Saturday, December 22, 2012

"He's behind you!" – Oh no, wait, no he's not.

That's right, German pantomimes would be very different to English ones (if they even had Pantomimes that is). The Germans are definitely never behind you, they are alway one (or perhaps five) steps ahead of you. The Germans may be efficient, but the Germans don't queue. No ifs or buts – they don't queue, end of. What they are absolute masters of however, is the evasion of the dreaded English-style queuing system (which I long and crave for, I have to admit). Don't let your guard down for even a second; otherwise they will slip straight ahead of you – taking the last butter breze that you had been craving in the office for the last 3 hours (true story). The sneaky Germans can begin their queue-jumping approach in several ways, all beginning with a seemingly innocent tap on the shoulder followed by:

"Can I...?"

"I don't want to buy anything, I just have a quick question."

"I was here earlier, I just nipped to the toilet"

I have now learned the responses to all of these potentially duping techniques: GET.TO.THE.BACK.OF.THE.QUEUE

I'm ashamed to say I fell for all of these at first though, being the nice, trusting English person that I am who has faith in those around me not trying to outwit me to the best baked-goods. A fifty year old know what...decided to cross me when I was hungry and queuing to buy cream cakes (always a bad idea). I had already waited over 15 minutes in the non-existent queue (it involves hovering around the counter and hoping you catch the eye of the baker first!) and was getting impatient. She leans across me (she knew what she was doing the devious woman – a blatant body block if ever I saw one) and says, "I just have a quick question!". Turns out, unsurprisingly, that the quick question was about which cake she wanted to buy, which she then spends 15 minutes choosing while I was standing behind, money in hand. The most shocking part is that nobody around me was outraged by this. In England there would have definitely been some tutting, or curt comments. Or, better yet, the baker would have said, "I think this other lady was here first". Not in Germany. It's Darwinian – you snooze you lose – and in this case I lost the strawberry custard tart that I had greedily had my eye on for a full quarter of an hour. 

What is amusing though, is when a German tries a similar technique when surrounded by a group of British people, like at the airport. I was waiting to board when a German guy comes over and self-righteously pushes in front of me. I was not amused. Before I had chance to breathe and open my mouth though, the British cavalry were already there: "Oi mate, the back of the queue is behind you!". To which the German replies *in a very German, comedy-style British accent*: "I vos on thee toiLET, I vos ere before." Naturally though, the Brit didn't back down: "Well I didn't see you mate and it sounds like a classic queue-jumper thing to say. I'm afraid if you go for a p*** , you lose your place." Safe to say, this brazen British attitude actually worked. I smiled inwardly – God Save the Queen and her queue-obsessed citizens.

German queue behaviour is pretty strange too. I feel like as British person it is innate to queue in a straight line, one behind the other and, naturally, make sure you don't skip ahead of someone who was there 2 hours before you. The Germans? They do the drip effect. This can be best seen at airports (regardless of whether you are flying EasyJet or Lufthansa). As soon as that boarding announcement echoes over the airwaves, the Germans jump up from their seats and swarm towards the desk, in drip-like fashion.

One of the most frustrating habits though, involves the U Bahn. I can be standing waiting for the U Bahn to arrive for 10 minutes, with my prime spot where I know the doors will open (yes...I'm sad...I actually now know this...) and then, low and behold, a German comes and stands directly in front of me. DIRECTLY! It doesn't matter that the rest of the platform is entirely free, oh no, they just HAVE to stand there. Maybe it's the competitive side coming out again; in the same way it surfaces in sports shops. Perhaps there is something in that though, I definitely feel like it's always girls that do it – usually really pretty ones too. They are usually tall, blonde, tanned and flick their hair in my face as they do so. Lovely. I think this is definitely an underlying queue right too – your points on the hotness scale. These pretty girls seem to feel like it is their birthright to be first in the queue, no matter what the queue is for. A generalisation? Perhaps. Then again, if you had had blonde locks thrown into your face as much as I have, then you would understand where I am coming from.

Queuing at the supermarket checkout is also another stumbling block to master. The conveyor belts are a lot shorter in our supermarkets here – meaning a lot less time to load your things on and off, and you can be sure you have a pushy German huffing and puffing behind you. Yesterday I even had a woman stepping on my shoes in a stress to put her cat food tins on the conveyor – calm down love! Parents with no control over their children are also mildly enraging, even more so when they ask you for a favour. The other day I was in the supermarket queue and a woman asked me to get some stickers and give them to her, as my shopping would be expensive enough to get them free. Sure, why not help a lovely mother? She wasn't that lovely though. She let her irritating kids pull, push and shove around me (and actually me too), and then patronisingly interrupted my conversation with the cashier to tell me that she didn't want THOSE stickers, she wanted the OTHER stickers, followed by a massive sigh of frustration and a look which said *stupid British woman*. Meanwhile her children were mishandling my oranges – little buggers. I felt like telling her to stick her stickers where the sun didn't shine, but instead...I kept my cool.

Speaking of children, I had a very irritating toilet-queuing situation recently (don’t get me started on there only being 2 toilets for a place filled with hundreds of women). Everyone was dying for the bathroom, that much was obvious, (blame it on beer), and then a woman waltzes in with her son and pushes to the front. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not a child-hater...quite the opposite in fact. However, if he had been under five it would have been fine...under 6...acceptable. But seven or eight?! That's just wrong to me on too many levels. What's going to happen to him if she sends him to the boy’s bathroom? He's not going to get lost in the lavatory bowl. Even if he did, at least he would learn something. I'm almost 100% sure that he was a decoy because she was dying to go, and knew that would help her get to the front. Never underestimate the power of a desperate, queue-jumping German Frau.

Oktoberfest queuing is another thing entirely. Luckily the bouncers are well trained for the regular lines though, such as: "My friend is in there and has a table". Luckily for me too, they weren't trained in regard to boobs, exceedingly good dirndl bras and bunches of single women – I can unashamedly say that I got into tents every time this year with little trouble (am I turning into a queue-jumping German?!).

It's not all rudeness and pushing and shoving through. Oh no. The German's can be extremely polite – just in the most awkward of places: the sauna, and the changing rooms. You can be standing starkers in the changing room and the Germans will always greet the room with great gumption when they enter and leave it and if they think you may not have heard their hearty hello, they will probably come closer and say it again (regardless of your naked state), so make sure to respond straight away to avoid having a close-up and personal version. In the sauna too, it's the same: "Grüß Gott" (Greet God. Welcome to the catholic state of Bavaria – this is how we say hello here) is said to the whole room upon entering. For the first time in their day too, the Germans actually shift over and look almost eager for you to sit beside them. Hmmm.

On second thoughts, maybe I'm not so unhappy with the impolite attitude. Actually, I would definitely welcome it in the wellness area if it means no more awkward sauna situations– go ahead Germans, spread meanness across the spa world, you have my blessing! 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"I see naked people". "How often do you see them?" *cue tortured-looking-Sixth-Sense-style expression* "All the time!"

If you have a fear of genitals then Germany isn't the place for you. They pop out of nowhere when you are least suspecting it. Here, there, everywhere. You can be bending down to pick up a pen you dropped, turn around and then suddenly meat and two veg are practically grazing your right cheek (the cheek belonging to your face, that is). You really could do a twisted naked version of Sixth Sense quite easily in Germany's nudist-filled environs.

Seriously though, Germany is definitely the land of the 'free' in the clothes wearing sense. Whenever and wherever there is an opportunity to strip off and strut their naked stuff, the Germans will take it. When I first arrived in Munich I was an innocent, fairly prude British soul. Naked? In public? Me? I was afraid of even my doctor seeing anything from the neck down, let alone Joe down the road in a public place. The main place where you can't avoid naked bodies is the sauna. Yes, the sauna. I know British people will be reading this thinking "huh?” Here's the huge difference between Germany and England though (which pretty much acts as an indicator to their attitude to nakedness in general), in English saunas and spas there are huge signs that read: "Swimwear must be worn in the sauna and spa area at ALL times". Here's the German: "Swimwear must NEVER be worn in the sauna at ANY time. Those who do will be politely asked to leave". Leave?! LEAVE?! Yes...I was as shocked as you were in the beginning. It only gets worse though. Once I was at a large water park / spa and then there was an announcement over the tannoy: "Please be advised that it is now 6pm and the whole of the area is now "Textilfrei" Those who do not wish to participate must now leave". Textile-free? I didn't have much time to process the information before all of the German's were stripping off and swimming in the pool around me – the stuff of nightmares. Never until that point have I been more concerned about accidentally kicking someone with my foot whilst swimming...who knows what my toes may touch...?!

Over time I gradually started to adopt the German approach and go starkers in the sauna (I know, too much information, right?). Still, at least you have a towel to wrap around you. It's all about the technique too though...the technique I like to think of as ASS: Avoidance. Shielding. Sweating. Here's how it works:

1. Avoidance. I try to make sure I am in the sauna on my own if possible, carefully timing it so that I always start my session when someone has just left (this also avoids the awkwardness of being in sync with another sauna-goer...which essentially means that you sit naked together, shower next to each other, sleep next to each other, and then do the whole thing all over again two more times *squirm*). If this isn't possible, I at least try to be first in the sauna, lie down, in the darkest corner and close my eyes – that way, I will never know who was in there with me and will never have the difficult moment of seeing them in clothes and not really knowing quite what to say.

2. Shielding. You definitely have to have technique as a woman. Guys have it easy – they just whack the towel around their wil.... know. Women have so much extra to shield! It's taken me several times over the years to perfect, but now I've got it down to a fine art so that any potential perverts don't really get much of a show.

3. Sweating. The more you sweat and the hotter you look – the less likely you are to be the centre of male attention. So work those sweat beads ladies!

All this though, is unfortunately not enough to deter the Germans. They LOVE to talk whilst in the sauna, even to complete embarrassed strangers like me. One opening line was: "you seem sporty, were you in the gym with me earlier?" (a bit stalker-ish...), another was from an old, fat, Bavarian man: "Was that you swimming earlier? You are really fast!" (My thoughts: yes...I am fast...because I'm not fact I'm young enough to be your granddaughter and you are talking at me and my fully exposed boobs right now - STOP IT!).

As well as the saunas though, there are also whole naked Sauna Worlds! Yes...worlds! There are over 40 saunas of different kinds...including ones with planetariums inside or thrones and beer on really is a whole new world of naked fun. The thing I can't get over though is swimming naked in a pool with other people (yes I did to try everything once right?). It's like taking a bath with everyone who you are on the U Bahn with – what a disgusting and shudder-worthy thought.

Unfortunately the nakedness isn't confined to the spas though. Oh no. In Germany "Where's Willy?" rather than "Where's Wally?" is probably their favourite book. You could definitely make a good game out of it in Munich's English Gardens in the summer. Nakedness reigns in certain sections, so you need to be careful where you lay down your mat to sunbathe! The riverbanks are swarming with the nudists too (although that term probably doesn't apply in Germany, as everyone is a little bit of a nudist inside). There is one character that I call "Jesus", who has long hair...a long beard...wears white kaftans and strips off to bathe in the crystal clear running waters of the Isar (no doubt he's a crazy Catholic thinking he can cleanse his sins!)

Personally I just think the Germans are all extreme exhibitionists. The female changing rooms at the gym in Germany are a good example of that. I'm very British when it comes to the changing rooms: I choose a locker in the corner and get changed facing it, as quickly as possible. The Deutsch women? No way, this is the chance for them to strut their sexy stuff! They stroll around, even putting their socks on before their kickers – weird. What makes me laugh the most though is when they actually do their moisturising regime for all to see. Slapping on the cream extra loudly to make heads turn, then putting one leg up dramatically on the bench while they rub it in. (I'm sure for any men reading this...this is nearly their "Fifty Shades of Grey" erotic novel moment and I'm just reinforcing the stereotype in their minds that all women do when they are alone together is run around semi naked. Maybe it’s not a stereotype after all and the men are totally on-point...) It all boils down to competition though, like everything with the Germans. They just want to show off the body they spent 2 hours perfecting that evening, that's all. I can't help thinking: "Whatever love, you slap on that cream onto your toned abs, I really don't care and there's no guys to faun all over you in the female locker room so I don't get your game plan – I'm going home to eat cake and watch trash TV...and I'm going to enjoy every second of it!"

Strange things have started happening to me though. I'm always adding a sauna session onto my gym stint. I look at friends in shock when they say they wear swimwear into the sauna in England: "It ruins your swimwear! Don't you get hot? It’s so unhygienic!". In I starting to become accustomed to stripping off without a care in the world? Am I *gulp*, becoming a naked-loving German?

I think I'm a few naked steps away from nudist – but that's not to say that being naked in a small sauna doesn't have its benefits, particularly when the German football team walks in like they did into mine. And I'll leave you with that little nugget to ponder on.

Friday, November 9, 2012

I just wanna make you sweat

I'm sure that when Snoop Dog sang (rapped?) these immortal words, he wasn't aiming them towards the Germans. Perhaps the glowing skin of the LA Americans needs to be told to sweat a little more so that people actually believe that they are a) human and b) are actually working out. The Germans definitely don't need Snoop Dog to persuade them – perspiration seems to be a way of life for so many of the population in the Fatherland.

An insulting generalisation? Maybe. However, the amount of body odour I have experienced this week has been overwhelming. On the U Bahn, in the shops, and...of the gym.

In England we do take towels to the gym, but generally I find that you take one that is only slightly larger than flannel size in order to discreetly mop away the little beads of sweat on your forehead, and also to put in between your hands and the machine. In my mind, it's really all that's necessary really, provided that you use the antibacterial spray properly. The Germans definitely don't think so. The majority of fitness fanatics in the 'fitness studio' give me and my towel disapproving looks and I'm sure I've already got a reputation as "dirty girl" – and not in the "oh she's so hot and dirty" capacity either.

 In Germany I have noticed that the Germans bring four massive towels to the gym. I find that a fairly astounding amount of drying material to bring to one place. I find it particularly shocking because I never have that many towels all clean at one moment in time – how do they do it? Seriously though, I probably had my mouth open in surprise when I, for the first time, saw so many people with gym bags the size of houses because of their overflowing towels inside. Now I know why though: they need at least four in order to effectively mop up the buckets of sweat that they perspire during the thirty minutes that they are on the treadmill. Actually, if we want to be accurate here, it is one towel for the 'fitness studio', one for the swimming pool, and two for the sauna session – one to pop their sweaty behind onto and the other to rub themselves down during said sauna session. It really is a technical towel technique that must take years and German heritage to master – I assume this anyway, as I am lucky if I even remember mine!

Towels aside, body odour is definitely an issue everywhere. Do they not know about the miracle power of deodorant? If so many people smelled that bad in Britain there would be a riot. Ok, so maybe not a riot, but at least someone would say something. Like, for example, "Hey best friend / girlfriend / boyfriend, I love you with all my heart, but you smell like rotting cheese and I don't think I can take it anymore. Here's some Rexona (Sure) – use it, and enjoy". Maybe this non-deodorant-wearing phenomenon is an extension of the Bio-buying obsession (Germans LOVE organic food to the point where it's a status symbol. Don't get me wrong, I love organic food too, but in Germany buying 'Bio' is the equivalent of being robbed in daylight). "How on earth is buying organic in any way linked to deodorant?” I hear you cry. Well, it's probably because the Germans are afraid of the chemicals contained inside. I don't blame them for their fears, but if they are willing to drink copious amounts of Diet Coke and Spezi  (Coke and Fanta mixed together...weird...and disgusting!) that is filled with aspartame, then why can't they just bite the bullet and spray under their arms too? What's more, this isn't even really excuse – have they not seen Garnier's chemical free, au naturel range? If not, then I will gladly direct them to it.

The worst part is that they don't even seem to notice. When getting on he U bahn the other morning, the doors opened and I was hit with a wall of heat and odour (a mixture of body stench and the pungent smell of a 2 day old meatloaf (Leberkäse) sandwich that someone was consuming at 8am...yum). Naturally, I opened the window when I went inside. The businessman opposite me watched me do it, giving me an evil stare as I did so. He then sneakily waited for me to put my earphones in and close my eyes for my morning commuting nap and then he slammed it shut again. Crafty little bugger.

Back in the environs of the gym, there is a whole new trend kicking off. Not washing your gym clothes in between sessions. Now, this is going beyond the Bio-buying principal, this is a hygiene basic. I don't need to describe the smell, I'm sure you can guess. I think the gym team noticed it too, as now there are signs that say that you have to wear clean clothes and shoes when training. Signs! Now do you understand the extent of the problem? Here's the added horror too – you aren't allowed to open the windows in the gym except for five minutes every hour and that is usually only done by a trained window-opening gym professional. In fact, even when you or the gym instructor does do that, the Germans look at you like you are crazy, weird, or like they want to come over and put the weight they are holding in your face. Yes, the air issue is that serious. So serious in fact, that the instructions regarding only being allowed to open the window once every hour is written on another lovely little sign next to the window. This sign also says that these rules are now set in place to create fairness after the "disputes" and "situation which ensued last year".

I can only assume that the situation was this: an expat was close to dying of body odour poisoning in the gym and went to open a window. The Germans, in fear of catching a cold from the fresh air (n.b. see earlier blog for innate German fear of being cold and fresh air making you catch a cold) ran to shut it and then in their haste, accidentally pushed the expat out of the window – resulting in a messy manslaughter case (which was the aforementioned "situation").

Or something like that anyway.

I fear I am going to be the next "situation" when I just can't take it anymore and have to wrench open the window. Fingers crossed they have implemented a safety measure and there is a crash mat waiting for me at the bottom. If not, farewell friends.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Do I look like a drug addict?

Germans do healthcare differently. As already mentioned, I'm a hardcore fan of the German healthcare system - if they did cute little t-shirts with "I heart German healthcare" on them, I'd definitely buy one and parade it around the town. When it comes to waiting times, knowledge and niceties from GPs and reception staff, Germany would win the gold medal (if there was such a thing as the Medical Olympics!).

When it comes to having a cold or flu in Germany though, that's when I want to get the first plane back to England and kiss the feet of the CEO of Boots, Superdrug, and whoever decided that Tesco should start having its own pharmacy. Well, kiss their feet and then maybe kidnap them and drag them back to Germany with me to start an entrepreneurial venture.

Buying medicine to fight colds and flu in Germany is a challenge, and not one you want to undertake with a temperature, runny nose and sore throat. Where can you buy those all-important life-saving drugs? The pharmacy. "Why not just pop to the supermarket or boots-equivalent?", I hear you cry. Well, because they simply don't sell them. When I first arrived in Germany and wasn't acquainted with their approach to medicine dispensing, I spent a good half an hour in both my local supermarket and toiletry-selling shop trying to find an elusive pack of paracetamol - only to discover that I would never find it in either of these places.

To be fair, there are a large number of pharmacies around but just sometimes, I would like to do everything all at the same time without having to traipse around numerous shops to get the array of items that I need (note: shopping for clothes is also the same soul-destroying experience. There are 3 H&M's and 3 Esprit shops all in the centre of the city... plus 2 Debenhams-style department stores which also stock the brands...all, however, stock different if you want the hat you saw online that isn't already in the current shop you are in, you have to buy your jumper that's already taken you 3 hours to find and try on amidst the crowds, and then go to yet another H&M or Esprit really is a lot of fun!). The pharmacies are expensive too. I paid 8 Euros for Strepsils. 8 EUROS!!! I nearly had a heart attack at the counter when she told me the price. Thinking about it maybe I should have feigned a heart attack...then maybe I would have got a discount. There are little things I like about the pharmacies though. The fact that if you purchase something they always give you little freebies like cough sweets or tissues or a La Roche-Posay face cream sample...or...the most random one I was once given was athlete's foot cream, when all I went in to buy was aspirin. Do I look like I have sweaty feet?

As well as looking like a person who has a sweaty foot problem, I think a lot of the pharmacists mistake me for a drug addict. No, really. In England it's customary to have a medicine box at home full of all the essentials and when it's running low, whether you are ill or not, you go and "stock up". "Stocking up" doesn't feature in the lives of the Germans when it comes to medicine or anything else for that matter (I'm always the only one at the supermarket doing a "weekly shop" with a trolley rather than having merely 3 things in a basket). I really don't understand, why wait until you are dying of the flu or dying of hunger to traipse to the shops and get the essentials? This really does go against the way the Germans meticulously plan everything else in their lives. 

This lack of "stocking up" habit creates problems for me. If I walk into a pharmacy and ask for several packs of paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen and perhaps some cough medicine just in case, to say that the pharmacist looks perturbed would be a total understatement. "You do know that you must not take this all at the same time don't you?” the pharmacist says, looking deeply into my eyes as if trying to scan for suicidal tendencies. I always reply with a hearty laugh saying that I am "stocking up", but they never look convinced and their nervous demeanour doesn't evaporate with these words. Fear of overdose even goes as far as tea. No, I'm not kidding. A friend of mine wanted to buy some herbal tea for her grandma's indigestion. As her grandma lives in another country, she wanted to buy several and take them back to her (yet another smart person who "stocks up", I heartily approve). The cashier point blank refused to sell her 4 boxes of tea because of the overdose-risk. Overdose risk?! For tea?! I'm sure even if grandma did have a massive teapot at home to fit all 80 bags in at once, that the biggest problem it would have caused her would have been an 80-day bathroom stint.

It must also be mentioned that the Germans are extremely partial to a good old bit of homeopathy. Don't get me wrong, I love alternative remedies and will always give them a go, but sometimes you need something a bit more substantial and medically hardcore to get you through a working day whilst ill. If you can't breathe, then I'm not really sure that a 14 euro sea salt natural nose spray will cut the mustard, or rather, cut through the green sinus blockage gunk (mmm...lovely).

Having said that, maybe I'm already turning more German than I think. I just bought 8 tea bags for 2 Euros called "Erkältungstee", which is a tea made of natural herbs to fight colds and alleviate flu symptoms. It tastes like dishwater, so it better work. If not, I just got ripped off for a disgusting tea that will be more likely to help me grow elderflowers out of my ears than solve my autumn illness. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

German Efficiency

We spend so much time these days trying to crush stereotypes because they are apparently untrue and prejudiced. Some are and I'm all for the crushing of those, others, however, should just be accepted...and maybe even applauded. Yes, I'm talking about the old stereotype about Germans being super efficient. It's definitely true (as is the staple joke about towels...towels always cover the best loungers in the spas to "reserve" them for the German ghosts that are never seen lying on them until 10 minutes before closing).

I loved living in France, but there was one big reason as to why I could never live there permanently. The word "efficient" might as well not exist in French vocabulary. Shop and supermarket opening times are ridiculous enough as it is (8 until 11, 3 until 5, 8 until 9...which is code for how many cigarette breaks they need throughout the day and how long they need for the traditional leisurely French lunch), then add to that the fact that you can cycle your little socks off to get there in time after work to buy the all important ingredients for your Boeuf Bourguignon only to discover that its closed...again...probably because the owner , Jean, got restless and decided to go and have a Café au Lait with his mate Pierre and discuss crucial political points.

Enough of the French though, that's a whole other blog opportunity! Good old efficient Germans. As soon as I stepped foot on the soil of the Fatherland I felt that I had found my long lost home, I could breathe easy for the first time - my OCD of planning and efficiency would finally be satisfied and understood: trains would run on time, shops would be open until the second hand clicks onto the 8pm closing time and questions would be answered with precision and perfect solutions.

Efficiency runs through the veins of the Germans, even more so than in mine. God forbid that the U-bahn is half a second late. In fact, you don't even need to look at the clock to know that it is late, the frustrated rustle of German bodies on the platform as they pull out their iPhones to check the time and then glance in the direction of where the train should be coming from, is enough of a giveaway. I'm pretty sure that after it arrives they are then using their WiFi to look up the MVV transport network complaint form, ready to download and fill out at the office. 

This is in stark contrast to the British, they would not doubt be eagerly, loudly and shameless speaking into their phone: "Hey Barry, yeah, train's late, fingers crossed it won't bloody come at all and we can sod off and go and have a pint mate!"

There is a marked difference that sets German efficiency apart though and that is: the art of anticipation. The Germans invented this little beauty, no doubt. "What the heck the art of anticipation when it's at home?!", I hear you cry. Well, essentially it means that they anticipate situations BEFORE they even happen - resulting in absolute maximum efficiency. It's like the Germans were all born with an inner eye that allows them to accurately predict the future. Their inner eye must have been having an off day when the British won the war...then again their Lord Voldemort-style leader was Austrian...and that's a whole different kettle of German-speaking fish. If you call the German equivalent of 999 (It's 112...just in case you are ever in need.... and if you are...remember it was me and my blog that saved you from certain death in Deutschland!), then no matter the problem, they will just sent everything: fire engine, ambulance and police. Not only will they do that, they will probably also send three of each, just to be on the safe side. How considerate of them.  If I had someone chasing me down the street trying to kidnap me, I would want it to happen in Germany - the emergency services would probably have already predicted our route and set up a roadblock in advance to intercept us. Once I even saw 10 fire engines go past my suburban road, none with sirens on. I can only assume that they were teaching colleagues new, faster routes to get to fires so they didn't get lost (as this was a new building estate) - can you get any more efficient than that?!

Doctors are also no exception when it comes to the efficiency rule. Whatever the problem, even if your GP can't see anything wrong, they will refer you to a specialist to be on the safe side and to make you feel at ease. "Oh that's all well and good, but you will probably have to wait 6 months to see the specialist!", I hear you grumble. I once had pain in my ear but my GP couldn't see anything inside. Now, if I were in England I would have been ushered out at this point as an overly dramatic hypochondriac, inventing ear issues (that is, of course, if I managed to get past the mardy, unhelpful receptionist batallion at the front desk and get an appointment in the first place). This is Germany though. She immediately called her specialist friend around the corner and I was seen by them 15 minutes later. By "seen" I mean I went to a futuristic, state-of-the-art looking surgery, and they used ultrasound on my face and ears to see what normal apparatus can't - low and behold I had perforated the eardrum caused by my flight over from the UK. See? Efficiency wins again! If I were in England I would still be suffering...which the doctor would probably call "character building". Hmm.

With Oktoberfest in full swing right now (or "Wiesn' if you want to be a true local), the German efficiency OCD is at it's best. They have staff at all major U Bahn stations to help you onto public transport and make sure you don't drunkenly disappear down the crack between the train and the platform. In England they would probably just watch and laugh at your stupidity - right? After all, it's a new drunken tale to tell! Not only that though, the U-bahns are actually going a lot slower than usual, just in case a drunken Oktoberfest reveller decided to fall in front of them. They really have thought of everything.

So it seems that this German stereotype is one that really is special, and deserves applause. As I returned home in the early hours on Friday from the Wiesn' I was thinking exactly this - everything had worked like clockwork. 

Then my night bus didn't turn up for some reason, meaning my 4am antics turned into 5am by the time I got home - tired, cold and slightly traumatised after avoiding several kidnap attempts ( With one guy approaching me and asking me how I am in a dark street: Him in a creepy voice: "Don't you trust me?", Me: "hmm...let me think...NO!"Another directly asking me and another girl at the stop to spend the night with him in a hotel and fulfil his dreams...I think you can already anticipate my response despite perhaps not having the magical German inner eye). Finding another bus stop was equally a struggle, I'm so used to German sign efficiency that when there isn't one there directing me where I need to go, then I am lost. I wasn't the only one either - I accumulated a number of other lost German women on my way.

I don't have an iPhone, but if I did I'm sure I would have been looking up the MVV complaint form on Friday evening (and perhaps also "SOS harassment"). I was also cursing the fact that I hadn't taken a jumper with me because I was so chilled to the bone in the night air and worrying that I would get ill the next day because of it. Maybe I'm already German after all?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Run, Forrest. Run!

So this weekend I delved into a whole new German Some people think that the Americans are the most competitive nationality when it comes to any kind of physical activity. Those people haven't met the Bavarians. The Bavarians are a strange bunch. They love their beer and sausages and pretzels, but they also love hardcore exercise and can often be seen on Sundays surfing, running and cycling around the city and its environs.

This Sunday I took part in the Tegernseelauf (for non-German speakers, this is a run around a lake called Tegernsee in the mountains close to Munich). Although I used to play a lot of team sports like Netball in school, I definitely wasn't a performer when it came to athletics. When I run longer distances I tend to look like a half dead, beetroot-red mongoose, which has never really encouraged me to do it. Either I'm incredibly unfit, or I have a superior circulation system that unfortunately just pumps the blood to my face instead of to my heart. If anyone ever asks me, I'm going to say the latter. I did, however, bite the red-faced bullet this week and I ran 10km.

In the "run" up to the race (excuse the pathetic was just too tempting to whack in there), I did do a lot of training, as eventually I would like to run a Half Marathon (If I do, I'm sure I will make the German headlines"Mongoose running loose in marathon", as the reporters fail to identify that the red thing running around inexpertly is, in fact, human and called Louise).  In order to train, you need some running kit. In England it would be acceptable to just throw on some old, perhaps even stained, jogging trousers and a t-shirt. Doing this in Germany would be like committing sports suicide. If you enter the park for a run with anything less than an ipod/iphone, fancy trainers (I actually initially wrote running shoes here...dear God...the German-English is infiltrating my brain already!) and Nike or Adidas running clothes, then you will get the "pity" look. I'm genuinely serious. It's the kind of look that says: "Oh look at that girl "trying" to be a runner, bless her, she will never make it". Actually, scratch the "bless", the Germans wouldn't have that much sympathy. To be considered to be taking your fitness seriously in Germany, you need to dress seriously and look the part. Initially I didn't and even my Pineapple capris didn't cut the mustard...and the pity look ensued.

In fact, even the sports shops are serious here in Munich. The running floor even has a mini running track and running machine so you can test out your new pair of shiny Nikes to check that they are up to scratch. Never mind that you smoke, drink beer, eat sausages and are generally unfit - oh no - it's THE TRAINERS that make all the difference! Add to that the fact that I've seen people queuing in their droves to buy trainers in the 'sale' - "Reduced from 200 Euros to 195 you say? Quick, here's my card!". I'll never understand the Bavarians paying these prices - the Munich population must have money to burn...or calories that they are so desperate to that they will pay any price for the gear that they think will help them to do so. There is even a competitive atmosphere in the shop while everyone runs up and down the track trying on different pairs - each beautifully groomed woman eyeing up her competition...thinking "These pink, Nike Free Running trainers looks so much better on me, because I am amazing, I am beautiful...I am a RUNNER!"Yes, being a "runner", gives you status here. In England it would be: "Are you crazy? Running in the rain on a Sunday when you could be in bed with a hangover after an amazing Saturday night?!"

If you can't beat them, join them - as the old saying goes. Whilst in the shop, the German within me seemed to come to the surface all of a sudden and I purchased one of those pretentious running belts with water bottles and a pouch and a Nike Climacool top and shorts (because a standard t-shirt just wouldn't be good enough, or German enough, now would it?). Some of these running belts have 5 bottles attached. Who on earth needs 5 bottles?! I'd be stopping off for a wee every five seconds if I drank that much during exercise! Then again, I need to remind myself that the Germans are always cold and always dehydrated (the shock on the salesperson's face when I bought shorts is a whole different story).

Armed with my new running gear I hit the park again. RESULT. No pity stares this time...looks of fear were on their faces! (hopefully due to my new, serious sporting look and not because I had a VPL line...or something stuck to my face...or because they were in fear of my life because I was wearing shorts in less than 25 degrees).

The race itself, however, had a fantastic atmosphere that was completely the contrary to the competitive-filled parks of Munich. Everyone was really friendly and pumped for the race. The backdrop of a stunning lake and mountains really topped it off for me and I thought: how lucky am I to be in a city and only 30 minutes away from stunning places like this?

I had to hold my laughter in when The Final Countdown played before the start - I haven't heard that since cheesey music night at the student union, totally wasted on Snakebite and Black ("Purple" for Warwick students) and swaying with hall mates.

I made it through though - I pulled out all my German sporting power and made 34th place out of 500 in my age group. Not too shabby for my first ever race! The Germans really have it right too - free beer, pretzels, fruit and chocolate at the finish line! The good atmosphere created by those running with me and supporters clapping at every kilometre (including my own - thank you Ju!), made me reconsider - had I been too harsh? Maybe the German's weren't mean and overly competitive, self-righteous and in love with themselves when it comes to sport? Maybe I was wrong about them? Maybe they had been misjudged and misunderstood? The poor souls.

Just as this thought struck me I saw the perfectly toned body of the blonde girl leading the pack, with a crop top on to show off her incredibly flat stomach (be proud if you have one, just don't let the rest of us feel bad by wearing skimpy running gear), hair perfectly groomed, nose in the air, and her boyfriend cycling alongside her carrying her water and energy bars and diligently handing them over when barked at.

Ok, so maybe the sport-crazy, beautiful Munich Germans will never change.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Weißwurst-Frühstück anyone?

Well, it's official, I'm truly on my way to becoming a Bavarian Frau (minus the cleavage that I can, unfortunately, never hope to obtain). Speaking of cleavage, when I actually bought my first dirndl last year, I was rather disgruntled. I had tried on numerous sizes and styles and wasn't getting the desired effect (cleavage-wise). In the end, I just pointed at the saleswoman’s breasts and said longingly in my worst German: " I want what you have!" Rather than being disconcerted by the fact that I was longingly looking at her chest, she understood me straight away and said: "What you need, my dear, is a dirndl bra!” and she promptly went off to find me one. The German's really do have a solution for everything - including body parts - amazing.

Anyway, putting breasts aside...

This week I donned my dirndl, jumped on my bike (I know, the stereotypical image!) and winged my way to a friend's Weißwurst-Frühstück. Normally very little can raise me from my bed at 8am on a Saturday morning, but the prospect of sausages, pretzels and beer before midday was just too tempting (and of course, spending time with some wonderful people and celebrating their university success!). Weißwurst is a different kind of sausage and actually, doesn't look that appetising - it's like an albino sausage, with its pale white skin. Actually, thinking about it, it's probably the kind of sausage I would be if I were turned into a sausage in my next life - matter how long I cook I never turn a shade darker...

For those that don't know, it's made of a mixture of veal and pork and is cooked in boiling water with chives. I did, however, learn that there is an art to eating it.

It's important that the sausage is kept in the boiling water until the minute you eat it - that's why it always comes in a cute little bowl. Why? So you can take the skin off of course! Unlike other sausages here in Germany, you don't eat the skin on a Weißwurst. I'm a bit disconcerted by this...what's wrong with the skin? Actually, I'm even more disconcerted by the fact that I have, before now, unknowingly eaten the skin.

Luckily I was sitting next to my friend's boyfriend Richard, a "true" Bavarian who was able to impart the all-important skin-peeling knowledge onto me. Slit it right down the middle and then peel! Sounds simple, but I promise you that I was definitely the only person fiddling with her sausage for longer than a minute (there's no innuendo-free way of saying that sentence). Maybe next time I should try the extreme, yet well-loved by the Bavarians, technique of slitting the end off and then sucking the sausage out of the skin... (I know - just when you thought the innuendos were over).

It really was a fantastic morning though. Weißbier, pretzels,Weißwurst, Obazda (a kind of spreadable's my kryptonite) and good people - all enjoying breakfast together on a long bench. I couldn't help thinking that Britain could use more things like this. Don't get me wrong, I love drinking and dancing to celebrate as much as the next person, but there is something wonderful about spending a Saturday morning breaking bread (or rather, Breze), drinking - but not in order to get drunk, and chatting with old and new friends, rather than lying in bed hung-over from the night before.

This is part of Bavaria's heritage and I'm looking forward to making it an integral part of mine.

Monday, September 10, 2012

It's getting hot in here...

Yes, I'm talking about weather and temperatures again. Don't hold it against me, I am British afterall. It's in our make up. As is small talk, a love for tea and gravy, and the ability to be extremely polite or completely disgruntled with the world around us (it must be noted that this list can also be affected by the weather outside our window...more sun...less tea...more rain...more roast dinners and gravy...heatwave (n.b. anything above 18 degrees)...happy and roaming the streets semi-naked...downpour...yelling at anyone that invades even a millimetre of our space).

I was prompted again to think of the differences between the Germans and the English in regard to temperatures, when a woman slammed the window shut on the U Bahn (more than likely because she was getting a chill!). It was roasting in there - rush hour, full of people, and definitely full of too much body odour for any window to be closed. As soon as she shut it all I could think of was an old school song by Nelly (who was popular when rapping was fresh and new and before Flo Rida featured on every US record with his blatant sexual innuendo songs): "It's getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes". No...I wasn't seriously considering stripping off and getting down and dirty with all of the German commuters. Although it would have been funny to see their faces if I had. Although having said that, they love naked spas...why not go one step further and bring naturism onto public transport too? I did, however, definitely take off as many layers as I possibly could without drawing too much attention.

The truth is though, that if it isn't July or August, if it is less than 29 degrees, and if you are wearing a short sleeved top - you will get attention and people will look at you as if you are insane / with pity for the chill and illness that it going to befall you for such a reckless removal of clothing. I'll never understand the hows and whys of German jean-and-cardigan-wearing when it's still warm outside.

I'm worried though that eventually I will be converted. A colleague of mine (who is American and lovely), actually moved from cardigan to coat when I opened the window for some fresh air yesterday (it was 24 degrees outside). Even she sheepishly admitted: "after 5 years here I seem to have become a cardigan and jeans convert - I'm always cold!" She had even (*gasp*) started believing that crisp, cold, fresh air  will 90% of the time cause you to develop a cold, and will make you worse if you already have one - oh dear, oh dear.

This concerns me. This is one conversion to German life that I don't want to adopt (along with only wearing jeans when going out on the town - a subject to explore in depth another time).

I'm going to cling onto my short sleeves for dear life and even when the snow drifts come, I am determined to stride out in my skirts and tights, albeit with boots to stop me developing frostbite. I may get odd looks, some may fear for my life, but at least I will be: warm, fashionable, colourful, comfortable and not giving all my hard earned money to: GAP, Wrangler and Levis. Speaking of which, I'm sure if all the Germans girls switched to wearing skirts, these companies would have to quickly implement a plan of action to win them back( maybe long, denim skirts?) otherwise they would go under, or at least suffer a significant dent in their profit. I just shivered slightly thinking of a long, denim skirt trend hitting the streets. Either that or I'm getting chilly because the window is open...

Always ride on the right side of life!

I've been fairly lucky with my old lady encounters so far in Germany. I must have a friendly face (or an easily persuadable one), as they always seem to come to me for help, wherever I am. I have, so far, helped an old woman get a loaf of bread down from the top shelf followed by a heartfelt discussion about the best bread to buy these days, showed another which U Bahn to get, had a little chat in German with a 70 year old about learning languages whilst swimming in a lake (multitasking at its water tredding has never been so good!), helped another find the washing powder she was looking for...the list goes on. Do you think I've earned my place in heaven yet?

An American friend of mine hasn't been so fortunate. All of the mardy, old bags seems to find her. At first I thought she was just a little paranoid (sorry Liz!) but, all it took was a bus ride with her to see the torment she must often endure from 80 year old Germans. We were standing on the bus, nowhere near the old lady sitting down at the front. She suddenly started to rant various insults in German about English speakers and then proceeded to say directly to Liz: "You should know that I am getting off at the next stop and you are in my way". She didn't get off at the next stop. Or the next one. Or the one after that. So she wasn't just an old bag...she was a lying one too. Obviously our English conversation offended her narrow mind. Still, all credit goes to Liz - who retorted confidently in German, much to the woman's surprise. So it seems that whereas I have invisible sign on my back saying "Old lady S.O.S service", Liz has one saying "Take all your old lady baggage out on this American" sign. Hopefully they will never do this literally with their over-sized handbags filled with cans of dog food. The world can be cruel sometimes. *sigh*

I found out this weekend though that I am not completely immune from old lady wrath. In Munich we ride our bikes almost everywhere, it's fantastic. The cycle lanes are wide (enough for two bikes to ride side by side...this is an important point) and are connected to the pavements rather than the roads, so nice and safe. Technically you are meant to ride on the right-hand side. 99% of the time I am a rule abiding wannabe German, and I do ride on the right. My new apartment, however, requires me to cross two crossings in order to go over to the right hand side of the road for the final 20 seconds of my journey. Do I ride on the right for this 20 sec stint? Sometimes. If I'm feeling German. I was, however, in a English rebellious frame of mind and decided to ride on the left. Quelle horreur! Like a bat out of hell (a very old bat, mind you), an older woman came speeding towards me on her bike. Being the polite soul I am, I decided to pull over, and let her pass, rather than carrying on cycling by her (there was plenty of space to do this).

I give her a smile.

She screams: "Geisterfahrer!!!!!!!!!!!! (Ghost driver)


I think next time I will just shout: "BOO!" back at her and give her a little Geist fright - let's see how well she manages to yell at people from her high-saddled throne-like bike then.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Socks and Sandals? Seriously?

Sometimes when I am sitting in the U-Bahn on the way to work I feel guilty. *Cue reader getting excited that I am about to dish out some deep secret*. Actually, rather than some deep, dark, twisted past - I feel guilty because  sometimes by just looking at people who are badly dressed  I feel like I, myself, am committing a fashion crime.

I'm not shallow, my life doesn't revolve around fashion and I definitely don't judge a book by it's cover. Having said all that, the German's dress sense is just BEGGING for judgement. Ok, scratch that, not EVERY German. I really need to discount 99% of the female population in Munich who are overwhelmingly beautiful and could give LA socialites a real run for their money.

That remaining 1% though...well...they are committing fashion crimes that you can only think about in your worst nightmares.

Socks and sandals aren't considered a mistake here, in fact, *deep breath*, it's almost like it's a trend this summer amidst the Munich population. Men, women and children are all wearing socks and sandals in various forms. Apart from being a fashion mishap, it really doesn't make any sense. Sandals were invented to let your feet breathe and look beautiful when it's 34 degrees outside. They are an excuse to get a pedicure and flaunt your new coral shade of polish. So why, why oh why, wear socks with them? If your feet are very sensitive and get chilly in 34 degrees, why not just stick to shoes? Ballerinas? Pumps? Anything but socks and sandals - please - I don't think I can see another pair without saying something. The worst is when you see a poor child wearing them, they have no control over their parents' fashion faux pas'.

The best is yet to come though. Tights (or rather, Strumpfhosen, in German) with shorts. In 34 degrees. Not even nude either, full-on black. Are these people insane? I would be sweating like a Mongoose...if, in fact, a Mongoose sweats in prolific amounts when forced to wear tights. Why do this? Are they cold? Ashamed of their white and pasty legs? If it's the latter - embrace the pale! My eyes would be far less offended by a nice pair of pasty legs rather than a thick pair of 40 denier.

Add onto this the leggings trend. Don't get me wrong, I love a good pair of leggings, jeggings and all of the other forms. I would not, however, wear a pair without a lovely long top to cover my bum. The amount of women wearing cheap, semi-see-through leggings without a long top to cover their striking VPL is astounding. Don't they have any shame? Then again, the Germans have no problem prancing around naked in swimming pools and spas, so perhaps this gives them a new found confidence to wear leggings in this way, a confidence which I am yet to find...and hopefully never will.