You can't escape Christmas commercialism or smoking
11 December 2001
I'm still here. I just made hot chocolate on the stove and felt all provincial. On Friday night, my Polish teacher hosted a traditional Polish Christmas dinner. There were tons of cute little kids and it was fun. Traditional Polish Christmas food is vegetarian, so I got to eat everything. "Santa Claus" came to give gifts to the kids, but the German Santa Claus isn't as nice as the American one. He made fun of me because I didn't sing along to the German version of "O Christmas Tree" when I should have. It seemed uncalled for. I mean, I'm trying, alright?
Then I went to another Christmas party. There are six students who share the attic apartment in a dorm and they'd all invited friends so it was a nice mix of people. Their dorm is in a little town north of Heidelberg and the last train back was at 1, so I left kind of early. I was tired and wanted to sleep in my own bed. There were more people along the main street at 1:30 am than I expected. And on the weekends it's pretty much wall to wall people for a mile or so down the main street because of the Christmas market. November got better in terms of the number of tourists, but now there are busloads of tourists coming to go to the Christmas market. It's spread out across four or five squares and there are apparently historical aspects to the market along with commercial ones, but the fact that the Heidelberg market goes back longer than most doesn't make it any more pleasant to go places on the weekends. I have no real desire to get into the commercial Christmas spirit and the fact that I sometimes have trouble walking down the sidewalk in front of my dorm because of all the tourists doesn't help. And I thought about sending cards, but I can't find any non-Christmas ones. I'd like to send plain old "Happy New Year" or "Happy Holidays" cards, but there are none to be had. They're all "Merry Christmas". They can have a nice picture of Heidelberg in the snow and they still say Merry Christmas inside. I didn't think it would be so hard to find cards with snowflakes or snowmen on them. I haven't searched much for cards at home, but I bet I could find "Happy Winter Solstice" cards without too much trouble, especially in Asheville.
I keep hoping life will calm down, but it doesn't seem to. I haven't even gone anywhere for the past two weekends and I'm not going anywhere this weekend either. Next weekend the whole choir is spending the weekend in a little town a couple hours south of here. I have to work hard this week to get all my homework done, too.
If it's playing near you, I would strongly recommend seeing the film Amelie. I'm not sure what the exact English title is. I saw it last Sunday (dubbed in German, but since I didn't know what the actors were supposed to sound like, it was actually alright; I probably understood more than I would have with German subtitles). It was really good, in a delightful, playful kind of way. I walked out grinning. I also saw a trailer for Memento (I can't figure out why it's taken it six months to get here), which I would recommend, too, if you haven't already seen it. The title Memento seems to have made into German relatively unscathed, but most titles get mangled by the translators. Maybe they're copywriters and not translators. I don't know. Anyway, whoever does the translating needs help. Bridget Jones' Diary became (literally translated) Chocolate for Breakfast, Miss Congeniality became Miss Undercover, etc. I see movie posters and the title is so different that I sometimes can't figure out what the English title was. I read the actors' names and wrack my brain for what it could possibly have been in English. Today, I saw a poster for Serendipity and the title was literally Because there is you (in the "because you exist" sense, not it the "because you just happened to be there and are getting in the way" sense).
I haven't ranted much about smoking yet, either, have I? The only places in the university where smoking isn't allowed are the classrooms and other lecture halls and the cafeteria. Note that I didn't say the classroom buildings. Smoking is allowed in the hallways, so in the big building of lecture halls, you often enter and exit class through a big cloud of smoke. People light up as soon as they step out of the classroom and we're all forced to breathe it. It's really horrendous. I don't think there's any such thing as a non-smoking section in a restaurant. The cafe underneath the cafeteria also allows smoking, so one day last week we were sitting trying to eat our lunch in the cafe in peace and with breatheable air, but we were thwarted by just about everyone sitting around us. I left feeling ill and my eyes and throat hurt all through my next class. I would never put up with this at home and I can't imagine that other people aren't also put off by it, but I guess they're all used to it. I guess if you've always walked out of your classes into a cloud of smoke, you don't think much of it. You accept the ashtrays scattered all over the tables in common areas and wheeze your way through the rest of your life. I don't really understand why so many start smoking the first place. I would guess that the percentage of students at UNC who smoke is somewhere around 10-20%, though I really don't know for sure, but it has to be something like 50-60% here. A friend whose dorm has a shared kitchen for the entire floor often can't stand to eat there because so many people hang out and smoke.
There are lots of ads and previews before movies here (more than at home!) and I saw the first cigarette commercial I've ever seen before Amelie. It was disgusting. I told a friend this, and she was surprised that I hadn't seen any normal movies before (I just saw ones in the festival) and she asked me if I ever watched TV. I've watched a total of 3 or 4 hours of TV since I've been here. Be proud of me or something.