englishman abroad

New beginnings

Last week my family and I went to a wedding in Bad Waldliesborn, Andrea’s home town.

We were attending the wedding of Sandra, one of Andrea’s childhood friends, and Steffen, an East Berliner who I’ve had great conversations with (usually about socialism in theory versus practice).

The weather was fine and we arrived early at the abbey in which they were wed, the service was lovely too, and then we all went outside for photos and sparkling wine.

I had not had my breakfast. This detail will become important soon. Ramsis, a charming Caribbean Dutchman in a blue suit who I only ever meet when our respective partners drag bring us to one of these events, was also in attendance and we had fun catching up. After two large glasses of sparkling wine and, I cannot stress this enough, no breakfast, I had a wonderful idea: we, Ramsis and I, should sign the guest book.

So I marched Ramsis over there with my arm around his shoulder, both of us gabbling away in English, clearly good friends, and signed it ‘Dear Sandra and Steffen, thank you for inviting us to your lovely wedding, you’re such a cute couple etc. etc. all our love, Russell and Ramsis x x x’

I also turned the ‘i’ in Ramsis name so that it had a love heart over it. And why not? I had had two glasses of sparkling wine and no breakfast!

Two of the photographers took our picture and printed it there and then, and stuck it in the guest book. We made a good couple, Ramsis and me.

Admittedly, there were some very confused looks from the photographers when we later went back to our respective women. They probably thought that we were a very modern couple.

On the way back, we went to one of the very many asparagus and strawberry huts that spring up at this time of year. It’s a phenomenon that I’ve only ever seen here in Germany. The spring time comes and suddenly there are huts and little stalls at the sides of roads, in town centres, even on motorways, all selling white asparagus. I had never seen white asparagus until I came to Germany, we generally prefer the green version back in the UK. This particular hut was at a farm which grew the stuff, so I went in and found mounds of asparagus that was absolutely fresh. Some of it, called krumm , was slightly crooked but a lot cheaper than the others.

                ‘What’s wrong with this asparagus?’ I asked

                ‘Nothing, it just grew up a bit wonky’

                ‘Haven’t we all?’

I bought a kilo, needless to say.

englishman abroad


Certain things about Germany surprise me but other things merely confuse me. Take our local paper, The Nordwest Zeitung, the day after the Westminster Bridge attack. The attack was mentioned, briefly, on the front page.

What was also on the front page was more surprising. The headline: “Schlamperei im Putenstall”. ‘Schlampe’, for anyone who doesn’t know, is the German word for ‘slut’, so I understood this headline as “Brothel in turkey barn”. I read the whole story, which was about bird flu, with intense and ever-mounting confusion before I thought to use a translator.

No, schlamper with an ‘r’ means sloppy or untidy and is an adjective, not a noun. The headline should therefore have been “Sloppy work in turkey barn”.

There have been other instances of confusion in the past… did you know that the Germans have a special way of dealing with the letter ‘s’? A sharp S can be shown with this squiggly B-shaped thing: ß. It really is very similar to a B, isn’t it? Well, one day many years ago I was food shopping and discovered a real bargain, a packet of sliced cheese which proudly proclaimed “EINE SCHEIBE GRATIS” (one slice free) but I understood as “EINE SCHEIẞE GRATIS” (one shit free).

I was dumbstruck at the Germans and their peculiar units of measurement:

‘I thought they had the metric system here…’ I wondered to myself

‘how much is a shit of cheese? One pack or two?’

Eventually I worked it out.

This pack of cheese, I might add, cost €165. Well, that’s what the shelf price said: 1,65€. I once saw a brand-new AMG Mercedes on the forecourt of a car dealership. The price? A mere €56 (56.000€ or fifty-six point zero zero zero euros).  It took me a surprisingly long time to work out the Germans use commas for decimals and points to separate thousands in a price, the exact opposite of what English speakers tend to do.

One final confusion: when a German says half-ten they mean 9:30 or halfway to ten, not half-past ten like the British do. Get this one wrong and you’ll turn up an hour late – now that’s just schlamperei…