englishman abroad, travel

Back from Cadiz

Well, I’m back again.

Just like on the previous project meeting trip to Bordeaux, I couldn’t speak the language in Cadiz. Thankfully my Boss, Peter, is fluent in Spanish and therefore we did pretty well. Cadiz is a beautifully well-preserved city, and the old town is a maze of winding alleys broken up by incongruous plazas and squares. The streets are mostly narrow and winding, with tall buildings everywhere — a rat warren for extremely privileged rats. You’ll be heading down a series of vertical channels, the slender, high-walled streets forming tall, upended rectangular spaces, and come suddenly out into an unexpected plaza, the rectangle, sideways and wide, vision horizontal once more.

The place is filled with historic buildings which, back in Oldenburg or other cities like it in Germany, would be a museum in their own right. In Cadiz, these buildings are so frequent as to be almost unremarkable. The buildings are so tall because Cadiz is a port city, the tall buildings dotted with watchtowers used by old merchant families to control trade routes to and from the new world. And yet, the buildings are not tall. The Tavira tower is the tallest tower in Cadiz, and that’s a mere 45 metres. Going to Cadiz is like going back in time.

This is where we had our latest partner meeting for the TRAILs project. The first work packet (or Output 1) has been finished, and Output 2 is well underway. Output1 was Jade University’s, mine and Peter’s responsibility, and the provisional findings were presented to partners. Output 2 and 3 (Cadiz University and Poznan University, respectively) were also updated and introduced.

Aside from the meetings and work, there were excellent dinners. There were museums and forts and history and things to do. There were even oranges growing on trees with fragrant blossoms. There was even sunshine. To top it all, I saw my first opera at the “Gran Teatro Falla”, it was Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. It was fantastic.

Cadiz is a wonderful place, and I thoroughly recommend it as a holiday destination. I’ll certainly go back in my leisure time.

Just before Cadiz, Peter and I were in Hamburg for the kick-off meeting of another project. This project involves a company and the funding is a bit different, so I can’t say too much about it. Suffice it to say that I’ve got quite a lot more travel coming up in the coming years: Cyprus, Finland, Poland, Italy, Croatia and possibly some others, too. All of this travel is part of my work; all of it connected to the EU and the Schengen area.

It would be impossible to continue in my job if I hadn’t become German just in time…

statue

Becoming German, englishman abroad

The time has come for better things

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

The Walrus and The Carpenter, Through the Looking-Glass (1872), Lewis Carrol

One of the more popular refrains in British media at the moment is that people are sick and tired of the Brexit process and want to get it over and done with, one way or the other.  In a similar vein, January saw an opinion piece in the Guardian entitled “What we don’t talk about when we only talk about Brexit”.

In my own life, I’ve been far too close to burning out over Brexit. I read the news from several sources obsessively. Maybe today would be the day, I thought, that my country turned back from its course towards rocks. Maybe today would be the day it heeded the lighthouse. Maybe today would be the day the bridge crew woke up.

Years passed this way. The last few months have seemed like the longest of the whole process. Vote, delay, repeat. Britain is nearly out of time now and parliament is due to vote (yet again, another conversation with itself) on 12th March. The last two weeks after that will probably last for eternity.

March 29th is Brexit day.

But I no longer care! I have finally fulfilled my New Year’s resolution! This afternoon I was at the Ausländerbehörde again, handed in my Sprachzertifikat and other documents, and got a certificate which confirms that, on receiving it, I became German.

So what can I talk about, now that I’m not talking about Brexit?

For starters, my wife and I are expecting our second child in April; I’m going to be a father again!

My daughter Aurelia has her birthday in a couple of weeks; she’ll be 7!

I put up my first fence the other day; it’s shit!

I’m doing a Master’s degree; it’s tricky!

I’m off to Hamburg next week for the kick-off meeting of a German project, and then off to Cadiz for an EU project.

Life can finally continue without the sea boiling or pigs flying.

 

Becoming German, englishman abroad

Halfway there

Well, I got my results back for the first of the two tests that I need to pass in order to get German citizenship. The DTZ (Deutsch Test für Zuwanderer) language test is in, and I passed. I don’t want to to boast, but I was one point off 100%.

Ok, Ok! That actually sounds a lot more impressive than it really is, it was only a B1 level test. Still, acing a test at one level typically means you are at least the level above it (B2). So that’s me happy. I can speak sufficient German to survive in Germany in everyday life.

All I need to do now is sit tight, and await the results of my Citizenship Test (Einbürgerungstest).

Becoming German, englishman abroad

The German Citizenship Test

Yesterday I took the German Citizenship Test (Einbürgerungstest). I had practised several times before, using on of the many online mock tests. I passed every time, most recently with 32 points out of 33, but that’s just a mock test. The real test was actually significantly harder! At least it seemed so to me. In reality, the questions on the mock test are exactly the same as the real test (no, memorising the answers isn’t really practical, the test draws from over 300 possible questions). Most of the online tests were pretty softball, whereas this real test asked questions like this:

How were the occupation zones in Germany set up after 1945?

besatzungszonen

A. 1=UK, 2=USSR, 3=France, 4=USA

B. 1=USSR, 2=UK, 3=USA, 4= France

C. 1=UK, 2=USSR, 3=USA, 4= France

D. 1=UK, 2=USA, 3=USSR, 4= France

This is fairly easy if you know some history, and you can guess it if you know some basic geography, but it’s still a pretty tricky question for a layman like me.

Anyway, After I’d finished the test, I counted all of the answers I’d given that I wasn’t 100% sure about. There were 14. You need 17 correct answers (out of 33 questions) to pass the test.  Therefore, I’m fairly confident I passed the test.

Compared to my experience of the DTZ test, this test was far quicker (I was done in 20 minutes) and the candidates were far better behaved.

So that’s it. That is really all I can do to pave the way for German naturalisation in time for March 29th, Brexit Day. All I can do now is wait for the results for both tests and visit the Ausländerbehörde again once they have arrived. Fingers crossed.

englishman abroad, medical

My first experience of Anaesthesia

For several years, I have suffered from two healthcare issues. The first is heartburn, which flares up intermittently and causes me discomfort. The other has been cheap and shitty health insurance.

Nowadays, however, my health insurance is markedly better, and I decided (with some arm twisting from my wife) to get the heartburn problem looked at. As it had been several years, there was a possibility that I had developed stomach ulcers or other such issues. So off I went this morning (with my wife) to the gastroenterologist to have an endoscopy.

Firstly they sat me on the examination bed and talked me through the procedure. The nurse informed me that if I was prone to gagging, for example when brushing my teeth, that I should have anaesthesia. If I tried it without and gagged, they would have to cancel the procedure and make a new appointment. I opted for the general anaesthetic.

The nurse gave me an injection and fitted a pink, nozzle-like device into my arm. It seemed to be a one-way valve through which anaesthetic could flow, but not blood. Then, they had me lie in the recovery position on the bed, with a pillow for comfort.

“Oh shit,” I was thinking, “this is getting serious now.”

A doctor and another nurse entered the room. I was given a green plastic contraption, which looked a bit like a gum shield but with a hole in the centre, to bite on. My wife then left the room. As weird as this might sound, I was reminded of how Death Row prisoners go out in the USA. At this point, I started (figuratively of course) to shit myself. Was I going to wake up again? Fear is irrational like that.

I didn’t look at my arm, but they told me that they were administering the drugs.

The room seemed somehow brighter, but also blurry. What started as a flickering around the edge of my vision became a washed-out, far-away representation of the room.

I felt very relaxed. I was no longer worried about anything. I could not feel anything around me, including the gumshield in my mouth.

A nurse’s face swam into view.

“do you feel anything?”

“Yes, it feels good.”

I closed my eyes.

“Oh, that wasn’t quite ten minutes,” said the nurse, slightly surprised, alone with me in the room once more.

I had opened my eyes and sat up. From my perspective, absolutely no time had passed. Not a second. But I felt unbalanced and woozy. I felt very much as though I had had four glasses of excellent wine on an empty stomach; it was the feeling you have when you’ve had just slightly too much to drink.

The doctor saw me in the next room and informed me that everything was fine, though he had taken tissue samples and would be in touch if they were anomalous.

I had a short conversation with the doctor in which I know I asked him pertinent questions, and I know he answered them. However, due to the nature of anaesthetic, I can’t remember what the hell we talked about.

My wife drove me home, then I watched Rick and Morty.

Today was quite a good day.