English German

  Edition # 1  
San Francisco, 01-26-1997

Dear all,

Angelika Certainly you’ve already been craving for a sign of life by me/us. Due to he fact that many of you liked our christmas newsletter and we do have a lot to report I decided to write another one providing you with information on my first impressions. Let’s get started:

The arrival

Figure [1]: San Francisco: From the living room window

On December 30th 1996, I landed on San Francisco airport. Michael and our friends Sylvia and Richard welcomed me properly. Since I arrived at night, I could only admire the lights of the city. I was quite excited of our apartment and I have to admit that I wasn’t disappointed. Despite of only having two rooms, the apartment is spacious enough for the two of us because we didn’t bring that much furniture. I guess we’ll get pretty comfortable. We’ve already bought a futon-couch. It can be used as a bed for guests at the same time: You can tell, we’re thinking practically.

Figure [2]: Living room window view: a palm tree, downtown and bay

Our kitchen is -- as Michael already described -- sort of American-uglyish. The most fascinating to me is the extra large stove and the refrigerator. Also a funny thing are the obligatory emergency stairs that can be abused as a balcony in summer. The view out of our window is stunning. We can see palm trees, Victorian buildings, the skyline of San Francisco and, on a sunny day, we can even see the Bay and the ships cruising there.

Figure [3]: Panorama View

There are seven parties living in our house, most of them young people, all being very nice. The house belongs to a Chinese man who never shows up. He lets his estate agent handle everything. The house quite ressembles my student home during my studies in Münster. The neighborhood where we are living is called Noe Valley and is one of the most beautiful parts of San Francisco, because it has so many Victorian houses. 24th street being situated in front of our house has a lot of nice tiny shops (boutiques, florists, a great stationery shop, a supermarket that is open till midnight, a post office and so on). Another positive is that there’s plenty of little cafés and pretty good restaurants. Michael and I are testing them out one by one, which is a lot of fun.

Figure [4]: Of course there’s a street named Noe Street in Noe Valley

By the way, I forgot to mention that there is a laundromat across the street from our appartment that we use frequently since we don't have a washing machine in our appartment or in the basement of our house. My friend Sylvia told me that it is a common thing to use the laundry salon if you rent an apartment. I guess presumably we’re not going to buy a washing machine, since it’s pretty exciting to watch the people that go to the laundromat. Unfortunately, there is no dishwasher in our apartment. Usually it is quite common that the installed kitchen already has a dishwasher and a microwave. Due to our house being pretty old, we'll be missing out on this luxury. Those of you who know Michael and me, know that we don’t like washing dishes and this condition is not gonna last for a long time. At the moment we manage the dishes well but this is because we only borrowed a few from Sylvia. This is because our container hasn’t yet arrived in the US. That’s why Sylvia provides the most important things to us: a table, chairs and a bed.

Figure [5]: Church street and the laundromat next to it

Figure [6]: The transportation boxes from Munich arrive in San Francisco.

I hope my description won’t keep you from visiting us. Don’t worry, Michael can highlight the scruffy areas on the map, and I swear there’s still enough places that don’t have to be highlighted because they are relatively safe.

What really is shocking to us, is the poverty that follows you all the time you’re walking through San Francisco. There are many homeless beggars. If you walk beyond a bridge you’ll always find two or three homeless people that sleep there looking for shelter from the weather. A big issue is that the conditions to receive social benefits have recently gotten worse. The government is planning to limit payment of social benefits to two years. If you don’t find a job by then, you won’t receive social benefits anymore. They say they are going to introduce support programs to help the unemployed find jobs, although there is debate in the liberal newspapers about this because they think that’s not enough. If you read the local newspapers, you'll find that they attribute the rise of violence and crime partly to bad education, especially in public schools. Nevertheless, there are no protests by the general population. The old-fashioned prejudice about America is still true indeed: In case you’re healthy, young, Caucasian and willing to take a risk, you can achieve anything in America. In case you’re poor, sick, black or old, you’d better not live in America.

I hope I haven't focussed too much on these horror scenarios but I think that you’re interested in a realistic image of America. Anyway, it’s different if you live in that country or are just traveling there as a tourist. Even as a tourist, you notice the social distress and the social unjustice, but you’re involved in a totally different way if you're living there.

Driver’s license and Social Security Number

I'm sure some of you want to know now what I’m doing all day long when Michael is at work, working on his computer. At the moment, I’m still exploring the closer area and need to deal with the bureaucratic stuff. Living in America, respectively California, you can’t go without two things:

1) The social security number (SSN) 2) The California driver’s license.

Since there is no national ID card in the U.S., you need both the driver’s license and the SSN to identify yourself. However, the problem is that you only get a SSN if you’re either an American citizen or if you are, as Michael is, employed in the U.S., neither one does apply to me. Unfortunately, you need the SSN for almost anything (to open a bank account, to attend a course at a public college, to get a California driver license and so on). You’re not a person if you don’t have an SSN.

In my case, we had to do it like this: First of all, I had to pass the theoretical exam for the driver's license. With the certificate of having passed the theoretical exam, I could then apply for the SSN, which in turn is required for taking the practical exam for the driver's licence. The SSN has since been sent to me, now I can finally take the practical test for the driver’s license. My test is due on February 8th and Michael keeps on teasing me on a daily basis that I’m not gonna pass it.

Figure [7]: Angelika receives the desired SSN

Both foreigners and American citizens have to pass the exam for the California driver’s license. Citizens even have to pass it again if they move here from a different state. Usually, Americans don’t have to take the practical test, however. Those of you who think the written exam is easy might be in for a surprise. I really had to study for it and the practical test not only consists of driving around on a parking lot but, it’s a real driving test in traffic. Michael even had to turn within three moves on a street. To get you an idea of how my theoretical exam was like, I put a variation of the questions below. (They said I could take the questionnaire home with me).

1. You are driver of a slow-moving vehicle on a curvy road with only one lane in each direction. You have to pull over and stop when it’s safe to do so and let other drivers pass if a certain number of vehicles is following:

+ 3 vehicles + 4 vehicles + 5 vehicles

2. When you arrive at a corner (an intersection) with a flashing yellow light you have to: +stop before passing the intersection + wait fort he green light + decelerate and cross the intersection with considerately.

So, would you have known the answers? The test was in German, by the way. It seems that you can choose any language for the theoretical exam. In San Francisco, there’s plenty of people who are living here but who aren’t able to speak English. The neighborhood next to us is called "The Mission" and only consists of Spanish speaking immigrants. If you go to a restaurant there, it is quite likely that you have to order in Spanish.

Figure [8]: The questionaire the auditor has o fill in during the practical exam.

Figure [9]: The backside.

I have been going to college for an English course in this quarter since February 21st. It’s called "English as a Second Language" and it’s provided by the City College. You could compare the City College to the German "Volkshochschule". A difference, though, is that it’s also a kind of vocational school meaning you could also become a nurse there for instance. The course "English as a second language" is offered for free. In order to take the course, you first have to do an orientation test.

To perform this test was really quite the event for me. Including me, there were approximately 30 people taking the test. Among these, 25 were Spanish speakers, and that’s why the explanations were translated to Spanish. From time to time, the teachers forgot that about 5 people in the classroom didn’t understand a word of Spanish. Consequently, we often had to ask for an English explanation. Many of the participants had already been living in the U.S. for five years and more, but hardly spoke a word of English.

The test was kind of a reading exercise, meaning you had to read a story and then fill in the gaps in another text we were handed afterwards. That is to say, the test was about comprehension and grammar. The first text was really easy. If you passed it, you had to take a second, more difficult text. I accomplished a level 8 out of 8, what a show-off I am!) and I realized that our education system in Germany is frankly not that bad.

With my stellar test results, I am now allowed to take any course at City College, theoretically I could even attend the nursing class. I'll stick with my English course, though. They're providing an intensive course for level 7/8 that is held for two hours each day from Monday through Friday. The course goes on for a semester (from January through May). So, I'm going there every day. It’s really fun. My class consists of 24 people from all over the world. Mostly, it’s people from Mexico and El Salvador. We're working with a real exercise book and we even get homework from time to times. It really is like school. But I'm learnng a lot and I enjoy being around people.

Figure [10]: The Pacific at Point Reyes.

And what’s going on the weekends? I have to admit, we’re always on tour: Either we're visiting San Fracisco, or we're exploring the nearby areas. For example, we spent a weekend with Sylvia and Richard in Napa Valley und did some wine tasting recently, and on another weekend we were driving on highway 1 along the ocean to enjoy the beautiful views of the landscape. Since we don’t own a car yet, we usually rent one for these trips. That’s also because renting a car in the U.S. is not that expensive. There’s definitely innumerable things to do and it’s a lot of fun to go on discovery trips on the weekends. Mostly, I love the ocean, and I still can’t believe that it is located so close to our house.

What I miss is my job, the children I worked with and even though I can volunteer in social institutions here it’s not comparable to my old job at Domus in Munich.

Alright, you left-behinds. Keep us in memory and write us a letter! Although San Francisco is very appealing and exciting, as an expat sometimes you become homesick (and I do a lot).


Angelika and Michael

Thanks to Boris Kleinbach, kleinbach@ymail.com for translating the original German text to English.

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