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, work

New Opportunities

Oh, sweet it is in academic groves –
Or such retirement, friend, as we have known
Among the mountains by our Rotha’s stream,
Greta, or Derwent, or some nameless rill –
To ruminate, with interchange of talk,
On rational liberty and hope in man,
Justice and peace.

– William Wordsworth. Book 9, Residence in France, 400-406. The Prelude.

The MariLANG project has officially ended and with it my work producing test items for learners of Maritime English and seafarers. I joined the project fairly late into it, most of the work had already been done by people much more talented than me, but I learned a lot and produced a fair bit of work that I’m proud of. I also wrote a chapter of what will become the official book, so I’ll finally see my name in print! Albeit in a rather dry, academic tome. I also got to travel with the project, twice to Southampton and once to Kenilworth, to meet partners and receive training.

Next week I’ll be off again, this time to Bordeaux, to attend and contribute to the kick-off meeting of another EU project – The TRAILs project. Whereas MariLANG sought to make an ESP test for mariners, TRAILs is more concerned with the training of LSP teachers/practitioners (ESP included). I’ll be presenting my guidelines for the identification and analysis of LSP teacher training in the EHEA to other project partners and soliciting feedback, before finalising them and working with the other partners to implement them into our research. After that, it’s two years of research into best LSP teacher-training practices with a few trips abroad here and there for meetings. Ultimately there will be the provision of a summer school to operationalise the pedagogical concepts we’ll all have come up with, surely, by then.

But first thing’s first, off to Bordeaux. I’m getting thirsty just thinking about it…

englishman abroad, history

DNA Results

In my vainer and more self-important moments, I like to imagine that people read this blog. More than that, I pretend that they notice if I don’t post for a while, as I have not done for about two months now. “What’s that mad Englishman who got stuck in Europe up to?” they might wonder. “Did he ever go to Lush again? Does he still have that Dad-belly?” they’ll muse.

Well, yes, The Dad-belly is still with me. I never did go to Lush again (yet) as I’ve moved out of Oldenburg and into a much smaller town. The house is taking up plenty of my time, which is why this blog has been neglected for so long. I also got my DNA results.

To recap, I recently applied for a British passport for my daughter, and the whole process got me interested in my genealogy just a little bit. I remember being at school and my mate Robert teasing me that I must be Greek because I had skin a little darker than his, he also used to joke that my nose must be fake because it was absolutely ginormous. A Corporal once told me I had hair like a boar. I thought about these and similar comments over the years as I waited for the DNA results to come back. Could I be Greek? Could I be part Jewish, as someone else suggested? Could I be part German, in some mad twist of fate? Was I distantly Irish, as my mother’s own family-tree research had suggested?

The answer was no, on most counts.

According to MyHeritage DNA, I am:

  • 7.4% Iberian (Spain/Portugal)
  • 22.3% English
  • 24.5% Irish, Scottish, Welsh
  • 45.8% Scandinavian (Sweden, Norway, Denmark)

Now I know you have to take these things with a pinch of salt, but I’m reasonably confident on the veracity of most of it.  Essentially, If it says I’m more than 20% something then there’s a fair chance there’s at least some something in me. The percentages don’t matter too much. Instead, the descriptors are the interesting point. And Iberian? Me?

No, de ninguna manera.

englishman abroad, man stuff

Lush is not for boys

Mindful that it will soon be my Wife’s birthday, I did a bit of shopping the other day. The lady likes bubblebath and I was about to enter the general-purpose Rossmann when I remembered that there was another shop, Lush Cosmetics, just around the corner.

I made the fateful decision to enter Lush instead. Never have I ever been out of my depth so quickly.

Lush is not like Rossmann. Lush is like a descent into Hell.

Katabatic winds sighed ominously from the cloying maw of the shop’s entrance. Tempting. Enticing. Promising such wonders. “100% vegetarisch” sounded the siren call of the shop windows, “100% ohne Tierversuch”, “abandon all hope ye who enter here”

It was too late, Satan’s scent had snared me. I was drawn mesmerised into the bowels. I was looking for bubblebath. Shelves upon shelves of oddly shaped, brightly coloured baubles clamoured for my attention. “No…bubblebath… must get to bubblebath…” the scent was overpowering. The air uncomfortably warm.

“Take off your jacket” hissed the jelly bombs, “we’ll make it worth your while…”

“Never!” sweat formed on my brown and I pushed on. Despair. There couldn’t be bubblebath here, I was a fool. A fool who would die in Lush. Bubblebath was far too simplistic an indulgence. Lush would torture me with bath products beyond my ken. It would claim my soul and I would never leave.

An acolyte noticed my distress and cackled gleefully, springing from behind the knot wraps. She showed me the bath carrots. The horror. The horror. Carrots made of soap. She filled a sacrificial ewer with water and swirled the carrots around, revelling in my dismay. The water turned the orange of ungodly betrayal. I knew it was too late to turn and flee. She knew that I knew. She removed the carrot and, from jug to jug, she juggled the orange liquid, the water somehow turning a darker and more pustulent orange by the moment. Witchcraft. Foam seethed on the viscous orange ichor, every bubble a lost soul entreating for release.

“I… I was just looking for bubblebath,” I stammered in German, hardly daring to hope. “Schaumbäder?” she whispered menacingly, her Medusa-like stare freezing my heart with dread, “this way” she susurrated, leading me hypnotically deeper into the Minotaur’s lair.

Had she raised my hopes just to dash them again? I didn’t think I could bear it. She showed me to a table laden with coloured gewgaws. Pandora’s box had been upturned and laid out before me. “Here,” she said wickedly, handing me a fully functioning fidget-spinner bath bomb, “like this?”

I screamed. I retched. I tore out my hair. A fidget-spinner bath bomb. Such feats were unnatural. An abomination before God. A chimaera of Beelzebub himself. I clawed at my face, I wailed and gnashed my teeth. All faded to black.

I awoke later in a daze. I was at home. My clothes were heavily scented with a cloying musk. A brown paper bag clutched feverishly in my grasp. “You’ve been mangoed” writ large upon it. An oil bath. The lesser of many evils, yet still palpably obscene.

It was too late. I knew I was damned. I knew that I would return once more against my will.

I had been mangoed.

 

englishman abroad, history

DNA Test

Genealogy had never really interested me until recently. My mother has traced some of her side of the family into Wales, Devon and Ireland and my father-in-law has a proudly displayed family tree in the hallway. Still, he’s a farmer and there’s a palpable sense of history on the family farm, which has been passed down for generations. But what about me?

Like many people born in England, I just presumed that I was as English as the Anglo-Saxons and didn’t think any more about it. True, England was invaded thereafter by Vikings, Normans, Irish, Scots and several others, and the Anglo-Saxons were Germanic anyway (and preceded by the Romans) but whatever. I was English in England and that was that.

Last year I went through a lot of rigmarole in getting my daughter, Aurelia, a British passport in Brexit’s wake. I had to dive a couple of generations back to facilitate this, and call up the General Register Office and get all manner of old birth certificates. Including that of my Grandfather Steve.

It turns out that Grandad Steve, who I’ve never spoken to and has lived elsewhere as far as I can remember, wasn’t really called Steve. He had an absolutely nutty name that I won’t put on here. Just really bonkers and quite distinctive. Not typically “English”.

So I’ve decided to do some digging and see what comes up, so I’ve ordered one of those ‘test your DNA’ kits that so many genealogy sites are offering.  I’ve done some research and I know you have to take these things with a pinch of salt, there’s surely a margin of error etc. etc. Nonetheless, I’m curious as to what such a test might say.

It’s sitting on my dining room table right now and I’m going to send it off this week; there isn’t really an answer that I’m particularly hoping for or dreading.