Tag Archives: work

The Road to Hell…

14 Jun

They say that the Road to Hell is paved with good intentions and if this is true, then I definitely have more than one foot on the cobbled stones. You see it was never my intention to have an extended pause from writing my blog when I got back from holiday. But it happened. It was an accident, an unintentional slip after I had tried so hard to continuing to blog while I was in Asia.

Sometimes when circumstances are difficult we manage to solider on regardless, like when I persevered blogging, without a laptop, but using an app on my iPhone which was made even more infuriating by my fat fingers mis-typing every second word. When things are infinitely easier, we tend to slip up.

I arrived back in Switzerland after my adventure (on reflection, it definitely was an adventure) and was straight back into work mode. It saddens me how easy it was to slip back into the work routine. Get up. Work. German lessons or hockey training (depending on what day it is). Home. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Within a few days and back into the frustration of daily work trivialities, it is easy to forget how big the world is, how many possibilities there are out there and how amazing my experiences on the other side of the world were.

So in the last six weeks that is what I have been up to. It’s nothing very exciting but it is what it is. One of the things that I am terrible about doing, when I get back from holiday, is sorting and organising my photos. I take thousands and thousands of photos. A lot of the time, I take pictures of things that are not even that interesting but I was determined this time to sort them properly and make a picture book so have to look back on. The actual organising of photos took at least 3 days (I did say I take a lot) and in the end I got bored so there are some that are not yet sorted properly.

Making and editing the actual book was like reliving the whole holiday: things I have seen, things I have eaten, things I refused to eat (they have some quirky things that are classed as food in Asia). It already brought back some great memories and as they say a picture paints a thousand words.

I did head to less humid climates in May – Manchester. It was a trip I had planned in October last year with a friend. The reason was the 25th Anniversary Take That tour. Unfortunately, due to circumstances that were all too tragic and well documented. The concert didn’t take place. It made me realise that we are living in a time when violence and terror is now on our doorsteps, whereas just a few years ago was confined to places that we can’t spell or would never ourselves visit.

Nevertheless, I flew back to Manchester because it was time to see friends and family: People who I am separated by distance on a regular basis. Time at home can sometimes be extremely time pressured but it also gives some unexpected surprises, like bumping into my godmother at the supermarket.

The next month will continue to be high paced as a trip to Edinburgh is planned and I have my German exam looming on the horizon at the beginning of July. For those of you who know me this is good enough reason to give me a wide berth until the afternoon of 8th July. Before exam stress levels =off the scale.

Until the panic sets in, I am happy  sit on the balcony, watching the sunset over my little garden while updating my blog. This feeling may not last long. I will enjoy it while it lasts.

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Uninspiring times

2 Mar

Lately I have been feeling a little uninspired, hence the lack of blog posts. Work, German learning and trying to reinvent a social life have been taking their toll on me in the past few weeks. I hardly even noticed that we are already in March. How can we possibly be in March? As an account, I would say that the first quarter is almost at its end. How sad does that sound?

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I spoke to a very good friend of mine last night for the first time in a long time. It was something that I was looking forward to as soon as we realised that we were both free and arranged the call before something else got in the way. She was telling me all sorts of things that she had been up to lately, film recommendations, work nights out with colleagues. Then she turned to me and said “So, what’s your news? What have you been up to?”

I was more than a little disappointed that I answered with “Oh, you know, not much”. Not much? I haven’t spoken to her for about 3 months (a quarter in accounting terms) and, during that time, I have been up to “not much”. I think she was a little disappointed with the answer!

Of course, I was ecstatic when I started to notice that the mornings were getting lighter and that there have been a few evenings where I have been home before it is dark. I was starting to have a spring in my step again after a cold winter of self-inflicted hibernation. I think it might have been a false start. Is it even possible to have a false start to a new season?

What threw me was on Tuesday morning when I woke up. Monday had been like a spring day. The city was basked in sunlight and I was fooled into thinking that maybe it would be soon time to get my spring/summer jacket out because my knee-length quilted jacket is getting a bit on the warm side. Open the curtains on Tuesday. Four inches of snow and the snow is still falling. Out come the winter boots again and the scarf and gloves.

Maybe if the seasons would be able to make up their mind it would help. I’m confused as to what I should wear each day and I’m finding it draining and tiresome. It will be nice to get up in the morning and not have to look outside the window and on four weather apps to have an idea of what the appropriate attire for the day will be.

What won’t help shift me out of my uninspired phase is my tasks in the office. We are about to come up to our busiest time of the month, where I usually end up working long hours and feeling pretty stressed. Hopefully, all uninspired thoughts will disappear completely soon and more blog posts and creative things will keep coming.

As British as it sounds, a change in the weather for the better would also help.

Swiss Money

11 Feb

When people think about Switzerland one of the first things that springs to mind is money. If you have visited you will know that Switzerland is expensive and you will probably need more money than you thought you would for your visit. Switzerland is also home to many financial institutions and combined with its banking secrecy laws, it is a perfect place for people to squirrel away money.

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Either way you cannot deny the fact that Switzerland is synonymous with money. Being that as it may, I still find the money a bit baffling.The notes look like they would not be out of place in a Monopoly set: bright yellow, reddy-pink, green and blue are the colours of the notes that are most commonly in circulation. All of them are slightly different sizes to one another. I believe that this is primarily to help the blind and those with vision difficulties to work out which note is which when they come to pay for something.

So far so good, the notes are no problem. I still find it strange that it is never a problem to pay in a high denomination bank note for something that is relatively cheap. For example, in the newsagents, it would be no problem to handover a 100 Frank note for a newspaper that costs 4 Franks. There is no need to apologies and make excuses, such as, “Sorry I only just went to the cash machine and I don’t have any change yet”. The cashier will not bat an eyelid and hand over 96 Franks in change, without saying a word.

The equivalent in the UK would be paying for a 1 pound newspaper with a 20 pound note. The cashier will inevitably tut, ask if you have anything smaller, mutter under his breath that he doesn’t have much change left and begrudingly hand over 19 pounds in change. You feel completely ashamed as you shuffle past other customers in the shops and try not to make eye contact with them.

Interestingly, in Switzerland you can pay with what ever denomination of money you have on you, whether in the city or up a mountain at a small chalet which serves refreshments to hikers and nature lovers, and there is never a problem at all.

With the coins, however, confusion reigns supreme. The problem is that the coins are all virtually the same colour and apart from the 5 Frank coin (there is no 5 Franc note) they are all the same size and shape. The exception to this is the 5 Rappen coin. This is distinctively smaller and a gold colour, even though having 90 of these coins will buy you next to nothing.

This causes bewilderment when you need to pay the cashier in coins. You desparately fumble through your purse trying to find the right coin. But as they are all the same shape and size, this turns into a monumental task. Each coin needs to be carefully examined to determine what it actually is. You convince yourself that this must be the 20 Rappen coin that you have been hopelessly searching for, only to discover it is a 10 Rappen coin! By now the cashier is looking at you with despair and you can feel the evil stares of the other customers gouging into your soul. Then you give up and decide to pay by card and leaving the small mountains of coins still in your purse.

 

On the positive side, when you come to sort out your purse and tot up how much you have been lugging around with you, the amount is always significant. All of these coins that are completely unassuming suddenly add up to 15 Franks and that is enough for 2 pints of beer. Happy days!

I wonder if the money is a metaphor for the country: small, unassuming but when you look closely it is more valuable than at first sight.

Operation Full Immersion: Complete

22 Jan

I arrived back in Zurich yesterday afternoon.  Operation Full Immersion is complete. I thought it would be useful to reflect on the past week and see how much I have benefitted from this exercise.

First of all, it was nice to be able to take the time away from work and to focus on my language learning away from distractions. In a normal day after work, I can come home feeling exhausted and not able to learn something new productively.

It was nice to spend the time in Munich and get to know the city a bit. It is a lovely city, even though it was extremely cold, certainly a lot colder than is was in Switzerland in the city. Normally if I travel to a city in Europe, I only spend a weekend or a long weekend there and often this is not enough time to explore and to get a feeling of the city. It is often the case that I only get to see a few specific things and most of the time is a bit stressed rushing from one place to another. I feel that this time I can say I really have been to the city. The history of the city was surprising in places and I learnt a lot of things that I didn’t know or had completely forgotten.

What was disappointing was the language school. They communicated badly from the start and never mentioned that the highest level was not on the same level as my German is currently. If I had know this from the start I would have reconsidered my options. Ok, it was fine that I was able to change from the group lessons to the private lessons but that wasn’t the point of this trip. The point was to be fully immersed in the language. After the 90 minute lesson I was then on my own and apart from in coffee shops, supermarkets and restaurants, I didn’t properly speak to another person at length. I already knew I would be able to function in German society without any problems but I don’t feel that I got the boost that I needed.

The private lessons themselves were good but I don’t know how much I have profited from these. The teachers only met with me three times and a lot of the time I had the feeling that they were analysing what I actually knew and where my strengths and weaknesses lay.

So one week on, I can say that the mission is complete but how much further I am along the line to being fluent is still to be seen. I was hoping to go to another German speaking city (maybe Vienna in Austria) later in the year for three weeks for German lessons so this was the trial run. One thing is for certain: I can not go somewhere for 3 weeks when the langauage school cannot offer what I want. That would be pointless and a complete waste of money.

I need to reassess my opinions and decide what is best for me to do in the long run. I know I need to speak more German on a day to day basis for it to improve. In the past I have been a bit lazy in this respect but I hope I can focus on this in the months ahead. In the meantime, I need to get ready and prepare for my German lesson tomorrow evening. The learning never stops…

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Operation Full Immersion: Day 5

19 Jan

I was up early again this morning for my first of two lessons. I must say that my a-little-bit eccentric teacher is really growing on me. She has such enthusiasm about learning that you just can’t help but carried along with it. We spend most of the lesson talking. She asked me to give a small presentation about my favourite book and we spend a lot of time talking about the different themes in the book.

She knows that I like reading because I mentioned it yesterday  and that I also read some books in German (or, at least I try to). She takes 2 books out of her bag. One is by a Swiss author and one is by Franz Kafka. She explains a bit of the plot of the story to me and says that she has two copies of these books so I am welcome to take them with me. How lovely is that! I have always wanted to read some Kafka but I never thought that I would ever read it in the original language it was written in.

We talk some more about memory and most of the questions that she asked me are hard to explain in English. I muddle through it some how and manage to partly answer the questions. We finish off singing a song together because “I sang so well yesterday”. I am not sure if my confidence in German has grown but my confidence in singing has. I might audition for the X-Factor at this rate!lowenbrau-1693942__340

I have some free time before my next lesson. I go to a well-known coffee shop again and use their internet for free while doing some grammar exercises. I have completely stopped feeling guilty about this. As it costs almost 3 Euros for a tea, the WiFi is certainly NOT free.

Refreshed and ready to go, I head back to the language school for my next lesson with another teacher. I can sense some sort of jealousy going on between the teachers. This teacher asks what I have done with the other teacher and how I found it. I find it a little bit odd. It’s an odd situation all round. I wanted some groups lesson and some private lessons and then the group lessons were changed to private lessons as well; now I feel a bit like a pawn in between to warring fractions.

I realise in my first lesson that I am tired and I made some mistakes that I really shouldn’t be making any more. I try to focus 100% in the second lesson but this makes me feel even more tired. Anyway, we talk about learning languages and how it differs in Germany to England. I mention that the English tend to be a bit lazy because everyone in the world can speak good English. There are many studies which prove that being bilingual, multilingual or even the process of learning a language can have benefits for the brain and also in the pay packet.

Later on, we move onto some grammar topics that I have been having difficulties with and these seem to be a lot clearer now. It has been useful to specifically look at some topics I have been meaning to understand better. I also have these grand ideas that I will spend time on these topics at home to understand them better but I never end up doing it. Having someone else explain something to you that you just can’t seem to get can also make a difference. I have certainly found that out this week.

Straight after the lesson I go to  join another walking tour. This time the topic is the Third Reich. The sun seems to be out but it gives the false impression that it is warmer that it was yesterday. It was -8 degrees and I was stood out in it for about 3 hours.

As you can probably imagine, a 3 hour walking tour about the Third Reich is not the best feel good activity that you could ever do but I feel that this topic is intrinsically linked to the history of Munich and modern day Munich. I was left feeling a little bit depressed at the end. However, the tour guide was very well informed and he really brought to life why Munich was so important to the success of the Nazi and which events unfolded where in the city.

I find it mind-blowing when I think of some of the places that I have been and who was there before me. But this time it made my spine shiver. The guide explained the events of 8 November 1939 when the Nazis walked into Odeonplatz and it was by sheer luck that Hilter was able to get away unscathed. If he hadn’t the whole of human history would have panned out differently. I have no idea if this would have been better or worse but no doubt it would have been different.

The tour itself brought the city and its history to life for me. It was far more interesting than reading a book or watching a TV reconstruction and I found out a lot of things that I didn’t know before or things that I had completely forgotten about from being told in my school days.

Tired from another 3 hours of German lessons, I head home to relax and prepare for my last day!

 

Operation Full Immersion: Day 4

18 Jan

The week seems to be running away and it is Wednesday already! I didn’t sleep that well last night because I knew that I needed to be at the language school for another private lesson for 8.30am. I was nervous that I would oversleep and I would end up missing the lesson after I had made a fuss about the group lessons being too easy. It seemed like I was waking up every half hour just to make sure that my alarm was still set and I hadn’t accidentally not heard it go off.

The private lesson today is with a different teacher than I have had for my other lessons. I met her briefly yesterday when she had introduced herself. On first impressions, she seems to be a little bit skatty with a hint of barmy. She tells me that she is a German-Russian and is wearing a T-shirt with the logo “Love Conquers Capitalism”. It’s an interesting choice.

From my school days, which seem a long, long time ago now, I know that sometimes the more eccentric the teacher, the better the lessons are. I am certainly not disappointed. The lesson is probably one of the most varied I have ever had. We seem to jump from one topic to another but I know, because she only has a limited about of time with me, that she is eager to find out where my strengths and weaknesses lie and to help me as much as possible.

She mentioned that when I speak, I speak really clearly. A mistake that a lot of people make when they are learning a new language is that they tend to mumble and hurry through the words rather than focusing on the individual words. This pleases me because for the past 6 months or so I have really been concentrating on my pronunciation. Even though people have commented that I speak like someone from Switzerland and not someone from Germany, I find this to be a great compliment. Maybe I am no longer sounding like an English person trying to say really long words, which is how I sounded until recently. She does, however, notice that I have a problem with the difference with “u” and “ü” which is something that I have been trying to improve. I think I am almost 90% of the time saying these correctly. I just have to practice a bit more.

We finish off by singing a song together in German. A German pop song. And no, it wasn’t by David Hasselhof. When songs from my childhood come on the radio, I can remember them word for word. Learning songs is probably a good way to learn a language. But I am not sure I could ever get into German pop. No matter how hard I tried.

Straight after my lesson I go to visit Schloss Nymphenburg, which is 15 minutes from the main train station. It is freezing cold and there is a school class who are ice-staking as part of their lessons on the frozen lake which is in front of the palace. The building and the grounds are impressive but it is far too cold to explore outside. I can imagine that in the summer that it is a glorious place to visit and spend time but not when the outdoor temperature is -7 degrees. IMG_4477.JPGHoused at the palace at the Natural Histroy Museum is a temporary exhibit of “The Wildlife Photographer of the Year”. I went to see the exhibition last year and it was amazing. The photographs in the competition were equally mind-blowing. I like taking pictures of animals and nature but I can never imagine taking photographs of this quality. I was studying the first category and was amazed. I then realised that this was a category for the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year for children aged 10-17. Unbelieveable!

After doing some work inside (yes, at Starbucks again), I braved the cold weather to do a free walking tour of Munich. I have been on a lot of free walking tours and have always found them to be a good way to quickly learn about the city and the culture. I was slightly disappointed that the guide was actually from Wolverhampton. He was actually a really good guide, was well informed about the history of the city and was very entertaining. As it was cold, he took us into some public buildings so that we could warm up a bit inside.

On a side note: when I went to Copenhagen with my friend Mark, we went on a walking tour. There were a lot of people and the split us into 3 groups with 3 different tour guides. We were delighted to be put into the group we were in because the other 2 guides were from the UK and Australia. Our guide looked so Danish; with blond hair, blue eyes and a huge beard. We were going to be given a tour by a genuine Danish local! It turns out he was from Belgium. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

After something quick to eat, I headed back; more because the bitter cold weather had begun to creep into my bones. I have some homework and some things to look over before my lesson tomorrow morning. It is surprising how tired I have felt this week. Obviously, I have not been as stressed and busy as I normally would be if I was working in the office but the combination of the crisp, winter air and using my brain to think hard about certain things and trying to improve my German is definitely a remedy for insomia!

Operation Full Immersion: Day 3

17 Jan

After I “de-registered” from the group lessons, I was free this morning until 12.30pm when my next private lesson would start. I could have stayed in bed for longer but I go up and decided to do some self-study. I went to find a library yesterday and I realised that they don’t open until 10am at the earliest. So I needed to find an alternative.

Going against every grain in my body, I went to a Starbucks. I thought that it would be hard to nurse a mint tea for 3 hours but it was surprisingly easy, even though by the end the tea was pretty disgusting. I would normally feel guilty about sitting there and using the Wi-Fi for free but I read an article recently that said that Starbucks don’t mind you doing that so I did this guilt-free. At almost 3 Euros for hot water and a tea bag it should be them who are feeling guilty.

I thought I would soon get bored but I was powering through grammar exercises and going over somethings which I have already learnt but needed to look over again. I feel like I achieve what I wanted to in the morning and it was a lot easier to do than it would be at home with distractions from TV and basically anything else that is actually in the flat.

I headed to the school for my lesson and we went over some topics which I was having problems within. I think people can explain things in different ways and having a different teacher made it simple to iron out some of the mistake and misunderstandings that I had. We also talked about an article that she had printed off about the EU-Parliament President. It was interesting that some of the verbs that were used in the article were normally used for professional sport so that the reader got the impression that there was a real fight happening and it was something spectacular to watch.

I was surprised that the article mentioned the three female candidates only in passing. There was no mention of names, places of origin as there were for the men. I find this a bit surprising in a country where the Chancellor is female and who, I would say, is one of the strongest leaders in the world irrespective of gender.

After the lesson, I was pretty tired and it was so cold outside that I had no desire to wander around, so I came back to where I was staying to work. I didn’t feel it was right to go back to Starbucks in case the staff recognised me.

I finished a German book I was reading. It was only 90 pages or so long Even though the cover has “Easy Reader” emblazoned on it, there were still quite a few words that I didn’t know so it was a good exercise to help me learn. The story is about a daughter whose mother is involved in a car crash. It doesn’t seem like a great story for a Tuesday afternoon but, nevertheless, it was entertaining and, like I say, I managed to learn something. Oh, and it turns out that the mother comes out of the coma and everything is ok.

In order to complete the Full Immersion, I went to a beer hall for something to eat in the evening. I know that the waiters were dying to talk to me in English but I wouldn’t let them. I got the menu in German, ordered in German, everything in German. Sometimes it pays to be stubborn.

I had heard that Munich was one of the most expensive cities in Germany but in comparison to Zurich it is still cheap. For one Mass of beer (one litre, or the equivalent of about 2 pints) it was 8 Euros 40. You pay about 9 SFr. (about 9 Euros) for less than a pint in Switzerland, so naturally I ordered a Mass with my meal. The waiter looked a littlimg_4455e bit surprised when I ordered it. He probably thought that I didn’t know what it was that I was ordering. But, oh, I definitely did. I noticed as I looked around that I was the only one in the whole place who had ordered a Mass. When in Rome…

I ordered roast pork which is a Bayern delicacy. It delicious and even thought it looks like it wasn’t a lot I did struggle to eat it all. I can’t help but thinking that the presentation reminded me a bit of a pair of tits. I am fairly sure that was unintentional. What do you think?

It has been a long day today and I feel like I have learnt a lot. Although I haven’t spoken as much German as I would have liked,  I think what I have spoken has been better. I’m ready for what tomorrow brings…