Monday, October 28, 2013


The war is a generally a topic that is best avoided in Germany. Brits love to brag about their win and crack jokes about the 'Jerrys' at every opportunity, but the Germans are still very much schtum on the subject. The thing is though, there is a war that is still present in daily German life. Battles are continually fought and lost – the Germans triumphant, the expats cowering (or rather, sweating) in a corner. I am of course talking about a very specific WW3: Window Wars.

Brits have superstitions about not putting shoes on the table and avoiding the cracks in the street – all harmless activities that don't affect anyone outside of the individual's space. The Germans? They have a genuine phobia of window opening. I know, right now you are sitting there thinking "Seriously? How bad can a window phobia and superstition be?" But really, it's a serious subject. Germans have to be warm. It doesn't matter if is 25 degrees outside, you can still witness 100 denier tights and thick jeans in your midst. More than that though, they insist on the windows being closed...AT ALL TIMES. Germans believe that if you open the window and have beautiful fresh (almost mountain-like) air streaming in through the windows, then you are going to get ill. It doesn't matter if the air temperature is 25 degrees, oh no, you WILL get ill. Oh, and don't forget the obligatory scarf. If James Bond had been German he wouldn't have had any of those crazy gadgets, oh no, Q would have given him a scarf – to ensure he doesn't catch a cold when running after the enemy in blizzard-like weather. In the UK, scarves are generally decorative pieces that only serve a real purpose when it's in the midst of winter, we are outside and absolutely need to keep toasty. The only time I would wear a scarf in the office is if the heating wasn't working, or I wanted to look particularly swish that day. The Germans? Well, you'd be lucky to find them at their desk under the mound of wool wrapped around the top half of their body.

But, back to the windows. The odd thing is, that Germany has more window opening opportunities than most other countries: windows can be opened on the U bahn and even on regional trains because they don't go super fast. Here are my most recent window opening attempts on public transport:

Attempt 1: 8:00am, the doors to the U bahn swing open and a warm wave smelling of mouldy cheese mixed with Leberkäse hits me. Why hasn't anyone opened a window? Madness. So, I sit down and casually open one of the many windows that it is perfectly allowed to open. I sit back, pleased with myself and shut my eyes for a little pre-work nap. My eyelids haven't even closed before: BAM! The window is slammed shut by the previously innocent-looking businessman sitting opposite me. Why on earth didn't he ask if he could close it and at least feign trying to appease my wishes? It's obviously important to remember that when it comes to windows and overhead locker space in aeroplanes, business men always win, no exceptions.

Result of attempt 1: thwarted

Attempt 2: German regional trains are amazing. They are clean, have wide corridors, plenty of space and best of all, they are double-decker – so if you snag a spot on the top-deck you can take in the wonderful views as you speed through the countryside. As I hopped into my seat on yet another overly heated form of public transport (they love to have the heating on full blast at all times of year) I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was possible to open the window next to me. Joy radiated through my soul. After being open a mere 5 minutes, a middle-aged German man actually walked from the back of the carriage, pushed in front of my seat and slammed the window closed! I was paralysed with shock at the act, and failed to retaliate. Hashtag window fail.

Result of attempt 2: thwarted

Attempt 3: Back on the train again, this time a lovely old-style one where you can pull the big windows half way down and pretend like you are acting in the "Railway Children" (I may or may not have been imagining that I was Bobbie). The carriage was empty so opening windows didn't entail any hit-man-style risks – bliss. Trundling through the mountains was amazing and breathing in the mountain air was magic. We then pause at a station and people enter my carriage, where I was previously sitting alone. In England if you entered a room with someone in and the window was open or the light was on, you wouldn't dare change a thing unless it was a life and death scenario, and even then you would sidle over apologetically and begin the sentence with "I'm awfully sorry" and then proceed to beg for them to close the window if they "wouldn't mind". Germans don't have time for such considerate theatre. Another middle-aged man, my favourite kind, storms up to my part of the carriage and closes the window. Then, after it is closed, asks me if I mind if he closes it (in a way that suggests he couldn't care less what my answer is). I wasn't going to take it lying down anymore. This was my moment to act. To reclaim a British victory. I replied (in Deutsch of course): "Actually I do mind, why do you have to shut the window?” To which he replied "Weil es schimpft!" (translation: "Its blustering/roaring!” note: this is also the same verb for “to offend”) Oh please, and I thought the British were the dramatic ones. Believe me, a tickling breeze of loveliness is probably exactly what you need, moaning middle aged German man.

Result of attempt 3: thwarted

Conclusion: it seems I will forever be destined to exist in stuffy-filled spaces, at a minimum temperature of 25 degrees despite being in feather and down coat, and of course, donning the obligatory thick, woollen scarf. Sweating. Sexy.

Potential solution: work on gluing all windows in Germany into a permanent 'open' position. (note to self: must look into putting this plan into action).

Monday, April 22, 2013

Home Is Where The Heart Is

In most countries the idea of family is fading away fast. Eating dinner around the table together every night is a thing of the past, stable marriages that endure the decades seem more like rare shooting stars in society other than the 'norm' to aspire to. Germany however, is bucking the trend and singing a different tune: family life is still very much at the forefront of people's minds and lives.

In the UK it feels like everyone is clammering to break free of family and tradition and the town where they were born. I really don't get that feeling here. In fact, it's the opposite: people wear Tracht (traditional clothing of Lederhosen and Dirndls) in special colours and patterns that represent their hometown and what's more, they wear it with pride. People seem to stay roughly where they are from (or at least those from Bavaria and Munich do). Then again, why move away from such a wonderful place: a thriving job market, beautiful (although often difficult to acquire) apartments, mountains, lakes and...of course, beer!

The family element really is lovely though. 'Biergartens' aren't profit making machines (unless you go to the English Gardens) but places for people to come together. Actually, in Bavaria, there is a 'law' so to speak, that you are allowed and even encouraged to bring your own food. This really is a beautiful sight when family and friends gather together around one of the beergardens' long tables, pulls out a pretty tablecloth and everyone has a tupperware with a different tasty delight inside. I love this. I miss this when I am back in the UK, where sometimes (although not always) you have to get drunk to have a good time. Don't get me wrong, we definitely get drunk on our beergarden days too, but that's after  several hours of merriment, rather than downing as much as possible in Happy Hour. Actually, Happy Hour is equally interesting: 10pm onwards! I love this! It makes perfect sense! It means you don't have to go crazy at 4-6pm and drink as much as you can to keep you going throughout the night without breaking the bank.

Families here are so welcoming too. My ex-neighbours took me in like one of their own as soon as I moved in - inviting me to brunches and dinner and generally looking out for me. When I moved house, they all pulled together and helped me, rather than watching me lug my boxes alone down the street. This is so refreshing compared to so many anonymous-feeling cosmopolitan cities where you can't smile at someone without them wondering what your hidden motive is.

Viva Bavaria and the family-feeling!

The Staring Contest

Are you good at staring? Are you single? If the answer to these two questions is yes, then you will be successful on the dating scene in Germany or rather, Munich. Dating is definitely different here in more ways than one. I for one, am not adjusting well.

I recently heard a friend describe the UK University 'dating' scene to me like this: "Well, it gets to around midnight and then its as if everyone has been injected with something and is clamouring to get with anyone and everyone, not wanting to go home alone. I mean, they just walk up to someone and grab them!" *cue shock and disgust* Unfortunately, I couldn't really correct her on this. It is for the most part, true. I'm not saying that I am proud of this and I definitely wasn't one of the 'midnight lurchers' (well, maybe excluding nights when I was at Top Banana on a Monday and pints of Purple were only a pound...kidding!), but a milder version of this would be preferable to the German way of doing things.

It all comes back down to their favourite side-activity: staring. When I was in London for one night, I was approached by several guys throughout the night wanting to chat and buy me a drink – *cue reader thinking what a smug and arrogant little wotsit thinking she is God's gift to men* – I can assure you I am most definitely not, but men are more forward from the Isle and at least give it a little bit of effort. They understand the beauty of the chase. They know that if they don't make a move, they are going to miss out. Munich men? They will sit like an unmovable stone and stare at you all night, undressing you with their eyes, and still won't do ANYTHING about it. It's not like I want them to lavish me with drinks and attention, but a simple"Hallo" would make things much less awkward. I once sat opposite some guys with my friends in a bar and they literally stared the whole night – which was more offputting than flattering. They didn't speak for the whole time we were there. Then we leave, 3 hours later, and they say 'Bye girls, shame you are going already!". "Bye"? "Bye"?! How about starting with "Hi!" 3 hours ago when I was vaguely interested, rather than trying to talk when I'm walking out the door. I just don't understand this at all. If this was a wildlife programme, the species would have died out by now: *cue wildlife presenter voice* "The male, intimidated by the female, holds back and watches her from afar, trying to determine her next move. Meanwhile, the female appears to be becoming agitated. This is an exciting moment, it looks like the male is slowly starting to approach and we are going to witness the magical moment of meeting out here in the harsh environment of the German wilderness male appears to have been startled and has ran back into the bushes again".

Then you have got the other approach in the club: the 4 hour stare, followed by edging closer bit by bit in a completely obvious way. They though, think they are totally slick and are reeling me in by the second with their sexy smooth moves – they couldn't be more wrong (particularly because a pensioner could bust better moves than they can). As Queen Vic would have said 'We are not amused'. It's like they have taken tips from black and white films – come into the 21st century, pretty please?

Then there is the 'let's be friends' kind of courting (basically staring with a little chatting). One of my friends has been here years and told me this technique: they like to be friends with you for at least 4 years before they will even consider anything else. Didn't they watch Scrubs? Hurry up or you are going to miss the window and be forever in the 'friend zone'!

A few weeks ago though, I was pleasantly surprised. I had left my friend at the bar and then I had come back to find her with a a guy chatting avidly. This, in the Munich world, is shocking. Upon my arrival though, the mystery was soon unravelled. He was Italian and called Mateo (not in any way a cliché...). After struggling to speak to my friend in English, he turned his attention to talking to me in German. Here's the best bit of all though. Pointing at me, my friend and himself he goes on to say: "One, two, three Рwe could have a good night together yes? *creepy raised eyebrow*".

On second thoughts maybe the German guy staring isn't so bad after all...

Friday, April 19, 2013

For the love of...leather?

Leather has a kind of cult following on the continent. They really do love it, perhaps one might say, a little too much. When I lived in France the black leather jacket was the epitome of cool amongst 13-17 year old girls. I wasn't living in Paris either, just the pretty suburbs surrounding Carcassonne in the south of the country – but leather was still making its mark. Don't get me wrong, I love a bit of leather too, but I'm tiring a little of the 'leather look' being sported by pretty much everyone – I find myself longing for a little East-London cool where fashion would be mixed up a bit.

Here in Germany, leather remains a core staple amidst teenage and twenty something girls. Perfectly boy-shaped, they strut the style with ease, matched with tight fitting trousers that would give me a hernia if I wore them. Envious? Me? Never. The thing is though, the temperatures have suddenly risen in Germany to a sultry 25 degrees from...well..the Tundra. Yet, despite the increase, the leather stays stuck to the skin of absolutely everyone! WHY? How are they not dying? If I was wearing a leather jacket and leather trousers in 25 degrees then my own profusion of sweat would have melted and moulded them onto my body for all time – I would be forever known as the 'leather lady', or, well, something like that. The question is though, why are they defiantly wearing them in these tempartures? Is it more than a style statement? Is it a status statement? I'm starting to think so. If it is, I'm definitely not belonging to this upper echelon of leather cool – poor me, I'm so unfortunate being oh so nice and cool in my floaty skirt that doesn't create sweat beads.

There is an important part of the leather culture though that I have left out until now. That is the mid-life crisis leather. Let me tell you now, sporting a James Dean style leather-look over a certain age doesn't scream sexy, it cries 'Crisis!', no matter how loud the song 'Daddy Cool' is playing in your head as you strut along the street. Believe me, the German 30-40 year old guys wearing these jackets really are strutting, I actually witnessed one guy on the U Bahn in his shirt looking sensible (definitely not the type who should lean towards a leather purchase) and then once he gets off, he swings on a leather jacket and starts to add a little swagger to his walk. Oh dear, oh dear oh dear. Now, don't misunderstand me, there are definitely some over thirties and daddies out there who can rock this look and make even me go weak at the knees, but in general it should be avoided – yet German guys think a leather purchase is their ticket to Cool Kingdom, or something. Here is my plea to German guys everywhere: "Put the leather...DOWN!" Seriously. Go for duffle instead. In fact, go for anything instead. Unless you are 25, play in a band and have a cigarette hanging from your hand in a nonchalent kind of way, then the tanned goods aren't for you.

I have to say though, the more you live in a place, the more you start to tip toe towards following their trends. Upon a few occassions I have had the urge to follow through and become part of the leather pretty possy. Am I becoming a German? Here is a picture of me on the right, sticking to my guns and not giving in to the Lord of Leather that rules this city *ahem*.

On another terrifying note, I have been informed that Denim is going to be the material of the moment this summer. This is fine, when handled by those with a little know-how. The Germans? No doubt they will be sporting the double denim look in no time at all *shudder*, probably with socks and sandles on their feet for good measure *sigh*. It's going to be like stepping back into the 90s...and not in a good way..."Ah oh, ah oh"...oh no. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Kaiserschmarrn Classics

Believe it or not, I had a blog at 16. I know, what on earth did I have to write about at 16? It was back in the days when Myspace was cool (and ‘Facebook’ was just some ‘boring looking wall thing that your older sibling spent too much time on’) and when the song you chose for your profile was of the upmost importance – as it would define who you truly were to the world (or something like that). I had completely forgot about my first blog, but when sifting through my computer and deleting old files I stumbled across one entry. Often it feels like the thoughts and feelings we have when we are younger are no longer relevant as we grow older and gain more experience in the big, wide world. This entry, however, proved me wrong. It made me want to sit down, pull up a chair and have a cup of tea with my 16-year-old self and pick her brain, as she was evidently wiser than I am now. Really, this diary-style entry couldn’t relate to my life any better than in these older years, living in a foreign country and starting anew (cheers to that!).

So, I thought I would share my 16 year old thoughts with you all:

I was sitting listening to my music and then a thought struck me: what really is ‘moving on’? Sometimes moving on can be a positive thing...moving onwards and that song "Moving on up" but sometimes, it can be a word people use as a way of covering up the fact that something they didn't want to happen has happened. Like the disintegration of a friendship. Like the breakdown of a relationship. It seems to vary from person to person on how the term ‘moving on’ is handled. For some, it's closing the book...putting it down...and beginning a new one. For others, it's merely turning the page onto a new chapter and allowing the threads from the plot in the previous chapter to resurface later 
on in the novel that is life, to result in a perfectly rounded ending.

I'm definitely a chapter person, I feel that to close off part of your life forever is to deny the possibility of change and rids your life of that unpredictability that we are all living for. To shut people and indeed, events, out of your life is sometimes necessary but I think we always need to be ready for that moment when they reappear. Maybe what we should really be asking is: is it ever really possible to completely ‘move on’? First words, first jobs and critically, first loves. We all move away and ‘on’ from these ‘firsts’: our vocabulary widens, our job maps out into a career and our first love leads onto new loves and indeed, lovers. However, these ‘firsts’ have a significant impact on our lives and therefore, surely form part of who we are?

So, maybe when someone says it's time to ‘move on’, the response is as simple as this: "I have moved on, I am moving on and, I will move on"

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Krapfen Karma

Oh Krapfen – the temptation of the Devil. I'm sure Jesus' 40 day and night stint in the desert as described in The Bible isn't the whole truth. I'm pretty confident he wasn't in the desert at all but, in actual fact, was forced to stand in front of a German bakery during Fasching (Carnival) Season – the ultimate temptation.

To those that don't know, Krapfen are a kind of doughnut (without the hole) that are everywhere during the Carnival season in Munich in the run up to Lent and Easter. Here, there, everywhere – they are inescapable. Flavours range from the traditional apricot to more exotic offerings with mango, nougat and chocolate moose. Although I failed to find them this year, I have also heard of the elusive Krapfen that are sold with syringes. Syringes? Yes, we have all turned into jam-injecting junkies. No, seriously – you get a syringe, or more than one, that contain different flavours and then you can fill your Krapfen with as much or as little as you desire. Creative Krapfen – love it.

I definitely over-indulged this season, with my all-time favourite filling being apricot and mango, with a yummy glaze on top (*pauses writing to salivate a little*).

There is definitely a kind of Krapfen Karma out there though. It can be touch and go as to how much filling you get, depending on where you buy them. The other day I had gotten three quarters of the way through my Krapfen and still hadn't found the filling. In frustration I marched to the kitchen and spread some strawberry jam on the remaining part…only to then once I had done so, find upon my final bite, that it did indeed, have apricot inside. Apricot and strawberry is definitely not the best combination and results in a sugar trip with trembling of sweet teeth – Krapfen Karma #1. Lesson? Always believe in the Krapfen.

The second kind of karma was experienced in the office. We even had a Krapfen eating event one afternoon, indulging in the sugary, doughy delights with prosecco (I know,German offices are great right?). The thing is, the piles of Krapfen were being set up opposite my office for about 2 hours beforehand. The sweet smell became sickly pretty quickly. I had also already eaten a Krapfen the previous evening(trying my best to taste all of the flavours before the Krapfen disappear after Carnival Tuesday), which meant my Krapfen appetite was already satisfied. Result? Forcing down a Krapfen, because I had already eaten far too many already, rather than rejoicing in its glory and savouring every bite – KrapfenKarma #2. Lesson? Pace yourself.

Wouldn't it be great though, if Krapfen also had positive Karma?Like…the more you eat, the more happiness comes into your life. If so, I definitely deserve the title :"The Happiest Krapfen Queen on Earth".

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Toasters and Showers.

I know what you are thinking: "what can she possibly have to say about toasters and showers? Mere electrical appliances surely aren't worthy of any kind of attention, they are the same the world over!" Halt. Let me just stop you right there. They most definitely aren't the same the world over. Oh no. Toaster and shower situations (not both at the same time) have induced great trauma to me at times (not of the electrical shock kind…that's reserved for German electrical fences…but that's a whole other story).

Let's start with the shower sadness. Yes, sadness. Mixed with confusion. As a British lass I am used to a shower (when placed over a bath) to be attached to the back wall – i.e. facing the length of the bath. To me this makes absolute perfect sense for many reasons:

1. The water doesn't go everywhere
2. I have room to stretch my arm out as I sing into my loofah microphone
3. The water doesn't go everywhere
4. I have plenty of room to dance around whilst listening to NRJ on my shower radio
5. The water DEFINITELY doesn't go everywhere
6. The shower/bath screen doesn't get soaking wet – which means a lot less cleaning effort
7. If someone accidentally bursts in to my apartment for emergency water repairs whilst I am in said shower, they won't get a full frontal view at first sight.
8. Oh, and of course, the water DOES NOT go everywhere and my bathroom isn't turned into a lake that could rival the Olympic diving pool.

The Germans are usually such logical creatures, but when it comes to attaching bathroom apparatus they fail miserably. Maybe all the bathroom fitters are on cannabis? *Takes a puff* "Hee hee hee! Hans, here's a great plan, let's put the shower on the wrong wall and let the whole place get wet every time they shower! Hee hee hee! I'm so funny and clever and great at practical jokes! Hee hee hee! Hey Hans, is that a water fairy over there?" *takes another puff*. That's the only way I can explain why they decide to attach the shower on the long sidewall - facing the bath screen. Why oh why oh why? It makes absolutely no sense.

At an open apartment viewing (a whole other experience to go into) I was walking around a beautiful new build place with all the mod cons, then I stepped into the bathroom and saw the shower and my heart sank. Not even modern builds are adopting modern bathroom sense? I heard a slight sigh next to me and turned round. It was a guy looking as disappointed as I felt. 'English?", I said. "How did you know?", he said. "Your look of utter disappointment at the bathroom shower". At which point he too, launched into a huge rant about it. It really does disturb us British – it makes us feel like the whole German world has gone mad with this decision. Whatever next?

Well…it get's worse. The appliance hell doesn't end there. Toasters. In England toasters are a beloved, if not sacred, object. Tea and toast. Tea and crumpets (if you don't know what these are, you are missing out). Tea and pancakes. Tea and toasted teacakes. Ok, I know it's a lot of tea drinking, but you get my point. The toaster is part of our daily tea drinking and toast loving British lives. To the Germans, toasters are entirely disposable.

So far, in all the houses and apartments I have been in Germany, there has barely ever been a toaster in sight. If there has been, it has been covered, dusty, under a pile of newspapers and empty bakery bags (no joke). It's traumatic. The Germans just don't do toast. They don't understand the concept. They are all about the Vollkorn bread and the Breze, but toast? Oh no, thank you. To the British, toast and bread are almost like two entirely separate entities. German's definitely don't differentiate the two. I once asked for toast and a German said "What? You mean toast bread?". Erm what? Toast bread? I mean, yes I understand what they are getting at, toast is essentially toasted bread. But still, the name repulsed every British bone in my body. I wanted to scream : " No! I want bloody TOAST! Not TOAST BREAD! And if you are going to insist on referring to its toasted state, then say TOASTED BREAD!". *breathe*. The thing is though, it's not just that, they class "Toast bread" as a totally separate sort of bread. Bread as we British know it, the sandwich style with crusts on by good ol' Hovis or Warburtons, just doesn't exist here. When you do find it, it's called "American sandwich bread". I'm not sure which term enrages me more, "toast bread" or "American sandwich bread". I feel like setting up my own brand of "toast bread" and calling it "bread loaf", just to prove a point. There's an idea. There's also confusion over what constitutes a toaster. Germans seem to think that you can make breakfast toast with a sandwich toaster. This is sacrilege. Of course you can't. A sandwich toaster is there to be used for cheese and ham toasties ONLY. It's a delicate art to understand, obviously.

The holy grail of appliance differences has also been discovered though. It's not all doom and gloom…oh no. Everyone, kneel down and praise the glory of: the mixer tap. Every apartment, no matter how big or small, old or new, has mixer taps as standard. Long gone are the days of standing in a British bathroom desperately trying to reach optimum temperature by splashing some of the ice cold freezing water from one tap into you cupped hands and then adding a smidge of boiling hot water from the other one – and then spashing it onto your face and realising that despite your efforts you added too much cold water and just froze your face off. No, no, the German's are having none of that palaver. Good ol' mixing taps – a true wonder of the modern world. I bet the Germans feel like they have gone back into the dark ages when they cross the channel and are faced by two taps at the sink. No doubt the German husband calls to his wife: "Steffi, vvvvhy are there two taps? Vot do I do vith the second one?" No doubt the mysterious tap system perplexes them for the duration of their visit.

The question is though, are the mixer taps worth the trade off for toasters and well-positioned shower heads? Never. Long live toasters, crumpets and the Queen.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Are you looking at me punk?!

Welcome to Germany. Welcome to the world of the continual staring contest. Maybe it's an exaggeration, but for me, it always seems that someone, somewhere in Munich is staring at me. Soon I am going to develop an image complex. Am I going out with chocolate on my face? Lipstick on my teeth? My knickers twisted? I sure hope not, but that's definitely how the Germans make you feel with their continual onslaught of intrigue that is painted so heavily on their otherwise innocent faces (always encased with long, flowing blonde locks).

In England it's definitely a heads down affair on the underground and pretty much anywhere else. Maybe for fear that if you do actually look at someone even in an innocent, indeliberate way, they will start on you. I like to think though, that other than the fear of being pounced upon, the English don't openly stare at people in the street and on the tube because…well…they have manners. The Germans don't have such things engrained into their being like the English do. I think for the English it's a birthright - you inherit manners, a tea-drinking and biscuit dunking obsession, a continual lust for bacon and an anti-jeans wearing policy before you have even fully formed in the womb. The English would NEVER stare the way the German's do. If someone did stare at us like that, we would meet them with an aggressive: "What you lookin' at mate?" or "Problem missy?". Here, in the realms of the Fatherland, it's an accepted part of culture.

So why, are the German's staring so much? Is it me? Am I THAT interesting / weird to them? For a long while I thought it was, but the truth is, the Germans are just nosey. The way politeness is a part of who the English are, nosiness is a part of the German make-up. It doesn't necessarily have to be a negative, malicious thing but they definitely do want to know or find out what is going on when they don't have all the facts. Maybe that's it, the German lust for information and facts to expand their knowledge and increase efficiency? Quite possibly. Sometime though it's just PLAIN nosiness. This spans the generations too and isn't discouraged by elders. Like, for example, when I was carrying a TV on the U Bahn…EVERYONE was staring at me. Including a father and his son who had a full blown conversation about my TV whilst standing next to me: " What make is it?", "I'm not sure son, I can't see past the girl carrying it", "Oh it's Samsung", "Sony is better". In ten minutes I had heard all of their opinions on my brand new TV, all the while with both of them staring right at me and my purchase. No shame! In England we are the experts, at least, of talking in hushed voices when we are talking about someone nearby to us. Sneaky? Maybe. A little more polite than loudly discussing every detail of the staring object? Most definitely.

Staring session number two: I was eating a pretzel and drinking a can of coke on the U Bahn. The amount of disapproving stares I got was off the scale. Ok, I admit, not the healthiest of choices, but I was hungry and feeling under the weather and needed sugar fast. Ok, I also admit that the bag the pretzel was in was waaaaaay too big for the pretzel in an almost comical way, but that's not my fault. I NEVER stare at the morning meatloaf sandwich munchers stinking out the whole S Bahn do I? No. Of course not.

Staring session number three: the changing rooms at the gym. Now, this, is the weirdest of them all. They are all women too, so what's the deal? I'm sure this is a competitive ego thing for sure. Seeing who has the least cellulite and the best undies. I've already told you that the German's love to strut their stuff in the changing rooms, so the staring that accompanies this should now come as no surprise to you.

Staring session number four: staring at police station posters. This is the height of nosiness. Never before have I seen someone so intrigued as to who the latest bad guy on the run is that they actually ascend the police station steps to take a look and peer avidly at the mugshot poster. It can only be one of three things: extreme nosiness, a fear of the world, or…they are on the run themselves and are hoping the police haven't wised up to their illegal wanderings. Hopefully not the latter – they were fairly close to my home…*gulp*.

Staring number five: the intimidation stare. Now, this is something new. I only experienced it today for the first time at the gym. Two women aged 60 or so, came into the running machine part of the gym to see that every one of them was taken. Now, if this were me (which it has been so many times), I slink away and go on the spin bikes and then come back later to see if there is any space. These German women? Oh no. Oh no, oh no. Wait? Them? Of course not. They then proceeded to embark on a 30-minute (no exaggeration) intimidating stare-a-thon at me and the other guy running away happily before their invasion. I've never experienced anything like it. They even walked up and down between our running machines staring at our times and distances on the screen. Unbelievable! It was like a silent staring interrogation room (I won't liken them to the 'unmentionable' In Germany that they perhaps could have been in a former life) - totally uncomfortable - but I was determined not to give in.

Unfortunately, this staring side of German life is not something that it is possible for me to change, so survival techniques are necessary. Only after making mistakes which induce extreme-staring sessions is it possible to learn what to avoid. Here is what I have learnt so far:

Do not go to ANY kind of fancy dress party and travel to said party on the U Bahn. White bunny ears and devil costumes will only cause staring trouble, no matter how fabulous and funny you feel in said outfits – the Germans will just look at you like you are: a) a hooker b) just let out of the loony bin or c) an English stereotype that gets drunk and dresses up.

Do not draw attention to yourself. Bright pink lipstick is not a sexy, style statement in this city – it's a staring magnet.

And finally, whatever you do…don't make eye contact with anyone, under ANY circumstances, whilst in the sauna area.

The stories behind the above learnings will have to be saved for another time. Meanwhile, enjoy the stare-free freedom of your home countries.