothing, even when I showed it to the Germans sitting next to me and asked for pronunciation help. By that point, I had pretty much resigned myself to walking around Munich completely oblivious until …

The beer hall we were in had a traditional German band that played the White Stripe’s “Seven Nation Army” like every ten minutes. Seriously. Every ten minutes.

And the 10,000 people in the beer hall knew the iconic “DUH… duh-duh-duh-duh DUH… DUH” part just enough to repeat it OVER AND OVER AGAIN EVERY DAMN TIME. With the same amount of people standing up or raising their liters of beer at the end of the song.

I didn’t know if it was because they were hammered or because it was such a great song.

“Why is this song so popular?” I asked the German guy next to me.

“I don’t know. But do you like it?”

“Yes! It’s the White Stripes!” I said. Le duh!

“White Stripes!” he repeated, matching my enthusiasm in such a way I didn’t know if he was mocking me or being sincere.

“Yeah,” I said, apprehensively. “And this is ‘Seven Nation Army!’”

“White Stripes!” he repeated again.

“Um, yeah … is this song a soccer thing… or, I mean, football?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if he knew the White Stripes or just knew that I knew the White Stripes.

“I don’t know. But everyone knows this song.”

“Pretty sure it’s a soccer thing. I mean, football,” I sighed into my beer.

It totally was a soccer thing. It’d play on the TV when the French soccer team was discussed on the French news program. It’d play in Irish bars (or be sung by Irish people in Irish bars) when soccer games were on.

But then, it’d play during the first house party my host sister threw and I watched drunk French twentysomethings dance to it. It’d play at a French bar and people would drum their fingers on the counter in time with the music.

And no matter where it was played, EVERYONE knew the guitar part.

It made me wonder if everyone knew if the White Stripes had broken up this year.

Awkward Abroad: the Period Joke from Down Under

You can only say “She perioded on me” if you’re Jonah Hill or a New Zealander

[Disclaimer: I was not actually the cause of the awkwardness of what I’m about to tell you. SURPRISE SURPRISE. But I acted so awkward about what happened that I can’t not include it.]

Though I’ve met New Zealanders in France and Ireland, the only time I hung out with New Zealanders was at Oktoberfest, and even then it wasn’t really “hanging out” but rather “sitting at the same picnic table even though there are two Germans separating us.” I didn’t even know they were New Zealanders because it was so loud and they were so far away and I didn’t even end up talking to them until hours into Oktoberfest.

I did, however, notice them as soon as we got in, because 1.) they were both very cute and 2.) one of them had a lip ring and a tattoo sleeve and neither of those are very common in Europe and 3.) they were seated at the edge of the picnic table where the waitress would stand to drop off the beer and take orders so I kind of had to notice them.

I should say that I didn’t make official contact with them until after my friends and I started talking to the Germans. It was towards the end of our Oktoberfest, because I remember this was when I was trying to explain to the German guy why we couldn’t stay there all day and night and then go to a club with them at midnight (he wasn’t accepting my excuse that we didn’t have strong German bladders and livers like they did). We were friendly with the Germans and were working our way down the table, I guess.

My friend Lily was sitting opposite of me on the other side of the table—the side that the lip ring and sleeve tattoos guy was on—and she was standing up because she was ready to go. This guy was standing up too, and I couldn’t see it until Lily pointed out, but it’s kind of hard not to look over when someone says “Hey, why do you have blood on your shirt?”

At this point, the German guy and I both stopped talking and turned to look at the New Zealander because, well, duh. And everyone else at the table did the same because, well, DUH.

The guy swiveled to show us his white shirt, which did have noticeable dried bloodstains on his torso, like where the bottom of his ribcage was.

“Oh, yeah, that. Some girl perioded on me, like in Superbad,” he said, ever so nonchalantly, not even pausing or stuttering or laughing to screw up the joke.

It took me a second to connect the dots and get the reference (can’t believe I’m writing this … a girl has her period and …. crap, I can’t do this … just watch the video in the link). I just couldn’t believe that he just pulled that out, and even as I’m writing this I’m still a little shocked.

First off, the guy quotes Superbad, which doesn’t really happen when you first meet someone. And secondly, he’s quoting that scene in Superbad.

Bold move, sir. Bold move indeed.

I remember I looked over at Lily and just like me, her mouth was open in shock too. She didn’t say anything—maybe like me, she wasn’t ready to say anything just yet—but I could tell we were thinking the same thing: Did that guy just say what I thought he said?

The German guys didn’t really have much of a reaction—either they weren’t prudes like us or maybe they just don’t watch a lot of movies (see: Talking about Inglorious Bastards with some Germans). Lily and I just glanced at each other again before we started doing that incredulous snort-laugh you do when something happens and you can’t believe that it did.

It was Lily who was finally able to respond—I was still trying to figure out whether that guy really did mean to make a period joke to two girls he just met.

“No way, man, she’d have to be an Amazonian or something to do that to your stomach,” Lily pointed out, calling bullshit—another reason why I love her.

He smiled self-deprecatingly and laughed before responding. Turns out a girl cut her finger and wiped it on his shirt. Or so he said.

What girl? Which finger? What did she do to get a cut? Why did she wipe it on his shirt? Is she okay? What happened to her? Does she have AIDS? Do YOU have AIDS?

I was too scared to ask. And alas, now I’ll never know. But that’s probably a good thing.

Lily managed to bark out a laugh at that. I was still quiet. Even when the focus went away from the guy and everyone when back to their conversations, I was still quiet.

And the German guy next to me noticed. “Your face, it’s very red,” he told me.

Red like the bloodstains, I couldn’t help but sourly think. Before I started to utter something commonplace like “Oh” or “Yeah,” I happened to glance over at the guy who started all of this.

He had been watching me. And when I made eye contact with him, he winked at me.

Needless to say, my face got even redder after that.

Oktoberfail, Part Two

My second Oktoberfail that I experienced at Oktoberfest last week has to do with the camping situation … the one I had built up so much in my head prior to actually visiting it, where the reality of the campsite (plus the rain one night) made it all come crashing down.

I am not a camper. I am not even an outdoorsy person. The last time I slept in a camp was when I was a sophomore in high school, and that was not even by choice. It was a team bonding exercise for my soccer team and it was only for one night, and no one got any sleep then anyway so it doesn’t really count as camping in my head.

It should be noted that I did not plan on camping at Oktoberfest when we started organizing the trip. But alas, my friends and I started booking stuff in August and by then it was too late to find any space for four people in any of the hostels in Munich or by the festival. So one of the travel guide sites we were on also recommended a camping site in an Olympic stadium … which did not really register as camping for me since it would be in an Olympic stadium, not a random forest or woods or river or whatever, and there would be showers and toilets and running water. But really, I was in it for the Olympic stadium.

The name of the place was Wies’n Camp, which is in Olympic Horse Stadium München-Riem. In the 1972 Munich Olympics, this was where all of the equestrian events occurred during the games. I’m not a horse-y kind of person (I do like things, I swear, just not horses or camping), but whatever, I knew this was the closest I was maybe ever going to get to the Olympics and I didn’t care (sad, but true … unless the Olympics or the world finally recognizes the sport of competitive speed-reading).

Plus, it was cheap, and it was kind of our only option. It was 35 euro per person for a four-person tent and I was naïve in thinking I wouldn’t be spending a lot of time at the campsite.

Oktoberfest all day! Party all night! Sleep when I’m dead … or on the train back to Paris!

As you’ve already read, none of those things happened. Oktoberfail.

Our six-hour train ride from Gare D’Est in Paris to Munchen Hauptbahnhof in Munich got us in the train station at night. So we knew we’d miss the Friday night of Oktoberfest, but we were in no hurry.

We arrived at 9:30 p.m. My friend Jenn got hit on by a cute German guy in lederhosen at 9:35 p.m. Maybe it’s because we were tired or hungry, but we just giggled the whole time we watched them interact and complained about how of course Jenn is the one to get the first guy.

However, none of us were too envious once we asked him for directions to our camp and he thought we were crazy for actually camping outside. At first, he thought it was just a translation issue and the “camp site” we were talking about wasn’t the “camp site” he thought he knew.

“Camping? You are going camping?” he asked. Yes.

“You are going camping outdoors?” YES.

“You are all going camping outdoors? To sleep under the sky?” FOR CHRISSAKE, YES!

He started cracking up once he knew that yes, we were all going camping outdoors.

It turns out it was so hilarious because “German girls don’t camp. And European girls don’t camp.”

“Well, these American girls do,” we said before ditching him.

Hmmph. We thought he was just sexist or something. Surely German girls, or at least European girls, camp! I mean, there isn’t a stereotype of American girls camping and none of use camped regularly, for the most part. But camping was a thing at Oktoberfest, or so we thought based off of all of the camping options that we had to choose from.

Campsite … don’t zoom in like I did and look at all of the weeds in the stands 😦

Whatever. We shook off Cute German Guy, both literally and figuratively, and we finally arrived at the camp after figuring out the Metro line and getting off at the most random, remote Metro stop ever to follow a crowd of people into the night.

But actually, the first thing we noticed once we arrived at the campsite was that we were the only girls in the registration center/bar/dance floor/bathroom makeshift building.As soon as we followed the loud American Top 40 music and cheering into the makeshift building and saw picnic tables, a bar, and an entire dance floor mostly comprised of guys (most of whom were wearing lederhosen), we all just looked at each other.

Well, okay, we weren’t the only girls there. It’s like there were only two handfuls of girls (does that mean ten girls? Because that’s what I’m trying to say but in an earnestly clever way) in the makeshift building … and we were four of them. And the other girls that were there were all standing next to boys, AKA were taken, AKA maybe weren’t there because they wanted to be there or originally proposed camping.

AKA, umm, maybe Cute German guy had a point…

We scoped out the scene while we stood pressed against the wall with our backpacking backpacks and waited for Lily to register us. It was a little dark in the room, but we were pretty sure there weren’t any girls on the dance floor.

This got me thinking.

Not about how, as The Hunger Games’ Effie Trinket might have said in this situation that the odds were ever in my favor. Not about how there was American pop music playing that was relevant when I first started standing pressed against the walls at parties and dances in middle school. And definitely not about how everyone in the place was hammered and we were all way too sober to be dealing with the crashing reality that this was not exactly what we were expecting.

Instead, I wondered: What’s German for “sausage fest,” anyway? Do they even have that phrase? They have to, since sausage is such a huge part of German food culture. Right? Does that mean that are there different sausages used to describe different sausage fests? Like, ‘Oh, last night was such a Bratwurst fest’ or ‘This is a total Knockwurst fest.’ Hmm. Maybe I’ll have to ask a German. I wish I had thought of this when Cute German Guy was around, since he seemed to be in the know about how German girls don’t camp! 

My Mindy Kaling-esque musing was interrupted when Lily came back with our tent number. We were #305—and after putting our bags away and worrying if anyone was going to steal anything, we decided to go back to the makeshift party and represent our tent and our country. Or something like that.

This fits 4 people and not 4 Rumpelstiltskins. It’s funny because it references a German fairy tale and the fact that we had to sleep in the tent.
LAUGH AT MY WIT BECAUSE I AM A GENUIS.

The dance floor was just the area to the left of the bar that was between the wall and the first row of picnic tables. It wasn’t a big area, especially when it was full of drunk guys all unironically dancing together in the same space despite the fact that there weren’t any girls on the dance floor—something I’ll probably never see back in the States!

We were kind of bopping on the edge of the dance floor just watching as we planned our mode of attack. And the guys that came up to us to ask us to dance didn’t do so by getting all up behind us and just grinding, which is unfortunately pretty standard at Drexel. The guys were still wordless (maybe a language issue? completely possible), but they’d hold their hand out for us to dance. It’s a nicer invitation, I think, especially because their dancing styles were how I imagine my grandparents danced when they were my age—my hand on his shoulder, his hand on my waist, our other hands entwined in the air.

Of course, the first guy I talked to was from France. What are the odds, right? C’est la vie. He was a fireman from a tiny French village about forty-five minutes away from Paris and he had come to Oktoberfest with a couple of other guys from his squad. Now, I don’t know if it’s because he was talking me up or because it’s actually the truth, but I walked away from that feeling like French firemen were so much more badass than American firemen, mostly because the firemen in France also function as EMTs and that the French government bends over backwards for their firehouses. See, I learned something cultural and interesting at Oktoberfest!

But because I knew I’d have an early morning the next day, I went back to the tent around midnight (aka before “Tik Tok” came on and the two friends that stayed on the dance floor were the only people in the whole building who knew the lyrics). Big mistake. It was FREEZING and miserable and cramped and I was wearing every object of clothing I had brought, minus my spandex tights and the pair of black gloves that got eaten by my backpack—so, Under Armor spandex shirt, long sleeved shirt, a fleece zip-up sweatshirt, non-hoodie sweatshirt, jeans, two pairs of socks, scarf, and hat. I did bring my winter jacket but it didn’t fit around my layers so I used it as a pillow and a blanket.

And that wasn’t enough! I don’t know if it was the cold or the fact that I had to pee so badly but didn’t want to go into the actual cold, but I didn’t sleep at all. At around five I finally got up, grabbed the spandex tights, and walked back to the dance hall to go to the bathroom and change. No one was there, it was dead silence, and I just walked to and from this building, but somehow during all of this I ripped a big hole in the kangaroo pouch of my sweatshirt. And the next morning I woke up and saw that the rubber layer of the heel of my boot was just chilling on the grass outside of our tent. I don’t even know how any of that happened but somehow I was already a hot mess without drinking anything at Oktoberfest.

Photo Cred: Brittany Handler

I already recounted my Oktoberfest activity here, so I’ll keep this post strictly focused on the campsite activities…which unfortunately are equally not WOOO OKTOBERFEST!!!! even though that’s what the atmosphere was like at night.

And I don’t know what they were during the day, because the next time I came back to the Wies’n Camp was at 2 p.m. and that was when we all stumbled into our tents and took a three-hour-long nap. What I saw after I woke up was that there weren’t nearly as many people in the makeshift building, but the people that were there all looked incredibly sober and no one was wearing lederhosen.

This was not the same camp we came back to at about midnight after walking around Munich with a Drexel friend I met up with who is studying in the city. The dance floor was now an actual dance floor and not the passageway it functioned as during the day, and the same drunk lederhosen guys were there dancing to the same American Top 40 songs with the same drunk lederhosen guys from the night before. Once again, only ten girls in the place and we were four of them.

And even though we did relatively little that day compared to what we could have done, we just headed back to our tents at around midnight. This was, once again, another big mistake because it rained the whole damn night. We didn’t get a ton of rain in the tent—just a little puddle by someone’s end of their sleeping bag—but it was still really cold and it’s depressing enough when it rains (for me at least) and to be stuck in a tent in the rain meant that I was not a happy camper (see what I did there? It’s not a cliché because it was true in that case!).

It was only drizzly the next morning, but we still went right to the train station instead of going back to Oktoberfest. One breakfast of beer that weekend was more than enough, thank you very much.

 Author’s Note: I feel terrible having to write this out, but I did have a very fun weekend, despite the complaining in this post. I’m just saying … I went to Oktoberfest and I got a tour of Munich with my friend, and what I did there was enough for me for my fill of Munich. I may not have spent a lot of time at Oktoberfest but I liked what I did every second of it and I have no regrets. It’s just if I get the opportunity to go again, I’m not sure I would go back instead of traveling to somewhere new and doing something new there.

That’s’ not to say I didn’t like Oktoberfest. I did! It wasn’t what I was expecting (well, I did expect all the drunk lederhosen guys), but it still turned out very good. The best part was meeting new friends and finding out cultural differences with the foreigners we were seated next to—something that is my absolute favorite thing to do abroad.

Furthermore, Oktoberfest weekend was a good bonding experience with my friends, and a great preview for what will happen during our week in Dublin next week for my Toussaint vacation. I’ll be in Ireland from the night of October 25 to the morning of November 2 (UM HELLO HALLOWEEN IN IRELAND), so you can expect more timely blog posts about Dublin around that time!

Oktoberfail

More than a week has passed since Oktoberfest ended and my liver has finally recovered … from the two liters of beer I drank all that weekend.

I know, I know. Believe me, I’ve had a lot of people judge me because I didn’t get completely wasted at Oktoberfest. The worst part is, I didn’t plan on drinking so little either. I thought I had prepared for Oktoberfest, but I didn’t prepare for Oktoberfest to have to start at 9 a.m.

Beer hall!

I don’t know if it’s because we were lazy or if it’s because we just told ourselves that it would be impossible to plan activities at a festival where we’d be drinking heavily, but we didn’t really have a set plan for Oktoberfest. We knew we had to get to the site relatively early so we wouldn’t have to wait in line to enter a beer tent. But we didn’t have an exact time of when it started, so we just planned on showing up at 9 and walking around for a while before we would try to enter a beer hall.

We only wandered for a couple minutes before one of the three other girls in my group wanted to follow a crowd of people wearing lederhosen and drindls (traditional Bavarian outfits that are nowhere near as slutty as their American Halloween costume counterparts). Little did we know we were actually in line for the actual king of Oktoberfest beer tents, Hofbräu-Festzelt, and the crowd we were following was actually 10,000 people that would fill the festival’s largest beer tent in ten minutes, according to the friendly Norwegians sitting next to us.

The inside of the beer hall.

We were also clueless about how much a liter of beer can be, especially first thing in the morning. Let me tell you, the term “breakfast of champions” takes on a whole new meaning when it’s 9:30 a.m.  and there’s a liter of strong German beer sitting in front of you.

But once again, that was just us. The Norwegians seated to our right and the Germans and New Zealanders to our left didn’t make any puckered faces. They had no problem yelling “Prost!” and clinking beer glasses when it was closer to 5 a.m. than 5 p.m. And the other 10,00 people were equally ready to wake up and smell the beer.

Within minutes of being served our beer, people started standing on the top of their picnic benches and chugging their entire beer or what was left of it. And the crowd was so into it, cheering the person on and clapping when they finished or, in a worst-case scenario, booing if they couldn’t. This happened about five or six times every hour, for all of the five hours that we spent at the beer hall.

The Germans and New Zealanders (the ones in the lederhosen, surprisingly). And The Beer.

Because it turns out that Oktoberfest is the happiest, most magical grownup place on Earth where it’s weird if you’re NOT day drinking, you DON’T really want to have beer for breakfast, and people will judge you if you CAN’T finish chugging a liter of beer in under thirty seconds or CAN’T drink more than three liters of beer in three hours.

I had two beers in five hours, and two of the other girls I went with only had one beer in the same amount of time. And I don’t know if it’s because we are girls or because we are Americans or what, but that was the perfect amount for me and my wallet—one liter of beer is 11 euros, or more than $14! And keep in mind that the human stomach can only hold about 32 ounces of fluid, which is basically one liter.

The trouble was, though, that in order to keep your seat, you had to keep buying stuff, either food or drink. So we ordered sparkling water and torso-sized German pretzels and even a half of a roasted chicken to split all between us just so we could stay without the scary waitress barking at us in German. I wasn’t even that hungry, but I just wanted to stay.

And I thought Americans had huge portion sizes!

The Germans next to us very helpfully ordered all of our nutritional demands, though they did tease us for not being able to drink as much beer as them.  In all of the five hours that we were there, they didn’t get up to go to the bathroom once. Talk about German efficiency.

They were genuinely distressed that we were leaving and didn’t want to spend all day drinking with them in the tent before going to a club at midnight—and didn’t understand that we would probably die or pass out if we tried to at least catch up halfway to them.

I don’t know what happened to those cute, friendly German guys in lederhosen. All I know is that we went back to our tiny tent and took a four-hour nap. My Oktoberfest might not have been like their Oktoberfest, but it was good enough for me.

I went to Oktoberfest and all I got was this lousy cold…

So I know I said in my last post that my next post would be about Oktoberfest, OKTOBERFEST Oktoberfest. Welp, sorry, but this is not that post.

I am lazy. But I am sick, so that means being lazy is allowed and I can’t be judged as much for it. And, even more, I am lazy and sick in a foreign country where chicken noodle soup doesn’t exist, so that blog post isn’t going to be up until the end of the week.

That paragraph had a lot of important information in it (such as I am sick, waaaah mommy please come back to Paris and take care of me), but the most important was I AM … IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY WHERE CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP DOESN’T EXIST.

Pretty sure I feel weaker after writing (and then rereading) that last sentence.

I was feeling a little below the weather the Wednesday before Oktoberfest weekend. No big deal, just a little sore throat, and just like schools everywhere this time of year, there are a couple of kids I have to sit next to who were sick. And there’s the public transportation I take at least twice a day. So I thought I was dealing with a small common cold that would be gone before I left on Friday. Pssh. NOT.

You’ll read about this in my next post, but I slept in a tent Friday and Saturday nights before leaving Sunday morning, and it was cold (Under Armor spandex and jeans and every one of the five shirts I brought and hat and scarf and gloves and three pairs of socks) and the next night it RAINED. And I was in a tent. And I was a little sick when I got to Munich and then I was a lot of sick when I left Munich.

Eat your apples and pay attention to old wives tales, I guess.

But I will get through this. Hopefully, soon.

For example, I have orange juice. No problem. It’s even “jus d’orange” and there are a million different cartons. So the OJ situation is OK.

And. I have cough drops, though the only brand I could find was Ricola—which, thankfully, is my favorite cough drop brand in the States, because I am that person who has a favorite cough drop brand. Cultural side note: all French medicine is sold in pharmacies, but you can buy cough drops in grocery stores. Specifically, the candy aisles of grocery stores. And they come in little cigarette-sized boxes as well as bags. So now I carry a pack with me everywhere I go … a pack of cough drops, that is.

But the chicken noodle soup? No sirree bob. And I don’t mean no Cambell’s chicken noodle soup or chicken noodle soup with star/Goldfish/alphabet/Spongebob noodles. I mean, no chicken noodle soup.

Like, I finally found carrots, peas, and noodles in chicken broth (best I could find) and told my host mom I was eating it because I was sick. And then she asked if I wanted a salad. Um….what? Not the response I was expecting. Maybe that’s the standard French sick food, instead of soup and OJ and ice cream? Explains why everyone is so skinny here…

I feel as though the absence of good chicken noodle soup is the only reason why I am still sick a week later.

Looks like all the “PROST!”s I got this past weekend did nothing for my health.