Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wrong, wrong, wrong

For avid readers: I asked some students about the whole du/Sie thing (see blog entry from last week) and surprise, surprise, I got it completely wrong. Apparently the random stranger was doing me a favour by calling me du, and inclduing me in her special club. Silly me. What ?!


Last week I posted off an application to renew my driver's license, which as a lucky citizen of NSW, is possible as long as you're not away for longer than five years and your license hasn't been expired for too long. Yesterday I got an email saying that, unfortunately, they couldn't renew my license because I had an outstanding fine which had gone to the state debt recovery service (didn't know we had one) and my license was suspended until I paid it. This was all very confusing given that a) I've been out of the country for two years and b) I don't own a car.
Anyway I sent off an email to the nice folks at the SDRS and they got back to me pronto telling me I had a fine because I... wait for it... didn't vote in the 2005 State by-election for Marrickville. So, to summarise, I can't get my license renewed because I didn't vote in a by-election. I'm torn between being really impressed with the speed with which I got this information, as well as the depth of state control in NSW and really, really frightened that Australia has TURNED INTO GERMANY.

Anyway the next step in this whole ridiculous process was to email the NSW Electoral Service telling them I was out of the country, which I just did. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

High tea

Currently in my, for want of a better word, larder I have the following teas: rosegarden (containing whole rose buds), ginger chai, L├╝beck marzipan, Niederegger Marzipan tea (black), digestion tea, black current leaf tea and a clove and cinammon tea I picked up at the chemist.

Overall a rather girly collection. Perhaps I need to get more of the sort of tea which puts hair on your chest. Sailors' tea? Tea for men who drink too much?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The curse of missing words

My friend Judith when I was complaining about not having the word I needed in a shop:
"Because you have a good accent you don't sound foreign, you just sound stupid."

You and you

I've made quite good progress in German since the days I was too scared to open my mouth in conversation class at university. These days I'm more likely to talk too much, or too familiarly so that the other person thinks I'm either rude or ignorant. My accent is not strong and if I'm really lucky and the person I'm speaking to is a little absent-minded or busy they might even think I'm a native German speaker. But I always give myself away when it comes to saying you.
German isn't as complicated as some language when it comes to the polite forms. On paper it's simple: with strangers, superiors, university professors or anyone else you want to show respect to use Sie. With friends, close colleagues, children or people you meet at parties and other cool and relaxed places use du. If only it were that simple.
To give you a good idea of the complexity of the Sie/du divide here is a recent scenario. At the bank where I work a department has a new board member. He insists on the du form for everyone, regardless if secretary or manager. All of my students mention this fact when I asked them about him. Their opinions, however, on the relative merit of this radical move were vastly different.
Some felt it was a great break with the past of the bank and the rigid hierarchy which led to some colleagues being dutzt and some Sietzt. They thought it showed an appreciation of all members in the department, regardless of how closely they worked with the boss. Sounds good to me.
But wait. Others felt very differently. This shows disrespect for the traditions of the bank, they said. It's an unrealistic and insincere intimacy. And above all, it's an emotionally charged act, to require everyone to use the more familiar term. For those who aren't used to it, it makes them very uncomfortable. Is this a good first move?
I was left fairly baffled by the whole thing. I could appreciate the logic of both arguments but thought it was placing a lot of emotional value on to one little word. Surely, I thought, they can realise that objectively it's not that important? That it means the same thing in the end, if you say Would you be so kind (Sie)or Do it (du)?

And then, this morning someone called for my boss while the secretary was out so I answered the call. It was all going well when out of the blue this complete stranger calls me du. She must have thought I was a lowly secretary or just very young, because I obviously didn't know the rules of phone etiquette (but why? I'll never know) and so wasn't worthy of the respectful term. I was outraged. It seems I have picked it up after all. Now if I could only remember to use the appropriate verb form which follows...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Go Bonnie go!

It's Kiel Week. This, in case you don't already know, is the biggest sailing festival in Northern Europe. This small, provincal town fills up with drunken Poms, Scandinavians looking for cheap alcholol, sailors in ridiculous costumes from the other side of the Baltic, Isreali jewellers, English fudge purveyors, the Dutch, the French, even the Aussies have a stand at the international food market, decked with Fosters umbrellas and selling prawns on a stick. On every street corner there's a stage, a bunch of badly dressed over-fifties and a man selling sausages and beer. Oh and then there's the huge techno parties and cocktail stands selling caiprinhas for five Euros a pop.

So last night was the official opening of this great event and I celebrated it by going to see the highlight on the main stage near the town hall... Bonnie Tyler. Man did she rock. Not only did she look about thirty (but was that a wig? We'll never know) she bagged Axel Rose, name-dropped like it was going out of style and croaked her way through all her friends's hits as well as her own. I have to admit though, when Total eclipse of the heart came on I loved every minute of it. It made me feel like I was eight years old all over again.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Injuries talk

I torn my damn tendon again, this time by playing frisbee in the park after doing aerobics. Thanks to the wonder that is the German health system I didn't have to pay a dime for the x-ray and the specialist, but I did spend two hours of my life in an emergency waitng room watching daytime television. So, the upshot of it all is that while the sun shines and Kielers bake themslves doing all manner of boistrous outdoor activites I'll be limping around, pasty and plump, reading my way through my friend's libraries and watching many TV series'. Actually now that I put it in writing it doesn't sound that bad.

But the real unforseen bonus is that I have discovered the secret of making small talk up here - limp! People who have never bothered to talk to me before, the post office man, the security guard, the baker, are suddenly friendly, sympthetic and personable. I feel like an explorer who, after almost two years of fruitlessly searching for the lost gold of the tribe of something or other, and who had begun to doubt it's very existence, waking up one morning to be told by a friendly native in perfect English that, actually, the gold is over there and they were wondering when he was going to ask.

When I mention my find to Germans they say, "Oh yes, we love to talk about illness, especially the old people." I think I should put this in a guide book as to how to put people at ease:
Some people find the German manner a little stiff and formal but a sniffle, cough, some bruising or a limp will soon reduce them to the amiable, intelligent and interested people they are.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Tube of vomit

I always thought I was a big city kind of person. I love the energy of cities, the different faces, the anonymity, the strange and wonderful corners, the history, the scars. I felt at home in big cities, slipping easily between the crowds, finding my niche of where to shop, eat, drink, learn and marvel. Something has changed.

London was completely overwhelming, noisy, vast, ugly, beautiful and above all, filled to the brim with stuff. I felt suddenly like someone had squeezed my surroundings into a tiny little box and then piled up thousands of other boxes until there was no empty space left in my entire visual universe. Mental either, for that matter. I hated the tube, it made me want to vomit, walking around was a matter of head down, elbows out and somehow even the vast array of food left me cold. What the hell has happened to me?

Which is not to say I didn't enjoy parts of it, like hanging out with a couple of cool ladies, or visiting the (extremely overcrowded)Tate modern filled with amazingly engaged kids and their parents, and some quite cool art. I just didn't love it the way I loved visiting Budapest last year, or going to Hamburg. Either London isn't for me, or I've become a small towner. Help me.

And of course it rained.