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.

englishman abroad, freelancing, parenting

Keeping last year’s resolutions

It’s January 1st, 2017 and I’m looking at my Dad-belly in the mirror.

“This year will be different,” I tell myself

“This year I’m going to go jogging every couple of days and heave weights and eat right”

… and heave them I temporarily did! I didn’t go jogging though, and when the weather got cold I considered it a good excuse to stop lifting weights. And cycling. And even pretending to eat right.

But the best thing about 2017 was that my real resolutions, the ones that have borne fruit, weren’t an arbitrary, date-based invention; they were a series of small, incremental ones I made throughout the year.

  1. An important client of mine stiffed me on a bill back in February 2017. It wasn’t much, just a few euros. But the principle of it really irked me and I asked them for the difference – no sale.

“Ok,” I told myself, “this is going to be the most expensive money they’ve ever saved”

  1. I got ill in the middle of 2017 and had to take some days off work. I previously wrote about how terrible zero-hours contracts are in the UK; freelancing positions with German language schools aren’t much better: No sick pay. No insurance. Some contracts actually have you pay for lessons you miss (even when ill). After being pressured into attending work late at night with the flu, I told myself:

“I need to get a job that treats me right”

  1. Watching my daughter, Aurelia, grow up is my pride and privilege. She’s really turning into a little lady these days. Well, part lady and part tomboy: she’s riding bikes, zooming about on her scooter, sword-fighting with sticks and climbing trees. Yet we still live in a modest apartment with no garden and just a small balcony in a horribly expensive town. She wants to play football, she wants to run free,

“She deserves better than this”

These are the resolutions that mattered. These are the resolutions that got done. I didn’t just pull them out of the air because it was January first, Present Year; I meant them.

It’s January 1st, 2018 and I’ve got my new job at a university working as a researcher on a project. It has holiday pay, sick pay and proper insurance. I’ve also got two lucrative side projects which don’t stiff me on the bill!

It’s January 1st, 2018 and we’ve recently bought a house with a huge garden in a peaceful village. Aurelia is going to love it when we move in later this year.

It’s January 1st, 2018 and I’m still looking at my Dad-belly in the mirror.

“This year will be different,” I tell myself.

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, parenting

Home-grown Fairy Tales

It’s not easy to get a child to behave themselves sometimes. In an ideal world, a parent would always have the patience and temperament to sit the child down and explain exactly why certain behaviour is unacceptable. In an ideal world, the child would have the inclination to listen!

But this isn’t a perfect world and I’m not a perfect man. I have, however, discovered a way to avoid yelling too often. The answer is fairy tales.

It all started when my then-three-year-old daughter had to give up her dummy, which is called a ‘Schnuller’ in Germany. No matter how long her mother and I tried to explain that all Big Grown-up Girls of Three give up their dummy, no matter how rational and simple the argument for better teeth was, no matter how tempting the bribe was, my daughter simply wouldn’t countenance giving up her dummy.

Then my mobile rang and I received a telephone call from none other than The Schnuller Fairy herself, what are the odds of that? The Schnuller Fairy had a word with me and I passed the message on to Aurelia. Job done, dummy surrendered.

I have employed similar tactics recently. After the great success of Santa Claus’ omniscience for the last two Christmases, I decided to invent a new character. The Birthday Hen.

The Birthday Hen is male, by the way. Aurelia’s never questioned it. The Birthday Hen is from Australia and spends all day flying around the sky looking for naughty children. If he finds one, that child has their birthday postponed for a year and the child remains 4 (or whatever) for two years. If the child is naughty on their birthday then woe betide them! The Birthday Hen would swoop down and dive-bomb the party with rotten eggs and peck people on the ankle. Sometimes the Birthday Hen himself would telephone me and enquire as to Aurelia’s behaviour:

“Oh, no Mr Hen! I’m sure she’s in bed right now. I’ll just go and check!”

Lo and behold! Aurelia was suddenly and very convincingly asleep!

She’s had her fifth birthday now and I’ll admit it, I’m running out of ideas. Just today we were in Wilhelmshaven visiting The Pirate Museum when she became somewhat piratical herself. I very nearly invoked the April Eel, a wrathful eel who lurks omnipresently and sneakily nips the ankles of kids who don’t listen.

Not every story I’ve invented is of some omnipotent babysitter, however. I made up a story called The Little Strawberry Who Didn’t Listen, it’s one of Aurelia’s favourites. It’s a little bit long for this blog entry though, so I’ll share it with you next time.