Okay, so the following post was written at the end of my second week here and I simply didn’t find time to post it. And then I posted a disgruntled rant from work. So here’s what I wrote before the rant, and I’ll write another catch up entry to make up for my lack of updates.
Living abroad is bizarre. It’s certainly one thing to go to university and move out of the family nest, but when you move abroad it’s a combination of all the usual stresses and weird emotions on top of a language barrier, a different culture and most often, few or no friends in a place that you’ve never been to before.
Things certainly improve once you actually find something to do and your days have a structure to them – I finally started work on Thursday afternoon and now have a project to work on. The thing I’ve found the most difficult is trying to break out of my bubble. For those of you who’ve done the whole living somewhere alien to you where you don’t know the language, perhaps you’ll know what I’m on about. I had this on school exchanges, too. I still think in English and I don’t feel that I’ve learnt much, apart from the meaning of “freizügig” (from when talking to friends/colleagues about the work permit, or Freizügigkeitsbescheinigung before you get any ideas) and the word “Kaff” – I think that’s how you spell it. Oh, and that you only describe a place as being am Arsch der Welt when you’re with friends, and not when you’re talking to your boss. (That was an amusingly awkward situation at work once I’d used that particular phrase.)
So in some respects, things have brightened up considerably compared to crap mood I was in at the beginning of the week when I couldn’t work because the Vogons of Bavarian Bureaucracy didn’t want to play ball. Oh, and for the record, as an EU resident, no you don’t need a work permit or the registration certificate to work here. I asked the Vogon who kindly gave me my work permit – although in true Bavarian style he made me wait the 15 minutes until my allotted time, even though I was early and there was not a soul in sight. He wasn’t doing anything when we walked in. Personally, I think he spent 15 minutes playing Pacman or Tetris.
You can now imagine my confusion when I woke up this morning and felt…sad? I don’t know how to describe it, but it certainly wasn’t happy. Things are looking up – I leave the hotel tomorrow and move in with my colleague D and her flatmates for the next 2 weeks; all of whom have made me feel incredibly welcome. (Even if it means I have to engage in debates about the state of Britain which are then followed by Tekken championships on the PS2 until the small hours)
I can only describe it as an ache – an ache to be with people I know and love – which is silly, because I’m sure that by this time next year, I’ll have people who I know I love here in Munich too. One of the things I miss the most is being terrorised by my cat. It sounds stupid, but I miss the crazy little furball. I do miss the way she’d occasionally come into my room around 3 in the morning and purr in my face until I woke, only to manoeuvre her way onto my pillow, a token paw on my face and a tail under my chin.
Ironically, I’ve more or less just burst out laughing and received some worried looks as I’m sitting out in the sun typing because my music player has just decided to play a recording I made months ago of the cat purring into my Dictaphone. Coincidence? I think not.
My original plan was to spend this morning reading in the sun (with a shawl on so I don’t turn lobster again) and then have a wonder this afternoon and see if I can find anywhere other than a Starbucks that will sell anything resembling tea as we know it in Britain. Except on my way out, my new best friend here at the hotel (#5, I think) offered me cup of tea – never say no to a friendly German offering you tea – so I’ve not actually gone anywhere today, oops. The thing that really made me smile? I wasn’t allowed to pay (“es geht auf mich” I think = “it’s on me”) and milk was brought with the tea without any prompting. Needless to say, I’m impressed, if not touched. Maybe my comment about being as straight as a roundabout was wrong. In any case, I’m not complaining – I got a lovely smile and a free cup of tea.
For those of you unaware, in Germany (if I’ve understood things correctly) one of the most bizarre things you can do (think cardinal sin level for true tea fanatics) is to add milk to your black tea instead of the usual lemon – I know, lemon. From a British perspective, adding lemon is to us what adding milk is to the average German. The result being that you often have to ask for milk when you order tea here, although in your average café you’re more likely to end up with Kaffeesahne (the creamy stuff they put in coffee). Oh, and you have to actually ask for either Black Tea or Assam to get anything that vaguely resembles English Tea. Herbal Tea drinkers, however, will be at home here.
I’m sitting out in sun at the back of the hotel, where it backs onto the tube station and where the buses park. Two bus drivers (who evidently have time to kill) have come over and are now playing one of the most enthusiastic games of table-top football (I forget the proper name, but it’s the one where you have handles which you use to control the rows of players) I think I’ve ever heard. It’s certainly hilarious to listen to – if I’ve understood correctly, there’s a forfeit of some description for the loser.
One of the things I’ve found myself doing a lot is comparing here to Britain – I’m trying not to use the word home because I’m hoping it’ll make things easier – and one of the things that has struck me the most is how down-to-earth these people are and how superficial British society is. I mean, there’s no way in London that if I were to get on the train, somebody would offer me their seat. Yet here, it’s common for men to offer women their seats, and should someone older board the train, then gender regardless, you offer your seat. (Although be careful, some people are touchy and get cross that you’ve offered them a seat) I know that’s not English people being superficial, in fact it’s just common courtesy, but when I speak of being superficial, I’m talking about clothes. Most people couldn’t give a toss about what you wear and neither do they particularly have dress codes for clubs the same way we do here.
In fact, talking to people, it’s far better to not wear any makeup; a complete contrast to how I perceive British society whereby to be attractive, a 4 inch layer of gunk is mandatory. In general there seems to be more of a focus of personality and people as themselves – at the end of the day, that’s who you are: you. It makes so much sense and I think leads to people being far happier – if you’re at ease with yourself and comfortable in your own skin, then it’s far easier to enjoy yourself and life in general.
What I will say though, and I’m still adjusting to this, is how men look at women. Now, as a young girl who’s lived for 2 years in London, it’s unsettling when you get on the tube, say, and realise that people are looking at you. I don’t mean this in a paranoid way, I know people look at you, but this is looking at someone; as in holding your gaze and taking in their appearance. This rarely happens in London and when it does, it’s generally done by people who you wouldn’t go near with a barge-pole. I had it happen to me on one of the days here when the temperature reached the mid to high 30s – I only had my hair bundled up out of my face (in a way that my father deems scruffy) and had my usual jeans and trainers with a t-shirt on. Speaking with D, I found that she felt as equally unnerved by it when she first arrived here. Here in Munich, it’s not restricted to the manky gits carrying clinking plastic bags filled with booze who stink out the best part of the carriage, but occasionally smart-looking men in suits or students sitting next to you trying to catch a sneaky glimpse out of the corner of their eye. Perhaps that’s the most disturbing thing – it’s not just the Undesirables that do it, but anyone. D said she spoke to her flatmates about it, who couldn’t understand her issue over the whole thing. Apparently from their perspective, they’re appreciating what they’re seeing – nothing more, nothing less.
I still check to make sure that I’ve not got food down me or stuff in my hair, though.
In any case, I’ve been whittering on for quite a while now, so on one last note – yesterday I was told by a colleague that I speak German with a light French accent. I have no idea how I’ve managed that one – I explicitly forbidden to “gossip in French the entire time” by my advisor before I went.