Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Christmas has many rituals associated with it, and I'm not talking about the god bothery stuff here either.

Christmas to me is always turkey, Christmas pudding and Christmas crackers. Without those three ingredients it just isn't right*. So far we've been lucky. This was our fifth Christmas here in Germany and we've managed to get crackers and pud every year, they get smuggled in as contraband by friends and family.

The quality of Christmas crackers is hugely variable and it can be tricky to get 'nice' ones when relying on friends to bring them over for you, but we've been OK this year, the Hotel Chocolat crackers while expensive do provide delicious chocolate, gorgeous gold crowns and dubious jokes, while the M&S or Sainsbury ones also went down well with the children**. Jas took great delight in reading out all the "jokes", but neither she nor Ben could understand why the jokes were, so we had to explain. That cracker jokes are expected to make people groan, it simply wont do for a cracker joke to be too funny, that said, here's a sample of this year's:

- what happened to the hyena who swallowed a stock cube?
- he made a laughing stock of himself.

- what do you call a boomerang that doesn't come back?
- a stick.

- how do you make an apple puff?
- chase it round the garden.

- how do you make a jacket last?
- make the trousers first.

A funnier joke concerns two friends of mine. Friend W was in England and had promised to bring me supplies back including amongst other things some water biscuits for cheese, some Golden Syrup and my Christmas crackers. Talking to her before she left I mentioned that I didn't need the syrup any more as another friend, R, had given me a jar, but maybe instead she could bring R some crackers. This was all forgotten about until yesterday, when the three of us met for drinks and cake.
W: "I've got your crackers in a cupboard at home, I keep forgetting them"
R: "Crackers?"
W: "Yeah some Jacobs crackers, for cheese."
At which point I piped up that it was Christmas crackers she was supposed to have brought back...

* the presents are of course a huge part of Christmas but I'm not counting them as one of the rituals because the giving and receiving of presents is integral to Christmas in so many countries, it isn't what makes an English Christmas to me.
** actually that should be "child", as Ben at the grand old age of 14 seems to be finding everything we adults do "unamusing", it must take a huge amount of effort to tune us out so effectively.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sign my life away

At this time of year there are delivery men (& women) scurrying everywhere, taking parcels and packages of all shapes and sizes all over the place.

The DHL van stops so often outside our house that Logan (who is not blessed with the greatest of intelligence) can recognize the yellow van at 100 paces and expects food from whoever should have the misfortune to step out of the van and into Logan's path. The delivery men know that the only way to a dog's heart is through the stomach and therefore always* have a dog treat to pay for admittance into the dog's garden. And so Logan now equates the colour yellow with food - another reason not to get the new car in yellow, Logan would be like Pavlov's dog, and constantly salivating.

All the delivery people want 1 thing, a signature, or so I had thought. For surely a signature is proof of who I am, I'm quite certain no-one else can scrawl my signature quite the way I do, although those damn little electric reader things don't make it easy. Without a signature, anyone could be taking receipt of your ordered goodies and making off with them, which is actually what happened to Simon's fancy TV. The delivery note said it had been delivered here and at a time when I was in, but that certainly wasn't my signature they had. Someone got an early present and it wasn't us.

Some of the deliveries require proper id, which is a pain in the bum, because they expect to see a German 'Ausweis'** and they get a British passport, which has the wrong number of digits...they're never happy.

But recently a delivery guy thrust his electronic reader thingy at me for a signature and after I'd done my scrawl he stared down at it and asked my name. So I confirmed that yes, I was the person to whom the parcel should be delivered, and he stared down at my mark on his screen and then he got the stylus out and wrote over the top of my signature in block capitals "EVANS".
Now if he'd wanted me to write my name in the manner of a kindergarten kid then I'd have happily obliged, I can do capitals, I'm so advanced I can even do joined up capitals, but I always thought that by signing your name you were committing to something, I thought the signature had value? I guess not.

* unless we're the very last house on the run, in which case Logan is a very sad and dejected pupppy.
** Ausweis = identity card

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Snaps 92

Saw this on a friend's FB page and thought it was perfect for the 4th Sunday in Advent.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

So long & thanks for all the fish*

Last night was expats quiz night at Lulu, but it wasn't just any old, run of the mill quiz night,oh no, this was Ian's swan song, he's moving back to the cold, cold north of Yorkshire and foresaking the balmy** beauty of the Ruhrgebiet*** and abandoning expats forever.

Due to the proximity of Christmas Ian decided to theme last night's quiz, and so all but one round was tinsel clad, apparently he ran out of Christmas questions and so we had one round on news from the last year. Here are some of the questions, see if you know the answers.

- by what other name is the plant Viscum Album known?
- which country changed to Euro this year (bet they sooooo regret that decision now)
- in which year was the Christmas number one by Band Aid?
- what Christmas invention was made by Thomas J. Smith?
- which silent movie star died on Christmas day in 1977?

All good, topical questions, although the non Brits didn't seem to know what a Christmas cracker was and they were even more confused when we got to the panto round..."what's a pantomime?" was the chorus from all the non Brits, they looked even more confused when we tried to explain that it's a Christmas tradition in the theatre where the leading man is usually a voluptuous, leggy young woman, there is always at least one man dressed up as either an ugly sister or an old woman, there are frequently people dressed as animals, a baddie to be booed at is essential as is audience participation along the lines of shouting "he's behind you" and "oh no, it isn't".
Do you know the answers to these panto questions?

- in which panto does the character Baron Hardup appear?
- Widow Twanky is in which pantomime?
- in which panto is Buttons?

Emma wasn't amused by last night's questions (although I think the non Brits were even more unamused due to the panto round) all season the full house has eluded her, but often by only 1 point, she had pinned her hopes on Ian's last quiz only to fail with style. She still managed to win, getting 20/25 but this was apparently her worst score ever.

I think we gave Ian a good send off, he certainly provided a great final quiz, as at least one person wrote in his goodbye card "his boots will be hard to fill", and although I'm sure Chris will give it a damn good try I somehow doubt the quiz will be as English in the future seeing as Chris is very proudly Australian, I have the feeling that Emma's English joker has been played for the last time.

Thank you Ian, Quizie Rascal, for the great quiz nights you've provided us with, it was good while it lasted!

* spurious Hitchhikers Guide reference because it was felt last night that the quiz was rather lacking in Hitchhiker questions.
** actually tending more towards barmy.
*** tongue firmly in cheek here, the Ruhrgebiet, as this local area is known, is famed for its heavy industrialisation, Germans are never impressed and never get the urge to visit when they hear you live near the Ruhr.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When is a word not a word?

When it's an 'unwort' of course. Duuuuh.

Every year, around this time, Germany publishes its "Wort des Jahres" (word of the year*) I've blogged about it before and will possibly do so again, when they tell us what the word is. Yesterday I googled "wort des jahres" (using clearly as would probably get a little confused) and stumbled across "Unwort des Jahres". My interest was piqued so I googled further.

It turns out that the same society that organises voting for the (probably slightly more prestigious) "Wort des Jahres" is also responsible for organising the voting for "Unwort des Jahres" (this must surely be the wooden spoon prize in dictionary admission applications) because surely if "Wort des Jahres" translates to "word of the year" then unwort must be unword**.

The idea of there being a "word of the year" that people actually vote for (oh, yes, things like this are taken very seriously here, of course) boggles me but that there should also be an unword of the year...double boggled.

I wondered, would the unword be a word that had fallen out of favour and risked deletion from the next year's dictionaries, or was it a piece of gobble-de-gook nonsense?

Neither it would seem. Where word of the year is a word, possibly new to the German language (such as vuvuzela last year) that has been popular in the year, and quite possibly over-used in the press and on TV, the winner last year was a new word "wutbürger" whose birth was apparently caused by the angry feelings (wut) of the common man (the bürger) due to politicians making decisions above their heads. The unword of the year is a word that is considered to have an "inhumane" or inadequate formulation - so a word that is ugly or clunky I guess, previous winners have been 2010 "alternativlos" (= alternativeless) 2009 "betriebsratverseucht" (= contaminated work council) and in 2008 "notleidende Banken" (= defaulting banks)

The unword of the year isn't settled until the end of the year, naturally, so you have until December 31 to get your entries in, you (yes, you) can email them into: vorschlaege(at) then in January we can find out what won, the suspense and excitement are almost too much too bear!

* personally I think this is their cunning plan to try to catch up on the number of words in the German language, no-one likes being beaten by the English (least of all the Germans) and as English has around 600,000 words and German a mere 185,000, we're winning by a long way.Link** which I personally don't believe to be a word, at least not in English, which is where it counts.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Snaps 91

Last night was Carols at the Corks, an expat tradition that helps make Christmas Christmas. We sang our hearts out.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hot Glue

Last night I went to the Essen Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market for the uninitiated) with a couple of friends (Rebecca and Julie - both expats) with the express purpose of sampling a little glühwein, there was no intent to shop, merely a desire to immerse ourselves in the festive spirit(s).

We made a beeline for the stand we hear about every year from those that have both time and opportunity to make multiple visits to the markt and therefore get to sample everything that's on offer. This is my fifth Christmas here and therefore my fifth chance to explore the yearly market and this is the first time I've been to this particular stand*. This is glühwein, but not just any old glühwein, oh no, this is flaming glüh!

The owner of the stall loads up mugs with glühwein and places them in a row on the counter, then he lays a funny triangular spoon (with holes in it) over the top of each cup and puts a sugar cube on each spoon. Spirits of some kind is then poured liberally over the row of loaded mugs and this is then lit. The flames die down and more spirits get poured over the mugs and the flames go higher. When the flames die down again they are extinguished, the spoons removed and the drinks distributed to the waiting patrons. The resulting beverage is very warm and tasty although the cups are rather sticky.

After finishing our first glühs we took the mugs back to the stall intending to claim our pfand** back and sample another stall. The stall holder had just done a round of drinks and had three cups over, cooling on his counter. Wouldn't we like another one he asked, no, we told him, we were off to try somewhere new. Then he started bargaining, three flaming glühwein should be 10.5oE and Julie bartered him down to 6E.

When we'd finished our second glühs we were hungry and definitely only wanted our pfand back from the stall, definitely no more glüh.

But again he had just dispatched a round of flaming glühs and had three left over***. This time Julie was wiser and started lower, we paid 2E for three.

Clearly years of being married to a money market dealer have paid off, all in all we got nine glühs at 3.50E each for a total of 18.50E a saving of 13E, if certainly helped that Julie is French and can make German sound sexy with her accent.

It has to be said that we are all little on the sluggish side today, it's probably a very good job that the market shuts down at 9.30 on a weekday evening otherwise we'd have never made it out of bed, let alone the house!

* the same stands come to the exact same spots year after year.
** pfand is the term used here to refer to the deposit paid for the item.
*** and it's not like he could see us from where we were standing to the side of the stall while we drank, he had no way of knowing we were about to come back.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Google It!

Have you ever been asked "how did you find that out?"
Only to answer "I googled it"?

The adoption of Google as a verb is even more noticeable in German, especially when used in the past tense - when a 'ge' prefix is generally added to a verb, leading to the word "gegooglet"*.

But the predominance of Google over the world wide web is incredible - can you remember which search engine you used before you started googling?

What is maybe even more bizarre are the subjects that people type into Google, the following is a list of the odder ways that people have ended up on my blog, goodness only knows what they were trying to find the answer to when they input:

- long weekend all roads lead to roam
- hollister hype
- crunchy nut lady
- notingale
- vomitorium germany
- german father sex
- guy fawkes eat yer heart out
- lulu the hoover teletubbies
- german suburb
- schnapsgurtel
- lobbylitiker
- logos of posche cars with names
- sept father sex
- kettwigfrau verene
- lulu bar germany
- quizy ie
- stammtisch canterbury uk
- hunter boots
- ian hookham voicetalk
- geschmucked
- filling in every tooth
- back of me hand
- advents kaffee, english
- gummiman - holland
- people who suck the joy out of life

Aren't people peculiar?

* the 'e' is probably not pronounced.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Teaching Germans... party like a Brit.

On Saturday we had our (what will now become) annual Christmas Cocktail shindig.

We invited even more people than last year (good job it's a big enough house with a large enough cellar for the kids to take over while the adults hog the kitchen) started an hour later and finished about about 3 hours later, we drank all the mulled wine, the cranberry punch and the bellinis, almost ran out of fizz - as it is my stock for Christmas are seriously depleted, I shall have to do something about that.

We were a fairly mixed group with Germans predominating, although there were more English speakers than native German speakers, and the Germans seem to be getting the hang of partying with the Brits. Drinking more than just two glasses of punch for example, the bellinis were a huge hit, maybe seeing the peaches made people forget about the alcoholic prosecco being added to the carafe. They weren't even the first to leave, this (dubious) honour went to Anne and Chris who had been back in Blighty the previous week and brought some hideous lurgy back with them - too much kissing according to Anne. All in all there were seven nationalities represented, with most people able to speak at least two languages.

But some people are never happy, one friend, upon being told that Ben was out (ice skating with a group of kids from school) was most put out, because it meant that her son (from Ben's class, and a friend of Ben's, although clearly not part of the ice skating/cinema going mixed* crowd) had no company. How stupid she declared. Sorry, but I didn't think to call her and tell her (I was a little bit busy) and anyway these teenage plans have a nasty tendency to fall apart at last moment and you can guarantee I'd be the last to know. As it was Ben turned up not long after, so harmony was restored.

Logan had a great time at the party, hoovering around the table as crumbs fell, he completely wore himself out and towards the end was asleep in the middle of the rug, ensuring that children had to walk around him.

Simon became a 3D TV salesman, showing pretty much everyone his and Ben's new toy, he should be on commission, I get the feeling that quite a few people now want one!

The only downside to hosting a great party is the clearing up afterwards. All those glasses and plates to wash and empties to cart down to the cellar. And my feet are still sore from wearing silly heels for too many hours (I did take them off eventually, but by then the damage was done) however my head wasn't sore - mental note to self; drink champagne/sekt/prosecco get squiffy but get no hangover.

So we're one step closer to Christmas, party's done, need the tree now, that's next weekend's job.

* when asked "who else is going?" you get a muttered list of some 4/5 boys names followed by the admission that such and such a girl is going and her friend and so and so as well...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What's yours called?

Bookgroup never fails to disappoint.

As it was Christmas (December, ergo Christmas markets and glühwein in full swing) we met at the best (IOHO) glü stand (at tad earlier than normal to be confessed) but at least we weren't a foot deep in snow like last year.

We made it to the Black Cat (only losing 1 member - who is 'in lurve', i.e. had a hot date) for 8 and settled down for the night.

The waitress there must hate us. Yes; we pay well and tip well, but you can tell that it galls her, a table of foreigners, who dominate the room (not the whole bar, we're loud- but not that loud) once a month and happily speak English to each other and a bastarised German to her.

We didn't talk about the book at all. Or rather, we didn't talk about last months book, we talked about Kevin (the book from October) lots, an amazing book - read it. I think we all found it impacted on our lives in some way.

For some reasoin (I blame alcohol consuption) next month's book is A Year of Living Biblically - that's just going to be a bundle of laughs for a self confessed aetheist...ho hum...

It never ceases to amaze me, the the topics of conversation that get covered at book group;

- "do you have a name for your bits" asked F...and then went on, " boys have a penis, so what does a girl have?" We were, surprisingly, for a book group, lost for words. And could not come up with a satisfactory answer.

- "what's a vajazzle?" Asked T. We tried to explain. Maybe the link will enlighten where we didn't...I'll ask!

- there was much fun made of Johhhnie's** shirt, which O thought had come straight from an A&F ad** and S thought made him look Canadian.

I happily admit to not using public transport, I have a car, so why should I have to learn how to? But this evening it made more sense to go the carbon friendly way. F and I waited at the bus stop for twenty minutes for a bus that runs every ten (having had three (we counted them) go past in the opposite direction) before finally giving up and catching a bus down to the train station - where we discovered what had happened to the bus we were waiting for - at a T junction in the centre of town it had turned right and found the angle little too tight, due a Porsche being parked right on the corner. The bus was perfectly jammed between a wall and the car, we look forward to seeing the photos in next weeks local rag.

* sic
** I'm sure he doesn't have the matching six pack