10 September, 2010
I am very happy to report that none of my family members (except perhaps myself) fell into that group. And of course, not ALL English people in or out of England are Chavs, WAGs, drunks, hooligans. We did, however, have a few classic moments which i would like to share...
The first place was Croydon.
We went out to sample the night life there and visited a few pubs. More interesting than the pubs, however, was watching what the girls where wearing. At first, K was quite impressed when some young hotties dressed in (not very much) Lycra came (staggering) by. And then a few more hotties cam by in Lycra. And K decided that he liked Croydon. Then we realised that EVERYONE (female, that is. The men managed to show come kind of restraint when i came to Lycra) was wearing Lycra. Some people should NOT wear Lycra. Sadly no one had told these girls that they looked like tightly wrapped pre-packed sausages. With make up. And heels. This did put K off a bit & i think even he decided that Lycra isn't necessarily a good thing...
Later that evening, we were queuing up to get into a pub (later opening = bouncers & ID check on the door) As we were waiting there, a bouncer drags out a young skinny boy with blood all over him. And here is what went on next:
Bouncer: You're not coming back in; you're covered in blood.
Boy: But, mate...
Bouncer: No, you're covered in blood. You're NOT coming in.
Boy's testosterone kicks in
Boy: You F****R! LET ME IN!!!!
(Like the Bouncer will change his mind...)
Bouncer: (calmly) No, you're covered in blood.
Boy tries to hit bouncer without great success; Bouncer being twice the size & sober
Boy: COME ON THEN!
Boy's Girlfriend: HIT 'IM!!! GO ON!
Boy tried to hit Bouncer again. He missed.
Bouncer: You are NOT coming in. You've got blood all over you.
Boy's Girlfriend: It's only 'cos he found out I was unfaithful (!!!!!)
Boy tried to hit Bouncer again; Bouncer gets Boy in headlock and removes him from the premises. While this was going on, Unfaithful Girlfriend was yelling, "Hit 'im!" repeatedly at the top of her voice... Classy couple!
The second 'English' event was in Salisbury, next to our campsite, which was right next to Salisbury race track. There wasn't any horse racing going on, but on the Saturday, a family had rented out the club/bar there for a wedding party.
When we headed out in the morning, around 10am, the first guests were arriving. When we got back, at around 8pm, the party appeared to be in full swing. We retired to our tent for a few quiet beers & some poker.
Then around midnight, we heard raised voices and people screaming at each other. So, K & I, being the nosey people we are, headed up to the racetrack to have a look at what was going on. There, hiding behind a tree, we had a great few of a wedding gone completely & utterly bad. Bouncers were dragging people out of the pub & handing them to Police who were dragging them off the Police van. Men were punching men, women were punching women, everybody was cursing everybody else & it was just a complete free-for-all.
The classic moment, though, was when the police were dragging off one man, a woman ran up & cursed the police for taking her man. And even tried to hit the police man. Then, a third man came running up after the woman and shouted, 'Sharon! Don't forget you have babies at home!'
Oh dear oh dear...
08 September, 2010
Then reality hit: we had 2 and a half weeks. Also, Southern France & England are in completely opposite directions from Stuttgart.
So, we bravely (stupidly?) decided to camp in England.
Actually, it did turn out OK & the weather was relatively kind to us. For the first 4 or 5 days, the weather was basically crap - rain & most of it horizontal. However, this was the part of the trip was spent staying with family (in their homes) or in hotels.
The remaining week, the weather turned, and despite a couple of really windy days (when we feared that the tent would turn in paragliding equipment), it was clear and even sunny most of the time.
If you're interested, here's where we went & what we did:
1. Halifax, Yorkshire - first family visit, where we even managed to have a BBQ outside (little did we know that that would be the last time we saw the sun for 5 days...)
2. Manchester - Lunch time family visit; lovely to reconnect with family, but shocked/surprised at how grown up my cousins are...
3. Castle Donington (with only 1 'n'), Leicestershire - Went to see the biggest collection of Formula 1 cars in the world. I came to the conclusion that once you have seen one Mclaren, you have seen them all... Also met a bloke in a pub who invited to go and see motorbike racing on Bank holiday Monday (the following week) We said we'd think about it, but K & him exchanged numbers.
4. Croydon, South London - A visit to Grandma. Was great to see her, she's still as feisty as ever, just not as healthy. But considering she's 90 & been a smoker for 70 odd years, she's doing pretty well!
5. Salisbury, Wiltshire - Here we went to watch Gurston Down Hillclimb (for those who don't know a hill climb event involves driving up a hill as fast as possible. The fastest cars take about 30 seconds. Not exactly an endurance sport!) If you want to know more & see some photos, go here.
6. Cadwell Park, Lincolnshire - We decided to take Yonny (Donington dude) up on his offer & trekked all the way North to see motorbikes. Yonny, of Sondel Sport Racing, invited us in & we succeeded in watching a lot of different bikes racing round. Watching motorbikes in the flash is WAY more exciting than watching them on TV. But i have to admit that it scared the crap out of me. Much scarier than watching cars racing - decided that anyone who takes up motor bike racing has to have a streak of insanity or else have a death wish!
7. Lingfield, Surrey - We were on our way to the South coast, but it was getting late & decided to find the nearest camp site. At first, things seemed OK, but we quickly realised we were directly under the flight path from Gatwick airport. PLanes are not quiet. Neither was the guy with the chainsaw at 8am the next day. And neither was the mechanics' workshop directly the other side of the hedge. NOT a good night's sleep...
8. Alfriston, East Sussex - After I gently persuaded K that NO, I WAS NOT STAYING ANOTHER NIGHT IN LINGFIELD, we hit the road and headed south towards the sea. Got to Seaford & found a nice tourist information office, who gave us information about local campsites. We ended up choosing one in Alfriston (after visiting one in Seaford that looked like it was owned by a gnome worshipping religious cult). Alfriston was lovely - really Olde Englishe & very quaint & touristy. But the locals were friendly & the sun was shining & there were no aeroplanes!
And there ended our England trip. We left from Dover & took the ferry to Dunkirk/Dunkerque - or however spell it. And then headed off the East Belgium (in the German speaking bit. Did you even know there was a German speaking bit? I didn't until last year...) There was a spent a lovely weekend with K's family; 4 sets of uncle+aunts, plus cousins, mothers and a dog (and a huge amount of alcohol, which is just the kind of family weekend i am am used to!)
Oh, I forgot the beginning of our trip. I decided that an overnight ferry from Rotterdam, Holland to Hull, Yorkshire would be a more time effective & relaxing way of getting to the North of England. Well, it was for one of us. We had a cabin with bunks which was nice. However, if one person in a relationship is a snorer, bunk beds are the worst thing EVER. It is impossible to elbow a snorer whilst in bunk beds. Therefore, one person has a blissfully ignorant night's sleep, whilst the other is a tetchy sleepless wreck.
I won't mention names about who the snorer was, but I'll give you a hint: the snorer wasn't German.... ;)
28 July, 2010
Some really sad things happened - most monumental of which was my grandmother dying. It was quick & sudden, which although a huge shock, would have been the way Molly would have wanted it.
In life, she was a huge character - both in a positive way & a negative way. I don't think anyone who met her wasn't affected by her in some way - whether that be in complete & utter shock at some of the things she dared say or do or her random kindess that went beyong the call of duty. But whatever anyone thought of her, somehow she knew she was doing the right thing, whether you agreed with her or not.
Anyway, the world will an empiter (and quieter) place without her.
Also, some really happy things happened.
At the beginning of July we had a family reunion in Italy. There were 14 of us in total. We had a lovely villa in Tuscany & it was really good to see everyone. It was the first time for us all to get together in one place for 20 years (our family is spread across the world; since i moved back to Europe, we're now spread across 2 continents instead of 3)
Tuscany is really gorgeous & I now get why people fall in love with it. It looks so 'Tuscan'! And top it all, we had lovely weather, good food, copious amounts of alcohol & lots of laughs. I think a good time was had by all.
Then I had my one-year anniversary in Germany (which I already wrote about.)
And then to finish my month off, I had a visit from the Davises. They stayed with K & me in Stuttgart for 5 days & we had a blast. We did more sightseeing in the last week, then i have done in the whole year i've been here! We did the zoo, the Black Forest, a medieval festival and a pub crawl of Stuttgart (Ok, so K & I have done that bit of sightseeing before!)
we managed to fit in a poker night, where M surprised us with his skill - he just needs to work on his poker face, as everytime he had an ace he started giggling...
It was really great to see them all again. And the best thing of all was that we just picked up where we left off. No awkwardness, no rough patches, just back like we were in Japan. Except that we weren't in Japan. We were in a whole different continent. Guess we'll have to meet in the U.S. next time.
07 July, 2010
One year ago today, I arrived (a day later than planned) in Stuttgart to start my new life here.
It's been a tough year in many expected & unexpected ways, but I know i did the right thing. I feel more relaxed here and, in many ways, happier & less stressed.
The transition to a new country/language hasn't been as traumatic as I expected.
However the transition financially & emotionally has been harder than i expected. Weird - the things i thought be hard haven't & the things i assumed would be OK haven't been.
Germany is a great place to live - the people are nice, it's more laid back than i expected & the beer tastes good. Sometimes the people here in the south of Germany fulfill all the stereotypes of Germans (all work & no play; lack of humour & so on) but that's HERE. It's not true for the whole place (and K isn't from here, so he really doesn't fill any German stereotypes. Well, expect for the beer drinking part...)
German, the language, isn't easy by any means, but at least I don't have to learn a whole new system of writing/reading. And there are a lot of words that are similar. Grammar though is a lot harder - but i am very very slowly improving. I understand a lot more than a year ago, but i am still unable to have conversations. I can, however, read enough on a menu now & order what i want...
On a personal level, it's been tough. K & I have been having a lot of trouble settling back into couple life. The whole balance of 'us' changed by me moving here. So it's been a very bumpy ride. But, on a positive note, we're still together, still smiling & still working on us and making things work - some days being better than others.
People ask me if I miss Japan. In truth, i don't know how to answer that. I don't feel aching pangs for Japan. I have moments where I miss certain things - mostly food. More though, I miss my friends. But I know that even though they re not here, and I am not there, they are still my friends. So in a bizarre way i also don't miss them. Don't know if that makes any sense...
So, yeah, that's been my year.
14 June, 2010
No, I haven't - BECAUSE I HAVE A LIFE!! There's infinite amount of beer to drink, but a finite number of sunny days, so I need to maximise my outdoor time. And work (to pay for the outdoor time)
Seriously though, I have been busy and work doesn’t make for very exciting blogging. But to the curious among you, work is going well – am getting good feedback from my students. Life outside of work is also good – went to Berlin for a weekend, have enjoyed the sunshine, and will be going to Italy next month (woohoo!)
But now the World Cup has started, so everything else is on hold. For the next month, it is & will be just football. Being here for a world cup is interesting but VERY different. Up till now, I have watched World Cups only in England & Japan. In England, I was surrounded by my fellow dreaming masochists, so felt quite comfortable bemoaning the England team. I mean, that’s part of the national psyche; build up our hopes to irrational levels then have them completely annihilated. And THEN complain that our team is shit, always was and always will be. That’s what being an England fan is all about.
After that, I lived in Japan. A land of even bigger dreaming masochists. There, England fans can breathe a little sigh of relief, and feel a little (big?) sense of superiority – we have, after all, won the world cup (OK, yes, it was once, but it was once more than Japan)
And now I am in Germany. A land where people are realists and are not afraid of the truth. And where pretty much everyone has a memory of Germany winning a World Cup. And maybe even more than one. Perhaps they’ll remember THREE! They even have a little song celebrating their victories. The lyrics are imaginatively, “vierundfünfzig, vierundsiebzig, neunzig, zehn”, which translates as, “54, 74, 90, 10”. K likes singing that song. A lot.
So, it’s a great pleasure to be here when people keep telling me that England doesn’t stand a chance of winning, not reaching the semi-finals and perhaps not even the quarter finals. And then, to add insult to injury, numerous people have told me that England should have won it in 1966 either and that also should have been a German victory. Please don’t take our one star away! It’s pretty much the only thing England football fans have to brag about (even if we weren’t alive to witness it ourselves…)
Saying that, it’s not said in a nasty way. My friends are just being realists. The thing is, it’s easy to be a realist when you have witnessed your team win a World Cup. Being a masochistic dreamer sometimes isn’t as good as it’s cracked up to be….
19 April, 2010
When was the last time you looked up at the sky & just saw blue space & fluffy white clouds? It was weird not seeing them.
And then today, i was working at the airport here. Both the arrivals board & departures board just had one word in the TIME column: CANCELLED
Yup, European airspace is closed. No flights out of/into Stuttgart till at least 8pm tonight. And the people in charge (whoever they, but i am sure they wear suits) are not even sure that the ban will be lifted then. But it is for safety reasons - no one (except alternative forms of transport, hotels & erm, maybe that's it)is really benefiting from it. But what can you do?
At least we have clear blue skies (with huge invisible clouds of toxic volcanic dust floating above)
In other news, I have started a German course. Twice a week for 3 months. Only downer is that it's Friday evening and Saturday morning as this was the only time i had available. We have a nice group of people from nearly every continent (haven't got Australasia covered) and everyone seems pretty mellow & willing to learn, which make life easier.
It's interesting being on the other side, as a language student instead of the teacher. Part of me is watching the teacher & wondering if I'd do things in the same way. Another part of me is thinking about all the things i tell my students & i should set a good example.
And then the main part of me is just getting confused with German grammar....
24 March, 2010
Some of the places open were the City Art Gallery, the castle, the Porsche Museum and some local vineyards. But that is just a little taster; there were more than 90 places to choose from...
With this smorgasbord of places to choose from, we started of by visiting a WWII era bunker which had a photo exhibition entitled "Angels & Anarchy". The anarchy photos were all famous Stuttgartians (who i dodn't know) posed on/with/next to an anarcy logo. The angels were photo portraits of the local Hells Angels and in the bunker they'd also set up a biker bar for the event. Bit scary but interesting as the bunker isn't normally open to the public & i don't go to biker bars.
After that, we made a quick stop to a local art space and then took a massively crowded bus to the harbour. For those of you who don't know, Stuttgart isn't by the sea. It's really really far away from the sea, but it is on the Neckar river, which is a main transportation route. So there is a harbour on the river. From there, we took a 30 minute cruise up & down the river, looking at the scenic view of silos, warehouses and heaps of scrap metal.
After our harbour tour, we went to the Mercedes Benz museum. Wow! This museum is brand spanking new & a really impressive piece of architecture. It's really beautifully laid out & there was always something to look at. One of the funny things was that the local radio station was having a club night there (until 4am) as part of the Lange Nacht, so while we were wandering round, we were serenaded by the black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga and other such music.
Apparently, the Lange Nacht is not special to Stuttgart and happens in cities all over Germany. It's an idea that I've never heard of, but is a fantastic idea. And judging by the number of people out & about, I wasn't the only person who thought so.
And later in the year, there's a similar event, where live music is played in various bars, clubs & spaces around town. I'm looking forward to that one too & hopefully the one in Mülheim too.
Some Random Observations...
The Police do live up to their stereotypes - even in Germany
Was sitting in a cafe, when up pulled a police car. Out got the police man, and into the cafe he came. There, he proceeded to by some donuts/cake and then headed back out to his car & drove off.
Men aren't that different in Japan & Germany
I've had a few instructors here telling me how different it would be teaching German & Japanese students. So far, as i've mentioned before, there aren't too many major differences. And sometimes, there are some HUGE similarities.
For instance, in one of my basic classes this week, we were discussing housework & who does it. My students (1 woman and 5 men) were making sentences such as 'I do the vacuuming'; 'My wife does the laundry' and so on.
The end result was my female student saying, "I do everything. My boyfriend do nothing".
Then one of the male students topped that by saying, "My wife does everything. The best house machine is my wife".
15 March, 2010
Is it half way through March already? Nearly a third of the way through the year? DAMN!
Since I last wrote, I've got more classes & am teaching 5 days a week. Not all day teaching (i.e. 9-5), but at least one class a day, usually more. Still have some gaps to fit a couple more classes in, but my schedule is quite nice as it is (still have time to do all my hausfrau duties as well....)
So, what have i found out in my first month of working? Here's a little run down....
There are a lot of similarities to what i did in
- The students all want to learn, they (mostly) need English for their jobs
- Companies spend a LOT of money on English training
- Low level students are still a bit giggly & nervous
- High level students are demanding & ask tough questions (related to English)
This means that work isn't too challenging for me. I don't mean that in a negative way; I have 13 years experience teaching in the corporate field, I know what to do & I know I do it well. And now I will stop blowing my horn.....
But it does mean that when I have got used to things (i.e. travelling around town), I can focus on joining a German course. If work is easy for me to do well, then i can definitely afford some time on studying. Just want to get a couple of months under my belt first though.
On the other hand, there a few things that are really different here in
- When I commute, I can sit down on the train. I can buy a coffee, eat breakfast, read the newspaper, prepare my lessons & not get elbowed, pushed or generally mauled. I spend approximately 40 to 60 minutes travelling to some of my classes (others are a 15 minute walk away), and i find it relaxing. I go through fields & hills (lot of tunnels in
), I can people out enjoying the countryside. It's SO different from the infuriating sardine-like trains in Stuttgart , where all I saw was concrete, more concrete and neon. I never thought I would enjoy commuting, but I had never commuted outside of Tokyo before... Japan
- This does mean, however, i have to be really careful with bus/train schedules. If I miss one, I could have to wait for up to an hour for the next one. I'm used to a train every 2 to 5 minutes, and buses every 15 minutes or so. I've been both spoiled & scarred by commuting in Tokyo...
- In class, when I ask my (higher) level students for their opinions, they actually give them. And they are not afraid to disagree with each other. It's a refreshing change not to have to cajole an opinion out of them. On the other hand, it has really screwed up my time management as an activity that would have taken 10 minutes with a Japanese class, now takes twice as long with my German students...
And those are the main things I have noticed so far. I'm sure there will be more & i will be sure to keep you updated....
And one completely unrelated observation: I love that Euros come from all over the place. Each country got to mint their own coins & could change the design a little (ie German 1€ have an eagley thing & the Spanish ones have King Juan Carlos on them). It means that in my wallet i can have coins that have travelled across countries. Don't know why, but i find that fascinating. It's probably actually verging on geeky, but hey, everybody needs a bit of geek in them...
23 February, 2010
Guess what? I have! In fact, i've found three! I think i mentioned before that there was very little chance of me getting a full-time teaching position here in Germany, due to the fact that companies really don't want to be responsible for all the benefits (pension, health-care, whatever) This means that i have had to accept the fact that i am going to be a freelancer (ie working for at least 2 companies).
In January, I had interviews with 3 different coprorate training companies & all three accepted me. Woohoo! I've already started working with 2 of the companies & start with the third tomorrow. I am teaching business people of all levels & needs & so far, so good. Now is just a matter of building up a schedule & fitting as many classes together (but not so many that i begin to neglect my hausfrau duties....)
Otherwise, not much else has gone on. Both K & me had birthdays. As did my mum. And K's mum. And the biggest milestone of all was my grandma who reached the milestone of 90. NINETY! Can you believe that? And have you ever gone shopping for a 90th Birthday card? Surprisingly, there was a (limited) supply in the shops. They were, however, hideous. Apparently, anyone who has reached the age of ninety is supposed to like roses and soft pastel colours. And anyone who has met grandma, the woman who loves bright red & bought herself a frog green leather jacket, would know that pastel peach roses are *so* not her. Instead i bought a Happy 60th card & Happy 30th card and told her to choose which one(s) she felt was/were more appropriate!
Last week's amusing teaching anecdote:
We were studying the difference between informal & formal requests and the students had to fill out a table of requests. Sometimes the formal version was missing, sometimes the informal...
FORMAL: May I have another glass of beer?
Students discussing the answer:
Student 1: Hmmm...
Student 2 (in a loud voice & empty beer mug gesture): Beer, please!
Teacher (me): Isn't that a little too direct?
Student 1: No, that works.
I couldn't really disagree with them, could i?
27 January, 2010
1. Get a job
2. Learn to drive
3. Learn German, enough at least to have a conversation
Number 1 is definitely in progress at the moment. The good news is that i've had three successful interviews & all three companies want to hire me. The bad news is that all three only hire freelance instructors (i'm looking to continue in the corporate Enlgish education field). This is probably because the benefits German companies have to pay their full-time employees are huge. Therefore, companies don't want to take on the responsibility of hiring their own trainers.
Also, i am starting back down the bottom of the teaching ladder. I'll be teaching seminar classes again, not in curriculum development or intensive training.
But on the more positive side, all three companies have mentioned other possibilities; for example teaching basic Japanese courses, running intensives, or becoming a cross cultural trainer. Also, as a freelance trainer, i can accept all three jobs & jigsaw them together.
So far, i have one confirmed class starting 10th February, but it looks like more will be coming soon.... I will finally be able to break free from the Hausfrau life!!
As for 2 & 3, not much progress has been made.
I am, however, in the process of changing my (unused) British driving license into a German one. No real need to do it (EU people can drive in EU countries), but i have no ID card for Germany, so i thought a driving licence issued here would be useful. Still, i need to learn to drive though....passed my test in 1997 & haven't driven since...
As for German, i have heard that there is the possibility of joining a government run intensive program (for free). Apparently, it's a nightmare to get through all the red tape (in German, which kind of defaeats the point - if you can do all the paperwork & bureaucracy in German, why do you need a German course?!) But a friend of mine knows a man who has successfully negotiatied the process, so i am going to pick his brain next week to find out if it is even an option for me.
And what else? The biggest & best news this year is that The German & I finally have our own place. And it came fully furnished, albeit in an old Italian lady kind of way (the former owner's choice of decor...) We even have a piano & the living room looks more like a salon for afternoon teas than somehwere to chill... It's in central Stuttgart, near a main road & tram but far enough away to be quiet. And we have a spare room, so guests are more than welcome. I will, hopefully, take some photos and upload them in the coming weeks.
And i had a birthday. My first German birthday & the birthday that officially marked me as closer to 40 than 30. Yup, i'm old(er). But i'm happy. 2010 is looking good!