Friday, April 1, 2016

Aprilscherz / April Fools

Today is April 1st. In Germany that means the various newspapers, news media, young people, and groups will be pulling pranks, telling lies and laughing about it afterwards, etc. If you read or hear something that sounds unbelievable today, it just might be.

School isn't in session right now because of the Easter holidays, so that means kids old enough to stay home unattended are on the loose to wreak whatever havoc on their neighbors and community they can conjure up while they're staring at their Smartphones. That doesn't usually amount to much around here, but it is a good idea to keep an eye out for mischief-makers.

During the night of my first April 1st here in Germany, some local kids were apparently out TP-ing. I kid you not, I woke up to this horror the following morning on the path just opposite our front gate:

toilet-papering, Swabian style
I admit, the above photo is a reenactment, since I didn't think to take a picture of the actual evidence that morning. There were also individual scraps of paper scattered sparsely about on the street to accentuate the villains' work. This was annoying, because of course it rained in the wee hours of the morning.

This is how the rotten little hoodlums do it in Wisconsin:

My daughter looks "thrilled" because it was her classmates (and my students)
who did this, but she helped clean up the mess.
Haha. That's Reason #2 of at least 30 why, as a teacher, I hated Homecoming. This is an age-old "tradition" for teenagers in the Wisconsin, and it is a perfectly fitting example of some Americans' absolute disregard for waste (of time, money, and resources). Sure, TP disintegrates quickly, but as you can imagine or have experienced for yourself, it's a pain in the ass to clean up. The other thing the little parasites often do is stick hundreds of plastic forks in their victims' lawns and break off the handles, throwing those on the ground. And of course we filled six or seven plastic yard waste bags (that's right, in US cities natural yard waste that could decompose if disposed of properly is stuffed into large heavy-duty plastic garbage bags, which are then taken by the city waste disposal crew) that morning before I had to go and pretend I gave half a shit about a high school football game.

News blurbs from today, which are related to a blog post I wrote less than two weeks ago, that are not but sound like Aprilscherze:

  • As of today in all of Germany, plastic bags are supposed to cost consumers some pocket change (10 to 20 cents each) in an effort to reduce their use and impact on the environment. So far this is voluntary, and some stores and businesses may still decide not to participate. This news comes less than two weeks after lawmakers in Wisconsin voted to ban potential future bans on the free distribution of plastic bags in stores. Keep that filth coming, folks!

  • Related to the above story, several Germans were interviewed coming out of stores, and they called the action of charging for plastic bags "absolut richtig" - absolutely appropriate. According to the report, 80% of Germans support charging for plastic bags, and 30% think they should not even be available at all. These are not "tree-huggers," my friends. These are people who are environmantally conscious and aware.

  • In Finland and Denmark, the average person uses four plastic bags per year. The average German uses 71 plastic bags and the EU wants to reduce that number to 40 by the year 2025. In the U.S., the average family brings home 1500 plastic bags a year.

  • The fabulous bakery in the next town is expanding their efforts to encourage customers to reduce waste. As of today they are offering a free Brezel to anyone who returns the paper bags the bakery uses to wrap bread, rolls, etc. If you think a pretzel isn't worth the hassle of saving and returning bags, you haven't ever eaten one from this family-owned bakery! Unlike the other bakeries in the area, they still make their products from scratch and on site rather than from industrial-produced dough delivered on a truck.
Update: Although the Plaz bakery hasn't fessed up yet, I actually think this one is indeed an Aprilscherz, since their announcement says the returned (paper) bags need to be clean and ironed. I'm amending rather than deleting that bit because I can admit I fell for an April Fool's jest! (They do, however, offer a reduced price for coffee to those who bring their own mugs. That story was in yesterday's paper).

I am going to see if I can start today and go the rest of the year without acquiring any new plastic bags. I'm part Finnish, after all, how hard can this be?

What is one new thing you can do for the rest of the year (and by then it will have become habit) that will reduce waste and have a positive effect on the environment?


  1. Yay on the plastic bag thing, at least in Germany! I use maybe about 10 or so a year and that's only when I buy more items than I had planned and my bag isn't big enough, or I didn't plan to go shopping. If I can carry the items, I do that instead of taking a plastic bag.

    As far as reducing waste (though it doesn't necessarily help the environment, I: use former food boxes (such as cereal boxes) and the lining bags to scoop used cat litter into and throw out. I used to put a bucket under the shower faucet while I waited for the water to heat up. I'd then use that water (as well as the water from my dehumidifier) to either flush the toilet or water plants outside although I haven't figured out a way to get it to work on my German toilet. I've stopped giving gifts to the adults in my family; we all have way more than enough stuff. If I do happen to buy a gift, I try to give a gift of an experience or something consumable, like a meal out or some wine. I give the children in our family something useful, i.e. money for college. I keep the heat very low in my house; the whole house is usually probably about 60 degrees, but if friends come over I heat up the living room because I want visiting to be pleasant for them. I wash/reuse glass jars and if I send someone home with leftovers, they can just keep or recycle the jar and not worry about giving it back. I use baking soda, vinegar, and Castile soap for cleaning. The items are multi-use; the same Castile soap (liquid Dr. Bronner's) is also for showering and the vinegar is used as conditioner. I save money and use non-toxic cleaning products. Phew, that was a novel! I do other things, too :)

    1. You've certainly put me to shame with how much you do! I also like giving experiences and consumables as gifts, and what kids doesn't appreciate money for college or petrol? 60° would be too cold for me! We keep ours around 66°/19°C, and I wear a scarf and several layers inside. I've heard of the baking soda-vinegar thing many times but never tried it. Maybe it's time.

  2. A lot of the things I do are also out of interest in frugality, which = more money for traveling, in addition to environmental friendliness :) I also enjoy how easy it was to make these changes. As far as the house temperature goes, I'm not home much and I mostly stay in my bedroom when I am home, so that involves wearing cozy layers and ducking under the covers to work on the computer and I stay quite warm.

    Vinegar is so great for cleaning the sinks and toilets. Plus, it's non-toxic and cheap. I like the Bronner's Castile soap and since it's concentrated, I use maybe 1.25 bottles a year. I even use it as shampoo, which necessitates the use of vinegar as a rinse afterward. I use a drop of that and vinegar to wash my floors.

    Oh, and another big-ish thing: when I'm at home or at work (traveling is a different story), I'm mostly vegan, if not vegetarian, and try to avoid wheat. It saves money, is helpful for the environment, and saves me some allergic reactions to certain foods. I started learning some Korean and Indian recipes and love how easy and inexpensive they are. They taste great and my friends enjoy coming over to share dinner. Major win!

  3. I think toilet-papering in the U.S. must mainly be a small town Wisconsin thing because I personally have never experienced or seen that in the areas where I have resided in the U.S.; Boston, Washington DC and now Madison. Never even heard of fork thing either. How odd! Maybe teenagers are more hard up for excitement in small town America? My wife,however, still recalls experiencing toilet-papering with you as a teenager, and how weird and incomprehensible she thought it was, during the year when she was an exchange student with your family in Sheboygan.

    I did hear about the reduction of plastic bags in Germany through the German LOGO news that I watch with my students in class. Hopefully we will take our cue from them eventually. I always found it fascinating, however, that in Germany they agree to do sweeping reforms, like reducing plastic bag usage, but many people still don't do some of the simple basic things like throwing away their cigarette butts. I could never understand how or why so many cigarette butts are always lying around everywhere, which sort of goes against the Germans environmental consciousness. Although to their credit they do often get cleaned up by street cleaners, even though the streets get littered with them yet again shortly thereafter. I was also always struck by the pre-wedding custom of Polterabend, in which on the night before the wedding guests break porcelain in front of the bride's home to bring luck to the couple's marriage. Now days I hear many Germans are bringing much larger items such as toilets and tubs, which is also confounding given Germans' well deserved reputation for their environmental consciousness and desire to be less wasteful in general.

    I guess in both countries certain traditions/customs/habits sometimes trump being environmentally friendly and less wasteful.

    1. I'm very glad to know TP-ing is not common all over the US. I'll correct that. And although I'd like to say that your wife must be mistaken, I'm sure I did do that more than once back when I was young and stupid. I probably should have admitted that earlier. It was not a highlight of my high school years.

      One of the current Sheboygan students commented on that very thing about the cigarette butts. "I thought the Germans were so environmentally friendly! What's with all the butts and litter?" Regarding the Polterabend, at least they can use the broken pieces for the bottom layer when they repot plants...(found that out today). :-)

  4. I LOVE that the Germans said charging for carrier bags is "absolut richtig". They brought in a 5p charge for carrier bags in the UK last year and everyone went MENTAL! It's 5p. people. FIVE TINY LITTLE PENCE! If you're that bothered just bring your own damn carrier bags to the shop.

    1. That's what I think! Bring your own bags or pay. It doesn't take long to get used to.