Archive for the ‘the fyoocha’ Category

Remember your last night in Heidelberg (again)?

July 31, 2010

This is the last entry.

This is the end of the year abroad blog, because the year abroad’s over.

That’s not strictly true – I’m going to continue writing until I get back to England, but this is the end of another chapter, when I started writing, this point, which then still seemed so far away in the future (and in Syria…), was the final one.

Tonight’s my last night in this flat. In this town. In this wonderful experience. I have loved it. I have pushed myself harder than I’ve realised and I have grown in ways I wanted to and in ways I wasn’t expecting. My German’s come on leaps and bounds and for the first time ever, I think I’m happy with it. I’ve learnt to ride a bike! I’ve learnt more about people and more about friendships by having some of the fastest developing and closest ones I’ve ever had.

Compared to everyone else, I feel quite lucky. I’m not that sad to leave. I’ve done it once and it’s not so bad. And because of that attitude I had back then, that I wasn’t coming back to Heidelberg, I can now leave the place pretty easy.

But that’s probably as false as it is true or something. I’m going to miss German so much. That’s the one thing I’m going to miss about being here most, abstract thing or physical thing. Of course, I’m going to miss all the friends I’ve made here (some of whom I’m going to be seeing super soon again in Old Blighty!). Ugh, I don’t know.

That’s the end of what I’ve got, but I thought I should document something.

I’d like it to be made known to my readers that the writer of this blog is disappointed with it. So many wonderful things have occurred to me that would’ve made good blog posts back then but I never got around to writing them out. So it’s a failure in its single purpose: to remind me of things I’ve thought and experienced while I was here/in Syria/in Poland.

Having said that, it’s definitely added to the whole experience and been a nice platform to write things down. Which leads me tentatively into the following…

I’ve been looking at my German phone all day and thinking about that time when I turn it off for the very last time (not that dramatic, but still) and I’ve had an idea in my head from a while ago which I think I will end up doing, despite the reasons that were gathering against it. And that is to write out all the names of the numbers of people I’ve gathered, as a register of all the people I ran into enough to exchange numbers with. Going through this is going to be a waltz in memory lane of course and for most of you just an alphabetical list of names, but for those of you who know the others, I’m hoping it’ll be of some value.

Akademie 2a
Alice Parisienne
Alt Hendesse
Ana Bos
Anne Bochow
Annika Jap
Büro im Theater
Craig Braid
Doris Horn
Eva From Work
Hans Swede
Julie Knitter
Julia From Work
Kim Posaune
Laura Paul
Laura Spanish
Laura’s WG
Laura from Work
Lynne Irish
Michael Stimmfüh
Sam Huneke
Sarah Marks
Sarah Austin
Sarah Jackson
Sophia Stavros
Sophie Francis
Stefanie D
Susi from Work
Tobias Hoth
Tobi Dirigent
Veronika Allmen
Vernika von Pat

So yeah what, it’s just a list of names, but it’s a catharsis for me and you can shove it.


Germany’s good, bad and ugly

July 25, 2010

They say you never stop learning when you learn a language. Mostly, one assumes that means with the language and that’s certainly true (mostly because it’s almost impossible to keep up to speed with any language and its developments, especially if it’s not your first language), but the cultural qualities of the natives of the language you’re learning are also up for grabs.

I’m not new to this language and yet I’m still surprised by people here a lot.

Today has been a wonderful, wonderful day and also a very, very irritating day; people have shown great kindness and great misunderstanding, great patience and great hugs.

I’ll go chronologically.

Today was the day I travelled to Cologne to meet Polly, who’s doing an internship in Brussels, so we met in the middle(-ish). Germany has a great institution called “Mitfahrgelegenheit,” which is a website where people post times and dates of their cross-country car trips, in the hope that other people going in that direction will jump aboard and help pay for petrol costs. It’s bloody brilliant if you ask me and very well loved among most of the people I know here – almost everyone’s done a “Mitfahr.”

I managed, however, to wake up to calls of my Mitfahrgelegenheit (MFG) driver telling me that she was there waiting for me. I wasn’t ready. She (yes, a female one! Unusual) told me she still had to pick up two others at the main train station and that she’d come back to town to collect me.

I dashed out of the house, unshowered and un-face-washed (for the second time this week) and jumped on Doris’ old bike, which I’m loaning from her at the minute, and darted down the deserted Hauptstrasse in the rain. I locked the bike up and made it just in time to meet them there, whereupon I apologise profusely, then spent the rest of the journey wondering whether I could start a sister company of MFG in England and whether it’d be successful /slash/ sleeping.

I arrived later in Köln and met with Polly. We caught up and did some of the boring shops, stopping to buy a wild peach – they look like they’ve been squashed and are wonderful juicy. We then threw the stones of these into the river and bought ourselves 3 hours of bike hire from a jolly chap behind us. He drew us up a route on map and we proceeded to take it. On this bike ride, we also encountered bloody loads of goths. All I can hope for is that there was a convention of some kind in Cologne that day – otherwise it just makes Germany seem even more weird.

Biking with gears is a whole new territory, but let me tell you, ladies and gents, I am a convert.

We went for lunch in a restaurant just over the bridge where all the padlocks are locked onto. Here, my first head-on collision with customer service came to blows and I had to complain in German. I didn’t realise that I hadn’t complained anywhere in German until this happened. I don’t really want to go into massive details because it’s almost irrelevant, but the point is that one of the waitress, who, to be fair, wasn’t our waitress, was not willing to accept a question I was to ask, before I’d even got around to asking it. She then decided that we’d had a ‘misunderstanding’ (I got pretty angry with her and may have even shouted at her, I forget). Polly and I decided that we weren’t being spoken to like this (considering the other waitress had been pretty rude and cold with us previously) and went to leave. On our way out, we saw our waitress and I told her we were leaving and that we wanted to pay for the drinks we’d already had.

Things got put down and managers fetched. My knees were shaking and my German surprisingly good considering the fact that a) I’m not used to using the polite form of “you” almost every and b) I was having to hold my ground in a language that wasn’t my own and translate all the gossipy bits to Pol (mainly to ask for advice of how to react).

The food arrived and we ate it.

Mine had prawns in it, even though I was fairly sure I’d asked the original waitress (so, ours, not the one who was later rude to me) whether it was vegetarian, but I didn’t want to get into anymore of that.

Polly and I, suffering from a ruined conversational flow by this, left the restaurant, tipping as minimally as we could and being sent off by the original, this time very polite waitress who had changed her tune (and, according to the manager, had been crying – I mean… come on). We decided a big hug and a high-five was in order and that we weren’t going to let it ruin our day.

Hopped on the bikes and rode into the masses of people around the cathedral. Some beautiful side-wards images of Polly in my mind’s eye from that moment – she looked really lovely and it was great fun to do something like that with her (even if crossing the bridge together on the bikes was as scary as all hell).

Once we’d arrived back at the bike-man’s hut, with 40 minutes to go, he told us to go north and look at the new harbour, so Pol and I cycled along the side of the Rhein, me feeling very much like this was some epitomic moment for a German student, not sure how Polly was viewing it.

During this event, Sophia called me on my German mobile and told me that she’d just spoken to a woman who had my house keys and my phone (and my jacket). Turns out, the thing had dropped off the back of my bike and this woman had called the last person I’d called from my mobile. Much complicateds, but we ended up racing back to Cologne’s chocolate museum (which we didn’t go into!?) and picking it up. I thanked her profusely too and was reminded of this morning, when I dicked over my MFG driver (in-joke with self lol).

Pol and I were pretty tired from the 3-hour biking event by this point so we walked back into town and had some cake. I was jealous of Polly’s walnut and caramel cake – so much so, that the fact I was eating a germanified version of a Vienetta made no recompense.

We then struggled with all sorts of train administration bodies and their bureaucratic opening and closing times and went home.

On arriving home, I realised how well I was doing to still have the energy to do anything of use, considering I’d slept for so few hours, been out to the pub to play “Who am I?” (I was the Demon Headmaster; the day before I was the “Queen of England town”) with team ERASMUS and Maz’s visiting friend Suz, AND biked around Cologne for 3 hours…

I still managed to drag myself to awful, awful Penny for the standard Saturday-night emergency buy event (I cannot WAIT for shops to have some – just SOME – opening hours on Sundays when I get back). This scene is where the last event for the day comes into play: I dropped some money at the check-out and the guy behind me turned to me and told me that I was losing my money. I bent down, picked it up and looked him in the face to thank him. He obviously didn’t think it was a big deal and made no eye contact. Aaah, Germans.

So all in all, boys and girls, you should feel proud in the fact that I haven’t stopped learning. In the language and around the language and how it all adds up.

Today’s been one of those times where I’ve really missed some things about England and I did find myself thinking that I can’t wait to be away from this whole German mentality in the general public.

Other things that have happened recently: saw the most amazing thunderstorm I’ve ever seen in my entire life and had a very strong religious experience as a result, been surprised at who I am and that I’m in this body and stuff (hard to explain, but I sort of feel like I’ve dropped into this body somehow and all these faculties and stories are just there – it’s like I was carrying about 8 ropes and had dropped them and come back in, picked them all up and carried on knotting them), massively, massively neglected my blog – I still need to write about the fact that I’ve learnt to ride a bike in Germany. Finished orchestra (again). Started an administratively hellish search for someone to take over my room next week. Booked a language course and the associated travel and accommodation in Kraków, Poland (next adventure!).  Massively started looking forward to three things coming up in my future: 1) Poland, 2) September, being home, seeing boyfriend, seeing family and finally sleeping properly and 3) Durham. Moved into the last week of my internship, only 2 days to go now.

Too much for me to remember now and this entry has to be posted today otherwise it loses all meaning.

I’m a tea connoisseur, get me out of here!

June 23, 2010

So, the year abroad has improved me and changed me in ways undocumentable. But it’s ruined somethings too. One of those is my taste for tea.

For those of you who’ve ever had to make me tea, you might remember me being a bitch about it and insisting – sometimes rather rudely for the situation – that I make it myself. But what with all the coming here last August, being made ‘tea’ in restaurants and café (sometimes even tea that claimed to be English Breakfast Tea) and being disgusted by it, settling for tea made by until now unknown brands in Syria and so on, the delicacy of my taste buds has waned. And woe, woe is them!

Not even is it just that, but since then, I’ve started drinking tea at times I really, really wouldn’t have last year. Insisting, last year, on the tea ceremony staying a holy thing (often drinking it at around 10-12am after breakfast on those work days with Pol — I even converted Pol from a morning coffee drinker to a tea drinker! (perhaps I can’t take all the praise for that though…)) has gone flying out the window. Now, I find myself drinking tea all over the shop, sometimes two at a time, sometimes with… that is with my meal (what horror!) and even sometimes late into the night!

Luckily, though, it hasn’t spun too wildly out of control and I do still retain some of my former tea-drinking mores. For example, I don’t drink tea all day long (yet…) and I haven’t started drinking it as soon as I get up, like most of the British public do. So all is not lost.

I still hate coffee. And still enjoy the perfect cup of PG, brewed by my fair hand, but still…

Remember zweite Ankunft und StüMa

April 28, 2010

So I made it back to Germany and here I am.

I meant to write an entry detailing what I was going to be doing before I left, but things went far too fast for me, if I’m honest.

So today’s Wednesday and I’ll write up what’s happened recently in my life, so that people can stop asking me questions. In keeping with things I promised myself in the past – and pretty pertinent to this part of my life – I’m going to try and keep things as factual and non-emotional as possible, because that’d just be too open and awful and OpenDiary-ish and we’re all over that thank-you.

Since I got back from Syria, I’ve slowly been getting myself into the job/internship search. Things went pretty badly to begin with: I was emailing companies and schools that I didn’t really want to work in, but was desperate to find reason enough to come back to Germany and start up here again with the people I know here. I got pretty excited about a company called “Die Sprach Profis” (easily googlable), which has an office in south Heidelberg, but, after having chased up the woman who works in the other branch of the company in Waldkirche (miles away), I finally got a reply telling me there’d be no point because the office here in HD was tiny anyway. I didn’t get any replies from any of the schools I’d emailed either, except the Heidelberg International School, which told me I wasn’t qualified enough (I didn’t really want to be in an English-speaking environment anyway).

Then I got pretty depressed about not being able to find anything and worrying that my whole life was over and that I’d ruined everything and I’d find nowhere in all of Germany that would allow me back in, never mind in Heidelberg.

Then I made my merry way across to the Job Börse of HD University and found myself confronted with 70 pages of job/internship offers, stretching as far back as 2007. I leafed through them all, tabbing what I thought was interesting and copying/pasting what was a pretty vague query-email, changing the requiredz and leaving in the basix.

I eventually found myself looking at a page written by the Theater Orchester Heidelberg, which is the town-run theatre and orchestra company, hosting a total of 5 different performance houses (one of which is round the corner from where I was (and still am/will be) living). Small butterflies in stomach.

So I wrote off to them, with a non-copy/paste email and lots of chatty German, but staying strictly in the Sie-form (polite version of ‘you’).

Long story short: I’m working for them now.

I’m an intern in the Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit (commonly the “ÖA”) and our daily responsibilities including gathering info from the regional and national newspapers and presenting each story that’s relevant to the House on appropriately-sized sheets of paper (called the Pressespiegel), then giving this thing out to the various places that need to see it (so it’s in an internal way of keeping tabs on what’s been said about the place in the press). Other tasks including helping maintain all the publicity side of things and hanging up posters and distributing flyers. It’s all pretty basic, but the best thing about all of it is I’m speaking German all day, every day. To the point where I really am thinking that I’m going to have to do more English speaking (like… actively), because I miss being able to think quickly so much.

Having said that, twice in the past two days, German natives have been starstruck-shocked that I’m not a native: firstly, last night after a quick #7 from Tiger and Dragon (which is a sweet-ass Chinese in the Carré – and I LOVE the #7 (to the point where I dreamt about it, when I was in Syria)), Sarah and I went to Rewe (supermarket) to get some supplies and, speaking in English as we were when we got to the checkout, the woman on the checkout, having scanned my items, to me it was 10-Euros-something in English. I looked at her – those closer to the German-speaking me might know that I absolutely hate being spoken to in English by someone who speaks German when they know I speak German (in her defence, she didn’t know that) – and asked her what the price of the plastic bags was, in German obviously. She said, “oh!” and carried on her exposé about the bags. Later, when conversation about plastic bags had died down, I said, “I have to admit though, you have a very good English accent” (still in German). She thanked and asked where we came from and I said, “we’re both English.” She looked at us in an I-didn’t-hear-you way, so I asked, “Where we’re from?” she, “yes,” me: “We’re both English” whereupon she sat bolt upright and put up her hands in shock.

The second occasion was today in the bakery I always go to at the train station. I was trying to pay exactly and still don’t have numbers down in this language yet (still can’t get my head to expect and correctly compute the digits being before the tens) so I had to keep changing how much I was giving her and I said, “sorry, I still have to think about numbers in English.” She looked at me, cleanly a much quicker girl than the Rewe-employee, and said, “But I didn’t know you were English. One wouldn’t notice.” Which made me smile and we had a small chat about that – my colleagues from ‘work’ (… lol) then accused me of flirting (on the flirting at work topic, I’ve already been outed here – another story).

So that’s a bit of an aside.

I’m still getting emails these days from people I’d emailed before asking me to send of my documents, but I’m pretty happy here. I hope it won’t get boring towards the end (I’ve told them I’m staying until the end of July, by which time I should have a pretty good idea of what’s going on, as well as some pretty impressive German skillz – and, actually, the email address for the office that’s run by us interns will be renamed to my name, which’ll be nice. People’ll know who I am and everything!).

On the domestic charge, I’m currently crashing in the place I lived in previously, my wonderfully yellow-painted room now filled by the returned Janni. This entails me sleeping in Torben’s room, who’s sleeping in Ami’s room, until Helena moves out, then Torben’ll move into Helena’s room and I into Torben’s. Make sense of that, if you can. It’s currently a smidge annoying that I don’t have any space of my own and I am literally living out of my suitcase, but that’s not a problem. It’s super nice of them to let me move back in like that, with next to no notice, so I’m grateful on all fronts.

I am, however, super, super tired and still haven’t caught up on my 9 hours’ travelling from Sunday. I got in pretty late and then had to start here pretty early, so it’s all been go-go-go since then. And people want to see me in the evenings and I end up not getting to sleep for a while because of this or that or the other.

On that topic, I can confirm that I do have a boyfriend. Facebook friends of mine will have already seen and, hopefully, liked this. Can’t say too much about it because of the emotion-boycott mentioned previously, but assume super-goods or ask for more info (given on request).

What else is there? I’ve been thinking about things to put in this blog for ages and now I’ve come to it, things are just escaping me.

Let’s be hyper British and talk about the weather.

That’s actually a bit of a weak link into something I do want to talk about, but thought I’d make the most of being British, especially given how not-good it is of late.

Germany certainly does feel a smidge different. Everything’s all happy and sunny and, in places, a bit sticky (weather-wise) and the evenings are cool enough to walk around in your t-shirt without problems. Walking home is a sweaty affair and the big boots I’m insisting on wearing make for smelly feet. But that’s not really the issue, other than the fact that I’m shocked that Heidelberg could change so much in the small amount of time that I’ve not been here (it was still pretty cold and snowy when I left (in fact, the day I left, when Maz took me to the airport, there was snow everywhere! We definitely thought we weren’t going to make it all the way to Frankfurt).

The point is: I’d sort of expected it all to slot back into place and be like I’d never left. And, well, it is. I mean, it is. But it’s also not. There are annoying things about Germany that I’d completely forgotten, things that’d been caught by the auto filter that is my germanophile of a brain. These things don’t have names, so I can’t describe them much at all other than abstractly saying things like “the smell” and “remembering to go shopping” and “washing machine” and other things like that. All things I’d’ve had to deal with anywhere else in the world (that makes it sound like Heidelberg’s a smelly place and that’s definitely not what I mean at all – I just mean getting re-used to the smells I’d got used to before).

So it’s a bit weird being back and having the same old surrounding. It’s most weird, to be honest, when I’m walking somewhere that I haven’t been since I’ve been back yet. Like – because I know my way around the whole city pretty easily, when I do end up going to places on the way to somewhere else (the somewhere-else having already been visualised in my head), I’m shocked to find they’re marginally different: a different feel, a different smell, slightly different lighting (I’m v aware I haven’t seen Heidelberg in April before).

So that’s that.

On the topic of whether or not I’m having more self-analysis on my relationship with the languages I’m learning: I’m definitely doing well with German. More than once a day, I find myself literally cracking up with joy and rapture at the way the language works or find myself just smiling at a sentence someone has said, even if the content of the thing is pretty benign or empty (learnt a phrase that fits here: die gähnende Leere (the yawning void)). So that’s nice.

I’ve brought my Teach Yourself Polish book (even though the font-face reminds me a lot of the time that I tried to teach myself Turkish and ended up hating that too – call me fickle or call me a woman and sing it in Italian) and its appropriate CDs with me so that I can sit down and work on that, but the job doesn’t really permit much time to do anything. It is the first week though, so that’s all due to change. I’ve managed to get myself Wednesdays off, which will definitely allow for some time with friends and doing some Polish and otherwise doing things I want to etc.

So that’s all. If you’ve got questions, put’m in or email me (love getting emails) and I’ll do my best to answer. I’m not all that conscious of things I’ve missed out and just know that I owe my blog some <3. Now it is done.

Remember leaving Syria and dropping Arabic?

April 20, 2010

Here it is. Long-awaited and standing weakly in the shadows of its readers’ expectations.

Many of you have asked for this entry and for the reasons for my rumoured return to the UK.

So yes, Ladies and Gents, I can confirm I have left Syria for cooler climes and am currently in another in-between stage, at home in the UK. This state, however, won’t last for long, considering I have to get back to Germany for reasons I’ll document at the end of this.

A lot of people I’ve told about this have been surprise to hear it, particularly because of the way I am known to rant on about Arabic and its grammar for hours at a time unless meantime interrupted. Yes – it is a shock.

Please know, however, that it is not because I didn’t like Syria. I liked Syria and Damascus a great deal and my life there was very good. It was wonderful to be near Fay again and see all the other Durham faces I’d missed; I had started getting to be friends with Fay’s Syrian friends, which would’ve solicited much Arabic-speaking conversation, later in my stay and the family I was staying with were very, very lovely (thanks, Yansé, for helping me find them – even if I did steal).

“But why then?!” You may be shouting. Ok.

When I left Newark, on the train at the beginning of March, on my way to Heathrow to begin my Syrian adventure, I was surprisingly emotional. I think I wrote about this already, but I cried like a small child, all over my parents and my brother. I was shocked by the emotional reaction that had spurred in me, because I’d expected the change of scenery and my want to learn Arabic would override and make me super excited, let alone the fact that I’d soon be seeing Fay. I put all of this worrying about my own emotional reaction under a beautifully woven Syrian rug when I got there.

I moved in and I started my course, having spent a week settling in and finding my way around the Old City. The course started and I was surprised by how well-written it was. But something was wrong with me. And not just that I couldn’t be bothered to work. I know that feeling – that “ugh, I spend my whole life doing this, break pleez” feeling. It wasn’t that.

At this point, I should probably let it be known that this is a super, super hard thing to describe. The thought-processes I have about the entire thing are really complicated and affected by loads and loads of things, including tiny reasons that don’t have any bearing, but tapped on the fragile icy surfaces of the whole problem and, in their small insignificant way, but larger number, the cracked the ice and I feel through into the water.

Basically, I realised that the problem was I didn’t actually like Arabic. I am constantly fascinated by how it works – how the whole semitic tree of languages can work, the way three letters, interspersed by other letters of a seemingly lower level of hierarchy can fit together to make meaningful stuff – the way all of these families of words were linked by these three letters that, like a skeleton, filtered down through the tree and held it all together in a sensical block of semanticism in my head.

Fascinated, I say. Fascinated by it – that’s true. But not enough. I realised that the only thing I liked about Arabic was that. I was constantly looking up words in the Hans Wehr (which is a canonical tool of Arabic study for non-native learners of the language, having rearranged the ‘alphabet’ (and with it the structure of the dictionary) into a way that more suits the nature of the language in the first place) and looking down the root forms to find out what it meant and looking how the meaning changed in one form or the other. But the word itself I didn’t care about. The one word that I constantly looked up and where this was particularly prevalent for me was the root ع ق د. The fact that I don’t know what it means know is testament to what I’m saying, but it was one of those words which would have lots and lots of meanings in lots of different forms (sometimes very, very drastically to ‘earlier’ forms of the word) [ps: I realise all of these words are super Arabic-language related and not that comprehensible, but you don’t really have to understand it – just know that there are lots of forms based on individual ‘root’ letters in Arabic – the interested can go to Wikipedia and find out there (it’s a trait known to all ‘Semitic’ languages (and what also gives them their name))].

So this latent not-like in me lead me to think: well, I’m here now and having Arabic would be a fantastic + on my degree: stick it out. And that’s a sensible thing to think or advise. But it too has its counter argument. I realised that I was there, in that place, grappling with a language that is difficult for someone coming from a language so distantly related (it made me realise how wonderful it is coming to another European language, because the similarities really do help), wanting eventually to be near fluent in the language. That’s what I’d need and… perfectionist me… wouldn’t let it be any other way. It was a case of, “you either get amazing at this language and become a complete Arabicophile, or you stop.” And I wanted to be amazing; I really did. But not liking the language enough played a deciding factor in that.

Not liking it would lead to me not being motivated enough really to get to grips with the things that I couldn’t do and not having a tingle in my heart when I read Arabic sentences meant not really learning them. Sure, I’m using my experience of learning German as a benchmark and I know I shouldn’t, but on the other hand, I sort of can. I am so lucky to have found a language that really sparks with me in a way that means I’m very rarely sick of it – even among other linguists at Durham: a lot of people tell me or hint that they’re not nearly as in love with their main foreign language as I am with German. And that’s sorta good to hear; this way I know I’ve struck gold. But the point is: when I was learning German, I’d mutter sentences to myself and playing around in the grammar would give me a little golden fleck of joy in my heart (GEEEEEEEK): Arabic, on the other hand, didn’t do that nearly as much and rarely ever. Even now, when I read German sentences, the mixes of verbs with dative and the way you can put your object at the front of the sentence all cause me to smile at the way the language works like an appeased God at his creation, benevolently smiling. Arabic doesn’t do that. It was just a jungle of words and phrases, little bits of little words that wouldn’t fit into the grammar-calculator (grammarculator?) that my brain has become (as a result of German). The exceptions would bug me beyond comprehension and, sure, I could deal with them and put them into use, but I didn’t get anything from them. And God knows, Arabic’s the kinda language where you’ve got to love the irregularities because of how many there are.

That makes me sound like I’m saying that Arabic was “too hard” for me. That’s not true. I didn’t find Arabic ‘too hard’ at any time in my entire career of studying it (the past 2.5 years). I was always confident with it and happy to be one of the best. New grammatical concepts would go straight into my brain without much problem and I could factor them in and remember them pretty well. New vocab, vocab learning being a weakness of mine in language learning generally, was difficult, but that’s why Fay and I were so good at revising together: what I could bring to the grammar comprehension, she could bring to the vocab learning. But the point is: it’s not that it was too hard. At all. I could easily have fought my way through, but my motivation would’ve lacked and the level to which I’d’ve learnt Arabic would’ve suffered as a consequence.

Another thing I realised as I was dealing with all of this in my head in that dark, dark week just before I came home (and believe me (or Sophia), it was a pretty dark week. I was  plagued with decision-making and guilt and worry that I’d be ruining my degree), was that my interest in Arabic and my knowledge had just about got to the same point. I took up Arabic 3 years ago with the express desire to learn a new language and not because I was interested in the Middle East (much at all actually). That sounds sacrilegious coming from someone who’s studied it, doesn’t it? That’s the point, though, I guess. A lot of my peers were super interested in it and even if not wanting to pursue a career in languages (it’s my plan to study interpreting after I’ve finished my BA) had a reason to approach the language in that they were interested in the world and world politics. I’m only interested in the world in a selfish and egotistical way, which is pig-headed and blunt of me, but what’s a little honesty between friends?

This feeling of my interest and knowledge being at the same point crudely expressed itself once in me thinking, “Everything I wanted to know about this language, I could’ve learnt from the Wikipedia page.” I felt disgusted with myself for thinking that a few days later and still sort of do now, but there is a truth in it. I’ve realised that my heart lies in languages itself and not in Arabic as its own language, which lead me onto thinking I should actually be doing a degree in German and Linguistics, but where’s that gunna get me in an interpreting career?

I didn’t really think about any of these things when I first took up Arabic at 18. I hadn’t really considered the idea that I might not enjoy it and was just hell-bent on being an ‘Arabic student.’ “I study Arabic” are strong and addictive words.

This is by no means the end of the reasoning behind what’s gone on my head, but I can tell you that I’ve thought about it simply (“Do I like this language?”) and not simply, going through all the various emotions. Having that many things in your head all at the same time is really tiring and I was a little steel ball in a big metal hemisphere, at the edge of which were towers exuding all kinds of gravitational pull in different directions and I’d roll wildly from one edge to the other and topple down to the centre again. And whenever I thought, “I’m leaving,” the metal ball of my consciousness would rest, perfectly addressing the attraction of all the towers and still remaining in the middle, quivering slightly under the pull, but there and safe. But letting it go made me roll about and feel sick. So possibly one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

As I say, please don’t view this as a comprehensive discussion of my thoughts. If you want to know anymore, you can talk to me about it – I am willing to discuss it, but I can’t promise I’m not going to repeat myself. The one-sentence summary of the affair is this: “I didn’t like it enough to become really, really amazing at it and so decided it wasn’t worth it.”

Since then, I’ve had to deal with the repercussions, obviously. The first thing I should stress, and the first thing I needed stressing to me, is that it’s actually not a ruining factor in my degree. I don’t lose the 2 years’ study I’ve already done and it will appear on my degree certificate as it is. I also won’t lose the knowledge. Just because I’ve stopped doing it, doesn’t mean all of it just drops out of my head as if it had never existed in the first place. Secondly, this allows me to concentrate on German in my fourth year and for the rest of this year abroad. Now I can go back and really get as amazing as I want to and that fills me with such joy. I know I’ve got better so far and I knew when I left, I could feel it, that I still had some way to go before I’d be happy. That’s why leaving wasn’t such a big thing – I couldn’t think about it directly because it’d upset me too much.

It doesn’t entirely rule out coming back to Arabic in the future. This is something I realised while I was deciding too – I’m grateful for the fact that I learnt German really slowly and, by the time I really realised I loved it, I already had all the basics in my head and moving on from that was easy. 7 years’ tuition at school really did set the foundation. So I am in a position now to let my interest in Arabic grow, if it’s going to, and then facilitate some further, motivated study of the language at a future time (that’s not to say that I have lamented the fact that I’m giving up on it now, in my life, where I have this period specially set-aside for it (then again, having a higher interest in it and pursuing the language with greater motivation will give a greater gain)).

The future’s not all bright though. I need a second language and am taking applications and suggestions. Although I heard from an EU interpreter who gave a talk at Durham that the EU was super short on English native interpreters (that’s a global shortage actually) and interpreters for German (making me auto-appeal to two shortages), I still don’t satisfy the very basic of the EU’s criteria – you must have 3 languages and one of them must be English (in my view, this is biased against English natives, because anyone who’s interested in languages and isn’t an English native gets English exposure all around and almost everyone in Europe speaks some quality of English, enabling linguists to go on and study one other language and just perfect their English (a little cynical, but who’s counting?)). Having had this experience with Arabic means that I can more accurately assess how I’m going to react to a language and what exactly it is about languages that pleases me.

So I sit here in on this little island (currently, aggravatingly, underneath an Icelandic cloud of ash grr), and I look at the European mainland and I see: the Romance languages of France and Spain and Italy; the breed of Germanic languages from Germany right up into Scandinavia, and the Slavic languages from behind the former iron curtain. I look at myself and I see: one understanding of a Germanic language, one ability and love for languages and an appropriate talent to learn them, and one fascination with regular, but complicated, grammar systems. When I put the two together, and realise that having languages from different families is more favourable, because of the way my career would open me up into languages similar to the ones I’ve already learnt, the Slavic languages look most appealing. And where better to start than Polish, neighbour of Germany, homeland of The Polish Plumber in England and step 1 on the wrung of Slavic understanding.

Sure, it’s a bit stupid for me just to pick these languages out of nowhere, I know. But I have to start somewhere and my logic will hopefully stand. I’ve bought myself a Teach Yourself Polish book (yet to make any kind of real in-road into it though) and will probably take a course in it at Durham’s Languages For All programme next year, assuming my little Teach Yourself book entices me enough.

Any suggestions anyone has on languages I could learn that’d be handy for the EU (or otherwise) are gratefully received – thinking outside the box is also very gratefully received (big shout-out already to Jane on that front with the British Sign Language suggestion!).

So that’s that.

Things to look forward to in the next blog post:

What’s happening next? Where’re you going for the rest of your year abroad? Are you coming back to Heidelberg? What are you going to do there? Where will you live? What the bloody hell are you knitting at the moment?! and other such fun stories.

It’s been great. Love to all.

مع السلامة, بريطانيا, لمرةٍ أخرى

March 3, 2010

Syria, country housing the oldest city in the world, which will houses the Umayyad Mosque and me for the next 6 months. Other stuff you need to know: this is how the national anthem goes (lyrics here), language: Arabic, currency: Syrian pounds (only buyable in situ, recently learned), president: Bashar Al-Assad, population: about 21 million, time zone: GMT+2. All of this information (and more!) is available by a quick read through the wiki page for Syria. (I’m getting into linking).

Am I scared, you may well ask. The answer, ladies and gentlemen, is yes. Beyond belief. Completely unreasonably, as well. I know people who are out there, people who are surviving perfectly well and learning Arabic and embracing culture changes; Fay’s meeting me from the airport – what have I to fear? The massive, massive unknown. The fact that I’ve got to squish down the fat linguist in me who says “NEVER SPEAK TO A NATIVE IN YOUR OWN NATIVE. THAT’S NOT HOW WE DO THINGS.” The fact that I’m not going to understand things people say to me. Not even in the majority. The fact that I don’t know where things are, I don’t have accommodation, I don’t know where the university is. I keep turning the word, Syria, over and over in my mouth, saying it aloud, this way and that… Just wondering whether I should print out that wiki page for Damascus and take it with me.. Something to read on the 5 hour plane journey.

So here’s how I roll for the next 24 hours: 9.46am, a train will depart from Newark North Gate, carrying me, 25kg of my best and most Quentin Crisp-alike clothing (linen jackets and chinos with deck shoes, also linen, and some leather flats), a laptop bag and a hand luggage bag with something to read in it. Then I shall arrive at King’s X in London, wander purposefully and beladen across the street to St. P, choob it up an hour and wander into Heathrow at something like 12.30, whereupon I shall trudge up to some kind of check-in desk, sweaty profusely, and hand over all my worldlies to a woman with a fake smile and a lot of make-up. Then I’ll fight my way through Heathrow security, with a Syrian visa and a passport and, hopefully, some boarding pass or other, then sit and wait – with my books and bits of newspaper – until they call for “all passengers to Damascus.” When I hear that, I’ll up and do what the lady says – she’ll probably be robotic and forceful. Then, 3.35pm, I’ll be sitting on a plane, heading for Damascene skies, books in hand, heart beating at an unreasonable rate and, hopefully, surrounded by Arabs or equally petrified Brits. Then I’ll read and read and read until finally arriving at Damascus, 10.45pm local time. Give in some landing card and visa form, battle my way through the Syrian side of things and change about £1,000 into Syrian £. Then I’ll marvel at the massive numbers for a bit. Then I’ll meet Fay. Fay! Fay’s gunna be there! She’ll give me a huge hug and introduce me to her landlord and that’ll be the last English I speak that day. Off, off and away.

I want to go to bed and sleep, but I want to mention two things before I do that.

Firstly, a wiseman once said to me that being scared and still doing something is proof that one is alive. He was right, that man. So what, I’m scared? I can look back on myself, the one from the family who went to Syria for 6 months and learnt Arabic, in a few years’ time and be really proud of myself. Being scared is just my kick up the bum, forcing me to do stuff that I know is gunna be good.

Secondly, there’s this emotion that I get. It’s been documented quite closely in a number of sayings synonymous with Britishness over the years, but I’ll give a go at explaining what I mean from my angle. It’s the Sigh Theory.

I’m gunna be sitting there in Heathrow departure lounge. And when I have to get up and go, I’ll breathe in deeply, heave my stuff over my shoulders and off I’ll go. That breath, that almost-sigh, is the thing. It’s that “grin and bear it.” It’s that, “come on, lads, off we go.” Last chance to be scared now, cause it’s starting.

But I’m armed with my little Sony H20 cam, bought on Ami’s advice, ready to document all the goods and all the bads that come along with the experience. 6 months in Syria, ey. Who’da thunk it.

breathes in deeply.

Come on, Sony, it’s just me and you now.

The Time Between

February 18, 2010

There’s a reason I don’t like modern (non-serious) music.

I always sum it up in the sentence, “It moves me too quickly.” People puzzle at that, generally. But it’s true. I don’t like how the simplicity and the brevity both have this control over me – this stirring emotional quality which is over in a few minutes’ time. It’s mean.

So there’s me, standing in the kitchen of my dad’s house, with a cup of tea in my hand – something which I’d longed after and so highly praised when in Germany – rummaging around in my jeans. I slide out the campus card from Heidelberg university and read the words “Ruprecht-Karls-UNIVERSITÄT HEIDELBERG” and “Service für Studierende“. That, coupled with the crappy music radio 1’s pumping out in the background (needless to say, je ne suis pas un fan de radio un (… French is awful)), moves me. I’m standing there, thumbing this plastic card, slightly bluened by its being in my jeans’ pocket, but only on the one side. STUDENTENWERK HEIDELBERG. Anstalt des öffentlichen Rechts. The genitive. The capitals. The German.

I turn it over, some green advert for some local concern. The Studentenwerk. In allen Mensen & Cafés des Studentenwerks. Frischste Zutaten. Eigene Herstellung. Biologischer Anbau. Regionale Produkte. Dative plural (+n), genitive (+s). Superlative, plural adjective. Feminine noun, masculine noun. Plural adjective.

I thumb this side for a bit too. Bluer around the edges. The strong German print on the right.

English voices on the radio.

So it’s the Time Between. I’ve finished in Germany. Heidelberg flew past like a blur. 6 months, 7, I sometimes counted in my head. August the 10th, last year. February the 14th, Valentine’s Day, this year. That sounds like a long time. August’s in the middle of the year. February’s the other side of celebration. But it flew. Just like they said it would, it flew. I had a different attitude to the entire experience after Xmas and NY. Obviously. I was returning to something I so enjoyed, conscious of the fact that I had barely more than 2 months to make the most of it. To speak German without end. To get rid of everything English-thinking and English-speaking. And I pushed myself and I was successful. Almost without exception.

Exceptions would probably be something like Sophia. And other English speaking friends. But I spent most of my non-Germaning (or alone-ing) time with her. She went to Straßburg briefly, the end of a weekend spilling into the beginning of the week. In that time, I spoke almost nothing but German. But I love it. I love it. I love it totally and through and through.

That’s actually not all that true. And this is the part where the blog falters from the spontaneous part of me running from the in-the-kitchen-with-a-cup-of-tea-thumbing-my-mensa-card, into all the fragments of blog I’ve had in my head since whenever I last wrote that entry about the bakery.

Orchestra. Auftakt, the orchestra I joined in Germany.

This is one of the very, very best things I did in Germany. Joining an orchestra, while at the very beginning made me hugely conscious of the fact that I had a sizeable gap in my vocab which was to be focal part of language for those rehearsal hours, has firstly annihilated that – I learnt some wicked words in orchestra (list incoming: abkanzeln, anmotzen, to name just two. Schund, Ramsch, Habseeligkeit, zierlich, Beuteschema, zimperlich, Pfütze, da liegt der Hase im Pfeffer, flink, poofen, lauschen, Nachruf, Nachhall, gammeln and abprahlen to name a few more) – secondly, met some amazing people and had a huge self-confidence boost, when they were honestly saddened at the last concert. They bought me a post card on which is a scene of Heidelberg and then cut out our encore (Zugabe, in German, which was (and this is the reason I opened the brackets in the first place…) that famous Shostakovich waltz that everyone knows *sings*) and stuck it onto the front. On the back, in Dagmar’s very beautiful hand writing was a note about how they’d really come to appreciate me being in the group and how I’d been fun. And the feeling was mutual. It really was – they’re a lovely bunch of people and they accepted me wonderfully, grammatical mistakes and all. With this card came one of the largest chocolate bars I’ve ever seen in my life, which was filled with crunchies and yoghurt. And – by the by – was scrumptuous.


But it’s all over.

Oh yeah – just remembered how I got on to orchestra.

We had a Probenwochenende (rehearsal weekend) one weekend, during which time, obviously, very little English was spoken. There is another native in the orchestra, an American oboist, with whom I did chat on occasion in English (sentences with weird word order are, strangely, not the fault of German, but of Henry James, being that I’m reading The Turn of the Screw at the minute, having unearthed it from my laptop bag while pretending to pack at the weekend). But. The whole thing was residential, so we all woke up, early Sunday morning, ready to go into yet more rehearsals. And it was early. I was being addressed – in German – very early on a Sunday morning. Normally, fine, not a problem, but that day, there was something different. I couldn’t get my brain to make the switch – to jump over ever-eroding barrier (imagery copyright of Sophia Stavrinides, 2010) between German and English. I was staring people in the face, as they were talking to me, understanding what they were saying (comprehension’s the first ability to gain and last to lose in any situation, I find), but just not being able to put sensical (interesting link to research on whether that is indeed a word) units of language together in some kind of interesting or vaguely appropriate fashion. And being instead and consequently, hugely uninteresting.

So I got back into Heidelberg the Sunday evening and I was craving native speech. My thinking was all over – I was half in one language, clawing at the precipices of my native language, struggling to save myself from an otherwise certain descent into some kind of language purgatory and surely the logically-following social vacuity (wow, that is a word?). I satisfied that, but found that I was making all kinds of connections between words I hadn’t previously thought connected in my head (like wirken and work – they don’t mean the same thing at all). But, as I found at other points during my stay in Heidelberg, a sleep solves everything.


This is currently my desktop background. (language help here)

While I’m on the language rant: there’s something I’ve noticed while being back. I’m going to try and keep this succinct and short, but here it is.

Firstly, there’s an overwhelming feeling I get whenever I’m about to address a stranger (in shops or people in service roles (people who check train tickets, women I’m booking doctor appointments with and all that) to speak to them in German. You train yourself (and/or get excited about it that you have) to expect that everyone that isn’t you or a face you know speaks German. Obviously. And when you get back in your home country, you don’t make equal and reverse efforts – it’s England, you know you’re safe there – but it means you end up having consciously to switch (I hate you, split infinitive) in your head. It’s like a double bluff.

Secondly, a lot of German filler words have nestled themselves in parts of my English speech. I find myself wanting to say “also” and “genau” in places when they’d make sense in German and for which there’s no real equivalent that’s used as often in English (the first one sorta means ‘so’ and the second means ‘exactly,’ but Germans say it a lot of the time when they mean ‘anyway’ or sometimes just ‘yes’). There are also areas of expression which I’ve struggled with in German, overcome and since filtered back in to English. An example is “transition phase.” For which I (quite inaccurately) used zwischendrin Phase in German. And I got to the point t’other day, where I wanted to say “the stage in-between” in English, but, having trained myself into a way of expressing that in German, the German came to me first and I ended up saying it (having briefly paused because I’d realised what was about to happen).

What else has happened? I bought a new camera.


Sarah Austin and I accidentally bought the same one, so I photographed hers.

This is turning into a procrastination and off-topic fest. So I’ll get something more serious going.

All in all, Germany was fantastic. I loved it. I remember Fay saying that when she was leaving France, she’d just got to the point where she’d started to develop some real friendships with the people around her and leaving then was worse because of it. I was the exact same. There are so many people who I’d just started friendships with, with whom something really worthwhile could’ve developed, had I been staying longer (Doris, Annika Konstantin to name but 3). And regarding language, I was at a point where yeh, sure, I’d come on leaps and bounds and my command of spoken German was far higher than it was when I arrived, but I could’ve been so, so much more amazing. It was a slow development, followed by a rash and rapid development and then a sudden drop, as I left.

What have I taken away from Germany with me?

Better German. Many, many good friends. The strongest and closest friendship I’ve ever had with anyone ever. Lots of Germans willing to correct things for me in 4th year as well as Germans to Skype just before oral exams and the like. The knowledge that I am definitely going back at some point in my life for more than 6 months (but should probably limit myself to less than 2 years, just for the sake of coming back – I can easily see myself getting stuck out there (happily stuck, of course) and not coming back). The ability to watch scary movies and not completely fall to pieces. A great, big smile.


Sure, parts could’ve gone better. But parts could’ve gone far worse. I could’ve lived tidier, I could’ve lived in more German. I could’ve befriended people. I could’ve not ignored people (wholly by accident) who had made so much effort with me. I could’ve put less stress on “finding someone.” I could’ve knitted less and worked more.

But I did learn how to say “should have done” and “would have done.” Even though that grammatical point was my one and only Achilles’ heel.


And what’s next? Syria.

3rd of March. London Heathrow. Terminal 1. 3.35pm. 5 hours, 10 minutes later, Damascus, Syria.

Two weeks yesterday. Visa applied for. Train tickets to London booked and arrived in the post.

Packed? Barely unpacked.

What adventures. They await.

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 (!).