Friday, October 30, 2009

happy hallowe'en

Germany is backward in many things in comparison to the UK & the US - shopping, customer service, mobile phone rates (don't get me started on that one) cost of electronic games, quality of TV programmes and Hallowe'en.

Hallowe'en is huge in the US and in the UK it's gradually got bigger and bigger - when we left England 2 years ago children expected on Hallowe'en to dress up ghoulishly and go around in the dark demanding sweets from any household they could. The shops would all be full of everything you could need for the evening, costumes, room decorations, - everything.

Here it's a different story. There are pumpkins galore but although people buy them they don't carve them, they place them in pretty arrangements by their front door. I've seen only 1 other house in our neighbourhood with a carved pumpkin, so to make up for the lack we've got 3!

Tomorrow my son and his friends are keenly anticipating ringing on doorbells demanding 'trick or treat' (or whatever the German equivalent is, I'll remember it as soon as I hear it over and over tomorrow night) and Jas has a Hallowe'en party to go to, BUT, (it's a big but) can you find stuff here for Hallowe'en? Not a chance. Lots and lots of Christmas stuff (8 weeks away and counting) and autumnal leafy decorative stuff but spooky outfits and the like? No way.

I eventually found a witches outfit for Jas (that will be too big but that was all I could find) but failed miserably to find any silly spray string for Ben (a trick).

So although the Germans like the idea of doing Hallowe'en you can't actually find the stuff to do it with. Like I said - 20 years behind. Ho hum!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Laissez faire

Walking the dog with my friend Rebecca, discussing life, the universe and everything as usual and generally having a bitch about Germans and our shared cleaner (Latvian & quite bonkers) one of the many subjects covered was that of children.

Now I'm not sure whether it's because we're both English and in days gone by English children were expected to be 'seen and not heard' or whether its because we're both in our 40's (ok, I apologize to Rebecca here, she's not 40 till December 19) but what I mean is, we're both of the same generation and were brought up by parents who remember the war (just) so as children we were brought up 'firmly'.

My children certainly have a different attitude to grownups than I did as a child, when all grownups were addressed as Mr or Mrs, these days children call adults by their christian names - which is fine by me (I've been married 20 years and still think that Mrs Evans is my mother in law) and actually that formality remains here in Germany.

Anyway, for children growing up these days there is far more tolerance of behaviour and in Germany even more so -which is at odds with the formal name thingy, but hey.

Rebecca's youngest, Thomas, started kindergarten in August and he's loving it. At last he gets to go play with the older children but on the flip side he's learning new behaviour and getting away with it, yes he gets disciplined but if the disciplining doesn't change the behaviour you have to ask yourself how effective the discipline is!

At home previously Thomas was always the joker but naughty behaviour would be stamped on. At kindergarten his sister reports that he burps and blows raspberries at the dining table and continues despite being told he'll get no pudding (he loves his food) and when he doesn't stop he's sent outside (whilst sticking his tongue out at the teacher - I'm presuming she doesn't see this) He has yet to try this behaviour at home, probably because he knows he wont get away with it.

German kids do get far more choice or rather they are allowed far more choice, for example an activity may be mutually arranged and then 1 child is asked whether they want to do it and when the answer is no then everyone's plans are changed.

This kind of freedom of choice is seen in the schools also where the children go unchecked from class to class, with just a thin layer of trust to hope that they stay on the school premises.

A laissez faire attitude I think.

Monday, October 26, 2009

with friends like these

I was looking forward to Saturday, a friend, let's call her L, had invited me as a late birthday present to go to an art exhibition in Dusseldorf with her, with coffee and cake at hers first.
A lovely girly afternoon without the children (who truly wouldn't appreciate looking around an art exhibition).

It started well (apart from the fact that she asked me how old I'd turned on my birthday, now I don't have a problem with owning up to my 44 years as I'm frequently told that I don't look my age, but when I said to L that I was 44 she expressed surprise and followed up with the comment that I looked more like 41 or 42. I'm sorry, but she might as well have just said that I looked my age - what the hell difference is there between 42 & 44?)
anyway nice cake & good coffee and then onto the exhibition.

After the exhibition, which was ok, but only ok, she suggested we go into the Altstadt for a walk and a bite to eat, I explained that I wanted to be home for 7 at the latest in order to eat with my family (L lives alone and had maybe planned to stay out longer but nothing had been said earlier, as far as I was concerned we were meeting for cake & then going to the museum, I could have arranged to get food out later but hadn't and didn't feel like changing my plans on her whim) although I was more than happy to go into the Altstadt before heading home.

In the Altstadt L bought a takeout pizza, we walked and talked as she ate her pizza, I was explaining to her about a Bonfire night party we're trying to organise for next week which sidetracked me into talking about Guy Fawkes and the punishment for treason being hanging, drawing and quartering - at which point she got huffy and said she thought she was supposed to be hearing about a party...ok....

A while later she suddenly attacked - verbally not physically, why did I hate learning German? I didn't I told her but she refused to accept that, I never spoke German with her therefore in her eyes I hate learning German.

It's true, we don't speak German together, we only speak English, because to me our friendship is based on her wanting to speak English with me to practice her English - she even knows that I have a small English group, the members of which pay me to speak English with them...adn the first time we spoke was in a supermarket where she'd heard me and Jas talking and had asked if we could get together to chat.

Now I hate arguments, I would go out of my way to avoid confrontation but when it's personal like that and so wrong I had to stand my ground.

She didn't like it. Germans love to argue and they love to be right.

Anyway, we eventually got past that, walked around a bit more and started home.

On the way back there was an uncomfortable silence in the car and at one point we drove past a sign for the local blood donation centre so to make conversation I asked whether she gave blood (I used to in the UK) the answer I got was something along the lines of 'no, it'd take too long to explain in English why'. I then commented that I can't give blood here in Germany as the German authorities wont take English blood for fear of CJD. I might as well have lit a firwork in the car for her reaction...she pretty much called me a liar and told me to check my facts - so I have;
and I've emailed the link to her!

That killed any further conversation so when we got to her house she got out and asked whether I wanted to take the rest of the cake home (afterall it had been made for me) but I said no that she should keep it and eat it (-a mistake I'm told by my husband) so she stomped off...

So much for my happy, girly, relaxing afternoon!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday!! Yeah!

At last its the last day of half term (sorry, Herbst Ferien). From Monday my life can get back to its usual routine without the constant nag from 2 children of;

'what's for breakfast?', 'can I watch TV?', 'what are we doing today?', 'what's for lunch?', 'can I have a biscuit?', 'can I call someone?', 'what's for tea?', 'what are we doing this afternoon?', 'can I watch TV?', 'can I have some sweets?', 'when's tea?'... my life is a never ending question.

Maybe its my own fault and I should have organised for us to do stuff over the two weeks, but to be honest, as I'm still trying to get rid of this damned cold I've had no desire to get out and do much - I haven't run for almost 6 weeks and even over the summer holidays I've usually managed to fit in running, but it's only in the last couple of days that the cough has reduced in intensity, so the idea of running has never been taken seriously - I figure I'll start up again next week when the children go back to school and as I said, life can back to its normal routine.

The end of Herbst Ferien also means that Christmas looms ever closer - just counted and it's 9 weeks away today exactly.

Ben keeps informing me that "Father Christmas" (his paranthesis, not mine) doesn't exist. This is the first year he's come out and said it.
Prior to this declaration he'd always said that he didn't believe in God (so getting him out of all religion classes at school) but there was actual physical evidence that Father Christmas existed because of the presents...whereas God...? Where's the evidence?
We (Simon and I) probably didn't help by the fact that we are complete non-believers, we're both far too scientific to believe in creationism, Darwinism sits much better within our belief system.
Not long ago a friend of mine in bookgroup said she was a believer in creationism, I was speechless! Literally. All I could say to her was that I was so shocked I couldn't argue the point with her. Evolution is a subject that I studied at university (admittedly that's a long time ago) and Primatology too, both of which make far more logical sense than creationism.

Back to Ben - clearly too grown up now to believe in Father Christmas and the tooth fairy (although I think she got the boot before Santa) I wonder if he still believes in the German Niklaus who comes along at the beginning of December and fills the children's shoes with sweets (although we've been asked by Jasmine's teacher to ensure each child also receives a fountain pen...)
I disabused him of the Easter Bunny last Easter - the Germans are big fans of the Easter bunny who leaves lots of chocolate eggs scattered all around the garden for the children to find.
It's not something we'd done as a family in England but it's quite a nice thing to do - hide lots of eggs where the dog can't get them but the children can, and then referee the ensuing fight as they argue over who has the most eggs.
This year Ben made some comment about the Easter bunny and I couldn't help myself - I laid the facts out for him - how does a rabbit have the money to buy the chocolate eggs and how does a rabbit carrying that weight of chocolate, bearing in mind the fact that a rabbit doesn't have opposable thumbs let alone much of a brain? If it was an Easter monkey then maybe, just maybe, but that still leaves the issue of the animal buying the eggs from a shop with money...

9 weeks to Christmas...
62 shopping days in the normal world
53 shopping days here in Germany where they still refuse to open on a Sunday
I better start planning!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Distance makes the heart grow fonder?

I have a feeling the actual 'quote' is 'absence makes the heart grow fonder' but as I want to talk about living far away from your natural support group, it really needs to be distance!

In reality, and especially when compared to some friends I have here, I don't live far away from the natural support group of my parents and Simon's parents. The flights to the UK are very regular, many times a day, take only an hour and are not cost prohibitive, whereas as I have friends in the expat community whose parents live in Australia, Argentina, India and Hawaii - these flights probably take a lot more organising and saving for than ours do.

When we lived in England we were at least 1 hour by car away from the emergency support that family provides without question, here in Germany the flight is 1 hour so it's technically not far, but the logistics of getting/giving support over a greater distance are, I think, proportional to the distance away.

I've thought about it in a purely abstract way previously but this evening my husband walked in from work to declaim that his father was ill.

Now neither of us has to tolerate sickly, malingering parents so this was quite a claim, and the thoughts immediately start - how ill? Ill enough to warrant one/all of us flying over?

It turns out that yes he's been to the doctor and then to A&E and now has an appointment with a specialist tomorrow but there's no need to start booking flights and packing bags, phew! He has a very rare skin condition that effects 5-7 people in 1 million! So rare that in A&E all the student doctors were called down for a looksee!! No simple rash for Pete, oh no! He has to have some fancy autoimmune blisters! If I sound as though I'm trivialising it, I'm not, but I have read the info on the websites and they all say its easily treated with steroids and is non-contagious and anyway I believe in looking on the positive side of life!

It will, there's no doubt about it, be even harder to deal with parents getting ill over such a distance, when there's not only the emotional fallout to deal with but also the logistics of resolving family life over a distance.

Note to self: start praying that parents stay healthy for a long, long time!!

Monday, October 19, 2009

what's in a name?

German names strike me as very odd.
They have such funny names when you actually pause for a moment and translate them there's no doubt about it, they're just...odd.

In England a lot of the weirder names must have been changed over the years either by deedpole or simply by passage of time and sloppy memories. There are still the odd 'Sidebotham' and 'De'ath' around but I don't remember ever having to try to keep a straight face when faced with a surname, and having been through school, university and worked in customer service you'd think I'd have come into contact with lots of odd names, but after two years of living in Germany I'm still amazed at some of the names and the fact that they just live with them. Don't these people want to change them? Don't they think they've got odd names? See what you think:

Bastian Schweinsteiger = pigmounter
Andreas Daumen = Andy Thumb
Irene Krapp
Frau Riese = giant (but she's teeny tiny)
Marge Cocks
Herr Brunch
Frau Pfannkuchen = pancake
Axel Schweiß = sweat
Frau Bonk
Herr Fuckner
Herr Fleischhacker = meat chopper
Willi Fuchs
Frau Dussel = twit/dork
Claudia von Hintern = from behind
Herr Schitter
Helmut Wank (who works at Siemens)
Herr Wasserhund = water dog
Frau Hamster
Herr Ungerecht (a lawyer) = unjust
Frau Zero (maths teacher no less)
Herr Doktor Quack
Frau Doktor Killer
Herr Dryer
Frau Wichser = wanker
Christian Dickgräbber
Herr Katzenschwanz = cats tail
Herr Beinlich = leggy
Herr Lipp
Herr Hundhausen = dog house
Frau Titz
Frau Klohokker = toilet percher

Admittedly some of these just sound funny when you understand English but all the same....

Friday, October 16, 2009


I think Autumn is truly here.

To me, autumn usually starts in September (when the schools in the UK start back with the autumn term and then there's always the harvest festivals and so on) the weather always seemed to switch onto a cooler setting as soon as August changed to September but this year has been....weird!
In the last week we went from an almost Indian summer (no coat required, maybe a cardigan or knitted jacket, but no more) to full blown Winter, frost on the ground, iced over cars and gloves needed to walk the dog. Madness!

But then today we awake to grey skies and heavy persistant drizzle - autumn has decided to appear after all!

I think I'd rather miss out on the dankness that autumn brings and go straight into the crispness of winter actually. At least then I don't have to put up with wet dog, muddy boots and the threat of my umbrella blowing inside out!

The Germans like to decorate their front doors according to the season, there's often a wreath of some kind on the door (no matter the season) and from September onwards the front doors have pumpkins of all manner of shapes and sizes squatting outside, not carved for Hallowe'en, just placed in a decorative arrangement (the carved ones appear just for the week of Hallowe'en at the houses where there are children in residence). After Hallowe'en and into proper winter (but well before the official Christmas period) they decorate their houses with lights, the actual Christmas stuff only goes up on December 24th - needless to say it gives me great glee to put my tree and decorations up as soon as possible in December, just to ensure that they can walk past our house and huff at the outrageous foreigners!! They really shouldn't stare!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Climate change

The subject matter is the choice of the Blog Action Day '09 and I thought it gave me a good opportunity to consider how environmentally friendly/aware the Germans are.

Recycling is huge here and although its a big deal in the UK now, Germany has been into it for years.
When we left England just over 2 years ago we had 2 large council bins, one for normal refuse and one for the garden, there was also a tub to put in glass and tins for recycling.
Here we have 4 bins - one for paper, one for biodegradable, one for anything recyclable (that has a 'GrünePunkt' on it, be it tin can or plastic bottle whatever, if it has the two arrows symbol on it it goes in) and the black bin for everything that's left (which can be a surprisingly small amount and as that's the only one we pay for in our taxes we get to choose what size it should be - it can be amusing to see the size of bin people opt for when you have the prior information of the family size, you get an idea for how environmentall aware they are!)
We recycle glass of course but that goes in the big glass containers that seem to be on every road, next to equally large containers for cardboard and for old clothes & shoes. Actually that's the oddity for me, coming from England where the highstreet is full of charity and second hand shops, here there are almost no charity shops.
When people have a full scale house clearout they call the council to arrange pickup of the items (you have to tell them EXACTLY what is being left out so that they know if they need to charge you) and often on the day things are left out other people will take the stuff you've discarded - simple recycling.

Other green points here:
  • Lots of people here use solar power panels on their rooves and in stationary traffic most people will turn off their engines.
  • There's also a system for collecting rain water in an underground reservoir for use in toilet flushing and I guess also for garden watering.
  • The Germans much as they love their cars, are very keen on public transport, but then they do actually have a system that works.
  • Plastic bags in supermarkets have to be paid for, so stopping you stockpiling them at home.
All in all I think the Germans are more environmentally friendly than the Brits, from what I can tell anyway.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Haus Schuhe or slippers as you might know them

I first came across Haus Schuhe when the children started school here, it was on the list of things they had to have at school, a pair of slippers.

At Kindergarten and Grundschule (primary or first school) I guess the theory goes that the children spend break time outside getting shoes muddy and wet and then come into the classroom shedding all this dirt over the floor which they often then sit on. Consequently at this level of schooling the children all need slippers in school to wear in class. Fine.

Ben's now at Gymnasium (high school) and although they spend break times getting dirty they don't then come into the class and sit on the floor in their dirt, so no Haus Schuhe required.

The slipper selection in shoe shops is huge, clearly to supply all the school kids from the age of 3 to 10 but also for the adults.
You see Haus Schuhe are very popular as home wear here. Most Germans within the sanctity of their own home will wear some unattractive rubber soled constructions, they often look a bit Birkenstock-y, I've even heard it said that no German would be seen dead outside of their house wearing Birkenstocks as they consider them to be Haus Schuhe and not Schuhe clearly! Whereas I would previously rarely let a summer go by without investing in a new pair of Birks to get the air to my piggies, not so speedy now that I live in Germany though - don't want to give them any excuse for sneering at me, thinking that I've absent-mindedly come outside in my slippers.

And it gets worse! When visiting someone's house they often have a basket of felt, guest Haus Schuhe, because clearly they don't want you to wear your dirty shoes and track mud and germs all over their antiseptically clean wooden floors, but at the same time they don't want you to catch a chill through your stockinged feet whilst enjoying their hospitality, so they expect you to wear some felt things that countless other visitors have worn on their stinky feet.

It's so not happening! I'm more than happy to remove whichever pair of shoes I've chosen to go with the outfit I'm wearing (which quite probably complete said outfit and without them the outfit will look a little less perfect) but to then wear a pair of grebby felt things?

NO! And no again. I'd rather get cold feet, although I would of course not tell them that, I'd say instead that I have incredibly hot feet that don't feel the cold!

Can you even catch a chill through your feet?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

dating again!!

Don't fret!
I am still (after 20 years, why break the habit of what's almost a lifetime?) married to the same man and no we haven't decided not to be mutually exclusive.

But, as our children are growing up, we get to go out, without them, and sometimes it's a spur of the moment thing, nothing booked, no babysitter, no restaurant, just a whim to get out and sample something new!

Last night Simon and I had such an opportunity as both children had arranged to overnight at friends', Ben with Timo & Jas with Clemence.

I met Si in town just after 6pm so that we could first go suit shopping. Simon is colour blind and prefers to have my opinion when he's buying clothes, and I would prefer not to have 2 very bored children tagging along. Ben (12) doesn't enjoy shopping and even when it's a necessity (as in, he doesn't have any clothes that fit him) he wants to be in and out as quickly as possible, the fewer shops visited the better. Jasmine (8) loves shopping, as long as it's for her and only her, when I take Jas shopping I'm not allowed to look at anything that I might like, she gets very annoyed. Consequently Simon and I don't get much shopping time together, so yesterday early evening was the perfect opportunity, suit shopping and then dinner.

The first shop P&C was no good, nothing in Simon's size that he liked and not very helpful staff either. But Ansons was better, much better. A very helpful member of staff and not one but two suits that Simon liked, a poor selection of magazines to read whilst waiting though - it's a men's shop (no ladies' clothes AT ALL - don't quite see the point in that myself) so why don't they have ladies' magazines in front of the comfy sofa to read while you're waiting for your indecisive male to make up his mind about what he likes/what fits etc? But no, boring architecture magazines - DULL!

After the suit purchase we went to a small Italian restaurant that Si of course has been to before with work colleagues but I've never been there.
It was so nice, to sit there together and chat, without constant interruptions from children and to look through the menu with a view only to what I would like to eat and not to have to also think about what would be suitable for the 2 children.
We started with some delicious rosemary and garlic focaccia and then I had tagliatelli with smoked salmon in a creamy sauce (yummy) and Simon had a lasagne that was so hot he almost burnt his tongue! He'd wanted to try the tiramisu afterwards but we were too full even to consider sharing!

A few weeks ago we had another date, again Jas was sleeping over at a friend's house and Ben was having a friend stay at ours. Again we went Italian, but this time walked down into Kettwig to an Italian restaurant that had been recommended by friends and that looks small from the window but is clearly rather like the Tardis in its internal dimensions! The food that evening was very good (and accompanied that evening by some Pinot Grigio as there was no driving, only walking to be done) and from there we walked on into Kettwig to Lulu's for a martini to round the evening off.

I could get quite used to this dating lark!! I'm looking forward to the next occasion!

Monday, October 12, 2009

School differences, part 1

The cold from hell lingers on still, but at least I'm not having to take drugs to cope with it & my nose isn't as red and shiny as Bobo the clown's (thank you Kleenex Balsam)!

Today is the first day of the school autumn holidays, in England it would be called 'half-term' and be 1 week long. Here its 'Herbstferien' (autumn holidays) and is 2 weeks long, excessively long most parents would agree but this 1st term of the school year is a long one, we started back in the middle of August and run right up to Christmas Eve, so the children need a 2 week break, especially as they go to school so early in the morning - 1st lesson is usually at 0750, meaning they're leaving the house around 0715. Don't feel too sorry for them as they are home at lunchtime usually, German schools have a last lesson that ends at 1410, that's if they have a full timetable that day and if all the teachers are there...they have a very relaxed view to schooling structure when you consider how serious they are about so much else...

In England children start school at the age of 4, spending a year in reception class which is mostly play, then into year 1 where the learning starts (with a little roleplay thrown in). School usually starts at 900 and finishes around 1530, there's a lunch break in the middle of the day and usually the children are on the school grounds all day and usually the grounds are locked. Children can't get out and visitors have to speak to the school secretary to be admitted to the premises. At the end of the day the younger children (years 1, 2 & reception) are handed over only to a recognised guardian.

The school day starts with registration when the child's main class teacher takes the register, then there is often assembly (although this sometimes happens at the end of the school day also) which used to be of a religious nature but in this day and age is more to do with the engendering of the school community.

In Germany children start school at the age of 6 (the precocious can start a year earlier, but this is on the sayso of the kindergarten staff) these children have, however spent 3 years at kindergarten (which can be 900-1300 or can be 900-1600) prior to school but there is little formal learning at kindergarten.
Years 1 & 2 are not a very serious learning experience but in year 3 the pressure suddenly appears because in year 4 the school will decide whether your child has what it takes to go onto gymnasium or whether realschule or worse beckons.

School starts, as previously mentioned, early, before 800 if the child has a first lesson, (sometimes they don't) and ends anytime between 1130 and 1410.
Everyday the timetable is a different length and if a teacher is absent the children are sometimes sent home early...with no warning - this can be 6 year olds we're talking here, sent home alone possibly to an empty house...

There is no registration and no assembly the children are expected to walk themselves to school - they walk in groups, not alone, but it is not usual for the parents to accompany them (we foreigners always stand out as we're the ones escorting our children to and from school) and the school grounds although fenced are not gated, anyone can walk through them, on and off the premises.
A child who decides he doesn't want to go to the next lesson can easily walk out and take the long way home to arrive home at the expected time (if you're lucky). This system of trust works well enough with older children but for children who've only just started school to be entrusted with getting from one building to another, possibly to a lesson they don't like, is it any wonder some bunk off?

So at the end of the day there is no official handover of the child to the responsible guardian, they slip out of their classes and wander home, hopefully in the company of their friends.

There are of course many more differences between German and English schooling, but I think I'll leave those for another day...

Friday, October 9, 2009


The 2nd Thursday of every month is expats night at a little bar called LuLu's just a stagger down the hill from where I live, so it would be rude not to go.

Last month there were 3 of us plus the bar owners (1 Texan, 1 Mancunian), Hugh, Rebecca & me. This month we 5 were joined by 3 more, Ian & Kamesh who both work for RWE (BIG power company) and Seline.

It was an entertaining evening, both Rebecca and I needed some light relief as we'd both been stressed at home, Rebecca with trying to organise her family of 5 to go on holiday today and me with a 12 year old who has taken it into his head to want a gun...because 'all my friends have got one'.

LuLu's is a cute little bar , very unlike other German bars, the decoration (having been done by 2 women) runs to deep purple, hot pink, a splash of orange and gold. To use my 12 year old's favourite word 'cool'.
The drinks also run appropriately 'girlie' if the desire should take you (and it does, whenever I'm there!) they have a great martini list - chocolate/fuzzy/saketini/captain's/rattlesnake/original/virgin and so on. My goal is to try them all but I don't fancy the saketini at all, and can't see the point of the virgin and the bar concensus has it that I wont like the original as I don't do olives (keep expecting to grow up enough to like them, after all I've managed to educate my palate to like blue cheese and red wine...surely olives is the next step?).
SO last night I had a rattlesnake followed by a russian and lastly to end on a sweet note a chocolate - delicious.

Onto the conversation last night:

Kamesh has been here 3 or 4 weeks, speaks barely any German (which shocks the Germans, but what they don't appreciate is that he speaks 6 languages already & will probably pick up German really quickly once he starts with his lessons) - he's missing real tea and is having to make do with drinking coffee, so we've suggested a really good tea shop in the middle of Essen, you just can't get what you're used to in the supermarkets!

German versus UK tv habits, how the British always seem to have the tv on whereas the Germans don't (probably because their tv is crap - but I think that could be a whole nother post)

Food shopping - the tiny trolleys, multiple shopping trips & how scarey the big UK supermarkets are when you've got used to the little ones here.

The Scoville scale which is a way of measuring the 'hotness' of chilli, Hugh seems to think it's quite important...I reserve judgement!

Rebecca's fight with T-mobile over the delivery of her new iPhone - the delivery guy demanded to see her Ausweis (identity card) she told him she didn't have one & offered driver's licence & passport instead, but no, even when realising she wasn't German and so couldn't have a German Ausweis he wanted her British Ausweis, he couldn't get it that such a thing doesn't exist (yet).

Ian managed to get tickets for Glastonbury 2010, he's never camped (other than in a caravan) in his whole life (he's older than me) and will be praying for good weather, whereas I think the photos will be far more entertaining if it rains...although it's mean to wish bad weather on such an event!!

Kamesh is planning to have a house warming next week and wants to introduce his colleagues to proper curry (he's Indian & so knows how to make an authentic curry) but is starting to feel concerned that the food might prove too hot for the tender German palates - could be funny!!

The serious attitude of Germans when it comes to sport - I was quite surprised to hear my own observations coming out of someone else's mouth - the making a walk into proper exercise with the addition of nordic poles, the need to have your own equipment in order to practice a certain sport (borrowing clearly not on).

And I'm afraid that anything more is lost in a martini fog....

Thursday, October 8, 2009

die Erkältung

I'm well into week 3 of this damned cold & I'm totally fed up with it.

Week 1 was the worst sore throat I've had in 44 years, being unable to swallow without pain relief? I guess I should have realised at that point what I was in for!
Week 2 was the start of the snot & then the sinus pain.
Week 3 more snot & a hacking cough that makes me sound like a smoker.

I've lost count of the boxes of Kleenex I've gone through, finished one packet of vitamin C tablets and started the next, tried endless combinations of anadin/paracetamol/ibuprofen and I've discovered the hot toddy - the best thing to come out of this cold, in fact the ONLY good thing to come out of it!
I found a recipe online & Simon (bless him) volunteered to make one for me, then the following night he volunteered again &, I'm not a whiskey drinker, but when mixed with hot water & honey & lemon - delicious!!

The Germans of course are full of helpful suggestions to combat a cold, some of which I've taken on board, some I've ignored:
  • Grippostad, which turns out to be paracetamol & vitamin C together in a tablet, marketed for cold/flu relief - has about the same effect as plain old anadin/paracetamol/ibuprofen.
  • vitamin C (this from the Apotheke - I wasn't impressed) I'm still taking it & if it's increased my ability to get better I dread to think how long this cold would have lasted without it.
  • Gelomyrtol tablets which seem to work like eucalyptus oil from within, odd & I'm unsure as to the effectiveness of them, so much so that now my sinuses have stopped giving me such grief I've stopped taking them.
  • Tea. I don't even bother to ask them which particular tea I ought to drink (the Germans do love their fruit & herbal tea) I'm English, I want tea from India that needs milk in it, I don't want some poxy pink stuff in a little bag that smells of raspberries! I've been drinking lots of tea (gotta keep the fluid levels up) but it probably isn't the kind they think I should be drinking!
  • Ashes or was it oatmeal in my you can tell, I didn't pay much attention to that suggestion, I can think of SO many reasons why it wouldn't work (apart from the fact that my socks/shoes would be ruined)
So I'll stick with my hot toddy & various combinations of over the counter drugs, well, I say 'over the counter' but here in Germany to get any kind of 'drug' aka paracetamol/anadin etc you have to ask the lady in the Apotheke (chemist) & then she'll let you have 1 unlike the supermarkets or chemists in England where you can buy almost as much as you want without having to beg for it (although there are limits to stop you from overdosing, but nothing to stop you from stockpiling with a view to overdosing...) consequently the drugs we have in the house are stockpiled on trips to England and brought back with us!

I refuse to go to the doctors of course (although most Germans I know whould have been there on day 1 whining about the sore throat) and there are several reasons for my refusal:
  • you have to sit in a waiting room full of sick people - suppose I catch something else?
  • it is, at the end of the day, only a cold, and there's nothing the doc can give me to cure me, I'm intelligent enough to self medicate. I know what the limits are.
  • when I was a child I never went to the doctor, I had to be almost at death's door before a visit was organised, and I guess that kind of habit stuck - it's not that I don't trust them or anything, honest!
I haven't been out for a run for 3 weeks, I shall be so out of shape when I finally get out there again, I was toying with the idea of going tomorrow but I guess I should wait and see how the coughs going, maybe leave it till next week. It's gotta be gone by then surely?

I need shares in Kleenex!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


The Germans (imho) are world class experts in the art of complaining.

Perhaps I notice it more because, being British, it's not really something we do very often, we don't like to do it, it makes us uncomfortable.

I think the reason the Brits don't complain is because we see it as rude, not very polite.
The problem with complaining is that the person you speak to about the problem is going to get upset, there's no 2 ways about it, they take it personally, even if they're just the go-between. Take it from one with experience in this, it's personal.

One of my paid occupations was working for Severn Trent Water in the customer service department. What this entailed was answering the phone, non-stop for the 7.4 hours of the working day to customers. Now people don't ring a water company phone line to say 'thanks for the water (that I pay for) it's delicious'.
Oh no, they ring to rant, their bill is more than their neighbours, they can't pay, the charges have increased, there's no water, there's brown water and so on. And on the receiving end was me, and trust me, you do take it personally, especially when they swear at you or accuse you of incompetance.

But even with that in mind, I don't think the Brits like to complain, we don't like to hurt people's feelings, we don't want to be embarassed or embarass someone else, we like an easy, smooth life, so if there's a little problem we're more likely to take it on the chin & let it go.

Not the Germans.

There is no issue, too small that they wont stick their neck out about. Here are my examples and then see if you agree with me that they are the kings of complaining:

  • at New Year it is traditional to eat doughnuts (the round, ball-like ones, and these ones, at New Year come with every filling imaginable - champagne, advocat, jam of different flavours, Baileys, chocolate, apple, plum - it's a shame the tradition doesn't last longer than the period between Xmas & New Year because I never get to try them all...) Last January I was at the bakers and the lady in front of me was complaining that one of her doughnuts had had no filling. Quite what she expected the poor baker to do I don't know...
  • at a market stall a lady spotted that the sunflowers were more expensive than when she'd bought them from the same stall the previous week, the reason was quite simple, she'd bought them at the end of the market day and the stall holder had wanted to get rid of the flowers - but she wasn't happy.
  • at another market stall a lady brought back the small cardboard carton (carefully bagged up) of raspberries that she'd bought 3 days previously (market is only twice a week) when she'd opened the raspberries she'd found a ball of ants inside. So she'd kept the whole thing in her fridge for 3 days to bring back to complain about.
  • my friend had her dog in the garden for a couple of hours in autumn as she had guests who didn't like dogs (he's a boisterous dog). It rained a little, but he has a kennel. A neighbour anonymously sent her a letter telling her that she shouldn't be allowed to keep animals and that if it happened again she would report her.
  • our neighbour was having garden work done, it was a friday bridging day after a bank holiday and late lunchtime, the neighbour on the otherside came out to rant at the gardners that they were ruining his 'Ruhetag' (quiet day).
So, what do you think? If complaining was an Olympic sport would the Germans win gold, silver and bronze?

You know they'd only complain if they didn't!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

birthday girl

Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to meeeeee
Happy birthday to me

Am having a deliciously lazy day, & as a mother of 2 children normally with stuff to do and who then tends to feel guilty when sitting around reading or aimlessly internet browsing, it's just blissful to think to myself;

'it's my birthday, I refuse to clean the hamsters out (they can wait till tomorrow), I shan't change the beds (they can wait till tomorrow too) and the children, I'm afraid will have to have fishfingers, chips & peas for tea and like it!'

I admit that tomorrow I am going to be a tad busy (what with cleaning out the rodents and changing the beds on top of doing my German, and all the normal household shit that has to be dealt with) but do I care?


I shall continue with my slothful ways until bedtime, I get one day a year to use as MINE and only MINE, so if I want to:
- go out for lunch I shall (tick)
- have a relaxing walk with the dog I shall (tick)
- read a book until I swear my eyes are going square I shall (tick)

Back in the day, when I earnt money for working (afterall I still work, it's just I'm at home, caring for 2 children & keeping a house functioning 24/7, not out at an office for 7.4 hours/day x5 - bitter & twisted? moi?) I always made a point of not being at work on my birthday, I took great care to book the day as holiday so that no-one could be bossing me around on my day, I would take myself off shopping or lunch with a friend or to a spa, anything to mark my day in a little, special way. So, although now I can't actually book the day off I try to make it as much mine as possible!

My alarm went off as usual (6.25am is an ungodly hour of the day) and I lay there, savouring the fact that for once I didn't have to jump up and wake B&J. Simon already had that in hand & very soon a cup of tea arrived, along with children and presents. I do enjoy a cup of tea in bed, it's not a common occurrence, so whenever it's offered I jump at it, and this morning I even got a refill! Heaven!

My darling husband had paid thorough attention to my present suggestion list (he likes to be provided with one (it makes his life so much easier & then he doesn't have to spend valuable time shopping) so I always try to oblige, I have sometimes even given website details & article numbers...I'm very thorough!) so my presents included the beautiful fountain pen I asked for -I love writing in ink and have 2 fountain pens, but both are very old.
My lacquered Parker pen I've had since before we were married and it's slowly falling apart and I feel it needs retiring. The Waterman is one I bought myself in Bayeux, so it's probably 16-18 years old but is more of a functional pen and not especially stylish - whereas my new pen, is beautiful! It's a Mont Blanc but it's not a full size fountain pen but a lady's size, gorgeous & delicate, I just hope we get on, as a left hander I do struggle with some ink pens. But I'm sure we'll be fine!

Other presents were a new perfume 'Magnolia Nobile' by Acqua di Palma, I had a sample of it from Harrods when we were buying an aftershave there for Simon back in August and thought it was lovely. Also some dvd's I'd requested and the latest Mika cd, which I've been playing on a loop this afternoon. My friend Alison bought me a lovely bead for my bracelet & Rebecca a voucher for a Thai massage place here in Kettwig, had a scarf from my mom and some chopsticks(!) from my sister in law.

My brother is erratic to say the least about presents but that's ok (I guess) he's busy in Barcelona trying to drink a beer for each of my years at the moment! Crazy fool that he is!

And my friend Mareike, who is away from the Kettwig area for these 2 weeks rang me to wish me happy birthday and to invite me to go to an art museum when she's back - which is dead spooky, because just this morning I went online to find out the details for that same exhibition...spooky!

My mom also rang me to wish me happy birthday, I received the card and present from her yesterday - she wrote the loveliest thing in the card 'we're so proud of you' - that really touched me! I love my mommy! And best news is that they're coming over for Christmas - YEAH! They can bring the Christmas pudding! (Can't get such a thing here of course & can't be bothered to make it either, although I will make a cake).

Simon is going to make tea for me tonight - I bought all the ingredients yesterday, stuff he can do and has done well in previous years - steak, mushrooms, green beans - nothing flashy, just nice to sit and watch someone else do it all!! Oh, and I bought a bottle of pink German fizz, so I'm looking forward to a relaxing evening!

I don't feel 44...but it sounds so old...I really should have stuck to my guns at 40 and gone with the counting backwards - then I'd be 36 today...but it confused the children dreadfully so I had to give in, ho hum!

Monday, October 5, 2009

le weekend

Appologies for the lapse into French, I'm helping my son learn his vocab for his French test tomorrow. I learnt French at school from the age of 11 (I think, or maybe 10...) it was pretty basic French in the early days, le pomme and so on, however after 7 years of French at school my langauge skills were sufficient to cope with holidays in France until we were faced with coming to Germany anyway!

About a year before relocating to Germany we all started having German lessons so that we wouldn't be completely lost with the language when we arrived. Simon and I had already done 3 years each of school German and so had the basics buried deep in our brains somewhere - that's the theory anyway and although I can chant the 'der/die/das' tables off in my sleep my knowledge of whether nouns are der, die or das is vague...Anyway, the moment I started improving/learning German I seemd to lose my grasp of French, which is annoying, especially as one my friends here is a French expat who's in the same boat as me - having to learn German (she's marginally better off in that her husband is half German, half French and speaks French, German & English - swine!) although she also used to know English and has had it pushed out of her brain by the learning of German!

The Germans take the learning of languages seriously (what a surprise, I have yet to discover something they don't take seriously) at Ben's school they offer a bilingual stream and these clever kids get extra English lessons for the first 2 years before in year 7 studying geography &/or history in English (easy for Ben, whose mother tongue is English) in year 6 they start a 2nd language of French or Latin (it surprises me how many children have opted to take Latin - although I think it's mainly due to parental pressure & the fact that a lot of the university courses want students with Latin, still haven't worked out the logic behind that one) and then in year 8 they can choose to study Spanish. They currently start learning English when they start school at the age of 6!

It's amazing that children here can finish school being able to speak 3 foreign languages, in England there's very little scope for that. But then the English have a very 'island' mentality when it comes to languages & the learning of, and it's only when you've 'escaped' from the island that you can look back and recognise that. The English as a whole see no reason for learning other languages, why should they when the rest of the world learns English?!

So, le weekend...
Was quiet for 2 reasons:
1. bank holiday on Saturday, nowhere was open (as anticipated)
2. I was still suffering with the cold from hell (today is the beginning of week 3) and so was still needing to take life slowly and gently.
Anyway, I think I've broken the back of this horrible cold now, and with it being my birthday tomorrow life can only get better...can't it?

Friday, October 2, 2009

feiertag - bank holidays

I've just discovered that tomorrow (Saturday) is a bank holiday here, and while part of me likes the fact that in Germany they don't move the holiday days around if they fall on a weekend (in Britain afterall you'd get Monday off if the bank holiday fell at the weekend) what I'd forgotten (until reminded by another expat) is that the shops will be shut tomorrow.

They do take their holidays seriously here!

So that means that apart from the bakers which will open first thing (Germans cannot function without their daily dose of fresh bread) and then shut as soon as their stocks are depleted, there is nowhere to buy supplies from for the weekend, I'd kind of thought of popping to the supermarket tomorrow for what I need for tomorrow's tea & sunday's but now it has to be done today, how irritating!

In Germany there seem to be a lot of bank holidays, although not spread out in a very efficient manner, but I guess that's down to the church. Between New Year (which is bizarrely known as Silvester here, due to Saint Silvester who died on that date in 813) and Easter which can be quite late, there are no bank holidays here (although that doesn't bother me as much as it would if I were in paid work, I remember distinctly the 'free' days of holiday that were bank holidays) although living in the part of Germany that we do where the tradition of Karneval is still alive and kicking we get Rosenmontag as a bank holiday (42 days before Easter) first.
The bank holidays after Easter come in quick succession, May 1 (tag der arbeit) Christihimmelfahrt (my favourit name which translates perfectly - christ,heaven,travel = ascension day of course!) Pfingsten (Whitsun) Fronleichnam (another neat translation, happy,dead,day = corpus christi!) then we come to tomorrow's more recent addition to the bank holiday calender, Tag der Deutschen Einheit (German reunification day).

They mighn't move the bank holidays around here but what they do like to do is tag extra days onto them, 'bridging days' as they're known. So if a bank holiday falls on a Thursday or a Tuesday you tend to get the day between it and the weekend off too, gratis, which is neat, especially as on bridging days offices & schools and the like are shut but shops and the normal stuff of life continues.

However this is not the case tomorrow, when everything will be shut up and it will be pretty much like Sunday is here (but I'm sure I shall want to talk about the German institution of Sunday in another blog...)

This year is 20 years since the Berlin wall came down, 20 years since reunification started, so there's bound to be lots going on...shall have to listen out for the fireworks on Saturday evening!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

alles auto

Today is the first of October and so very soon I have to have the winter tyres put on my car, they're supposed to be on the car O to O (Oktober to Ostern = easter) they're for a reason, clearly, giving a bit more grip on roads made slippery by wet leaves, rain, ice, snow etc. but I do hate them! Although last winter, when a particularly heavy snow fall hung around for a week and our local roads resembled an ice rink, I did feel a lot safer in the knowledge that my car was grippier than it would have been in similar conditions in the UK.

I love nice cars and currently have to drive an eminently practical, black Toyota Corolla Verso, which in summer with its alloys on and when clean & polished (i.e fresh from Mr Wash - do you seriously think I'd do that myself?) it looks ok, not head turningly wow, but ok...
It's by no means the car of my dreams (that would have to have a soft top at least, which I personally have never owned (although Simon did have a Lotus Elise for a couple of years) my favourite cars that I've owned would include a Tigra and an old style Mini Cooper) but the Toyota does the job that it needs to.

It has the space for a family of 4 plus a large dog, and the ability to pop 2 extra seats up out of nowhere on the many times in the year that we have visitors (who clearly have to be taken to & from the airport and entertained during their stay). All the rear seats can even be folded completely flat so that you have a big space to transport rubbish to the tip.
So, a hugely practical but very dull car!
Soon to be even duller for 6 months....and winter tyres aren't even something you can opt out of (although you can do them with alloys but then apparently the salt on the roads knackers them) if you were to have an accident during O to O and the Police deem it to be your fault and you didn't have winter tyres on then your insurance wont pay up...
So winter tyres and a boring as f*** car for 6 months it is then!

Mind you I get my revenge - I refuse to wash it, why bother when it looks so ugly and anyway what's a bit of dirt (although if it's the nasty salty road dirt then I guess I should get it washed off to protect the paintwork)? This probably winds up my neighbours dreadfully (Germans are terribly opinionated about EVERYTHING so they're bound to see the state of my car and to mind) because you see, Germans (generally) keep their cars spotlessly clean, every weekend they wash them, and this is no easy on the drive job, oh no, you're not supposed to do that here, because of the detergent being nonbiodegradable or something, so everyone troops off to the carwash at the weekends (great long queues).

Germany is often considered to be the birthplace of the car industry (which as a Brit, who grew being educated about Stephenson's Rocket & Rolls Royce, living just down the road from Longbridge and Landrover is quite galling) but I guess with Benz & Daimler both born in southern Germany only 1 year apart and going on to produce such historic vehicles I should allow that birthright.

In Germany the car industry is one of the largest employers producing up to 10 million cars/year over half of which are exported, so cars are important to Germans for financial reasons as well as aesthetic ones, because while it is often said that an Englishman's home is his castle, I believe that a German's car is his castle!