englishman abroad, Teaching English

… and then three come along at once

I’m giving up some of my work to make time for more work. The freelance Business English side of my work has been rather disappointing recently. Specifically, there was this one big firm that just didn’t have any lessons for months and months. “don’t worry!” they said, “we’ll be back next week!”

Well, they said that for six months and that left a big hole in my plans and finances. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to stop all of my other freelancing gigs from doing the same thing…

 … so to hell with it! I’m minimising my freelance work and prioritising another more predictable and more lucrative project now. I’m currently doing twice as much work for the time being, handing off my old clients to new people and segueing into my new project. I’m very busy!

There’s also plenty of work to be done in my work as a lecturer: one of my two university courses is presenting coursework and writing essays, the other one is about to have exams which I am writing. I’m very busy!

There’s also a house we’re looking at and a couple of top-secret projects I can’t write about yet. Unfortunately, all of this busyness has kept me away from my two pet projects, this blog and Brexpats, for a while.

It’s just like buses: you wait six months for one and then three turn up at once!

englishman abroad, politics

Catalan vs Scottish vs UK independence

With the recent (illegal) vote in Catalonia about whether it should be an independent country, we finally have a meaningful independence vote which has taken place outside of Britain. 

First there was the Scottish Independence referendum of 2014, in which Scotland voted to remain part of the UK, then there was the EU referendum of 2016 in which the UK voted to leave the EU, and now we have had the Catalan Independence referendum of 2017: 

Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic? 

Unlike the others, this vote was ruled as illegal from the start. The Spanish constitution states that Spain is indivisible and that’s it’s impossible to secede from the country.

That alone sounds like an extremely valid reason to have a vote on the subject. If you aren’t allowed to leave, there should absolutely be a vote on leaving. 

Say what you want about the Scottish referendum, the UK government didn’t tell Scotland that it simply couldn’t leave, case closed. Rather it said “Scotland, you’re already an independent country. By all means, vote” 

Should Scotland be an independent country? 

‘No’ – was Scotland’s answer. Scotland wanted to remain an interdependent country as part of the UK. Sensible choice, especially as joining the EU was never on the table in the first place – Spain would have vetoed such a breakaway state’s membership to discourage Catalonian independence. It’s also especially sensible as all successful countries are interdependent these days. Look at North Korea: no foreign governments lobbying their people’s assembly. No pesky transnational organisations like the UN (or EU) are listened to in North Korea. North Korea has absolute control over its own oil and gas. North Korea has little to do with its neighbours, even with China. Not exactly heaven on earth, is it? 

Finally, we come to Brexit. The question was much wordier: 

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union? 

No pretence of whether or not the UK was an independent country was present in the question itself, that came from the TV debates instead. This was a straightforward question of political union. Therein lies the problem: how can you expect people to vote on such a complicated issue when few of us could really articulate what the European Union is? Ideas like ‘independence’ are easy to understand, but ‘remain or leave a complicated political union that you know nothing about’ is choice that should never have been given without adequate and impartial education on the subject. I remember learning about Pythagoras at school, Shakespeare, The Great Fire of London, plate tectonics, what different religions believe about the afterlife… but politics? Civics? How the world around us actually works? Taxes? Finance? The economy? Important things that an adult should know? 

Should education make independent people? 

That’s a ‘yes’ from me. 

englishman abroad

If Germany was like Britain…

My daughter is finally a British citizen. After quite a bit of faffing around, her shiny new passport has arrived and I’m somewhat relieved from a measure of Brexit-induced stress. Whatever happens, she’ll always have the option of living in a different country. I started to wonder, what if Britain and Germany weren’t so different?

If Germany was like Britain…

  1. There would be Church of Germany with schools for children to attend.
  2. The Kaiser would give speeches every Christmas, people would watch.
  3. Plenty of young boys would flock to join the German Boy Scouts, no one would think it was ‘a bit too Nazi’.
  4. There would be a lot more German flags flying everywhere and German nationalism would be celebrated.
  5. Bavarian nationalism would thrive similarly to Scottish nationalism; Lederhosen-clad, Zither-playing, blue and white flag-wavers would campaign for an independent Bavaria.
  6. Germans would insist everyone spoke German and refuse to learn any other language.
  7. People would be a lot politer and a lot less productive.
  8. The wine and beer would be a lot worse and the cider much better.
  9. Many Bundesländer would print road signs in their own languages (just like Wales).
  10. Fish and Chips would be wildly popular but there would still be far less water to fish in.
  11. There might be a TV show called ‘Nur Narren und Pferde’ and it would have a cult following.
  12. A charismatic German spy would feature in many popular films and be renowned for his wit and seduction. His name might be Jacob Bund.
  13. Germany would regard Europe sceptically, and leave the EU.

It’s unthinkable, isn’t it?

 

englishman abroad, travel

Beer, the Chinese and a chance encounter in Groningen

On Thursday, I helped take some English school kids on a trip over the border to Groningen. I didn’t have to do too much really, just translate English / German a bit and lead the group from coach to train to wherever we were going next. We had just taken the train to Leer, and had boarded the coach, when a pensioner sat down next to me and said  “So, you must be Swedish”.

I have rapidly greying black hair, speak English and was still just about in Germany. I don’t think that I make a particularly convincing Swede. I was intrigued by the old man and asked him why he thought that:
“Because you speak English and I can understand you!”
It turns out that Hein, who is Dutch, has trouble understanding native English speakers because they speak too fast, have a regional accent or use colloquialisms. These are problems I am familiar with, which is why I tend to use my very best David Cameron voice when I’m in Germany. In fact, I’ve used it so much that it’s become hard to switch off, the poor Black Country school kids thought I was posh, Hein thought I was Swedish, I’m neither!
After an hour’s interesting conversation with Hein, which covered all sort of things, including his description of Rotterdam and Cologne after the war (flattened, but with churches intact), it was time to get off the coach and head to The Confucius Institute. We had lunch at the institute and had a workshop on Chinese painting, which was fascinating. Then we had two hours to kill, we went our own ways and I went shopping. I got my wife a bottle of a local specialty, Beerenburg, as a souvenir. I tried some of the Dutch beer, which I especially enjoyed, and made a few other stops here and there.WP_20170720_15_58_09_Pro (2)

On the train journey back I reflected on how I, as a Briton, was rather privileged. Everywhere I had been in Groningen that day, a train station, the Confucius Institute, a coffee shop, a bar, an off-licence and two street food vendors, every single place was happy to speak to me in English, and speak well. It would likely have been the same in Germany, had I tried. English truly is the lingua franca.

It puts me in mind of how all of this could be taken away from me, should I sit around without a plan whilst the Brexit process staggers on. Perhaps I should take Hein’s hint and go to Sweden, I already have the accent.

englishman abroad

Passport Madness

I’m back from holiday and my skin is a healthy, flaky red. It’s amazing what a bit too much sun can do. Tenerife was full of Germans and English, with a scant sprinkling of Spaniards here and there.

Yesterday I decided to go time travelling.

In the year 2032 my daughter will be 20 and might want to travel to Great Britain (I hope it won’t have sunk to the bottom of the sea by then). What might she need to visit in the post-Brexit future? Maybe a British passport, so I tried to get her one. This is where the bureaucracy began.

I’ll say this for the Germans and their famed bureaucracy, there is at least a logic to it and the language is rather more straightforward. Here is what English bureaucracy and jargon looks like:

‘please provide the passport you entered the country from which you are applying’

That sentence gave me a migraine. I read it over and over again, sometimes aloud, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes adding gravitas and emphasis to certain words, sometimes weeping with frustration.

Do you think it means:

  1. a) please provide your passport (the details of which you entered earlier)
  2. b) please provide your passport from the country you are applying from (i.e. a German passport)
  3. c) please provide the passport you want to renew

Well guess what, I eventually called up the passport office and queried it. Apparently this unpunctuated, poorly written and inscrutable sentence means:

  1. d) please provide the passport which you used to enter the country from which you are applying (Germany).

There’s also further jargon like: ‘not British by descent’ to contend with. Immigration law has changed so much in the UK that the law for attaining British citizenship depends on, amongst other things, whether you were born before 1983, after 1983 or after 1 July 2006. Yes, the last two seem to overlap.

The application also requires the applicant’s parent’s birth certificates, and their grandparent’s details. Of course, to get the grandparent’s birth certificates you’ll need to know about their parents, too. How, I ask you, was my daughter in 2032 supposed to know her great-grandmother’s maiden name? My Grandma is ancient!!

Getting hold of birth certificates is also quite a mess, I went onto the General Registry Office’s website and looked for my parent’s birth certificates. Thankfully they have a wide range of records spanning all the way from 1837!

…to 1916! Even my Grandma isn’t that ancient. Born after 1916? Too bad!

I decided to call the General Registry Office to get copies of the certificates needed. It turns out that calling them up and giving people dates and names doesn’t help much. The GRO apparently doesn’t have a database with this info. Everything is on paper, in books, in local registry offices, all across the country. Which means that there is now a three-week period in which my query will be researched. If the GRO finds the birth certificates, they will be sent to me.

I swear, in a digital age this is utter madness. If I call up a business there might be a wait of about 30 seconds before the relevant information is found. Why does a government agency need to ‘research’ a query? You’d think the government would have the answer to “Was this person born in your country?”

Anyway, hopefully I’ll be able to get a reply soon and to send this application off.

As daft as this process has been, it would have been a lot harder to get it done in 2032.