Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Watch out, the Germans are coming.

In April my son's bilingual class is off on a trip to England for a week to help with their language acquisition...some parents assumed that Ben wouldn't go, after all he speaks the language perfectly already and therefore doesn't the help, but why should he miss out on what will be a fun bonding experience?

There was a second meeting last night to further explain the timetable and the people involved and to answer people's questions.  It took two hours, by the end of which my left leg had gone to sleep.  The trip isn't till the end of April, and I'm sure there'll be another meeting before then, because England is a foreign country and you do have to take a passport to "get in".  This fact has been raised before and it really bugs me.  The teacher's words were something along the lines of* "a valid passport is essential because the British are very strict about this" - to which I called out (without first raising my hand, probably got a black mark against my name for that) "that's because they're not Schengen" (I can quite understand the UK's point of view, as an island nation, used to being able to repel all invaders,as they crossed into the country, staggering up the beaches all wet and salty.  Why should they suddenly trust others to check people credentials and yes, it is a ball ache to wait in a queue at passport/border control, but get over it).

There was quite a debate about the four 18 year olds who are going along with the two teachers to help with the 33 kids (all under 14), we, as parents are asked to contribute towards half of their costs, 20euro per parent couple - it had to be worded like that because as one mother pointed out she has twins in the class and doesn't want to have to pay twice for the 18year olds (although thinking about it, if she has two kids in the class, going on the trip, then they both need to be supported/accompanied so therefore shouldn't she pay twice?  I'm not about to tell her that to her face (although a German would) because she's bigger than me & frequently gives my son a lift home from school**).

Smoking and drinking will be forbidden on the trip (well, good - they are all only 14 after all) even the 18 year olds are only allowed to indulge when they are not with the minors.  One mom was concerned that her child might end up in a house with smokers, was there a chance to ensure this didn't happen, she asked?  I had to bite my tongue not to call out that in my opinion there are far more smokers here in Germany than in England.  I left it for one of the two teachers (that'd be the one that doesn't smoke) to comment that they hadn't that problem before and that no-one would have been smoking in the bedrooms where the children sleep.

It was suggested that the children all take a small gift for the guest family they will be staying with, but the question was what?  Liver sausage was suggested (I'm hoping this was a joke, can you imagine receiving a package of stinky liver sausage that has been in a child's rucksack for 12 hours?)  Haribo was also  a suggestion, which is OK as long as the child concerned isn't lodging with an OAP couple, a family with kids maybe would appreciate gummy sweets but the older generation?  Unlikely.  Another suggestion was wine (and this from the teacher) I would rather not entrust a highly breakable glass bottle to a teenager who is as likely to fling his bag onto the coach as to use it as a seat.  I suggested chocolate, everyone appreciates chocolate and there is loads of German chocolate from the huge variety of "Ritter" bars (that my parents covet) to hand made chocolate shops on every self respecting street.

The teacher organising the trip wants everyone to take bathing towels, because they're going to the seaside (in April) and there's the possibility that they meet down on the beach and go in the sea (the average temperature high for April in Margate is 12C, you wont catch my English son going anywhere near that water (which has an average temperature of 12.1C, brrrrr).

One of the other items suggested that the children take is a "worterbuch" - dictionary, I don't think Ben will need that & I can imagine Ben's friends will also think that, seeing as they'll have a walking, talking English/German dictionary with them.

I'm quite sure this is only the start of the arrangements for a trip that will take the children away for six days and doesn't occur until April 23.  There is such a thing as over planning.

* loose translation going on here.

** I don't pick Ben up because the school is a 10 minute walk away, if she chooses to drive there and back twice a day in order to collect her lazy boys (they live along our road, so it's a 10 minute walk for them also) and Ben convinces her to give him a lift then fine by me.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Nochmal Klum

I refuse to watch German TV.

It is rubbish.  Ask any non German, or even a German who has experienced life and TV outside of Deutschland.

The news is good, my German teacher said in its defence, before continuing that you can't just watch the news.

However, I am not going to go into yet another rant about the awfulness of German broadcasting, because last week the one series that I watch religiously, every year started up again - Germany's Next TopModel with Heidi Klum.

Heidi can be a tad irritiating at times it has to be said, and her dress sense (for someone who must surely have the pick of designers) can be relied on to be, at best, entertaining, but I guess I should just be grateful that she doesn't wear black.

The wannabe models are always bitchy about each other, I don't think there's been a full on cat fight in the last 6 years - but never say never, after all the girls are forced to live in a large house together, far away from home for 2-3 months, and every week compete against each other to be chosen for advertising campaigns and to be the most perfect model.

Last week's show was the first in the 2012 series, we started with 51* pre-selected wannabes and almost 3 hours later** 26 had been culled.  From this 3 hour marathon there were a couple of things that stood out for me;

- one girl had corkscrew curls, which were naturally dark brown, except that she had dyed her hair white blonde.  There is no doubt that it looked hideous, but the jury declared that it looked like wool, a trifle mean, but I guess she probably doesn't mind, seeing as she survived through to the second week.

- many of the wannabes had travelled to the catwalk show with their family, one brought her pet rat, which she then took down the catwalk on her shoulder, plain weird if you ask me, she also made it through, a move I'm sure the jury will regret because this girl was hyper, she couldnot keep still and could barely string a comprehensible sentence together.

- the wannabes are all terribly tall and terribly thin, I heard that the U.S. version of the show had a "plus size" model amongst their candidates, very PC of them, can't see that happening in Germany for a good few years, they can't even spell PC...anyway, one of last weeks 51 had the temerity to catch malaria (she lives in South Africa) in the time between the original casting when she made it into the 51 (clearly filmed last autumn sometime) and the catwalk show that aired last week (I guess filmed more recently)  instead of losing weight as she fought the illness, her mother fed her up on "little fishes cooked in milk" (most of the jury struggled to hide their revulsion at such a meal) and as she said herself, she clearly ate too much of the little fishes cooked in milk, but she recovered from malaria without resorting to drugs.  She has put on 10 kilos since she made it into the top 51 and when she appeared at the head of the catwalk the jury weren't sure that they had the right girl.  The programme producers clearly knew they had the right girl and were totally prepared, because this girl was forced to walk down the catwalk to the song "Big and Chunky" by Will.I.Am, they had even sneakily edited the track so that pretty much all you heard was the word "chunky" being repeated over and over again.  As I said, it'll be a long time before Germany is politically correct.

- the girls are expected to walk down the catwalk and pose, showcasing themselves, selling themselves to the jury, one girl went a little too far by walking down in a swimming costume (it wasn't even a very nice cossie) and had the producers/assistants running on with a silky dressing gown to cover her nakedness, bizarre really when you consider that the next episode is being shot on a beach in Thailand where I'm guessing they wont be wearing winter coats.  Another girl had on a stretchy fitted tube style top over skinny jeans, the camper member of the jury didnot like this at all, and jumped to his feet and before you could say "Germany's Next TopModel" he had pulled the girl's top down so that it was (mini)dress length and removed her jeans.  The poor girl was mortified and I can't remember whether she made it through to the 25, but if she did then she'll need to get used to stripping in front of the cameras because models are always having to change clothes in front of other people, definitely not a profession for the shy and retiring!

I usually watch Heidi on my own as it's too late for Jas (10) and too uncool/girly/booooooring for Ben(14) and Simon is often just not here, but this time I had the pleasure of watching the almost 3 hour long show with Si - I don't think he'll be back for more!

* 51 rather than 50 (which would have been the obvious number) because last year there was a girl who made it to the first 25 but was then diagnosed with a particular type of cancer and had to pull out of the show in order to receive treatment.  At the time Heidi told Melek that they would keep a place for her in the following year's show, hence 50+1.

**this is the main problem (in my opinion) with German TV, they take a perfectly workable TV series from another country, Come Dine with Me, Who wants to be a Millionaire etc. and stretch it out to last all evening, making it time consuming and draining, even if you record it and watch it back so you can speed through the ad breaks, it's still a loooooong show.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Snaps 102

A (very) small selection of the books in our house.
Notice anything odd about the four in the middle, starting with the pale blue one titled "Dear Germany" and ending with a nasty yellow grammar book...
Why is it, do you think, that the English books all have their titles running top to bottom on the spines and the German ones bottom to top?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gym Bunny #2

About a year ago I joined a gym.
Now I have, over the years, been a member of many gyms - there was the one in Cannock where there used to be lots of muscle bound guys pumping iron whilst admiring their form in the mirrored wall, then there was the one in Lichfield that was based in a period residence complete with high fancy ceilings, where the cardio area was so small there was a queuing system for every machine. After that there was the huge corporate giant that was Esporta (I say "was" because I'm not sure whether Esporta as a brand still exists) that was a cool gym, indoor and outdoor pools (although locationwise the outdoor pool was probably a step too far, seeing as the gym was squeezed onto a piece of land between the A5 and the A5127) a huge cardio area, free weights and loads of weights machines, 2-3 aerobic studios, coffee bar/restaurant and beauty treatment rooms.  My final gym in England was a golf and country club affair at Branston.   Smaller than Esporta having just one pool and studio and a smaller cardio area etc. but the whole set up was more family orientated.

I gave up gym membership when we got a dog, figuring I'd be getting all the exercise I needed that way.
For a while that worked, then we moved to Germany and a friend suggested I try out the step class she went to, then another suggested pilates.  When I abandoned both because of the teaching styles I was hooked on exercising again (it's more that then I don't feel guilty when I eat cake, and my clothes still fit than the supposed rush you can get from extreme exercise) and joined the local gym here.

Given my gym history I feel perfectly qualified to comment on the....peculiarities at my (German) gym*...

- the car park drives me scatty, unless you're there early (we're talking before 8.30) you willnot get a parking space, not becausse the gym is full, but becauses there is an RWE office next door and the buggers all part in the gym carpark when theirs is full.

- it seems to be compulsary to greet people as you enter the changing rooms, whether you know them or not, a bit weird if you ask me so I'm probably marked down as an ignorant foreigner for flouting this unwritten rule.

- I was in the gym early last week (before 8 & classes start after 9) I was happily running on a treadmill, listening to my ipod when I became aware of movement in the aerobic studio (there's a huge glass window that separates the two areas) there was an elderly couple dancing in the gloom of the empty studio, and this wasn't just any old dancing, oh no, this was full on ballroom dancing complete with all the dips and twirls (I watch "Strictly Come Dancing", I know what I'm talking about!

- the gym is huge, I think maybe in a previous life it was a warehouse, partly because of its size and high ceilings and also because of the fact that the aerobic studio appears to end in a loading bay complete with a roller shutter door, which is lovely in the summer because it can be fully opened to let a cooling breeze in, but in winter the Siberian wind howls under it and freezes the whole yoga class into their downward dog - thus ensuring that there is a migration of people from one end of the room to the other, the savy old pros knowing to keep well away from the light.

- the size of the gym meaans that there are row upon row of cardiac machines to use. At the front, right under the bank of TV screens are the bikes, usually occupied by the blue rinses who sit there cycling gently to nowhere fast, gossiping to their friends whilst staring up at the breakfast news. Behind the bikes is a row of stepping/stair climbing machines, another row back are the treadmills and the last row is the cross trainers.  Each row has between 10-15 machines, maybe more, I have to confess I haven't paused long enough to count them, don't want to be caught staring, someone will mistake me for a German.  The day I was in early the row of treadmills was empty, so I chose one in the middle and set off, half way through a woman came along and started up on the machine next to me, she had the choice of the rest of the row but no, she clearly wanted company (not to talk to, thankfully, I don't want to run and talk)  After I'd got where I wanted to I moved onto the cross trainers, again choosing one surrounded by unoccupied machines (I am that antisocial) and within minutes the one next to me had some sweaty creature on it.  Fun.

- when our boiler broke down last week I realised drastic measures would be required if I was going to maintain my usual levels of hygiene and so after my workout I used the showers at the gym for the first time in almost a year.   I shan't be repeating that in a hurry.   The room is tiled, obviously, four to five metres long by three to four wide, with shower nozzles spread along the wall at the appropriate level.  It reminded me of the showers I had to endure back in high school or maybe even gas chambers, basic, spartan, functional.

- my gym has a sauna that I will never, ever use (hell will freeze over first) it also has a creche and sunbeds that I wont use (no need for a creche & sunbeds are BAD for you, like cigarettes are bad but the Germans are equally addicted to both)  I do quite like a sauna, although, given the choice, I prefer a steam room, but while my gym doesn't have a steam room, it does have a sauna...but to use it you have to be stark naked...I guess it could be worse, in most gyms the saunas are naked and mixed...shudder.

- there's a little old lady who I see in the changing rooms every Wednesday, as I'm leaving she's sitting in front of a mirror faffing about with curling tongs and hairdriers, sorting her (short) hair out.  Nothing odd with that you might think, except that she's not doing this after getting all sweaty and dirty and washing it, she's doing this prior to going into the gym and getting all sweaty.

So there you have it, yet another facet of normal life that has been given a very special German twist.

* its's part of the Fitness First chain.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Review #27

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins.

Not one book but a trilogy, but I figured there's little point reviewing them separately, and as all three only took about a week to read then I thought I'd treat them as one.

They're written for the "young adult" market, but in the same way that "Twilight" did, they've managed to become the guilty pleasure of many parents and even those who don't have a teenager's copy to "borrow"/steal.

I hadn't heard anything about them before the last quiz night when two of my more sensible friends were raving about the Hunger Games, one of these friends actually works in publishing (albeit non-fiction) and I think she had fallen hardest under their spell.

So I finished the crappy bookgroup book (which I shan't bother to review because I shall save my vitriol for my wine fuelled rant at bookgroup next week) on a Sunday morning and wanting something good to read downloaded the first of the Hunger Games.  I was not disappointed.

The stories are set in the future, somewhen on earth, on what was I think once the continent of North America.  Something happened and 100 or so years before, life on earth had to be reorganised, so that on this continent there is the Capitol and 13 districts which supply Capitol with everything needed for day to day life.  Then 75 years ago district 13 rebelled and fought back, using their threat of nuclear power (each district has its own speciality, nuclear was 13's) Capitol levelled 13 and told the rest of the population that 13 was no more, whilst promising 13 no more reprisals as long as they kept out of the picture.  In order to reinforce the message that Capitol was in power and could do as it wished, every year they host the "Hunger Games", two children (aged between 12 & 18) from each district are chosen by a lottery system to fight to the death in an arena fabricated by Capitol where they face not just each other but also the twisted imaginations of the Capitol "games masters".  Only one person can leave the arena alive.

The story centres around Katniss, aged 16 and a born survivor although not necessarily a born killer. I think it is Katniss's character that makes this trilogy so readable and unputdownable. She is by no means infallible, she has huge self doubt and she gets injured like any other human does. She also questions her motives, debating internally whether she is being driven by selfish motives and she is not perfect.

Written in the first person it's clear from the outset that somehow or other Katniss will make it through whatever Capitol can throw at her (I think I've only ever read one book written in the first person where that character dies) so I'm not plot spoiling by telling you that the 1st of the trilogy deals with the 74th Hunger Games, the 2nd deals with the fallout from Katniss's success and the Quarter Quell games that she is suddenly forced to take part in, and the final book is the fight for freedom from Capitol.

After starting the first book, I was only part way in when I was struck by the thought that the books would make a great film. I expressed this to a friend who had finished all three, only to be informed that the film is due for release later this year - can't wait, although I shall have to, probably until it comes out on DVD, because unless it's a huge hit there's little chance of watching it in the original language here in Germany.

In summary, a great series, just wish there was more!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Snaps 101

It's Karneval time, so here's a few pics for you...

A friend went out in Dusseldorf altstadt to celebrate Weiberfastnacht on Thursday (see Thursday's blog for more info) and bumped into eight gladiators.
Jasmine dressed as a hairy monster (including fur donated (reluctantly) by Logan) to celebrate Karneval at school.
In my book, the only good thing (although meeting eight gladiators would also be a fun experience) about Karneval is that the Sylvester Berliner varieties re-emerge, Irish cream doughnut anyone?

Thursday, February 16, 2012


The Karneval period is almost at an end (yay).

Rosenmontag is next week (Monday February 20th) and the parades on that day close off the Karneval season that started way back in November, or was it October?

But before we get to Rosenmontag the menfolk have to survive Weiberfastnacht.

The Thursday before Rosenmontag is ladies' day.  But this is not the kind of ladies' day seen at English horse racing, where the women dress in their finery and parade around and all the newspapers pass comment on the ridiculous head gear some wear.  The ladies' day that is an integral part of Karneval allows the women folk to go just a little bit bonkers.

- any men need to be careful not to wear an expensive tie at work because the women hunt in packs with scissors as their chosen weapon, slicing off any unsuspecting male tie, no matter how senior the man, on Weiberfastnacht women can get away with it.
- at schools (high school anyway) the girls will take coloured hair spray as their weapon of choice, I quite expect Ben to return home multicoloured and requiring a shower.
- in Cologne (where Karneval is taken VERY seriously) the festivities start at 10am on Thursday with a street karneval and at 11am specific local dignitaries (male, of course) are paraded and forced to hand over the keys to the city, from 11.11am onwards the women will be in charge, or at least thronging the pubs and bars.

I even have an invite to go out carousing with another mom and her German friends, I really can't face it though, there's just something so forced and artificial about the enforced jollity and hilarity that surrounds Karneval that makes me retreat into my English reserve, I'm sure I have to stay in and wash my hair...

Word for the day; Das Weib - the woman/wife

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Old Boiler

It's warmer today (+4) than it has been for the last two/three weeks (we got down as low as -13 one day) temperatures which aren't a complete surprise seeing as we live in Germany and it is winter, the season of freezing weather.  Germany is completely geared up for these seriously cold periods, every car has winter tyres (so they hold the road better in freezing and slippery conditions) they never seem to run out of grit/gritters, the instant it snows people are outside shovelling their paths and everyone is appropriately attired* - kids in ski jackets, five layers of clothing and ugly winter weatherproof boots and the adults in fur (if they're rich/live in Düsseldorf/Cologne) or hideous duvet-like coats that seem to come only in black.

So why is it, when the country can cope with freezing temperatures that they install heating systems that can't?  A friend across the road has a house that's maybe four years old at a push.  A beautifully designed modern house that has a heat pump/exchange system, the problem is that part of the system is outside and when the temperatures got too low, part of the system froze.  So the system stopped working.  It took the service team over a week to sort the problem out, which seemed to finally result in them 'heating up' the frozen bit outside.  But in the meantime poor J was having to go swimming every day so that she could have a shower at the pool and farm the (4) kids out to friends on a rotation basis in order that they could be showered.  Fun.  Fortunately they have a good sized fireplace (a very German thing to have in your house, a "kamin") which they kept going 24 hours a day and even then one of the kids' bedrooms got down to 13 degrees.

The day after I'd offered J the use of our shower (which turned out to be the day her heating system unfroze and started working) our boiler stopped.  This was Sunday afternoon.

Now our modern German heating system sings and dances it's so technically complex, but can it run for a year without having its hand held by a (very expensive) service engineer at least once?  Not a hope.
Not only does it have to be serviced every year but even then things happen which cause it to flash up an error code and stop.  This must be the third time (in 4-5 years) we've had to have an engineer come and administer first aid and these visits don't tend to be cheap. 

We lived in three different houses in the UK, the first had a nasty storage heater system so we'll gloss over that.  But the other two houses had the normal, common or garden British central heating system, gas fired boiler (usually in the kitchen or the garage) and radiators.  Over a 14 year period I don't think we ever had either of those two boilers serviced (didn't realise you were supposed to until we moved to Germany) and the only thing that ever went wrong was the pilot light blowing out once or twice.  I would kill for such a basic, simple system.  Instead we're stuck with something that has been over engineered and is consequently as temperamental as a teenager who's had their mobile phone confiscated.  As the engineer was leaving today (after his 20 minute visit to replace the faulty mother board or whatever it was that was broken and warp drive had been resumed) I asked him (as I had been told to) whether the number of problems we have** is usual with such a boiler or whether we're overworking it/have it set up incorrectly.  He said we're just unlucky.  I'd put money on seeing him again inside of 12 months.

* apart from a boy in Ben's class who is still wearing his knee length cotton, summer shorts - no idea why and can't for the life of me work out why his mother doesn't make him wear something more appropriate.
** would love to write "have had" but think it's probably more realistic to keep the tense present and therefore current, as I can guarantee that this will not be the last problem.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Snaps 100

the pic that started it all, the Fuckers coaches.
my brother's bike, now AWOL in Libya.
football fever.
summer holidays, the view from the balcony.
when the blue sheep come out, you know winter's over.
Libya gets freedom.
Jasmine's mended broken arm.
a 'policeman' on a balcony near us.
me on the stupidly high wire last Easter.
Royal Wedding party.
hope you enjoyed that!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

You must be joking...

I (sorry Sven, we) won the Joker again at the Expats Quiz Night. 

The question was "how many passengers were officially registered on the Costa Concordia"?
Answer, 3229.  It's all down to Sven that we were the closest, I'd originally wanted to put 7000 and Sven said it should be at least halved.

The evening didn't start well.  People are reluctant to go out when faced with sub zero temperatures in the evening and so the expats turned up in dribs and drabs, a couple didn't make it at all, due to tardy husbands.  Their loss was our gain though as one of those forced to stay home was E, whose aim in life is to get every question right in the quiz* and I hate to say it (but I will, because it will annoy her) but last night could have been her night, Sven (who agreed to partner me) happily told me that his wife was much better at quiz's than him and I (general knowledge is not my strong point, nor is history, geography, sport...shall I go on?) managed a whopping 22/25 - not enough to clinch the grand prize, but due to possession of the joker we were first to get a line of questions right - tee hee.

We were treated to a music round last night, five clips of music were played and the challenge was not in naming the song but in not continuing to sing along and so accidentally revealing the title.  They were all very popular 80's hits like Dollie Parton's "9-5", Tina Turner's "What's love got to do with it?" and even Wham's "Wake me up before you go go".  A very popular round.

Other questions were:

  1. What's the name of the Disney Corporation Theme song?   We hadn't a clue and this despite Sven having lived in the U.S. for 20 years and having visited Disney numerous times - I wasn't amused.
  2. What is an epicure? A mud/skin treatment, a person of refined taste, a tool for removing nose hair or the side chapel of a cathedral?  We used a process of elimination here.
  3. What Olympic sport is won backwards?  Piece. Of. Cake.
  4. What is the point score from the word "QUIZ" in the game of scrabble?  Guessed 25, then amended through logic (!) to the right answer, which caused some debate because the Americans seem to score it differently.
  5. What side of the road do they drive on in India?  Apparently putting "the correct one" isn't the right answer.
  6. Who is Mario Monte?  The Italian PM or the captain of the Costa Concordia?  We argued about this and foolishly I gave in.
  7. What are Puma, Polo and Punto?
  8. This is the first line of which book - "Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun."
Easy huh?  But still no team (and we were only allowed teams of two this time, which makes choosing who you're going to partner up with a crucial decision) got a full house, the best score was 23/25.  Never mind, maybe next time - as long as E's other half can be bribed in staying late at work again!

Here are the answers just in case you didn't know:
1. When you wish upion a star.
2. A person of refined taste.
3. Rowing or back stroke.
4. 22.
5. Left.
6. The Italian PM.
7. Cars.
8. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

I'm ready for next months quiz now**, will probably do really badly and not make it to double figures let alone into the 20's.

* now I know that this should be everyone's goal, but E is almost German in her quest to be the best of the best!
** have only just realised why Chris asked how many points in Scrabble come from the word QUIZ, oh dear!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

School Daze

Say what you like about the schooling system in the UK, and people will always find something to complain about, but here in Germany I am constantly surprised (and that's not in agood way)...

- a physics 'test', not a formal exam but an oral questioning, the results of which will be the basis for the forthcoming end of half year reports, Ben got 2/10 questions wrong and the teacher has decided this shows a lack of understanding of the subject and will it result in a grade 4 (where 1 is the highest grade). He's not amused. Nor am I.

- a parallel class to Ben's has a French teacher who has been off sick on and off since September. The schooling system here doesn't have a pool of qualified, temporary teachers to draw on, therefore the class has had no formal, consistent French tuition for the first six months of this school year, I wonder what grade will represent that on their reports?

- Ben's class of 13/14 year olds have lessons just in the mornings on 3 days of the week, they're home by lunchtime and on two of these days they don't even have a first lesson. On the days that they have 'fullday' school they get a free lesson in the middle of the day 'to relax' in the specially created 'chillout room' and the teachers aren't allowed to give them any homework.

- positive feedback only seems to occur when you comment on its lack and on the negative impact of purely critical feedback. A friend's son got every question right in a recent maths test and yet rather than praising the child the teacher chose instead to remark that the child needed to do their homework and pay attention in class.

- creative writing doesn't happen here. I discussed this serious lack with (expat) friends who told me that no, I wasn't imagining it and that the German system allows creativity at Uni level and therefore all the repressed passion comes spewing forth then...fine, this hopefully means that the Goethes and Kafkas of the future will eventually emerge, but rather a shame for the kids stuck in German grammar classes copying laboriously how the verb schreiben* conjugates.

- Jas's maths teacher has just left and yesterday she had a stand in (I hope, I hope this teacher isn't going to be the permanent replacement...) the children were packing up at the end of the lesson, Jas was finishing writing a sum down, the girl next to her also. Jas pointed out to the girl that she'd put the decimal point** in the wrong place, teacher saw Jas looking at her friend's work and told Jas that if she paid attnetion in class then she wouldn't be so stupid - I don't think the phrase "politically correct" has any meaning here.

On Friday the children will come home (at lunchtime, obviously) with their half year reports, it will be interesting to see how much positive and constructive criticism there is.

* schreiben - to write. ich schreibe, du schreibst, er schreibt. ich schrieb. ich habe geschrieben.
** technically speaking I should say 'comma', because the Germans for some crazy reason use a point/full stop as the thousand marker and a comma where you or I would put a decimal point...I wont start on the symbols for multiply and divide...needless to say my maths ability has deteriorated since trying to help Jas.

Monday, February 6, 2012

the fish jumped out of the water

Friday, being the first Friday of the month was bookgroup and with temperatures falling below -10 people baled - we were left with those who weren't necessarily reliant on the public transport system (which even here in ever so puntual und ordentlich Deutchland doesn't seem to tolerate extremes) that meant the group was the die hards, the alkies and those who could blag a lift...all girls, needless to say.

Due to the demographics of the group (all female, one usual male attendee being 'on holiday', one 'working' and another otherwise AWOL) the conversation took a very female turn, it's bound to happen, in the same way that men will resort to football so women will choose to discuss men, shopping and sex.

Yes, we talked about the book, 'More than you can say', 4 of us (9) had even read it. I didn't like the author's style but can appreciate J's opinion that the book discusses the matter of post traumatic stress disorder following war and the fact that it's a subject possibly passed over as not a 'serious medical condition', and in my defence, I did finish the book, if I REALLY don't like a book then I toss it, life is too short to waste on drivel.

Amongst other things we also discussed;

- Arranging a girlie spa day - a no naked sauna/spa day. Harder to do than you'd think, the locals lurrrrrrrrrrrrve their naked sauna (one friend recounted a tale of being at a spa and being chased to the edge of the pool by an attendant because the swimming was also naked) - it's not a choice, it's a prerequisite, shudder. A possible spa has been found but we've been cautioned to check that they're not naked at the weekend as some spas change their policy on Saturday and Sunday.

- We tried googling T's boss because apparently he's way too sexy for her office and as an ex-pro swimmer still has a cute bod. Despite knowing his name we failed, maybe I'll try again now, seeing as I'm on a proper computer rather than just an iphone...nope, still nothing.

- I had an app "film on" recommended to me by my hairdresser, sorry, make that haircutter (as Justin and Jason like to call themselves) a free app that allows you to watch TV, British, Italian, German, French, Arabic...the list of channels is almost endless. I've now recommended this onto my book group friends - made some of them very happy.

- We have sub zero temperatures here at the moment and this is leading to all manner of wardrobe faux pas. Multiple layers are essential for being out and about, which then means that when you get to your destination you have to strip, we thought R would never stop, layer after layer was discarded. Then there's the problem of timing the washing of your fave jeans, when only one pair fits perfectly in your non slip snuggly warm boots just when do you choose to wash them, and is it possible to get them washed and dried overnight - tricky. One friend has succumbed to the local habit of wearing a coat that looks like a sleeping bag, she was very sheepish as she turned up to bookgroup, sheepish but with a warm ass. The only thing in her favour is that the coat is very dark brown rather than the shiny black that seems to be the in colour for duvet coats.

- We should clearly have talked about Coldplay because K was wearing her hoodie from the Mylo Xyloto tour that she went to last month/month before, sorry K, bet you're gutted we didn't mention it, and I know it must have been a fab concert...sorry.

- A went to the loo (as you do) leaving her chair draped in her coat and various other bits of clothing, she'd been gone no more than a minute when the waitress (a moody creature, who, given the opportunity, would rather serve Satan's spawn than us group of foreigners) appeared and asked if she could seat two people in this gap (note, not the end of the table, but rather the corner, slap bang in the middle of a fair sized English group who can get so voluble that other tables turn and tsk ...hey, we're regular, we buy lots, we tip well - and we're the novelty act for the evening, no one has complained - yet) I pointed out that one of the seats she wanted to give away was still in theory occupied by the girl who was in the loo...she wasn't amused.

And Anika confessed (for some reason) that the first sentence she ever learnt to speak in German (which she'd decided to learn whilst living and working in Chicago because she'd met a cute German guy) was "der Fisch springt aus dem Wasser".

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sunday Snaps 99

Here's a series of photos I took this week as I walked the dog along the banks of the Ruhr as the freezing temperatures took hold:

Thursday, this was the ice starting to form, it looked like balls of aluminium foil in the water with the sun shining on it, quite bizarre.

Friday, sheets of ice floating down the river, over and under one another, making the most amazing sound.

Saturday, oddly the river seemed less frozen and yet the temperature was no warmer.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Knock knock

Saturday evening we were invited to friends for chilli to "celebrate" her birthday, a low key event due to the fact that they'd buried his mother just two days previously.

We spent the evening in the kitchen (where all the best parties end up anyway, so why not cut out the middle man and start where you mean to finish?) which was very cosy, I'm glad we were the second couple to arrive because at least that ensured we bagged seats around the table and didn't have to spend the evening propping up the worktops, although it also meant that we couldn't pick and choose who we got to chat with.

The chilli was delicious, Michael is a good cook (bearing in mind that for a day job he's a surgeon, replacing shoulder, knee and hip joints) but as anticipated the chilli was so mild that I could barely tell that it was chilli (the give away was the kidney beans) but many of the other guests found it still too spicy, ladling on the crème fraiche that was there for just such people.

I felt quite sorry for the chef, due to the funeral earlier in the week, there were still relatives hanging about that needed to be entertained. Fine, except that Michael had clearly been the baby in the family and the rellies were....older, and had come armed with baby photos. Poor Michael, a grown man with a successful surgical career and two children in high school and yet still the photos circulated, he was very good about it though, as the photos to continued while he took refuge in the male, football corner - despite the fact that he isn't a football fan.

Why is it that whenever two or more men are gathered together the talk turns to football (unless of course they both work for the same company, in which case they talk work) It did on Saturday, naturally, and I can't for the life of me remember how we, at the predominantly girlie table got involved, leading me to prove that women (or me at least) do understand "the offside rule", and what's more I then went onto to prove my understanding - in German...I'm so much more fluent after a glass or three of wine.

I learnt something new about Germans on Saturday night. They always greet everyone, handshake if you're not close, kiss on the cheek if you're more friendly/female and so on, it's not just polite it's expected of you, and woe betide you should you enter a room/restaurant/bar/cafe and accidentally (because you're not German and therefore not aware of the slight that is occuring*) not greet someone - social suicide. But when you walk into a room already full of people it is a bit of a pain to have to go around shaking hands and saying hello, so the crafty Germans have come up with a way round this, they knock on the table. Quite how this introduces you to everyone I don't know, but at least you can't be accused of deliberately ignoring someone. They also use the knocking on the table as a means of applauding and to back someone up in a discussion (the way the English say "hear hear")

Everytime I think to myself, "we're not that different, afterall" I discover something new (even after four years) which makes me go "huh?" all over again, but I guess it'd be a boring world if we were all the same.

* I am guilty of this, I have been told by a friend that she's been asked why I've ignored such and such a person...I swear that half the time I wander around in my own little bubble, oblivious to the faces on the people around me - although since the complaints I'm trying hard to look at people** in order to decide whether I need to smile and say hi.
** maybe that's why I think that Germans stare, maybe they're not just staring to be nosy, maybe they're staring and wondering to themselves, "do I know you? Do I need to say hello in order not to accidentally offend you?"