Tag Archives: humour

Another year older

5 Sep

Yesterday I celebrated by 35th birthday. I’m not really a big birthday celebratory but I was persuaded in the evening to have Raclette and a birthday cake. A choice I could never regret.

It got me thinking about the cultural differences between UK and Switzerland on the subject of celebrating aging.

In the UK a work colleague would normally arrange a cake for your day because it’s your birthday and why should you go to the effort of baking/buying a cake and hauling it into the office? In Switzerland it is very much expected that you bring something in for everyone.

I have a bit of luck on this front because 5 people from my department had birthdays over the weekend or yesterday. I know from prior years that this normally results in far too many croissants, cakes, pastries and other sweet things. I didn’t bring anything in, not because I am tight, but because I will bake something over the weekend to bring in next week when everyone’s sugar levels have reverted back to normal.

The cake thing I can deal with but not so much the hand-shaking, kissing and congratulating that comes along with it. All of these things are ok between close friends and family but I find it a bit unsettling between work colleagues.

So many people have congratulated me. But what are they actually congratulating me for? I have achieved nothing, apart from not dying and getting a day older. And I am fairly sure that they can’t possibly be congratulating me for evading death for the 35th consecutive year.

At home people just wish you a nice day and tell you not to get too drunk (because that’s the only pastime of the British). I find both of these sentiments to be much more preferable than wondering if my work colleague will shake my hand, kiss me three times or hug me.

I do sound like I’m complaining but I’m. It really. It’s these small cultural differences than I found so interesting and, sometimes, funny. Will I ever get used to these small things? Will I always find it awkward and a touch embarrassing? Only time will tell. But I will say one thing: it’s far better to be congratulated and feeling awkward than for your birthday to be forgotten.

Sporting Misfortunes

29 Aug

Over the weekend I have had not one but two sporting misfortunes.

On Saturday I dragged myself out of bed early and decided to go for a long run in preparation for the half marathon that I am running in Cardiff at the start of October. I was completely mentally and physically prepared. What I didn’t take into account was that my bra strap would break after 2km!

I thought about turning back, going home and changing but I thought if I do that the likelihood that I will just stay at the apartment and not bothered doing the rest of the run would be about 100%. I hid in a bush and tried to rectify it in some way but it was no use. I did the British thing and kept calm and carried on.

Of course, I couldn’t run as fast as I normally would do but I kept going and did the distance that I wanted to. These “longer” runs that I do in the build up for the training are important in terms of distance, and not really in terms of time. Good job in this case!

It is entirely possible that I have a wardrobe malfunction on the day of the half marathon. Then I would only have the option of carrying on or stopping. It’s good training for an unexpected event on the day.

The second hiccup also involved clothing in a round-about way. I was in Luzern on Sunday to play a friendly hockey match. Push-back wasn’t until 5.30pm so I was already expecting to be home late.

After the game we discovered that we were locked out of the changing rooms. The door to the building automatically locks as soon as it is shut. The opposition hadn’t told us that we needed to bring the key with us or we wouldn’t be able to get back in. So we were outside and cold while our clothes were inside with the showers!

No one seemed to have a spare key, not even the President of the club had a key. After phoning round we called a locksmith and got a pizza delivered to the pitch. By now it was getting cold and I’m sure that I was really smelly as well.

Just before the locksmith arrived, it was discovered that a teacher who lived nearby had a key. So we avoided a hefty invoice to get in for a shower. Note to self: don’t leave anything in a changing room again.

When we finally got back inside the key was lying there on a table in the changing room. It was gone 11 by the time I got home. So much for an early Sunday night!

Washing dilemmas

12 Jul

A friend brought a BBC news article to my attention this morning. In it, it is reported that there has been a huge backlash on Twitter about comments that Kirstie Allsopp made about the correct placement of washing machines in house. Apparently the British have been doing in wrong all along. Kitchens are not the place for a washing machine.

I have never thought about this before but it is only Brits, who typically have their washing machine in the kitchen. In American films always show the family laundry being done in a separate room well away from the kitchen. Apart from in Uncle Buck where the eponymous hero attempts to dry the socks in the microwave because he can’t work out how to use the tumble dryer.

Washing clothes in a room where you prepare food does have some unhygienic twists to it: both as the dirty clothes are going in and the clear ones are coming out. No one ever wipes down the surfaces are dirty washing has been sitting on the counter top before loading the machine. Well, perhaps no one who has been diagnosed with OCD.

In Switzerland, washing machines and the regulations of using them is where all the upstanding virtuous that you expect of the Land of Milk and Money are effortlessly turfed out of the window. The majority of washing machines are located in the basement, especially in older buildings. Of course, it is forbidden to washing during the night and on Sundays or public holiday. This rule is strictly enforced.

In order to wash, one of three things could happen: 1) you have a designated day to wash on and it’s obligatory that you only wash on this day; 2) you have to “register” by signing on to a rota in advance, and by advance I mean that sometime people sign up for a day 6 months in advance; 3) there is no signing up so everything is a free-for-all, which is problematic when you are single living in a house full of families, who are constantly washing and you can never find a time to casually slip your clothes in. This happened to me at my last apartment. Being one day from going into the office in tracksuit bottoms is not a great place to be.

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Woe betide anyone who uses the wrong day, forgets to register or is 5 minutes late taking the load out of the washing machine. I have heard reports of clean clothes thrown on the floor, washing cycles being stopped half way through and then the half-dirt, half-clean clothes thrown onto the dirty floor. I have also heard of people plotting to revenge neighbours when they have retaliated like this. I’m talking itching powder in underwear type revenge.

Luckily, I have never experienced this first hand and it seems that the machine is normally free when I need it. I just have to trundle down the stairs to get my clothes clean. Of course, I have no idea what my neighbours are putting into the machine and it does make me wince a bit when I think that other people’s dirty is circuling around and mixing it with my clothes that I am trying to get clean.

One option might be to put the machine on 90 degrees and get rid of all the bad bacteria. However, as I found out the hard way, hockey socks don’t wash well at this temperature. They are so small that I can’t get them over my shin pads anymore. Looks like they are heading for the bin. Can you imagine if I did this with all of my clothes? I am not sure if it would be a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it would be an excuse for why some of my clothes are a little bit snugger than they should be. On the other hand, I will be back to contemplating the acceptability of wearing tracksuit bottoms into the office.

I am remaining adement that the next apartment is new and has it’s own washing machine. So long as it is not in the kitchen…

Anti- Stress solution?

5 Jul

Because I’m not getting any younger and I probably should take more care of myself than I actually do, I booked myself in for a Thai massage last night after work. I am slowly creeping up to a birthday that ends in a nought (but aren’t we all?) so it might be time to take preventative action and make positive steps.

For those of you who regularly read my blog, you will know that I first tried Thai massage in Thailand earlier this year. As I had so many things to do, I ran out of time and had to have a quick upper body massage at the airport. Last night was the whole hog.

The thing that I like most about Thai massage is that you remain fully clothed. I’ve had other massages before and I really can’t stand the vulnerability of being half-naked in a darkened room with a stranger. When I arrived some comfortable clothes were laid out for me. The practitioner quickly realised I wasn’t going to fit into the aforementioned clothes and went to get me new ones. I’m pretty sure they were men’s trousers and they were massive on me. One more motivation to help me lose weight to add to the list. 

Thai people look small but then they are manipulating and stretching your body, they are surprisingly strong. I can only describe the feeling as being a bit like when a toddler or young child decides to walk over you instead of around you because they haven’t yet realised that when you put your full weight on someone it hurts. Elbows, legs and arms everywhere! At one point when she grabbed my neck to massage it, it reminded me of fighting with my brother as a kid and him grabbing my neck so I couldn’t fight back.


It’s probably not recommended to be reminiscing of childhood play fights while someone is treating to realign your body’s energy. On this part, I need more practice at this.

It is said that the massage should be leave the practitioner and the client energised after the massage. I certainly felt a lot better, even though I also felt I had just done 10 rounds with a Mini Mike Tyson. I was thinking how can the practitioner possibly feel energised after this really physical procedure? I think she probably felt great about beating up a person who is twice her size and getting paid for it.

In an age where our lives are dominated by stress, it is important to find methods of relaxing. It turns out that for me this could be someone standing on my back while pulling my arms up to the sky. 

The literal nature of the German language

16 Mar

The other day I was thinking (and I have no idea why before you ask) about the German word for breakfast. I have no idea why I was thinking about Frühstück while I was waiting for my tram but I was. If you deconstruct the word, you are left with früh which means “early” and stück which means “piece”. The word literally means in English “early piece”. This make so much sense because breakfast is the first meal of the day and my theory is that the word “piece” is fitting for the German speaking world because most people have a croissant or a piece of bread as their first meal.

This doesn’t really work in the English language because we tend to have more lavish and complicated breakfasts. We don’t just take “a piece” and go. Can you imagine if you took a piece from an English breakfast and you mistakenly end up with a baked bean? That won’t stop you snacking until lunchtime.

This got me thinking about other German words which are literal in their meaning. The word for shoe in German is Schuh and the word for glove is Handschuh. So Germans genuinely think of a glove as a shoe for the hand, which it sort of is.

The German word for a sloth is made up of the word faul meaning “lazy” and tier meaning “animal”. I’ve watched David Attenbourgh and that animal is lazy by anyone’s standards.

It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that there are some laughable mistranslations when Germans try to speak English. I mean laughable in the nicest possible way. One mistake that is frequently used in the office is emails that start with “Hello together”. In German the email would start with Hallo zusammen meaning dear all. The problem is that zusammen also means “together”. You can say Wir gehen morgen zusammen which means “We are going together tomorrow”. I have a colleague who proudly walks into the office every day, cheerily declaring “Hello together”. Part of me thinks I should politely point out to him his mistake, the other part of me thinks it might be a bit rude to say anything at all. It’s a modern-day dilemma.

Other howler is the use of the words “some when” which is directly translated from the German word Irgendwann (irgend meaning some and wann meaning when in the precise sense of what time). A friend asked me if I wanted to go to the cinema with her some when. I pointed out this way wrong. Firstly, she is my friend and secondly, she specifically mentioned that it’s ok if I pick her up on mistakes. The modern-day dilemma was clearly avoided in this case. When I told her the question should be “do you want to go to the cinema some time?”, she looked at me a little confused and said “when do you use some when?” To which I replied “well, never. It doesn’t exist in English in the way that you mean it”.

The verb to ski in German is Skifahren, literally “to drive skis”. This time I was on the receiving end of the confusion when a friend told me he would like to drive with me. I had to stop myself from saying words to the effect of “That’s lovely. Maybe we can drive somewhere later but right now I would like to go skiing”. Then it dawned on me what he meant and I smiled and followed him down the mountain.

These miscommunications, while at times can be frustrating when learning a language, provide light relief. In some of the above cases, it makes it easier for me to remember phrases in German because of the funny story or association behind it. At the moment, I wish there were some more funny stories that would stick more vocabulary in my head; recently my memory has been like a sieve and I need a way to bung those holes up!

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Getting things right

8 Feb

Why is it that no matter how old you get or how experienced you are, there are just somethings in life you never seem to get quite right? Practice as hard as you might, it never turns out quite right.

There are big things, like relationships, that people get wrong. Like saying the wrong thing at slightly the wrong time. We have all at some point opened our mouths to comment on something and immediately regretted it. As soon as the words tumble out of your mouth, you realise that you have miscalculated big time.

The classic is example is asking a woman when her baby is due. The nanosecond after you ask how long she has left for her pregnancy, you know she isn’t the slightest bit pregnant and she is just packing a few extra pounds and has missed the last few Weight Watchers meetings.

Or, loudly gossiping about someone, only to watch the eyes of your co-conspirator glaze over to give you the indication that the person is stood right behind you. There is categorically no way that they didn’t hear what defamatory comments you were making about them. You start to mumble and try to apologise but this just make things worse. It would be much less embarrassing to turn to the subject of your idle gossiping and explain that you were indeed talking to them behind their back and they weren’t meant to hear any of it.

There are also small things that seem largely irrelevant but even with practice you never seem to get them right. Things like being able to cook the right amount of rice spring to mind. I am sure that you can easily find a website on the Internet to tell you how much rice serves the amount of people you are cooking for but who has time for that? We are living in the 21st century.

Recently, I used a glass, smaller than a whiskey glass, to measure out rice for two people. Surely that can’t be too much? It turns out it was enough to fed the British army and probably some of the French army as well if they had been well-fed at breakfast time.

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I am coming to the conclusion that the absorption of rice changes overtime, because the exact opposite has also happened to me. A table full of hungry dinners arrive and I am feeling quietly confident about the abundance of rice that I have simmering in the pot. That feeling is quickly replaced by a feeling of panic, terror and abject horror when I come to serve up the rice at the dinner table and everyone has 30 grains of rice each.

While saying the wrong thing and cooking life seems to be the bane of my life, I will just try to keep my mouth shut and keep away from rice based dishes. Life is easier that way.

 

Things that I miss about home

29 Aug

After almost 11 months living in Switzerland I have come to appreciate and miss some things from home that I have taken for granted. It is funny the things that you end up missing.

This list is not exhaustive but it is around 80% there.

  • Conversations – my German is still pretty appalling and I don miss having a proper natter with, not just a native English speaker, but a native British speaker. Otherwise you can get yourself messed up in all sorts of problems trying to explain what the different is between a bonnet and a boot or how to pronounce ‘aluminium’ proper with an American. And I miss innuendo. yes, it’s childish and immature but it’s bloody good fun.
  • Washing machine – this one sounds bizarre. But from leaving my washing machine behind in the UK, of which I was the sole user, I now have a communal machine to use. I can only wash on certain specified days and at certain specified times which can be annoying. Creeping down to the basement to check if the machine is free and waiting until the machine is free, reminds me of university days when you used to be desperate to do washing but all the machines are free. Every Tuesday and Sunday I can do my washing. What if I want to go out? I then lose my time and I have to go without. It’s frustrating. I am now at the point where I have to organize my washing around my social life. What I can’t understand is that I have a dishwasher in my apartment. Surely it would make sense for each apartment to have its own washing machine and do away with the dishwasher? All the times when I set the washing machine to on without a care in the world at home is now a million miles away.
  • Food – while being in Switzerland I have eaten quite a lot of foods that I haven’t had before, like lobster, sushi and sashmi, but there are some times that you just want a British classic. I can’t remember the last time I had chips and gravy, or steak and kidney pudding and chips, or a Boost! Being away from home makes you crave comfort food; food that reminds you of the good old days of your childhood. And you can’t find those classics over here. In fact you can’t find a chippy over here FULL STOP. I actually think it’s a huge opportunity to make money by opening a decent British chippy, with the large British expat community. Once I work out where to source the fish from (Switzerland is a land locked country after all) then it’s all systems go!
  •  Humour – sort of related to point 1. Having a common point of reference is the basis for most of the funniest jokes. If you have to explain the joke it isn’t going to be funny; more a long explanation of yet another cultural difference. Everywhere I go people tell me that the British have a wicked sense of humour. But, trust me, we don’t when we are far away from home.
  • Family and Friends – perhaps the most predicable one of them all. Leaving behind a country, a house, a job is the easy part. The hart part is finding new people to share your new experiences with. No one can suddenly fill in a gap which used to be filled by your oldest and bestest friend. I have hear a quote that it is sharing the little things that are what really make relationships. I think it takes a long time to find the right person to share those little things with. And little by little, I can see myself drifting slowly away from the lives of people that I know back home. I hope when I’m next home for a visit there are no hard feelings and we can carry on from where we left off.