Travellings: Deutschland #8 Results

So, go-carting.

As it turned out, we had to wait until after 8:30pm to drive, because someone had an hour long reservation from 7:30. The result being that it was dark by this point and there weren’t any flood lights. There were lights at various points on the track, but it certainly would have made things easier if we could see the track the first time we decided to race on an unknown layout.

We drove for about 10 minutes, all in all.

The times, I’m ashamed to say, are as follows:

Lap     Ben                  Becca
1        1:16.11            1:23.62
2        1:06.79          1.35.17
3        1:05.92          1:15.73
4        1:05.23          1:13.17
5        1:04.31          1:10.70
6        1:08.09          1:07.69
7        1:05.63          1:17.35
8         1:13.18           1:10.49
9         1:06.09

Sorry, ladies, looks like I let you down. And yes, I got lapped. You know what the cheeky bastard yelled as he went past?

“Schneller bitte”

For those of you that know the reference, you can imagine how hilarious the situation was (and the amount of chagrin on my part). I’ll give you schneller next time, Ben. You wait.

Having said that, I didn’t give up without a fight – he actually overtook me twice, but the first time I overtook him back on the next corner – I’ve decided that that was my one redeeming moment of those 10 minutes.

I’d forgotten how much work (and arm strength) you need to drive one of those things. When we pulled in at the end of the ten minutes, I could feel nothing but pins and needles up to my elbow on my right arm. Serves me right for carting with Carpet Tunnel Syndrome, really.

So, Ben. I can only apologise for such a shoddy performance. Hats off though – best man won. By means of apology for such a poor show, I can only offer a rematch in light conditions.

Up for round 2, matey?

Travellings: Deutschland #4 Catchup I

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.


Inane Whittering #9/Musings #6

First, apologies for having gone silent. I have been dealing with exams, birthdayness and now I’m preparing for my adventures in the Bavarian Beer-Monster, Munich. I got a Kindle for my birthday, with the hope that it would save space in my luggage.

Being a part-time book-worm, this has been absolutely fatal. The ability to simply click a button from the kindle whilst you’re sitting in bed at 3am having finished the first gripping tale in a trilogy appeals to the worst side of human nature – that impulsive, I-want-it-now side of our personalities.

There’s also the whole “oh, it’s only £3/4.99” aspect, which after several books, can add up to quite a bit. However, it has meant that I have read several books that I wouldn’t normally have read. This was because I spent hours trawling through the free “classics” section, which resulted in me “buying” Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in English and in French, “Crime and Punishment”, “The Divine Comedy” and a whole hoard of Mark Twain’s work.

It also resulted in me buying “Sweating the Metal” by Alex Duncan, a Chinook pilot who’s served in Afghanistan at least 3 times and was awarded the DFC – the highest medal for bravery within the RAF – earlier this year. Think the Afghan version of Chickenhawk. I couldn’t put it down and had to be reminded to interact with other people/eat/drink.

Regardless of your point of view on the war in the Middle East, this is certainly worth the read – I can’t remember the last time I read such a humble and down-to-earth account where all the acts of bravery are recounted as if it was a standard part of the job.

In other words, I simply cannot reccommend it enough to you.

My current read (although not on the Kindle this time) is a book called “The Unfolding of Language” by Guy Deutscher. This guy is stupidly smart. I mean, he’s Israeli (so speaks Hebrew), but speaks English perfectly, has taught in German universities (so speaks German too) and studied Maths at Cambridge before doing a PhD in Linguistics there. As you do.

Anyway, back to the book and enough of being intimidated by the guy with the brain the size of a planet. Think of it as linguistics for beginners – it does stretch your brain a bit if you’ve never studied linguistics before, but it’s laid out in a fairly accessible way.

Which is quite surprising, really. Most of the literature in this field is written in such a complicated way that just looking at the covers makes my brain melt. Anyway, there are lots of example sentences involving seals picking fights with walruses and the like and the most amusing little ditty the author himself wrote about the frustrating nature of the English verb system:

“The teacher claimed it was so plain,
I only had to use my brain.
She said the past of throw was threw,
The past of grow -of course- was grew,
So flew must be the past of fly,
And now, my boy, your turn to try.
But when I trew,
I had no clue,
If mow was mew,
Like know and knew
(Or is it knowed
Like snow and snowed?)

The teacher frowned at me and said
The past of feed was -plainly- fed.
Fed up, I knew the what I ned:
I took a break and out I snoke,
She shook and quook (or quaked? or quoke?)
With raging anger out she broke:
Your ignorance you want to hide?
Tell me the past form of collide!
But how on earth should I decide
If it’s collid
(Like hide and hid)
Or else – from all that I surmose,
The past of rise was simply rose,
And that of ride was surely rose,
So of collide must be collode?

Oh damn these English verbs I thought,
The whole thing absolutely stought!
Of English I have had enough,
These verbs of yours are far too tough.
Bolt upright in my chair I sat,
And said to her “that’s that” – I quat.”

He then goes on -as you would expect- to mention Mark Twain’s essay “The Awful German Language” from his book, “A Tramp Abroad” – also worth a read, if you haven’t already. (See this post for the link.)

Perhaps one of the most interesting things mentioned in the introduction is the debate on language acquisition and the argument of “innateness”, or for the unacquainted: the discussion on whether language is “hard-coded” into the brain at birth. The author mentions this purely to say that whilst it’s fascinating and rather impossible to solve, he won’t be addressing this issue much, if at all.

He does, however, outline the basic arguments, which can more or less be simplified down to the whole “nature vs. nurture” argument. I blame the best part of this somewhat circular disagreement on a certain Noam Chomsky. I used to be of the opinion that it was a mix, but to be honest, language is as much a skill as it is a tool, both of which are refined as we age.

However my opinion changed when I recently read an interesting article in the Scientific American where it was trying to work out whether it’s possible that humans could evolve. The short answer: no. Why? Because some organs, such as our eyes and brains are at the peak of evolution. They simply cannot be refined any further. The brain, for example, can be bigger – take elephants, for example – but because the structure is so huge, it’s highly inefficient and therefore slow (a bit like trying to control Tsarist Russia, I suppose).

On the other hand, if you were to take the human brain and cram as many, much smaller neurons in as possible, they begin to fire so many synapses that all you get is “noise” and then they fire randomly, thus creating a rather chaotic situation where the brain is no longer capable of controlling the signals sent.

In other words, our current brain model is pretty damn optimal. Eyes too, which is really quite reassuring, when you think about it. It has also taken millennia for us to reach this impressive stage and so I find it quite hard to believe that changes (in language) so fluid, and which occur in an evolutionary blink can be “hard-wired” into something so carefully sculpted over aeons.

“Ah,” I hear you say, “but what if only the basics are hard-coded and the rest learnt?” Up until fairly recently, I would have agreed, that, yes, the universals – as they’re known as in linguistic circles – do have a lot going for them. That was until I read this article which casts doubt on the entire thing and has meant for some linguists that the whole world in now rather upside-down.

So basically, it’s all as clear as mud. Where do we go from here?
This is yet another one of those unanswerable questions like “which came first, the apple, or the potato?” (If that doesn’t make much sense, go read WATB: Potatoes)

I’m still working on that part. I’ll let you when I’ve come up with something.


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