19 August, 2009

Culture shock or not?

When i was working in Japan, one of the most common questions my students asked was, "What were your first impressions when you came to Japan?"
That was a really difficult question for me as
a) it was so long ago (1991) and,
b) for me, that time was more about adapting into a new all-girl Catholic school than adapting to a new culture.
I really don't remember having (m)any impressions about Japan/Tokyo, although i must have had had some.
So, that's one reason why i'm sharing my impressions on moving to Germany - to remember my first impressions this time around.

I've also read a lot about culture shock and its phases. Originally, i read about it so i could facilitate discussions in my classes for students being transferred overseas. In the last 6 months or so, i re-read it all in the hope that 'forewarned is forearmed'.
There are four basic stages of culture shock; names and the order vary according to different books, but they are, basically, the same thing.
1. Excitement
In this stage everything is wonderful & the new country is the best place EVER
2. Frustration
Everything becomes annoying & individuals become frustrated and/or in their inability to communicate/function in the new country
3. Anger/Depression
Everything seems hopeless & it seems impossible that the individual will ever truly settle in the new country
4. Acceptence
The person accepts that things will always be different, but is OK with that & feels at home in the new culture.

Has this knowledge helped me?
Honestly, no.
I've been completely blind-sided by something else completely. I never expected that i would be overwhelmed by the loss of my independence. At the moment, i am not working, i am completely financially dependent on K, i have none of my own friends here (but K's friends are all great people) and i spend most of my weekdays (in the day time) alone.
This IS a temporary situation (just to the end of this month) & i know that; but the knowledge doesn't help. It's hard to explain, but i feel stuck, lost & useless. Maybe this is tied into culture shock too, i really don't know.
All i know is that, believe it or not, i hate not working.
If K wasn't working either, then it would be a very different situation. But from 8am to 7 or 8pm everyday, i am here & he's at work. It's much harder than i thought it would be. It's not much fun going to the park or into town on your own. While i do enjoy time on my own, 12 hours a day, 5 days a week is a tad too much.

But saying all that, I do NOT regret moving here. I haven't regretted it once.
Of course, I miss my J-friends. But, surprisingly, i don't miss Japan. I thought i would, and i am sure this will change, but right now, i would rather be here in my lonely hausfrau life.

16 August, 2009

Refrections 3 & The Joys of German

A week or so ago, I started (self) studying German. I was expecting it to be difficult. What i wasn't expecting was HOW bloody difficult it is. And it's difficult on different levels too, which i also didn't expect.
I had had numerous warnings from friends (both non-Germans & Germans) that the grammar is difficult. And it is. The problem for me is that the grammar is completely alien to me - it's so different to English in how it's formed. For example, there are verbs with prefixes (e.g. bekommen (to get) or ankommen (to arrive))
Seems simple enough, right.
But no, NOTHING in German is that simple.
Some prefixes are inseparable from the verb (e.g. Yuki bekommt eine Einladung (Yuki gets an invitation)) However, others ARE separable (e.g. Yuki kommt in Deutschland an (Yuki arrives in Germany))

I'm also having problems with the pronunciation. I cannot master st- or sp-; which look deceptively simple. In German, they are pronounced more like 'sht-' or 'shp-'. Z is pronounced like a Japanese 'tsu' and 'ch-' sounds like someone is clearing their throat. Individually, these sounds are not too bad, but when they are together, it's really hard. For example, no matter how hard i try, I cannot pronounce streicheln (to stroke). I just get a confused tongue & spit all over everyone.
Saying that, German pronunciation/spelling is very consistent - how it's spelt is how it's pronounced, with very few exceptions.

Those are just a couple of examples of how different/difficult German is - there are many more (and I'm only on lesson 7), but i will not bore you with the details. Don't think i'm going to be fluent anytime soon; definitely not in 30 days...

In other news, I am in the process of renewing my passport. Do you know how much a British passport costs nowadays? 154€ (= JPY20,000 or US$220)!!!!!

I also found out that if i were to get my passport renewed in Britain, the price would be GBP77.50 - about half price. Why the hell does it cost twice as much if i renew it in Germany? FYI, it costs around JPY20,000 to renew it in Japan, so at least they're consistently ripping off British people overseas. The mysteries of British bureaucracy, eh?

Still discovering a lot of interesting things about my new home...here are some of the latest.

OK, this isn't a new discovery. But i am in awe of the price of beer here. A crate (20x500ml bottles) from the local supermarket costs around 12€. TWELVE! That's about 1,600 JPY or $17! That's 60 cents a beer. About 80 yen per beer!
Not only that, all the bottles & the crate have a deposit too, so if you take back an empty crate, you get about 3€ back. So actually, the crate of beer only costs 9€! No wonder Germans drink a lot of beer. Or is it the opposite way round - it's cheap because Germans drink a lot of it? Whatever - beer is cheap & that makes me happy!

Recycling Machines
At the supermarket, there are two machines to get your deposit back. One is for soft plastic bottles & cans, the other for hard plastic & bottles. The first machine crushes the plastic bottles, with a satisfying crunch sound. The other just sends stuff to the warehouse at the back of the supermarkets. Both machines are fully automated & calculate the total, then print out a receipt which you can either cash in, or use to pay for the next crate of beer. Last week, we collected all the bottles & cans here, took them to the supermarket & got about 25€ back. And yes, we did buy a new crate...

I know this is going to sound really silly, but i am fascinated by the windows here. A lot of places have tilt-and-turn windows which i have never seen before. These are windows that can be opened in two ways; either opened like a normal window or tilted, with the top just open. Don't know if that makes sense - maybe it's easier to look at a photo. I have no idea how they work, but it's a really cool idea/design. Have no idea if they exist elsewhere - i've only seen them here.

And that is the latest news from Deutschland.
In short: In reward for mastering a nightmarish language, Germans get the privilege of cheap beer, cool windows and 50€ passports.

07 August, 2009

Refrections from a New Land - Part Two

Spending more time here & getting to know a bit more about Germany & its culture is proving to be really interesting. Germany is a really intriguing country & there are so many unexpected things - some of them are cultural, some of them are my responses to this new world/life.

Here are a few things from the past week:

You would think that numbers are numbers & there's not much to confuse anyone. But you'd be wrong. There are, firstly, a couple of differences in how numbers are handwritten. Ones always have a tag (1) and not written like a this - I. OK, not a problem. But the tag bit is really long & i keep getting my ones & sevens mixed up. Sevens, however, are always crossed to prevent confusion. I keep forgetting that though & get prices mixed up at the supermarket.
The second thing with how numbers are written is that commas & periods are used in the opposite way to English speaking countries. So one euro fifty cents is written as 1,50€, whereas one thousand five hundred is 1.500€. You wouldn't think that this would be too confusing & i guess it isn't, but, in my english eyes, it just looks weird.
The last thing with numbers is with the floors in buildings. The European way (including Britain), is Ground Floor, first floor, second floor, etc. In Japan, there is no ground floor - it's the first floor, which also the North American way (and somewhat more logical to me). I, despite growing up with the GF-1F-2F system, have fully adopted the 1F-2F way. So much so that when i was in the book store looking for German text books on the second floor, got really confused because i couldn't find them anywhere. But i was on the wrong second floor...

After 12pm in Germany, it's OK to show nudity on TV. Not full frontals (or 'hairy bits'), but after midnight, there are tits EVERYWHERE. Mostly, it's ads for phonesex, but EVERY CHANNEL has breasts. Of all sizes & ages. Must admit to be a shocked & still being a bit uncomfortable when i change the channel to see a huge pair of bouncing boobs. Not sure whether it's my inate British prudishness coming out, or my adopted Japanese prudishness; all i know is that i am not used to seeing so much nakedness.

Travelling Carpenters or Journeymen
I had never heard of these people before, but the other day K & I were at a local festival and there was a group of strangely dressed young men. I would describe their clothes as a cross between Hasidic Jew, Amish & 1970s folk band. Have a look here. K explained that these carpenters travel around the country, working on houses for food & board. There's even a law (welcome to Germany!!) that says that townhalls are legally obliged to give food & board to these journeymen. After looking around on the web, i found out some more about them - they are only found in France (aka 'compagnons') & Germany; i found this website to be really interesting. Had no idea that this type of thing still existed anywhere and i am impressed that a) young people are still taking up this old tradition and b) the government continues to support & protect it.

Know i mentioned this before, but i am really enjoying my first European summer for..erm..how long? Think the last time i was back for summer was in the early 1990s. And then it was a British 'summer'; aka rain interspersed with weak periods of pale sun. Even though this is supposedly the worst summer for 20 years (man in the pub told us, so it must be true), it's so much easier to enjoy it here than in Tokyo. Firstly, it's not as hot or humid. More importantly, everything is set up for summer. It's like the city has bloomed - beer gardens have opened, bars & restaurants have all set up tables outside on the street, people are in the park & everyone just seems a lot happier. There are also a lot of little festivals; couple of weeks ago there was an African festival in the square near where we live. Last Saturday was the CSD Parade & party. And on Thursday, on our way home, we happened upon another festival - Henkersfest, which K translated as 'Executioner Festival'; really don't know what that's about & K didn't know why it was called that either.

Basically, I am really glad i moved here in summer. Would have been really nasty to be greeted in my new life with a cold wet German winter.

And now I am going off to the park to study German for an hour or so. Ah, this is the life.

03 August, 2009

:: CSD in Stuttgart 2009 ::

On Saturday, I went to my first Gay Parade. For some reason, I have never managed to go to one before; not because i haven't wanted to, but because there hasn't been one where i was. I think there is one in Tokyo - but it's not very well publicised.
Anyway, here in Germany the event is not known as Gay Pride; but Christopher Street Day, after the Stonewall riots in NY in 1969. The Stonewall Inn was on Christopher Street; hence the name. If you want to know more go here, Wikipedia explains it better than me.

Anyway, we had a lovely afternoon following the parade through town. Was a very smiley day, with lots of sparkly - that's what you're supposed to drink on CSD...

I've uploaded my photos, so have a look here.

Not really much else to report from Deutschland. I am now officially a resident of Stuttgart & am waiting for an appointment with the job centre. I'm registered as 'looking for work', so the job centre should be contacting me to see how things are going. Also, during the course of the interview, they can/will also decide whether German lessons will be beneficial for me. If so, i can get free lessons. FREE!! Can you believe that?
Was talking to a friend about that, and i explained that i couldn't believe that people can just turn up in Germany & get free lessons - wouldn't people just come for the free lessons & then just bugger off back to their home countries? Then the friend pointed out that German is only used in 3 countries in the world. It's not like English. I was just coming from a completely different perspective - free English education is pretty much unthinkable.
Always forget how lucky i am being a native English speaker. I think living in Germany would be really hard for a non-English & non-German speaking foreigner. As i mentioned before, there isn't much English support here. Also, TV is not bilingual (unlike Japan); here everything is dubbed into German. Except MTV, so i have been watching a load of crap on TV (which i actually don't mind, but i shouldn't really admit because i am about 20 years too old to be an MTV viewer).
The really bizarre thing is that i am actually using my French, which i defnitely didn't foresee. In the shops, a lot of things are produced for the (mainland) European market, which means that the packaging has German + French/Spanish/Turkish or some other European language. As you know, my German is pretty shoddy; whoever designed the GCSE language programmes needs to be force fed his/her textbooks; then again it was 20 years ago. On the other hand, my french - while not being by any means fluent - is WAY better than my German & i formally studied it for about the same length of time, but in France and high school (International Baccalaureate).
I digress.
To cut a long story short, i find myself reading the French on the packaging & understanding more than i expected. Japanese, however, hasn't come in that useful yet...