Archive for September, 2009

Remember Hemlock

September 19, 2009


So here’s a picture of me.

This week (when last did I write? – My word, it’s been more than a week), I’ve mainly been struggling. Monday evening (6pm) saw me start a big knitting project (the Hemlock, which is also pictured above, but not the one I started on Monday) and fall foul to man-flu allofasudden. I made a mistake in Hemlock, The First, so started it again that evening and got quite far into it.

Then, waking Tuesday with a huge headache and lacking the ability to breath, I stayed home from the language course and slept/knitted in almost equal measures. Realised I’d made a mistake in Hemlock, The Second, so pulled it out and started it again. Knitted obsessively Tuesday, made another mistake and started Hemlock, The Third.

Wednesday wasn’t much better. In fact, Wednesday was far worse. I woke up with similar illnesses as I’d had Tuesday and took the day off. To knit. Then, chatting to Polly on Skype (and knitting at the same time – of course), I realised that I’d made a mistake every 4th round, for the past 35 rounds (ish) on Hemlock. And I was about 12″ in, centre to edge (radius). It was really sad. I posted desperately on Ravelry (akin to Facebook for knitters) for advice and for someone to tell me that it wasn’t all that bad and that all I needed to do was put a few extra stitches in here or there or something similar. But no. I was told that I’d ruined it and that I needed to pull out all of the Feather & Fan pattern I’d done so far. So I started ripping.

I got to the point when I had to start picking up the stitches again and realised that it was harder work than it was worth, just to save the middle section (which is quite a lot different, really). So I pulled out even more.


That’s what it looked like, once I’d pulled all the wool out (which is half fun, half devastating). When I was doing it, I was reminded of my dad (who, since I’ve been knitting, has started opening up about his mum more), telling me about a recurring memory of his of his mother. She used to knit – I never met her. But he said he’d always remember the image of his mother, from what I gather, an otherwise quite together, mature, fully-grown and bold woman, crying as she pulled out ball after ball of wool from what she’d been making, spaghettis of wool around her ankles. Ok, you caught me – I’m adding quite a heavy dose of artistic licence to my dad’s tale, but the point stands. And getting anywhere near that emotional with him is half feat, half shock.

Anyway, so that’s the knitting story. Pictured above is Hemlock, The Fourth, worn on my head, because every time I show it to people, they say, “oo a hat!” That makes me grr. Cause it’s way more complicated than a hat. Recognise my amazing ability, you stupid whench! No matter, no matter.

Apologies to those of you who aren’t knitters. I’ve tried to make it as jargonless as possible so that it’s understood – in fact, I very well done without a technical description of what went wrong.. I might go back and put it in for the more clued-up.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster week otherwise, actually. Last weekend, two Germans at a garden party I dropped into (at Europa Haus V) thought I was German (it’s a good story: they were talking about Obdachlosen (the homeless) with a girl Emily who has polished German and he was explaining Penner, which is a derog word for Obdachlosen.. It’s closer to ‘hobo’ or ‘street bum’. Anyway! I asked what was the word again, cause I hadn’t heard it, having previously been moving slowly away from the English-speaking group into the German speaking group; that was my in-road. Martin, as he later turned out to be, repeated it and sort of said, “isn’t it?” as in, “y’know…” To which I replied, “I’ve no idea.. I’m English.” He looked really shocked and said he thought I was German. Which gave me a huge inside beam. Then he started trying his English out on me. Which grew old. He was sitting next to a girl who also thought I was German, but can’t remember why/how now. Funny, whenever something like this happens, the Germans always ask you whether I’ve got German parents. Then when I say they’re both Brits, they get even more shocked. It’s lovely. I love being able to come across as a German, even if it is for the first few sentences).

I’ve also managed in the last week to befriend a coupla peoplez a bit more closely. Namely, Adelaide, an Australian girl from Melbourne and Sam, a studying-in-Massachusetts-but-originally-from-Kansas German, History and Maths student. Adelaide and I have sort of jumped straight into each other’s pockets and become each other’s confidants. Which is fun. But the main point I write about this little trio is the fact that we’re all from mother tongue countries, yet our senses of humour, our cultural awarenesses (I know, slightly biased example here, because I’m pathetically poorly informed) and our use of English are all wildly, wildly different. I’ve found that Australian English and British English are a lot closer than American is to British and our senses of humour are closer too. I’ve always sort of throned the British sense of humour as incomprehensible by anyone but the Brits, based almost entirely on the fact that the American sense of humour is so different. I haven’t been so closely exposed to an Australian as this before, so that assumption was a bit one-sided.

It’s interesting what you find interesting. Especially when something so odd as that comes up. It’s like duzen and siezen, the German verbs for ‘calling someone Du‘ or ‘calling someone Sie,’ respectively. We don’t have a formal/polite you in English (anymore) so the whole idea is fascinating to me. In some situations, I’m desperately safe that I should be Sie-ing (so desperate that when I accidentally Du, it causes an issue, when I have to break out the “I’m not a German!! It’s hard for me!” excuse), like when some woman with a strong Mannheim/Heidelberg accent (really interesting sounding, quite difficult to understand) called on the home phone the other day to talk to us about fixing the intercom system. I accidentally called her Du, but couldn’t correct it fast enough (I was waltzing around my guests Adelaide and Sam at the time), so had to put up with having called her Du. She just paused, the line silent for a few seconds, and moved on. I made sure I pointedly Sie-ed her later in the conversation, just to make up for that. But, for example, when I got home the day before yesterday, I found Aminata (who’s a new housemate of mine (!! – more to follow) and her mum, constructing a green IKEA bookcase. The Germans have this immaculate talent of avoiding using Du or Sie for as long as they possibly can, by making questions nice and neutral. It’s fantastically clever. I never really realised how quickly I start using “you” in any kind of situation in English (having said that, it’s often used in a way that butters them up even further (for example, “Could you possibly please…”). Anyway – it got to a point where I couldn’t rephrase my questions in an impersonal way anymore and I had to choose, du… or Sie. I went with Du and no-one flinched, but I immediately asked Aminata and indeed her mother (whose name I forget.. eep) whether I should or not and use the whole “I’m still learning” thing. She said something along the lines of, “we lived in America for 6 years, don’t worry about it. We’re used to it.” Which confused me a bit. Made me think I’d been rude or something.. Or maybe had she been used to being du-ed or whatever. (Been clarified here; I misunderstood what she meant – she was just saying that she understood there was no difference in address in English). Anyway. I asked Aminata once her mum had left and she said that she would’ve Du-ed in that situation, so I did manage to judge it correctly.

Another annoying thing (which I’ve picked up mainly from the other ERASMUS kids) is that there’s no universal stage where you can switch between the host language’s formal and relaxed forms of address. In Spain, apparently, they almost always use the informal one. Only problem is, the other Europeans already have a point of comparison. It’s totally, totally new for us English speakers.

Aminata: she’s a Japanology/Anglistics student, who’s just come back from a year in Tokyo. She’s hoping to specialise in Film and Theatre of Japan this year. Anyway, she’s really fun! She’s only been here about 3 or 4 days in total and we’ve already been to the supermarket/(equivalent of) Boots together twice and went out to eat last night in an Italian down on the Hauptstraße. We chat with each other quite a lot (in German, although she does have almost perfect English (from what I gather), so I can easy ask her for a vocab nugget, if I need it). I taught her the basics of how to knit yesterday too, because she’s been very forth-coming with it. She saw me knitting and asked whether I could teach her (not, of course, without me having first blabbed about it at length) then she said she’d been into Wolle Rödel (a chain wool store, findable also on the Hauptstr.) and had a look around (of her very own volition!) and THEN! When I saw her later that day, she’d bought some wool! Eager beaver. Keen bean.

What else is going down… Oh. Marwood and I heard a group of four teenagers (nearer 10 than 20, I think.. or somewhere in the middle) on the tram talking openly about politics, which I personally found quite refreshing to begin with (I heard one of the say, “ugh, he’s the one that’s for tuition fees” and then (the same one) later mention “schwarz-gelb” which is, as far as I understand, a coalition between two parties… But on the boards with “SCHWARZ-GELB // NEIN DANKE” on, there’s a picture of a toxic waste barrel… So I was under the impression it had something to do with the green party and/or involvement with nuclear energy). I phased out after I heard them say that, only to phase back in, moments later, when they were talking about the morality of homosexual couples adopting. Many moot points were made, for example, that if it were allowed the human race would die out (reminder: they were teenagers and exaggerations and gays are sources of laughter), but the fact that there were a bunch of seemingly Kevin-like (reference to Harry Enfield – get in) creatures, discussing openly such contentious issues in a public space. Sure, I’m British and the slightest taboo makes my face itch and, sure, the surrounding Germans were all exchanging glances, but.. well.. It was refreshing to hear.

I was half tempted to stand up and contribute to it, as a homosexual myself (oh, that’s another thing; they were very diligent in avoiding using schwul (gay) and referred instead to the concept of the Homosexueller. Who knows).

That may, or may not, be the bulk of this entry. But I’ll do a usual round-up type list now we’re at the end: got a 2nd EC-Karte (cash card) through for Postbank the other day and only one PIN, so went it to ask what was what and came out with one card and no PIN (the guy who served me is the guy I’ve spoken to on a couple of occasions now; I even told his colleague that I’d prefer to talk to him rather than her.. Felt a bit mean about that), discovered where you can enjoy a yummy yummy apple pie, have been accent-swooned over almost every day by a Canadian girl, recovered (recovering..) from what was a pretty aggressive and sudden cold; worried that all the courses I want to do might be full up (but not acted against this in any way), realised that I have 2 entire weeks free between the end of my language course and the beginning of the semester, failed repeatedly to remember to ring Deutsche Bahn to get Nicola’s cowl and my needles back from them, having left them on the train on the way back from France, discovered that I may well get to go to the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall celebrations in Berlin itself (!!!), realised my camera is crap, realised I’m 21 in three weeks and feel very old, been told I’m mature for my age, got gradually more and more excited about today’s knitting adventures (going to meet the two founders of the Facebook-for-knitters website), missed Sophie, the physicist knitter from England, walked a great distance at past-midnight on a Friday, shrugged off an option to go to a gay dance evening in a club near the train station, finally got my campus card for here and a university email address… run out of things to say on this list.


Remember lots of shitty admin?

September 11, 2009


Wow. It’s been flipping ages since I wrote anything here. Flippin. Ages

And this isn’t going to be a long one either. As I noted a few posts ago, I’m going to have to start concentrating on meditations between cultural differences instead of outing my entire life to the world (and, inevitably, offending people in the process).

The list at the end of this post, which I take great pleasure in writing (and, honestly, can see becoming the fullest content of some posts in the future), is likely to be of some length, but it’ll catch you up.

One thing I would rather write about in full sentences, however, is the nature of language ability and its identity among these Europeans. Coming from a country whose native tongue, is, by chance, the lingua franca, I’ve never really realised how important it is for other kids (from smaller countries, like Hungary or Scandanavian countries) to be able to speak good English. And I never realised a) how well everyone can speak English (when we’re going through the language course at a nice slow pace, and someone doesn’t understand some word, but the teacher wants to move on, he’ll mention its translation in English (bad accent)), and b) how easily everyone is able to switch from language to language and how it’s just not a problem or even an issue for them. Switching in and out of the native tongue or a near-native similar (oftimes English) is just not a problem. I’m getting a bit closer to it with German, to be honest: switching in and out of it is becoming more of a hobby than a necessity. But you see groups of teens just sitting there, speaking in different languages every few sentences. It’s like it’s not even a problem and the comprehension and the meaning is what’s important. Which goes against most of the intellectual fibres I have (considering bant…).

My German is, however, coming on leaps and bounds. I’m learning all the time and I’m so much happier to float my way through sentences now than I ever was in England (speaking German obv). I can float into a bank and have banter with the guy in there who recognises me from all the times I’ve had to complain about my card not arriving, I can cheer angry women in bakeries up, just by asking them how they are in a convincing accent. The bank guy, actually, gave me a real high the other day: I was moaning about my card (not important to know the details) and I said that I’d have to come in and complain a bit more if it didn’t work out this time and, when leaving, I said, “Hoffentlich sehen wir unsnicht wieder” (hopefully we won’t see each other again – bit of a pun on “Auf Wiedersehen” (literally, “On next-seeing”)) and he started to humour-me laugh, then broke out into an actual lol. Which was amazing. I walked away from that counter with a huge smile on my face.

Here comes the ‘other stuff I’ve done recently’ list: met loads and loads and loads and loads of new people (my Germany handy now has a passable number of contacts – which is joyous), realised how easily I click with people (some of the time), went to Pol’s 21st Bday Bop and enjoyed being around roasting hog (and seeing some old friends and stuff too!), got Shostakovich 5 stuck in my head pretty permanently, stuck quite rigidly to the “Pretzel a day” promise, flirted with pretty much everyone, met a really cool girl called Adelaide from Australia (who has amazing hair/dress sense) (with whom I had a late night (semi tipsy) walk home and heart2heart – one of those ‘how wonderful life is’ moments, really enjoyed it), realised I probably don’t want to enter into a relationship with a German because I’d want to understand all the tiny nuances of their sayings and I’d probably be walk-over-able if that were in German (despite it being UH-mazing for my Germanz), made my room an entire mess, started knitting again in a big way, got used to getting up at some horrid-early time for this stupid language course (which starts at 8.30am (finishes at 1)), discovered a fantastic bakery on the Universitätsplatz, brought my horn from home, almost run out of money on several occassions, bought a Semesterticket for the tram/trains for the local area (€127 – but totals worth it), said goodbye to dear Strickfreudin, Veronika (all the best, love!), started wearing my lenses again, got a haircut, realised how much I love my kara (thanks Fay and Safiya), finally enabled myself to listen to music on my massive (and <3) headphones again thanks to the acquisiton of a extension plug thingy), got a bit more positive about my housemate situation (Ami is moving in – girlfriend of Torben, so I’m hoping things are going to pick up and be a bit more chattsy), urmm… missed a trip to Ikea (grr), broke the blind in my room, started knitting a sock even though I vowed I never would, wanted to buy new shoes, started rambling.

That’ll do.

Remember ganz ausgechillt?

September 2, 2009


Ankunft Marwood. (photo courtesy VVAllmen)

Marwood got her late last night. Went back to hers and enjoyed a delicioso soup made by her (aaaaaace!) flatmate, Eva. We ate with Eva, Danijel, Saolo and Chadi and it was (for the most part) entirely in German. I think poor Marwood was a bit shattered, but it was fun nonetheless. She’s settling into the language much faster than I did. It does make me think back to when I first got here though. I was alone, and she isn’t, but even so, I was way nervous to speak to anyone in German, but now I’m all over it. I love speaking German at any possible opportunity.

Today was German Euphoria #3, when Marwood and I spent pretty much the whole day doing shitty admin talking in German, then, later we met up with Saolo, Eva and two of her friends (Johanna (sp?) and Anita – both v cool), went down to the river, sat and played about like fools a bit. Eva and Saolo went for a dip in the river (standard?) and stuff.. But yeah, point is, I felt at home with German (for the third time this trip (I’ll stop counting after this)) again and it was really nice. Johanna told Marwood and me that our accents weren’t strong and that we were good and Eva and Anita said I had a feel for languages on the way back (when Marwood was way up front talking to someone else). Anita tried to explain something about the similarities between English and German and how hearing me talk made her realise them (or something?).. I understood the German, but I didn’t really know what she was getting at, but I think she realised herself that her point was a confusing one.

That’s pretty much it, really! I’ve stopped wanted to document all the details of things that happen, but the main thing to say this entry is that I’m really happy with my progress and comfort in the language and I love it so, so much. It’s super! Wooo!

Other things that need saying: horrible Einstufungstest tomorrow morning (to put us into ability-based sets for the language course this month), stupid Postbank has put a Sperre (block) on my account because my card’s been sent back twice (which consequently has blocked my transfer to Janni for rent, which’s shitted things up – will probably make the transfer from England), I fly to England on Friday for Pol’s birthday and returning on Sunday into HD at like.. 2am or something equally vom. That. Is. It?