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We interrupt this programme

So Monday, if this was a normal week, would have been lesson planning, probably an ARD shift and not much else. Well, dear readers, this is not a week like any other. No, this is a week where I work on a Monday so I can have Friday off in order to fly home in a timely manner before Christmas. So yes, to work.

There’s an animal park and free time centre in Ilmenau, which I mentioned a few posts back, and that’s where I headed on Monday morning. When I arrived the kids were tucking into their breakfast after having walked there from school. They then got to make chocolate apples, nut covered pine cones (aka bird feeders) and various arts and crafts. My job was to generally make sure they didn’t impale themselves on anything and help with the glue gun. This left plenty of time for my own arts and crafts, as well as burning myself on the glue gun. I couldn’t figure out if it was hot enough to use, so I stuck my finger in it…. Yes, I’m an idiot. This is a well established fact.

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So I made the most fabulous angel. Their poncho being at a jaunty angle was totally intentional.

After all that I walked with the kids back to school only to follow the same route back to my flat, before later going to do an ARD shift. This week it involved much glühwein, much cake and Wared telling me that it’s a man’s job to bring in the sign from outside. He was being nice, and yes I had struggled to do it by myself, but if there’s one thing guaranteed to make me attempt something is to tell me that it’s a job for the males. I did end up with chalk all over me, and a guy ended up helping me out of the goodness of his heart, but still. Girls can carry signs too.

Tuesday was a return to normal service, with being in four English classes within the space of an hour and a half. I did much explaining of Christmas in England, and if one more child tells me Santa isn’t real just to see what I’ll do, I’m going to have to lie down in a darkened room for a while. The other awkward moment always comes when I explain Christmas cake and show them the picture of our cake for this year. The awkward moment comes because my Dad baked it. My Dad is a fantastic cook (I really need to stop complimenting him on here – he’ll get a big head) and has always baked our Christmas cakes, as well as all of my birthday cakes. But children tend to have gender roles firmly entrenched in their mind and boys don’t cook. So they want to know where my Mom is. This is the sticky bit, because I can either explain that boys and girls can cook (which always makes me think of this Jon Richardon quote or I have to tell them my Mom’s dead. Or both. Normally I do both. Thankfully kids move past the ‘my Mom’s dead’ sentence better than most adults do.

Then on Tuesday evening, the secretary picked me up at 5.45 and we headed to the teacher’s Christmas party. This involved alcohol, food and laughter. Also a very strange version of secret santa that I shall explain for you now.

Step 1. Everyone brings a wrapped present with them. Requirements are that it be ridiculous and/or something unnecessary.

Step2. Everyone takes turn rolling a dice. If you get a six you get to go pick a present. Repeat this step till everyone has a present.

Step 3. Everyone opens their present, laughing at the ridiculousness. Example presents include a bar of chocolate plus a Chippendale (as in the dancers) box of tissues with the slogan “Tissues for after”, and a full set of nativity figures, and bed shoes plus a bottle of perfume.

Step 4. Pick an amount of time. Any amount of time. A reasonable amount of time. And set a timer.

Step 5. During the set amount of time, take it turns to roll the dice again. Odd numbers mean pass the present in front of you to the left that amount of times. 2&4 mean pass the present in front of you to the right that amount of times. 6 means you get to choose someone to swap with.

Step 6. When the time is up, hope the present left in front of you is decent.

I ended up with a bag and the bed shoes. Also a mug from the Ilmenau brewery. And a bell and a candle. People kept giving me their stuff. I think I am very much considered the child of the group. Which is not shocking considering how much younger I am than everyone else. That may also explain why one of the older teachers was so shocked when I ordered beer.

Wednesday was a normal day again, though I wasn’t needed in the first two English lessons. I ended up doing a translation one of the teachers had asked me to do, then found out later it’s for a course she’s doing. I did her English homework for her…  Ah well. Least it took me till 20 to actually do someone’s homework for them.

In the third and fourth period, I was in the German class as always. We began by going on a jaunt to a house that was built in 1691. I had one girl holding my hand and a boy asking me a gazillion and one questions despite the fact that he had a sore throat and “couldn’t speak”. I told them that ‘ein tausend’ was ‘one thousand’ in English and they then repaid me by telling me I was at least a thousand years old. I mean, I should have seen it coming. They think 20’s ancient enough as it is. They also asked me who my favourite friend is, which is a very loaded question, and I cautiously said that one of best friends is called Maddie. Then I said she was 21 and they couldn’t quite believe how old she was. Sorry Maddie. (Speaking of Maddie, she has a fashion blog which you should got check out. Because fabulous clothes.) After our excursion, I did German on the computers with the kids. I had to explain what the infinitive is about ten times. Which was, you know, boring but important so ah well.

Then I headed home to pick up my stuff for tutoring and then returned to school for the Weinachtsprogramm, where the one teacher I thought didn’t like me gave me a Christmas present. Sparkly nail polish – is definitely the way to a girl’s heart. Well, this girl anyway. This means in terms of Christmas presents from school, which I certainly wasn’t expecting, I’ve had a teddy bear, a necklace and nail polish. A good start to the Yuletide, methinks.

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The choir were suitably adorable.

The Weihnachtsprogramm was good. First the choir sang, and various children played various songs and various instruments. Then the parents put on a pantomime of Rumpelstiltskin, which was really good. And it all rhymed. I was very impressed. It was all topped off by a visit from Santa, who handed out biscuits to every class.

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The German Santa has bells. And he doesn’t come down the chimney – he comes through the door. Because Germans are all about the practicality.

And then to tutoring. Luka, the boy, is ill, so it was just me and Viktoria. We wrote a letter to Santa, then she made a Christmas card and then we made a huge paper chain. She wanted to know how I was going to get it home, and I said she could keep it. Which her parents loved. Though I don’t know if Viky was too impressed. Her parents were also super lovely, and gave me a Christmas bonus. And her Mom suggested I get a boyfriend while I’m in Germany. Which was a weird segue from talking about presents, but hey, maybe Santa will bring me a boyfriend for Christmas. Not that a boyfriend was on my Christmas list. Was more along the lines of the Game of Thrones books and comedians’ DVDs.

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The longest paper chain I’ve made since I was in primary school.

Thursday was my last day at school before the holidays and like Monday, I spent it at the free time centre, this time sanding down, then painting a wooden elephant and messing around with ribbon&hot glue&shiny things.

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The kids hard at work. This does not mean they were quiet.

The class I was with are a little…rowdy. High spirited. Whatever synonym for annoying you prefer. And I ended up improving slightly with discipline. By which I mean, on the way back to school, some of the boys nearly ended up pushing each other in front of a car, so I made one of them walk by me at the back of the line. And when he tried to go back to his friends I made him hold my hand. 8 year old boys are not fans of this.

At lunch I got given another Christmas present, and I know that this blog post must just sound like me going look what I got, but I was genuinely surprised every time someone gave me a present. This time round I got a makeup bag, a lipstick and an eye shadow called “Santa, baby.” Which is fantastic because a) my gold eyeshadow was running out and b) Santa Baby is my favourite Christmas song.

After bidding everyone farewell, I headed into town. I went to my favourite café, whose wifi has been down for three weeks now, then I went and bought all of the clothes from New Yorker, and then I headed home, managing to bump into a kid from school on my bus for the first time.

Whilst at home I have tidied my room, watched He’s Just Not That Into You and The Social Network, taken the bins out and in general done everything to put off packing. But I am now packed, and worried my bag is going to be too heavy. Ah well. We shall see. I also want to check in online, but as I don’t have a printer, I don’t see that going well. Braving the queues at Frankfurt it is.

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Talkin’ right good German.

I’m headed home tomorrow. Not for good, just for 2 weeks. But as I’m about to talk non stop English for a while, I feel like this is a good time to blog about how my German skills are going.

My German has definitely improved. There is no denying that. Being in Ilmenau means I am speaking German 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Well, not quite. But about 85% of the words coming out of mouth are Deutsch. The other 15% is made up of 10% English (well, I am teaching English) and probably 4% nonsense words and 1% other languages – namely Arabic, Russian and Spanish. I do have to hold my hands up and say I’m still watching films in English, and the only radio I listen to is Cabin Pressure on repeat, so naturally that’s in English too. And while I am still, slowly, working my way through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in German, the rest of the books I’ve been reading are in English.

But as I said, my German is improving. I can hold conversations, I can explain various British holidays and I can even understand the tannoy announcements in Erfurt railway station. I think the most impressive part for me is that I’ve even begun to be able to conjugate ‘ihr’ without really thinking about it. ‘Ihr’ is the familiar plural you, which means any time I want to say you to more than one person I speak informally to (aka classes of children) I have to use ‘ihr’. But when you’re learning German, you never need to use ‘ihr’. Not ever. And while you do learn to conjugate it, that information gets stored in a box at the back of your brain along with how unclog a toilet and how to call an ambulance. The box that houses the skills that you need to know but hope you’re never going to have to use. But the time has come for ‘ihr’ and now I can conjugate the verbs a good, ooh, 20% of the time without stopping half way through a sentence.

What I’m trying to say, is that being in Germany, specifically a part of Germany where I have to speak German, is significantly improving my German. Yes, I still put the wrong ending on a verb from time to time; yes, my vocabulary could do with being broader, and yes, I have no idea what I’m doing with prepositions. But you know what? Half the time when I mess up the Germans don’t know what I should have said either, because they treat German the way I treat English. With a lack of respect and no care for what the grammar books say. I look forward to being able to treat German the same way.

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Home is a far off land

I’m flying home on Friday. And I’m so excited. I can’t wait to see my family and my friends and be able to hug them and not have to get mad at the fact that there’s a computer screen between us. It’ll also be great to talk to them without Skype deciding that we’ve talked enough and closing down on us.

I miss fish and chips and having carpet and wifi and… I can’t think of anything else. I’m sure there’s other things. Baskets in supermarkets! I miss baskets in supermarkets. Never thought I’d say that. But other than that, I’m struggling to think of things I’m looking forward to about England.

When I’ve been homesick, it’s been for people, not for the motherland. If I could transport every person who matters to me to Germany, I’d be a very happy Kat. And this means that although I’m super excited to be going home, there’s also part of me that doesn’t want to leave.

What’s most ridiculous about this is that I’m coming back. I still have another five months to go. So why am I already stressing about leaving? I don’t know. All I can say is that, for all my moaning, I love it out here and England may have to up its game if it wants me to stay there for the rest of my life. But the most important part of this post is that though I’m hesitating about leaving already, I am so looking forward to seeing people. Never doubt that. Coming home at Christmas is what’s got me through bouts of homesickness. Well, that and the Johnny English theme tune.

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Don’t Mark My Words

Marked language, according to Wikipedia, is language that has been altered (aka ‘marked’) as being different from the norm. So with ‘honest’ and ‘dishonest’, ‘dishonest’ is marked by the prefix ‘dis’ as being an irregular form of ‘honest’. I’d like to talk about marked language with regards to gender. Waiter vs waitress. Manager vs Manageress. Actor vs actress.

In all of the above examples the feminine form of the English word is marked as other using the suffix ‘-ess’. Other examples include changing ‘man’ to ‘woman’, like in ‘policeman’ and ‘police woman’ or ‘fireman’ and ‘firewoman’. These words are gender specific despite people doing the same job. Other than the gender, there is no difference between a waiter and a waitress. So why are there different words?

There are a few issues with gendering words like this. One, what about those who don’t fall into the binary gender system that is accepted as the norm by the majority? Anyone who is agender, bigender, genderqueer – where do they fall in this black and white gendering of jobs? Two, if a man and a woman are doing exactly the same job, why does their job title have to specify their gender? I’ll give you a clue: it doesn’t. Three, it’s a linguistic inequality. As much as people hate to admit it, there is still gender inequality, and this differentiation of words, while not the most important battle to fight, is a battle that needs to be fought nonetheless.

So the solution is simple. Use one word for the same job. Yes, great. Except…when we start to remove the marked term in favour of the unmarked term, we leave many jobs now only being described with the male term for that profession. How many times have you heard of people asking to see the manager, demanding to speak to him, when it turns out the manager is woman? And I’m not saying that using the unmarked term is a bad thing – I just wish that language change were fast enough that everyone would take it as read that a manager could be female or male or maybe not identify as either.

And I know I’m not perfect either. Despite having these objections to marked language, I still find myself using it. Instead of the gender neutral ‘server’, I still say ‘waiter’ or ‘waitress’. I find it difficult to say police person, though police officer (another gender neutral term) rolls off the tongue more easily. However, the thing that makes it really difficult for me is learning German.

German is one of those languages who decided everything has to have a gender. ‘The chair’ is masculine, ‘the door’ is feminine and ‘the window’ is neuter. English, in its wisdom, got rid of the genders, though we too used to arbitrarily gender everything around us. But this emphasis on gender spreads to jobs as well. ‘Teacher’ is no longer simply teacher but ‘der Lehrer’ or ‘die Lehrerin’. ‘Lawyer’ is either ‘der Rechtsanwalt’ or ‘die Rechtsanwältin’. Even your nationality isn’t safe. When I say I’m from England, I say ‘Ich bin Engländerin’, announcing my gender as well as my homeland.

This constant highlighting of gender grates on me. It really does. It’s possible that native German speakers don’t even notice it. I never noticed the number of jobs English has two names for until it was pointed out to me. But it is 2013. Almost 2014, in fact. Why do Germans and some English people have to declare their gender along with their job? And why aren’t more people concerned about it?

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Living in a Fairytale.

This week began as every week does. With Monday and lesson planning. However, it was only lesson planning for tutoring. This week we were doing about describing people, and this obviously meant I had to draw out people. Yes, I cut everyone off at the shoulders, and yes, some boys have long hair and yes, some girls have short hair. Welcome to tutoring with Kat.

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Yay for my terrible drawing skills. My attempt at a mohican for Gregg is particularly spectacular.

The other thing I did on Monday was an ARD shift at the BC-café. The ARD is the clean-up shift – the one I normally do. This time round it was with Florian who was super lovely, and talked to me in English until he forgot what a mop and bucket was in English. I’ve started to remember what to do – I am a master at tidying up the table decorations now. Though for the first time I had to sort out the aforementioned mop and bucket, which involved kneeling on the floor of the guy’s bathroom. Super not fun. (The cleaning equipment is kept in there, in case you were wondering.)

Tuesday felt like a waste of a day. I only do two hours and I wasn’t needed for either of them. Not that I found that out until I was in school. Ah well. Then when I went to the weekly meeting for the BC Café I ended up rediscovering Twitter, and not paying attention. Although, I was still half listening, and at points properly paying attention, and I would like it on the record that I understood 98% of everything that was said. 98%! I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – maybe a year abroad to improve your language really does work.

[EDIT: Also, if anyone wants to follow me on twitter, you can find me here: https://twitter.com/MasrikaG Though I cannot be held responsible for the drivel I put on there.]

Wednesday was interesting. So I did my first English lesson, like normal, and ended up making friends with the work experience girl which was cool. I’ve been smiling at her in the corridor for the past week but I hadn’t actually met her until Wednesday. They don’t let the work experience kids have keys you see. Or let them be in the staffroom.

But then I headed to the Franz von Assis (That’s St Francis of Assisi to you lot) private school, where I talked about Christmas In England to a group of 11-13 year olds. Meant I spoke more English than usual, cracked a couple of jokes, and made England out to be some kind of godless, obese, obsessed with chocolate nation. Whoops. But the kids seemed to enjoy it. I could do that for the rest of my life I think. Not teach. Stand up and talk about things I know about and make people laugh. It’s a good feeling. Also, the very first question the kids asked me is whether I believe in Santa. Thankfully, as they were all between the ages of 11 and 13, I could go no, I’m twenty, I know he’s not real.

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The private school. I could go on and on about it but a picture’s worth a 1000 words, right?

I then got a tour of the school, led by three lads. The school’s got a kitchen, a ceramic workshop, a printing room (as in lino prints and book printing, not reprographics), two wood workshops…The list goes on. And outside they have treehouses and a castle which has a moat, and the school is just spectacular. Their new sports hall is bigger than my secondary school. After the impromptu tour, I headed back to the classroom to await my ride back to my normal school, and was presented with a ceramic leaf dish to say thankyou. I also made an angel ornament, because why not?

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The castle. Which had a moat. Why did I not get to go to this school growing up?

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The teacher made this for me. Like, actually made it.

When I got back to my normal school, I got given a milk a mug filled with chocolate to say thankyou for doing the lesson at the private school, and a Christmas present from the secretary. Yes, I have opened it (sorry Dad) and it was a teddy bear, so, and I quote, I never have to be alone in Germany. Have I mentioned how awesome and lovely the staff at my school are? They also opened my gift to them on Wednesday – two boxes of Thorntons.

My plan for Thursday was to do my two hours at school, go to Erfurt, go to the Weimar Christmas market. Only one out of those three happened, and that was my two hours at work. I went into German class as usual, and did basically nothing as usual. Except for the part where I made a boy cry. Not deliberately, I hasten to add. He struggles with reading a lot – I suspect he’s dyslexic, so when I’m there the teacher gets him to read to me. But today it was just too much. In the end I put the book away and started asking him questions about what he was excited for about Christmas.

I then headed home because I was so tired I was pretty sure I’d fall asleep on the train and end up in some far flung place not in Thüringen. However, in the evening I went to an event at the BC Café, which was professors from Ilmenau university reading Christmas fairytales. As some of you know, I have an interest in fairytales, and seriously, why do we never get to study the Brothers Grimm at university? *ahem* So tonight I heard Christmas themed Star Trek fanfiction, Rumpelstilksin with focus on him as the good guy, a tale about scandanavian folk lore and the afterlife attached to that folk lore, and a tale about how you should be nice to outsiders and be grateful for what you have. It was interesting, and I’m glad I went.

Friday was mainly characterised by not being needed in English lessons. Though in my second lesson I ended up trying to explain Christmas in England to a class I don’t normally see. They were one of the Klasse 1/2  classes, so it meant speaking in German all the time. I then got involved in a ten minute discussion about Santa, and I have never been so thankful for our time to be up. I don’t have younger brothers or sisters so I’ve never really had to defend the existence of Father Christmas.

The first thing that happened on Saturday was that I actually talked to one of my neighbours rather than just nodding and saying ‘hallo’. He was very lovely and pretty sure we’re now friends. Let’s hope so. I then went into Erfurt to have a wander, maybe have some alcoholic hot chocolate, definitely buy a purple shirt. I ended up bumping into one of the English teachers and meeting her kids. Also, she massively complimented my dress sense which was all kinds of awesome. And I advised her to buy the bright blue jeans because they were fantastic.

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Things I have learnt on my year abroad. 1) How to stop apologising so much. 2) The joy of taking selfies.

After the obligatory wander round the Christmas market, I then ran across town to make my train home. Which I did with a minute to spare. I ended up talking to the lads opposite me, as they were super confused as to why the conductor wanted to know where they were headed. The train from Erfurt to Ilmenau is normally made up of three carriages, one of which doesn’t go to Ilmenau, so the conductors check with you that you’re in the right carriage. But I explained this to the two guys and we chatted most of the way back. They’re not German but are studying at the Ilmenau University. One of them doesn’t speak any German, and I can’t imagine how hard it must be to live out here and not speak any German. Then we wandered onto the fact that their native tongue is Urdu, and they said if I can learn Arabic, I can definitely learn Urdu. We’ll see… Once back in Ilmenau, I headed to the Ilmenau Christmas market. I’d already wandered round it during the day, but Christmas markets are so pretty in the dark, I wanted to go again. I’m now the proud owner of a copy of Grimm’s fairy tales in German and a vocab book about pirates. I’m going to know all the useful vocab for fourth year.

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Christmas tree in Ilmenau. Look how pretty.

Sunday was a very lazy day that has mostly consisted of tidying my room and wrapping presents. However, I did go on a wander up the hill at the back of my flat. There was a cloud bank coming over the hills and I swear it looked like a wicked witch’s curse rolling out over the town. With only my phone to use, the pictures don’t do it justice, but I’m genuinely worried that we’re going to be put to sleep for a 100 years or something. So if you don’t hear from me again, that’ll be why. And you can tell Prince Charming that if he stops and asks for directions then it won’t take him the full 100 years to get here. Though if it does take him that long then at least the debt from my student loan will have been written off.

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Communication, Communication, Communication

During my time there, my high school was a language college. Now it’s a maths and IT specialist school, and how specialist can you really be when all you’re doing is changing your focus based on what subject the government is throwing money at? But that’s a post for another time. While I was there, the focus was on languages, which meant it was compulsory for me to learn 2 languages from Year 7 until Year 11. (That’s first year to fifth year for the older generation. Or the Harry Potter super fans.)  So as an 11 year old, I started learning Japanese and German.

Japanese really wasn’t as bad as you’d expect, especially as it meant we spent the first year learning 2 of the alphabets. This meant we played with flashcards and came up with dumb reasons to remember the characters. For example, the hiragana character for ‘ma’ looks like a person holding a baby. Aka a Mom. Aka Ma.

The thing was, learning German and Japanese didn’t really impact my life. Other than my teachers I didn’t know anyone who spoke these languages. Hindi and French would have served me far better. But then I did a few German exchanges as well as one to Japan and learning these languages suddenly made far more sense. There were whole countries of people that I could now communicate with. In very broken German and horrendous Japanese, but it was a start.

And I know it seems obvious – if you learn languages of course you can communicate with more people, but having grown up in England on a steady diet of “Everyone speaks English”, it wasn’t obvious to me. I mean, when I was 10, I made friends with a French girl in Paris for all of half an hour. When I had to go, I went up to her Mom and very politely asked her to tell her daughter I’d had fun and that I was sorry I didn’t speak French. She laughed at me. She didn’t speak English. It had never occurred to me that there were adults who didn’t speak English. I knew some adults spoke other languages as well, but I had never once considered the possibility that there were people in the world that I couldn’t talk to.

And that’s the beauty of learning a language. When you learn a language swathes of the world open up to you. I mean, there are all sorts of reasons to learn a language. I kept up German because I was good at it. I did beginners Russian because I thought it sounded cool. I did beginners Arabic because I didn’t have to queue to sign up for it. But whatever the reason for beginning a language, you end up being able to talk to people you would never have been able to before.

For a real life example, and indeed the story that inspired this post, I present to you a tale from today. Today one of my neighbours asked me how I was in German. Fifteen minutes later, we were friends. We spoke in German, English and Arabic. Starting in German, he switched to English when I said I was English and when he said he came from Syria, I brought out my (very basic) Arabic. If neither of us had bothered to learn a foreign language, we would have been stuck at nodding to each other in the hallway. Of course, if neither of us had bothered to learn a foreign language, we never would have met. And I shudder to think of the friends I never would have met if I hadn’t bothered to learn a language.

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Ten Things You Need to Know About Germany

So I’ve been living in Deutschland for three months and week now. That’s 13 weeks.  Thirteen whole weeks. I’m pretty sure this now makes me an expert on Germany, so I have compiled a list of things you need to know about life in this great nation. They’re probably not the ten most important things to know but they are still good things to know about. So without further blather, let’s head to the list.

1. Inefficiency on public transport.

There’s this stereotype that German are efficient. I would like to call lies on this. Lies and slander. The breakdown of German efficiency is most clear on public transport. When picking a seat on a bus or a train, the majority of Germans will choose to sit in an aisle seat whilst dumping their stuff on the window seat. Fair enough when the bus is relatively empty, but when it starts to fill up, they never move over to the window seat and stow their bags on the floor. This means that despite the fact that ten people are standing down the aisle there could well still be twenty free seats. Don’t get me wrong, if you ask, they’ll move. But it just seems super inefficient to me. At least I can now ask “Is that seat free?” in perfect German.

2. Ordering McDonalds is a minefield.

Speaking as an English person, I find it impossible to order in McDonalds without giving away my foreigner status. Despite the fact that all the food has the same name, the pronunciation always screws me over. For example, Big Mac is pronounced Big Mek. And I find it inordinately hard to call fries ‘pommes frites’. I have given up on trying to sound German in McDonalds because it’s not worth it. If anything, ordering in English and then surprising the cashier by asking for mayonnaise rather than ketchup does rather make up for my obvious Englishness. (Mayo mit pommes frites is way more popular over here than ketchup is. Ask for ketchup and you might as well wear a sign saying ‘I’m not German.’)

3. Punk is not dead.

So this point may be more relevant in the East than in the West, or maybe it’s only relevant in Thüringen. But punk is alive and kicking. Tartan trousers and brightly coloured mohicans are not an uncommon sight round here. And so many people have plugs in their ears. As in the ones that give you a huge hole in your ear lobe, not the kind that makes it hard to hear. There’s also more non-natural hair colours than you can shake a stick at. Which is super cool. I want to bring all the people who go ‘oh, you’ll never get a job looking like that’ to Ilmenau, and introduce them to the teachers at my school with pink and purple hair.

4. The parent method of knocking*

When you knock in Germany, you then immediately go through the door. Which seems to make the whole point of knocking redundant.  But I have been reprimanded for waiting outside offices after  knocking, so I’m getting used to it. Even if it did mean I walked in on a colleague getting a dressing down from the Head teacher.

5. Wie gehts =/= you alright?

‘Wie gehts?’ means ‘how are you?’. Which to my mind makes it a suitable alternative to ‘you alright?’ I am wrong in this regard. If you say ‘wie gehts?’, you will get a proper response, not just ‘yeah, fine thanks’. The fabulous Mae Martin said that ‘hiya, you alright?’ was a purely British thing, but I didn’t believe her. Silly me. (You can find her thoughts on the three most British phrases at 01:58 in this clip. Warning: may contain swearing. I can’t remember and don’t have the internet data to check.)

6. Don’t jaywalk.

This is a fairly standard thing to be told about Germany. Tales of foreigners being fined abound. However, that is not the real issue. If you jaywalk, you have to be prepared for every German around to judge you. Judge you long and judge you hard. If they were British, they’d tut. Only jaywalk if you can cope with the stares.

7. Baskets in supermarkets, or the lack thereof.

Supermarkets in Germany are a lot smaller than those in Britain. There are no multi-storey leviathans where you need to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way back to the exit. So you would have thought that baskets would be the perfect thing. No. No, you can have a trolley or nothing. And the trolley is going to cost you a euro deposit. I once foolishly went to the supermarket without checking to see if I had a euro coin. I did not. Trying to balance cheese, milk and pizza is surprisingly hard.

8. Casual nudity.

I went to a girls’ school for seven years. While this does mean I have a tendency to hoik up my tights in public, this does not mean I’m completely at ease with women stripping off around me. In fact, thanks to the five years of compulsory P.E and the communal changing rooms, we all became good at changing clothes without ever actually undressing. So when I went into the changing rooms at Zumba in Ilmenau and everyone was casually wandering round in their underwear, you can imagine my shock. And uncomfortableness. (The longer I spend in Germany, the more I realise I am a walking English stereotype.)

9. Never complain to a German about getting up early for school/university.

My school here in Ilmenau begins at 8am. I have friends who are working in schools who start earlier than that; in some cases, a whole 45 minutes earlier. Therese, my flatmate, often has lectures for university that start at 7am meaning, that despite the fact that we live two minutes from campus, she is still up earlier than I have ever been for university in England. One of my German friends used to have to get up at half 5 to get to high school on time. So seriously, never complain about 9am starts to a German. They will have you beat.

10. Ja wohl, mein Herr.

Ja wohl is a phrase that is used. I did not realise this. I thought it was one of those German phrases that British war films had latched onto. Like calling every male German Fritz. But no, ja wohl is very definitely a German phrase that is alive and well. I dare you to try and use it and not feel like you’re taking the mick.

*  While I have called this the parent method of knocking, my parents never did this. Because they’re awesome.

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Kathryn and Katharina

When I was in year 12, I was lucky enough to do a work experience exchange to Germany. I spent two weeks working in a primary school in a town called Gladenbach in Hessen. It was fantastic and I suspect has something to do with the fact that I’m working in a primary school this year. But this is not the important part. The important part is my exchange partner. She’s called Katharina and all kinds of awesome. And she invited me to go see her this weekend.

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Me and Katha at the Marburg Weihnachtsmarkt.

She lives in Marburg, which is a town in Hessen.  It’s famous for the Elizabethkirche, which is named for St Elizabeth, a Hungarian princess who married the Lord of the Wartburg, and moved to Marburg after his death and worked tirelessly in hospitals, helping the poor. I think it’s kind of cool that having being to the Wartburg this year I went back to Marburg. Though I suspect that St Elizabeth did not travel by ICE like I did.

Now that I’ve done a very brief history lesson, let’s move on to the actual weekend. Katharina met me at the railway station and guided me back to her flat, where I finally got to meet her boyfriend, after first hearing about him over two years ago. He seems like a thoroughly decent fellow, and he also gets bonus points for a) cooking for us and b) saying my German’s good.

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One of Katha’s neighbours has blue sheep as Christmas decorations. No idea why.

Katharina’s WG is pretty much like mine, except for the fact they have two bathrooms. It’s also quite christmassed up, which is cool. I’m so excited for Christmas now. Or at least, I feel really Christmassy. Which is a feeling I haven’t had for three years. Oh the excitement.

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One of many happy Christmas signs.

After a brief session of list making, we headed into town, walking the back way so we could see the pretty houses. They had towers. And bay windows. And I’ll bet my advent calendar that at least one of them has an inglenook fireplace. What I’m saying is, they’re perfect houses. We headed to a department store first though left disappointed. But then we headed into the old town, where it is impossible to be disappointed, because even if you don’t find what you want, it’s so pretty, especially with the Christmas lights.

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Look how Christmassy. All of the lights.

I did buy Christmas presents, but seeing as people read this blog, I can’t tell you what they are. But I will tell you that I keep buying things that could potentially break on the way back to England. Whoops. I also bought Die Stadt der Träumenden Bücher by Walter Moers, because The Thirteen and a Half Lives of Captain Bluebear is one of my favourite books, and if you think I can walk past a book called The City of Dreaming Books by a fantastic author and not buy it, you, my friend, don’t know me very well at all.

We then made our way to the Christmas Market where I had a fond reunion with Apfelwein. For those who have never heard the story, the first time I ever got drunk was on Apfelwein. Mixing cola with it doesn’t help if you then drink another glass of it straight. A crepe and an accidental meeting with friends of Katharina’s family, we then headed back to her WG. For Feuerzangenbowle. Don’t know what that is? Follow me to the next paragraph.

Feuerzangenbowle can refer to two things. One, a German film from 1944, and two, an alcoholic drink which includes burning sugar.

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Excited yet?

Apparently, it’s a German tradition to watch the film and make a Feuerzangenbowle in the lead up to Christmas. And who are we to argue with tradition? To create a Feuerzangenbowle you need: a bowl, a sugar cone, matches or a lighter, rum, and a mix of red wine, orange juice and various spices that you can buy ready mixed. The mix of stuff goes in the bowl, the sugar cone gets suspended over the bowl, the rum goes on the sugar and then you set the sugar on fire.

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Fire can be really pretty.

Tasted as fantastic as it looks. We then settled down to watch the film. I’m not going to lie to you, I was struggling to understand what was going on at the start, because alcohol plus major tiredness does not lend itself to understanding an old German film. And I may have fallen asleep halfway through. But what I saw was good. It’s a funny film. Maybe one day I’ll finish it, and then I’ll be able to tell you how it ends.

On Sunday we headed up to the castle, because this year Marburg is celebrating the Brothers Grimm. Dotted all over town are statues representing certain fairytales. My favourite were the Seven Dwarves but I couldn’t get a decent photo of them so have Cinderella’s shoe instead.

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Neither glass nor fur.

We went to an exhibition called “Echt Hessisch?” about the Brothers Grimm and their fairy tales, which was really interesting. And all of the boards were in English and German, so I understood everything. Everything, I say. We had a wander round the university museum that’s attached, and then we headed to Gladenbach to Katharina’s parents’ house.

It was awesome to see Katharina’ s family again and it was really cool that their dog remembered me. What was also really cool was the fact that I understood about 90% of what was being said, as opposed to the 50% two years ago. That’s not to say no English was spoken this weekend. Me and Katharina were definitely conversing in Denglish as opposed to German or English. But it was in favour of German which is completely different to the last time I saw her. This whole year abroad to improve your language thing really works! Who woulda thought?

We watched a film called Mein bester Feind, which has Moritz Bleibtreu in it, who the German students amongst you will recognise from The Baader Meinhof Komplex and Lola rennt. It’s set during WW2 and there’s a case of mistaken identity but in a good way. While it is set in WW2 it has a sense of humour about it, and I’d recommend it.

Sadly, I then had to head back to Marburg so I could catch the first of three trains back to Ilmenau. It was a fantastic weekend, with much catching up and enjoyable company. Hopefully this weekend won’t be the only time I get to see Katharina during my time in Germany. I’ve still got five months left, after all.

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So Much Christmas

As previously stated, I spent a good chunk of Monday traveling back to Ilmenau from Dresden. The rest of the day was spent making a powerpoint about London for tutoring and finishing off my lesson plan about Christmas in England. I also proofed a friend’s C.V, a friend’s Masters proposal and the family Christmas newsletter. I’m good at proofing – I live to correctly position commas. If I can get into the copy editing business, I’ll be a happy (and lucky) girl.

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My favourite slide. Look how cute.

Tuesday meant two hours of work as usual. In the first, all I did was staple flip books together for the kids and point out that blonde is spelt with an e. Though I did discover my new favourite German word – Takerei. Not entirely sure what it means, but it has to do with staplers. It just sounds fantastic. And speaking of staplers, well done English on calling a spade a spade. What does this do? It staples. Let’s call it a stapler. (Not sarcasm – genuine pride in my language being logical for once.)

As always, Tuesday ended with the weekly meeting of the BC Café, where I found out that Kim now owns a TARDIS, that chocolate Lebkuchen tastes even better than normal Lebkuchen and that even German people who’ve talked to me and said my name correctly can’t read it correctly. There was also alcohol which I feel is a welcome to addition to any meeting.

If I may go off on a slight tangent here, Prost is a serious business here in Deutschland. (Prost means cheers, if you were wondering. The exultation before drinking, rather than the slang for thank you.) In England, I think I’ve only ever said cheers followed by clinking of glasses a handful of times – all of them on special occasions. In Germany, I have watched two guys in a club, on the dance floor, say Prost and clink glasses every time they took a swig of their drink. Every. Time. They. Drank. If you drink with Germans expect to say Prost before touching your drink. I once drank without saying Prost, and the looks I got were like I’d walked into a mosque with my shoes on or started eating without saying grace in a Christian household. And you have to try and clink glasses with everyone. That includes the person at the other end of the table who is about three arms lengths away. Viel Glück!

Wednesday is my busiest day. 5 hours at school and then tutoring in the evening – I’m so overworked. (Note the sarcasm.) I was meant to be in English for the first two hours, but as the kids had a sport party (more on that a bit later on) I went and used the internet in the media room for a couple of hours. Then I was with Klasse 3/4c. Normally I do maths on the computer with them for the whole 2 hours, but this time we started with a short excursion. The children have a colouring book of Ilmenau, and they get to go see the things they’re colouring in. One of the things is a cabin, which I’m not quite sure why it’s important except for the fact that it’s old. After we’d been out in the cold for about 20 minutes – the cabin was shut for repairs so we couldn’t go in – we were back in school and it was time for me to do maths with the kids. It was addition up to a 1000 and it took one girl 20 minutes to do what was taking the other kids 5. The problem with me helping with Maths is I don’t know how they’re taught. I mean, the way they’re told to do stuff might be different to how I was taught. It’s a different country and I left primary school 9 years ago. Ah well. At least my mental maths is improving.

I don’t remember what happened in my last class. I suspect I had it free because of the Sportparty. But instead of heading home, I hung around waiting for Monika. Monika is one of the teachers and wanted to take me to the animal park in Ilmenau. Which was pretty cool despite it being freezing (does that count as wordplay?). The only issue is that Monika thinks I come from London and spent a lot of time going “that’s a sheep, they live in fields.” Now, I know I have had to say I’m a “city” girl because I don’t know tree names, but I do know what sheep look like. But it was really nice of her to take me, and even nicer to pay for lunch.

Tutoring was good. Both of the kids have been to London, so I got them to tell me about where’d they’d been. Then I did a rundown of the top tourist sites and then we did arts and craft. The idea was that they’d draw their favourite place in London, but as Viki’s favourite place is Victoria Station, which I didn’t have a picture of, she ended up drawing the queen. I drew a double decker bus, if you were wondering.

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Why yes, I did give up art in year 9. How could you tell?

I think on Thursday I slipped into a parallel dimension. I ended up helping at the second Sport Party. What this involved was giving the kids candyfloss at 9am and hoping they didn’t get too hyper.

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Zicke zacke, zicke zacke, heu heu heu.

So what it actually was, was six different stations of various activities, like crawling through tunnels, or trying to knock down 9 tin cans, or one of those strong man tests where you hit the thing with a hammer and if it makes the bell ding then you’re the strongest person alive. This was led by Michael. Ah Michael. Fetchingly garbed in a chef’s hat, pink jeans and a lime green tank top, it was his job to hype the kids up. Which was highly amusing to watch but also slightly terrifying. But there was music (most of it English, none of it censored) and the repetitive cry of Zicke Zacke, Zicke Zacke (the German equivalent of Oggy, oggy, oggy) and the kids had a ball. And I got to have candyfloss and popcorn for my second breakfast.

My plan for the rest of Thursday was to head to Erfurt because there was a job fair on (I know how to have fun). After falling asleep on the train in, I couldn’t figure out the trams and gave up. Went to the Christmas Market instead. Girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

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Ferris wheels and fairy lights. What more could you want?

The Erfurt Weihnachtsmarkt is very pretty. It’s in the square below the cathedral and is fairly big. What was cool was they had sideshow games as well, like hook a duck. No, I did not attempt it – I have enough stuffed toys as it is, thanks. I did however buy Christmas presents, a bratwurst, and a chocolate apple. The chocolate apple was delicious. Might even be better than toffee apples. Is less sticky at least.

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Behold the deliciousness.

I then headed to Arnstadt. Arnstadt is a town 22km from Ilmenau and I’ve been meaning to go for a while, if only to put another sticker on my map. Because I’m a dork, I bought a map of Germany. And it now has pink stickers where I’ve been this year and black stickers where I’ve been in previous years. And if you ignore one pink sticker, then the others mark out the train route to Prague from Ilmenau. I really ought to stop going east… Nah. But Arnstadt was a place I wanted to go and the Weihnachtsmarkt was opening on Thursday. So I rock up at 5 past 5, when, by the way, it is already dark. And when I say dark, I don’t mean the sun is starting to set, I mean I suddenly understand why we’re afraid of the dark and am ever grateful that we’ve invented street lights. I make my way to the town centre to find the Weihnachtsmarkt closed. So England’s been having some storms recently, and Germany is getting the winds from that. Which meant despite the fact that the Weihnachtsmarkt was meant to being officially opened at 5pm on Thursday, it had been closed at 3pm. Leaving me with nothing to do but to work very slowly back to the railway station, admiring their Christmas lights as I went.

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Look at the pretties.

And now we come to Friday. Today was Nikolaustag, which mean on Thursday night the kids cleaned their biggest pair of boots and left them outside the door, hoping St Nicholas would leave presents for them. Which he did.

I started in English where I was used a walking dictionary as ever. I’m always grateful that I’m in a primary school and therefore don’t need to know big English words. Not because my vocabulary is limited but because I don’t think the kids would appreciate me going ‘it’s that word that’s like Versailles but isn’t.  Oh what is it, I can never pronounce it. It’s…er… It’s…wait, it’s verisimilitude.’ The problem with learning long/clever words from books is that they never tell you how to pronounce them, making what was meant to be an intelligent sounding sentence sound like gobbledegook. I’m looking at you ‘epitome’.

My second English class of the day was teaching about Christmas in England. Had one smart alec kid ask how Santa goes all round the world in one night, and my mentor teacher neatly stepped in to point out this was the British Santa Claus, so he only had to deal with Great Britain. My answer was going to be ‘magic’. The issue with talking about Christmas to children, of course, is not slipping up about Santa. (Spoilers: he’s not real.) They were super impressed by a paper chain that I made whilst very tired a couple of nights ago, and if anyone from 13e2 is reading this, they loved the Narnia we created in M12.

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Yes, we did win best decorated classroom, thanks for asking.

At lunch one of the boys asked me if I’d got presents from St Nikolaus and I said no, explaining it doesn’t happen in England and I didn’t know I was meant to leave my boots out last night, he gave me a chocolate Santa. Because he felt bad for me, being English and not having St Nikolaus Tag. But I had spoken too soon. When I headed to the staffroom at the end of lunch to check which classroom I was meant to be in, it turned out I had a package. A package that was super difficult to get into.

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English sweets, christmas pudding earrings, the brightest knitwear you will ever see and a Santa badge.

Dad has fantastic timing. He managed to send me sweets and gloves (the two most popular gifts) for St Nikolaus tag without even trying. And speaking of my Dad being fantastic, you see those Christmas pudding earrings? He made them. That’s right, my Dad can make Christmas earrings out of beads. I have Santa ones from last year.  The hat and gloves were made by my grandma, who doesn’t expect me to wear them. But when it looks so good, how can I not?

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For someone who doesn’t like hats, I have an awful lot of pictures on here with me wearing them.

In my final English class of the week, I confused them by saying I’m 20 years old. They only know numbers up to 10. And then I read out descriptions of monsters. Because why not? And because they’re learning about body parts. Afterwards I headed home through the snow, because the snow has made a reappearance. Which has sent my internet screwy. And though when I got in, I really ought to have been productive, I watched The Jane Austen Book Club instead. But now I’m going to go be productive. Well I say that, I have a skype session planned in ten minutes. But either way, I shall bid you farewell. Bis bald.

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An Ode to Knitwear

I hate wearing hats. Scarves are a faff. Fingerless gloves fly under the radar because I like their aesthetic .
But I am here to take it all back. To apologise for everytime I scorned them. For the derision. For the disdain. Because, shockingly, knitwear is good at the job it does. It’s almost as if it’s designed for it.
What has prompted this post is the fact that it is now cold in Ilmenau. Cold as in the lakes have frozen over. Cold as in I’m thinking about bowing to German sensibilities and buying slippers (despite disliking slippers even more than I dislike knitwear). Cold as in I have a ski jacket now – I have never been skiing.

So I’d just like to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that though I hate wearing hats, scarves are so much effort, and proper gloves stop me from texting, I’m glad my family pressed me into bringing them with me. Because cold. So much cold.

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My favourite hat. It sparkles.