englishman abroad, language

I can’t speak French for merde

Well, I’m back.

I hadn’t been to France for any meaningful length of time for sixteen years and cannot speak French for crotte any longer. In short, my French is god awful and going to Bordeaux was a useful experience.

Useful? Yes, useful. Going to another country and having absolutely no idea how to function beyond the purchase of a croissant and a pointless school-French conversation about where you live and what you did for your work experience last summer is a humbling experience.

You see, I have been living in Germany non-stop for a few years now, and I’m just about able to get by despite making mistakes in every sentence. Clearly, I have been getting too big for my boots. Clearly, the powers that be looked upon my level of German competence and remarked

Did you hear that? They’re understanding what he says! Despite him repeatedly putting the accusative in the nominative and the dative in the genitive and the verb as a noun and saying “sie” instead of “ihnen”, and then “du” and then “ihnen” again.

He’s getting overconfident; I’ll send him a plague of frogs.

It’s quite an important experience, to go somewhere and be absolutely powerless. It’s especially important for adults to do this, to remember what it’s like for children. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve integrated somewhat into Germany and what an odd feeling this is. In so doing, I’ve moved past much of the everyday alienation and inaptitude that I had suffered when I first came to Germany, without any German, years back. It’s been good to have a fleeting, linguistically impotent trip to France to broaden my perspective and remember not to take things for granted.

As for the meeting itself, it was informative, well received and, mercifully, in English.

englishman abroad, stories

The bunny ranch…

This is the story of how we all accidentally went to a brothel.

Aurelia is the proud owner of two Zwergkaninchen (dwarf rabbits) called Angel, a boy, and Thunder, a girl. They’re very well looked after, with everything a bunny could want: a nice rabbit run, an underground den, a shelter made out of an old copper drinking trough, a wickerwork tunnel and lots of food. Aurelia wants the best for her bunnies; when we fly off to the UK this Christmas, we’re going to have them looked after by a nice enough place. A bunny sitter, if you will.

My wife and I Googled around and found a couple of places online, one in Oldenburg for a fair price and another in Delmenhorst for a bit less. We asked if we could have a look at the place beforehand, the lady said yes. On Sunday we went to the pet sitter in Delmenhorst.

First thoughts:

  1. This is an industrial area, a business park. Could it really be here?
  2. Haha oh wow. That place next to the printer’s looks like a strip club.
  3. Why are we stopping?

The strip-club-looking place was number 7 on the street. The address we had was number 7. It was the same street. I started to think that the online advertisement was a joke, that some troll had sent us here for a laugh. We decided to have a look around anyway. Just in case.

My noticeably pregnant wife, my six-year-old daughter and I got out of the car.

Second thoughts:

  1. There are an awful lot of doorbells on this strip club. “Candy, Jesse, Katja…”
  2. This isn’t just a strip club, is it?
  3. There’s a gate around the side that says “private property”

“Love?” I said, “I think we should leave. Now.”

“no, we’ll look. It said around here”

My courageous wife knocks on the gate, to an eruption of aggressive barking, and asks if this is where the bunnies are looked after.

The lady who opens the gate is thin, with long, red, fake talons for nails.

“Yes,” she pleasantly replies.

Third thought:

  1. WTF

The lady, Candy, gives us a tour of the various rabbit hutches available behind this house of ill repute, and I start to think that maybe, just maybe, this happens to be a legitimate pet-sitter with an awful location. Maybe the bordello was built afterwards?

Google has all the answers: “No, and here are some other pictures of ‘Candy’, just FYI”.

Final thoughts:

  1. I should have trusted my gut.
  2. Is this a brothel that diversified into pet sitting, or a pet sitter that diversified into whoring?
  3. Business must suck, either way.

We said that we’d be in touch later. We won’t. I don’t want Thunder to come home with long, red, fake talons.

englishman abroad, parenting, the German way

Einschulung

Saturday was the day of my daughter Aurelia’s Einschulung. Einschulung is sometimes translated as ‘first day of school’, and I suppose that, technically, it often is. It’s not really that though. As I said, it happened on a Saturday and therefore isn’t a ‘proper’ school day. Besides, Aurelia has already had ‘trial hours’ (Schnupperstunden) at this school – she’s been there before. Another translation of this word is ‘enrolment’, which is also totally off. Aurelia was already on the ‘rolls’ of this school; she has been registered to attend it since about the time we moved to this town. What the Einschulung actually is, is a sort of ‘into-school’ rite of passage. Here’s what happened…

On that Saturday morning, after breakfast, Aurelia got her first proper look at the Schultüte which had been hidden away for weeks. A Schultüte is part of this German rite of passage. It resembles a brightly coloured and garishly decorated giant ice-cream cone; it’s also a bit like a Christmas stocking in that it is packed with goodies and not to be opened before the appointed time.

That appointed time is always after school, so off to school we all went: Oma, Opa, Mama and Papa. I carried Aurelia’s Schultüte, and Aurelia carried her gigantic, red and purple school bag. All German kids seem to have dementedly oversized school bags, called Schulranzen, which make them look less like first-year schoolkids than they do NASA astronauts. Off we went to school, bobbing along like an Ice-cream-themed Pride Parade for Questionable Cosmonauts.

On arrival at the school, it became apparent that I was the only one who had given this School-based theme-parkery a second thought: every single other child had a brightly coloured Schultüte and Schulranzen as well. The new space cadets first-years sat right at the front of the assembly hall and then it all kicked off. The headteacher introduced all the teachers, each year of the school performed a play or song or dance to welcome the new children, culminating with them being called onto the stage to stand with their respective mentor child and be taken off to their first, half-hour “class”. No parents were allowed of course, but I suspect that it was a little induction and introduction from their teacher. Back at home, Aurelia got to open her Schultüte at last: sweets, school stuff and her first ever alarm clock (pink, of course).

Tomorrow I’ll take her to her first ‘real’ full day of school; 8 am to 1 pm. I’m probably looking forward to it just as much as she is.

englishman abroad, the German way

Feeling at home

I haven’t spent any proper time in England, where I was born, for years.

However, on Sunday I got back from a week’s training at Southampton Solent University. It was a lot of fun, and I got to meet with lots of interesting international people and contribute to the ongoing development of the Marilang project.

I spent a week in England and discovered that I no longer feel at home there. On the simplest of levels, things are different: the money looks different, the prices have gone up, Brexit is on the news all the time these days. But my feeling of unease is more profound: I’ve become a bit German. I waited at the traffic lights instead of jaywalking, I put my cigarette ends in the bin instead of just dumping them, I even spoke German with my colleagues when I wanted to be frank.

When I first came to Germany I thought I was an outsider working my way inside. It wasn’t until I went to Southampton that I realised another truth: I was an insider here, and I’ve worked my way outside.

Bittersweet as this feeling is, it’s for the best; Britain hasn’t been doing too well recently. Germany, on the other hand, has been kind to me: a wife and child, our own house, interesting projects and maybe, one day, citizenship.

englishman abroad, parenting

The difference between boys and girls

I’m six years old and the click-clack of scissors makes short work of my wavy hair. I’m concentrating hard on holding my head down like the lady told me to, and I’m watching the accumulation of brown curls in the lap of my apron. I understand little of what my mother or the hairdressers are saying, but there is laughter and smiling. I’m a good boy, they say, I held my head still and straight.

At school I’ll play with my friends Ash and William and Martin, we’ll pretend fight and play POGS and trade Thunderbirds. Girls are different somehow, they don’t even like football and they talk all the time. Just talk and talk and talk. They’re boring and sometimes they point and whisper and laugh.

And so it was for the longest time until, unexpectedly, girls became interesting. They still talked and pointed and whispered and laughed, but they suddenly looked different.

They now had something we wanted so we chased them and they ran.

Eventually we learned that it’s better to talk to girls, that kiss-chase isn’t always the best way. I still understood little of what they’re saying, but there was laughter and smiling.

I watched the grey and black hair accumulating in the lap of my apron today. I thought how strange it all is that I have a little girl of my own, and I can understand everything she’s talking about. I thought how odd it all was that she wasn’t at all boring and how I join in with her whispering and laughter.

Most of all, I thought about how glad I was that she plays with boys as well as girls.