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How informal is too informal?

1 Dec

I have encountered many problems on my journey to learn German. The grammar is hard and nothing like English and the words are so long that sometimes I need to take a breath in the middle of a word just to make it to the end of it without going purple due to lack of oxygen.

One thing that I may never get my head round is the use of Sie and Du. In English, we just say You to everyone. A high court judge is You. Your neighbour is You. Your best friend is You. The Queen, however, is One (which just proves that there is always an exception to a rule)

In German, it’s not so straight forward. You have to use Sie for polite and formal situations and only Du for situations where you have a pre-existing and familiar relationship.

I always forget this. I say Du to my doctor and to the lady at the pharmacy. It just comes out. I don’t even really realise I am saying it and five minutes after the conversation, I think “Oh no! I’ve done it again!”

My argument is that I just want to be friendly and get on with everyone. This doesn’t wash in German speaking countries. It’s considered impolite to use Du when you mean Sie. However, in my defence, I think I have every right to use Du when addressing my doctor. After all she probably knows me on a more intimate level than some of my closest friends. So let’s stop pretending that there is not some degree of familiarity about our relationship.

Also, the “rule” of deciding when a relationship moves from the Sie to the Du form is unclear to me. I have always been told that when a German speaker uses Du to speak to me then, and only then, I can say it back to them.

Excuse me? I’m an intelligent (on occasion) individual so do I get no say at all in the decision about when we switch to Sie or Du to refer to one another? Perhaps you want to be on more familiar terms that I do with you! Why don’t I get a say in this?

I will continue to struggle with this for a long time I think. My strategy for phoning the doctor now includes a 10 minute pacing around repeating loudly “Könnten Sie bitte…” to get me mentally prepared for the right pronouns.

If you ask me, English is far simpler. But then I shouldn’t have to tell you that.

The Good, The Fake and The Ridiculous

23 Sep

We live in a world where we are surrounded by news. It’s virtually impossible to stay away from current affairs. There was a time when our only source of news was news bulletins in the morning, lunchtime and in the evening. Now, news is available 24/7. There is no getting away from know what is happening in the world with smartphones, tablets and the internet.

In my view news comes in three many forms: The Good, The Fake and The Ridiculous. Good news is something that, hopefully, we are all familiar with. Fake news is a relatively new phenomenon, in which news stories with questionable reliability quickly spread over the internet and social media sources. It can be hard to spot these fake news stories and lots of people take them at face values. This can be very dangerous ground, especially during election times where the general population can be more susceptible to believing things that they want to read.

By far my favourite type of news is the ridiculous news; the news that seems like it has to be made up because there is no way that could happen in real life but actually turns out to be true. This type of news has me howling with laughter.

I have spotted two examples of this type of news this week. One of them involved a family calling in the RSPCA, an organisation who protect animals within in UK, because they thought that a rare type of lizard had nested under a bed in their house. Terrified at the prospect of an unusual beast taking refuge in their home, they called to ask for it to be removed. The RSPCA were baffled. Approaching the lizard very carefully, they soon realised that it was, in fact, a dirty sock.

I cannot imagine how embarrassing it would be to be the person who made the phone call only to discover that they had called about a dirty sock. You can read the full report here. If you look at the photo, I don’t think it could have possibly looked like a lizard under the bed. How many red and white striped lizards have you seen in your life? And what is the likelihood that a lizard would survive in the milder climates in the UK.

This did remind me though of the type of embarrassment that we all must have endured on occasions when we are convinced we have lost something, only to find that it was in the first place that we looked. I regularly do this with my bank card. I turn the flat upside down because I have already looked in my handbag, my coat, my trouser pocket and every other logical place. Just when I am ready to call the bank to report it stolen, I look “one last time” in my coat and there it is in the pocket. It’s almost as if someone has placed it there while I was searching the flat madly because it definitely wasn’t there when I looked 20 minutes ago. Sure, this situation is embarrassing but not as embarrassing as calling a third party to remove dirty washing rather than a potentially dangerous reptile.

The second story I read this week was about a group of tourists who were rescued from a forest. Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? Where exactly were they? In the Amazon jungle? Some remote part of Africa? No, they were in a rhododendron forest in Killarney, Ireland. I’m not an expert on gardening and flowers but I don’t think that rhododendrons grow all that big. Apparently the group became disoriented and a helicopter and boat rescued them. I am glad that they weren’t somewhere more treacherous, like a butterfly house. You can read the story here, if you don’t believe me.

I guess this type of ridiculous news puts life into perspective. Reports always seem to be about bad things happening in the world. Wthout these amusing stories to lighten the load, would modern life seem too horrible to bear? Deep down I think that they strike a chord because we could imagine these things happening to us or, at least, someone that we know because we all know one person who would find themselves lost in a mass of rhododendrons.

 

A long weekend in Edinburgh

22 Jun

This time last week I was getting ready for an early night for a subsequently early morning flight back to the homeland.

I normally take the morning flights because they are cheaper and then normally run like clockwork. Not last week though. To my frustration, the flight was delayed by over an hour because of “technical problems with the aircraft”: a reason that I find a little nerve-wrecking to hear as I am about to board. Because of this delay, I missed the train I had pre-booked and had to buy another, more expensive ticket.

Nevertheless, we arrived in Edinburgh at around lunchtime. I had booked a serviced apartment on The Royal Mile for us to stay in. It took a while to find it because the GPS had us walking around in an area not near where it was and the name of the place was different to the name I had received on the confirmation booking. The apartment was really nice and we had the option of self-catering as well. The only problem was it was on the top floor and we had to go up 7 flights of a spiral staircase to get to the top.

The rest of the day we wandered around, saw the castle and had dinner at an all-you-can-eat Pan Asian buffet. It was a bit unhealthy but the choice of foods was surprisingly good and I limited myself to one plate of desserts!

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On Friday, we did one of my favourite things to do in an unfamiliar city – a free walking tour! We were told some really interesting stories, from the Middle Ages to the 18th century to more recent times, about the city of Edinburgh. We were lucky that the tour leader was a student of the University and had been brought up there so the information was definitely reliable. We even visited the grave of Tom Riddle, which was the name of Lord Voldemort, before he became Lord Voldemort, in the Harry Potter books. J. K. Rowling wrote the books while living in Edinburgh and it is thought that this was one of the many inspirations for her writings that she took from the city.

In the afternoon, we thought it would be a good idea to walk to the Royal Yacht Britannia, which is moored in Edinburgh. I completely underestimated how long the walk would take and promptly complained for every step at the end of the journey. We got the bus back.

IMG_6622In the evening after a lovely and slightly posh looking haggis, carrots and tatties and a few drinks. What better way to finished the day off than with a Ghost Tour! Wooooh! Spooky! Or in this case not. As the summer nights are with us, it wasn’t all that spooky, walking around hearing, not so much ghost stories, than gruesome happenings, which we had mainly heard about on the morning tour. All in all, there were only about 2 stories about ghosts and hauntings and I wasn’t really all that scared at all.

The next day we visited The Real Mary King’s Close. This was a live museum tour, where a person dressed in the costume of the 17th century takes you underground for a tour of how life was like in Edinburgh in the Middle Ages and beyond. Interestingly, because the city is so hilly, over the years they have just built on top of houses rather than knocking them down and starting again. This means that the city today is just one layer of the city, many more lie beneath. We were able to go underground and see the houses and the conditions that people would have had to endured. It was a really interesting way to learn about how life was. I think that this is far more effective than reading about history from books.

It got quite hot underground so I was glad when we could resurface. It wasn’t just escaping the heat that I was excited about; it was also our next stop: a gin distillery.

I have been to plenty of breweries but never to a gin distillery. The distillery was Pickering’s Gin at Summerhall Distillery and I can highly recommend it. The distillery only started in 2013 and is still relatively small but is already the official Gin of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is quite some going. The actual distillery is just three smallish rooms in an old veterinary school which is now one of the biggest arts centres in Europe and is home to many start-ups and art projects. We had the lovely Lisa, who had left Australia to come to Scotland to distill gin, explain to us the process and the challenges that the business faced in the beginning. It was fascinating from a business point of view and also to see how a kraft distillery operates. Of course, the best part was the tasting! Pickering’s currently have 3 gins: the original, the 1947 reciepe and the Navy Gin, which is 52%! My favourite was the 1947 reciepe gin as the flavour was a bit smoother than the others. On these sorts of things, I normally feel obliged to part with money and buy at least something but this time (and maybe it was because of the gin) I had no problem parting with my money for a bottle! As I say, I highly recommend this tour if you ever go to Edinburgh.

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After a nap in the afternoon, we headed out to see some former work friend of mine, who now live and work in Edinburgh. It was great to see Martin and Katie. I don’t think we have seen each other for 4 or more years but it was like we had never been away from each other. No awkward silences. This for me is a true sign of friendship: when you can carry on as if no time at all has passed. We had some cocktails at a bar and then headed to an Indian restaurant called Mother India for some delicious food. There is indian food in Switzerland but somehow it is not the same as in the UK when you go out, have a few pints and a good curry.

On the Sunday, we were heading back to Liverpool after lunchtime but there was time to walk to Holyrood Palace and see the Scottish Parliament. I don’t wish to offend anyone but the Scottish Parliament really isn’t a nice looking building. It’s sort of a mismash of ultra modern with a bit of traditional but too many glass surfaces. Just my opinion. And it doesn’t look as big as it does when you see in on the TV.

A 4-hour trip back to Liverpool, through the lovely green Lake District, meant that there was time to appreciate the beauty of the English countryside as well. A relaxing evening drinking beer in the garden and the weekend, as ever, was over too soon….

Disaster and two murders in a weekend!

5 Feb

Disaster might be a bit of a strong word but bad things have happened this weekend. The Wifi modem has broken and since Thursday evening there has been no internet connection at home.

I am not the sort of person who can’t go without the internet. In fact, not having the Internet  when I travel is one of the reasons that I like to travel so much. I normally only have the internet when I am at a hotel or restaurant and I can get a connection. I never pay for data roaming; partly because I don’t want to age 10 years when I finally get the bill and I realise how much data I have actually downloaded. I find pleasure in not being 100% contactable during time away and also not worrying why someone hasn’t replied to one of my messages.

It was a bit annoying that it had to happen this weekend. I had nothing planned this weekend, except a two phone calls via FaceTime with a friend and with my mum but now with no Wifi and a weak signal on my phone, that is not possible. I was looking forward as well.

fax-1904656__340Also, I had planned to spend some time this weekend on the internet researching some thing to do on my holiday in April. The weather is so cold and grey that a bit of research and thinking about holiday in a few months time was going to be momentary release from the drudgery of February. It seems like it was not to be.

Instead I have managed to do quite bit of reading. I have finally finished the second ever German book I have read. I am feeling a little smug again. This book was harder to read than The Reader because there isn’t a film that the book is based on that I have already seen. The book was a sort of crime thriller. A man is found dead and a private detective is hired to find out what happened. The book is called Happy Birthday, Türke by Jakob Arjouni, if you are interested. I also finished an English book that I only started on Wednesday evening. Because the Wifi broke on Thursday and the TV was also not working so well, I managed to get through a lot of it before the weekend even started. Coincidently, this book was also about a private detective. And, thinking about it, the book does start with the death of a man at the beginning. They weren’t the same book though. I am pretty sure that my German is not so bad that I wouldn’t have noticed.

If you are wondering how I am writing this without Internet, I am actually writing it on my phone. It isn’t the same as typing on the computer. I have fat figure syndrome and I keep hitting the wrong keys on my phone. It is taking me a lot longer than it would do normally. It’s frustrating. But hopefully a new modem will arrive tomorrow and normal service will be resumed. If not, I did visit a book shop yesterday with the intention of “just having a look”, but I came out of the shop ten minutes later with a bagful of books, so I should be able to keep myself entertained for a few days more at least.

Holiday time finally!!! Oh wait a moment….

18 Apr

Today I start my Easter holidays with a bang! Today I fly to LA and the West Coast of the US for 2 weeks of adventure and fun.

That was until I received an email from Swiss airlines at 7am telling me that I had a 4 hour delay (minimum) and my flight will not leave until early evening now instead of lunchtime. On the one hand: Thanks for the heads up, I now have a bit more time to get myself organised. On the other hand: Seriously????

I had no specific plans for Friday late afternoon/evening in LA but now I won’t get to have a swim in the pool at the hotel or even possibly leave the hotel until the morning. I have no safety concerns about walking around a city that I haven’t been to before but not after dusk when the chances of being disorientated are higher. Because everywhere looks the same in the dark. I hope that the restaurant in the hotel has decent food and is affordable.

The trip that I will be do starts in LA and then travels on to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, San Francisco and then back to LA. It is an organised trip with a company called TrekAmerica. I was recommended the company by a person I met in Peru when I was trekking the Inca Trail in 2011. I used them last year when I went to the East Coast of the US.

I know that this sort of group trip is not for everyone but for me it provides a lot of advantages. It provides the safety of being in a group while you do get to have some independence, the intinery is flexible so you can see the things that you are interested in so no trip will be the same, you have a local guide who knows the area and is knowledgeable about not only the trip but life in America in general and willing and able to sort things out for you. The majority of the trip is camping. I think 9 nights in tents and 6 nights in hotels. 2 of the hotels are either side of the tour because I am arriving early and leaving late to have a few days on my own to take a bit more time to explore.

I booked this holiday in November last year. I like having something to look forward to. For the time being the amount of time I have to wait for is slightly extended but I am a firm believer in the saying “Best things come to those who wait”.

Live and Laughing

5 Apr

On Thursday I went to a comedy gig to see the Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan. I have seen him on TV before on programmes like Live at the Apollo so I thought why not?

I was a bit nervous about going because I couldn’t find anyone to come with me. In truth I hadn’t really tried all that hard to find someone. My fears soon subsided when a lady who was also on her own sat down next to me.

The venue was interesting. It was a Volkhaus in the centre of Zurich. Normally when I have been to comedy gigs it has been in a large venue like the MEN arena in Manchester but this place was more like a village hall. There was a little stage and someone had set out the rows of chairs.

The seats were unnumbered (again never seen this at a comedy gig before) so I managed to get a seat at the front. It turns out that I didn’t have to be worried about being picked on because he wasn’t that sort of comedian.

There was a big Irish contingent who came to see your man Tommy. In truth I have never seen so many Irish people in one place before. Well, apart from in Ireland of course.

He mainly talked about James Joyce, the Irish writer who lived and died in Zurich. He pointed out the oxymoron of the chaos rolling around in Joyce’s head compared with the calmness of the city itself. He actually described it as being like an open air psychiatric ward where everyone is sedated because that’s how calm it was.

I have always wanted to read all of Joyce’s books but as Tommy pointed out if you gave a condemned man who was about to start a 99 year sentence a copy of Ulysees he would probably turn to you and say “Oh come on I won’t get through that!” This is definitely on the Bucket List. And if it is anything like his less lengthy books that I read for A-Level, it will be worth it.

He mentioned that he had been to see Joyce’s grave while in Zurich and this is on my list of many things to do while I am still in Switzerland. It does see to be a bit morbid to go and visit someone’s grave. However, when I was in Oxford, I did go to visit the grave of Kenneth Grahame which was in a cementry not far from where I was living at the time. In fact there were quite a few famous people buried there: 19th century theologians and the like. I wondered now if I am a grave spotter.

So all in all it was a great night and I would happily go to a comedy gig on my own again. It relieved a lot of stress from the working week, especially if it someone who is as funny as Mr Tiernan. Laughter must be the best medicine!

Spring Clean

2 Apr

Over the past few weeks I have been making a conscious effort to have a tidy up and a spring clean and get rid of things that I don’t want, don’t use or don’t need.

Since I have lived in Switzerland (18 months already!) I have moved 3 times and it has made me realise how much stuff I have that I never use. Living in Switzerland has been a different experience to living at home in the UK. As there is a big expats community here, people seem to be more transient and move around more than they do at home. In fact I think that this is probably true for some Swiss people as well. It therefore makes sense to be more mobile and ready to move on because you never know when you might be forced to move on again. And to be more mobile you need to have less (material) things weighing you down.

I often do a spring clean but when I have tried this year I realised that I might not have done such a good job. The first drawer of clothes that I open is full of clothes that 6 months ago didn’t fit me but I decided to keep them because “I will definitely lose weight”. 6 months on and I realise that nothing has changed; they still don’t fit and they have just been gathering dust and taking up space in my small room. They have now been given to charity.

One of my passions is reading. I can easily get lost in a book and read one in a few days if I really get taken in by the story. As a result, over the years, I have bought books and not have the time to read them so they gather dust and never get opened. I am now on a mission to read the books that I have before I buy anymore (I will not have to buy a book until 2016 at the earliest). Today I have started a Michael Crichton book that has been under my bed for months and months. 

I also found that I have more beauty products and creams and lotions than any woman could need in her life and I don’t really use them anyway. So I am gradually using these up or just throwing or giving them away. Because why should I keep something that is not going to be useful?

It can be hard getting rid of things that you have had for a long time. And you have to be brutally hard and honest with yourself about how much you want/need/can’t live without something.

I still have things that I need to sort through and it could take a while get through anything but I feel so much better that I have made some progress. I now just have to make sure that I don’t buy more things to replace the things I have agonised over throwing away.