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 clich̩...). 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.