Coda

“Parker, I need some kinda sentimental-type picture for the front cover by noon, you know, kittens or kites or that kinda crap. Get on it kid!” *repositions giant cigar between teeth*

It’s been a week since I came back to my family home after ten months in Germany. I can honestly say that a week is all it has taken to wish I was back there. Of course I miss the people I have found there and the place tremendously; odds are, there are some of you reading this and if you are one of those I was lucky enough to properly kennenlernen during my time there I really, truly, wish you were here. Or I was there, I’m not picky. Besides the standard pining and reminiscing however I can’t escape the persistent certainty that I’ve just finished – left – the best thing I will ever do with myself, for quite some time at least. My year abroad was not all hunky dory; I considered jacking it in so many times I feel like I now merit a Disney song about ‘going the distance’, ‘never giving up’ and ‘remembering who you are’. But every miserable day was worth it, every single move to every new flat, every early morning wading through snow or late afternoon falling asleep on the train, every horrible class or unfortunate mishap (2 broken cafetières! 4 lost pairs of gloves! Countless lost items of jewellery! Two permanent physical scars!). I spent ten months roaming the streets of the most strange, overwhelming and ever-developing cities in the world and now I’m sitting in my old bedroom surrounded by craft supplies typing a blog entry while looking out of the window onto a golden field of wheat, while a buzzard flies menacingly overhead and my two cats lie fatly in the hot sunbeams. 


 So what’s it like to be back in the British countryside after all this time? How do I feel to suddenly have been ripped out of a place and shoved unceremoniously into its exact opposite?

It’s…odd. Like being born, backwards. Being sucked from a world of noises and grown-ups and words you don’t understand and new sensations and people smacking you on the buttocks back into a snuggly, quiet womb, where mother provides the food and the restful chatter of the day and even while awake one is somehow asleep. It’s traditional, and sweet, and cozy here; yesterday saw my first and oh-so-welcome Sunday roast since Christmas, which was an epic affair and for anyone who knows UK traditions is rather like eating a huge delicious steaming portion of pure, savoury Britishness. The world outside is so quiet and peaceful compared to the screaming, partying, fornicating Berliner neighbours who spiced up every nighttime with their sound effects. After days of rain and the kind of grey skies that make you wonder if the sun has set forever, suddenly summer has re-descended on the countryside and the only sound that drifts through my open window is the noise of rustling foliage. I sit outside after lunch and read my books with a cup of tea . I turn on my radio to be soothed by the sultry sound of John Humphrys rather than the brisk bark of InfoRadio. This is the kind of rural idyll that divides Berliners into two groups: the group that heave a wistful sigh at the idea of a country retreat and dream of long walks through fields and distant cows, and the group that instantly begin to panic and choke at the thought that they might ever have to spend more than a few hours trapped in a world of quiet and plants and farmyards, where the only bus comes every hour and only takes you to a nearby town where everything is made of wicker. 

Being knee-deep in the countryside does have endless downsides, obviously. The fact that the nearest supermarket – hell, the nearest anything – is a good car or bus journey away is deeply unsettling for someone who is used to reaching out of her front door directly into the dairy section of Lidl for some emergency milk while putting the kettle on with her other hand. This environment is also tremendously soporific; I am finding myself constantly slipping into micro-sleeps, whether outside reading or on the sofa or upstairs fiddling with my bead collection. It’s frustratingly unproductive but hardly my fault given that this world is just so unspeakably soft – the carpets are cushiony where Berlin floors are hard and dusty, the mattresses are marshmallowy where mine was solid with a large canyon where many arses before mine have engraved a deep hollow in the stuffing, and the relative coldness of here compared to Berlin’s scorching summer heat means that one is constantly swaddled in a fluffy array of slippers and jumpers and brand new socks. Mmmmm…life here is squishy.

God I miss the fun of Berlin. The live music, the weird and gimmicky bars, the funny little caffs. Everything was nearby and the streets dripped with colour and invention. But this is rehab, a chance to lower my blood pressure and catch up on must-see series (there’s this odd little one I’m having a look at called “Mad Men”, do you know of it perchance?) and take the time to properly exfoliate from time to time. The question is how many weeks of this it will take before I am chewing the duvet, frothing at the mouth to be back somewhere, anywhere, where stuff happens.

This is my 98th post, and my 100th post will be my last here before I let this blog just quietly stand here like an old ruin, so that I can refer to it if needs be. My 99th post is going to be an odds-and-ends post to clear up anything left unclear or anything I haven’t addressed over the last ten months. Thus, everybody gird your loins because it’s time for some audience participation! Please leave in the comments below or in a message any topics or questions you want me to write about in my ‘mop-up’ penultimate post and I will  – I promise – do each and every one. You don’t have to sign up or anything to leave a comment, so go to town and join in without fear of identity theft. 

The Plague

“And ye shalt all be punished for your sins by damage of yon intestynes and kidneees!”

You may or may not be aware, but Germany is in the middle of the biggest health scare since <insert irritating Bild article here>. Its name is EHEC, it’s a virus which might cause permanent damage to your kidneys or intestines, and if it’s feeling really racy that day it might even go the whole hog and kill you. Some newspapers are genuinely calling it a plague, while even the initial skeptics such as myself are starting to get a little uneasy about it since it’s spreading, it’s dangerous and no-one has any clue what causes it. One thing’s for sure: now’s the time to be buying cucumbers, as the poor things are languishing on shelves for mere cents a piece. The question is, are you going to take the risk?

I suppose that if there’s one thing I will always be able to say about my year abroad, it’s that it was never boring. Trust me to come over here in a plague year. The reaction to this new crisis is rather jarring, as no-one is really quite sure what to do. At first Spanish cucumbers were thought to be the source, and although they needed a couple more days to be completely certain that they has caused the spread the German government did the understandable thing and advised people to avoid them while they were so heavily under suspicion. Spain has been furious about this, as evidently it would have been better to keep quiet and let people chow down on potentially infected food as long as the vaguely-tasteless vegetable trade is kept on an even keel. Since then it has been determined that the cucumbers are, in fact, not the cause of the infection, although the fact that many of the samples were chosen for study because they were host to other types of E. Coli is apparently something we are also now allowed to completely ignore. We now have no idea what could possibly cause it but for some reason the governments are determinedly upholding their warning against cucumbers, tomatoes and salad, as they are the foods which all the victims have in common; given that this is a country that lives on Brötchen and that every filled Brötchen contains at least one slice of tomato, cucumber and one lettuce leaf this seems rather unsurprising. What about Wurst??

Trying to find some kind of better factual source to find out about this is not easy; all the newspapers are relishing making this sound as doomsdayesque as possible, so real figures or realistic risk assessments only crop up very occasionally in comparison to exciting-sounding repetitions of the words “bloody diarrhoea”. When real facts do emerge they are fascinatingly strange; the predominance in women being chalked down to the fact that women are cooking more and therefore more in contact with unwashed produce (thanks a lot, chauvinist PIGS), or the fact that for some reason strawberries have been found to be completely safe. In my search for genuine information I foolishly went to the forums of Toytown Germany, a site which offers a community for English-speaking people who have moved to Germany.
It’s a brilliant idea of course, and the concept works very well; there are discussion boards for people to ask questions and help each other out, and the community feeling is well-established through frequent and regular themed meet-ups for anyone who might feel a bit lost or just want to get out a bit more. However, there are two reasons why I myself have never quite got stuck into the ‘Town myself:
1) once you start fraternising with your own kind over here, particularly in Berlin and other big cities, it is all too easy to stay in the pack forever. I want to meet natives, goddammit; I want to learn their customs, partake in their rituals and try on the loincloths, you know? And I am of the opinion that one of the best ways to do that is just to dive straight in Bruce-Parry style and drink the cow’s blood.
2) The site is, despite its many friendlinesses, one of the most hostile online environments I have ever witnessed.

The discussion forums are the nucleus of the whole operation, and just a cursory glance around the various threads seems to suggest that if these discussions were taking place in a pub rather than online people would be hitting each other with tankards and chucking Pilsner at each other. There is not a single topic that doesn’t seem to at some point spontaneously take a horrible and bitter turn and become bewilderingly insulting and aggressive. Take the case of a poor, confused student who simply wanted to move to Berlin and get a job there for a bit. He turned to the website hoping for a little support and some suggestions from the friendly ex-pat community; what he got instead was a textbook case of the lace-curtain twitchers, as the members berated him for coming over here, stealing our jobs… “It’s hard enough to get a job as a real Berliner without you thoughtless hippies coming here and thinking you’ll just find work,” complained a variety of non-real-Berliners who had come here and just found work in the place in question. 


But the EHEC discussion is one of the worst. How can people get so toxic and so vicious about an impersonal disease? The thread, beginning with a mild discussion of the risks, devolved into personal attacks so fast you’d think they were trying to be a metaphor for a virulent mutated strain of some horrible intestinal virus. One member immediately mounted her skyscraper-high horse and declared that vegetarians have known for years that you don’t need any of the risk foods if you have soy in your life, while another quite jarringly but with astonishing confidence compared EHEC to the horrible Love Parade incident a while back where a few poor people got crushed to death at a music festival due to overcrowding. No, I don’t really understand why either, but when asked to explain his comment he simply responded with, “Well I don’t see why I should and I don’t like your tone, but all I’m saying is that the government just sat and allowed innocents to die brutally.”


This doesn’t particularly have a moral except to say that it’s fascinating how a resource that is supposed to create a sense of unity and support so often falls back on hostility and conflict. There are hundreds of members throughout the country, and they all clearly get something out of it, but between the lines there’s a kind of ‘I know what I’m doing here, but what are you doing here??’ feel to the whole thing. 


But let me use this to give advice to anyone thinking of coming here on their year abroad: don’t rely on the ex-pat and foreign student support services you might find here. They may help you find you find your feet, but you will do much better to get out there and find your own mini-community who are there for you – not because you have a life situation in common but because you have stumbled upon each other and find each other worthwhile human beings. It’s not easy and it’s definitely slow going, but in the end when you are lying in your hospital bed with EHEC you’ll want people at your side and not an open laptop.


P.S. The picture at the top of this post is from the Bear Pit Karaoke session which takes place every Sunday at the Mauerpark Flea Market. It began some years ago when a crazy Irish dude saw the mini-Colosseum stage in the park and decided to set up a speaker and a microphone so that people could make idiots of themselves in the most public way possible outside of the broadcasting networks. It became so popular so fast that he now has a karaoke buggy with speakers and laptop and sound equipment bolted on, a loyal girlfriend who fiddles with his cables (no, she really does) and a waiting list of people dying to sing their favourite song. The event always begins with this beardy and formidable bear of a man singing the German version of “My Way” (‘Mein Leben’) and he himself has become such a legend that this time a woman leapt out of the audience to hand him a single white rose, which he unfortunately snapped in his sheer passion. The talent is…variable, ranging from the lanky Bowie-a-like who sang a sultry version of ‘Summertime’ without music to the woman who sung ‘Beat It’; she had dressed up as Michael Jackson, learned the dance and even done her hair as the Jacko, but evidently was so wrapped up in her preparation that it never crossed her mind to ever once in her life LISTEN TO THE SONG. “Beat it…beat it…bea…beat it…it…b…beat…beat it….” For an excruciating four minutes.

Lovable rascals

This is Berlin, I promise. Don’t look up too long or you’ll step in something…

Allow me to paint you a picture with words and sounds. You are asleep in bed at 6am on a Sunday morning. You are comfortable, warm and happily drooling onto the pillow. You have not slept well during the night but now you are nestling blissful in the cocoon of slumber, the mellow breeze of the morning gently toying with the hairs on your forehead. Suddenly and without warning this song explodes through your window and into your subconscious at tremendous volume.

You leap up and close the window but it’s coming from the flat next door so it simply barges through the wall instead – and you are then forced to spend the next two hours that should have been sleep-filled instead wondering why the neighbours are:
a) listening to this song on repeat for two hours
b) listening to a synth xylophone cover of the song rather than the original if they like it so much
c) doing so at 6am in their kitchen.
These are the same neighbours who regularly have colossal and loud raves in their flat every Wednesday and Thursday night, and who last night seemed to be watching just the car chase parts of all of Hawaii 5-0 with the television pressed up against the wall. There are so many people around who are simply bad and naughty; people who don’t give a single microscopic hoot and know they’re being antisocial, tossing Snickers wrappers on the ground and letting their dog chew your iPod headphones with no other feeling than a mild sense of triumph. Oooh, I’d like to smack them until they weep. Funnily, though, I don’t think any of my favourite kids that I teach will ever grow up to become these people, and my favourite kids aren’t goody-goodies or sweet little girls or cherry-cheeked cherubs. No. They are the really, fantastically, bloody naughty-as-sin kids.


The naughty children I teach are so much more deserving of the huge quantities of energy and attention I am forced to give them. Sure, the good children have earned good treatment and are often brilliant kids, and it is important to make them feel that they are getting recognition for being obedient or well-behaved or clever. It is also crucial for the group as a unit to show nothing but approval for the ‘good example’ kids and nothing but dismay about the ‘juvenile detention’ kids. Little Leonie is a smarmy, competitive and boastful shrew but she gets lots of stamps and high-fives because she is at least trying to exemplify what the kids think the teacher wants as good behaviour. 

It’s an impossible juggling act because this must be carefully balanced with the praise the other good kids get, the praise the kids who are just casually drifting along with the crowd get, and the praise the bad kids get when they do something remarkable like sit down. The good kids know they are good and often become distraught if they feel that they missed out on earning a brownie point; I have one pupil who collapses into a gooey crying heap the minute he is not instantly high-fived and given a standing ovation for saying a word. My superiors advise me to make these good children into examples by praising them as a form of telling off the others, as in, “Now look how well Marc is sitting, isn’t that fantastic! We should all be sitting just like him. Super!” This is unbearable enough but there is a very good reason to avoid this entirely, and as someone who used to be the unbearable swot in the class, I should know. The problem is that in holding up the good kids as examples to follow, they become incredibly easy to hate. You can see the other kids narrowing their eyes and puckering their mouths if these teachers’ pets ever get this treatment, and I just can’t do it to them; I have to protect my own kin. The fact of the matter is, when a kid is good they are praised, and when not then not. 

But no-one can understand how heartbreaking it is to always have to yell at the kids you love. And god help me, I love the naughties. They are hilarious – Julius has a rock-star mane of long hair and roars like an asthmatic lion when he gets excited or angry, which is all the time. Alexander is the only kid I’ve known to actively refuse to represent male characters in games in favour of female characters (“Ich will ‘sister’ sein!!”) and Leo is so, so, so desperately rude and naughty but his debonair eloquence at the age of three is so disarming I sometimes want to embrace him for the startlingly offensive things he says. Naughty children are exciting and rebellious and never boring; you can tell that the reason they are bad is that they are in fact geniuses who already know too much about the world. Julius had a horrendous fistfight with his two mates in class this morning and after I had succeeded in calming them all down, he smoothed down his hair with dignity, turned to the other two and said, “Now look. After all that, I want to know – and let’s agree on this – are both of you still my friends?” His equally naughty friend Michel replied, “Well, all I know is that I am my own friend and my name is Julius.” These kids are four years old and it was such an arresting moment of sincerity I wanted to buy them all presents for being awesome. These bad kids won’t grow up to be bad adults; these are the children who will become in charge of important firms or making new inventions because they have energy, wit and brain.

I love it when the kids secretly cover my attendance list with stamps when I’m not looking or when they ruin the entire game or story because they have realised that ‘boots’ sounds like ‘poops’. It shows such imagination and reluctance to be normal and boring and average, and for that reason every time I shout at them I am secretly wishing that if I ever reproduce my own child will be just like them.  

Ok, Basti, can you say “release form”?

A couple of days ago I received a frantic little collection of emails in my inbox from an international toy company I occasionally work for.  The words ‘translation’ and ‘German’ and ‘next week’ were bandied around and before I knew it I was signing up to translate a wad of corporate and legal documents into German in just over a week and a half. What was I thinking? I ask myself that same question.

Except not really, because since then I have been devouring these translations; after months and months of my current job, where the greatest challenge is to see how many different ways you can make kids look at the same six flashcards every single week without breaking into a violent rampage, to finally do work which requires thought and consideration and a bit of a mental challenge is like finally being given a big juicy steak to chew on after months of eating nothing but mashed potato. Translation, although not specifically my forte, is one of the most interesting things you can do as a linguist because there are so many different facets of the stone you have to polish before you can send it off to be set. All at once you have to think about what the original language is actually saying, how it is trying to say it, what it is hoping the reader will get out of it, how you will knead all of this into the other language and how you will then make sure that the end product seems like none of this process ever happened in the first place; the ideal translation would be a text that doesn’t seem like it was ever in another language at all. It is very difficult, and it is even more difficult to do well

What makes it so endlessly interesting, however, is that you are forced to examine your own language and the target language with an electron microscope, and like fixing a microscope upon the end of your own nose you find that what looked like normal skin from a distance is actually a disgusting oozing landscape of gaping pores and oily craters. 

Firstly, you find out that English is a heck of a smarmy language. We use buzz-words and jargon like other languages use definite articles, and if you are foolish enough to try to translate them you will be disappointed to seconds later discover that Google thinks better of all that; most of the jargon and buzz-words are simply lifted over into the German in the clunkiest way possible, leaving you with terrible phrases like “einloggen” or “wie haben Sie das Customer Service gefunden?” There seem to be no rules as to which of these terms you should simply lazily allow to dribble straight from the English into your translation and which you should actually translate into German, however; there is in fact a complex spectrum of Germification which ranges from pure transplantation (“das Feedback”, “das Online-Shop”) to pure translation (“das Nutzerkonto”, “die Verbraucherbefragung”) and a good deal of cringy inbetweeny compromises (like the famous American president’s “die Inauguraladresse”). I spent good hours musing over how to translate the phrase ‘online experience’ because where English company-speak bandies the word ‘experience’ around as a comfy little linguistic cushion to smother over any areas where they don’t quite know what they themselves are trying to say – “How was your dining experience? Enjoy your sitting experience on that sofa. Please rate your holiday experience!” – German only has two ideas of experience, one of which is the kind of world-weary ‘experience’ we are talking about when someone has worked as a teacher for fifty-seven years and the other is a close-to-epiphany type moment which genuinely moves you somehow. There is no such thing as an ‘online experience’ because nothing that moving or self-moulding has ever happened to anyone simply bumming around on the internet. Which is why if you try to translate it any real German will simply tilt their head like a curious dog.

If that wasn’t enough, this is legal German that I am supposed to be writing. The idea of ‘Vertragsdeutsch’ scares native Germans so much that the sheer mention of the word makes them do that ‘oo-err’ face and I have to admit that if I found it in the least intelligible then I may not have so gaily signed my life away at the start of this year. I still resent being contractually forbidden from practising Scientology.

Translating legal documents is genuinely scary because in this case, should something get lost in translation there is always the vague worry that that one little thing will allow an innocent orphan to be sued or contractually bind someone into carving their own kidneys into Babushka dolls. I have nightmares of those scenes in TV shows where the lawyer finds the one tiny loophole in the contract and uses it to bring down X or Y party; the fact that one of these loopholes could arise simply out of me falsely translating the word for ‘liability’ is enough to make me need to breathe in and out of a paper bag. Legal German suffers from Thomas Mann syndrome in that the sentences are long, wordy and so dense that by the time you get to the end you need to read the beginning again to figure out what is going on. My flatmates advised me to chop the English sentences up to make intelligible German sentences, and while this works nicely we then have the issue of style; a contract almost needs to be wordy and convoluted in order to be ‘real’ and ‘serious’, just like a shampoo advert needs to be full of puffy nothing-words like ‘Maximising volumerific pro-diamantine-capsules’ in order to be sufficiently persuasive. I am worried that my finished contracts read like a legal version of the Mr Men books.

There is, however, one shining beacon that has gleamed out from my browser the whole time I have been working, and that is Linguee. Linguee.de is a website which is a standard one-language-to-another dictionary with one difference, that being that it searches for your term all over the internet where there is an equivalent part of that website in the target language. For example, you might search for ‘technical fault’ and be given the identical but translated English and German versions of Firefox’s FAQ to compare, as opposed to some stranger’s overconfident entry to one of the many iffy online dictionaries. This search function gives you that one thing any other search lacks: context. You can see how your term is being used and when, and crucially also for what audience. You can tell when one term is appropriate for a legal document and when another only suits slack-jawed advert-targeted customers. With this and my wonderfully helpful, wonderfully German flatmates I am getting there. Slowly but surely. Langsam aber sicherlich.

50th Post!!! The Adventure So Far…

At our Kita, we pride ourselves on keeping your children as safe as possible. Therefore we only use the largest and most ostentatious Alpine cow-bells in our fire alarm system.

Wow, we have reached our fiftieth post on Guten Morgen Berlin and I am so pleased with the way it has gone so far. The number of readers per post is more than ten (by a somewhat considerable amount), which was my secret hope for this project at the beginning, and I have kept it going and not allowed it to pathetically shrivel and die like a LiveJournal. I have now been in this city for seven whole months, give or take a few days here and there for toddler-detox, I have witnessed it struggling through two seasons, one meltdown and a variety of minor panics. I have lived, spoken, shopped and eaten like the natives (excepting the daily Wurst) and deeply enjoyed all the little peculiarities and differences between big burly Berlin and drab twee Britain. 

What are my conclusions thus far? First of all, that you clearly need to live somewhere for a good few years before you can even start to get used to everything to the extent that you feel fully ‘at home’ there. God knows it is so much fun to discover all the idiosyncrasies from day to day; I mean, look at the photo above. This Kindergarten genuinely has a cow-bell as its alarm system. There are great sweeping realms of things here that I think you have to be a German from birth to understand: sweetcorn flavoured joghurt, currywurst pretzel-pizzas, Berliner Weisse (a pale beer which you drink with either a radioactive green or acid pink syrup mixed into it and which I first saw being drunk by a troupe of nuns), or the inexplicable way that the most revered and famous institution in the whole city is the Blue Man Group. However, for every time I find myself standing open-mouthed in Aldi wondering at who would want to buy an electric stomach-toner as part of their weekly shop, there are moments where I realise quite how much of this culture I have already taken on and become a part of as much as they have become a part of me; the crazy rainbow-spectrum of fruit and herb teas, the pyromaniacal need to have candles everywhere all the time, the innate knowledge of exactly which supermarket I will need to go to for every specific thing I need to buy, a profound love of Kartoffelknödel…As strange and new as everything still seems every single day, I somehow feel like a member of the club now rather than the bespectacled and square inspector wandering around with a clipboard. 

I have to leave in just over three months, and that thought is indeed tragic but twinged with a very definite excitement at the things I will finally be able to rediscover after life outside the UK:
– ‘good’ television. Yes, this term does require air quotes because a colossal tranche of British (and by extension American) TV is so bad that you would better spend your time using tweezers to braid the hairs on your wrists into organic cufflinks. But good grief, the television here is terrible. The sheer number of cookery shows is amazingly huge and yet they all only seem to ever teach how to make Auflauf, a version of lasagne/casserole where you essentially just layer things up in a dish until it most effectively resembles the primordial ooze and then smother it with cream and cheese. An array of chefs with startling mustaches or unlikely-seeming blonde bobs shoot their piercing glares at the screen whilst demanding that you ladle more butter over your roast duck and throwing great fistfuls of salt into whatever it is they are boiling the heck out of. On other channels, we have the treat that is non-stop back-to-back dubbed episodes of Two and a Half Men, a sitcom so lame it makes a three-legged donkey look athletic, we have MTV-style dating and reality shows which feature people who look like they are entirely made out of polyester and who talk in ‘real’ conversation which is so patently scripted that they even know when to turn to the right camera, and occasionally something ‘hilarious’ featuring Stefan Raab. (To be fair to the Raab, this is a rare moment of greatness.)
Marmite. Oh, Marmite. You deep brown glossy goddess of toast. How I long to savour your salty deliciousness on my bread and adorning my Ryvita. I yearn to crown you with cheddar, stir you into my chile con carne or tentatively drizzle you into simmering minestrone. I resent that you cost about 7 euros a pot here, and no amount of heinously nasty Brotaufstrich (odd and oily purees designed to go on your daily Brötchen) will replace you.
– The colour green. I am pretty sure this exists, as I seem to vaguely recall it in the dark abyss of my memory, but there is no evidence of it as yet here in Berlin. Ever since The Great Freeze this winter everything has been a uniform shade of graun (grey-brown) and this makes even the cool and edgy graffiti look less like anarchistic celebrations of artistic freedom and more like a million dingy charity-shop window displays of dead people’s clothing. This weekend my dearest mother was visiting, and I took her to the Botanical Gartens since the weather was for once pleasant enough to allow scarf-free outfits; the gardens could not have looked more dead, the turf brittle and grimy and the trees contorted and cracking from what they had suffered through. Perhaps spring will come soon and I shall see living plant life again before I leave. I shall keep on sacrificing small animals at the altar in our Hinterhof and see if this helps.

But of course this is all small fry and the things I am looking forward to seeing again are nothing compared to that which I will miss. The things that you first of all learn to live with and then learn never to live without, and the things that never stop giving you pleasure and hope regardless of how tired or homesick you are.

– The frothing swathes of flowers spilling onto the pavement from the hundreds of florists all over this city.
– The astounding generosity of the German people; all us women got given free roses at the supermarket the other day for Frauentag, I somehow keep being given gifts by my wonderful German friends here of all ages and whenever I visit people I am fed like a queen, given more wine than I can consume without doing something embarrassing and welcomed with giant grins to boot. Even when I am not expected and turn up by accident the day after someone’s birthday party, for example…
– the public transport system. Germans will deride this immediately as their public transport system comes beside the term ‘Schweinerei’ in the dictionary, but for me it is amazing to use a system which is so frequent, so seldom unreliable and so cheap; Germans, picture this: at home I have a single bus which takes me to my nearest town once every hour or sometimes half hour, and it costs me almost £5 for a return journey on said disappointment. Not to mention the fact that each of the stations has somewhere to sit and somewhere where you can get coffee or a Ritter Sport.
– come to mention it, I will miss Ritter Sport. You just don’t get the same array of flavours in the UK and I do almost feel that the German taste in chocolate flavours shows a slightly more mature palate than that of the British; the Germans have almond Mars bars, espresso flavoured Ritter Sport, affordable and luscious real dark chocolate (i.e. with real cocoa solids in a decent proportion, unlike Bourneville) and the yumfest that is the entire Lindt range. The British have Boost bars, Dairy Milk – a chocolate so cloying and fatty that it cements itself to the roof of your mouth in a tar-like smear – and Galaxy, which I read somewhere is not allowed to call itself chocolate anymore because it has so little to do with chocolate in its actual recipe. Mmmm, Niederegger marzipan…
– The general honestness and easiness of the people here. In the UK one is choked by the neuroses it is your duty to suffer every time you are asked to an event you don’t want to attend or feel obliged to swallow down a vile dish someone has cooked for you or requested to do a favour you would rather sandpaper your eyelids that fulfil. In Britain I bend over backwards to keep people happy and keep life smooth; I cheerfully smiled when people drunkenly leapt through the library fire escape by my room door and thus made the whole building be evacuated, I apologised when people stamped my toes into pulp and I always, always, always ate what was on my plate even when in a restaurant so as not to cause any kind of awkward pall over the evening. Here you don’t do what you don’t want to do and you simply avoid social agonies by being honest and open, you admit what does not appeal to you and suggest a solution or an alternative and generally it works very well. You can tell people what you really think and you can have a debate in which you are clear about your own standpoint on the issue without people thinking you are flagellating all their beliefs and ethics by doing so. I haven’t experienced peer pressure once and I have cried and told my problems to a total stranger at the bus stop. I feel, in a way, that I have grown.

The question is, what will happen to the pseudo-Deutsche when she returns to her native habitat? Stay tuned… 

If French is the language of love, English is the language of lols

Simple, beautiful genius. Thank you, anonymous stenciller.

Look at this wonderful piece of graffiti. I walked past this truck today as it momentarily stopped in a queue and seconds after this photo was taken the driver glared and me and drove off. But for a fleeting moment I stood gormlessly beaming at a van purely because someone had stencilled the English translation of their motto on the side. (I would just like to applaud their attention to detail in ensuring the fonts also matched.)

No matter how long I study and immerse myself in German my heart will always belong to English. This is not because it is my mother tongue; any actual link it gives me to the UK is meaningless to me and sometimes approaches the faintly embarrassing when people dub me ‘Mrs Bean’ or when my pupils address me with the name ‘Englisch’ since the majority of them cannot be bothered to remember my actual name. I don’t even think it is a beautiful or aesthetically predisposed language – like any language it can sound pleasant if you use the right sounds and rhythms, and if you can find a more glorious-sounding string of words than ‘the sloeblack, slow, black, crow-black fishingboat-bobbing sea’ you win a Kinder egg. English generally, though, tends to have a thudding neutralness to its sound which make it a great allrounder although not particularly often a pleasure to hear; it is the oats in the muesli of the world’s various languages, performing a crucial and worthwhile role but only once in a while getting a chance to shine as flapjack.

But what English has in spadefuls which makes it remarkable is its capacity to express comedy and humour in general, and for this reason I am smitten. 
I miss it in German, as in English even the most everyday conversation is littered with the tiniest euphemisms, puns and simple silly noises which make it a joy to hear and endlessly entertaining to speak. You don’t spend a tenner when you can spend a quid, you love to be offered a cuppa and a biccy and possibly even a sarnie, and you’ll avoid spending time with your friend who is so ‘vanilla’ in favour of someone who is completely banterous.

You only have to watch the first forty-five seconds of dialogue in ‘Juno’ to see how far this can do and how brilliant it can sound. 
“Your eggo is prego.”
If there is a way to be this casually creative with French or German I would pay good money to be taught it, but from what I encounter my brief flirtations with this kind of speak in German are received with confusion, derision or worried concern. I caused a whole tableful of dinner party guests to burst out laughing because I tried to jauntily carry off the word ‘wunderlecker’. So much of casual everyday conversation which takes place in English is simply not at all present in German; take, for example, our ability to make any sound into an adjective describing how something feels, sounds, tastes etc: “He was just so…blah…” or “I’m feeling so urgh today”. My mother and I use the word ‘bloicky’ almost on a weekly basis to describe that feeling of having too much unpleasant goo sloshing around your stomach, and as much as I try I cannot think of a single other expression that would convey this feeling any more sublimely or sound more like the squelching of your belly as you sit in a silent room being stared at by a group of silent-stomached people.  

And how else would English be the language that spawned Carry On films if it weren’t so preposterously rich with euphemisms? I can reel off thousands of different words for lady parts and man parts and construct a wild, colourful spectrum of them ranging from the ultra-tame (‘boobs’ or ‘jugs’, for a start) to the bizarre and hilarious (‘boobular area’, ‘ba-donk-a-donk’ and the most excellent ‘va-jay-jay’) to the downright obscene (no, you are not getting any examples of that. This is a family blog, consarn it). Or what about our capacity to exaggerate? It’s absolutely über-awesome, like, completely insanely MASSIVE and ultimately the most ridiculously unbelieeeeeevable thing ever. Dude. 

I don’t know how I would even articulate a single sentence in English if I didn’t have outdated slang words which I could use ironically – they are so rad. Or if I couldn’t use inappropriately strong words for relatively tame concepts after I’ve done a day of hideously boring work. Or if I couldn’t shorten almost every word at my disposal into a cutesy term of familiarity, like I do when I’m wearing my jammy-jams (pajamas, for you Germans) with my hotsie (hot water bottle) and hot cow-juice (milk). I miss my language and its clowny goofiness; I fear that in German I am entirely boring once you take all that away.

Still, your mother tongue never leaves you and German could always do with an injection of whimsy, so I will keep on trying to make it a bit more oo-er missus. Look out, the Deutschinator, cuz Mrs Bean is here and she’s going to get all freakisch in this Sprachy-wachy, Homekraut.