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.

Banking in the UK is killing me! Or: Where did I leave my chequebook?

Everyone seems to rant about banks these days, so let me join the ranks. But while I don’t really mind German financial institutions (I even used to work for one a long time ago), banking in the UK is just a nightmare for me.

Let’s start from the beginning (where else?). You move to the UK. You want to open an account. Easy when you have a banking history here. Which of course I didn’t. The next best thing to have is an address. Now that I had but how to prove it? Where I come from, we move house, we go and register with the local registry office, and the new address is put onto our identity cards. End of story. From this moment on, whenever anyone asks us for our address, we just produce our ID cards. Simples.

Not so in the UK. In the country of the island monkeys, you prove where you live with a utility bill. Well, I had moved in with my husband and guess what, all the utility bills were in his name. Go figure. I’m sure eon has heard the request before but I felt decidedly weird calling them up to ask that my name be put onto my husband’s account as well. And then you wait. For the next bill. Half a year later, if you’re lucky. You might get a utility bill a bit quicker if you decide it was time to change to a cheaper energy supplier anyway. Just make sure that they get your post code right, otherwise your new bill will be of no use when trying to open said bank account.

Well then, alternatively you can also get us your tenancy agreement – as long as it is printed on letterheaded paper. Are you deaf?! I moved in with my husband and it’s his flat. No such thing as a tenancy agreement, sorry. Ah, but there is always the council tax bill. Except, this is only ever in one occupier’s name, and all the other liable people in the household appear on the side. Which, of course, is not enough and won’t be accepted as proof of address by your friendly bank. Grrrrrrr!!!

Hand inflammation? Cheque!

Hand inflammation? Cheque! (image: Wikipedia)

Well, finally, your name is on some bill, the post code is correct too, so you get the account. Yay! And a big wad of … nah, not banknotes, cheques! What am I supposed to do with these? In Germany I haven’t used a cheque for, I don’t know, 15 years? Take them, you’ll see, you’ll need them. OK.

And indeed, a lot of the bills you get you can only pay cash or by cheque. Weird! Whatever happened to the good, old bank transfer? What?! People don’t want to put their bank details on the invoices they write because they are afraid of identity theft??!! Oh yeah, because in Germany, everyone who has his bank details on every business letter he writes (i.e. everyone), had his identity stolen at least 3 or 4 times already, right!

Never mind, let’s use cheques and kill some more trees then, shall we? Monthly nursery fees for the little one? Cheque! Private doctors’ bills? Cheque! You seriously have to stuff a cheque into an envelope and mail it off! And I don’t even want to think about the amount of administrative hassles that this medieval practice causes the receiver. Or the bank.

By the way, as unpopular as bank transfers are on this island, direct debit seems to be even worse. On a par with selling your soul to the devil. No wonder that companies like our new energy supplier will give you huge discounts for the privilege to relieve you of the tedious obligation to effect the monthly payments – by whichever method.

OK, maybe it is not THIS bad, but you get the drift

OK, maybe it is not THIS bad, but you get the drift (image: Wikipedia)

I have a theory. I firmly believe that one of the reasons why people here don’t mind having to pay their bills by cheque or cash is that the average island monkey loves queueing. Must be so because I have never seen a single cash machine in this country that didn’t have a long queue of people waiting to draw money in front of it. 24/7.

PS: Sometimes you are lucky enough to be able to settle a bill by credit card. Which takes me to a whole new topic. One day I will rant about credit cards in this country, promise.

Gee, yet another blog!

Blogging is fashionable. So fashionable, in fact, that I am afraid it will be out of fashion really soon. Oh well, I was never an early adopter of innovative technologies or new ideas.

I am aware that the net is full of blogs and no-one really has the time to read yet another one. So what. I know of at least one person who will be grateful for it: my husband. Why? Well, that way he gets a break from having to listen to my rants which usually include variations of “where I come from…”

Which brings me to the reason why I am writing this: I am an alien. A German in the UK. A big-city girl in a backwater town. In Essex, of all places. I am trying to make the best of it. Which is hard.

Mainly because Brits are weird.

Weird beyond their strange insistence on driving on the wrong side of the road. Or maintaining an expansive Royal Family which has no real job other than supporting poor tabloid journalists in making a living.

The other day, after one of my tirades, my dad asked me the German equivalent of “Is there actually anything that you like about living in England?” “Apart from being able to be with my husband?” I replied. “Sure.” And it’s true, there are things that I positively miss when I’m in Germany. Rhubarb crumble. British comedy. Hedges of fuchsia (hence my photograph in the header). Bed linen that costs only a fraction of what one would have to fork out in Germany (It can’t be the sheep, can it? After all, it’s not New Zealand!).

But then there are so many things that drive me nuts on a daily basis. No examples given here now. If you’re curious, you’ll have to follow my blog. Or pop in again at a later point. I can promise you it will be ugly. Nasty. Vicious. In real life I am trying to steer clear of swearwords for the temporary benefit of my 2-year old son. I might not be equally G-rated here. It’s just so bad!

There, that’s my justification for boring you, who intentionally or unwittingly stumbled across my blog, with my insights. Which leaves only two questions to be answered.

  1. Why on earth would a German blog in English? Well, that’s easy. I am not just a nagging bitch, I do care about the Brits. And how are they supposed to see the errs of their ways if they couldn’t understand a word of my constructive criticism?
  2. What the heck is an island monkey? It’s the literal translation of the German word Inselaffe which is one of the nicknames we call the Brits by. And I would like to make it clear that it is a term of endearment. Really. A bit like they like to call us Krauts. All very innocent. Would I call myself an immigrant island monkey otherwise?

Oh, one more thing: Along the way I might even get a chance to refute the common misconception that Germans don’t have a sense of humour. Let me know how I’m doing.