Archive | December, 2011
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Hey, Lady! You left your bag!


Ilulissat, Greenland

Ilulissat, Greenland, Image by kaet44 via Flickr


 “We stayed for a week in Denmark, and then went to Greenland.

When I first got to Denmark, I was in the airport and I went to the bathroom.  In the United States, there’s usually a box attached to the wall for women’s tampons.

In Denmark, they usually have a bag attached with a clip, and of course I didn’t know this.  This was the first time I was ever out of the country.  I walked in the bathroom and saw this clip with this bag on it and I assumed that it was a place to put the bag that you were carrying.

So this lady had just come out of the bathroom, and I walked in and saw the bag sitting there, so I took it off the hook, and ran out chasing this lady going “Your bag!!”  I stopped and I was like, uhhh, and it dawned on me what the bag was for.

In Denmark we got picked up by a chaperone and we almost missed the flight because the chaperone, who was going to be my AFS contact person and also my Norse teacher up at the school I was going to, bought us extra alcohol.  Once we were on the plane she bought champagne for us to drink!

If only my friends back home could see my teacher buying alcohol for us!  I was in a state of shock.”

Calving Ice Berg in Illulissat Icefjord

Calving Icegerg,Illulissat, Image by via Flickr

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War Games in West Berlin

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This image was taken in 1986 by Thierry Noir a...
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I would hang out with friends in town after school and drink beer, smoke cigarettes and chat, whether one day it would be the Cold War, or what we would do if the Warsaw Pact attacks.

We weren’t that far from the border of East Germany, and we had a military base just outside of town.

My first week there was quite an experience because we were having war games going off.  I was lying in bed and there was shaking and bombs exploding and flares going off in the distance, and I came flying downstairs.

Bomben?  Bombs?”

“Oh, we forgot to tell you, there’s a military base and they’re just having war games.”

I got to appreciate more of that whole interaction with the Cold War, that we would have war games in there.  The Brits would come –we were in the British Zone–and their tanks would every so often drive through town.  Americans would come up for NATO maneuvers every so often and drive their Abrams [tanks] through town.  Depending on the size and scope of the games, they would have the Air Forces come in and do dry bombing runs.  What they would do is, they would come in over the base, but turn and loop back around and just skirt the border and get everybody agitated over there, and every time they did that it was an inside joke on this side of the border that we would stir the pot a little bit and see what happens.

Signage at Checkpoint Charlie

Image by edwin.11 via Flickr

It was just a brinkmanship game being played.  The Cold War was much more real at that point there.  We would discuss it and what if it came to war would you fight with East Germans.  “Yeah, if they shoot at me I’ll shoot back.  They’re the enemy.  They’re Germans, yes we speak the same language, but we’re different countries,” and they seemed very accepting of that, very Westward looking.

The whole EC at that point was 20 years old but still developing, still in it’s infancy as far as pan-Western European understanding and cooperation.  Spain and Portugal had just gotten in and that was a big shock to European economy.  Just as big as letting the former Eastern Bloc countries in recent years.

There’s actually some excitement among some of my friends, they can go and work now anywhere from Spain to Sweden.  How cool is that? I don’t need a passport!  That whole concept of not needing these documents anymore.

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My school uniform was hideous!

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It was so funny to find out that kids are kids everywhere and they do the same kind of cliques no matter where you go. But the way they do their student government was really kind of different.

They have prefects who are kind of like your student council.  There’s a head boy and a head girl, nstead of the president of a class — head boy, head girl.  And then there’s prefects, and the prefects are going around campus enforcing rules and this kind of thing.  So they start to take themselves a little seriously.

We wore school uniforms.  So the prefects had a special piping that went around their blazer, so you could tell that they were prefects.  The boys wore different color ties, that was the main difference, and they had cored piping around their blazer.  It was so funny.

You wear your school uniform to school.  When they do things in leisure, where they could wear their civvies, they would just kind of seem to go overboard.  The girls would just pile on the make-up, ’cause they can’t wear make-up to school, and they just seemed to overdress.  So it just seemed like every night when they would get together it was like they were going to go out to the disco or something.

It was very helpful being able to wear uniforms.  I learned to actually like uniforms, and I wish more schools here would do that.  It just makes it so much easier.  I know as a girl it was so hard, deciding What are you going to wear today, and did I wear that out yesterday?  I can’t remember.  Well, this is what I’m wearing today.  It sure saves a lot of time.

Although, our uniform at my school was very ugly.  It wasn’t like in the States where it’s usually khaki pants and white shirt or blue pants or something.  All the girls always wore dresses.  You couldn’t wear pants to school.  But it was this salmon orange jumper with a beige short sleeve shirt and then a black blazer.  And in the summer, the warmer months, we had to wear white ankle socks with black Mary Jane shoes.  In the winter we got to wear black knee socks that had orange stripes around the top.  And we would add a black sweater under the blazer.  But you couldn’t wear a coat.  Luckily it didn’t get too cold, but it did get kind of cold.  So that’s what we wore and it was hideous!



I kept it though.  My daughter actually wore it for Halloween.

But the Mary Jane’s were kind of silly.  And you got the schoolgirl tan, because you have these ankle socks.  And so, at lunch you just kind of sit out on the grass or whatever until you get this tan from the top of your knee down to the top of your socks.  And when you take it off your feet up to your ankles were, you know, white.  The girls would try to roll them down as far as you could.  Cause even though you had uniforms and everybody was supposed to be the same there were still little nuances of who was a little bit more trendy than the other by maybe how they wore their sock.  Or exactly which shoe did they get?  So there was still some differences out there.  Pretty funny.

My host family didn’t tell me that the girls were supposed to wear their hair tied back if it was a certain length.  And so when I went to school, the prefect in my class said, “Why don’t you have your hair tied up?”  I said, “I didn’t want to wear it that way.”  And he said, “Well you have to.”  And I said, “Oh, okay.”

And then I went and got my hair cut.  Cause it was just kind of not long enough to really — like everybody wore like pony tails or pigtails or something like that.  What they did is you part your hair down the middle from the front to the back.  And take the two pieces and bring them front, your front.  And if they touched in the front you had to wear your hair tied up.

At my host sister’s school if your hair touched your collar you had to wear it up.  So there were girls going around with this little one inch ponytails.

And the boys.  Their hair couldn’t touch their collar.  And it couldn’t touch their ears.  And we had inspections, so you’re watched.  Your dresses couldn’t be shorter than a certain length and you couldn’t have your fingernails very long.  For inspection, you hold your hand up, and if they looked from your palm over, if they could see the top of your finger nails, then you have to trim them.

Yeah.  We had inspections frequently.

You could wear clear nail polish if you wanted.  And if you had pierced ears you could wear a set earring.  I think if you had a religious medallion you could wear that, but other than that you could not wear any jewelry.  Yeah.  It was pretty crazy.

Every morning the entire school would go for an assembly in the auditorium and we had a book of hymns.  We’d sing a hymn every morning.  The whole school would say the Lord’s Prayer.  I think somebody would read a Scripture or something and have like an inspirational thought of the day type of thing, make some announcements, and then we’d go to class.  And this was a State school.  It wasn’t a parochial school.  But that’s how it was.  So I got to see what it’s like to have prayer in school, and I really didn’t like it.

At the time I was an active Mormon.  I’m not anymore.  But it felt strange to me ’cause Mormons are taught not to say the same repetitive prayer over and over again.  Pray from your heart.  Whatever.  And so it felt very strange doing that.  So I used to kind of mouth it.  I didn’t really say it along with them just ’cause it felt wrong to me.  But now I understand why it’s so important not to have [prayer in school].  It was an interesting thing to experience.

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