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Comfort Blankets: An Analogy

So I never had a comfort blanket as a kid.  I had a comfort gorilla, because I hate conforming to societal norms. That and the zoo gave me nightmares. It’s a long story. I’d also like to point out that it was a stuffed toy – child me wasn’t dragging a full size silver back gorilla everywhere.

In case you’ve not come across the term comfort blanket, let me elucidate. A comfort blanket is a blanket that you, as a small child, took with you everywhere because it made you feel safe. For some people, the ragged remains of a blanket they wouldn’t let their parents wash is still a treasured childhood possession. There’s a Wikipedia article on it  if you want more information, though I fail to see what else you’d need to know.

Now, to make what seems like a random jump in topic, when I was in year eight, I went to Germany for the first time. Shortly before we went, our teachers taught us useful phrases, one of which was “Ich bin Engländerin” (I’m English). I swore to myself I would never use that phrase, especially in conjunction with “entschuldigung” (sorry). What my twelve year old self didn’t take into account was how little German she actually knew. And when a stranger decided to try and explain in German how gem stones are polished and buffed up (yes, that happened), “entschuldigung, ich bin Engländerin” made its first appearance.

And that my friends, is my linguistic comfort blanket. Being in Germany I don’t need to carry Fred the gorilla round with me, because I have a comfort blanket tucked away in my head. It’s with me at all times. I do realise that at this point I do kinda sound mad, but I’m going to keep running with this tortured analogy.

“Ich bin Engländerin” has always done me proud. If I don’t understand or just can’t be bothered to understand, whipping out that particular sentence has always been of help. Either people have massively slowed down their German or they’ve switched to English. And this is the problem with this comfort blanket. It’s very easy to use it. It’s very easy to just fall into a habit of telling people I’m English and making them adjust their language.

So I’ve been making a conscious effort to not use it. I guess it’s the equivalent of letting your parents wash your comfort blanket over night while you face down the nightmares. I mean, it’s still my best thing to say to charity people or overly chatty people on the train, but in actual life, I’m trying really hard not to use it. Because if I always make other people adjust their language, then mine’s not going to get any better. And judging from the fact I’ve used comfort blankets as an analogy, my language could probably do with getting better – my English as well as my German.

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Porridge is a difficult concept.

As I was in Berlin on Monday, my weekly roundup starts on Tuesday. Not much of importance happened, other than I tried to explain porridge auf Deutsch, which was way harder than you would think. Oh, and I had a very serious conversation with one of the English teachers about how ‘girlfriend’ tends to mean more than a friend. This occurred after I’d used ‘meine Freundin’ and she translated it as ‘girlfriend’. I mean, I love Beth and all, but not like that.

Wednesday began with me talking about breakfast with yet another class. Trying to explain porridge does not get any easier, no matter how many times you do it. And then I went with 3/4c on a class excursion to the Town Hall. I met the mayor – lovely guy, very firm handshake. I’d get starstruck but I’ve met three regenerations of the Walsall Mayor, so meeting mayors is kind of old hat now. We also got a tour of the town hall, where one of the kids asked me if the EU flag was the flag of the United States. I had to very gently explain that just because a flag has stars on it, it doesn’t make it the USA flag.

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Me, 3/4c and Goethe.

Yet again on Thursday the class I have two hours with were doing a test, so I was very much a spare part. Though I did go make some copies of a worksheet for the teacher. From the thanks I got, you would have thought I’d done something impressive. Maybe she hates working the photocopier. Who knows.

Thursday evening I was hanging out with Ausama, which was pretty fun and involved cake. Cake is always good. He’s really sorry for me that I’m an only child. And he also thinks Dad’s awesome. You can tell he hasn’t met him. (I don’t mean it Dad – honest.)

Friday brought talking about Walsall to one of my classes. They think the art gallery looks cool, but other than that they couldn’t care less. Except for when I taught them some Black Country words. These were bostin (good), gammy (injured) and bost (broken). They haven’t quite got the accent down but they’ll get there. 

In another class we recapped the theme of breakfast, and yes, German kids saying sausages is still one of my favourite things. Thankfully I didn’t I have to re-explain porridge because I did that last week. Then we moved onto animals. Many names for wild animals are the same in German and English, it’s just the pronunciation that’s different. I also have to say, getting the kids to tell me what things are called in German is difficult, because they’re so eager to show off their English. Which, I mean, is great but unhelpful for me.

In my final class of Friday, I was the replacement CD player. Seriously. There was no CD player to be had (not even for ready money) and so, as an “echte Englanderin”, I was the replacement. Some of the kids find my pronunciation funny, because occasionally it’s different to their teacher’s. This is because Germans have difficulty with the ‘a’ sound – it often comes out as an ‘e’. So black becomes bleck, cat becomes cet and so on.

As for the weekend, it has been mainly spent watching Misfits, listening to the Beatles and marvelling that I now live in Narnia. Oh, and also cursing the fact that the ‘n’ key has decided it doesn’t want to be part of my keyboard any longer. If anyone feels like coming out here to fix it for me, I’ll pay you in chocolate and funny stories about the kids at school.

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If the White Witch appears and offers me Turkish Delight, I’m taking it. Love me some Turkish Delight. Especially if it’s Fry’s.

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Kat and the City

The city, of course, is Berlin. As capital cities go, Berlin is up there. I prefer it to Paris, to Cardiff. It even beats out Edinburgh. And this weekend, I got to go for the second time. Four hours by train seems to be the norm to go anywhere from Ilmenau. Getting on a train at 9.22 on a Sunday was a wrench, seeing as I normally get up at ooh about 12 at the weekend – catching up from all those 6.20 starts, you see – but once I got on the ICE at Erfurt it was plain sailing all the way to Berlin Südkreuz. I then had to figure out the S-bahn system (that’s the tram system) which became ridiculously straight forward when I realised that there were other platforms. Shocking that.

I headed straight for the Brandenburg Gate, because what’s a trip to Berlin without the essential touristy pictures of the city’s icon?

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Hello world, this is Berlin calling.

While I didn’t do a cheesy selfie (there were way too many other tourists around for that) I did take pictures from every angle possible. Then I had a wander to the Reichstag before deciding it was far too cold to explore the Tiergarten (a very green area of Berlin next to the Reichstag), and headed for the Willy Brandt museum.

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If someone could explain the difference between the Reichstag and the Bundestag, I’d be very grateful.

Willy Brandt is a babe. That’s how I described him in a message home during my time in Berlin, though it was pointed out to me that that’s not a suitable reply to ‘who is Willy Brandt?’ So a (very brief) history lesson. Willy Brandt was the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1969-1974. The FRG may be better known to you as West Germany. During his time as leader of the FRG, he focused heavily on interactions with East Germany (aka the GDR), and improved relations between the FRG and the GDR. Essentially, he made a tense time better under difficult circumstances.

So having wandered round the Willy Brandt museum, discovering things like he escaped the Nazis by fleeing to Norway and changing his name, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1971, and was just generally a pretty kickass person, I headed to the gift shop, where I forgot all my German because the cashier looked like Robb Stark.

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This bed was so comfortable.

By this time, I could check into my hotel, and I’d like to thank all family members who gave me money for Christmas because it meant I had a queensize bed and the best shower in the world. And Dad got peace of mind. So thank you very much. I then fell asleep in front of the Princess Diaries (auf Deutsch, natürlich) before heading out to the Imperial Club, for the whole reason I was in Berlin.

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This comedian is about 2/5s responsible for me studying languages at university.

As previously mentioned, I’m a huge Eddie Izzard fan, and last year I got to see his show Force Majuere in Birmingham. So when I heard he was performing it auf Deutsch, I was super excited, and thus went to Berlin. The venue had about 150 seats, so it was tiny, but it was full. And there were so many native English speakers. I surprised the Americans behind me with my accent when I turned round to apologise for being tall, when they started discussing whether or not they could still see.

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See those purple lights? They’re at the back of the stage. And I was half way back.

The show itself was about an hour long, and was a very heavily cut down version of what I’d seen in Birmingham. No less funny though. I think the highlight was listening to him explain how at some point the English must have gone “You see this? It’s just a spoon. We’re not going to use feminine or masculine,” but explaining this in a language that still genders every noun. Was hysterical. He also pulls the universal face of non-native German speakers of “wait, did I say the verb already?” I kind of felt like I was watching an hour long oral exam, albeit it a prepared one. It makes me very glad my lecturers don’t expect me to be funny as well as accurate. All in all, it was an excellent evening, and if you’re in the Berlin area, he’s there for the next few weeks. Go. Have fun. Enjoy the cheap tickets and expensive alcohol.

Monday was a very cold day. The whole of Berlin was iced over, which made walking around for seven or so hours fun. But I hit up the nearby bakery for breakfast and then I headed towards the Fernsehturm. It took me a while to get there what with the ice, and getting distracted by the Nikolaiviertel, but I got there eventually.

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The tower disappearing into the clouds is the Fernsehturm.

The visitors floor is 203 meters above the ground and the idea is that you get a fantastic view of Berlin. I went on a day when it was both foggy and cloudy, so that didn’t really work out that well. But it was still cool and for the first time ever, someone who could speak English found out I was English and continued to speak to me in German. In the lift there are stewards and on the way down, the steward was telling me to be careful because it was very icy outside. I must have said thankyou one too many times or something because then he went ‘You’re German, right? Or English?” When I said English, but I understand German, he repeated the warning in English to the other tourists in the lift and then told me auf Deutsch that lots of people have broken arms and legs because of the ice. Basically, the staff at the Fernsehturm are lovely.

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I could just about make out the cathedral through the cloud cover.

Then, trying not to fall over, I headed to the DDR Museum, which was totally worth it. (DDR is the German for GDR.) There’s a ton of interactive exhibits, including the section on the Stasi (the secret police) where you can listen to what’s being said in another part of the exhibit. They’ve got a Trabi you can pretend to drive and a typical east German flat set up, and it was just really really cool. As a German student you get to study two parts of German history; WWII and the GDR, and personally, I’m more interested in the GDR, so this museum was awesome. Even if there was a school group of teenagers who really didn’t want to be there.

Following this I went and hid out in Starbucks for a while, because the cold was seriously getting to me. Bless Starbucks and their radiators. And their free wifi. Finally, when I couldn’t hide any longer, I braved the cold again, heading down towards Checkpoint Charlie. At the moment, just round the corner from Checkpoint Charlie, is a panorama of the Berlin wall. It’s not a hundred percent accurate, but the artist is trying to show how life continued despite the wall. It’s shown from the West looking to East Germany, and was generally pretty cool. Even if again, there was a school group who really didn’t want to be there.

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A very small section of the panorama.

Finally I went on one last wander that took in Potsdamer Platz and the Holocaust Memorial, stopping only to take ridiculous photos in a photomat from the 70s. It was only when I got on the train home that I realised I’d only been in Berlin for a little over 24 hours. Now I’m ready to sleep for a week, but it was so worth it.

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Oh, the things I do when I’m alone.

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Kids, who’d ‘ave ’em?

Happy weekend, dear readers. The sun is shining, I got ten hours sleep, and as long as my iTunes doesn’t decide to wipe my library again, it’s going to be a lovely day. Now, as I mentioned, I’m headed to Berlin to tomorrow, so I’m going to catch you all up on my week now, because the kids have been…annoying this week. And by annoying I mean, alternately horrific and amusing.

So Monday, as ever, was lesson planning. This week it was a lesson about Birmingham and Walsall, which mainly involved wikipediaing the populations and comparing them to Ilmenau. For your reference, Birmingham: 1,085,400. Walsall: 67,594 (in the built up area). Ilmenau: 26,070. Then I did the ARD shift with Hauke (His actual name’s Felix, but apparently the BC Café has an infestation of Felixes). Was all fine, though I would like to take this opportunity to say that everyone does the ARD differently. I mean, there are certain things that everyone does, but no-one does them in the same order and then there’s things that only some people do. It’s a little confusing, and also means my most used phrase is always ‘what do you want me to do now?’

Tuesday I was at work and witnessed exactly how little discipline there is in German schools. Or maybe just in mine. Two 8 year olds got in a fight, and I mean, one of them was swinging around a key on a bike chain like it was a nunchuck type fight, not a your hair looks stupid fight. You know what happened? They were told off, and the parents were told. But that was it. Maybe I’m remembering primary school wrong, but we would have at least been sent to the headteacher for that. Maybe even lost playtime as well. Possibly, if it was a repeat offence, got detention.  These things do not exist in Karl Zink Schule. Which is awkward because now three teachers have asked me what I’d do, and I’ve had to go, well, *this* would have happened, but apparently you’re not allowed to do any of these things.

Wednesday is my longest day at school, but with one of the English teachers out sick this week, I only had four classes not five. The English classes have mainly been about the weather. The kids find ‘fog’ hysterical. Because they think it sounds like ‘fuck’. Wednesday also means my two hours in German/Maths with Frau Hilbert’s class, but this week, we went on an excursion. We saw the oldest post office in Ilmenau (no longer a post office, it’s a chocolate café), a house were Goethe lived, the chronometer (you can find out about that in this blog post) and then Frau Hilbert took it upon herself to explain to me why there’s a plaque of Jewish names in one of the town squares. Spoiler alert – it’s commemorating the Jews from Ilmenau who died during the Holocaust. Something, shockingly, that I already knew. (As a side note, some of the children were shocked that there were “German names” on the list, and it was very hard not to try and explain the whole ‘1) Hitler legally defined Jewishness so you might not have been a practicing Jew but would still have been considered a Jew, and 2) many Jewish people were fully integrated into German society, because, you know, they were normal people, and therefore didn’t necessarily have “Jewish names”.’ But I feel I’d be best leaving it to their teachers.)

Tutoring happens on a Wednesday and this week we recapped describing people. To aid this I took Guess Who? with me, which we ended up playing for half an hour. Firstly, because it’s an excellent tool to teach about distinguishing features, and secondly, because what I had planned only took them twenty minutes.

Thursday I spent two hours sitting at the back of a class, watching while they did a test. I was so much help that day. They really needed me there. (Note the sarcasm.) I really shouldn’t complain. Having so many friends who are FSA (Fremdsprachassistenten – Foreign language assistants)  I see many stories on Facebook of people going in and being kept hanging around for hours before they’re told they’re not needed (Also, I think if someone collated FSA’s facebook statii as a book, it would be fantastic. Someone make it so. And give me money for the idea.)

Friday, as anyone who’s my friend on Facebook or follows me on Twitter knows, I called a girl Emily. You wouldn’t think that would be such an issue as her name is Emily. But no. I said it in my English voice and she huffed back that “I’m not *English accent* Emily, I’m *German accent* Emily.” Which led to me thundering back ‘I’m sorry, I’m not German.’

To fully explain the scenario, she’d just thrown something across the room at one of her classmates. So I said her name as a warning. Clearly she knew who I meant, otherwise she wouldn’t have replied. And the German for Emily is something like ‘em-MI-li’. The differences between the English and German pronunciation are very subtle. It’s like I can’t say Vincent or Robert auf Deutsch. So yes. I also have a problem with this because the children can’t say my name. And yet I answer to all the variations they use. I know, I know, I’m an adult blah blah blah. But honestly.

Friday was also the day I discovered that 19 German eight to ten year olds taking it turns to say ‘sausages’ really warms your heart. One of my classes I doing about breakfast and their teacher told them to go and read out the vocab to me. ‘Sausages’ it appears is a difficult word for Germans to say. And they looked so frustrated when they messed up half way through the word. They all managed it in the end. Even if it meant I spent half an hour just saying ‘sausages’ over and over. The other word they had difficulty with was ‘honey’, which came out as ‘hon-ayyyyyyy’, which made them sound rather gangsta.

Which brings us to Saturday. My plans for the day are not grand. Perhaps finish watching series 4 of Being Human (I’ve been marathoning it this week). Pack for Berlin naturally. Maybe plan out next week’s tutoring. But whatever I do, I’m sure it’ll be a decent day. And I hope yours is to.

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Es war einmal….

If I were to write a fairy tale, I’d set it here. A good, old fashioned fairy tale, like the Brothers Grimm collated. Above the howl of the wind in the hills would be the shrieks of dragons. Straying off the beaten path in the woods would take you to a gingerbread house, a witch lurking inside ready to fatten you up. Trolls would haunt the broken down bridges, charging pedestrians for crossing their ruins. Through the town there would be a steady stream of princes and princesses, on their way to marriages, jousts and balls. The foxes that screech in the night would decide to form a band, playing in front of the town hall. The lakes would house frogs eager to rescue lost toys from the depths in exchange for true love’s kiss. Following the smoke that spirals above the woods would lead you to Rumpelstiltskin, dancing round the fire. Bears would be princes under a spell, statues actually beautiful women and above all there would be magic dancing in the air. If I were to write a fairy tale, I’d set it here. Because although instead of briars it has blocks of flats, and instead of a castle it has factories, Ilmenau has the look of a fairy tale. And what is Germany if not the home of Once Upon A Time?

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Queen Kat of English.

Welcome back to the usual weekly updates of my life. Let’s begin, as always, at the beginning. Monday was spent wandering round Ilmenau fairly aimlessly, because I had no lessons to plan. The highlight of which was someone talking to me in the café and me having no idea what was being said to me. So I apologised and told him I was English, or apologised for being English, I’m not quite sure which. He asked me if I came from near London, and to my eternal shame I said yes. Don’t revoke my Midlander citizenship. I’m sorry.

Tuesday I was back at school, and two interesting things happened. The first was an English teacher telling me that ‘jumper’ must be a regional word because the textbooks all say ‘pullover’ or sometimes ‘sweater’. Naturally, I took to Facebook to document this and it appears my fellow FSAs have had the same problems. And my American and Canadian friends assure me that no-one across the pond says ‘pullover’ either. Ah well, sometimes it’s nice to sound like you’re in a Famous Five novel. The second thing that happened was I somehow ended up talking about the Royal family. And the kids wanted to know if I was a princess. It was eventually decided that I was the English Queen of the Karl-Zink Schule, and that if I ever marry Prince Harry (George, of course, being too young) I have to invite the kids from school. Though they do seem to be under the impression that it’s more a case of when I marry Harry rather than if. (Though I’d get to play this song constantly. I always did love Calamity Jane.) But if I did marry Harry, my sister in law would be Catherine. Which would make four Catherine/Kathryn/Katherines in my family, and I’m not sure I can cope with that.

Wednesday I emailed in ill. I went to bed at half ten. You know what time I actually fell asleep? Half four. I have to get up at 6.20. Trying to get up after 2 hours of sleep resulted in me nearly throwing up, so I made the executive decision that I wasn’t going to be any good to them. So some time later, after actually getting some sleep, I went on a wander because it was beautiful day.

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I’m going to miss the woods when I’m back in England.

Then that evening I went to tutoring. It was Victoria’s birthday, so we did about dates and how to say Happy Birthday. I gave her a birthday card in which I spelt her name wrong, but she gave me a christmas card with my name spelt wrong so I think we’re even. Her and Luka told me how to say Happy Birthday in Serbian and Bulgarian, but I can’t remember it, because they refused to say it more than once. They told me not to be too upset that my pronunciation was horrendous, because they’re difficult languages. At which point I told them I’ve studied Japanese, Russian and Arabic. Cue wide eyes and demands to know how to say ‘hello’ in the different languages. We also had cake because it Victoria’s birthday and we played Uno. Sadly I had to leave halfway through a game otherwise I would have had to walk home. And seeing as it takes about an hour to walk whilst the bus takes 20 minutes, that wasn’t something I wanted to do.

Thursday I really wasn’t needed at the school. I watched the kids do a maths test and then helped them with normal maths work and then the teacher said I could go. So that was a grand total of 25 minutes work on Thursday.  However, I had a doctor’s appointment at 1pm, so despite being finished by quarter to nine, I stayed in school till 12. When I finally got home, because I still had no laptop cable, I ended up reading more of Game of Thrones. Or A Song of Ice and Fire, I suppose I should call it. I read two and half of the books in four days. Have you seen those books? They’re huge. That’s what happens when you don’t have a functioning laptop. You get all productive.

Friday I talked about London and breakfast in England. This included me trying to explain to eight year olds why I’m not a huge fan of David Cameron and yes, there are different types of eggs. That was really it on Friday. I came home and crashed out for the rest of the evening. I know, I lead such an exciting life.

Oh wait, no, one more thing I did on Friday. I bought a ticket to see Eddie Izzard in Berlin next Sunday. I’m a huge Eddie Izzard fan and I saw his current tour last year in Birmingham. So Kat, I hear you cry, why are you going again? Because, dear reader, he’s doing it in German. Oftentimes he tours in France in French, but never have I heard of him doing other languages. So to Berlin I am going. (If you’ve never heard his comedy, I would like to recommend The Death Star Canteen, his thoughts on empires, dictators and cake or death; and Robin Hood. Though I probably should point out there is liberal swearing in most of it.)

So Saturday I was on a cleaning up shift at the BC Café, which involved much washing up and talking about TV shows with Kim. It also involved a guy who looks like Daniel Brühl’s younger brother and Kim insisting that I speak fluent German. And free food. Can’t forget the free food. And then Saturday evening I went to hang out with Ausama, who lives on my corridor and plied me with cake and tea. Was a very pleasant way to spend an evening, and I got a crash course on variations within Islam, the geography of Syria and Syrian etiquette.

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The phonetic spelling of what this is called is Kneffi (according to me).

Sunday I was at the BC café again, helping to pack away after the Spanish brunch. Every month the café puts on a themed brunch and you should care because Therese, my flatmate, helps organise them. Again, this involved much washing up. Pretty sure my hands are just going to remain prunes forever at this rate. And I thought Queens had people to do their washing up for them. Hmm… Might have to work on marrying Harry quickly.

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Five Times I Made a Fool of Myself

Before you get too excited, this is not the top five times I’ve ever looked like an idiot. That is a hotly contested list that I normally catalogue when I can’t sleep at 3am. This, instead, is a very short list of things I did over the Yuletide that proved I’d been in Germany for three months. Which equauted to me looking like a prat. Enjoy tales of my foolishness.

1. Having to think before I said pounds.

It took me a long while to get used to saying euros and cents instead of pounds and pennies, so when I cam back to England I thought it would be easy to slip back into saying pounds. I was wrong. The amount of times I went “It’s five eur- … I mean, it’s five eur-… Money, it’s five money” was stupidly high. Thankfully, I eventually got used to saying pounds instead of euros. Just in time to come back to Germany and have to start saying euros and cents again. If England would just switch to the Euro, I would never have had this problem. (Yes, that is my sole argumemnt for us switching to the Euro – what of it?)

2. Ja, ja, klar.

Being in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language, has made me a god at showing that I understand everything you’re saying to me and yes, I am listening. Even when I don’t and I’m not. But this has spilled over into my English. I found myself listening to friends and family talking and to show I was listening I found myelf saying “ja, ja, klar.” My cousin found it greatly amusing.

3. Time difference

Whilst I’m in Germany, I’m often very conscious of the time in England, because apparently people don’t appreciate it if I text them to say the sunrise is pretty when in England it’s 5am. So whenever I’m talking to people in England, in the back of my mind is the English time. So when I was in England this continued. I’d be messaging one of my friends and think “It’s 1am here, so it’s only midnight for them…Hang on…” Thankfully, my idiocy was kept a secret because I didn’t voice this to anyone. Until now.

4. Not saying thankyou to the bus driver

A cardinal sin in England I know. But in Germany the buses open half way down so you don’t even go past the driver to leave the bus, and I forgot, okay? I was so shocked to be back in my home town with it’s spaceship bus station that I was halfway off the bus before I realised I hadn’t said thankyou. I’m sorry. Please don’t revoke my citizenship.

5. Trying to pay with euros.

I left my euro coinage in my purse while I was in England. And yes, I do appreciate that this was all my own fault. But I kept trying to partially pay for things in euros. I mean, I was using the right amounts but euros are not legal tender in the UK. I think the best time this happened though was in a pub in London, where the girl behidn the bar, who was from a Euro zone country, had to explain to me that I couldn’t pay with euros. I was convinced it was a pound coin. Worst part of that story is that I was trying to buy my first drink. Wasn’t even vaguely tipsy.