Sunday, May 27, 2007

originally an email sent Feb 15, 2007

I am having fun in Bremen, and hope the novelty does not wear off any time soon. A major highway has 2 lanes, and is never crowded. Rush hour does not exist. Pubs are everywhere. The hotel breakfast buffet has a juice machine that guests can use, which is probably helping me stay healthy despite the weather. Few things enliven a buffet like rows of gleaming half-oranges staring at you. Nobody has yet bashed me for being American. On the contrary, they all want the inside scoop on my governor, and are disappointed to hear that he is now fat and broke his leg skiing.

Today was the first day with any variation in the sky. It wasn't obvious; I only saw it because I was actively scanning the sky to try and figure out where the sun might be. And there was a tiny break in the clouds! And behind that: a slightly darker cloud! Woo hoo! I believe you get a prize if you can spot a third cloud layer. Hence I repeat an observation first made while in London. The Beatles song "Here comes the
sun," which to me as a SoCal native, is in fact a vital tool for preventing widespread panic if the sun ever does appear:

Bloody hell! What's that yellow thing in the sky?
Here comes the sun ...

Dear God! It's getting bigger as the cloud moves away!
Yeah it's coming ...

AAAAH! The sky is falling! Flee for your lives!
It's all right ...

Germans eat as if nearly certain they are about to miss the last train of the evening. After my first lunch with my potential new labmates, I realized that I was literally about a third done with my meal, and everyone else was done. So I thought, maybe next time, I'll shut up during lunch, and instead eat. I then made it through about half of my meal before all my labbies were done.

My talk seemed to go very well. When I finished, everyone started rapping on the table with their knuckles. Wonderful, I thought, this is the secret code for "Everybody jump the speaker and take his wallet." But no, this is just their way of applauding. After my talk, I had not one but two separate interviews with the boss and all postdocs in the lab. They all grilled me like an overcooked bratwurst. EACH INTERVIEW took longer than the grilling I got after my PhD defense. These Germans are indeed thorough. But not too perspicacious, since they formally offered me the position at the end of the second interview. This seemed like a good development, since this was not supposed to be decided until the end of my trip. I have until Feb 28 to decide. As the 2 competing options are: remain at TSRI, or maybe teach at CSU San Marcos, I will probably accept.

The boss, Dr. Graeser, refers to all people as "Mr." even if they are in the same room. This is confusing. I had been referring to the other postdocs by first names, then switched to calling them "Dr." and finally gave up and used Mr. The Germans are known for being titularly unique. This does reduce memory load, though, since there's no need to remember everyone's first name. Perhaps the German dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is maxed out with remembering the second verb to stick on the end of a sentence. [Later note: I wrote an essay on this, 'On the engineering superiority of German speakers,' which I'll post.]

Barring this, the German reputation for being serious and formal is totally unfounded. My current American boss is far more concerned with timing, propriety, and formality than any German. I told you about the chickens. I saw another group of people stumbling about with shotglasses around their necks. They were playing some game in which they threw tennis balls at each other and drank shots. It seemed like a mix of dodgeball, slaughterball, and sloshball, the first two of which I haven't played since seventh grade. My friend Bernhard Graimann explained that this is a work retreat. I explained that Americans have work retreats too. You do not drink or play; you instead sit in groups and say your favorite color, then get some pop psychology teambuilding crap, then a 4 hour lecture on sexual harassment, interspersed with long speeches and insufficient coffee. I plan to teach them sloshball, and hopefully later Tegwar.

I guess that's a thorough update for now. We are off to go bowling tonight.

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