Eric's Germany Journal

This is part of a journal I wrote while living in Ulm, Germany, from December 12, 2002, to September 17, 2003.


Saturday, January 4, 2003

One more problem with living in a foreign country: I do not know how to open the soy milk cartons. They do not open like US milk or juice cartons. There are arrows indicating some sort of motion, but I see no seam except the top nor any leverage to push apart the seal at the top. I resorted to cutting the carton open. Later I will translate the text on the carton to see if any of it has directions.

Ah, the new schedule is correct. I can hear the trucks. Today is garbage day. Specifically, Biotonne und Restmülltonne day. Gelber Sack day isn't until next Tuesday.

Oops, I failed to plan. I spent my change in the farmer's market. Then, when I went to Marktkauf, I did not have a euro coin to unlock a shopping cart. I had to make do with the bags I had. I have to remember never to spend my last euro. In Marktkauf, I found a second brand of soy milk. There appear to be no summer/yellow squash here. On the other hand, there is currant juice. Maybe that means I can find fresh currants somewhere.

I miss the motion-detector light switches I installed in my apartment. There, I could walk from room to room without thinking about light. Here, I have to turn light switches on and off whenever I walk around.

Sunday, January 5, 2003

It snowed for the first time I have been here. Just a light snow, not like I hear New England has received. Another good thing about a good public transit system is that I don't have to clean off a car.

I have encountered five new types of container openings. Plastic bags for bread have either a firm pliable cinch or an adhesive wrap. Compared to a US twist-tie, the cinch is stronger, wider, and shorter. It is not long enough to twist. You just put it around the bag and squeeze. The adhesive wrap is a minor puzzle. About two inches of a narrow adhesive tape was put around the constricted bag, and the two sides of the tape were brought together to stick to each other. However, the ends were not pressed together. Instead, they were splayed out, and a piece of paper was put across them. So the end result is a circle of tape around the bag, a short segment of face-to-face tape, and another segment perpendicular to the first made of tape and paper together.

Now, if you were just meant to destroy the tape, the arrangement would not be this complicated. So I deduce it is intended to be reusable. If you split the paper where the two ends of the tape meet and pull it apart, you get a length of tape that is adhesive in the middle but has paper-covered tabs at the two ends. So you can, with some practice, put the tape back around the bag.

As for juice and milk cartons, I have seen three openings so far. One is the puzzling push-something mechanism I reported earlier. The other two have plastic lids on the box top. Pulling open the lid reveals in one case a prepared seam in the carton that is pushed in to make an opening. At that point, the carton loses some of its structural integrity, and the force applied to the sides to provide friction to support the container against gravity also squeezes the carton, reducing its volume by an amount greater than the volume of air inside the carton. Then the liquid contents are expelled in an uncontrolled manner.

The other carton is similar, except that opening the plastic lid reveals another bit of plastic that punctures the carton when pushed. My first attempt to operate this mechanism broke it off after opening the carton, yielding plastic floating in the contents. There must be something else to it.

All this goes to show the amount of work required to live in a foreign country. Tasks that would be so trivial as to be unnoticed at home require investigation and thought. When you first encounter a new mechanism, there are all sorts of questions to be asked: Is it pushed, pulled, rotated, or slid? Is it punctured or torn? Is it operated by itself or in conjunction with other components? Is there more than one thing you can do with it? Is it reusable or intended to be destroyed? Which garbage category does it belong in? Even if the answers turn out to be simple, determining that there are no complications still takes time.

Speak of opening mechanisms, many windows here have a handle that controls a complicated latch mechanism. When the handle is down, the window is latched shut. When the handle is turned to the side, the window opens from the side. When the handle is turned up, the window opens at the top.

One of the new exercises they had me do at the gym really did a number on my legs. It was a machine where you push your legs apart. Those muscles are now very, very sore. That is rare for me, because I am in excellent shape, and most of my muscles complain only a little when they are pushed to new limits. I had to tell the trainer repeatedly to raise the weights on some machines. (She started me at 25 kilograms on one machine that I do with 55 at home.) These particular leg muscles must not have gotten any use in my previous treadmill, bicycling, weightlifting, stretching, leg exercises, and walking. That means I never use those muscles and do not need them, so there was no point in using that infernal machine.

A neighbor, Herr Franz-Leopold Kling, and his son Thomas invited me over, so we talked for a while. Among other things, I learned that people aren't saying Cheers, they are saying Tschüs. At least they think they are; my dictionary notes it as a colloquialism meaning the British colloquialism cheerio. The pronunciation is very similar, so I bet it did come from British.

Monday, January 6, 2003

Today is yet another holiday. David Cunnah (the recruiter who connected me with EADS) advised me it probably was, but I was prepared either way. So, it will be one more day until I go back to work. In the meantime, I will relate some additional differences between the US and Germany.

The showers are different. I do not think German showers are meant for long, comfortable showers. They are small. There is little or no provision for storing soap, shampoo, and washcloths. The water controls are not designed to give fine temperature control.

There are some differences in renting apartments. The security deposit is two months' rent instead of one. The renter pays the agent's fee instead of the landlord. The agent's fee is one month's rent for terms under six months, 1.5 month's rent for six months to a year, and two months rent for a year or more. In many cases, the tenant is required to paint the apartment when moving out. In some cases, the tenant may be required to purchase improvements made by a previous tenant, such as installed kitchen equipment.

In menus, beverages are listed by the specific volume, such as .4 liters, and the glasses contain lines showing the measured amounts.

Hey, look at that, a sixth type of container opening: a juice carton that you are supposed to cut. There's a bit of extra cardboard folded down along the side. You lift that up to form a spout and then cut off a corner.

My measuring spoon problem is solved. I thought about it and realized I might have prepared for it, so I checked my luggage. Sure enough, I had packed a set of measuring spoons. I packed one plate, one fork, one spoon, one table knife, one cutting knife, one tumbler, a small mixing bowl, a can opener, and one set of measuring spoons. Most of that I packed so that I would be able to do basic food preparation as soon as I had a place, even before I had the opportunity to shop for equipment. The measuring spoons I must have thrown in because I expected that German measuring spoons would be metric sizes, although I did not expect they would be unavailable. I used some of the equipment in the hotel, but I never unpacked it in the apartment because the apartment already had a stocked kitchen. Except for measuring spoons, of course, since those do not exist in Germany.

Tuesday, January 7, 2003

We had the first significant snowfall since I have been here. I am glad it did not snow earlier, while I was learning my way around. It would have been a deterrent to going outside. Now it is not a problem, especially since I do not have a car here and do not have to clean snow off of anything.

Today it was back to work. The project is going very well. I wrote four important assembly language routines before mid-afternoon, which is well into the third milestone. I can't test them yet because I have yet to write the routine that is going to call them. That will take a little while. I got in early and left early so I could go to the gym.

Sometimes it is harder to cross the street here than catch a streetcar. As I approached the stop, a streetcar left. I waited for the signal to cross the first section of road to the stop, and then I thought about going to the bakery across the street, so I waited for the signal to cross the next section of road. However, another streetcar came along. Hmm, the streetcars run more frequently than the complete crosswalk cycle? Well, they are scheduled about six minutes apart, but I think the first streetcar was a minute late and the second was a minute early.

Germans seem to come by to say hello to the new person in the office without introducing themselves by name. That has happened several times.

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Work continues to go well. I wrote a skeleton driver routine to try three of the routines I wrote yesterday, and those are now debugged and working. It will be a problem if things continue at this pace. EADS might get the idea they are paying too much if I finish in a few months the work they estimated at nine months, and they already think they are paying a lot for nine months' work. Another factor is that EADS wants to document that I actually did the work day-by-day, to show that it was not code I brought in from somewhere else and that somebody else might claim rights to. To do this, they need to set up an area in a source code control system. They haven't done that yet. So if I get much more done, the first entry in the records will be a largely functional FFT. It is very different from the code I wrote at Sky in the details but shares a lot of overall structure, since it is designed to do the same task. I may have to work shorter days.

Actually, with work so close to home, it is easy to get in by eight, put in a standard German seven-hour day, allow a little time for lunch, and be done not much after three o'clock. Well, at least I can get to the gym before it gets crowded.

It is official, there are no measuring spoons in Germany. I mentioned measuring spoons to several people, neighbors and coworkers, and the uniform response was to go to Abt, a kitchen and more store in the center of town. I had already checked Abt carefully, but, even though I have my own measuring spoons, I wanted to satisfy my curiosity, so I went and asked a clerk. First, I had to ask if she spoke English. She did not, so she got somebody else who spoke some. He understood English well enough that I got the idea across, but he went to get somebody else to be sure, and that person came out with a dictionary, which wasn't needed. They understood I wanted spoons for measuring specific amounts. Like measuring cups, but smaller. They don't have any. I asked at Müller too, and they don't have any either. It is a good thing I brought my own. I did that because I thought it would be convenient to have English sizes to match my recipes, not because I thought I might not find any measuring spoons here.

It wasn't easy to find a potholder either, although I did. I bought a few things today, and it is still a chore. Even though I have some idea where things are, it is necessary to check several stores to find a good match for what I want. I suppose the situation is better now because at least the problem is usually to find a good match rather than just to find anything that will do.

My electric shaver recharges faster on 240 volts. I bought several power transformers with me but haven't used any yet. My computer, my Pocket PC, my external disk drive, and my shaver all work on 120 or 240 volts. They only need plug adapters. The rechargeable battery charger seems to be the only thing that doesn't work on 240 volts, and I haven't had to recharge anything yet. (The camera batteries are still working.) The printer on its way to me might need a transformer.

Thursday, January 9, 2003

Clasp on a bag of cereal
Hinged clasp.
Oh, I forgot, there is a seventh new type of package opening. One brand of cereal has a hard plastic clip. It is hinged, and the sides are initially fastened together where a circular spot has been pushed through and formed into some locking shape. That breaks when you pull the sides apart, but small tabs and indentations remain that allow you to snap it closed again.

Many of my New England correspondents have been telling me about the record snowfall there. For those of you dealing with snow and traffic, here is the commute I had today. It took 98 seconds to get from home to the streetcar stop. That is from inside, mind you, including locking the door. Then it was 123 seconds until the streetcar arrived and 79 seconds until it left. The ride to Westplatz took four minutes and 37 seconds, almost longer than it takes to cross the street sometimes. The walk to the EADS gate took three minutes and 44 seconds, and then it was another 85 seconds to my office door. Total time: 14 minutes, 46 seconds. No shoveling or scraping, no matter how much it snows.

On the other hand, the walk to the cafeteria takes eight minutes. It is all the way across the complex (west to east), and you can't walk straight there; you have to go from the south side to the north side and back. If things were laid out just a bit differently, it might be faster to leave the complex, take the streetcar one stop, and go back in to the cafeteria.

After eight days of work, I have completed three milestones originally scheduled to take 15 weeks. There is some hard work coming, but I will have plenty of slack for it.

There are measuring spoons in Germany. By comparing the English and German pages, I find the word for measuring spoon is Messlöffel. Mess is measuring and löffel is spoon, so the concept isn't unknown to Germans. Why aren't there any in stores? Now that I have the word, I may try asking again.

Friday, January 10, 2003

I asked some coworkers, and Katzenstreu means kitty litter.

EADS set up a repository for my source code, so now they will have a record of the development progress. That means I can go faster, as explained above. I was also able to run my code on actual hardware today, instead of the simulator, and it works as expected.

Deutsche Telekom sent me a letter. At first, I thought it was trying to sell me something, but it is telling me about features that come with my phone service. The most useful one would be voice mail, but I cannot understand the prompts to turn it on. Also, I think it may require an "R" button, which isn't on the US telephone I am using. If I asked somebody to help me turn on the voice mail, I'd also have to ask them to explain all the menus and commands, so I think I'll pass. If you want to call me, try after 1 p.m. your time; I will be home most evenings.

Cast of <i>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</i>
Second-season cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
There is no television in the apartment. The landlady may replace the previously broken television, but there would be few, if any, English programs available. Fortunately, I brought DVDs of the first two seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with me, and I have been watching those with some frequency.

I may upload a photograph of some of the chocolate I am buying at various stores, but it generally does not seem to last long enough to get a picture.

Saturday, January 11, 2003

Grooved wheels of a shopping cart on an escalator
Grooved wheels of a shopping cart on an escalator.
I saw some Katzenstreu in the store today. Kaufland also has an interesting method for conveying shopping carts on the escalators. The escalators are moving ramps rather than moving stairs, but they have the grooved panels much like most US escalators. The shopping cart wheels are also grooved. On a flat floor, the wheels roll on their outer diameters. Alongside each wheel is a straight leg, ending slightly above the bottom of the wheel. On the escalator, the grooves in the wheels mesh with the grooves in the panels, and the shopping cart sinks below the surface a little. The cart stands on its legs and will not roll. This is a much more elegant solution than the system in Target, which uses a second set of escalators just for carts, with gates to keep people out and pins and whatnot to hold the carts.

Sculpture of a sparrow holding a twig in its mouth
The Ulm sparrow.
I visited a souvenir shop to see what was available. There are Ulm snow globes, which I avoided. Ulm has three stories about intelligence in Ulm: Albert Einstein was born here. An Ulm tailor designed the first hang-glider and flew most of the way across the Danube. And some Ulmers got an idea about how to get a long plank through a narrow door by watching a sparrow turn a twig sideways to get it through a narrow opening. The sparrow has become a big symbol of Ulm. It is on souvenir items, it is on some public buildings, and there are sparrow statues here and there around town—including on the roof of my gym and at the EADS gate. The EADS sparrow is a sparrow-airplane hybrid, to mix the Ulm symbol with EADS' work.

One mug bearing Albert Einstein's image
Ein Einstein Stein.
Another souvenir I got is one Einstein stone mug. In German, ein Einstein Stein.

I am collecting the items I need to bake raspberry-chocolate-chip macadamia brownies, so I bought a baking pan at Kaufland. I got a pan just about the size I use back home, 9 inches (23 centimeters) on each side. However, it is clearly labeled as 26 centimeters by 27 centimers. I measured it, and those are the exterior lengths of the pan, including the rim and handles. That is useful if your primary need is to plan storage space, but it doesn't tell you how much the pan will hold, which is important both for recipe size and thermal flow. I would have assumed baking pans would be labeled with interior measurements. That's one more assumption violated. (I suppose it is not really an assumption, since I did measure it rather than rely on the stated dimensions.)

An oven thermometer is also proving hard to find. Again, I have checked several kitchen stores without success. I need a thermometer because the dial on my oven is worn, and the only legible number is 100°.

Part of a juice carton showing the words "Tetra Pak"
Juice carton.
I learned a little more about the Tetrapack item in the garbage rules. One of the juice cartons I have is labeled Tetra Pak. I do not know what makes it different from the other cartons, or even whether it is different. Also, about opening cartons, this one has a fine perforation near the top, but it did not tear readily. So I am still missing something.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

The weekend has gone by too quickly. I spent a large part of today tinkering with my computer—updating the sound driver, which, to my surprise, actually fixed the problem I wanted to fix (the system would not remember volume settings between boots), and things like that. I also revised some documents for work and sent email to get the folks at EADS prepared to sign off on the first project milestone, which will get money flowing from EADS to the recruiting firm to the management company, and maybe even some of it will reach me.

Monday, January 13, 2003

They are taking the hardware away from me for a while, so some other folks can use it. Grr. Martin Lang says one can use the simulator to debug programs for correctness, and you only need the actual hardware to measure program speed. Well, hey, guess what I was hired for? I already have the mathematics part done, and now I need to work on speed. They didn't expect me to get this far this quickly. I can work on a few other things for a while—mostly the design documentation and implementing the structure for long-vector support, but I will need the hardware back soon.

It snowed here for real today. The previous snowfall was little more than a dusting. Now we have gotten about two inches, so far. If I had had my camera, I would have taken a picture of the stream on my route to and from the gym. By the way, the rechargeable batteries finally finished their charge. They took around 200 pictures on one charge. Now I get to see if the electric power transformer works... Okay, it's on, and nothing is exploding, smoking, glowing, popping, or squealing, so I guess it is okay.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

It's Gelber Sack day. There were yellow sacks all over this morning. Since you pay for recycling, and it is basically measured by volume (whether sack or barrel), there is a financial incentive to stuff the stacks as full as you can without bursting them.

I got a lot done at work and didn't even touch the source code—just writing documentation, which I did on my own notebook computer. Oh, more differences between German and US cultures, or part of them anyway: The building I work in has large offices. There are four people in mine, and the space per person is bigger than a typical US cubicle, I think. The office doors are kept closed. I do not know whether that is to cut down on heating costs, keep noise out, or some cultural thing. The deadbolt locks are different. The lock on the office door and the lock on my apartment both take two full turns, 720°, thumping once on each revolution.

I got home to find new garbage information for 2003. No fair, I did all the work to translate the 2002 information! Hopefully, they are similar enough that I can compare them side-by-side to see what changed. I also have a note from my landlady. This is excrutiating; most of it is unreadable. When reading a language you know, you can make out words from a few letters. However, I cannot make out the letters or the words. If I cannot read at least the first three letters, I haven't got any hope of finding the word in the dictionary, and I can't read a lot of her letters.

I think not only is her handwriting hard to read, but Germans write letters with a different style, if not truly different characters. I finally figured out those things that look like Ws are actually Ms. The Vs are Ws. The thing I thought was a d is actually ch. I can only figure out about half the words, but the idea seems to be I should leave the washing machine door open after using the machine to avoid metal parts rusting, and I should avoid using the washing machine and the dryer at the same time to avoid tripping the circuit breaker.

Sigh, I think she is worrying too much. The washing machine came with English instructions which I read thoroughly, and the maintenance says nothing about needing to leave the door open or avoid rust. It has a filter to be cleaned every four to six months, along with the detergent tray occasionally, and that's it for maintenance. And I have used the washer and dryer together, and the circuit breaker hasn't tripped. And so what if it did? Then I would reset it and use only one machine. But if it isn't necessary, it's helpful to be able to use both at once. At one to two hours per load, and small loads, doing a week's laundry can take an entire day if you can use only one machine at a time.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Another cultural difference to report: Most people in the EADS cafeteria do not have a beverage with lunch. Soup is usually or always part of the meal. A few beverages are available, but they are not part of the fixed-price meal; you have to pay extra for them.

Lunch itself was interesting. I am only going once a week (to avoid calories, I usually bring something smaller most days). I try to pick a day when there is a vegetarian option besides salad (only twice this week). Today, the vegetarian option was soup, "grandmother's style" Dampfnudeln, cheese salad, and dessert. The soup had matzo-ball-like things in it, except smaller. The Dampfnudeln seemed like a large hunk (maybe a cube three inches on a side) of soft bread with a cream sauce poured over it. The cheese salad was strips of cheese (think linguini, but shorter) with a dressing and a few vegetable shreds thrown in. Dessert was strawberry slices swimming in a very slightly tart sauce.

Here are some photographs I took on the way to the gym.

Waterwheel in stream, with bridge in background Fork in stream, with snow-covered banks Fuzzy ducks
A waterwheel. It isn't turning. A fork in the stream. Fuzzy ducks.
There is some question whether the ducks are fuzzy or the photograph is fuzzy. However, I took several different photographs, and the ducks appeared fuzzy in all of them. If we consider whether just two ducks are fuzzy or four photographs are fuzzy, we should favor the explanation with fewer factors, so let's say the ducks are fuzzy. Of course, there is also the explanation that the ducks were moving and the waterwheel was not, so the ducks appear fuzzy and the waterwheel appears sharp. Those ducks were moving at a pretty good clip. They must have had somewhere to be.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

German forms
Residence permit certificate.
Today was very eventful. I got my Aufenthaltserlaubnis at the Auslanderamt. The certificate has been stuck onto two pages of my passport, and now I can reside in Germany for a year. Coincidentally, I received my Sozialversicherungsausweis (social insurance card) from Berlin today too. Yikes! There's a reason to come home to the US; I don't like mail from the government in Berlin.

Herr Weing at the Auslanderamt told me to register with the Entsorgungs-Betriebe der Stadt Ulm (EBU, City of Ulm Disposal Operation), so I did, and now I have a Restmüllmarke, a sticker to put on the everything-else trash can. If I had an everything-else trash can, I could throw trash away in my own personal, government-authorized trash can. But I don't know where to get one, so that's my next project. I am not sure I needed to register with the EBU, because I thought using the house's containers was part of the rental agreement. Something I translated in the Müllinfo said garbage partnerships were permitted. But I asked the woman at the EBU desk twice about using Frau Moser's cans, and she said no. But her English was poor; it may have been a communication problem, and she was unable to reach Frau Moser by phone.

The fee for a 35-liter Restmüll can emptied every four weeks and a year's supply of yellow sacks is €31. If that is right, I'm not going to bother figuring out if I should have signed up or not. One of my office mates, Martin Lang, who does not live in Ulm, thinks that is low and €31 per month is closer to what he pays in his city. If that is the case, it may be cheaper to mail my garbage home.

Martin also translated my landlady's note. I got the first part right; she wants me to leave the washer door open. The second part says to turn off the valve to the hose to the washing machine after doing laundry. That is because the insurance company will not reimburse you for damages if the hose breaks because you could have avoided them by turning off the faucet.

Sparrow statue with wheels, headphone and microphone, tailfin, windows, silver body, and painted stripes
EADS' Airplane Sparrow.
Wider view of the sparrow statue
EADS' Airplane Sparrow.
Here are two pictures of the sparrow at one of the EADS gates.

Also at the office, I worked hard on a proof. I had equations, a page of material, proved one aspect of what I needed to, and was still working on the other. After hours of labor, I finally figured out an easy way to demonstrate the result, in only five lines of text. You want to see it? Good, because I put a lot into it:

         The element with index k is read once and written once per value of p, specifically when k0 has the value floor(k/2N-n[p]). As p increases, the values of k0 form a non-decreasing sequence. Then we can easily see that lexicographically sorting the pairs of values (p, k0) first by p and then by k0 (the original loop order) yields the same order as sorting the pairs first by k0 and then by p (the new loop order).

At the government offices, I picked up a catalog for the Volkshochschule, to see if they have any German classes. Last weekend, I stopped by Inlingua, a commercial school, but I wasn't impressed. Among other things, I think they only teach German in German, and I'm not sure that will work for me.

I also have a phone bill I can't understand. It doesn't seem to show the numbers I called, which are almost all to my Internet service provider. Either they were lumped together into one charge, or Lars signed me up for some phone company service I do not want. Wait, there should be a connection charge this first month. However, the first letter from Deutsche Telekom said it would be €51.56, and the charges on the bill are each less than that. The monthly charge is different too, but that may have changed on the first of the year. Well, I will be busy this weekend translating the phone bill, the two pages of statements on the back of the residence forms, the statement with the social insurance card, and the school catalog. I also have to find a Restmüll can. If you want to know why I am not exploring Europe on weekends, that's why.

I have gotten several calls tonight from a computer. It doesn't seem to be telemarketing, though; the computer says my telephone number (yes, I can understand German numbers, if spoken slowly and clearly) and asks me to press one for something. My best guess is that it is the telephone company asking me if the service is okay. If the computer calls again, though, I am disconnecting the phone for the night. I wouldn't want the phone to ring in the middle of Buffy.

Sparrow statue with bandages, hypodermic, and antlers
Pharmacy Sparrow.
Here is one of the sparrows around town. This one is over an Apotheke. That is an apothecary, obviously. We would be more likely to think pharmacy, but don't think drug store. Drug stores in the US have branched into selling all sorts of things. The pharmacies here are strictly medical supplies. Hence the poor sparrow's bandages and hyperdermic. I do not know why it has antlers. Oh, wait, yes, I do. The store is Hirsch-Apotheke, and Hirsch means deer.

I ordered Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Third Season on DVD! It was just released. is going to send it directly to me in Germany. It should be here just as I finish watching the second season.

Friday, January 17, 2003

The EBU will send me a bill for the garbage fees. I will probably pay it by filling out a slip directing my bank to transfer money to EBU's account and dropping that slip in a box at the bank. Lars told me that US-style checks, where you give another person an order for your bank to give them money from your account, are not in common use here. I do not know if such checks are readily available. On the one hand, it may reduce fraud, since nobody can forge a document taking money from your account if such documents are not in use. However, it has to be replaced by a system for making payments easily.

For slow transactions like mailed bills, it is fine to pay by account transfers, but for fast transactions like purchases in stores, you use things like debit/credit cards. That works when the merchant has a terminal and can verify the transaction with the bank. What happens when one person sells another a used car? The seller wants to see the money, or evidence they will receive it, right away, but they do not have a terminal. Do they go to the bank? Do they use cash? Is there something like a check? A money order, perhaps?

One nice thing about working here is that I don't have to go to meetings. Partly because I am a contractor, not a direct employee, and also because my contract is quite specific about the work to be done. But also because the usual staff and status meetings are in German, so it wouldn't do much good for me to go.

Andreas, another of my officemates, tells me there is a law in Germany that merchants must accept the packaging you do not want of any product you buy from them. That makes it their problem to dispose of, according to the rules of their city and so on. Merchants don't like expenses, so they tell the manufacturers to cut down. As a result, excessive packaging has decreased. More things come in simple wrappers, they aren't layered in boxes-within-boxes, and so on. In addition to the resource savings, it decreases puffery—you don't get much of the little-product-in-big-box tricks that you see in the US, like containers with raised bottoms, transparent plastic only in the bottom of bags of chips that don't show the empty upper half, big boxes that hold the product up for display but are mostly empty, and so on.

Sparrow statue with gymnast's wand, painted with sports figures
Gymnast Sparrow.
Here is the sparrow over my gym. That is a gymnast's wand in its beak.

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© Copyright 2003 by Eric Postpischil.