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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.

Becoming German, englishman abroad

My experience of the Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer (DTZ)

This morning I toddled down to a private language school in Oldenburg for my appointment to take the German Test for Immigrants (DTZ – Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer), as part of my ongoing quest to Germanize myself before Brexit. Here is what happened.

The candidates, about twenty of us, milled around aimlessly outside until I got the arse and went inside, to ask if I could go inside. I could. So I went upstairs and sat alone in a corridor adjacent to the computer lab which formed a makeshift examination room for the day. Once I had been joined by the other students, the invigilator, a portly German lady in her thirties, and her assistant, a slim young man of around twenty who spoke Arabic and Kurdish, ushered us into a room. The exam was due to begin at 0900 but actually started closer to 0930, as this was how long it took to get a group of twenty young, mostly male students to follow simple instructions.

I have to say, although the entire point of being there was to take an exam that showed we could use sufficient German to survive in day-to-day life, I felt that precious few of the people in that room could have, based upon their inability to follow exceedingly simple instructions such as “sit over there”. Anyway, thirty minutes pass and we’re all sat down, and the exams are being handed out: “Do not open the exams until I tell you to, this is very important! You will be kicked out if you do!” said the German lady approximately forty times. Behold, six of the other candidates flatly ignore this and casually peruse the exam before the official start time. This is not very German behaviour. Throughout the exam, it was the norm for candidates to talk to each other and attempt to look at each other’s answers. They did not listen to the German lady. Occasionally they heeded the assistant when he addressed them in Arabic or Kurdish. The lady decided to move some of the male students to stop them from talking to each other; this nearly caused a riot. It seemed to me that they didn’t like being told what to do by a female.

Anyway, the first part of the exam itself was reasonably straightforward, listening followed by reading and then writing; it took me less than an hour. The writing subtest had me write a letter of complaint about my unsatisfactory (fictional) experience of buying a television online, which I gleefully did.

Then came the speaking subtest, in which I talked about myself, as well as a picture of an entirely too-happy looking family cooking dinner together in their spotlessly unused kitchen (I mentioned this), and then finally I had to make plans with my partner.

I’m relatively confident that I passed this exam. It’s just a B1 level test (lower middle difficulty) and, frankly, the standard of the other candidates was so awful…

Next up is the citizenship test, in ten day’s time. Questions about Germany, its history, society and political system.

Step by step I am mitigating the Brexit shitshow and sticking to my new year’s resolution

Becoming German, englishman abroad

Off to the Ausländerbehörde

This morning marked the next step on my hopefully successful journey to German citizenship: a trip to the Ausländerbehörde. This “Foreigners’ Office” is in the nearest large town, about 15 minutes away, and is where I took all of the documents I could. This included passports, birth certificates, forms and the like but also a Handschriftlicher Lebenslauf. That’s right, a handwritten CV/résumé.

This last one was an absolute bugger to write. A Curriculum Vitae. BY HAND. And anyway, it’s not a job application so what do you put in? “I am a perfect candidate for being German because I’m always punctual and haven’t laughed since 1994. My previous role as an Englishman included propagating an inflated sense of pompous self-worth, making appointments and using Microsoft Office”.

They also wanted to know where I lived and when for the long, bureaucratic forms. I needed a continuation sheet for this because I’ve lived in about twenty different places. Speaking of long, bureaucratic forms, they asked about nationality (Staatsangehörigkeit) but also my ethnicity (Volkszugehörigkeit) which I wasn’t really sure how to answer. In Britain, they tend to include a few helpful suggestions for questions like this, along the lines of:

White

  • English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British
  • Irish
  • Gypsy or Irish Traveller
  • Any other White background, write in

However, I had absolutely no bloody idea as to how writing “White” in the ethnicity box (in Germany of all places) would go down. It’s a bit political, a bit socially constructed. It might be a faux pas similar to writing “Aryan”, so I left it blank. It turns out (yes, of course, I asked!) that this box is intended for people who are, e.g. ethnic Germans who were displaced due to borders being redrawn etc. Just as well I didn’t write anything.

The lady took all the forms and asked me a few questions about the German political system.

She: “What sort of a state do we live in, here in Germany?”

Me (thinking): oh boy, what a state. You can say that again.

Me (speaking): “ein Rechtsstaat” (a lawful state/state based on the rule of law)

She: “What sort of a political system do we have here in Germany?”

Me: “Well, I would say it is a federal republic, based on a constitution, with a parliament which…”

She (rolling her eyes): “cough”

Me: “Oh, right, a democracy.”

We then came to the part where she checked all the financial information we had brought with us, including my wife’s details. “Oh, your wife is a civil servant! This is fine. I’ve seen enough. Typically I’m dealing with two people who don’t have a job between them. This is good. Those people normally get citizenship, by the way”. As far as German hints go, she may as well have given me a welcome package there and then: “here is a passport, some Bratwurst, and a German flag. Please do not look directly at the flag”

So, I’m feeling a lot more confident than I was before about my prospects of becoming a German. All I need to do now is pass the language test and the citizenship test, both of which are scheduled for next month.

Fingers crossed!

Becoming German, englishman abroad

Becoming German?

This Wednesday was the deadline for registering for the only “Immigrant Language Test” in February that I could find. The next available test would have been in April, after Brexit day. So, like any rational person, I jumped onto the train in a mad panic and zoomed down to a test centre in Oldenburg to book my place on this course. Then I high-tailed it to the local community college and booked myself another test: the Naturalisation Test. These two tests are just two of the many prerequisites to becoming a German citizen.

The DTZ (German Test for Immigrants) is a speaking, writing, reading and listening language test, targeted at the A2-B1 levels. I know a little bit about language tests already, having prepared students for all manner of English language tests, often at this level, for years. I think I know more or less what to expect, and I’m reasonably sure that I’ll pass at the required B1 level.

The Einbürgerungstest is a citizenship test of sorts. It comprises 33 questions about Germany, covering aspects such as the German constitution, rights and responsibilities, democracy, society etc. There’s an online test to practise with, and I’ve passed it every time I’ve tried it. I’m certain I’ll pass this, too. There are many other requirements, all of which I am confident I can fulfil.

Yet, somehow, I don’t feel confident that I’ll get citizenship at all. I can’t quite put my finger on why. This bothers me. If I don’t manage to do it in the time that Britain remains in the EU, it probably means that I’ll still be able to become German in future – but I’ll have to give up my UK citizenship to do it.

Would I still do it in this case? Swap my UK citizenship for German citizenship? Trade membership of a non-EU country for an EU country? Exchange my unlikely return to an insular, has-been nation to secure my future as part of an important, European country?

Yes, obviously. Of course I would. But I’d rather it doesn’t come to that; I’d never be able to get my hands on Marmite again.

englishman abroad

Roll on 2019

I had intended to write a blog on the 5th December about Nikolaustag in Germany, but I was too busy.

I had intended to write a blog on the 15th December about German Christmas Markets, but I never went.

I had intended to write a blog today along the lines of last year’s “Resolutions” post, but it isn’t appropriate this year.

There is a theme that has been unavoidable, inexorably drilling its way into my daily consciousness with growing urgency for some months now, and that theme is Brexit. And that is what I am going to talk about.

Here are some facts:

  • In fewer than 100 days, the UK will reach its deadline to leave the EU
  • The EU and UK have both started to implement their no-deal scenario planning
  • The UK government has refused to hold a second referendum or to present a reasonable deal capable of winning support in parliament

With a no-deal Brexit looking increasingly likely (it has been the default option all along) I will no longer be a citizen of Europe on the 30th March 2019. To be honest, this is less than ideal. I live and work in Germany with my German wife and children. My life is in Germany. I am in Germany.

True, the EU has called on all member states to ensure that citizen’s rights are protected in the event of no-deal, but only if such rights are reciprocated for EU Citizens in the UK. This does not fill me with confidence. I have followed the news, and politics especially, for the last two years with a hawk’s eyes and Brexit has been a slow-motion suicide from the start. The UK cabinet has been self-servingly careerist and short-sighted throughout. A look at the assorted vainglorious Brexit resignations confirms this.

Both Labour and the Conservatives are being deliberately or, worse, unknowingly, dishonest with the public; they continue in that fine political tradition of squandering an international opportunity to pander to a national audience.

For the last six months, I’ve been obsessed with the latest Brexit developments, and it has driven me slightly mad. I’m far too busy with other things to expend such effort on worrying.

So here is my new year’s resolution: I will accept that Brexit is beyond my control, and get on with life.

And apply for German citizenship.