Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Last Supper*

*actually it was breakfast, but that doesn't scan as well...

One of our Frauen die Frühstücken is leaving us.

It's dreadfully wonderful news** that we've had to come to terms with.  Princie's actual leaving date is April 9, slap bang in the middle of the school Easter hols (when lots of us are away) so this Wednesday was the last time for us to frühstück in our favourite place (Villa Landleben of course) The proper drinkie leaving do is on Friday, you may, or may not get to hear about that, we'll see, but Wednesday was just us girlies with piles of fruit, cheese, muesli, croissants, smoked salmon, ham, yoghurt, bread, coffee and prosecco and lots of chat.

It's amazing the subjects that can be discussed during three hours of leisurely feasting, here's what I heard...

  • at what age boys start to 'notice' girls - wildly variable, one poor, long suffering mom said that her 11 year old has never not noticed the opposite sex.
  • how the current way of dating appears to be to have regular sex with someone for a period of weeks before actually dating - used to be the other way round back in the olden days.
  • - the perfect site for porn apparently (I should tell you now that I can tell if you leave my blog via a weblink I've included)
  • sterilisation of husbands & the nursing care afterwards meaning that 1 girlie can't go to Princie's Friday night do.
  • divorcing in Germany - far better by the sounds of it to go back to the UK to do it because the alimony deal here is RUBBISH, another girlie is having to deal with this, and is debating whether to fight or let it go.
  • schools (as ever) taking children out of school a day early to avoid the doubling in costs of plane flights, which when you're talking a family of five flying to the U.S. to visit family (as opposed to a trip to Disney for Mickey 'n Minnie) just makes sense, although some parents are getting sly and asking teachers to schedule tests for the last day of term just to foul up other parents' plans - how mean is that?
  • Princie's imminent departure, sob,sob - she loved her present by the way.
  • talked about organising an evening in with our respective wedding photo albums, mainly so we can point and laugh at our dated looks
  • the beauty of a good mani/pedi, how nail varnish from a good pedicure will last and last and last, the name and number for a great home visiting beautician was shared (gotta love the ease of iphone ownership that means with a couple of taps the contact details can be zapped to a friend, no scrabbling around for pen and paper required.)

It was, as ever, a lovely way to spend a morning with friends, it's a great setting although the staff seemed a little grumpy today, but despite that (and it could have been just my imagination)  we're booked again for May 2, which is five weeks hence and not four, but in four weeks they're fully booked, popular place Villa Landleben

** dreadful because we'll miss her, wonderful because he (the other half, who is the reason that she's here in Germany anyway) got a job offer he would have been hole in the head stoooopid to turn down

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Parlez vous Frenglisch?

Last  week we had a French exchange student staying with us. 

It's part of Ben's French language study at school, Ben goes to France for a week, staying with a French family and having only French spoken all around him and we had a French child to play with for him to experience life in the bosom of a German family in Germany.  Except of course our house isn't run to typical German standards, we speak English at home (the teachers can never get over this) and we watch English TV and we eat in the English way (a cooked tea rather than a cooked lunch and a casual breakfast of cereal or toast not the full scale bread, ham and cheese marathon.) 

I dread to think what A reported back to his teachers and his parents about life with an English family who just so happen to live in Germany, I can imagine that neither his German nor his English have improved greatly for although he listened, he barely spoke.  Although close questioning of A revealed that he's been learning both languages for three years and I got the impression that he didn't find one any harder than the other which would annoy the Germans who always smugly report that English is easy to learn while nodding sagely when I complain that German is sooooo hard.  

Most of the week A looked rather like a startled rabbit caught in the headlights of oncoming traffic, desperate for someplace to hide (ideally where they would speak French or at the very least leave him alone.)  He would speak only when spoken to and even then would use as few words as possible, although apparently in the school environment and when with his fellow French students he opened up more.

Fortunately the school had organised activities for the children, they explored Kettwig on Monday morning (somehow managing to make that last two hours - and yes, Kettwig is lovely but two hours?  When you come from Grenoble, which is way bigger and far prettier I'm sure, Kettwig must seem teeny.)  
Tuesday morning was the Aalto theatre in Essen, which we now know has the biggest elevator in Europe with a capacity for 200+ people (Jas then informed us that she's also been there (with school) and that that lift can also take horses) 
Wednesday was a trip to the Erfahrungsfeld der Sinne which I realise that I have been to, although A's description of it (i.e. none) didn't prompt that recollection but rather the wonder of Google.
Thursday was a whole day trip to Dusseldorf with the German students - which meant that the locals got the day off from school.  Over dinner when they got back I interrogated them; 
What was the film museum like?  Full of rubbish German films according to Ben.  
Was the point of going up the TV Tower just for the view?  Apparently so.  
What did you do for lunch?  Pizza. 
And in your spare time in the afternoon, what did you get up to?  Dusseldorf has trams.
So?  They had small change left over from the pizza, it was even smaller (or maybe just thinner) by the time the trams had run over it.
Friday was school time, followed by free time and the goodbye party which the girls were in charge of (well they volunteered and the boys foolishly agreed) at the last minute, due to the wonderful warm weather, the girls decreed the party would have a theme, and this theme would be 'Summer', thus allowing everyone to dress in summer gear - except for the French kids that is, who would have packed for early spring in Germany.  It seemed to go well, I asked A what music was played, 'lots' he said.  So I tried again, what music did he like I asked?  'Lots' was the answer, at which point I gave up,  I had tried in both German and English (my school French has long since sounded the retreat in the face of the advancing German grammar) but to no avail.

I spent the whole week stressed.  Worried that A wasn't enjoying himself, but unable really to do much about it as the responsibility for entertainment was Ben's, I could make suggestions as to what they might want to do, but at the end of the day they're both teenagers, and teenage boys at that - how on earth can I know what they might find cool, teenage girls shop and gossip, teenage boys just seem to hang about, rather like the faint odour of B.O. that accompanies them.  Who would have thought that being the recipient of an exchange student could be so mentally taxing?

The funniest thing about the whole week was the fact that all the other German students spoke to their French exchange kids in English, and I guess on the return leg the same thing will happen again, (although from memory, the French on home turf are far more demanding of visitors, expecting them to at least make an attempt at their language) while Ben spoke only German to A.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Snaps 106

Nothing tastes as good as the first eis coffee of the season, except perhaps the second...or the third...or the fourth...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What's in a Name

Part of the responsibility of having a child is the naming of it, don't you think?

Careful consideration is usually given to the choice of name, after all, you do usually have a fair few months to ponder on this.  And it's not just the name itself that has to be considered, but also the combination with surname, the initials and then the combination of the possible abbreviations of the first name with the surname. 

Kids seem to love abbreviating each other's names, giving each other nick names, thereby undoing all the months of hard work done by the parents.  Here in Germany it seems to be essential that everyone has a "spitzname" and the bizarre thing is that they're not always shorter or easier to say than the child's actual christian-ed name...

For example, my son Ben (already an abbreviation of Benjamin) apparently gets called "Benny" (or maybe it's "Beni"?) by the girls.  Jas (abbreviated from Jasmine) seems to have escaped any further abbreviating.

Here are some of the others;
Vanessa - Va-va
Corinna - Coco
Johannes - Jojo (the J is pronounced as if it's a Y, so he's actually Yoyo)
Enis - Penis (made me howl with laughter, except it's pronounced "pen - is")
Celine - Tse-Tse
Viviene - Vivi
Elsa - El-el
Svenja - Svenny
Kati - Ka-co
Maya - Mai-mai
Josephine - JoJo
Elena - Ella
Luisa - Lulu
Julia - JuJu (again the J is a Y, hence Yu-yu)
Lorenzo - Lo-Lo
Flora - Flo
Letitia - Titsy (they really have no idea)
Tristan - Trissi
Julian - Juli

I'm so glad I don't have to name any more children because I'd have to give careful consideration into what kind of spitzname the child would end up with.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Knick Knack Paddy Whack*

Saturday, March 17, was St Patrick's Day, traditionally celebrated in bars all around the world by lots and lots of non Irish people.  We were no exception.

We spent the evening at Lulu's where there was a St Patrick's Day comedy quiz night, organised by the Texan owner and run by a Canadian comedian who lives in Belgium...

The comedy was, it has to be said, not to it's usual standard and the quiz (organised by the comedians) was not of the caliber that we've grown accustomed to (clearly been spoilt rotten by the hard work of first Ian and then Chris) but it was an evening out with friends in a pleasant environment and as we didn't make it home till well after the pumpkin hour we must have been having fun.

One team got so fed up with the questions that at half time they filled in the answers to all the up coming rounds, unsurprisingly they came last.  We knew we wouldn't win, there were too many rounds where we didn't have a clue (can you name the 4th and 5th most populous states in America?  Or the last three countries to win the Eurovision song contest?  Or the number of plot lines in the film Love Actually?) but we were desperate to beat the team next to us which was made up of our husbands - we didn't manage it, I think they came 3rd and we came 4th, damn.

Following on from the evening though I seem to have a couple of dates I need to put in my diary, when I can remember exactly what the dates are - I know one is for a Eurovision party so that's easy, it must be the date of the contest (so that'll be May 26th then) we discovered during one of the questions that we three all share the guilty pleasure of watching Eurovision year in year out, bitching about every single act from the song and singing to the makeup and costumes and the floorshow, and swearing every year that we will never watch it again because of the political voting that skews everything.  So this year we'll do it together, had planned it to be at E's, but having gone to write it in my diary I find that the outlaws are due here that week, so maybe I'll have to host it instead... The other date was for a grill off, the first of three possible meets (or should that be "meats"?) V has a new grill (bbq) as do we, E doesn't but is offering up curry instead - perfect.  The question is what was the date for the first grill session...April 27th rings a bell, but I better confirm that I guess...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday Snaps 105

It was Paddy's night at Lulu's last night, the hat isn't mine I hasten to add...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Breakfast banter

I had a lovely morning today.

I spent three hours in the company of bookgroup cronies, casually frühstücking in an Essen coffee shop/bar.  It was almost over before it started, neither Karen nor I had thought to reserve a table, after all this is just a common or garden cafe in the city centre, what we hadn't realised was that they were offering an all you can eat buffet breakfast for 6.95 euros.  All tables bar one were reserved.  We were lucky.

The breakfast spread was the usual, fresh fruit salad, croissant, jams, nutella, bread (too many types to count) cold meat, cheese, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, bacon, baked beans (bizarre, normal for a UK cooked breakfast, but for a German one?) and bizarrely chocolate mousse, for breakfast, I didn't partake, there's a time and a place for chocolate mousse and before lunch (imho) isn't it.

The time of day and lack of alcohol didn't seem to have any effect on the conversational subjects or the volume of the conversation (with an outspoken Scot and an uninhibited Yank amongst us that should have been no surprise).

We discussed books - whether it was worth trying to acquire "Life of Pi" before the next bookgroup (I pointed out that it was available as a Kindle book and therefore easily obtainable) the last book we'd read and how it wasn't "very good" and the book that Rebecca is currently reading (Mr Rosenblum's List).

Talked about the pros and cons of vampires and werewolves (as you do), Karen has, over the course of the Twilight franchise been converted from Team Edward (vampire, strong, cold, hard, sparkly in the sun, lives forever) to Team Jacob (werewolf, strong, hairy, smells like a dog, has big sharp teeth and claws, also lives a long time) I said I'd take cold, hard and sparkly any day over hairy, stinky and bite-y, Karen will be hard to shift allegiance.

Fashion awareness of teenage boys was also covered.  Ben has managed to get through winter only once or twice being forced to wear  his winter jacket, most of the time his dress code is jeans, T-shirt, hoody and skateboard/trainery shoes.  Karen's son is exactly the same, except I got the definite impression that there was only 1 T-shirt he would wear and his shoe of choice is the equally unwinter friendly (i.e. thin fabric and not water proof) Converse.

Germans of course were a subject for debate, but this always happens when two or more expats are gathered together, it doesn't matter how long they've lived in Germany, sooner or later they hit the radar.  This time it was German to German relationships and how unreasonable it was that a woman wasn't happy with her friend dating her ex (from 17 years before) boyfriend.

On the whole it was a very pleasant mid week interlude, next one in two weeks!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Wok 'n Roll

Who says German TV is rubbish?

Oh yeah, I remember now, that'd be me...

Well, Saturday night we thought we'd give it a second (or was the third or fourth?) chance, after all if a channel is going to show something really good then it's going to be shown peak time isn't it?  So that'd be the 20:15 slot on a Saturday evening surely?

We even watched one of the "better" channels (Prosieben) and what did we watch?  

I kid you not.  Grown men & women racing down a toboggan run in a reinforced wok with ladles (yep, ladles) strapped to their heels.   This was the jubilee year for the "Welt  Meisterschaft"* Wok competition. Ten years they've been doing this, a whole evening's worth of 'entertainment', adults sliding on ice in kitchen utensils.   And I thought football dragged on a long time, at least that's only 90 minutes (plus the half time tea/toilet break) the Wok racing started at 20:15 and finished sometime after midnight (I say "sometime" because we went to bed around 11, yes it was mildly entertaining but it was live, I'm sure the only editing done to the show was choosing which shot to broadcast and when to cut to an ad break.  It got a little repetitive to say the least, although it was very professionally lit.**

The teams (after all it was the World Championship and so it couldn't just be Germany taking part***) seemed to be made up of Z list celebs with an affinity for Germany (such as the Right Said Fred boys from back in the 80's) or the "celebs" owned by the channel (these ones had the honour of representing the two German teams) such as Stefan Raab (who is responsible for the game, seriously, it can't be termed a sport can it?) and Georg Hackl who was three time Olympic and World champion luger, who on completing a magnificent run declared this would be his last year (but I get the impression that he says that every year).  But at least in the Wok World Championships there were other countries participating, Brazil, Ireland, Great Britain (oh, the ignomy) the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Turkey and even America was represented by "Evil Jared".

The first guy (Ailton, Brazil - who spoke perfect German and an ex pro football goalie, who has also done the I'm a Celeb Dschungelcamp) came to a complete stop partway down the course and had to be pushed off, then he stopped again this time 3 guys helped him away from the scene, it was declared by the cackling commentator, a true wok of shame.

The Italian, fuelled on spaghetti (that's what he told the pre race camera) went down the track mostly backwards (the woks spin very easily) which was maybe a good idea as he confessed to having done no training at all, after all, it's not a sport, it's just entertainment so why take it seriously...apart for the fact that it's a German show and should therefore be taken seriously, because the people who make it clearly do so.

The 'top favourite' to win, the seven times champ in the single wok, was Hackl (sponsored by Babybel, although I do think the organisers missed a trick here, it would have been far more amusing to have had Georg Hackl sponsored by a company such as Zewa****) the Olympic winning luger so maybe he had an unfair advantage, and it's no surprise that he went on to win the individual event.

Evil Jared was the American solo wok racer who was sponsored by a condom company, he reckoned that he was picked for the job (despite his clear lack of German) because he was the only yank they could find weighing less than the weight limit of 130kg... and despite his weight advantage he didn't do that well.

The second competition was the team event, 4 crazy people in 2 stretch woks joined like a bendy bus, at least they had less tendency to spin...

The East Germans had Olympians in their team (when you want to win you do need to take it seriously) but this didn't help as they went too high on a curve and they all fell out...they managed to kind of stay in but it wasn't pretty - rather like the film Cool Runnings according to the commentator, while the female interviewer thought it looked like a gang bang.

The Swiss team nearly did the same trick but somehow managed to stay in their woks, the Italians fell out completely after the first guy lost his glove right at the very beginning - disaster, and the English team of Right Said Fred plus 2 desperadoes (one of course a total exhibitionist) managed at least to stay in their woks.  The West Germans also had medals (from luge, bobsled and pole vault) in their wok, they were a heavy team and hoped that this would help, they nearly lost it but somehow manged to keep control and went on to win.

Would I watch this show again next year I was asked today, I might, I guess.  If I had nothing better to do and could accompany it with good wine and good company (I really wouldn't want to watch it alone, it's rather like the Eurovision Song Contest in that respect, part (if not all) of the fun comes from watching it with someone else so you can point and laugh) but I have a feeling I might have something more interesting to washing my hair or cleaning out the garage.

Wok on.

*  Welt Meisterschaft = world championship
** personal joke
*** on which note - how does the U.S. still get away with calling their baseball competition the "World Series"?
**** Hakle is a toilet roll manufacturer as is Zewa

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Snaps 104

How I spent a miserable Saturday afternoon, rediscovering the carpet in Jasmine's room.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Antagonizing Antipodean

I was rather worried last night before heading out to the monthly expats quiz night, the buses and most of the trains were out on strike yesterday and then the weather turned most foul, wind and rain, guaranteed to keep the faint hearted at home. 

I shouldn't have worried, a cosy bar, good company and a challenging quiz master will bring most expats crawling out of the woodwork, I think we were nine teams of two in the end.

The first hour was spent gossiping of course and catching up with people from last month but eventually Chris managed to call us to order, although he nearly lost his master file with all the questions in it - now that would have been a tragedy!

The first round of questions were topical/timely:
- whose death in the 5th century is enthusiastically celebrated every March?
- which Monkey was named by Yahoo! music as the number teen idol of all time?
- in “Alice in Wonderland”, which leporid does Alice meet at the Mad Hatter’s tea party?
- who had numer one hits with "I will always love you", "Greatest love of all", "I wanna dance with somebody" and "Didn't we almost have it all"?
- which one of the following is NOT one of the labours of the hero Hercules. A) He cleaned the Aegean stables B) He captured the Cretan Bull C) He slayed the Nemean Lion D) He restored the Hellenic Drachma

The second round was all about dogs, or rather an Australian's take on dogs...we had to name the dog belonging to the owner given:
- Tin Tin
- The Jetsons
- Charlie Brown
- The Simpsons
- Obelix

The fourth round was clips from famous movies, and we were rubbish, only managing 3/5 and one of those I recognised the music in the clip rather than the speech.

The fourth round was very clever, headlines written about fairy tales (so the locals in the bar didn't have a chance, as there was word play involved and so much gets lost in translation) we had to name the fairy tale character from the headline:
- It’s difficult to hide among the vertically challenged.
- Seriously, shoes are so important.
- After an inauspicious start in the marketplace, I saw rapid growth of my investment .
- Funny how one prick can bring the whole country to a complete standstill.
- OK, so I have no respect for other people’s property, but they were ANIMALS!

And the fifth and final round was general knowledge:
Which Type Of Cheese Is Made In Reverse Order?
- Which is the Spanish speaking country with the highest population?
- What is a tittle? Is it A) a grunt made when trying to suppress a laugh B) a nesting box C) a feather fan used by exotic dancers or D) a printed dot such as that found above the small letter i.
- True or false. Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark.
- What colour are the majority of the balls in Snooker?

A tricky little quiz this month, Chris was very pleased with himself, for having defeated Emma yet again (only 23/25) and for having written some rather clever questions, and that despite us finding some of the questions desperately tricky we still loved it.  We'll be back for more.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Manners maketh the Mensch*

Manners are important to me.

I tell my children frequently (now that makes them sound as though I have to constantly reprimand them and that isn't true) that manners cost nothing and first impressions count etc, and mostly my children are polite, although my father in law might disagree; last summer Jas apparently told him that her little cousin was being "a pain in the arse".  To me, the word arse isn't swearing, yes it's a four letter word but it doesn't start with F...and is it really any different to "bottom", "backside" or "bum"?  But we have advised Jas not to use this word in Grandpa's hearing again.

I hear from the Germans that my children are polite (they always seem amazed), and to be honest I think nothing of it, it's what's expected of them, "please" and "thank you" are easy enough to say after all, but when they're missing it drives me crazy.

Both my children have German friends (clearly) and there's rarely a day goes by when one or other isn't accompanied home by a friend from school.  Children are always hungry and/or thirsty, they wander into my kitchen and ask, quite bluntly, for food/drink (the older ones any way, the younger ones normally hang together because the scarey mommy (me) has a tendency to speak English.  Yesterday was a case in point, Ben's friend Vincent wanders in and asks (in German obviously) "can I have some water?"  I pointed out that there was a word missing, he paused, thought really hard and managed to come up with "bitte"**, but it was clearly a strain.

But it's not just the kids that seem to have a paucity of politeness, the roads are full of it (can something be full of a lack?) the very road planning itself doesn't lend itself to politeness, give way signs do not dominate but rather it's up to the driver on the main road to notice the side road and allow any car to pull out***, I'm sure the French used to have that crazy system and then changed it to the English "Give Way" sign system, some roads do give way, some don't, needless to say there are a fair few fender benders here, and giving way to oncoming traffic on a narrow road?  I'm happy to wait and wave a car through, but woe betide them if they forget to lift a hand in thanks, usually though you have to flash them a couple of times before they realise that they're being let through.

I had a chat recently with Ben's teacher (he's not performing to the fullest of his abilities - in other words, he's being lazy & has discovered girls) and Herr J was telling me how (in his opinion) the English people are so helpful and friendly and polite, I didn't feel the need to tell him that it's all a front and that we're only nice face to face and that as soon as the back is turned we'll bitch about them...

But that is maybe better than the German way, which is to say something straight to your face, without worrying about dressing it up or being tactful, if they don't like the colour you painted your kitchen and think it clashes with the living area, they will come right out and say it, dog the wrong shade of gold to be a retriever - been told that too, clothing brand too expensive to purchase, it goes on.

Germans may be the efficient ones in the European Union but they will never win medals for politeness, tact or diplomacy, leave them in charge of the finances but get a Brit to explain to the Greeks exactly why their pocket money has been slashed.

* I know, I know, the saying is "manners maketh the man" but the German "Mensch" = person and I like it.
** bitte = please
*** if I don't get pulled off the road for speeding (four years here, four tickets - so far) I shall be getting a stern talking to having being T-boned because I forgot to give way to the minor road on my right.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Cat

First Friday of the month = bookgroup, or as friends and family know to call to it "A.A" - I joked "authors anonymous" but the reality of it is that rather more wine is drunk than books discussed, on a normal first Friday anyway.  March was different, and no, it wasn't because we've suddenly all discovered God and decided to take Lent seriously, but rather that we kept on talking about books.  Not The Book (that we'd all (in theory, as opposed to practice) read) but other books. 
"The monk who sold his ferrari" for instance, which we read ages ago and most of us hated although Rebecca still says it changed her life (and yet continues to pan it) 
"The hunger games trilogy", so looking forward to the film coming at the end of this month, although whether it comes here in O.V.* at the same time I don't know. 
"Birdsong", has to one of the most amazing books ever and yet there are still people (and bookgroup people at that) out there that haven't read it.

But of course we didn't only talk about books, we were at the Black Cat for almost four hours afterall, we're not that literary hardcore!  We were a big and diverse group, as usual I guess, Mexican, English, American, Australian, Indian, Singaporean and even some Germans, who joined us to practice their English (they'd overheard us last month - hard not to really seeing as we can be pretty loud) and then sat there silently, probably wondering what they'd let themselves in for as the conversation got smuttier and smuttier.

One of the more important discussions of the evening revovled around what to read next. This is always a tricky negotiation, some people suggest books that they've already read so that then they can "have a month off" and read whatever they want, some try to suggest books that have been either televised or made into films, but we didn't fall for Rebecca's cunning plan this time, personally I would try to suggest something I either have waiting to read or something that I'm desperate to read, whatever gets chosen it can't be too long because more than 400 pages can be tricky for some people to read in a four week period (although this month we're going five weeks seeing as the first Friday in April is Good Friday)  This month we're going with "The life of Pi", which I have read and absolutely loved, despite having put off reading it for almost two years (I just didn't like the whole idea of the story - how can a boy and a tiger survive together on a life raft adrift in the middle of the ocean?)  As there seemed to be more people there that hadn't read the book than had it seemed a good idea, and it is such a good book, I don't know thatI'll re-read it though.

I think I got home around midnight, Princie, Emma and I being the last to leave, Marianne only made it home by the skin of her teeth - she looked at her watch and realised she was going to have to run to catch her train and Michelle had left in such a hurry that she left her scarf behind (so now I have to remember to take it next time).  Good times!

* original version = not dubbed into German

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sunday Snaps 103

This wasn't taken in Germany, but rather on my parent's travels last year.  According to my dad the horse is 'mostly' full size, quite which bits were and which bits weren't full size he didn't say.