Monday, November 30, 2009

the knights who say Ni

In German the easiest way to ask a question is to make a statement and then say 'oder?' with a rising inflection at the end of your sentence, so you effectively say 'you like meat, or?' It's kind of the equivalent of the 'don't you'/'weren't you' negation that is commonly used in English.
I can cope with this 'oder' malarkey, it's simple, easy and inoffensive.

What I absolutely hate is the use of the 'ne?' at the end of a sentence, meant as a kind of querying grunt.

Oder is at least a proper word, ne is merely a couple of letters strung together, I'm not even sure what the second letter should be, if there was a vowel that was a mix of a 'u' and an 'e' then it would be that, but even in German where they've managed to extend the alphabet by 4 letters with sneaky use of the umlaut and a squiggle (ä, ü, ö, ß) there is no letter I can think of that is the written equivalent of the sound.

What's more I can't hear the 'ne' anymore without being reminded of the Monty Python sketch 'the knights who say Ni' (that's Simon's fault entirely!)

I had initially thought it was sloppy language use - kind of like hearing people in England say 'uh?' in that dimwitted way but it's not. It's in common use throughout the age groups and educational levels, I still hate it and refuse to succumb.

I shall not say ne.

Never, never, never!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Are the British too funny?

Do the Germans take life too seriously or are we, the Brits in the wrong for making a joke of everything?

Personally I think that life's too short to make a drama out of it, if there's humour to be had or irony then I'm there (I don't do the laughing at other's misfortunes and I loathe and detest slapstick - Mr Bean and Laurel&Hardy leave me cold).

I think it's a very British thing or maybe it's part and parcel of the English language (I'll have to check with the Aussies, Yanks & Canadians in my English Bookgroup) to see the funny side of something, to twist words around and just generally not to take life seriously.

A while ago now I fell out with a German friend (well, actually, she fell out with me...but she's like that - read 'with friends like these' - same friend...) We were happily walking with Logan along the river, chatting away (she speaks very good English, although clearly some things get lost in translation - as happened here) when she said she'd been at college that week, learning some new skills, including 'blind typing'. Quick as a flash I responded 'why? when are you planning to go blind?'


I was supposed to know that her Gandmother had gone blind.

I tried to explain that the English term would be 'touch typing' anyway and not 'blind typing' but she wasn't happy. Really, really, not happy. Barely spoke for the rest of the walk and then there was no contact for several weeks - I can't remember now who made the first move...I don't think it was me as I was determined that I hadn't been in the wrong...

See, we love to make a little joke, twist a meaning, to laugh - more often than not at ourselves!

Even cards here are humourless, 10 out of 10 to the Germans for not jumping on the Hallmark bandwagon and producing cards for every occasion possible, but the cards that one can buy here are DULL, DULL, DULL - I have resorted to bulk buying in advance on odd trips to the UK and even (for a couple of special birthdays coming up) asking friends in England to buy something appropriate and post it over - desperate measures eh?!!
Anyway, last year Simon got to spend almost 2 weeks before Christmas in hospital and received lots of 'get well soon' cards from UK friends and rellies - they were almost all, when not rude certainly on the blacker side of humour, the staff in the hospital who paused to read and translate these cards were quite shocked by the (as they saw it) unfeeling sentiment of the cards although they were impressed by the number of cards - as I said, Germans don't do cards...

This Thursday there was a break out at the local high security prison 2 dangerous guys are now on the loose in the area. The first we were aware of it was helicopters flying repeatedly overhead Friday night and Saturday morning.
My friend Rebecca and her husband Sam were at (German) friends nearby on Friday evening for dinner, the helicopters were overhead and Sam and his eldest child thought it was a great hoot to stand out in the garden, waving up at the helicopters, while the friend was inside begging them to come in.
Meanwhile last night (the baddies are still 'at large') Jasmine had a friend to dinner (& to sleep over), Luisa told us how the police had been in their road earlier, to which Simon jokingly told her that it wouldn't matter if the baddies were in her garden that night as she was sleeping at our house...and then to emphasize the point asked where her mother was sleeping
- I kicked him hard under the table.
English humour is often not grasped by Germans, let alone 8 year old Germans...

See, we can't even take the escape of murderous criminals seriously!

Friday, November 27, 2009

oops I did it again

showed up my foreigner-ness that is...

Germans are creatures of habit like old people tend to be (apologies to the grandparents reading this) they like their tea at a certain time, coffee made a particular way, watch a specific channel at a regular time and heaven forbid anything should come between them and their regular patterns.

I'd had this topic on my list of possible blog topics and had ignored it because I thought it too tenuous, then today...

Jasmine is 8 and has a group of friends she plays with after school and sometimes they sleep over at each other houses - you get the picture, they all know each other, the mothers all know of each other even if they're not friends.
Today I picked Jas up from school (which labels me a foreigner straight away because ALL German kids walk themselves to and from school alone (although usually with a friend, but certainly no adult is involved) from the age of 6 (scarey prospect eh?)) as I was fetching Jas I told her she had time this afternoon if she wanted to have a friend to play, she turned to Luisa (bf) and asked her if she 'had time' (a quaint German expression) Luisa thought about it and said yes, so I asked if her mom would be at home then because then we could ring her (mobiles are so useful) and then Luisa could come straight back with us rather than walking home and having to get her mom to then drive her round to ours (we live in the opposite direction from school to Luisa)
So Luisa rang her mom, and yes, it was ok for Luisa to come back with us. I thought it was all fine and then later Frau Flohe collected Luisa ...
From the tone of her voice at expressing her surprise of Luisa's phone call and the going straight to a friend's house from school, bypassing the seeing mom first step. Honestly, you'd have thought I'd kidnapped her darling daughter and held her ransom! Break in the pattern you see, they don't like it, it does not compute...

What had originally made me think that Germans were creatures of habit (gewohnheitsmensch) was the fact that friends would want to do a particular thing at a particular time on a particular day, every week. For example the arrangement to walk my dog with a friend had to be on a specific morning, I don't have a problem with people having routines especially when they work, but if they don't, and so have time to do what they want when they want why do they feel the need to be so damn regular about it?

I was walking Logan (the dog) in the woods once and met another dog walker who clearly liked everything English (the Barbour jacket and head to toe Burberry (they have no idea how chavvy it is!) a bit of a give away) anyway the dogs got on well together and she was keen to know whether I always walked Logan at that particular time, I had to confess that no, I didn't, I walk him whenever I want, sometimes it's first thing, sometimes its not, it depends on the rest of my day (and the weather - we're not keen on rain) whereas the German dog walkers all have their specific time slots - if you pick the wrong time of day you'll be surrounded by a pack of dogs when you go out, at other times (mid morning for example) the woods are deserted and you'd think Germany was a dog free zone! Unfortunately it will never be a dog poo free zone, but that's another blog entirely!

I have to go now, it's time for my, regular as clockwork, Friday night glass of wine, it's not a habit you understand, just something I do regularly, every Friday! Bottoms up.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Christmas is nearly here. It is honest! Now I know there are 4 weeks until the big day itself (24 shopping days for me) and it's not even December yet and the 1st of Advent isn't until this Sunday but everywhere around me, here in Germany the decorations are going up and Christmas trees are being bought...mad eh? And I'm not talking about just the retail outlets either - they've had their Christmas stock on the shelves since September and have been playing festive music for almost as long, but normal people, like you and I, are buying trees and stringing lights and hanging wreaths on front doors...quite, quite bonkers if you ask me!

Now don't get me wrong, I'm no bah humbug Scrooge, I love Christmas, I love everything about it (although I'm quite happy to skip the whole religious side of it - just call me an atheist ok?) I like the buying of presents, the wrapping of presents, the making the cake (that's on my list of stuff to do this weekend - got to buy the fruit first (tomorrow's job) and then set it all to soak in vast quantities of brandy for at least a is, by no stretch of the imagination suitable for children, alcoholics or those about to operate heavy machinery) I also enjoy the buying of the tree, decorating the tree and hanging lights in every window (don't find the writing and sending of Christmas cards too inspiring but here in Germany they don't do cards, so now the only ones I have to do are those for people outside of Germany & I better go a move on with those I guess or they won't get there in time)

BUT surely putting up your Christmas decks in November is just a bit premature? I've had it explained to me in previous years that the lights are put up as 'winter' decorations, in the same way that the Germans like to put pumpkins around the front door for an autumnal display or spring flowers in February, so I can kind of forgive that.

However, yesterday I witnessed several elderly women buying Christmas trees and karting them off home. That I do not understand. Why on earth buy a fresh Christmas tree 4 weeks before Christmas? Because in Germany the tradition is to decorate the tree on Christmas eve and not before, so these trees have been bought 4 weeks early to lie around in the garden or on the balcony gradually getting drier and drier...crazy, the only possible reason is that the earlier you buy the more choice you get and so the more symmetrical and perfect your tree...and the more dessicated and needle-less it will be come December 24th!!

We'll get our tree maybe 2 weeks before Christmas and decorate it IMMEDIATELY and then I will make a point of standing it in the front window without the shutters down or any curtains drawn for any nosey person walking past to see, just to give them the pleasure of tutting to themselves about the crazy Ausländers traditions!!

dedicated to Muna!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


A fairly hot topic at the moment what with the US administration trying to sort out their healthcare system and bitching about the one that has worked 'successfully' in the UK since WW II.

In the UK there is the National Health System which is paid for by the state (so everyone who pays taxes is paying for its provision) the system has a base tier of GP's (general practitioner doctors) and above that hospitals where there are A&E departments (accident and emergency) for those moments when calling into the GP first would seem silly (oops I've cut my hand with the carving knife and I think my thumb's going to fall off - needs A&E, the local doc ain't gonna fix that) and all the other medical departments (urology, oncology etc etc)
Germany has the same kind of division of labour - roughly.
However in the UK when the GP thinks there's something wrong with you that he can't fix he'll write to the local hospital and you go on a list to see a specialist and you wait and you wait, could be months - unless it's something life threatening - a suspected lump in the breast gets seen very quickly. The waiting lists also vary considerably depending upon whereabouts in the UK you live (they call it jokingly the 'postcode lottery, except it's often not a joke, it can be a matter of life or death) BUT, you will be seen and treated and you wont have to pay for it - unlike the system in the US which they're trying to change.

There is also the option of private healthcare in the UK, you pay every month and then when you need treatment you often go to the top of the queue and often get treated in a nice sparkly new hospital.

In Germany there are three options (although only two official ones)
1. you can pay a top up (choosing your level - when I end up in hospital 'I want a room to myself' will cost more than the 'share with 3 others' option)
2. you go completely private
3. you pay nothing and pray you're never ill.

We have here what they call 'hausdoktors' and 'kinderarzt' so the adults get the GP style of doc and the kids get their own child friendly doc. When ill your first stop is of course this level of doc (unless you know it's SERIOUS - broken bones for example, been there, done that - twice) you make your appointment and are usually seen that day (in the UK you're lucky if you're still ill by the time you get your appointment through to see your GP) you pay 10 euros to the receptionist (this seems to be a 6 monthly cover charge that allows you repeat visits for the next 6 months, I don't get it either) then you see the doc, if he can't fix you, you can guarantee he knows a man (or woman) who can and he'll make the call and get you an appointment right away.

My husband Simon has suffered with kidney stones in the long distant past so when he woke today with back pain he recognised it for what it was, and took himself off to the hausdok, the hausdok agreed with Si's diagnosis and referred him to a colleague along the road who specialises in the area. The 2nd doc had the equipment for the necessary scans and blood tests - which they did there and then and spotted the offending kidney stones. One prescription for pain relief and a check up appointment booked for 2 days time and Si was done.

The German health system works like clockwork, yes we have to contribute towards it but when you see it in action - wow!

Saturday, November 21, 2009


With Christmas fast approaching (5 weeks and it'll all be over for another year) and a conversation from this evening ringing in my ears I thought I'd address the thorny subject of presents.

The giving of presents at Christmas is related of course to the fact that the three wise men took gifts when they went to see Jesus, and they took things that were of value.

My present giving can be erratic I think, but I do always try to err on the side of over generosity - you know how it is, you buy something that you think is an OK gift and then a week later you see something else that is just perfect, so in that case the lucky recipient will get 2 for the price of one.

In Germany they are very traditional when it comes to the giving of presents and of celebrating birthdays - has to be done on the day or after. Cannot be done before, don't know why, bound to be some superstitious reason I guess...anyway I don't hold with that, I'd rather give a person their present as near to the day as possible and if that happens to be before then fine, they can have it early and open it early too - at least that way I get to make sure they like it (unless of course I'm concerned that they won't like which case they can open it at home alone!!)

So back to the giving of presents. I like to give presents that I know (or at least think) a person will like, maybe this goes back to the writing of Christmas lists for Santa as a kid. You think long and hard about what you'd like, write it all down and then keep your fingers crossed. As a parent I've now found that Christmas lists are very helpful, it takes the guesswork out of shopping for gifts, you get a head start. And I do find it annoying when someone asks for some ideas and then, after getting your hopes up, ignores the list and gets you something they want to give. Where's the logic in that? Surely it's better for both parties to give and receive something that is known to be wanted rather than something that will just be cast aside to live at the bottom of the wardrobe for a year?

Isn't it a waste of money?

Although I guess it is the right of the giver to choose the present they deem appropriate and we should be grateful for whatever we get, whether we wanted a stone frog for the garden or another set of handkerchiefs or not!

Meanwhile I shall go back to pondering what I can get Simon, who claims he would be happy if I didn't get him anything - but that surely gives him the opportunity of not getting me not happening, I want presents! So I also need to continue constructing my Christmas present list - I try to make sure everything is available online and include websites and article numbers just to make life really easy - I haven't yet stooped so low as to buy the gifts and wrap them myself, he ought to at least choose from a short (ok, it can be quite long some years) list!!

28 shopping days left...

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I thought it was time to introduce you to a new language, or rather to a variant on 2 languages.
Denglish is the mix of Deutsch and English that occurs in every day life here and especially in the work place and in advertising slogans, because English and the use of it is seen as 'cool'. I blame this blog subject entirely on Simon who told me about the word 'gesmuggelt' yesterday - apparently someone had 'gesmuggelt' some heroine, but I guess we should also blame the Germans themselves who insert English words willynilly into their sentences, us Brits wouldn't dream of doing that of course!!

A few grammar pointers to start with:
- if a lot of the words seem to begin with a 'ge' it's because that's the most frequent way of forming the past participle of the verb (sorry, Grammar speak)
- most verbs in their infinitive form (sorry) end in 'en'
- der/die/das = the (but one is masculine, one feminine and one neuter & there is NO logic to it)
- in the past tense as well as starting with a 'ge' a lot of verbs end in 't' or 'et'

trendig - trendy
wellness - wellness breaks are offered everywhere here, bit like a spa break but of course more serious with the emphasis being on recuperation rather than relaxation
upgeloaded - computer-ese
downloaden - more computer-ese (thanks Ian)
shoppen - there is a good German word 'einkaufen' which means to go shopping, but shoppen is used a lot, sounds cool I guess
geschockt - as in 'I was shocked'
chillen - what the cool kids do
das Balance Sheet - obvious
sorry - sorry, there is a proper German word for it (entschuldigung) but everyone seems to say sorry!
gecancellt - past participle of to cancel
gedealt - p.p of to deal
gegooglet - !!
meeten - to have a meeting
billen - to send a bill (to a customer)
aufgepimped - the English & the Yanks use the verb 'pimp' to describe something as being overhauled in an extreme manner, it's been pimped up - here the Germans make it a separable verb (shudder) the 'auf' prefix being the up and the 'ge' making it the past participle...
der Smoking - a tuxedo/dinner jacket
das Handy - mobile phone
ausgeflipped - flipped out (see how the 'ge' is slipped between the 2 parts of the separable verb - makes it look more German huh?
das Casting - casting
gekillt - as in 'he was killed'
eingescannt - to have scanned something
outgesourct - outsourced
joggen - to jog
gejoggt - to have jogged
brunchen - to have brunch
gebruncht - to have brunched
accessen - to get access
fighten - to fight
lunchen - to lunch
gestresst - stressed (thanks Rebecca)
wir haben gejammt -we jammed (thanks Noosh)
finegetuned - fine tuned (thanks RWE)
gekidnapped - kidnapped (thanks to Stefanie - German Teacher)

Then there are the English slogans used by German advertisers, no mixing of the 2 languages just pure insertion of an English phrase into a German sentence:

Come In and Find Out -- Douglas, a parfumerie
Powered by Emotion -- SAT.1 TV channel, although it's been changed to something more German now
We Love To Entertain You -- ProSieben TV channel

And on that note I'll say ciao (which the Germans love to use instead of their own 'tchuss' for goodbye - that's when they're not saying 'byeee') - as I've said before, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Kettwig - home

Where I live and have lived for the last two + years.

Kettwig is a suburb of Essen (a big city) which is either the 7th or 8th largest in Germany.
To describe Kettwig as a suburb of Essen is politically and factually correct but most of the locals think of Kettwig as an entity in its own right and while the correct address for anyone here is Essen-Kettwig most people will just say Kettwig.

Essen is a big industrial city in an area called Nord Rhine Westphalia (NRW) which itself is renowned for its industrial nature. So much so that any Germans we met prior to moving here to whom we told we were moving to NRW reacted as though we'd said we were moving to a war zone (ok, I exaggerate, but the reactions were never positive along the lines of 'how lovely, what a beautiful area', it was always 'why on earth are you going there?')

It's true that previously NRW was a seriously industrial region I guess before people wised up to pollution and governments started having to behave in a more responsible manner, perhaps then the area wasn't so pleasant to live in - I can relate to this, having grown up in an area of Britain known as 'the Black Country' due to the high levels of pollution from all the industry that turned both the air and the buildings black. This would have been before my time and so my memories of the Black Country have nothing to do with grimy cities and a shortage of countryside. Consequently when people sucked their teeth in shock and horror at the thought of us moving to an 'industrial' area like NRW I couldn't take them seriously, having spent most of my life in Britain's equivalent region.

Kettwig is more of a town than a village and straddles the Ruhr which flows down through Essen and into the Rhein. It feels like a village because there is so much countryside all the way around it, and also I guess because the actual centre of it is the Altstadt which has cobbled streets and black and white timbered buildings, yes there are four supermarkets in the centre (but remember, this is Germany and the word 'super' can rarely be legitimately applied to the supermarkets here) but there are also at least 9 eiscafes/cafes, 4 bakeries, several little pubs a handful of jewelers, 2 chemists, 1 butchers and so on - just enough, especially when you take into account the twice weekly market with meat, cheese, fruit and veg and flowers...

Before we moved to Germany we aked no. 1 son if he had a choice would he choose to live in a village (as we did in England at the time of asking - little village, 5 pubs, 1 post office, 1 butchers, a first school, a corner shop and a bus service that ran once a day if you were lucky...) or a town/city - he liked the idea of living somewhere with a bit more to it than another little village, and I have to say that I think with Kettwig we have it all.

It's small and quaint enough to have a village-y feel yet has a train station with a service that runs every 20 minutes into both Essen and Düsseldorf (not that I do public transport (as my friend Alison will testify) - but more of that in another blog) and 2 or 3 high schools.
And best of all in the summer there are pedaloes on the river - how good is that?!

thanks to my dad for the photos....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

breakfast, but not as you know it

Surprise surprise, the Germans take their first meal of the day seriously (as they do everything else) so seriously in fact that the first long piece of writing I had to do for my current Goethe language course was 200 words on my typical breakfast...that was a struggle!

To the English breakfast is only ever (apart from high days and holidays) toast or cereal, it's a quick meal that is somehow meant to sustain after the night's fast until lunch time (no wonder the English invented 'elevenses').

For the Germans breakfast is a complete meal, involving salami, ham, cheese (of many varieties) bread (of many varieties) jam, yoghurt, musli, eggs (poached, boiled or scrambled) croissant and so on.

Of course on a normal work/school day a lavish breakfast is just not possible timewise, but they've developed a canny system to get around this minor problem - they have 2 breakfasts.

Seriously, I'm not joking.
School kids will have a bowl of cereal or a piece of toast before leaving home (a normal English breakfast) and then take food for eating during 'Frühstück Pause' - this could be a ham brötchen (bread roll) chocolate croissant, sandwich made with spreadable sausage - whatever the child wants really. Many offices with their own canteens will lay on Frühstück for staff and work stops as the collegues take their time to have their second breakfast.

Cafes and restaurants around here all offer Frühstück during the morning, in fact when I would expect to call in to a cafe for coffee and cake they actually haven't got any cake (shock, horror, gasp) because I guess they know that their morning business is all Frühstück, so I have to make do with just coffee - I don't want a second breakfast.
Note to self; go to a different cafe next time, one that can be relied on for a decent cake selection!!

Today is Sunday and we would usually, as a family, have a relaxing breakfast of either fresh croissants (the bakeries here are open EVERY day) or occasionally English bacon (smuggled in and frozen during the summer - German bacon is pants) today however we're doing brunch with friends at a little bar here in Kettwig which is what really inspired me to today's subject matter - so I'm looking forward to lots of bread, ham, cheese, eggs etc etc.

Motto of the day - if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I think I hate homework even more now as an adult with two children than I did as a student with my own work to do - at least then it was my work and just my work...things seem to have changed (and not in my opinion for the better) since I was at school (ok, it's a long time ago - I'm sure I mention my age somewhere on this blog, so you do the maths).

My memories of doing my homework involve me sitting either at the dining table or in my bedroom on my own, doing my work. No parental involvement, ok, I confess I was a girly swot and didn't need a kick up the arse to get it done and to get it done well but even if I hadn't been so inclined I don't think either of my parents would have stood over me to make me do it, not because they weren't (& aren't) good parents who love/d me but that's just not how it worked back then in the good old days.
You were supposed to do the work for yourself, because you wanted to and if you didn't want to then you got a bollocking after parents evening when the teachers told your parents how awful you were.

These days in Germany and possibly back in England too (can't really comment on homework policy there as we've been out of that system for over two years - so feel free to let me know) the parent is expected by the school to supervise the homework and to check it over afterwards to make sure it's all been done, we're also expected to help with the learning of vocab for however many foreign languages the child is learning and if said child is maybe not keeping up with the class work you need to organise extra lessons 'nachhilfe' as they call it here (15 euro per hour) from either a teacher or more often than not an older student.

Consequently I'm spending a truly miserable afternoon with a recalcitrant 8 year old who is convinced she 'can't do maths' trying to help her understand her (actually really not too hard) homework. We've been at it for an hour so far and not half way through...then I probably have to 'help' with her Deutsch homework (had that one yesterday too - what a laugh, it's like the blind leading the blind) Joy!

I don't get it, my 12 year old at gymnasium gets less homework (but has greater enthusiasm) than my 8 year is that fair?
Something is going to snap and it will probably be me...oh no, that's already happened!

Where's the wine?

Monday, November 9, 2009

its friday it must be bookgroup (BG)

The first friday of every month is the our English bookgroup 'meeting'. A group of English speaking mostly expats (a German native sneaks in now and then - they don't last long because we have a really BAD habit of using BG as a forum for sounding off about everything that is German that annoys us...) as I was saying, mostly expats, mostly women (I'm sure men do read books but maybe they just don't like to talk about them?) we get together the first friday of every month to discuss the book we agreed to read last month, put the world to rights and consume as much red wine in as short a period of time as possible...

So this Friday we were 2 Ozzies, 1 German, 2 Yanks, 3 Brits and 1 Indian (the token male), the book we'd read was 'The Little Stranger' by Sarah Waters, a ghost story. We actually managed a halfway decent discussion about the book too, which doesn't always happen - we are always hindered by the fact that you can guarantee that we haven't all read the book, this time 3 of us had and 1 was almost finished (same old story Rebecca!) 3 had a very good excuse that they were new to us though.

But the reading and discussing of a book is only really a reason for meeting, it is more about the social aspect, being in a group of people who think and speak in the same language as you at the same speed that you do and who often share the same cultural references - 2 instances made very clear on Friday...

1. at 11 o'clock on November 11 Remembrance day is observed in the 'Commonwealth of Nations' We remember those who have died in wars around the world but also specifically the first world war. To those of us expats who grew up in the countries that observe 2 minutes silence at 11am it is an important day, it's part of who we are and how we were brought up.
In Germany November 11 marks the beginning of 'Karneval' (the time the Germans are allowed to go officially crazy and enjoy themselves).
As you can imagine, Kanreval and Remembrance Day don't sit very well together but the Germans say that they don't feel that they can remember the fallen without maybe offending the Jewish community and also that the Karneval date does predate WWI...
However, even with this in mind 1 Ozzie and the 1 German certainly had a very heated 'debate' abouth 11/11...the rest of us sat and watched!

and the second cutural difference...

2. spicy food, and the lack of.
Germans love currywurst, but you know what currywurst is? 1 large sausage sliced, smothered in an innocuous tomato-ey sauce and heavily sprinkled with paprika. Now I love currywurst, but curry it's not.
I, and most of the expats are used to curry that is spicy and hot and full of flavour...which you just don't get here. Kamesh being Indian is used to very spicy curry and treated his new German colleagues to a homemade curry night - he had to dilute it down with so much yoghurt for them that it was almost unpalatable to him, they thought it was wonderful and felt so adventurous...I think next time he's going to forget the yoghurt & see if he can blow the tops of their heads off!

So back to the rest of the evening, I recall a bit of hair tossing (can't remember how we got onto that - I blame the tempranillo) and I also remember claiming to have 'had' David Beckham before Posh was a response to a comment about the shortness of my hair/Posh style-ee, it must have been in context as the comment went down well at the time...

I got home sometime after midnight so I'm lucky I hadn't turned into a pumpkin and am also lucky not to have had a hangover in the morning - clearly managed to drink enough water before getting into my bed!


Thursday, November 5, 2009

green and pleasant land...

Jerusalem is my most favourite hymn, I even had it as one of the hymns at my wedding and will certainly expect it at my funeral (what an old bag, morbidly talking about departing the world at 44) anyway 'this green and pleasant land' is a line from Jerusalem and used to conjure up the vision of a green, green countryside - England.

However, I do feel that there is a contender for the crown of greenest (and I'm talking herbivorously here not ecologically) Germany, it has dawned on me this autumn is far, far greener purely because it has so many more trees.

When we lived in England we lived in a small village in the countryside (and by small I mean a main street with a church, primary school, butchers and corner shop oh, and 5 (count 'em) pubs, there was a bus service once in a blue moon) and although we lived in the countryside, surrounded by fields and farmers there weren't the amount of trees that there are here.

The reason it's only just struck me after 2 years of living here is that in autumn (I clearly had my eyes shut to this phenomenon last year) all the leaves come off the trees (duh) and lie on the roads and footpaths, becoming slick red and golden carpets. These leaves are regularly swept into piles (huge piles that children just long to jump into, except you can never be sure that there isn't any sneaky dog poo lurking at the bottom as the Germans have yet to learn to poop-a-scoop) by householders and also by council workers wielding great leaf blowing machines and this has been going on all thoughout Kettwig (more of a town than a village) and Essen (city) for the last 2-3 weeks and still the trees aren't bare, so there must be a lot of trees...

And when I take the time to look around this is true, there are lots of very mature trees here, far more than in the countryside in England - the so called 'green and pleasant land'.

I rest my case.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sind sie reich?

My friend Rebecca and I 'share' a cleaner, that is we both use the same woman.
Larissa is Latvian and 39 (I think) and hates Germans so why she chooses to live here year after year I don't know (although I would guess it's related to money) leaving her two children living with her mother in Latvia.

Larissa has opinions on most things (in that she is very German) and whenever Rebecca and I are together you can guarantee that at some point the conversation will touch on Larissa and something she has done/said/advice get the picture.

This morning we were talking about Christmas (7 weeks to go) and I told her how my parents will be here for Christmas and then Simon's parents are here for New Year, we wont have all 4 together - although the house is big enough there is only 1 proper guest room so it's easier all round when there is no overlap. I thought that was the end of the conversation but a few minutes later she asked 'are they rich?' I thought I'd misheard so said 'bitte?' (=pardon) and she went on to ask whether they owned their own house...

Now this really is no business of hers and to be honest, just because someone owns their own house doesn't make them rich - lots of people live in houses that are pretty much owned by the bank. If I'd had this conversation in English (although you would never have this kind of conversation in England as it's quite taboo - talking about money...) I'd have told her how although both sets of parents do own their own houses all that they have, they worked their arses off for during their working lives, my dad sold his pride and joy of a sports car in order to have a deposit for their first house and I don't think either set of parents would describe themselves as 'rich', comfortable - maybe, but rich, no.

But here in Germany the housing situation is very different to the one I grew up with in England.
Here they buy a house (if they ever do, there is a HUGE rental market here) and then they live in it forever, until they're carried out of it feet first I think. So often people who have a large disposable income from their very good job have a little house that they've maybe or maybe not extended, but they don't move. Whereas in England they move, you buy a small house that you can just about afford and when you have more money you buy somewhere bigger & maybe in a better location then later on you repeat the process.

So maybe to Germans we look rich, living here in Germany in what is not a small house in a very nice part of Kettwig, but I'd say no, we're not rich, comfortable - yes, rich - no!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Allerheiligen - all saints day

November 1st is Allerheiligen here in Germany (and possibly also on the rest of the more religious continent) in the UK it doesn't get a look in (we English are such a bunch of heathens ever since Henry VIII decided he could be head of the church and went around taking all the church lands and money).

Here in Germany the day is noted by trips to the cemetary to visit the dead (of course, and that'd be your own dead, not just 'the dead') to show that you've been you take a floral arrangement - a bit like leaving a visiting card in the Victorian days but these as you will see are a bit bigger than a piece of card and possibly a whole lot less tasteful, although I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder and someone must like these arrangements enough to think them up and enough to pay actual cash for them.

I have to say that this is the 3rd year I've been here for this 'event' and each year my German teacher (hi Muna) comments that dead day (as I personally call it) is due and then we have a conversation about how hässlich (see word for the day) the arrangements are and how her grandmother would be turning in her grave and trying to claw the revolting arrangements off her grave (Thriller style-ee) and how Muna plans to go along later in the week and remove all offending items and replace them with something her grandmother would appreciate (she wouldn't do this on the actual day because 1. the cemetary is heaving with relatives bearing gruesome offerings, 2. her other rellies might see and object to their offering being binned and 3. this year was a sunday & she'd rather sleep!

As I say, this is my 3rd year here for dead day but the first time I've made of point of walking through the cemetary (with dog) and then onto the woods and today I went just so that I could verify the ugliness of the 'floral' tributes left. Wow! I'm so glad I had my camera (ok iphone) with me!

The other funny thing about all saints day (to me anyway) is that Halloween is the day before, but maybe 'funny' isn't quite the word 'warped' may be better. But then again it is also known as 'all hallows day' but knowing that and that halloween is the contraction of 'all hallows eve' would you want to be going into the cemetary and leaving a revolting tribute on the grave of a loved one? I wouldn't.