Directly after university, my first experience in the corporate world was that of German tradition and it would serve as my benchmark for the next five years. I had taken a job working at the global headquarters of a multinational chemical company. Six weeks vacation. Yes please. At the time, I considered myself fluent in German. I quickly learned that I was a tad off the mark. At 22 years of age, I recall sitting in a Board meeting during my first week on the job and struggling with what I was hearing. Never mind the fact that I had studied German for six years, I had never heard such words spoken at a speed like this before. I prepared a list of forty plus words that were Greek to me. Actually the list was more like 100 plus. What a linguistic pickle.

Early on, I was informed that I would be given the opportunity to secure a language tutor to catalyze some tender beefing in the arena of the German language. I managed to parlay this into a fantastic two week blitzkrieg language immersion course at the reputed Goethe Institute.  I was placed in the advanced class so we were three students. Not totally helpless you see. My buddy in the class was a young man from Mumbai who had come to Germany to attend medical school.  Never mind my language foibles, he was there to learn the language to study the human body in a tongue not his own. And I quickly learned, smoke Davidoff cigarettes. It seems that everyone smoked back then. Hats off friend. 

It should be noted that when operating in a language and country not your own, smiling does garner compassion. Most of the time at least. Insert rabbit for dinner story here. Once upon a time I used to say "ja, ja" until I realized that yes-ing was not a strategic move. Languages can be tricky things. During lunch one day, I told the boss that the day's lunch was outstanding albeit spicy. The table erupted in laughter. My favorite colleague who used to speak to me in English but insist I respond in German informed me that I had just stated that the day's pork curry dish made me feel randy. Talk about missing the mark. Another time I complimented a colleague on their tie. A quizzical stare in response. Fortunately, my peers knew that I was making a concerted effort. Try and try again, right?

Sometime after my arrival in Germany, the situation in Iraq began and I made a concerted effort to exclusively speak German. My Mom suggested I tell people I was South African. Canadian flag patches on bags grew popular. I did retire my Don't Mess With Texas t-shirt for a while. Let me tell you how much fun it is visiting the doctor for your annual check up in a language not your own. Lost in translation experiences became a close pal. I went into nerd mode and began compiling daily vocabulary lists that I would review before bed at night. Colleagues and friends taught me slang in which I quickly became well versed. If you cannot beat them, join them. 

Touch wood, I did make proven progress. After six months I no longer had to carry my little yellow dictionary with me and soon thereafter, people stopped questioning my accent. Around a year in, I could understand what was being said to me, no matter the speed of delivery. During my early days, I was once told that I spoke German like a Swiss grandmother. Flattery will get you everywhere I told him. Another time someone asked whereabouts in Austria I hailed. Cheer. In times like these, my humor served me well. I knew I had officially made it when I could tell a joke in German and people actually laughed. Like everything in life, it is the little things. I was finally fluent and going to the doctor was no longer an embarassing endeavor. In time, I grew very proud of my command of the German language and still do to this day. 

Language aside, I took advantage of my city on the river. Wednesday nights were spent on the cobblestone streets of Ratinger Strasse drinking cold Alt Bier with the rest of the city’s young professionals. I frequented the Irish pubs when I wanted to speak English, which had by default become my second language. The people of my city were big on picnics and cold Becks in the parks. My city had the most beautiful parks. While I did not have a car, I became an avid walker. Often times I walked the three miles home along the Rhein in lieu of using public transport. During my time in Germany, I made friends of all ages and from different parts of the world through the multitude of clubs and associations I joined. The American Women’s Club is where I made my closest of international friends.

I had the opportunity to take Lebanese and Japanese cooking classes from authorities.  I learned the entire spectrum of Spanish wines thanks to the friend of a friend who owned a wine shop and exclusively procured wine from Spain – on occasion he would cook for us too.  On one of these occasions, I fell in love with pimientos del padron, garlic and tomato rubbed day old bread with jamon iberico, clams simmered in fragrant broth and black olive tapenade, which I later learned to make. It is a shame that Matthew does not like olives otherwise we would keep this in the fridge on a weekly rotation. This spread gives life to any old cracker or slice of bread. It is also lovely on its own.

Traveling was a cinch thanks to train accessibility and airfare deals. In 2004, we found cheap tickets to Sicily. I believe that the airline's mascot was a chimp with a captain's hat. How encouraging. Smoking was allowed on the flight as well as metal cutlery. Seriously? Marlboro Red's aside, we had a grand holiday there. I have cousins who are close like siblings in London and I made a tradition of spending my birthdays with them. For under a hundred bucks and just shy of an hour, I could be in the Big Smoke. To this day, London is still one of my very favorite in which to gallivant. When I visited my parents a handful of hours south, I traveled via train. Having my folks down the road was the biggest perk of my German adventure. Getting here and there was easy. Trains were usually on time, no headaches. Show up fifteen minutes in advance with your ticket and seat assignment and you were on your way.

Despite my hobbit sized kitchen (and the fact that I heated water in a tank on the wall to wash dishes – straight out of 1984), I began to prepare myself meals that I would enjoy in my window seat overlooking a quaint park.  In due time, I identified bakers, grocers, butchers and specialty shops for procuring treats like plump dates and dried mangos. So it is a cause of my time in Germany that the Bratwursts come in. One could always procure a bratwurst in the city. Germans eat them grilled, bursting at the seams and tucked into a roll far too small for the picking and slathered in spicy mustard. The best ones can be enjoyed at a quaint spot in the city where my parents reside. 

In my five years living and working in Düsseldorf or the “the Düss” as we affectingly coined it, I regaled my wonderful and much missed friends across the Atlantic with the shenanigans that shaped my life. My apartment had a phone where I could receive calls but not dial out. I suppose my landlady was concerned about erroneous charges. Thank my stars for the Carolina blue Nokia I carried around. I was very fortunate in that during my first year abroad, a handful of friends came to visit. 

In an effort to show them the accessibility of the EU, we jumped on trains and I soon became an Amsterdam aficionado.  I visited the city on the canals eight times between 2002 and 2003. I will not regale you with details of what we did while there but I am sure you can imagine. Google Casa Rosso. Or don't. It should be noted that everyone visited the Rijksmuseum at least once. In my back pocket, I have zillions of stories and adventures from my first Oktoberfest to San Fermin in Pamplona to a seasick fishing expedition off the coast of Tenerife.  A pair of my stories are of the kosher sort and others not but they all gave life to meine Deutsche Erfahrung. At times, I had to pinch myself. My five years abroad set the trajectory for things to come.

When in Deutschland, I ate a lot of pork. American advertising calls it the other white meat.  There I learned to cook, eat and enjoy it in a myriad of ways. Roasted, braised, fried, grilled and crisped and stuffed in casing to yield sausages.  When I visit the butcher or meat counter now, beautiful cuts of pork make me giddy. Guten Appetit!

Pork Chops with Sage and Crisp Apples


2 thick cut, bone-in pork chops
3 cloves of garlic – chopped
1/2 packet of fresh sage – chopped
2 apples – I like Pink Lady or Honeycrisp – sliced
1/2 cup of Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil


1. Salt the pork chops and let sit for approximately 15 minutes.

2. Add 2 TBS olive oil to your Dutch oven at high heat. Once nice and hot, add the pork chops, garlic and half of the chopped sage. You want to let them turn to a golden brown on both sides.

3. Once the pork is browned, put them on a plate and let them rest. Now lower the temperature to medium high heat, add the apples, salt and pepper to the pan. Add a bit more olive oil if necessary. Stir occasionally and let them cook until they become soft.

4. Now add the pork as well as the rest of the chopped sage back to the pan and give everything a generous move around. Add ½ cup of Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar, put the top on and let it cook for approximately 20 minutes.

5. The cider vinegar will cook down and you should now have a lovely combination of crisped pork and stewed apples. Give everything another pinch of salt. I served this dish with sweet potatoes roasted in the oven at 425 with garlic, rosemary and 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil.



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