Archive for the ‘knitting’ Category

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.

Language.

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).

Registration.

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.

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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 cornered beef?

October 9, 2009

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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 (stefanel.it), 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 Hemlock

September 19, 2009

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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.

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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.