27.3.14

26.03.2014

Freiburg appeared like a medieval, communism utopia today – we had to resort to walking and bikes: the trams were on strike.

It was eerily quiet and even now, in the middle evening, the familiar zing of metal and tram bell is absent. It’s odd.

I don’t know why there was a strike. I do know it wasn’t limited to Freiburg – the folks in Stuttgart also had to find alternative means of transport – and I know that the general thoughts about it were, “Well, this is a pain in the backside – we’re all having to ride bikes.”

A highly irregular bus was running (which occurred at the frequency one would expect in Canberra, Australia). “Only once an hour?” – the people here found it obscene.

From my limited grasp of this morning’s newspaper, multiple companies provide public transport here, but the largest and most useful one – the one with the trams – was on strike for some reason or another. They would like better hours? More money? Better working conditions? Concerned about safety?

I was told that tram strikes happen perhaps twice a year. Those who have to ride their bikes in to school from what they deem to be an obscene distance – something akin to a flat, five kilometres – throw their bikes at the submerged metal rings that they can lock them too. They step back in disgust as the bike often falls to the ground. It’s described as a Scheisseding – a “shitty thing”. Tram-alternative transport is a semi-regular necessity to them.

The Innenstadt – the inner city – this afternoon had been taken over by madcap bike riders heading down the tram lines that slice through the cobble stones like blunt, bent swords. One woman appeared with a suitcase. Her voice gave her away – she was American. Into a mobile phone she whinged: “There aren’t any damned trams today! How am I going to actually get there?” There were arm movements and exasperated eye rolls.

But it was OK. The lone train to Breisach am Rhein – a place where “Shoot the French” competitions are possible – was running.

26.3.14

25.03.2014

There are only three English words that I distinctively remember hearing for the first time and learning:

- negotiation;
- ludicrous; and,
- reputation.

However, in German I can distinctly remember learning a much larger number of words. Langweilig (boring) will forever be associated with the first conversation I had about school on my second day here. Egal (roughly: “all the same”, but almost like a noun version of “who cares”) is associated with whether one should have a shower in the morning or the evening; it came up when I asked the question. Gefährlich (dangerous) appeared in my vocabulary when I went bike riding here for the first time.

Is this the most efficient way to learn words – to associate them with places, conversations, times, experiences?

(“Negotiation” was explained to us in Class Two in connection a classmate who had been shown negotiation as a means to sort out his behaviour management. The example sentence at the time was, “The vehicle failed to negotiate a corner.”

“Ludicrous” was a word I came across in a dictionary one day – it was the same day that everything was described as such.

The first time I head “reputation” used was in the sentence, “I have a reputation to uphold.” The thing was that it was said by a fellow Class Two classmate. In hindsight I’m not sure he knew it meant – I certainly didn’t.)

 

* * *

 

Today at school we heard a Holocaust survivor speak. She was a small lady with dyed hair who now lives in Queens, New York. She is 79.

Sure, I didn’t understand every word she said (she might live in America, but her German is top notch to my untrained ears), but the way she talked was entrancing. It wasn’t a talk instilled with plain hatred and loathing for what happened, it was infused with emotion.

There isn’t really a whole lot to say. Anything, if I were to write it, would have to be countered with the disclaimer, “You had to be there.” You had to be there to see her eyes and her smile and the way she moved her arms and lent in and made everyone in the room fill like she was talking to them and only them.

It was very special in a gentle, worldly, “Yes, it happened – that was then, this is now”, sort of way.

23.3.14

22.03.2014

Tonight on the tram home from the train station – the one place where one can buy the necessary amount of English language newspapers for the week – I sat opposite a woman who had a really big vein in her eyeball. It was the sort of thing you’d like to take a closer look at, in disgust and wonder. Unfortunately, because it was her eyeball, it’s hard to do this without her noticing – which is usually the ideal method when looking at people on trams.

Why do I mention this? [Insert philosophical reason here.]

 

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

Today I was at a bee museum. The small, fairly informal establishment in an old house that looks like it might not have changed in any way since 1990s. The pictures on the display boards have the old glossy-look of forgotten back issues of National Geographic; the proprietor loves his topic – bees – and will happily fill in on the details; there is a benign layer of dust; everything has a faded look of heartily-remembered establishment.

The technical language was tricky (all in German, naturally), but the stuff, the exhibits, were fascinating. Bee-keeping in Egypt, Switzerland, the Black Forest here; the evolution of smoking technology (from burning branch to hand-held gizmos); harvesting methods; clothing developments; books printed in Stuttgart in 1820 on the subject; and, as the visitors would hope, a bee-hive with bees in it that can be looked at thanks to Perspex.

It was a quaint little place, but very familiar

22.3.14

21.03.2014

Well, it’s going pretty quickly. No, my bank balance remains healthy; the amount of time I have here does not.

Weeks disappear very quickly and at an alarming pace. “Break neck speed” is the technical terminology. I’m struggling to remember individual days now; I can sort of make out weeks, but it’s all getting mixed together and up and around into a sort of caramel sweetness of historical events; book ended, it will be, by the chocolate of international aeroplane travel (which has just had the rhetorical question of, “What could possible go wrong?” answered).

I realised, too, after my last post that I must be scraping the bottom of the barrel of ideas for this dilapidated little thing. I mean, a picture of a sky with clouds illuminated by the setting sun? What’s that about? Free falling into the world of egotistical internet clichés, that is. Hopefully I climb my way out of those depths.

 

ON VAUBAN

People here are talking about a single father who is quite pleased to be being evicted from his apartment in the next few days. Everyone thinks it’s horrible for his kids. The father doesn’t want any help from the government and, so the story goes, is very anti-charity. They’ll move into a Wagenplatz shortly, which is a plot usually commandeered for people to live in old vans, caravans, cars and shacks. Picture fires in 44-gallon drums and odds and ends stacked up and lying around the plus; picture colourful characters living there, and self-motivated implementation of law and order.

These streaks of anarchy are to be expected in Freiburg, and Vauban especially – a left-leaning suburb if ever there was one. Graffiti here features the cry of 1789: Vive la révolution!; paste-ups of a self-contented Karl Marx behind a benign, three-tone stencil beard are also a regular feature on available walls. Yellow flags hang from balconies, declaring: Atomkraft? Nein Danke. – “Nuclear power? No thanks.”

Vauban is a suburb that The New York Times and The Guardian got to before I did. In 2008 The Guardian’s Andrew Purvis wrote that:

In Vauban … green living is compulsory. ‘It jumps in your face a little,’ Claudia Duppe warned me, ‘and there is a lot of social control. If you walk into the quarter with an Aldi carrier bag, it's, “Sorry, I'm not talking to you; you shop at a discount supermarket and you don't buy organic.” It feels claustrophobic, because everyone expects you to behave in the same way - and of course you are not allowed to have a car.’

It's an overstatement, since Vauban residents can own a car - but they have to pay €18,000 a year to park it in one of the multistorey 'Solar Garages' on the outskirts of the quarter. On the main thoroughfare there is a speed limit of 30km per hour - and on Vauban's narrow residential streets, hemmed in by housing estates, cars can travel no faster than walking speed.

(read more)

It painted a picture of a utopian ideal that didn’t quite work. It works well in theory, it seems to say, but “normal” living is just easier – we really just have human nature to blame.

The New York Times’ Elisabeth Rosenthal was here a year later. She wrote:

In Germany, a country that is home to Mercedes-Benz and the autobahn, life in a car-reduced place like Vauban has its own unusual gestalt. The town is long and relatively narrow, so that the tram into Freiburg is an easy walk from every home. Stores, restaurants, banks and schools are more interspersed among homes than they are in a typical suburb. Most residents, like Ms. Walter, have carts that they haul behind bicycles for shopping trips or children’s play dates.

For trips to stores like IKEA or the ski slopes, families buy cars together or use communal cars rented out by Vauban’s car-sharing club. Ms. Walter had previously lived — with a private car — in Freiburg as well as the United States.

“If you have one, you tend to use it,” she said. “Some people move in here and move out rather quickly — they miss the car next door.”

Vauban, the site of a former Nazi army base, was occupied by the French Army from the end of World War II until the reunification of Germany two decades ago. Because it was planned as a base, the grid was never meant to accommodate private car use: the “roads” were narrow passageways between barracks.

The original buildings have long since been torn down. The stylish row houses that replaced them are buildings of four or five stories, designed to reduce heat loss and maximize energy efficiency, and trimmed with exotic woods and elaborate balconies; free-standing homes are forbidden.

(read more)

This is a more optimistic read. It gives you the picture that the physical set up will affect the way that you live. This, I think, is more accurate. It’s the same concept of Walter Burley Griffin and what he was trying to do with Canberra. I do wonder if Vauban, which is a much, much, much smaller place, has a greater affect, though, because rather than an entire city, it has been attempted on a tiny scale.

Do I think Vauban “works”? Mainly yes. Public transport is available, shops are within walking distance, there are parks and open spaces, if not private backyards; there are always people out and about to talk to; and it’s not far from anywhere – the “real” world is very close if you need it.

It is very different to what I know. The Saturday morning main theme of the petrol mower is almost totally non-existent, and the rolling of a diesel engine pulling into a driveway late in the evening has been totally replaced with the metal zing of the tram.

19.3.14

18.03.2014

PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE

I’m feeling a bit lazy today, so here is a picture:

IMG_0204

This is a picture looking out of my window tonight. We’re having stupidly good weather and enjoyed 20 degrees today. Perfect. The population here is a bit shocked by being able to wear shorts (not that I’ve partaken in this yet). You have to wear sunglasses – not because of the sun, because of the whiteness of people’s knees.

(Note the solar panels on the houses: this is a very green area and there’s a lot of selling electricity back to the grid going on here.)

 

I received my first letters here this week. Always exciting, although one’s in a Hallmark envelope, so it might be birthday related. I’ve held off on opening it; I’ve buried it in a drawer so I don’t get tempted – the risk is I’ll forget it’s there. I’ve replied to the others and will send some more postcards out soon. (Postcards are tedious, though; I need one of those “novel spinning machines” from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four to whip them up.)

School continues as ever. As the level of understanding increases so does the susceptibility to work. The German word for “work” is arbeit – easy to remember because the first sound sounds like, “pain in the arse”.

16.3.14

15.03.2014

AN INTERNATIONAL DAY TRIP

“What about going to Basel tomorrow?” Jamie, another Australian exchange student and a friend from home, asked yesterday evening.

“Well, why not?”

“How far is it?”

“An hour, maybe.”

“Let’s do it.”

It was no big deal. That’s how you do things here. You just get on with it. Oh, you’re minors and you’ll be unsupervised in a foreign country: no big deal. Just take your passports and train tickets. And remember that the Swiss, although they’re talking German, don’t talk it in a way you’ve heard before.

The plan was to meet at nine. When I woke up I looked at my glorified alarm clock – my single purpose smartphone – and said a few unpublishable words. It was 9.09 already. Luckily there was also a notification for an email. Jamie was going to bit late too.

I scrambled out of bed, scoffed breakfast and the doorbell rang. Jamie was here.

We made the wise decision of getting the next train. They leave every hour and that meant breakfast could be elongated.

Armed with passports, tickets and no idea about what we’ do, we headed off. We caught a train to the German train station at Basel. (There are two stations: a German and a Swiss one.)

The first order of business was money. We needed some Swiss Francs. Then, after a brief transaction at a conveniently located Travelex, we needed a map. Then, after a conveniently located newsagent and bookshop was visited we were ready for the big smoke.

(A note on currency: I suppose going to Switzerland is more like pre-European Union Europe when everywhere had its own currency and travelling was a total pain in the bum.)

We were heading towards the old part of the city when we saw the trams. “Should we get tickets?” was the immediate question, because we’re both 15 and lazy. We decided against it and kept walking. We soon made it to a bridge over the Rhine and we were in the Altstadt (old city).

Lunch – wurst, naturally – was ordered in German from a French speaking woman at the Saturday market in front of the town hall. The sign said that no expense was spared when it was built in the 1500s, and they’re right. The front of the building was red and gold paint was used without compromise. Paintings within the front courtyard were old, lavish and bright. A few government functions remain, but most have moved.

Chocolate was another order of business, which was purchased from a shop that was selling pens with a Swiss Army knife on the end. And then we walked around and took it all in. This photo essay from Jamie demonstrates (with his captions):

DSCN03391. Look at this bastard I ran into in Basel, Switzerland. Who would have thought this would happen.

DSCN03442. Look at this bastard who got us lost. And then he couldn’t read the map in German.

DSCN03483. Look at this bastard. He was rolling his eyes about not being able to read the pamphlet about an historic building in German.

DSCN03544. Look at this bastard who got in the way of my picture of the street.

DSCN03555. This bastard wasn’t even looking at the view across the Rhine.

DSCN03606. This bastard didn’t even want to do selfies.

Personally, I don’t think I’m that much of a bastard.

The weather wasn’t that great, but we didn’t get any rain and it was mainly just wind. In the narrow streets with high buildings it was nice and sheltered.

And no wonder the Swiss have good banks, because they have to have somewhere to put all the money they need. Everything’s expensive.

Our feet tired out very quickly, though, and we headed back to Freiburg earlier than I thought we would. On the train back we sat near some very loud Americans. It was very stimulating for our own conversation. We would talk about the subjects they were talking about. They were too caught up in their own little world to nice; we had a great time.

We got back at dusk and I bought the Guardian Weekly. A fairly perfect day.

14.3.14

13.03.2014

WHOSAIDWHAT? MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHODUNNIT?

I thought I was watching a murder mystery. I’ve never been very good at piecing them together in English – of course I have crazy theories that usually rely on witness protection plots; so, in German, there’s no chance. I’m just trying to keep with who said what, and how these people the detectives keep talking to are related over the murder.

I didn’t quite know what the crime was, who the suspects and the victims were supposed to be; I did know, however, that a mother was having a birthday and that the female detective wanted the bartender to give her male counterpart some poison after a verbal barney that I didn’t comprehend. Then there was gold being auctioned off from a big, once illustrious, house (which I think housed a dysfunctional family; most big houses do) – was it because they ran out of money? or they saw the “we buy gold” ads on the sides of the trams here in Freiburg? I don’t quite know.

I suppose I didn’t really know what was going on because I didn’t start at the beginning.

But, at the end of the programme it turned out that there wasn’t a murder in the first place. I did think along the lines of, “What the?” My next question was, “So, what was the crime?” Dunno about that either. Tax evasion? child pornography? petty theft? drug dealing? I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Was there even a crime? or was it just a set up?”

 

MORE DIFFERENCES

They just don’t understand morning tea, do they? – But even at breakfast: the butter is too hard; you have to leave it out for three hours before you can spread it on anything – The bread seems to be purchased stale – But you’re at school before you have time for this butter melting business – The people are familiar at the same time has being totally foreign – Funny, that – And then the lessons! – Yes, the lessons! – Eurythmy is a load of nonsense, don’t you think? – Probably invented by someone on drugs – The other stupid thing is books without indents for paragraphs; slabs of text – They ask “How much clock is it?” when they want to know the time – At a restaurant they ask for the “calculation” when they want the bill – For a school in a country where winter is a dominant sort of a thing, why aren’t there good places to accommodate coats in the classrooms? – The weather means you don’t know what to wear at the moment; should you take the coat or the jacket? You need coat in the morning, jacket during the day and then coat again later on.

(Inspired partly by The Interrogative Mode: A Novel? by Padgett Powell, which I read half of in a book shop one day. Although, it, unlike the above “slab of text”, entailed just questions for a lot
of pages.)

 

AN ALMIGHTY STUFF UP

What were you thinking, Jasper? But more importantly, how did you do it? How did you give the teacher the impression that you speak “good German” and understand a damn lot more? You thought that, by the simple face of circumstance, was impossible, didn’t you? It wasn’t a smart thing to do, was it?

Now, because of this error (which was not a conscious action), I’m expected to give a little speech to the class about a topic related to biology – in German, to people who speak German, not Australians who are pretending to be “learning”* it while doodling with fluoro highlighters on the back covers of exercise books. These are people who won’t clap politely at the end because it sounded alright to them; these are people who will be clapping politely at the end to create enough noise to mask their giggling: Now that was funny!

Anyway, you have to do what you have to. Maybe I could work in a Freud quote in the original German to sound intelligent despite not being able to conjugate a verb accurately very often. We’ll see, we’ll see. Or I could just try and be intentionally funny, but this is Germany remember, so that’s a risk. Worth taking? Not sure yet.

 

* “Learning” may also refer to the act of cruising through school with unremarkable foreign language grades that don’t require too much effort, an extensive vocabulary or the ability to conjugate a verb.

11.3.14

10.03.2014

It’s a funny time here in Freiburg-im-Breisgau at the moment. No one quite knows what to wear. On the same street you could see a young man in shorts and a T-shirt sitting on a bench next to an older, perhaps more sensible, woman wearing a coat.

It’s a time of cold mornings, warmish afternoons, and chilly evenings. The question is whether it’s worthwhile taking a coat? can I get away with shorts? will this jumper be enough? do I really need a scarf? no, gloves are over the top? oh, but, they might be nice tonight, mightn’t they?

Spring is coming. Buds are on branches and people’s eyes are brighter now. Scarves hang loose around necks; they no longer have chins buried down into them.

 

FIRES IN THE STREETS IN SWITZERLAND

Yesterday I was in Switzerland for an Umzug – procession– for Fastnacht – Carnival. In a tradition that is gloriously ancient and wholly primeval, burning torches, and metal wagons transporting portable bonfires were pulled down the small streets of a Swiss town by people wearing fire brigade helmets, masks and old, green woollen national service coats.

It evokes the thoughts of witch burning, the celebration of winter being over, the idea of being squashed in a crowd.

The front row, standing on the kerb closest to the fires, is often scorched. The wagons are stopped, and arms are raised in front of eyes in an attempt to prevent them melting. It was definitely hot because a digital street clock that oscillated between time and temperature in red LED letters recorded an increase of three degrees – and this was at 8.00pm

Also in Switzerland I was at Rheinfall, a water fall in the Rhine. The Swiss have got it all worked on when it comes to tourism, too. Not only is there the fantastic water fall to see, the almost sea-like smell coming off the continuously flowing water and the square, red and white flags flying everywhere, there is the ultimate in Swiss souvenirs: knives, chocolate and watches.

Since the time when general thought centred on the idea that Europe was all the world had to offer in terms of land, water power was harnessed here, and buildings date to 1400s or even earlier. The flat stones of ledges at the doors are all worn in the middle – as though squashed by history itself.

5.3.14

04.03.2014

A COUNTRY OF CLOCK WATCHERS

Sitting on the train, still at the station, as the diesel engine is fired up and the doors close, everyone turns to look at their wrists. They’re checking the time. If the train is pulling out on time, they pull their sleeves back down and carry on with their newspapers and magazines or conversations; they’re satisfied, happy and contented.

This is a place where you can actually rely on things to be on time. It is not just an intrinsic hope; it leans more to “fact of life” status.

Today we had a three minute window to get from tram stop to platform and to get on the train. In Australia this wouldn’t even be attempted. You’d get the earlier tram. You wouldn’t risk it. But the Germans don’t like waiting around. They like to walk straight from tram onto train, without having to stand around in the cold looking at the clock.

I was on the tram, eyes fixated on my watch. “We’re going to miss it,” I had told myself, with five minutes to go. “There’s no way this tram – sitting here in the middle of the city, idly letting people on and off – is going to make it. It just can’t be done.” This, however, is the thinking of someone who, at home, is known to rely on a ten minute discrepancy in the time table to get places.

I think I could live with this system of things running on time, but I wouldn’t want to see the people here if something went bung – I’d bet they’d be ropable.

 

‘WOULD YOU LIKE SOME SCHNAPPS?’

It was once observed that in Britain and Australia if you listen to the sound in a restaurant you’ll hear laughter. In Germany, normally you’ll hear talking.

Perhaps this doesn’t apply for trains here.

On the train back from a Carnival event, which saw motor bikes on high wires and more marching bands than you’d think a small village would be home to, in Breisach am Rhein – a town that is able to hold spitting contests at the French, if it so desired – a group of old ladies suffering bouts of uncontrollable laughter produced a small glass bottle.

“Would you like some schnapps?” one offered. I declined, so another in the merry, and a little tipsy, crowd had to consume it for me. I was left thinking that I had definitely, without any further shadows of doubt, arrived in Germany.

It emerged pretty quickly that I was from Australia and was on exchange. “I didn’t know teachers did exchange programmes…”

“No, no. I’m a student.”

“Aren’t you a little bit old?”

“Er, 15 isn’t that old.”

“Really? 15? Well, no more offers of schnapps, young man.”

Here I was apologising for terrible German and managing to keep up the conversation. Perhaps it would be best for all language learning endeavours to be conducted around drunk, older ladies – it limits their vocabulary and topics of discussion, distilling them to a digestible strength for linguistically incapable foreigners like me.

3.3.14

02.03.2014

DID HEROES DIE HERE?

IMG_0132

“From camp to camp through the foul womb of night
The hum of either army stilly sounds.”

– William Shakespeare (Henry V, Act IV, line 4).

 

A young child clambers down the stairs, his arm above his heard, held by his tentative mother. The son heads into a French trench from the First World War. To his eyes it is a maze, big and dangerous and exciting. The trenches – with their rusting metal lintels and slimy rocks and old snow – are not the scares in a landscape telling of the wounds of death. To this young fellow it is a sight of a playground.

To those of us who have had the history drummed into them they know what happened here. We don’t know the individual battles and perhaps there weren’t direct relations fighting here, but we understand what was going on. We have heard about trenches before – and this is what they’re like: Narrow, claustrophobic, muddy and damp; and yet we aren’t experiencing them with the smell of death.

The trenches are sinking back into the hill, it feels. Rusty barbed wire is everywhere; thick sheets of metal are warped and rusted, still acting as roofs to small bunkers and hide outs.

There are few people here – it’s not a big attraction with tour guides, entrance costs and tourists with big lenses. It’s solemn. There’s little talking – it seems to be avoiding the subject of death. We didn’t need brilliant French to understand the sign at the war cemetery – with its rows of humanless crosses and metal plaques – before the path to the trenches. We only had to recognise two things: the word “mort” – “death” – and 30,000.

IMG_0124

It isn’t the site of victory. It is the site of a squabble between the Germans and the French. The Battle of Hartmannswillerkopf – a stalemate. Hartmannswillerkopf is a rocky spur 956m above sea-level in Alsace. The heaviest fighting lasted between January 19 and December 22, 1915. After that it was manned until the end of the war, but nothing changed here.

The German and French trenches are a literal stone’s throw apart. They would have been able to hear each other talking, I think, if they weren’t interested in keeping their voices down.

On the peak of the hill – which the trenches cross up to the top – there is a large metal cross, erected in 1919 in memory of what happened here.

There’s nothing glorious about this place.

It has been 100 years since the start of the First World War, which would struggle on, achieving little, until 1918. So much for it being the war to end all wars. Perhaps the 30,000 who died here on this hill in France (which, during the war was a part of Germany) didn’t die for some greater cause, for valour; but only for their country’s efforts to prove itself. Poor bastards.

 

 

THE TROUBLE WITH ENGLISH

The trouble with English is that there are a few words with connotations that are far too negative. Take the word “cult” for instance – it’s negative connotations are instilled in its powers to affect people.

If one is to use the word, one unleashes greater, divisive powers over people. Firstly are the defensive, and secondly are those who find an excuse to blast the “cult” for “what it really is”.

People need to calm down. “Cult” isn’t a nasty, hateful word. Why can’t it be a term of endearment instead?

Think about people who get up late every Sunday morning. This, under my proposed usage regulations, would be considered a cult movement. There are the participants who partake in a regular act of meditative quality (well, they do look like zombies when they finally get up), and for many they avoid admitting they’re a part of it all – another cult-like behaviour.

Calling this a cult isn’t a bad thing, is it? Only if you think the word “cult” extends beyond its use as a descriptive term and enters in the grey area of perceived negativity.

Or we just stop dodging the issue altogether and show a little more cult pride!

1.3.14

28.02.2014

IMG_0122A photo looking out over a part of Freiburg im Breisgau I took today,
note the little bit of snow that’s still left.

LANGUAGE CHECK POINTS

There is a lack of language barriers here. Provided one holds a passport, hardly an eyebrow is raised as one steps across a linguistically-inclined border.

I was talking to man today out the front of an ice cream shop (if they waited until it was summer to have ice creams here it would never happen), and he was holding two other conversations at the same time. To me he was talking in English, to his children in French and his children’s friends in German.

He said that Europe was amazing because you could drive ten kilometres and experience a completely different culture and hear a completely different language. “With all that English, Australia is a little bit boing,” he said.

“If I’m in a shop or on the street talking French no one looks at me funny,” he added. “We’re much more tolerant in Europe of all the languages. It’s the Americans who aren’t.

“They go everywhere and they expect to be understood. They demand it. But in Europe it doesn’t always work like that.

“In Belgium you go into a shop and expect not to be understood. We’re much more aware of it.”

He then turned to his kids and asked them something about ice cream, and then translated the same question for his kids’ friends in German. He did it effortlessly, and it wasn’t out of the ordinary.

 

COINS

Perhaps any country that currently has ambitions of joining the European Union should take a look at the physical currency – the actual stuff that will be in circulation.

This week I was out riding a bike in the rain with my wallet in my pocket. It reached the stage where I was directionally dazed and the ride became longer than it was first intended. The wallet, which contained some bank notes, got a bit wet – but the bank notes got a bit soaked.

I’m used to the plastic stuff – the “it can go through the wash”, “leave it the rain”, “won’t burn, but might melt” sort of thing.

This was the first time that I had a line of bank notes across the top of a heater.

But it isn’t just the bank notes. The coins are infuriating, too. I know see why Australia got rid of one and two cent pieces: they’re just annoying. They’re too small, too useless, and really, they’re just a waste of time.

 

IDIOM

There are some expressions which can’t be translated. As an example, it isn’t said that you “like” someone here – that state in which you can only thing about a certain person, constantly plan to ask them out, then put it off, and then watch on as they fall for someone else and get on with their life – it’s said that you “stand next to them”. I like the German equivalent, and I wonder whether it is borne out of pure observation, because when it is common knowledge that someone “likes” someone else, they’re always trying to orchestrate situations so that they can, indeed, stand next to them.

These difficulties are facing the English teacher here and so I’ve been asked to help put together a lesson on English idiom. “What we really say when…”

So, I’m looking for suggestions. What do you think these aspiring English speakers should know? What key phrases should they be told about so that they understood the full breadth of our language psyche? What bizarre phrases are necessary in everyday English conversation?

I have some ideas (which I’ll share shortly), but would like some input. Please, comment below or flick me an email: jasperlindell@gmx.com.