Archive for the ‘housemate bant’ Category

Linguists do the weirdest things

March 19, 2010


There are a number of topics I meant to write about in the last entry that I didn’t. This fact solicited a new document on my computer entitled “Things to blog about.” So now I can jot down the little things that I want to remember and will most likely forget. And it helps give me some kind of idea of where I’m going with what.

So. Something that happened right at the beginning of my Damascus experience was the flight. And I forgot to mention something which I really do want to remember. Two things actually.

Firstly, when I was lounging around in the departure lounge, I sat near 4 American golden-agers who were talking about their flight being 5 hours and the time difference being an hour. So I struck up conversation with them, opening “Let me guess: you’re going to Damascus.” I was right! So we chatted for a while, talking about our various intentions and expectations of the place. Turns out they were just travelling, but they were super intrigued by my moving to live there for 6 months. So was/am I. It’s still pretty scary.

Anyway, I left them when the gate number came up and said I’d see them there. When I got to the gate, there were loads and loads of [insert more politically correct term for OAPs here] just wandering around and they all knew each other. But there were loads of them! I couldn’t believe it. And they were all saying thigns like, “I haven’t seen you in ages! How are you? (How was your hip operation?)” (ooh, too mean). So I was a bit confused. My first thought was that they were all ex-patriots from Damascus who’d come back to see family or something and I was scratching my head for a reason why March would be a good excuse to go home.

The few of us that weren’t in this group (we were very identifiable), all gathered near or around me (funnily, though, the Americans sort of latched on to the OAPs). I made vague eye contact with this woman opposite me and we eyed the group of them up together.

Anyway – the point is (and I found this out myself on the plane), they were all from some London guild. The woman I was sitting next to (the chances were v high that I’d be next to someone from the group) asked me whether I was “with the London Guild too?”, to which I obviously replied no. Anyway. She told me that they were on a 10-day tour around Syria (or just Damascus, I forget) and that there were 94 of them. Which was pretty scary for the uninitiated.

So that’s one thing I wanted to record.

Another thing I want to write about is the nature of blogging. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I actually aim to do with my blog, considering I read a lot of other people’s blogs and I do actually have stuff to write about and, reportedly and seemingly, in an interesting way (oh god, I’m a “blogger.” Now I feel sick). But anyway. My main point is not to write interesting literature. My aim is to keep people at home up-to-date on what’s going on with me and also to record things that I’m very likely to forget later so that I can read back and enjoy all the memories in my head. In fact, that last one’s the entire reason – and it’s hyper selfish. It’s also a bit of a forum for me to show off the pictures of stuff I’ve taken and that, but I’m not doing so well on that front. And also, that filters nicely into the “letting people at home know what’s going on”-thing. So yeah.

This was all kicked off by Fay telling me that she reread the article about when she surprised me in Heidelberg. She said that she’d reread it because she wanted to remember it and it was written well. I like that people enjoy what I write. But I don’t plan these things very much; I just let’r rip. Or whatever that phrase is.

On that topic: I did write a list of things I want to put in this entry (and have done before) so the “I don’t plan what I write” is a bit of a (massive) lie.

While I’m being self-analytical, I should write that I’m so happy people have continued to read the drivel I’m writing and I’d like to thank everyone who’s sent me emails! It’s so lovely to hear from people and my current access to the internet situation means I can’t write pretty wealthy replies at home and then have my email client send them all off when I do get online (which is far more often than I’d like at the minute). So yeah – thank you for your continued readership.

So here’s how things are going.

Now I look at this list, most of the stuff is just a one-sentence thing, which means my blog’d be short, but who likes summaries? Not I. So I’ll write at a bit more length.

Arabic is hard. I mean, I knew that before I came. And I was vaguely aware of the idea that I’d have to study hard and really engage the fact that I was studying Arabic when I got here. I mean – I’d expected that it would get more real after I got here; before it was just this weird little thing I’d study every day, cold and grammatical, much of a muchness to maths really. But now, I’m having to engage with it like I had to engage with German years ago, when I started to put things into practise.

This is something that everyone has to deal with here, I think. I’ve come in late to it, so everyone’s used to it now. The bad days are hard and the good days are just ‘ok.’ It’s confusing for that reason – it’s quite difficult to get like a “good” day, but then I guess that’s dependent on a lot of things. Fay’s doing really well, for example, and I’m sure she has days (like I did in Germany at the beginning), where you just feel so on top of it and you can feel the fluency coming.

It’s made me really deal with that, as I say. And made me re-evaluate the whole reason I’m studying this language in the first place. I mean – why Arabic? Why did I choose Arabic? What’s it for? I’ve just remembered I dream I had in Germany about here before I arrived (I think, this is all very vague): I had to run around the city and collect 10 reasons (which were tangible… stupid dreams) why I was learning Arabic and I was struggling to put them all together. Pretty obvious what that means.

A school marching band’s just banded past. And it was loud.

The course (hereafter called ‘school’) at uni is an odd thing, really. Because I’ve come in half-way through the intermediate level, all my classmates have this bank of vocab that I’m just not used to that they’ve been picking up from the previous levels. And others of them have really strong speaking. And the teacher speaks in Arabic at quite a rate and, because the others are totally used to being taught in Arabic, there’s rarely a problem with comprehension. When she uses words she doesn’t think we’ll know, she stops and asks if we know what it means and it’s no problem if you don’t: she’s a good explainer. In fact, she’s a very good teacher.

The flip-side, about me being weak, has really given me some grief, particularly towards the middle of the week, when I often came out of the class completely de-motivated and pretty depressed. I think it was Tuesday afternoon when I fumbled with the edges of the idea of just going. Just telling school I was done with this, going home, packing my stuff up and just going. But then I remembered I’d made myself The Pact of 2 Months, so I can’t. And I’m glad I didn’t now anyway, because I don’t want to anymore. And because I know that now, I know how to deal with it in the future.

There is, luckily, a really easy way to force myself into a wonderful mood and that’s music. I always delay how soon I get my headphones (<3) out and listen to something because it really picks me up. But I did it the other day and it was amazing – Arnold’s first symphony. I listened to a symphony a day, currently about to listen to 6. I realised that I don’t really like his earlier symphonies too (now I sound massively annoying: “I don’t like much of his earlier work”). I listened to the Rite as well, because that just makes me love things.

Phew. Getting this list down slowly.

Oh yeah, on the picture. This is what I thought was my local mosque’s minaret, but it’s actually my second nearest one. I didn’t realise this until afterwards, but the picture’s taken from my bedroom door (with 10x optical zoom on trusty Sony. Still need to give him a name). Fay and I just got a shisha.

Ah. While still vaguely on the Arabic theme: I bought a Hans Wehr dictionary the other day, which is the definitive Arabic-English dictionary on the market and is arranged by root, rather than alphabetically which is super handy for studying the language or translations; it means you can look up a word and see how it gets there and what words are made of the same root – it’s actually really fascinating. You very often get words which completely change meaning when they get further down the forms. Can’t think of any example other than the one I stumbled on by accident (can’t remember why I was looking up the root ja-da-fa (ج د ف) now, but…): tajdeef (the ‘infinitive’ of the 2nd root of those letters) means blasphemy and also rowing, the sport. How weird is that! Can’t see any logical link it, but I’ve forgotten what other meanings that root had. But that’s a funny story anyway.

Anyway, the reason I started that train of thought is because you look up words in the thing and the very last mutation of the way the letters can be arranged around auxiliary letters is so, so often the verb, “to look up alphabetically.” How can that many words mean “to look up”?! Like sometimes it says that more than once a page! It’s ridiculous.

By chance, an Arab was testing me on how to say that the other day and I had a small internal laugh about which one I could choose (as if I’ve learnt any of them). I said a different verb which also means ‘to search for’ and used the correct preposition. He said I was right, so I’m just guessing all of those other words belong to that flowery level of Arabic which doesn’t get used all that much.

(My God, I love writing on Word – autocorrect is love)

Last thing before I start addressing the smaller things on my “things to blog about” in the form of a end-of-entry list: “language students do the weirdest things.” (I was struggling for a title so this is titled retrospectively)

I was thinking about how devoted to our degrees we lot have to be. Like, most other students have to do very little unusual stuff to be advance in their degrees – English students will very happily spend their three years at the host university, reading and writing and all other inflections of Englishy goodness. Engineering, chemistry, pharmacy, vet students, medics might have to go do a year in industry somewhere or something similar, but year abroad students? We have to move abroad to complete our degree.

What great devotion it is to my degree that I’ve moved to the Middle East for 6 months! And I can’t continue my degree unless I’ve spent time in the Middle East. Not at Durham anyway, without some pretty special circumstance. I mean, don’t get me wrong – it’s a huge and amazing experience, but so, so out of a comfort zone. I mean, Germany wasn’t bad at all (Jenny made it worse by making me aware of the words “I’m moving abroad” and, if you recall (probably not.. not sure whether I wrote about it now), I was dealing with the idea of the one-way ticket). Syria’s a bit like that too. In some ways, it’s more than that because the sentence “I live in Syria” is true (even if “live” is a bit far, being that it’s only (‘only’) 6 months, but still).

It’s so strange. You gotta be a special type to study languages.

(Obviously no offence to anyone who studies a boring subject – there is of course opportunity to travel abroad (cf Sophia and Sarah), but it’s not obligatory. This is just reflection).

I miss Sophia so much.

And I miss everyone in Germany. The Germans, the English folk… Everyone. I miss Heidelberg. I’ve found here that everyone really misses where they were before; this experience is just hugely different.

Ok, list time:

Had a second shave with the same guy – not as good this time if I’m honest, my face hurts a bit, but I think he’d had a long day; he wasn’t nearly as chatty. Suffered a change in weather – it went from hugely warm and summery (and a bit unbearable), through really, really windy and now into cold and sunny. Stupid March. Heard the words (in English) “Here’s twenty-five thousand pounds” and felt super, super rich (was only $550 though), broken my photo virginity of Damascus (as proved above), decided to make a Facebook album (slash conceptualism) on currencies of my year abroad, experienced the Arabic sentence: “If there’s no movement from Daniel for a while, he’s working with wool!” from Abu Tariq (landlord) (lol!), done my first wash (I was running out of pants, man), met Fay’s host family a bit more (twice now) and saw her host-mum, Widdo, who is really funny, do some funky dancing after she’d made us lunch (hilarities), went out for breakfast with Sam (housemate), almost failed at speaking German with this women from Switzerland (must get some regular German contact); really, really craved a Bakewell tart; successfully told an Arab to stop speaking to me in English (the guy I bought my dictionary from actually), worried about a piece of homework I have to do (we have to transcribe a listening text which is about 3 minutes long – scary! But, like teach said, it’s good practise for writing, listening and spelling and all sorts), had lols with Fay about the ATM near my house: Fay: “Is it electrocuting you?” me: “No” Fay: “That means it’s not working.” … me: “Aaah, Syria.” (haha); worried about whether to get my host mum something for mother’s day; unsuccessfully navigated my way home from uni by myself, (remember all the broken pegs), struggled to find a replacement for the “Alle Richtungen” banner.

Can’t think of anything else. And bored.


اتذكر يوم الحلاقة الأولى

March 12, 2010

For those friends of mine who aren’t (yet) Arabic-able, that reads “atadhakkir yowm alHalaaqa aluula,“ which means “remember the first day of shaving”!

So, what just happened is this. I haven’t shaved since I got here. And that was last Wednesday (3rd). And there’s no mirror in my house for me to whip out my trusty Phillips and do it myself. So I decided (that makes it sound far more concise than it really is) that I’d try out some of this Middle Eastern living and go somewhere and have a barber do it. Sam – my new-found housemate – had had his done in a barber’s round the corner from here for 50 SYP (which is like… 72p). I decided, on his recommendation, to give this place a whirl (after having first moaned to Claire about not being brave enough). I walked through the street (getting stood on by a guy who hadn’t seen me – great) to this place, found it and asked in Arabic how much it’d cost. He replied in English (more on this later as well *snarl*) that it was 100SYP so I said, “100?! Take 50.” And he said no. So I left.

But! I’d seen one on my way to that place previously on the main street where the barber was shaving himself. So I returned there (struggled with the door) and asked the same question. He said 50. I sat myself down while he finished his shaving.

Now, anyone who knows me pretty well will know that I have huge issues with my neck being touched and I was pretty worried about this when I went in. But it turns out; he was rough and ready enough for it not to be a problem. I got all that crazy white foam stuff on my face like you see in the movies (or on your dad’s face), with really pleasantly warm water too. It tasted vaguely of chemical lemons.

So he whipped out his razor and started chatting to me, razor at my throat. The Azaan (more on that later too) came on (it’s the call to prayer for Muslims which gets massively boomed across the whole city periodically – sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes it’s pretty awful). The guy who had been sitting in the corner (neither customer nor barber, it seemed) closed the door at this point. The guy shaving me at this point asked, having previously established I was British (having first guessed I was German (?) (another guy guessed I was Finnish today too when he was trying to sell me something on the street)), whether we have “all this Allahu Akbar!” in England. I laughed and said no, but that it does happen in the bigger cities (bit of a guess, but I had images of Birmingham and Leicester and Bradford in my head when I said it).

Anyway. I asked him whether he was Christian (which was a bit of a non-question, because the walls were covered with pictures of Jesus and Mary – very openly religious are these Syrian types), which led us into a history lesson about how the Syrian people used to be Christian and every Syrian Christian is actually of Muslim origin. His lesson was interspersed with him saying “you speak good Arabic!”, which he did probably 3 or 4 times. That was nice.

So yeah! Now I’m all frisch rasiert and lookin’ up!

“How-is-it-how-is-it!” I hear you all cry. Yeah – good question. It’s very, very Middle Eastern. I mean, I’d obviously been expecting that (what fool wouldn’t?), but it really is. You can’t bring any of your Western/European scruples here with you – you gotta be ready to accept what you can get and pay the (very, very cheap) prices for it. Which is perfectly fine.

I’m living in a house in the Old City (sorta between Bab Touma and Bab Sharqi, for those who wanna google-earth it) and I’m paying 13,000 SYP a month. Which is like.. £188 or something. I mean, it’s a good rate and the whole house is very clean compared to some of the others I’ve seen. The landlord and lady are known to me only by orientation around their son, Tariq, as “Abu Tariq” and “Am Tariq” respectively (father of, and mother of Tariq). They have a daughter, though. But I still don’t know her name.

Abu and Am Tariq don’t speak any English, but do speak fusHa quite well (which is the Arabic I learnt in Durham and Heidelberg) (as opposed to the ‘amiyyah, which is a kind of dialect, but the dialects are so big that they’re almost different languages (ie, not always mutually comprehensible by ‘Arabic’ speakers from across the Middle East.), which is a huge use. I discovered today, though, that the daughter and Tariq (and assumedly his fiancée) speak English.

While we’re on the topic of home and house (paste recipe for some fancy-pants Victoria sponge cake here): when I came in the house earlier (having been to sort out registration – more on this later (I’m sick of writing that)), Am Tariq and the daughter (I called call her Akht Tariq (sister of Tariq)… He’s such a focal point) were sitting in their living room, rolling these small balls of what could’ve been just about anything. We went through the formalities (of my crap Arabic versions of “hello! How are you!”) and then I asked what they were doing. The only word I got out of their reply was that they were making ‘kibbeh,’ a bowl of which Amu Tariq later brought up to me to try! I embarrassingly had to ask whether it was meaty and told her I was a vegetarian, but, upon being told no, gobbled it all (with a spoon) in one or two mouthfuls! It was yum-tum. And I’d do it again.

Before we leave this topic and bridging to a similar topic: I discovered Amu Tariq is a knitter (I spied a seed-stitch scarf which, with lots of pointing and mimicking, it transpires, she knitted for Abu Tariq). I showed her my Addi Clicks set, which, I think, led to her telling me she could only knit with straight needles. I jokingly told her I’d teach her and, thank God, nothing’s come of that, but I suspect it will when I can speak more Arabic (and, admittedly, probably from myself more than from any wish or desire from her). Anyway: I’ve started knitting Seascape, by Kieran Foley (which you can Rav for yourselves – my internet’s not great, even when I do get access to it) in a lovely lace-weight silk/cashmere/mohair mix (of proportions 20%/10%/70%, I think) in colour green. There will eventually be photos of this up on Ravelry, but time’s a-wastin’. And I’m a-bloggin’.

So what are things I want to type about? Let’s go through and find out what I said I’d talk about later in a nice and uneven plan. So: language, azaan and registration etc.


Sure, I can’t speak this language very well and sure, I make lots of mistakes when I speak, but at least I’m speaking. Any polite person in their right mind would chat back in the language they were addressed in, but you find yourself constantly being addressed in English, no matter what extent of ‘amiyyah (that’s dialect, remember?) you’re using. Sometimes, you do find people who are willing to talk to you in Arabic and, as it transpires, the more that happens, the more they realise you actually only speak and understand fusHa (that’s High Arabic); so they have to switch to it so you can understand them – which isn’t always a problem. In fact, it nearly never is. But then when you wanna whip out your question, “Do you have change for a 500-note?”, which you only know in dialect, you do this and then they laugh. Not in a mean way, admittedly, but still. It is a bit soul shattering to be laughed at, ‘amiyya or fusHa.

Another problem I’ve had with settling in to this new language is probably one of quite predictable monotony. I can’t do it. And I settle myself by saying “you’ve only been here # days, # weeks,” but that just as easily has its very, very depressing counter-argument: you’ve been learning this bloody language for 2 whole years. 2 and a half, if you count studying Arabic in German (I’m not all that sure how much that helped, to be honest).

I’m coming into it now. That previous paragraph was going to be an entire blog, full of moaning and “omg I’m leaving,” but I’m happy about everything now. So I’ll summarise what that was going to be: it’s massively made me question my degree and made me think, on multiple occasions, “why didn’t/don’t I just learn Finnish/Norwegian/Danish/Dutch/Polish/Turkish/etc?!” It’s also made me super-conscious of the fact that I have a lot of work ahead of me and that it’s going to be hard to get any kind of real proficiency in Arabic (but 6 months says I can do it). It’s also made me deal with the idea of dropping Arabic altogether and made me have to grapple with the idea of returning to Durham to complete a degree in one language only. As a result of that, I’ve set myself a two month target. When this is up, I’ll review how confident I feel in Arabic (compared to how most of those who I’m hanging with from Durham are now (Fay, Claire etc – because that’s where there are now)) and decide whether it’s worth carrying on or not. I’ve set this up like it’s not something I’m worried about, but I get more and more comfortable with the concept of dropping Arabic as it this time goes on – it’s just that currently I’m having an up, not a down.

It’s also made me review German and made me decide that it isn’t the fact that I love German itself as a language that much anymore (I have since realised that this isn’t the case – I do love German for the language itself), but rather that I was happy with my ability to get to it: I came up with a metaphor when talking to Claire Read, which I later reused in an email to Sophia and it was this: it’s like I’m sailing in a little wooden rowing boat down this huge (and largely calm) English river & on one side (visualised as the right-hand side, for some reason or other) is a big, big shore of German. When I speak German, I steer my little boat over there, jump out and stand proudly on the German shore (picture or picture not Lederhosen, as the reader wishes). On the other side of this huge river (and therefore very unobtainable) is this rickety, wooden jetty (imagery not intended to be representative of the Middle East and all coincidences are not (entirely) the wish of the author (even if they do seem to fit uncannily well)) of Arabic. And getting into Arabic means a mad dash from German (if that’s where I am), back into the boat (or just a jump in the river – Lederhosen are heavy though), pretty fierce rowing (upper arms?) back across the river and plaintive, shy viewing of the Arabic-jetty from the comfort of my in-the-English wooden rowing boat.

The metaphor doesn’t work all that well, because it doesn’t depict the fact that German words come to me so, so much faster and I often put them in Arabic sentences (this is something other linguist friends of mine have discovered – you find yourself often surrounded by the first foreign language you learnt and end up just grabbing words from that when you tell yourself you need words in a foreign language – I picture this like an Olympic hammer field, where there’s the centre (English), where the thrower (linguist) is standing and then levels of vicinity, 10m, 20m etc. The linguist struggles to throw hammers hard enough to reach Arabic (20m away) and often just lands in German (10m), because it takes far less effort. This imagery is also limited, because I’m not visualising myself bringing those two layers into the same layer and squeezing things in, so they’re the same distance from me, just that one’s on the left and the other on the right. Hope that makes sense).

So that’s all for language.

Azaan. I may well be spelling that wrong, but these are the calls to prayer (I dunno what it is in Arabic, but I know that the guy who does it is called the muezzin (and it must, therefore, be a verb which does not belong to root 1… praps it’s 2). In the hostel I stayed in, the local muezzin sang (terminology?) really, really well, even if it did wake me up at 4.30 for the three (4?) nights I slept there. It was amazing – it’s such a deep-hitting thing, like.. It gets you right there. But not always – there are some pretty awful ones too. Like the one nearest my house, which is about to strike up any minute now, by chance (I can hear the other ones in the background) – that one’s pretty bad. I wish it was better, because it’s my local one and have considered moving rooms for that very reason (you pay rent monthly and so pretty are pretty much mobile. This place is really good though and I’m quite sure I won’t leave (it’s very clean and the family are lovely).


Registering for the classes here is a huge pain. You have to sit a test, get tested for AIDS/HIV, get a letter from your embassy (which costs 2900 SYR! (£42!)) and have a couple of photocopies of your passport and a few passport photos left over – the other things, AIDS test and embassy letter require photos and copies too. It’s a huge ache. But I’ve done it! It’s over now. I’m placed in group 5 (out of 8), which is the middle of the intermediate group. Ideally, I’d’ve been far better than that (and been placed in the advanced level, like I was in Germany), but I’m very happy, considering how hard the test was and how rusty my Arabic is when I’m speaking to people. It gets better all the time – I mean, I had some pretty good Arabic chat with the taxi drivers yesterday as I was jetting off all over the city to get various documents, photos and/or veins to the relevant people in time.

But yeah. I’m registered. I don’t have AIDS. I’m level 5. I’m also going to have 2 whole months of course-less time in Syria – need to email Durham about that.

The local Azaan’s on. Wish he’d shut up so I can hear the one just behind him – which is better. This guy always does it the exact same.

Edited in later: there is actually one more thing I want to write about. It kinda feels like I’m starting all my whole year abroad again – new place, new people, new language, new house, new weather. To be expected, I suppose. Laura Flannery said “Year abroad part II” today, when we were bemoaning how hard it was leaving the countries we’d left behind (for her, France). Which led me onto another point:

Linguists do so much for their degrees. As a bunch, we’re so dedicated to what we’re doing. I mean – we’ve moved to Syria, man. Like. Syria. Where even is that?! What student has to move to the Middle East for 6 months to complete his degree? And how dedicated are students to their degrees to do that? It’s totally crazy.

Kinda cool though; it means there are familiar faces here and that we’re all going through the same thing.

Photos and stuff to follow.

Heidelberg-style list of stuff I’ve done recently:

Been to the Goethe Institut (institute for German-speaking in Damascus – turns out it’s just round the corner from the British embassy). Sat down and chatted with some random Germans (shocking them that I was British *proud of self*). Met Dietmar Riemann (dunno whether he’s famous, but he’s a photographer and had an exhibition running in the Goethe Institut when I went to visit – just turned out he was there by chance really). Got really sick of writing this blog on Microsoft Word, because it doesn’t know shit about grammar and keeps trying to correct me and tell me every 2nd sentence is a fragment (consider revising YOURSELF, BITCH). Met a girl called Zema (pronounced like Emma with a Z at the beginning). Eaten what is reportedly the best ice-cream in all of Syria (threw more than half of it away because it was presented badly and I couldn’t work out how to get it in without first getting it all over my hands). Eaten more than a man’s yearly supply of falafel and loved it. Learnt that the word tomato is not “TomaaTim,” as expected, but rather “benadoora,” which sounds way too Spanish/Italian for me to be happy. Bought an English-English-Arabic dictionary, which only gives me Arabic words through a definition first of the English word I’m looking up (which is actually very handy). Pined over many a copy of the Hans Wehr dictionary (which is a canonical dictionary for the Arabic student, because it’s arranged by root of the letter and then the root’s forms etc – sounds complicated but is very, very helpful). Swooned over the idea of getting the untranslated version (Hans Wehr is, as expected, a big fat German, so originally wrote the dictionary in German – which I chance to know quite well), but decided I probably won’t do. Written the following words in my Arabic vocab booklet: opposite, impossible, change (in a till), change (currency), paper (and £ notes), cleanliness, clean, how much (in dialect), what time is it (dialect), change (coins, also ‘iron’), plate, glasses, to irritate, silly, fridge, win (against), backgammon, rest, comfortable, awesome/wonderful, corner, knife, fork, spoon, castle & empty. My battery’s running out so I’ll finish this list later. [some hours later…] taken to wetting my forearms every time I wash my hands, because of the heat (it was 29ish today). Had some banter with Qaasim, Fay’s mate. Felt good about having scored into level 5 on the placement test – seemingly not so bad after all. Worried that I haven’t documented the first part of the 2nd half of my year abroad well enough, either in photographs or bloggery. Practised mastering the art of replying to emails offline and then having my computer save them for Send Later.


December 15, 2009

I’ve started thinking about blogging in the following way: get inspiration, write blog immediately. Otherwise I just get ideas for stuff I want to write and it never gets written down.

I was just now comparing myself to Enrica (who was an Italian student who did Arabic with us in Durham last year) and how this one time, right at the beginning of her stay with us, she and I went for a sneaky coffee in Brown Sugar (neighbouring coffee house to lecture place). Firstly, that shows how open Brits are to new students (in complete Gegensatz to the Germans, who are not very accommodating of their class mates – I’ve only managed to get the number out of one of my classmates, a girl in my Japanese class. I’ve only really developed a talking relationship with one girl in my Arabic class too – the others just treat me with suspicion. I could be wrong. I probs am wrong). But anyway.

Then I was just thinking about how I had no in-road at all into speaking to her in her mother tongue. I had very, very little knowledge of Italian. Very little. Still have that amount. It’s shameful, but, in this situation, and for her, a bit of a blessing. She and I had to speak English; that’s all we had to hand. It’s perfect for her. Speaking English is much, much more expected in England than speaking German is here. But that’s just because I’d never realised what kind of a profile English had outside the English-speaking world. It really is everyone’s second language. To the point where I feel like I’m denying people practise, even though I’m speaking pretty good German at them.

This is another thing. I’ve not got much time left here now, what with having to move on and the like. And I was thinking: if I don’t come back to Germany, my German’s as good now as it’ll ever, ever be. Which is really sad. Not because my German’s shit. Au contraire. I feel really, really confident. Yesterday, for example, I spent pretty much the whole day in German and the English was limited to my head (except for a telephone call and a random meeting with friends). I love it when that happens.

But yeah. I’m good, sure; but I definitely could be better. Sometimes, still, people say words and I don’t know what they mean. I understand everything everyone says, but sometimes only by context. Not every every-day word has its own image for me yet. 6 months is not enough for someone like me in somewhere like this.

In other news, I’ve been writing a Referat I have to give on Friday (like a presentation) about language acquisition and cognitive development. The text’s in English – when she was doling out the texts, she asked whether anyone had a preference to do the English text and I, of course, sorta bagsied doing it. Shame, cause it’s so, so academically written. And I’m so painfully un-used to reading such texts. But anyway. The point is, I’ve been writing the presentation (slash translation of some parts) in(to) German and I just feel so much easier with written German. I’m so much more confident than I was with the written word, even though (despite Mcardle’s advice) I’m not coming into that much contact with the written word, than I ever did in England. I read out what I had to Torben earlier and, except for the odd noun-choice and one word-order (rookiefail) thing, the rest of it was fine. Quite fine. Fine, in the old sense of the word. Which made me proud.

Remember the Kitchen Window – stand here, feel wind, feel beautiful

December 10, 2009

I’ve taken to a lot of things since I’ve been here.

Among other things, it’s thinking a lot more of the little things. A theory Sophia and I named the ‘angora’ theory. Just.. Being all filmic about things. And letting the little things speak to you in a bigger way.

Another thing I’ve taken to is opening the kitchen window while the kettle’s boiling and sticking my head in the wind.

The window in the kitchen’s very much like a velux one – all slanty with the roof. So I can easily open it, and stand in the breeze. It’s so refreshing. Fresh air in the house.

I grabbed my camera at this point and tried to take a photo of what I was staring out onto on this grey, German  Thursday morning, but the battery died with that awful early 90s squeak my camera gives and the instruction, “Change battery pack.” on the screen.

But having been influenced just now (pre-tea) by Nina Paley’s most recently blog entry (writer of Sita Sings the Blues, which I saw in Clermont with Fay in France and who’s blog I’ve been skimming since), I decided I’d try and make the day of my flatmates.

I took a piece of paper and wrote on it, in English:

1. Stand here.
2. Feel wind.
3. Feel beautiful.

Sure, it’s shit and over-arty, but I like to think that it’ll have made someone’s day. I like it when I get like this.

Tea to be supped.

Remember Ingrim Strasse, being hideously behind and ‘qualified’

November 23, 2009

Ingrim Strasse is one of those tiny, tiny streets up at the east end of Altstadt. Up there, they all get a bit complicated and go in all manner of different directions. But there’s something better about Ingrim Str. compared to the rest.

It’s a pretty narrow and high street, quite like all of them down that end of town. The windows are high as well, but some of the window and house-faces are large open windows, not unlike shop windows

But the special thing about Ingrim Strasse occurs to me every Friday when I’m walking home from my 9am Language Acquisition lecture in the germanistisches Seminar. It’s such a strange street. You walk down it and, just because of human curiosity, you move your head from side to side. You look in windows, because they’re at your eye-level. This is the good bit.

Every window has something odd and different in it. It’s so… oddly exotic and fun. It’s such a traditional street, though. All the wooden furniture in the weird rooms beyond the exciting frames. You walk past that show with the huge office right there on the street – huge glass window – the name of the shop written in some odd script that you can only guess is something like Armenian, even though the ‘first’ letter looks a bit like an M…

Ingrim Str.’s just one of those places you can’t quite believe you’ve finished walking down when you get to the end. It’s the kind of street you just want to walk down again. And again.

I’ll take Polly there when she comes on Thursday (!).


Remember Dead Set and dejection

November 8, 2009

Aminata, Cynthie and I watched a 5-part TV series that showed in 2008, Dead Set.

Considering  I’m the most squeamish wuss I know, I absolutely loved it. Sure, some scenes in it where some of the most horrific scenes I’ve ever seen (I’m not going to give anything away cause everyone should see it), but maybe I’m just poorly experienced.

Anyway. The point is: it was amazing. I hadn’t realised before that zombie-type fiction often had a social comment type message in it – Cynthie informed me of this. It was so, so good. I managed to vent it all out to Jenny, which means I’m not going to write all the bits I enjoyed or all the comparisons that spoke to me. I would like to mention that I was nearly crying at one point, but the fact that mass peril and destruction makes me cry is not a new thing (cue scenes of my crying at Children of Men).

Dejection: I did a search on Ravelry for groups with “Middle East,” “Syria” or “Damascus” in the name and it yielded no result (except ‘Middle East’ gave some ‘Peace in the Middle East’ type groups). Looks like I’ll be knitting alone in the Middle East. If indeed I go.

Remembrance Sunday. The two minutes’ silence are officially happening right now. So I’ll be sure not to speak.

Remember: butter-pretzels, Mannheim, Plöck, cello, orchestra, European winter Zara, other things and to blog more often

November 5, 2009

This is another blog-post with a to-do list. A to-do list so out of date, that half of it’s in one pen and the other half’s in another.

It was originally going to be a post about Plöck, a post about cello and then another, more recent post about things innumerate that have happened in-between. But it’s getting shoved all into one now. Like it or not.

So. Here goes.

Some bikes whistle, some bikes squeek. Some bikes crackle and some rustle. Some click, some clack. That’s what it is to walk down Plöck at any time of day. Bike-riding culture is something I knew I’d have to expect. I’d heard that HD had a huge bike-riding culture, because of it’s annoyingly medium size. But I hadn’t expected this extent, quite so much. I’ve taken to walking down Plöck more often than not now, just because I like being zoomed past by people and their noisy metal. It’s so interesting to hear all the different songs they sing.

Bikes. Who’da thunk I’d ever spend that many words on writing about bikes? Those of you who know me a bit more intimately may be interested to learn that I rode Sophia’s back on Akademiestr. recently. If that doesn’t say anything to you – then you’re not going to find out. Yet anyway.

Sophia. Speaking of, Sophia’s been the agent of a discovery I’ve made about learning language here. With her, like few others, language is important. She plays with words in a way I don’t quite expect and manages somehow to humour-shock me with the way she sets things up (even if she does have a pre-funny face (like a sex face, but a bit more serious)). She’s the one who’s made me realise how important it is to have contact in your own language. German’s great and all that, but being able to know a language as thoroughly as you know your own, as deeply and as laterally, is unsurpassable (WordPress seems to think I’ve made a mistake with that word, but’s telling me I’m safe… All of this kinda goes against my point a bit, worryingly).

Which leads me onto another thing I’ve noted about deepening my German. Firstly, Sarah Marks was right when she said that your acknowledgement of a mistake moves slowly back in time, relating to the mistake itself: you start, when you get here, by making a mistake and either not realising or realising a few minutes after; then it gets to a point where you say something, and you realise a second after, that you were wrong; then it moves over (I have the image of a clock-face in my head, where the center is the problem and a finger is slowly going forward in time – at this point, the finger’s pointing at 12), so that you think about the potential mistake as you’re making it, then the finger swings forward (backwards, respectively), so that you think about it just before you make it (and are able to correct it), then it moves even further back, where you can feel yourself wanting to use that construction and pre-empting the mistakes, words before you get to the crucials, then it becomes automatic. My example of this is the construction “… should have done…”, which, unlike most German verb constructions, does not parallel the English as neatly as you might expect. I’ve always wanted to say “sollte gemacht haben” (“[should] [have] [done]”), but they actually say “hätte machen sollen” (“[would have] [should] [do]”). I constructed it without mistake (and without realising at first) the other day, which made my life. (on this topic: Aminata told me that she thinks my German is fluent, because I don’t think about what I’m saying and it just comes out, which is true, but I don’t want to define fluent like that. It was nice to be told that and it’s always nice when people question your nationality or parents’ nationality/language when you tell them you’re not a native speaker).

Secondly, and onto the thing I actually started this paragraph meaning to tackle, is that I’ve noticed that German is slowly moving closer to having an emotional connection with each of its words’ meanings. That sounds poncey, but I used to note that saying something sensitive (like “I’m gay”) in German was a lot easier than it was in English and figured it was because I’d grown up with those English words and had them bandied around me everyday in school or whatever. So that they were my first point of contact with the concept. With German, however, I’m finding that I have to inject more emotion into what I hear and what I say, because it’s still a little cold to me. The words are still a bit distant and don’t lie in my heart with the perfect connotation or whatever. I realised this because I’ve picked up a lot of slang words recently, (including, krass, gell?, voll, richtig, abgefahren, halt and so on). Halt‘s the one that made me realise this. It roughly translates as “just” into English, in a normal sentence. So you’d say something like, es ist halt so for that’s just how it is. My brain, constantly on the look-out to understand German as its first priority, picks out the words “es,” “ist” and “so” and pieces together that the speaker is drawing a comparison, but the ‘halt,’ in that flat interpretation gets lost. So I find myself having to listen to those kinds of words, just to pick up exactly what kind of an angle the speaker is taking towards their subject matter, or similar. Now I come to write about it, it’s actually pretty difficult to describe, but I hope I’ve done it at least a smidge successfully and not just ranted for ages.

From here on: it is less boring.

I felt that was necessary. The previous paragraphs have been really, really cold and linguistic. Unintentionally subject-specific. So massive soz about that (not really).

I woke up very early this morning because I have Arabic with Dr. Hug at 8am (read it… 8am) on Thursdays. I stumbled upon a couple of ’10 questions for an interpreter’ type videos on YouTube and eventually onto courses/colleges (one in America) for interpreting and translation study. Or was it last night?.. Can’t remember. In any case, it’s given me a new impetus and realistic approach towards actually becoming what I want to be. I’ve slowly been getting more and more despondent about my skills in Arabic and my interpreting skill as whole and worrying about what I’m going to do after, but those few videos have really kicked my motivation core and made me really want to pursue a Masters in Interpreting. For that, I’ve also had to realise my different approaches to my two languages. I really want to be able to exist as a native in German, whereas I know that’s nowhere near possible for Arabic (at least at this stage) and being an interpreter (or even translator) requires only (I say ‘only’) a 100% comprehension of the source language, which is something I can work on in the next 6 months in the Middle East and again in my 4th year in Durham, then again at my MA institution, if I indeed a) get onto one or b) do that in the first place.

I do, however, desperately want to stay in Germany for the whole of my YA. Every single German word I say is like a drop of enjoyment into a big pot of self-confidence and I can’t bear leaving it. I don’t feel like my German’s good enough now nor will it be good enough by the end of the Wintersemester for me to leave, but giving up on Arabic is just such a huge waste and I actually do enjoy it, even though it’s hideously like learning Latin at the minute (almost purely grammatical and less like actual communicative medium).

Anyway, the whole Masters story made me motivated and gave me hundreds of ideas for what I could do after my degree is finished (now that that’s a nearing doom I have to reckon with).

While I’m roughly in the same area as Arabic, two things occured to me. One good, one bad. The bad: the teacher I have on Thursday mornings (Dr. Verena Hug) is fantastically clever (that’s not the bad thing), but writes about the very fine details of the ins and outs of deepest Arabic grammar using Latin characters. Which is very, very frustrating, especially because it means she has to end up using apostrophes going one way for hamza and the other for ع. The good: I’m really proud of myself for being able to follow such a deep and face-close analysis of the Arabic grammatical system, even when it’s entirely in German. Sure, when she asks us to render something into German, I struggle and flail a bit and the others do it so quickly and easily that I miss what they say (and therefore a segment of the teaching, if it doesn’t get repeated), but I’m able to follow a very great deal, without having to worry. Relaxing into comprehension is an amazing feeling.

(I want to write about good days and bad days with German here, but I fear I’ve written enough about language for one blog post, even though it is massively, massively over-due. So I’ll write it in brackets here, for me to remember later, when I’m old and grey as well as Arabic verb forms being vaguely similar to the changes of meanings of German verbs when they undergo transition into zer- or ver- or be-).

— Language bant has really stopped now. Honest. —

In other news, I got my hands on a cello last Friday, because I’m going to play with a quartet with some friends. Reached the whole situation completely by accident. She and I were talking about music and she said she thought she might start a quartet & that she has everything, but a cellist. I play cello! So I started looking for one (luckily, Sophie rents hers and I just had to ask for details). Funny thing is, the guy who the cello belongs to is a) a Geigenbauer (violin-maker) and b) in the orchestra I’m playing in (also reached pretty ‘randomly’) on Horn! Quel surprise et quel coincidence dans mon life. French. Standard.

That actually reaches the bottom of my list. Which is depressing, non? I’ll start one of those iconic, one-phrase-here’s-other-stuff-I-did lists and see what happens:

bought, stored and ate a considerable amount of chocolate, bought, but am yet to eat, a pomegranate, knitted the back of a cardigan for myself in some beautiful green Noro, taught Ami how to knit lace (she’s making a hat), bought a beautifully blue woolly jumper from Zara, which, by the way, is fantastic at the minute (they had some dreamy leather shoes which I didn’t get (boo)), successfully joined and integrated into Heidelberg University’s Lesbian and Gay society (called LSBT Karl-und-Ruprecht AK ( … lol)), bought an Arabic textbook for €50 on a whim, received £1,000 from Durham Grant which I’ve yet to put to good use, continued to forget to hand in/post forms for even more money from ERASMUS, dropped “Deutsch und Englisch im Kontrast” and “Sprache und Emotion”, wished I’d taken Czech instead of Japanese (now that it actually does fit into my timetable), struggled learning the first of 3 Japanese alphabets (one of them is a series of thousands of characters, akin to Chinese and therefore can’t be counted as an alphabet, but I’m on the waa-waa, so you’ll do as your told), tried to convince myself I need lots of Ökowolle from Wolle Rödel, when in fact I don’t; continually failed to find enough time to practise cello, knit, play computer games with housemates and read (must work on a way of doing all at the same time); had some delightful email contact with Jane Gannaway, have boxed up but am yet to send boxes with small presents in for two of my nearest and dearest, continued eating a pretzel a day and, in fact, have had two on some days (including today), dropped the habit of sleeping in, agreed to play in a horn quartet recital at a Church mass a week on Wednesday, bought new jeans (again, on a whim), (this should be up there with Zara, but…) bought a really interestingly-shaped brown cardigan/jumper thing with a big necky neck cowl/scarf thingy thing, needed a wee the entire time I’ve been writing this blog, …, got massive pins and needles in my left leg whilst writing this bloody thing, bought a pair of test contact lenses from an opticians, only later to realise that I needed a stronger prescription than the glasses I’m wearing; given a girl I barely know from Japanese class break-up advice, seen a woman breast-feeding her young child in my Japanese class (betcha glad you read all the way through this list now, arencha!), shaved surprisingly regularly, urmm.. that’s like it. *bored*

Remember cornered beef?

October 9, 2009

Yeah, pictures are looking a bit sparse at the minute, right? Oh well. Deal with it. (I edited in this picture; it’s a close up of Banham’s socks).

So. I don’t want to be one of those annoying vegetarians who’s like, “UH-MY-GAWDDD LOOK HOW BLAH BLAH BLAH”, but I ate meat accidentally yesterday. And it was awful.

I went to Ana’s (she’s a Bosnian girl) birthday shindig last evening (is it me, or does everyone have their birthday in October? *points at self*). She’d cooked some pizzas, three types. I was trying to figure out what was what and also trying to avoid getting into the group’s spotlight by being like, “HELLO, I’M BRITISH. I DON’T DRINK. I DON’T MEAT.” But then a slice was thrust onto my ‘plate’ (it was Winnie the Pooh (!)). I saw a mushroom and thought, “A-ok.” Bit in and there was this.. texture. Lordy, I’m retching just thinking about it. Anyway, this horrible, horrible texture in my mouth.. And that taste, that taste I remember from all those years ago. It was horrible. I chewed and chewed and tried slowly to digest it and to move towards the table to exchange my slice. I managed to give the slice to Ana and mention the word vegetarian to her and she exchanged. But I had to swallow it. Lordy.. Retching or what. I managed to suppress all the retchings at the time, but now I come to write about it, it’s horrible. My word.

And yes, if you want to know: my body is reacting. And I don’t like it. My stomach hurts. (Again, please don’t take me for one of those “OMGGGGGG” vegetarians please k).

Yesterday was a big first too. A big first, in that I spent almost the entire day speaking German. I only spoke English on the phone with my dad for a few minutes, occasionally on the phone to Marwood, maybe a quick Skype with Fay. No full-length conversations in English – but at all. And a helluva lot of German. Aminata and I went on a small wool excursion, walking from our house up through Neuenheim and into Handschuhsheim. The woman in that wool shop in HSHeim is really really nice.. She’s really chatty and friendly (unlike those in Wolle Rödel… Hmph) and offered me a student discount on a large amount of wool that I was poking. She also has the perfect colours(!) for Kate’s Pikachu Jumper in there! So I can definitely go and get that thing sorted. The red and the yellow are just so perfect against each other. Looking forward to that. She had the perfect, perfect blue for my jumper and a grey to match, but the blue that she had was the last ball she had of a discontinued colour. It’s so annoying. That kind of thing happens in the wool industry far too often. They just change colour lines. She showed me another line of wool (different texture), which had a nice blue and a beautiful grey and a yellow too, but I just didn’t like the blue enough to buy the thing there and then. I may well go up and have another poke around today. Speaking of.. I should remember to ask whether she accepts credit card or not. Etc.

Anway! I was chatting about language then got all tangential. Yeah. So Aminata and I went up north in search of wool and had yums together in a little eatery round the corner. Then we came back and I milled around at home. She came back and we had a bit more wool bant, then Torben came back and we all went to the local super-market together to get some essentials. I had to borrow a 2€ coin from Torben, cause I’m well poor. Bloody transfers. Why can’t it be immediate? Anyway. We all three of us mocked Ami’s pronunciation of the words Kirche and Kirsche, because, for some reason, she can’t quite say ‘rch’ properly. Anyway. That was fun. Afterwards, we started talking about words that get borrowed from English or something and Torben mentioned that the Tschermans (lol) used to say “corn-ed” for “corned” as in, corned beef. Which sounds like ‘cornered.’ I broke out in extreme giggles, because the imagery of cornering a beef was just too much. They loved it too. That was fun. Fabian drank apple juice out of a bowl, too. That was fun. That was some yummy apple juice, even if I couldn’t open it and had to go back to the shop and ask the woman (this was a veg shop, so she was a bit of a beefy) to open it for me. I told her she was mächtig, she agreed. I felt thoroughly emasculated.

What else has happened? Probs nothing. I’ll start writing the big list, cause that gets me remembering things:

knitted one of the green mits for Emir (an asked-for production), got asked to knit a little laptop cover for Ana for her birthday (which reminds me, I should ask Kerstin how she did hers, cause hers is loooovely!), got gradually nearer and nearer my birthday (tomorrow…), got invited to play online games with Aminata and her Japanese friends (German-speaking banter and putting my amazing computer to good use once again, having stopped playing games..), got the heating in my house fixed, but still haven’t got the blind sorted, continually managed to avoid going to IKEA, rediscovered Elgar’s cello concerto, saved Aminata from multiple knitting catastrophes (affectionately named “knit-mergencies”), flicked through a magazine that came for Janni, watched the STEFANEL catwalk video and loved lots of the stuff (, realised how camp liking fashion is, struggled further with homosexuality, ran entirely out of money and asked a woman in Penny Markt which of my cards would work at the checkout, only to be told in pointy and grunty German that only my German card would, failed to arrange anything concrete for my birthday other than knitting, failed to find/send anything to Jono; OH YEH, met two cool knitting girls on a train on the way to Würzburg last week and meant to blog about it – that’ll do though; spooned with Sophia and later had her stay at my house – bed-sharing yum, failed to buy extra sheets/towels, managed to find some replacement face wash, managed to sort out my timetable for lectures and stuff here and put it into some kind of order, but I’m probably taking too many courses (this will probably be detailed in quite some detail in days/weeks to come), realised I should blog more often, enjoyed writing these huge, huge lists of stuff I’ve done way too much.

Finished writing this entry.

Remember a group of young’ns fighting on the Hauptstraße?

October 5, 2009

Thank God there’s still a word or two in this language where you can use the ß. I’m starting to fear that it’s slowly becoming just English words with a German accent.

That’s a lie really. I’m feeling nearer and nearer to the language and the what-was huge curtain of a transition between the two languages is slowly becoming a thinner and silkier veil. Aminata and I were speaking tonight (about knitting – I told her I can only really teach knitting in English, because I just don’t have the vocab in German) and at one point, I suddenly realised she was speaking German. Funny when that happens.

I’ve also realised I’ve got a very, very sticky brain for language acquisition. Which is handy.

I haven’t written anything for ages and that’s because I’m v scared of repeating myself. Most of the things I want to write are just fresher looks onto things I’ve already sorta mentioned. Like language things, or the thing about how the Earth beneath my feet is the skin of the country with which my nation has such a brilliantly colourful history.

I’m desperate not to ramble about knitting as well. So I won’t.

Chadi, who’s a housemate (quasi) of Laura’s, is an Arabic-speaking Kurd. He and I sometimes joke-speak in Arabic. An interesting observation there on would be thus: I’ve realised that Arabic is one side of my English and German is very much the other. So I have huge, huge problems, going from a German-speaking conversation into anything Arabic, because the words are right across the other side of the English river in the middle. The simplest of words escapes me. Words I know I’ve learnt. It could, however, be a simple combination of launching out from German and also the huge long break I’ve had from Arabic over the summer. I do, however, re-get the huge feeling of awe I have for the way the Arabic language works. It’s fascinating. Compared to German and English, it’s just so whacky. And that’s one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. Despite my very intense fear of travelling to the Middle East after I’m done here (which, by the way, hangs as ever in the balance. I’m very easily persuadable to stay in Heidelberg and, therefore, stop studying Arabic altogether, but all the sensible parts of me flash red in these instances and tell me how much of waste of my 2 years’ Arabic study that would be).

Which leads nicely into more of the previously-mentioned shitty, shitty admin. I need to learn to hide a bit more behind the huge ERASMUS term. I’m overly worried that my not being on-the-ball with signing up to courses might mean that I don’t get to take part. But then I have to remember that there are numerous other ERASMUS kids who can’t speak much or even any German who are having to rely entirely on what their home universities are telling them or what information is filtering down from the German-speaking contingent of their friends. So they’re not registering as properly as a real German student would have to. And then I remember that this placement is about polishing up my German – not studying all the courses I can fit into my week, just because they sound interesting. Having said that, there are many, many of them. Including two which I think I’m definitely going to be doing: Sprache und Emotion (Language and Emotion), Spracherwerb und kognitivie Entwicklung (Language Acquisition and Cognitive Development), Deutsch und Englisch im Vergleich: Grammatik, Pragmatik und noch was dazu (English and German in comparison: Grammar, Pragmatism (assumedly ‘use of language’) and some other word I forget), Arabisch Aufbaukurs II (Arabic Continuation course II) and probably another language on top, as well as Übersetzung V: Alltagstexte A- in B-Sprache (Translation 5: every-day texts from A to B language (which is German into English this way around)) and I want to slide an interpreting course in there too. A tall order, you might suspect. But the fact that I don’t have to study is somehow pushing me on to be really hard-working and learn loads. In fact, in these weeks between the language course’s end and the beginning of studying at uni, I promised myself that I’d take the opportunity to read up on all the stuff I seem to have missed out when I was a kid. Like developing a real grasp of my own language and working out what words fit where. Looking at Arabic. Reading books that everyone should’ve read. (Knitting the second glove…) All of this has lead me to buy a book called Biedermann und die Brandstifter. Members of my German A-Level class will remember Andorra, by Max Frisch. This is another play by the same author. One which I retrospectively remember our teacher mentioning at the time as a good read. Also, I am spurred on to read A Picture of Dorian Grey, just because everyone says it’s a piece of narrational genius (عبفري in Arabic.. Sweet times (… means ‘genius’, not ‘narrational genius’). The road to informed functionality is however long and lonely.

Another concept I’m having to come to terms with is looking at this €50 note and realising it’s all I’ve got left before I’m using my credit card to survive. Just interesting that I look at the thing and, even though it’s dividable into 2 20s and a 10, which seems so much more, I still have issues dealing with the unfamiliar currency. This is all pathetic, to be honest. There are people I know in Durham who are settling in to new lives in Damascus or South America, where things are wildly different and all I’m doing is keeping this chair warm in Heidelberg, Europe. And yet I moan about how everything here is so different. I guess the skill is transferable, to regurgitate one of those awful CV-terms. The fact that everything’s different just makes you realise how insular we are on our little island. We don’t actually have all that amazing a reputation anymore, either. Much to my disbelief. Having said that, I occasionally get hyper patriotic. For example, in the language course in the last week, we were talking about a Swedish (or Finnish?) med student who had previously been a murderer and the ethix behind that. And, for some reason, I was desperate to mention Dr. Shipman – somehow.. as if it were a competition or something. I felt ashamed, but also strangely British. Then again, I’m not sure how much I can align that with just the feeling of belonging to a nation. Who knows.

Yes, by the way, I’ve been present during a German election and somewhat successfully managed to avoid too deep a discussion about it and thereby retaining the shroud around my political ignorance.

But student loans come in on Wednesday. So a small transaction on the part of my dad will mean that my bank balance will once again soar through the €1k point. Thank the Lord. No wonder I’m skint, to be honest. The language course was €300, the flight out here was about €200 all told and the flight back for Pol’s birthday was not so small a dent on the not-so-smooth surface of my finances. Which puts me somewhere between £500-1000 down on what I would be.

It’s my birthday on Saturday. I’m not ready to be old.

The list of things I can’t manage to write too much about: there were a group of young’ns fighting on the Hauptstr. (from what I could gather, it was a break-up and all their friends, but I walked past), bought a long, woman’s cardigan from New Yorker (of all places) for the grand sum of €24.95 which I haven’t taken off since, got mega pissed off with how the heating doesn’t work and how much I’m having to wear in bed to keep myself warm, continually managed to avoid forcing myself to go to IKEA, tried a new cake from a bakery down the road and enjoyed it, drank 3 cups of tea today (very unusual..), watched Atonement, considered wearing things I actually like (and throwing caution to the wind, regards what society said) … (ok, I’ll explain that one a bit more. There’ve been a few items of clothing in my life recently, exclusively for women, which have made me want to embrace wearing the kind of things I like more than just throwing on the old t-shirt/jeans combo I’ve grown so comfortable in. Most recently, a large scarf of Marwood’s, which I wore all the way through Atonement, then stood staring at myself in in the mirror. A wonderfully drapey item with lots of purple floralies on it. There may well be a name for this kind of a pattern but I don’t know it. Then also a side-wards knit garter stitch item in the Irish shop (Tinney’s) on the Hauptstr. … Made for women (and cost in excess of 120€), but I think it would’ve looked glorious on me. The shame is that I’m not daring enough to wear what I want to confidently enough. Nor do I have enough pennies); gone back on my word about knitting a pair of socks (again), knitted a glove (with fingers and a surprisingly beautiful celtic knot in cables), worked my way down Ros’ shrug – which, by the way – is very near completion, considered seaming up Safiya’s (Fay’s mum’s) jacket and sending it to her with instructions of how to wash/dry/stretch, rambled on to more people about knitting than I can possibly imagine, met the most beautiful cowl in person from Marc O’ Polo (or something), which is a high-fash shop on the Hauptstr. – I saw the thing in the window a few weeks ago, but one of Aminata’s mates had bought it (the last one!) and it looks fab. This is the end.

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.