Hello everyone. Yes, here I go again, sheepishly squirming my way back onto this blog after another long period of doing other things. Let’s just forego all the apologetic excuses and dive right in.
For the last few months I’ve been off working an actual Full Time Job. This is the first Full Time Job I have had since 2015 when I left my old role of buying underwear for a large American man. This is also my first ever professional post as a proper actual front-end web developer. But most importantly this is my first ever proper job in a GERMAN office.
So then, of course, this immediately opens the door to the potential for thousands of blog posts about office culture over here in Berlin. What’s different? What is the same? What have I learned that makes me feel enlightened and wise about the nature of work itself? Frankly, there is so much material to be written about. I could write about what startups are and contrast that with what they claim to be, now that I am in one. I could write about how the Berliner Schnauze (the term fondly used to describe what is essentially the universal irritated rudeness of Berliners) manifests itself in a work environment. I could write about what it is like to work all day in your non-native language and simultaneously have to write code in another language which only computers speak (it’s exhausting, by the way). This is what I think about all the time: what shall I write about?
Guys guys guys! Sorry for yet another long absence, but I have an excuse this time! I’ve been on holiday in Costa Rica and Nicaragua!
And then of course the question was how to write about it in my blog, because how can I not write about going to freakin’ Central America? Except how can one write about an amazing holiday without sounding like a total arse? Also, how to write about a holiday without sounding like some two-bit travel blogger – especially since travel is not the theme of this blog (not that this blog has much more of a theme beyond ‘Expat maniac rants about vegetables’). And now things are getting even worse because this is becoming a meta-post about writing about how to write a blog entry, and we’re about two sentences away from a tired Inception joke.
Well look: I was there with my ma and pa, which ramps the coolness factor down by at least 25%, right?
“So what’s going on with that bike referendum thing now Rose?” I hear you ask. Good question, helpful ice-breaker person.
Here’s the deal. We had our initial petition over the summer; this petition was to show the government that there is widespread public interest in the issue, meaning that if we were to get over 20,000 signatures (and we got about 105,000) the Senate would have to approve our application to have ANOTHER petition, which would then allow us to have a referendum about the city’s bike infrastructure. Please accept my apologies for the boringness of that sentence.
Anyway, the real drama starts now. The Senate has had months to review our initial petition, and has long ago missed the deadline for giving us the approval for the second petition. This is a problem, because it means that when we do finally get the approval for the second petition, that phase will end a lot later than planned, and so the referendum will also take place a lot later than planned. And that is a problem because the whole idea was to have the referendum at the same time as the big election next year.
Why? Because if you combine your referendum with a larger vote (like an election), you can count on a substantial voter turnout – most people who go to vote in the election will be happy to take an extra second to cross another ballot paper. If the two votes are separate, however, the turnout for the referendum is likely to be tiny. Most humans won’t get off their sofa for anything more effortful than a second cup of tea, let alone traipsing over to some designated Kindergarten lobby or community center. And since the referendum is only valid if a certain percentage of the population vote (regardless what they vote for), it’s likely to be rendered invalid by poor turnout, and it will all end up having been a colossal waste of time and energy. Adding to the annoyment of the whole thing is the fact that having two separate voting events is a lot more expensive for the state, having to organise voting stations and personnel and counters and all that flim-flam twice. And that, of course, will add extra grist to the mill of all the B.O.-smelling, beardy, chain-smoking drivers who already hate cyclists and love to laminate the asphalt with them.
As you may already know, I am on the campaign team for the Volksentscheid Fahrrad, a campaign to have a public referendum about massive improvements to our cycle infrastructure here in Berlin. We had a few manic months of signature collecting and media junket whoring, but at the moment we’re on a kind of autumn hiatus, waiting to see what the new city government will do about us and Berlin’s streets.
Nonetheless, biking is always one of the big things on my mind. Half the time I am gleeful about just how much fun it is, especially since I discovered hundreds of exciting bike adventures on my favourite new app Komoot – who knew that there are so many wonderful cycle routes out there both in and around Berlin, just waiting for me to fall over on them?? The other half of the time, I am agonised by the stressful, manic life of a cyclist in this city. Everything needs to be improved: the cycle paths are lumpy, lethally pothole-ridden, or usually just non-existent; the cobbled streets are so rutted and broken as to make it a roulette whether you will reach the end of each road without your brain being jiggled into a rich smoothie; and the crossings are a confusing noodle-heap of road markings and random plastic roadwork barriers which guarantee that no-one ever knows what the heck is going on.
I am convinced that until we have major works done on the streets in this city, the current traffic rules simply do not allow for the flexibility you need to navigate this place either as a cyclist, pedestrian or automobilist (I say I say) without dying a gory death. I think we need to bring in a set of holistic, compassionate new traffic rules that allow us all to flow through Berlin with the organic fluidity of shoals through a coral reef. So how about this:
One of the sad things about freelancing is that you always have to curry favour. You never know which of your clients might recommend you to their mate, dad or boyfriend, if you stay on their good side. Which usually means that I’m reluctant to write about my clients – even the craziest ones – out of paranoia that they will read this and be offended. And this is a tragedy, because there are so many excellent stories I could tell you, friends.
But last week I had a project so deliciously funny that I cannot stand to keep it to myself.
I was given the job of proofreading a social media strategy document for an well-known and reputable car manufacturer. And boy, what a read. These strategies were the sublime, Platonically perfect pinnacle of social media wank – pardon my French. An intense culmination of what happens when people in their late twenties get together, hoover up a few lines off the glass conference table and brainstorm ways to ‘go viral’. To create ‘snackable content’ which will ‘resonate emotionally’ on those most emotionally pallid platforms like Snapchat and Twitter.
As you know, in my home country (the UK) we recently had a vote. And it went drastically wrong, making our country a chaotic laughing-stock and drop-kicking our economy into the trashcan.
Well, now you’re in the same position as we were. You’re standing in front of a very scary precipice, my friends, and the scariest thing of all is that you might not get the choice of whether to jump off; you are likely to be pushed.
Pushed by a horde of people who fail to see the precipice in the first place.
So let me share with you some lessons learned from our enormous f***-up, in the hope that this will help you prevent your big and important country from doing the same thing our small and foppish country did just a few weeks ago.
Get off the internet.
Seriously. No amount of anti-Trump Facebook statuses, hilarious Trump hair memes and pro-Clinton Buzzfeed articles are going to make even one sub-atomic particle’s worth of difference. Same goes for the enlightened comedy stylings of Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee, by the way.
The internet you are on is an echo chamber.
All these Facebook statuses and blog posts and shared videos are simply talking to each other, popping up via algorithms onto the screens of other people who are writing the same statuses, reading the same blog posts, watching the same videos. You are not reaching the people whose minds you need to change. Go out and talk to people.
July is turning out to be a bit of a cruddy one this year. The sky looks permanently like a huge blanket of grey felt has been spread over it, and the rain fluctuates between ‘gentle drizzle’ and ‘downpour so intense that you’d be drier submerged in the sea’. But that doesn’t mean you have to have a lame summer! Here are my top tips for making the most of your 2016 summer months even when skies are dreary!
Once again, I am in an airport, waiting for a flight back to Berlin. Usually I am excited, calmed, relieved to be going back. But this time I am embarrassed. I have to go back to wonderful Germany and become another unwilling representative of what my home country has done over the last week and a bit. I have to join the ranks of British expats living in Berlin, palms superglued to their faces as they try to digest the constantly spiralling idiocy that is taking place.
What happened as a result of the referendum was a calamity. Hearing the news, and watching it unfold day by day, has been like a person watching their middle-aged father make a series of ill-advised and insane decisions as the result of a sudden mid-life crisis. Dad has quit his job to try to set up a ska band with his friends. Now he has spent much of his savings on an autographed Stratocaster. Now he has left Mum to shack up with a 39-year-old groupie who runs a cattery. Oh god. What will we say to him at Christmas?
For those of you who don’t live in the UK, this is what it’s like going to the doctors’ there:
You: Hello, I’m here to see Dr Frimbly.
Receptionist: Great, take a seat and she’ll call you through shortly.
For those of you who don’t live in Germany, this is what it’s like going to the doctors’ here:
You: Hello, I’m here to see Dr Schlampitz.
Receptionist: OK, and what is wrong with you?
In case it’s not clear, there is a key difference between the two scenarios. In Germany, the receptionist expects you to DESCRIBE YOUR HEALTH ISSUE IN PUBLIC. Yes. In front of the waiting room full of annoyed grannies and pregnant ladies, who have been waiting for a while and have nothing better to do than to eavesdrop, your not-medically-qualified receptionist requires you to describe your raging hemorrhoids/sixth bout of chlamydia/gout-related halitosis.
The first time this happened, I could scarcely believe my ears. It’s not like my reason for going to the doctor’s was particularly embarrassing, but I wasn’t in the mood to share it with this roomful of strangers. Things got worse when I first had to go to the ‘Frauenarzt’ (for a blood test – because evidently female blood is different to male blood) and the receptionist wanted me to declare the last time I had had my period. I half expected her to also ask what I’d had for lunch and what colour my knickers were.