Para-annoy-a

I have lived in the UK for nigh on three years now, and the thing that keeps boggling my mind is just how paranoid the island monkeys are.

Boys can’t wear tights or play with dolls because that’s for girls, and girls only. Imagine the damage if your boy did these things! He’d surely grow a vagina or turn gay!

No-one in this country dares to give their bank details to anyone for fast and easy bank transfers. That’s why cheques incomprehensibly are still ubiquitous here.

Oh, and for the love of Darwin, don’t ever let your toddler run around freely because he could get snatched by a pervert.

As a matter of fact, paedophiles are lurking everywhere these days, so you better beware.

no photography

Taking photographs of your little monster when he’s attempting his first tentative steps into the shallow end of the local swimming pool? Forget it! Who knows, you could deviously snap other kiddies and publish their pics on the interwebs, you bad, bad person you! Even at the ice rink, where everyone is wrapped up really nicely, you are not allowed to shoot silly photos of your friends because, well, it says so on the sign. The rules of paranoia also demand the nursery first obtain all parents’ consent before taking and displaying pics in the confined environment of a particular room. Ridiculous!

 

In my not so humble opinion, Brits are waaayyy too concerned with their privacy.

The most important piece of furniture in our study is … drumroll … a shredder! That’s right. Ok, I give him the benefit of the doubt because he grew up in South Africa, but my dear husband is just short of forcing me to destroy every tiny bit of completely innocuous paper. Granted, I wouldn’t put my intact bank statements into the paper recycling collection bag either. But blank envelopes just because they have my name on it? There surely must be smarter ways to steal my identity if someone was so inclined.

doorbellWait! Maybe not. Because in this country, it’s not only fairly hard to find out the address of a particular abode, seeing that street name signs are few and far between and house numbers are often inconspicuous, overgrown or missing altogether. More importantly, no-one displays their names on their doors. Ever!

 

Where I come from, the doorbells generally freely exhibit the family name of the inhabitant/s, as do the mailboxes. What a fancy way to make sure mail is delivered to the correct receiver!

We have lived in our current house for more than 2 1/2 years now, and we still on a regular basis get mail for four (4!) different previous tenants. Go figure!

As always, I wonder why we Krauts are not as fussed. Is identity theft less of a threat there? Or kidnapping? Are we simply less susceptible to panicmongering by the media? Or are German prisons just that much more effective as a scare tactic?

Maybe it’s all of the above.

Psst, don’t tell anyone. I actually like the island monkeys. Sometimes.

Since I’ve started my blog, I have been asked several times whether there are any things here in the UK that I do not want to write rants about. And why I still live here, seeing how much I hate it.

Well, I’ll let you in on a secret. I don’t hate living among Brits. I don’t hate Brits either. They just make such lovely tirade targets sometimes.

heart

Who could say 'no' to so much love?

You see, you could compare me and the collective entity of ‘The Brits’ to an old couple. All year long they exchange little meannesses, bad-mouth each other behind their backs and mock the other one’s quirks and oddities. But come Valentine’s Day he gets her the chocolates she likes so much without simultaneously flinging a jab at her waistline, while she refrains from nagging about his less endearing qualities like leaving smelly socks just about everywhere.

So in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I have decided to abandon the nagging for a moment and focus on the positive aspects of living among island monkeys. Because there are quite some as I have pointed out in my first post when I started this blog (if you are interested or just want to refresh your memory, go check out the Why island monkeys? page).

I have since given this a bit more thought and came up with a little list of likeables of British life. And here they are, in no particular order:

 

1. Politeness

Yes, the old stereotype is true. In my experience, Brits are more polite than the average Kraut.

In Germany, it’s been known to happen that a mother with a pram had to wait for several minutes at the bottom of a flight of stairs before some merciful soul stopped to offer help. I never had that problem in the UK. Most of the time I had two or more very friendly gentlemen almost break into a fight over who’d get the honour to assist me. Maybe they felt bad because hardly any of the Central London underground stations are equipped with escalators or elevators?

Now, to set the record straight, I also met people here who were so rude I needed all my restraint not to punch them in the face! I write those encounters off to living in Essex. Look it up.

polite

After you! No, I insist!

 

2. Supermarket opening hours

You woldn’t believe how often I run out of (or notice that I forgot to buy) this essential food item just after the shops closed. In Germany, that is, because here in the UK, opening hours are so much more forgiving. Being able to hop over to the supermarket after the little monster is in bed or browsing through furniture or DIY stores as a family on Sundays – no problem!

Of course, having this kind of opening hours at your disposal, entails two problems. First, I am always unprepared when I come across a smaller high street store or mom-and-pop’s that has opening hours like the shops at home. I deal with it by pretending I’d be at home. Takes care of the homesickness, if not the frustration. And second, apparently this kind of customer service is socially questionable. Well, I guess in this case you will just have to live with the fact that I am a selfish pig with no social conscience.

open24hoursneonsign

I'm in heaven!

 

3. Traffic lights

A while ago, I have bemoaned the island monkeys’ unfortunate predilection for completely ignoring pedestrian traffic lights. There is, however, an aspect of British traffic lights that I find very agreeable and, indeed, much preferable over the German solution. I am talking about the positioning of additional lights on the opposite side of an intersection.

Only the other day I was driving in Germany and nearly popped a disc in my neck from totally contorting it to be able to see the damn traffic light there in the blind spot turn green. The other option, of course, would have been to drive by ear – simply wait for the car behind me to honk. They usually have a better vantage point.

traffic lights

Here you can see why I don't usually do comics. I suck at it.

 

4. The weather

The British all-pervasive habit of talking about the weather is universally acknowledged to be a particularly defining trait. Apparently, this has got nothing to do with how bad it is but with its volatility. In fact, it is not rare to encounter rain, sunshine, storm, hail and clear skies again within the relatively small window of one day.

However, one thing that is usually absent from the weather menu is cold. As in really cold. Granted, summers are generally less hot than in my more land-locked home country, but, in return, we also don’t get long and severe frost periods in winter like the ones my people back home have to suffer through on a regular basis. As a rule of thumb, here on the island, from October to March I usually have to wear one layer less than I would have to in Germany. Hooray for gulf-streamy balminess!

The fact that, when it gets cold, a lot of island monkeys fail to recognise the unpleasantness of the temperatures and dress accordingly, is a different story altogether.

temps

Why do you need a caption for this one? It's self-explanatory, for crying out loud!

 

5. Small talk

I know, it sounds counterintuitive, what with the proverbial British reservedness, but I find it much easier to strike up a conversation with a Brit than with strangers at home. Germans tend to keep to themselves in public, so if you happen to sit next to someone on a plane or park bench, you are highly unlikely to get involved in a conversation.

Island monkeys are pleasantly different. They will almost always start a chat about the weather (what else?). Or the little monster if he happens to be around. I like this. After all, as a housewife and mother, I sometimes crave a conversation with an adult more than rhubarb crumble with custard.

chat

Of course, this guy will chat to any stranger, German or not.

 

6. Queueing

The British propensity for forming neat queues is the subject of much ridicule among mainland monkeys. Frankly, I find it only logical and fair.

Flying Ryanair is not a pleasant experience in anyone’s book, but if everyone behaved like the civilised creatures we are supposed to be, the irritation could be kept to a tolerable level. However, having some German chick brazenly push past you while you are already ON THE STEPS boarding the plane, just so she can secure a window seat for herself, that’s just beyond rude!

How I knew she was German, you ask? Well, we were flying from Berlin to London, and she sure wasn’t British. Otherwise she would have, without complaining or looking at her wrist watch, queued.

queue

Some Germans could well take a leaf out of the island monkeys

 

I’m sure, if I racked my brain a little more I would come up with maaaany more positives. But then, what would I write about next year?

So I’m just going to stop here and wish you all a happy celebration of the holy headless Valentine.

Snowpocalypse

Snow and I have an ambivalent relationship.

 

snow

Try to use your bicycle now!

I used to hate snow. Don’t ask. Suffice it to say it’s cold, wet, and inconvenient if you have to go places. In big cities, like the one I grew up in, it also isn’t exactly pretty as it turns grey quickly. Or yellow. Never mind.

Then came Lorelai Gilmore, with whom I (not very) secretly identified quite a bit, and her love affair with snow. A little later I met my husband with his childlike enthusiasm about snow and his adorably cute inability to pronounce the German word ‘Schnee’ properly. And finally I had a real child, my little monster. Now, if you have ever seen a kid looking out the window in the morning, exclaiming with unadulterated glee “Snow!!!” you can’t really hate snow. Much.

So snow and I have agreed on a fragile truce for the time being.

Which is subjected to quite some strain every time it snows here in the UK.

Granted, it doesn’t happen very often, but it is also not an extremely rare occurrence. Last winter we had three instances, in one of which it stayed cold and white for more than a week.

This season we got lucky. Until last Saturday, when it snowed all through the night, resulting in up to 15 cm of white fluff. And a virtually immediate standstill of life. Even on Monday, there were still 50 % of all flights cancelled because the runways couldn’t get plowed, train services disrupted because of signal failures and schools closed (really?!) – and all of that after the snow had been

  • anticipated (with mixed emotions) for most of the winter,
  • forecasted for at least two days and
  • on the ground for all of Sunday.

OK, I admit I was actually quite impressed when two hours into the storm the major roads here in our neck of the woods were all ready salted. I mean, people were still driving like idiots but I’m not going to gripe about that, seeing that hardly anyone here uses snow tyres and is consequently – and rightfully – concerned about his/her own and others’ well-being.

snow

Drivers like that drive me mad!

Which raises an interesting question: Why the frill does half of the drivers not clear their cars of the snow before partaking in traffic? Lazy? In a hurry? Spouse away on a business trip?

I have a theory about this: Most of the island monkeys who fail to rid themselves of snowy view barriers simply can’t. Because British cars are – out of misguided optimism? – not usually equipped with the essential tools for this kind of enterprise, such as hand brushes and ice scrapers.

Just like most households do not own a snow shovel. And why would they? Where I come from, we live by the principle that property entails obligations. In this case the duty to clear a path on the sidewalk outside your property wide enough for a wheelchair to pass. This ideal is obviously not adhered to in this country.

IMG_2501

Happy sliding!

Instead, it is the council’s responsibility to plow, grit or salt the pavement. Now this is where it gets silly, because in this picture here you can see what a sidewalk looks like after the council has taken care of its responsibilities (NOT!), followed by a sunny day with some thawing and a subsequent night of temperatures below zero. Mind you, this is one of the major thoroughfares between the main train station, ASDA and the town centre.

By the way, minor roads and residential areas look pretty much the same, except they usually sport lovely icy ruts in which the cars slither along and which pedestrians wanting to cross the road have to navigate or die trying.

Needless to say, there is no sense in me dusting the snow off my bicycle as it is an utterly useless means of transport until the mighty weather gods have mercy on me and send some serious spring around.

IMG_2508

Thank Germany for all-terrain buggies!

In fact, in conditions like this I tend to not leave the house without the little monster’s buggy for support. It has saved me more than once from probing the temperature and consistency of the ice with my backside. Of course, I am usually the only pram-pusher far and wide because our robust, thick-tyred, German 4×4 equivalent of a pushchair is pretty much the only model that can cope with slush, snow and ice around here.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The past couple of days have me grateful for a number of things:

IMG_2468

We even made this little fellow.

  • Snow is fuuuunnn! For the first time since last year’s pathetic excuse for a summer left us alone with the proverbial British weather, the little monster actually wants to go outside all the time. Horsing around in the snow even trumps watching DVDs. I am in mommy heaven!
  • Once you have hobbled your way to the supermarket it is actually a delight to shop there at the moment as most people rather stay at home if they can help it at all.
  • So far it has not snowed again, so for now we are spared to proceed to the advanced level of treacherousness that is snow-covered ice. I am sure the NHS (National Health Service) appreciates the break (forgive the pun), too.
  • Thanks to the lovely cold weather, two of my earliest posts, Boys in tights and Clothes make the man… have been receiving loads of attention via various search engines. Oh I feel so popular…

I am an accomplished writer now – I think

Thanks, Nathan, over at The Life and Times of Nathan Badley, for rescuing me from a predicament.

I have been in Germany for the last six days, collecting fodder for my special Valentine’s Day post. Incidentally, this has made it a bit difficult for me to get into the ranting mood in order to produce something by my usual Tuesday deadline.

Thankfully I am not German enough to lose any sleep over this prospect, after all, I like to think my esteemed readers will still enjoy this week’s post on a Wednesday or even Thursday.

Unfortunately, after returning to the island, the ‘mood’ usually takes a moment to kick in. Imagine this as an absence-induced writer’s block or a muse gone into hibernation due to being surrounded by utter non-Britishness for too long. Posts about something that ticked me off a while ago, while I happened to be in the UK, simply lack the acute frustration, exasperation and anger quintessential for a snarky tirade.

The other option was a week without a post at all, but after having seen the damage that my recent short holiday in the sun wreaked among my blog stats, I wasn’t quite ready to call this a real alternative.

award

This is how I see myself in a mirror now

Enter Nathan and with him the ‘One lovely blog’ award. My. First. Blog. Award. Ever. YAY!

Now, since I’ve started this blog in November last year, I have been convinced that sooner or later I will get freshly pressed. Hence my acceptance speech for this event is all done and dusted. However, I did not expect the high honours of being awarded such a lovely trophy.

To tell you the truth, I am not even entirely sure Nathan seriously meant to confer this honour on me. After all, what’s lovely about a blog whose main objective is cussing at the most unpleasant traits of a nation that happens to be resident on a set of islands?

In any event, I am going to accept the award. Now, instead of having to come up with a moderately funny post topic I just have to comply with the rules in the fine print the award comes with. Which are:

1. Thank the person who nominated you

I am not sure this is a formal requirement but I sure think it’s good form to do so, especially when the person in question is such a thoughtful and sincere individual with such great judgement. He happens to be pretty funny, too, so if you haven’t read any of his writings yet, go do it.

2. Reveal seven interesting facts about yourself

This requirement is often bemoaned among bloggers, especially those who receive such prizes left, right and centre, therefore running out of fascinating details of their lives worth relating to their audience. I don’t have these problems, because, you see, I like to talk about myself. You could say I’m a natural born attention seeker. So this is actually my favourite part of being nominated.

It also helps that I don’t care whether you find my facts interesting. Not much, anyway.

So, here goes, in no particular order:

  • I have double-jointed feet. No, really, ask my husband, he will confirm that.
  • I have a severe dislike for cooking. During the week I kinda have to, lest my little monster and I starve, or worse, eat fast food, but I am lucky enough to have married a man who will gladly take over on weekends, if only for his own taste buds’ sake. Maybe this self-sacrificial behaviour was even the qualifying feature that convinced me to marry him in the first place, who knows?
  • I own two Kindle e-book readers. I am not only that erudite but also generous enough to let my husband use one of them. Usually the older, chunkier one.
  • I have a second blog named Inselaffen (German for island monkeys). It contains the same posts, only in German. Go figure. If you’d like to practice your German, or just want to look up how to say ‘award’ in German, go check it out. In two days. That’s how long I usually give myself for the translation.
  • I don’t own an iPod. I know, I’m hopeless.
  • I used to be Berlin champion over 200 m butterfly in the masters class, age group 30 to 34. Those days are gone. After all, I don’t live in Berlin anymore and am not between 30 and 34 anymore either.
  • I am a heathen but I do like looking at old churches, all built on the backs and wallets of religious people. What a hypocrite I am!
  • I prefer warm and rainy over sunny yet ice-cold weather anytime.

I know, I know, these are actually eight facts. I told you I like talking about myself. Deal with it.

3. Pass the award on to ten other worthy blogs

Now this obligation is tricky because it single-handedly changes a wonderful thing – an award for your achievements in the high art of writing – into something as trivial and annoying as a chain letter. ‘Hey, have you read this atrocious and hateful blog over at …? Let’s give him an award, this way he will have to deal with all those tedious requirements, hehe!’

I have therefore decided to copy others before me and just give you a (non-comprehensive) list of blogs that I follow and thoroughly enjoy reading. I leave it to the respective authors if they want to accept the award and its side effects.

Rangewriter: Often philosophical and always entertaining and thoughtful posts with the odd, really enjoyable, fiction sprinkled in, Linda is one of my favourites.

Mostly Bright Ideas: Charles is a master of the word who possesses the unique gift of making people think. I simply adore his insightful and wise pieces.

Phytoplanktonic: Not only is Laura stranded in the UK like me, we also used to study marine biology together. She successfully juggles her PhD, her love for nature, art and a boyfriend and still finds time to write awesome blog posts about her endeavours.

Where Do Gaybies Come From? I am the straight mother of only one child, and I sure appreciate the troubles and curiosities that raising a kid entails. Jerry is a gay dad and, together with his partner, he is raising twins. I suppose stuff like this can only be digested with a huge portion of humour and sharing your experiences through a – tremendously successful – blog.

Way Too Much Free Time: Max is a hilarious writer who accomplished the feat of getting freshly pressed on his second ever post. That’s how good he is. Considering how much free time he allegedly has he is also refreshingly restrained with the number of his posts, i.e. your inbox doesn’t get cluttered when you follow him.

 

That’s it for today, back to the normal ranting routine next week. And aren’t you looking forward to it?

Just flush it down the drain!

Incipient note: People have complained about my toilet humour before. Now at least they’ve got a point.

 

Last Thursday we came back from a one-week holiday. We touched down in Gatwick and, being the good female that I am, I was bursting for a pee. I mean, I had to strap myself into a seat for all of landing and taxiing and then there was a queue to get off the plane at that, so it was almost 30 minutes without access to a loo. That’s just inhumane! But I digress.

The real horror came when I finally reached the first lavatory in the airport building.

On this planet, toilet designs with questionable aesthetics abound, and I’m afraid I have seen (and used) them all: Squat toilets, latrines, port-a-potties, outhouses, German dry pan toilets (they are great because your bottom stays dry but they smell like… well, potty), toilets that clog up so easily that you can’t throw the toilet paper in but have to toss it into a basket next to the loo instead…

The shocking part about British toilets, however, is not the bowl design, it’s the flushing system. Every time I am at a restaurant, cinema, supermarket, pub, park, swimming pool, mall, airport or other public place and need to take a leak, I tremble with anticipation of what I might find.

Unfortunately, in an estimated 90 % of all public powder rooms, I am greeted by The Handle.

 

IMG_2409

Note that The Handle is inevitably attached to a humongous cistern

 

This sight instantly triggers an imaginary sound in my auditory cortex, namely the signature screech from ‘Psycho’. That’s when I know I will speedily have to don my mental Kevlar vest to protect myself from getting too worked up about two things:

1. I will probably have to push down the lever several times with all my might in order to pump up enough water and get the flushing in motion. I try to see this part as a challenge. One can never get too much exercise.

2. Once the flushing has started, the complete tank contents will empty into the bowl and drown my modest number one in insane amounts of unnecessarily wasted drinking water. This part never fails to piss me off, no matter how thick the Kevlar.

I am frequently tempted to not flush at all, especially if the culprit isn’t me but my little monster with his *wee* bladder. But then I figure that I wouldn’t like that very much if I was the next person to use this particular cubby hole. So I flush. And try not to scream.

toilet

We had a toilet like that in the early 70ies. Sooo last millennium! (Image: Wikipedia)

True, we are on an island here which, by all accounts, is haunted by copious amounts of precipitation. That’s actually a myth. As a matter of fact, East Anglia, which is the part of the country I live in, gets less annual rainfall than my home town Berlin which itself lies in one of the driest areas in Germany.

So why on earth are you insisting on using flushing mechanisms like in the times of the invention of WCs?!

Where I come from, it has been the standard for decades to equip toilets with start/stop devices. Depending on the degree of soiling you just push the stop button or tip the rocker switch back into its original position as soon as the bowl is clean. Easy.

toilet5

German flushing systems rock! (Image: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

I have never seen this logical and simple solution anywhere in the UK. That frankly baffles me.

Granted, once in a while I come across a rather modern cistern here with a dual flush system. These will allow you to choose between two different flush volumes. If you’re lucky, the right amount for your needs is among them.

 

Thankfully, the loos in our house are fitted with this nifty system. Otherwise I would probably just stop eating and drinking altogether.

I mean, you don’t have to be a quantum physicist to figure out that even in a normal household, with East Anglian water prices, the installation of a water-wise flushing mechanism is an investment that pays off before you can say “economic crisis”. Seeing how much more often public conveniences are used compared to my humble home, upgrading them might just *pan* out nicely from a financial point of view.

 

Now, please don’t get me started on the environmental aspect of wasting water!

 

I’ve lost a stone!

If my son was going to say that to me it would be something that he would feel kind of sad about. He loves collecting stones. In fact, he loves collecting a lot of things.

If, on the other hand, I heard this sentence from anyone else around here it would probably be followed by cheers, congratulations and ‘way to go’s.

I confess that I find that confusing.

metric 1

Which one do you prefer?

Why on earth can’t you island monkeys use the normal metric measures that everyone else in the world is using? Ehem. The normal metric measures that everyone else in the world but the US of A is using?

Sure, I am a reasonably bright girl, I can figure it out.

But why?! I mean, don’t you know that the metric system is actually your official system of measurement? You should have thought of the consequences before you joined the European Community in 1973. For crying out loud, British scientists like Joule and Lord Kelvin used to be pioneers in metrication in the 19th century! What happened? Did you just want to be different from everybody else?

What’s worse, you guys just take our universally recognised unit symbols and employ them for your own purposes.

metric

16 metres? How on earth am I gonna brake quickly enough to pull into this service station?!

metric 2

See, even the Chinese get it right! (Image: Wikipedia)

Admittedly, the metric system is not free of faults and hiccups. But adhering to a set of units that are not immediately understood by most other people in the world and very impractical to boot seems a bit… excuse me, obstinate and childish to me!

I can somehow relate to your resistance to joining the majority when considering the recent misery of the Euro currency. But in the case of measurements, going metric would actually make sense because it does make everyday life simpler. What is easier to calculate: the number of metres in a kilometre or the number of feet in a mile? And how many inches are in a yard again? What if a measurement is smaller than 1/2 inch?

Or, coming back to my initial example, how heavy is a stone? How many ounces in a pound? Can ounces have babies with fluid ounces?

And why the hell is a British pint that much bigger than an American pint? Questions upon questions.

You see, metrication is not really the same as Europeanisation. And while it takes a bit of effort, it’s also not that painful, promise! Take temperatures, for instance. While the Fahrenheit scale is still sometimes used as supplementary indication, you are mainly dealing in °Celsius now. Way to go! So much more intuitive: everything below 0 °C means you are freezing your appendages off.

If you could now convert in the remaining areas, too, that would be just swell. Would have saved us some trouble, you know? Here’s why:

When we got a new bed for the little monster who had outgrown his cot bed, it was an IKEA hand-me-down loft bed and we needed to buy a new mattress for it. So we went and got a bunk bed mattress at the friendly mattress store across the road. Standard length, we were assured, 6 ft. Rattle, rattle, went my poor, continental brain before spitting out an answer: that’s pretty much 2 metres, in other words, standard length. Result!

Until…

Well, until we put the mattress into the bed frame and… Surprise! The mattress was too short. Some 17 cm too short, because that is the difference between a Swedish 2 m bed and a British 6 ft mattress. Dang!

Mind you, I consider myself a bit of a maths wiz (please don’t shun me!), but even I don’t generally have the completely random conversion factors to 4 decimal places ready for retrieval. So much for being reasonably bright.

But the worst thing was that I couldn’t even blame hubby for the calculation fail. He couldn’t have known either because he grew up in South Africa. Make an educated guess which system they are using down there!

Let your children off the leash!

IMG_1722

If you have to put her on a leash, at least use it to keep her off the cycling lane!

This is what I saw the other day on my way home from the supermarket. Yeah, look closer. And don’t let her atrocious boots distract you from the even more heinous lapse of having her child on a leash!

The appalling bit is, here in the UK, I see this all the time! When I last visited Germany, I specifically paid attention to how often I would see parents with their kids on a lead. Well, yes, there is the odd occurrence, but it doesn’t even remotely compare to how frequently the average island monkey does it.

I was curious whether I would be able to unearth more facts to back up my observations. So I typed into Amazon.co.uk ‘harness and reins’ and was ‘rewarded’ with a horrifying number of 95 different products. Type the German equivalent search term into Amazon.de, you get 30 results! What does that tell you? That’s right, we Germans don’t care about our kids. We want to see them in pain and unsafe.

Sure, I could, with a lot of imagination, conceive of situations where a rein might possibly be useful. Like when you are at the airport, trying to check in your bag and therefore waiting in the slowest ever queue, and your little monster is convinced that running around and challenging the definition of ‘authorised personnel’ is way more fun than standing in line with Mommy. Or when you are at a busy supermarket and the beckoning of the muffin aisle is so much more enticing for your offspring than your pleading to stay with you.

But in the pictured situation? Just walking down the road, hardly any other people around, and not even any hands occupied by lugging grocery bags/pushing pushchairs/holding siblings in check? To what purpose does this little girl have to walk on a leash? Is she prone to run away? Fall over? Bump into other pedestrians? Pass on the germs from her grubby hands to her moms’ clinically clean ones? I’ll never know.

My other ‘favourite’ observation of this kind happened at the park and I didn’t dare take a photograph lest the lens burst with indignation. Or maybe I just didn’t have my camera on me that day. In any case you will just have to take my word for it: it was disgraceful!

Another lady, another little girl on a leash. But this time not next to a road with all its terrible dangers but – you might want to sit down or hold onto something – on a PLAYGROUND! The little one, probably about 2, tried to use the slide but that would have meant that said lady would have had to get up onto that thing as well, which of course she didn’t.

OK, in this case it was clearly not the little girl’s mother, but her grandmother, on the reigning end of the rein. And she was probably just uncertain how best to rein in a dinky, shy 2-year-old other than with a, well, rein. Mind you, here in the UK, the average mother is probably about 19 years old, so this granny was not that much older than myself and would have been able to keep up with her granddaughter. But what if, god forbid, the girl would have fallen over and possibly ended up with a bruise (cue shocked outcry, preferably with your hands on your cheeks)? Mommy might have gotten so angry that gran would have been forbidden to ever again take her granddaughter to the playground. Ever!

I mean, children running around freely on a playground? Without the safety of a Safety 1st Safety Harness that “Comes complete with walking rein to give your child the freedom to walk around safely”?! Whatever next?!

Eventually the girl had to climb down the stairs again because granny just wouldn’t let go of the bloody reins! I would have laughed at the ridiculousness of the scene if it wouldn’t have been so sad!

Again, I confess that I have been in situations where I wished I had one of these things to keep my little monster in check. However, both times I made the conscious decision not to buy one. I feel that putting a child on a leash lacks the dignity and respect I wish to concede to any person, regardless of their age.

monkey harness

Hey, you've got a monkey on your back. Erm... Never mind, my bad, it's just a DOG LEASH!

Oh, and making them pink for girls, camouflage them as little backpacks or use stuffed animals for the extra cuteness factor doesn’t change the fact that your child would be happier without it!

By the way, if you were wondering whether there is anything that could take the concept of leashes for children over the top, yes, there is! The newest must-have is apparently a retractable rein. Yeah, you’re reading correctly, just like the ones for doggies!

Newsflash, people: Your little one is not a dog that needs reining in! So, you claim it’s all about your child’s safety? Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Because in this case you would be saying that all the parents that don’t use them don’t give a rat’s arse about their kids’ wellbeing. Not the case! To be honest, to me it just looks like you are trying to dodge one of your responsibilities as a parent.

Granted, I am by no definition an expert in this field, but common sense sounds pretty convincing to me when it argues that holding your child’s hand, talking to him, giving him reasons why he can’t do certain things, explaining situations and dangers to him and – please don’t stab me for this one – letting him actually run around as long as you can keep an eye on him seems to be a much more sensible way of raising him to become an independent, responsible, self-reliant person who can confidently assess risks and judge situations.

Also, you don’t do your little one a favour by shielding her from each and every possible danger, imagined or real. I read the other day that empowerment is the freedom to fail. So, please, let your child make their own experiences. Yes, falling down does hurt, but it also teaches them valuable lessons that will reduce the likelihood of them falling again the next time.

And if you absolutely have to use a rein in certain, particularly dangerous situations, please make sure you restrict its use to these instances. And please, don’t forget that you have your child on a leash, it could look funny…

Let’s talk rubbish!

Christmas tree

Imagine if we adults would get stuff too!

Christmas is over, hallelujah! And what a gift orgy it was again. Mind you, in my family only the kids get presents, we others just enjoy their excitement, great food and spending time together. Still, with parcels arriving from grandparents, great-grandparents, godparents as well as aunts and uncles, not to mention our own little share in our offspring’s spoiling, the space under our dinky Christmas tree was getting scarce.

But I am not going to get into a rant about this overabundance’s possible negative repercussions for the little monster’s character development. Instead I wanted to talk rubbish.

I hate rubbish. “Yeah,” I hear you say “who doesn’t?” The point is, I also make an effort to avoid it.

To be precise, I am a bit of a compulsive recycler.

And why not? It’s good for the environment, it doesn’t take much effort, and it does actually save us money. So why don’t more people here do it?

The other day I couldn’t help but gather photographic evidence. Take a look at this here:

rubbish

Gives the term visual aesthetics a whole new meaning

On the left, our ‘little’ pile of rubbish/recycling. This is all the plastic (in the clear bag) and garden waste three adults and one toddler accumulate in two weeks, plus one week’s residual waste (in the black bag) which is, at least in our little town, not recyclable. On the right is what our neighbours churned out in – you guessed it from the colour of the bags – residual waste over one week. I am not entirely sure, how many people live in their household but I can tell you that their house is identical to ours (yeah, the cheerful British terraced houses), so it’s certainly not more than one family.

Unfortunately, they are not the only ones in our block who can’t be bothered to recycle or even to avoid rubbish. The little monster loves to watch the dump trucks collecting our rubbish, so whenever we hear the telltale beeping sound of a reversing lorry on Fridays, we run outside. Which means I get a pretty decent look at our neighbours’ waste disposal habits. It regularly makes me want to use alliterations! I can barely refrain from rummaging through their rubbish and remove all the recyclables. Is it so hard?!

Our council offers a rather extensive recycling scheme free of charge (other than council tax, that is). Yet every so often I can hear the clinking of glass (i.e. more than one bottle) in those black bags, and it drives me up the walls. Then there is the amount of food scraps that our residential stray cats are so fond of ripping out of the bags and scatter around. Would it be so revolting to have leftover meals every now and then?

But what I saw the other day nearly made my blood curdle: a whole black bag stuffed with empty plastic carrier bags!

I mean, apart from the fact that all the grocery stores in the area have bag collection bins (and presumably recycle the bags too), why on earth do you island monkeys have to squander these things like there was no tomorrow?!

Whenever I go grocery shopping, I either have the little monster’s pram with its generous shopping basket underneath, my backpack, my bicycle basket or, in the rare cases that I use the car, a collapsible crate on me. Only every once in a blue moon I am compelled to use one of the free plastic bags all the retailers offer, and these I always reuse as bin liners.

Maybe I’m just shopping in the wrong place, but at ASDA, part of the WalMart family, which happens to be my food store of choice because I can walk there within 10 minutes, I am always looked at with incredulity at the checkout when I reject the wad of plastic bags shoved into my direction in the assumption I’d use them like pretty much everyone else. But then the same happens on a regular basis in high street shops as well. I am eyeballed like a unicorn when I ask to put whatever it is I am buying into my backpack without the free shop advertisement plastic bag to protect it from, well, my backpack. Urgh!

Seriously, people, plastic bags are bad! Where I come from, hardly anyone carries home their grocery shopping in single-use plastic bags. Mainly because they cost money. Funny how a marginal fee of 10 cents per bag can coax people into not forgetting to take their jute bags when they leave the house.

Not so here in the UK. In fact, 2011 has seen a fierce debate about introducing such a fee, and I recall with horror the arguments against the campaign: Not convenient, not practicable, not fair in the current economic climate. Really?! As a consequence, only in Wales was a 5p charge per bag introduced. I haven’t seen any results yet but it’s expected to cut plastic use considerably.

With the exception of a very few valiant pioneers like Marks & Spencer, the rest of the UK simply continues their wasteful shopping practices. Outrageous!

Wake up, Brits, or do you really want the world to be taken over by this here species?

 

PS: Our Christmas tree is not made of plastic, and it came in a pot it was grown in. So I hope we can plant it outside when the season is *really* over.

10 Things that I miss when not spending Christmas in Germany

Christmas is just around the corner, the season of peace and benevolence. Which is why today I decided to be nice for a change. In other words, I won’t rant about the hardships of living among island monkeys and instead focus on the hardships of not not living in Germany.

So without further ado I present the 10 things I miss most when I don’t get to spend Christmas in Germany:

 

1. Celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve

I mean, why would anyone in their right minds wait until the 25th when they could have the goodies the evening before already?! I’m way out of my comfort zone here, so correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t the Magi bring their gifts on the night of Jesus’s birth too?

advent calendar

Granted, it would be nice to get one treat more out of your advent calendar, but if that's worth the wait?

 

2. Having a real Weihnachtsmann

A friend or remote family member dresses up as Santa and gives gifts to the kids. Not before they recited a poem or sang a song for him of course. Keeps them on their toes and nice instead of naughty much more effectively than just the imaginary cookie-eater who rushes in during the night, unseen by all but the cat, and leaves gifts that may or may not match the wish list written to him earlier.

Weihnachtsmann

"No, I wasn't nice!"

 

3. Getting together…

… at my best friend’s house for a Pre-Christmas cookie baking session. I did some baking at home with the little monster this year but at my friend’s it is always more fun. Mainly because they have a much spacier kitchen. And because I don’t have to clean up afterwards. OK, I admit it, I also miss the usual suspects who normally attend this fixture. And the ruckus all the kids make that we have popped out by now.

cookies

Yeah, I made these. With a lot of love and a bit of help from the little monster.

 

4. The food

Rotkohl (red cabbage), Grünkohl (green cabbage) and Sauerkraut (you can figure that one out yourself). Yes, there is a reason why Germans are called Krauts, and I for one don’t mind the tiniest bit. I love my Kraut and Kohl. Just as much as the goose or duck that comes with it instead of the anglo-saxon inevitability called turkey. And of course the dumplings. Please, can I be excused for a moment while I dry off my mouth.

goose

Sometimes it's great to be German!

 

5. Christmas markets

I mean, the Brits really are trying but they just don’t get it quite right. The ‘Authentic German Bratwurst’ is just short of tasting like the real deal and the atmosphere is somewhat off, too. As I say, they are trying.

ChristmasMarketJena

That's how it's supposed to look like: Christmas market in Jena

 

6. Seeing the look…

… in my parents’ and grandparents’ eyes when they unwrap their photo calendars that I spent 2 weeks creating painstakingly from photos of the little monster. Sure, on an intellectual level I know that they will absolutely appreciate this gift (if nothing else because they will voice their gratefulness time and again until well into March of next year). Still, being there would be just priceless.

skype

Oh well, I suppose skype will have to do this year.

 

7. Traditional German Christmas decorations

My Mom comes from a region called ‘Erzgebirge’ (Ore Mountains) which is where most of the prettiest items originate. Christmas pyramids, Schwibbögen (candle arches), Räuchermännchen (incense burner figurines), nutcrackers… the list goes on. I used to find this stuff really tacky and I wouldn’t want to put too many of these dustcatchers up in my house but now that I don’t see them at my grandparents’ every year anymore I kinda miss them. Not to mention the nostalgia that comes with seeing the tranquil and understated light arch of a Schwibbogen in a window instead of the psychedelic, incessantly flickering lights that are, for some reason completely beyond my grasp, so popular today.

christmas decorations

Clockwise from left: Pyramid, Schwibbogen, nutcrackers, Räuchermännchen

 

8. Christmas music

I know I said I hate Christmas songs and I won’t backpedal on that one because it is still very much true for the Christmassy pop songs that are played to death before and during Christmas on the radio and in stores. What I’m talking about here are the traditional songs that we used to play and sing. I guess I need to get myself a copy of a few of my Mom’s CDs for next year. If only so that the little monster gets to grow up with them too.

music

Nooooo, not these guys!

 

9. Having a fight with my sister

Seriously. We two are very different and for as long as I can remember we have fought over little nothingnesses as soon as we have spent more than 3 hours in the same room. But she is my sister and also a diligent follower of this blog (probably even the first follower ever), and I’m sure she will appreciate being featured in this post.

streit

You can't live with them and you can't... wait, YES WE CAN!

 

10. Snow

Though I will deny I said that should anyone ever claim I did. Well, I guess I should also phrase this a bit differently. Something along the lines of: The higher likelihood of having a White Christmas. There is nothing like taking a walk after a lovely (=heavy, greasy, unhealthy but divinely tasty) Christmas dinner through snowy streets where every sound is muffled and everything is just soooooo peaceful…

snow

That's right, this is outside my Mom and Dad's house

 

Of course, after Christmas is over, there are still some things German that I will miss. Like watching Dinner for One on New Years Eve. I know, it’s not even in German but it has been a tradition forever.

 

So here are two things to be grateful for this Christmas season: Skype and Youtube. Yeah, I know, they are no replacement for being there in person but they are better than nothing at all.

 

Merry Christmas to everyone!

 

 

PS: I might have pilfered one or two pictures from Google images. Dear artist, please don’t consider this as a vile act of copyright infringement but rather an hommage to further your fame and the awareness of your awesome artistic skill. Rest assured, I am not making any money with this, so you’re not missing out.

Queer cards

‘Tis this time of the year again and, after trying to ignore the impending holidays for as long as I possibly could, I am finally starting to get myself into the mood. It does take a bit of effort, you know, some tricks I’ve acquired over the years. Like ordering the presents for the kids (’cause they are the only ones getting Christmas gifts in my family) online, thus dodging the insane crowds that are currently milling through our high street and malls. Like extreme-fast forwarding the bits of adverts where huge eyes staring out of starving African children’s faces are trying to blackmail you into parting with your hard-earned savings in the name of Christmassy generosity. Or like closing my eyes every now and then when walking through the streets to avoid bringing on an epileptic seizure induced by all those hectically flashing, multicoloured, oh-so-peaceful Christmas lights.
Snowflakes

I suspect crafting is not exactly my strongest suit but I think I deserve brownie points for trying. Plus, the little monster really enjoyed running wild with scissors.

Other things that help me conjure up a Christmassy atmosphere are some old family traditions. Like crafting little things, or baking Christmas cookies. Especially with the little monster around now, these small pleasures do bring a bit of Christmas spirit to my commerce-weary soul.

Then there is the habit of writing a Christmas message or card to the most important people in our lives. I haven’t written any real cards myself in a while, mainly because email is so much faster, less hassle, less environmentally questionable and, oh yeah, cheaper. For special occasions I tend to send e-cards. Not the soppy ones with puppies and butterflies. I like the cute b-cards by German artist Chris Schlag.

Cards aplenty

They even have a section 'Suitable for terminal illness'!

I am digressing. Cards. Sending cards is HUGE in the UK. Much bigger than in Germany. Where I come from, I have never seen an entire store exclusively dedicated to greeting cards. Here, in our little town which has exactly one (1) cinema, there are actually double as many card shops. Wow! Not to mention the card aisles in the big supermarkets. Granted, they also offer a small collection of wrapping paper, ribbons and gift items like balloons or cuddly toys but by and large they are selling cards, gazillions of cards.

Unfortunately not a single one without a pre-printed message inside! What’s up with that?!

The other day I was looking for a birthday card for my granddad in Germany. He is one of the few people I know who doesn’t have internet so I thought I’d surprise him with an old-fashioned, snail mail greeting card from across the English Channel. Except he doesn’t understand English. And I didn’t fancy versing around a bog standard, run-of-the-mill text. So I ended up buying some coloured cardboard and making my own card instead. I am slowly but surely getting really good with that crafty stuff. I suppose I should thank the unimaginative card manufacturers who can’t conceive of people like me who are actually able and willing to come up with their own words. But I won’t be thankful.

Because here comes the most annoying thing about these instant cards: They are way too often sent exactly as is! I mean, if you don’t have the time to at least rudimentarily personalise my card I’d rather not get one at all, thank you very much. It’s like birthdays on facebook. Dozens of people leave messages on your wall but only a handful manages to write more than a slight variation of ‘Happy birthday, have a great day’. What’s the point?

Seriously, if I get one more Christmas card that doesn’t show any other signs of individualisation than ‘Love/xxx/All the best, [name]’ I will forget that I have put myself painstakingly into a Christmas mood and hate the holiday all over again! And then promptly discard the culprit.

PS: This one captures my pre-Christmas thoughts pretty neatly. Prominently featured: Writing Christmas cards 😉