Thursday, April 8, 2010

Get out right now!!!!!!!!!! (pretty please? With Mozart on top?)

A rather surprising thing happened the other day. I was waiting inside a bookshop for it to close, as afterwards there was going to be a meet and greet with an author (Ian Rankin). Now, I can guarantee that if this was Waterstones in London, there would be a very loud announcement over a loud speaker asking people to leave (albeit in a false posh London accent, trying to disguise the owner's Cockney soul).

Here in Germany they do things a little differently.

They play classical music.


It starts off as a soothing background noise, luring you into a false sense of security and your expat thought reaction kicks in: "Oh, isn't this nice how they don't rush you out of the shop in Germany like they would usher you out in England." However, steadily you notice the music becoming louder....and louder...and louder. Before you know it, Mozart has blasted onto the bookshop scene in an almighty crescendo that becomes torturous to your ears.

I'm sure this is just a mere adaptation of the torture technique. You know, where they find the most grating tone possible and then play it for hours until you crack? I sound like a torture expert don't I? Really I've just watched a lot of "Spooks" on BBC1. Poor old Adam, he went through the mill in Season 6.

In fact, it's probably even designed as a way to usher out the British who are lagging behind because they don't understand the initial polite announcement of "Wir schliessen jetzt" (We're closing now) I can imagine the cultured Germans all sitting down around a large table in a  meeting room discussing the best way to get rid of the British from their bookshops. Then some genius, probably named Hans, pipes up "Zie classical music! The British will retreat straight away!!"

What I find even more intriguing though, is what their technique is at the beginning of the day. Maybe I should go in before the shop opens one day to investigate what type of music they use to lure people inside at 7am? It will no doubt be one of two things:

If they want British customers: Leona Lewis.
If they want German customers: Mozart's Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor

Monday, March 22, 2010

Red, Green, Amber...rote Ampel, grün Ampel, gelb Ampel...

When you are a small child one of the first things that you are taught by your parents is the green cross code. Look left, look right and look left again. It's essential for survival and Darwinian in the way that it separates children: there are those who stride out confidently into the street and also those who cling onto their mother's hand in the way a baby bear may cling to it's mother's back. When I was younger, this animal contrast was taken even further and the code was in fact taught to children by watching hedgehogs cross the road. The reckless hedgehog that didn't listen to it's mother would get squished. Pleasant eh?

So why, as we get older, do we forget that the reckless hedgehog ends up being scraped up off the side of the road? In London, J-walking is not just an occasional reckless act, but a way of life. No real Londoner would ever dream of waiting for a red light to change to green. NEVER. The moment you do wait, you are  immediately picked out as a foreigner, and those Londoners behind you will begin their huffing and puffing as the hurriedly try to skirt around you and run across the road before the light turns green.

If you don't cross the road in London when your gut tells you to you, you could be waiting on the pavement forever. In fact, by waiting for the green light with all of the other "safe" people, the risk of being stuck in the road becomes far greater when a group of Chinese tourists decide to take a picture of a black cab whilst they cross- not realising that roads work the same in all countries: cars and lorries and buses continue to drive at you whether you have your SLR out or not.

Having been a part of the humdrum of London for some time, I can tell you that this method of crossing a road has now become an integral part of my character. Me?Wait for a green light when the road is evidently empty (or busy, for that matter) ?Pigs might fly.

However, after moving to Germany I am infinitely struck with a completely different attitude. The Germans WAIT. Yes...WAIT. I have seen hoards of business men rushing along the pavement to work and then all of a sudden when they hit the pedestrian crossing, the eagerness suddenly evaporates and they hover there diligently waiting for the green light. Furthermore, the crossing here in Munich takes infinitely longer to change from Red to Green- I once listened to a whole ipod track, tapping my foot impatiently rather than in time to the beat.

Even in the dead at night at 1am when there are obviously no cars around, they will still wait....and wait...and wait. Whenever I, at this moment, decide to cross, my act is met with a look of astonishment from the waiting German across the road. It makes no sense to me why the Germans would be in so much in fear for their safety if they crossed on a red light. I, in fact, find it much more distressing to cross on the green light, as cars are allowed to go at the same time as pedestrians which means they literally drive AT you.

God forbid if you do cross the road in Germany on a red light. I saw the fate of a young teenage girl, equally as impatient as myself (and no doubt she wasn't German to commit such an offense) who crossed a tiny road on red. A tram that was parked nearby and wasn't even coming towards her, sounded his horn at her to signal that she was a "reckless hedgehog". This was followed by mutterings and tut tuts from the surrounding Germans, all critical of the young girl's crossing attempt. The glares she got could have melted the ice on the pavement (oh wait, there isn't any...because the German's salt grit seems to have a magical quality that ours does not have. It doesn't even leave behind any orange gunk when the snow has melted away - yet another German mystery to explore and explain) Still, if anything will discourage me from being a J-walker, it is the prospect of being honked at by a tram in Central Munich and watched by onlookers. Mortifying.

When all is said and done though, at least the German's won't be the ones being scraped off the roads in Munich. That position can be left for the British tourists.