Jānis vs Jürgen

Ah, men. Don’t you just love them? Even when they’re being complete gobshites (which is a worryingly high amount of the time), we still can’t resist them.

Having said that, even though I’ve only been in Deutschland for a little while, I’ve noticed much less of the gobshite about German men than say, for example, oooh, Latvian men. “But Linda! How can you judge!? You’ve only been there seven weeks!”, I hear you cry.  Well, considering you get to know a German man about as much in four days as you do a Latvian man in four years, I feel that I’m already in a position to do just that. So, here goes – a brief comparison:

Meetings:

First of all, you’re far more likely to meet a single Jürgen in his thirties than a single Jānis. Most Jānises get married shortly after hitting puberty – it doesn’t really matter to whom.

A long and icy road ahead…

Greetings: 

Jürgen: Hello/Good morning/HOORAY!

Jānis: (Awkward silence and some staring. OK, a lot of staring.)

Manners: 

Jürgen will hold the door open for you, and thank you if you hold the door open for him.

Jānis will let the door slam in your face, and breeze past like you don’t exist if you hold the door open for him – as will a stream of other Jānises. (Make sure you have a clear calendar if you choose to hold a door open in Latvia.)

Oh Astra-drinking German man - you are so very hot...
Oh Astra-drinking German man – you are so very hot…

Offering help:

You won’t even have to ask Jürgen for help – he’ll offer it and he’ll follow through before you’ve even realised he’s serious.

Jānis, oh Jānis… You’ll ask him for help. He’ll say “sure”. You’ll tell him when you need him.

Jānis: Oh, you meant this weekend. Sorry, no, I can’t. 

Me: OK, how about next weekend?

Jānis: Oh, next weekend is no good either. I’ll call you… 

After four years of this, you give up asking anyone for anything, so the Jürgens of the world come as a very pleasant surprise.

Giving help:

Once in a blue moon, after promising copious amounts of booze, a Latvian man will “help” you. And so it came to pass that a friend of mine was helping me paint my living room. (In reality, he was sitting drinking beer while I was up a ladder.) I went into the other room for a few minutes and noticed that things were eerily quiet in the living room. Dear God, what was he up to?

(Running back into the other room)

Me: Is that… is that a swastika???

Jānis: No, it’s a peace sign. 

Me: It bloody well looks like a swastika to me.

Jānis: No, it’s a peace sign. 

Me: Um OK, but answer me this – what the f*** is it doing on my living room wall?

Jānis: I was helping. 

Me: By painting a massive swastika on my wall?

Jānis: It’s not a swastika. It’s a peace sign. It’s decoration. 

Me: (picking up the remaining paint and flinging it over the “helpful” Latvian)

Jānis: My jeans! My new jeans! 

Me: It’s decoration. 

That was the last time I asked a Jānis to help me with anything.

I just called to say:

A Jürgen will call you up because he wants to see you.

A Jānis will call you up because he’s run out of drinking money, he doesn’t have enough money for a taxi home, or he wants to bitch about his mad girlfriend. He will then probably attempt to dry hump you after gaining Dutch Latvian courage from the booze you’ve been buying him all night.

Invites

A Jürgen will invite you round to his place and let you drink him out of house and home.

A Jānis will invite himself round to your place, drink you out of house and home, pass out… then give out to you in the morning because there’s no beer left.

Being home alone

Jānis: I’m going out to buy some pizza. 

Me: OK, I’ll just wait here then. 

Jānis: No. 

Me: What? Why not? Don’t you trust me?

Jānis: I don’t trust anyone. 

Me: I’m going home. 

Jürgen: OK, I have to go to work now. 

Me: Right, I’ll be ready in a few minutes…

Jürgen: Take your time. Make some tea. Relax. Just make sure you close the door in a German way properly on your way out.

Me: Um. OK…

Happily ever afters

The good news is that the life expectancy for a Jānis is pretty low. On the other hand, if you do manage to pick a dud Jürgen, you’re probably going to be stuck with him for the next 50-60 years.

Think on…

 

And people wonder why I left Latvia…

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s all about now

“Scheiße” (shit), “genau” (exactly), and “ach so…” are probably the three things you will hear Germans say most often. Sometimes I feel like I’m in Japan I hear “ach so…” so often.

While picking up these few words was easy enough, clearly my German needs improving. I’ve been watching a bit of German TV, and although I can’t understand most of what’s going on, I’m definitely picking up a few words here and there. “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” is definitely beyond me though – I’m still trying to read the question, and they’ve already answered it and moved on.

While it’s true that a lot of Germans speak passable English, I don’t want to be one of those English-speaking people that just assumes everyone speaks English – you know, if you say it LOUDER and more s-l-o-w-l-y, then of course the foreigners will understand…

Passable English
Passable English

Considering I’ve only been here around six weeks, I don’t think I’m doing too badly. However, I have no past and no future in German; I can only speak in the present. While Germans say that they don’t like small talk, they are, in fact, rather chatty. So, in the supermarket, or in a restaurant, you’ll hear me saying things like “I live in Latvia four year and now I live in Berlin six week”. Still, they seem to understand – or at least they pretend that they do – even though my grammar and pronunciation are all over the shop.

So, I’ve been working away on Duolingo by myself, learning such useful expressions as “The dog has a horse” and “We are drinking the water”.

Yes, she did.
Yes, she did.

I’ve been flying through levels, earning Lingots left, right and centre. I breezed through basics, food, clothes, animals, phrases, plurals and adjectives, feeling smug that this German lark was so much easier than I’d expected – or maybe, just maybe, I was some kind of language whizz-kid and I’d never realised it before…

My confidence sufficiently boosted, I decided that, in order to really make progress, I would have to start taking proper lessons. So, I contacted a school that does evening classes and asked about the next available beginners’ course. I felt like I just had to add that I’d been studying online as well – just so they knew that I wasn’t their average hopeless beginner.

The nice lady said that as I had previous German experience, I should take a placement test. Ha, no problem – their puny German test would be no match for my awesome language skills. You’d think that by the ripe old age of 36, I’d have more sense. And more humility.

My ego deflated slightly as I was taking the test – I’d say I understood around 10% of it. Still, as it was multiple choice, I figured I had to be right at least some of the time. What would my result be? I was excited to have my genius acknowledged.

Five, yes, FIVE out of forty.
Five, yes, FIVE out of forty.

You read it correctly – 5/40. Scheiße. And they even said “Congratulations!” – though I’m not sure what for. I got a fit of the giggles when I read it, and reminded myself not to be so damn cocky in future. My German sucks. I now have that in black and white.

But it will get better – this is as much of a certainty as the smell of weed that hits you every time you walk out of the train station at Warschauer Straße. My course starts on the 4th of November and, of course, I’m secretly hoping to be the best in the class.

Let’s hope I learn German faster than I learn life lessons.

 

English and Elvis

I’m happy to say that I’m finally feeling a bit more settled in Berlin, thanks to my new home and my two lovely German ladies. (And no, we don’t braid each other’s hair and have pillow fights, in case you were wondering.)

I’ve got my head around my work schedule and feel that I’m now in a position to talk a little about what it’s like to be an English teacher in Berlin.

I guess I should start by saying that if you’re looking for a safe bet, Berlin probably isn’t the place for you. Most schools hire on a freelance basis, and won’t interview people who don’t already live in Berlin. The only thing you can do, which is what I did, is find a list of English schools here and send your CV to ALL of them. Then cross your fingers and hope one or two reply, move to Berlin, cross your fingers again and hope that you get an interview.

I got two interviews (and two jobs) within around a week and a half. I now realise how insanely lucky I was after talking to another teacher who said that it took her four months to find any work at all. In short, it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Oh, and you'll definitely need one of these...
Oh, and you’ll definitely need one of these…

In addition, if you’re looking for a job where you go to a school, work five or six hours a day in the same building and go home again, you might want to rethink Berlin as your first choice. If you’re freelancing, you’ll likely be travelling to different companies to teach there. And as most companies want lessons either before or after normal working hours, you’ll probably have to get up at stupid o’clock to get to 8am lessons.

Of course, it can be a bit tiring, but seriously, who wouldn’t want to spend their days wandering around Berlin? I’ve got to see so much of the city this way and, every day, something new surprises or tickles me.

From the wonderful...
From the wonderful…
to the wonderfully historic...
to the wonderfully historic…
to the wonderfully weird.
to the wonderfully weird.

In short, Berlin is fantastic. And there are also some pretty impressive, double-take-inducing German moustaches roaming the streets. (Attached to men, of course. Berlin is crazy, but not that crazy.)

The school that I get the bulk of my hours from is fantastically well-run. The teachers are financially taken care of and support is always available. We even get paid for training, induction, and travel expenses. And, every now and then, the Director of Studies bakes…

A sausage roll! A rare sight indeed in Germany.
A sausage roll! A rare sight indeed in Germany.

And finally, ze German students… In my (admittedly still limited) experience, they’re great – warm, friendly, chuckly, open, smart, hard-working, and pleasingly self-aware. I recently had two students act out a telephone role play.

(Afterwards)

Me: Um, it was good, but maybe a little… direct?

Fritz: You mean too German? 

Me: Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.

So overall, it’s hard work, it’s stressful in the beginning, but if you’re really determined to move to Berlin, you’ll find a way to make it work eventually – and it will be worth it.

Still, all work and no play makes Linda a dull girl, so last night I had the honour of being invited to an English stand-up comedy night by Victoria over at The British Berliner. We met up for Happy Hour cocktails at the rather fabulous Bellini Lounge, and then to the main event at the Quatsch Comedy Club.

Free stuff :)
Free stuff 🙂

The star of the show, Daniel Sloss, is a young, up-and-coming Scottish comedian, and if you like no-holds-barred comedy, which made half an audience in Indianapolis stand up and leave the show, then he’s the guy for you. If you’re not easily offended and like penis jokes – as I do – then you’ll laugh your ass off.

The warm-up act, the very funny Jack Woodhead, joked, sang and played the piano in an outfit and make-up that would have had a Latvian woman squealing in envy (and a Latvian man squealing in fear and pushing himself up against a wall – not that he’d be in any danger, I’m sure. Jack looked like a discerning individual…)

We got chatting to both comedians over a couple of drinks after the show, but I had to pretend to be a sensible person and leave early(ish). 5.45am starts bring out the sensible in most people. At around midnight, as I was walking from the train to my flat, the strains of people singing roaring along to ‘Suspicious Minds’ drifted my way.

Naturally, I should have kept walking but curiosity got the better of me, and I found myself outside a cute little French bar called ‘Place Clichy’. The bar was heaving when I managed to push open the door.

“HOORAY!!!”, roared everyone.

“HOORAY!!!”, I roared back, with no real idea why. I went to the bar and got talking to a very merry German.

Heinz: Where are you from?

Me: Ireland.

Heinz: (roaring) SHE’S FROM IRELAND!!!

Everyone: HOORAY!!! 

And so, my new buddies and I shouted along to Elvis tunes, and drank €2 glasses of wine, until around 2am, when I really had to be sensible and go to bed.

Ah Berlin, there’s never a dull moment with you, is there?

 

 

Non, je ne regrette rien

Or whatever that is in German.

After the last few drama-filled weeks, you’d be forgiven for wondering if I’m regretting my decision to move to Berlin. If so, you’d be nuts. A little drama never killed anybody. It’s perfectly possible that psychotic Swedes did, but, fortunately for me and my blood pressure, I’m out of that situation now.

Bye bye bunnies. Take care Bjorn doesn't boil you.
Bye bye bunnies. Take care Bjorn doesn’t boil you.

So, why don’t I regret moving to Berlin? Well, aside from a psychotic Swede, a horny Hermann and an insane registration system, Berlin is fantastic. Most days I have to pinch myself to make myself believe that I’m actually living in one of my favourite cities in the world.

Even Queenie likes it.
Even Queenie likes it.

Here are just some of the reasons I’m happy I moved from Latvia to Germany (or Berlin, for those who insist that Berlin is Berlin, and not “real” Germany).

  • German drivers don’t act like they want to kill you.
  • German pedestrians don’t act like they want to kill you, either.
  • Germans are not as punctual as you might think. This is, in fact, rather annoying but it’s nice to know that Germans aren’t as perfect as everyone thinks they are. They do, however, treat long distance bus journeys in much the same way as they treat sun loungers in Majorca. On a recent trip to Hamburg, I arrived fifteen minutes early for the bus. I got on and thought that all of the seats were empty. Silly me. No, the Germans had probably got there at 4am, left their jackets and snacks, and gone home to bed for a few hours.
  • Even homeless people have high standards. I started teaching at one of the major banks in Berlin last Monday. The student was late (sigh), so I waited in the ATM vestibule. While I was phoning the school trying to find out where my student was, I woke up a young woman who had been sleeping behind the ATM machines. “Have you got €20 for me?” “€20??? No, I don’t.” “But you just took out money.” “Yeah, for me, not you.” I waited outside after that.
  • The fashion. Or lack thereof. I’m pretty sure you could dance down the street naked in Berlin and nobody would bat an eyelid. On one of the rare occasions I’ve seen someone wearing heels, it was a dude. Refreshing after all of the falsity in Latvia.
His 'n' hers lovely sensible German footwear
His ‘n’ hers lovely sensible German footwear
  • German people are friendly and helpful. No, it’s really true. They strike up conversations with total strangers on public transport; they help people with heavy suitcases. In fact, I think I’ve had more help from the few Germans I’ve met over the last four or five weeks than I had from the Latvians in four years. I don’t know where the cold, unsmiling German stereotype comes from, but nothing could be further from the truth.
  • German people are amazingly sociable. While I hear rumours that Germans like rummaging about in the forest for mushrooms, I haven’t seen that in person. What I have seen is every café and bar (and that’s a lot) full to the brim with shiny happy Germans holding hands talking and laughing like it’s the most normal thing in the world – which it is.
Shiny happy Germans holding hands. And dancing.
Shiny happy Germans holding hands. And dancing.
  • Germans aren’t shy about drinking on the streets. In Latvia, when you see somebody walking around with a beer in their hand, they’re usually the lowest of the low. Here, it’s the same as walking around with a bottle of water.
  • Germans work. And I mean WORK. There’s no faffing about. You will never see five or six Germans standing around looking at a hole in the ground the way you would in Latvia (or Ireland). They’re there to do a job, and they do it. In Latvia, a bar maid will grunt at you because you’ve interrupted her Youtube marathon. In Germany, a bar maid will come running from wiping down tables, sweeping floors, emptying ashtrays… they just don’t stop.
  • In Germany, if something is shit (and really, there aren’t that many things), you get the feeling that people are trying to improve it. Latvians would rather bitch and moan and, ideally, blame the Russians. (I doubt I’ll live long enough to see this change.)
  • Pretty much everything is cheaper in Berlin.
  • Food – oh wow, the food. First of all, you don’t have to pick your way through 254 mouldy onions in supermarkets to find the one good one – everything is shiny and fresh. The quality of everything is just better. And the variety – you can buy pretty much anything you want in the supermarkets, and I don’t think there’s a single cuisine that’s not taken care of in the restaurant market.
  • They have English bacon, Irish cheddar AND Heinz baked beans. Now I won’t need to bring back an extra suitcase from Ireland at Christmas. I have access to everything I need.
  • I don’t need to wipe down toilet seats everywhere I go. German women pee like women, not like dogs. However, one thing I cannot wrap my head around is the German “poo shelf”. Why anyone would want to examine their poo that closely is beyond me.
Dear god, why?
Dear god, why?
  •  I’m now living with two very hot German women – proof that not all German women are complete munters. And, more importantly, they’re über nice.
They even put sweets on my pillow - all together now, AWWWWW
They even put sweets on my pillow – all together now, AWWWWW

So, do I regret leaving Latvia? Not for a second.

A Bjorn Loser

On Wednesday evening, just as I was starting to relax and enjoy the peace, Bjorn came back. Yes, his 8 – 9 day trip, had turned into a one day trip. This one day did finally give me a chance to tackle the fridge of dysentery, disease and death, though.

I opened the door to a slightly battered-looking Bjorn, complete with broken nose and black eyes. Seemingly, he’d been jumped by some Turks in Sweden. This may or may not be fictitious.

Me: Where’s your key?

Bjorn: I gave it to my wife to mind and she forgot to give it back. 

Yes, Bjorn is married – to an insane Russian, who also may or may not be fictitious. Bjorn has spent the last few weeks living in fear of said wife, who is an evil genius when it comes to technology. She has been hacking his mobile and screwing with his life, so he keeps on switching off the wifi to deny her access. So it makes perfect sense that they would go to Sweden together…

Me: Why would you do that?

Bjorn: Ramble, ramble, nonsense, bullshit…

Me: Sigh. 

On Thursday morning, I packed my laptop, as Thursday is the day of loneliness when it comes to lessons. I figured if the students didn’t show up again, I could at least get some other work done. This week, two out of four groups showed up, which I guess is progress. One of the groups didn’t have a single German in it, just two Spaniards, an El Salvadoran, and a Pole. Welcome to Berlin.

When I got home in the evening, I was rather surprised to find the front door open. He didn’t, he couldn’t have… He did.

2014-10-10 11.34.26

When Bjorn showed up around half an hour later, I was spitting mad, but decided to start off in a calm, Germanic way.

Me: Are you aware that you left the front door open?

Bjorn: Well, I didn’t know what time you’d be back, and I had to go out. 

(Warning: The conversation goes a bit ‘Tarantino’ at this point.)

Me: Are you a complete and utter fucking moron?

Bjorn: No, it’s fine. I’ve done it before…

Me: You what?? Are you actually fucking mentally ill? Anything could have happened. All of my stuff is here. Where is your fucking key?

Bjorn: My wife isn’t answering her phone. 

Me: Well, fucking call her again, and keep calling her. What is your cunning plan for tomorrow? Go out all day again and leave the fucking door open? Maybe you could put the fucking frying pan on the ring while you’re at it, to heat up the place for when you get back. You total fucking gobshite. 

I would like to say at this point that I am a rather articulate person in real life. However, when faced with this unprecedented level of stupidity, all decorum went out the window. It’s perfectly clear that Bjorn has zero respect for his own stuff, but it would be nice to know that I can actually go out and expect my things to be here when I get back.

Yesterday afternoon, craving some normal conversation, I met up with my new best friend, Dietmar. We met at the restaurant where we first got talking. Over a couple of glasses of Chardonnay, we caught up, and I filled him in on my current living situation. When I showed him the photos of the fridge, he almost passed out. He offered to help me find somewhere new; I gratefully accepted.

Dietmar: I’d like to take you to a speakeasy in a ruin. Would you like that?

Me: Sounds great! 

And then this happened...
And then this happened…

We hopped on his scooter and zipped off into the night, me probably cutting off his circulation in the process. The speakeasy was just opening when we got there and was indeed in a ruin. Only in Berlin!

2014-10-11 19.06.58
The host with the most

Given the choice between spending the night with a mad Swede or a sexy older German man, the decision was pretty easy. It also meant that Bjorn would be locked out for the night, so the flat had a much better chance of survival.

I ignored all calls and texts, had a nice leisurely breakfast with Dietmar today, and eventually made my way home for around 1 o’clock.

Bjorn: You didn’t tell me you wouldn’t be coming home. 

Me: I did. You just didn’t listen. You never fucking listen. 

Bjorn: I had to check in to a hotel. I checked out at 7am and have been waiting for you ever since.

Me: Why would you do that? You really are a total fucking idiot, you know that? 

Bjorn: Ramble, ramble, nonsense, bullshit…

Me: Look. I’m sick of fucking listening to this. Sort out your fucking wife, get your fucking key and sort your fucking life out. You asshole. You’re 36 years old and you live like a fucking moron. 

Bjorn: Wow, I had no idea you were so crazy. 

Me: ME? I’M CRAZY? YOU ARE A COMPLETE AND UTTER NUTTER. I can’t take this any more. I’m moving out. Give me back my fucking deposit and I’ll be gone by the end of the week. 

Bjorn: Oh, I bought cookies. You can have one if you like. 

Me: Fucking psycho. 

Around half an hour after this conversation, the phone rang. It was Dietmar to say that he’d found me a room. I think I love that man. God bless German efficiency.

 

 

Mad Men and Mother Teresa

So, where to begin? It seems like my perfectly ordered German life is unravelling slightly. I mainly put this down to my flatmate’s rapidly disintegrating mental state.

Yes, it appears that what I’d taken for (sort of) charming eccentricity is, in fact, stark raving looniness. The repeated (empty) promises to clear out the fridge, the bathroom and a cupboard in the living room were mere annoyances. The shaking and the sweating, while off-putting, could be viewed as semi-entertaining. The delusional babbling could be tuned out. Everything would be OK as he was going back to Sweden for almost two weeks, and I could sort things out here, while his parents hopefully had him committed in Sweden.

We now collect maps too seemingly. Because y'know, one can never have too many maps. Umm.
We now collect maps too seemingly. Because y’know, one can never have too many maps, right? Right??

Wednesday rolled around and I clung to my last shreds of patience as Bjorn crashed around the apartment, banging off things, breaking things, flooding the bathroom, eventually ending up with a packed bag. He also offered me the use of his laptop which I knew he’d already packed. By the time he was ready to leave, he was really late so he had to call a taxi. I breathed a sigh of relief as he finally bashed his way out of the apartment, almost taking the door off its hinges in the process.

At 1.30am, I was sound asleep when he crashed his way back in again. There was a lot of muttering and pacing, something about humiliation, something about losing his laptop “under the lights” and then a lot of shouting into his phone. By 2.30, I’d had enough and did a bit of shouting and stomping myself.

At 5.30, I dragged myself out of bed. I was covering four lessons for another teacher, and had to get to the other side of the city for 9.15. Unfortunately, Bjorn woke up too. Now, while I’m not generally known for my patience, I can keep myself in check in most situations. It turns out that a Swede in pajamas, rambling about how he’s Mother Teresa is not one of them.

Anyway, after a lot of shouting (and eating bacon), I made it out of the apartment. I got the metro to the next train and hopped on. I was actually early – yes, I’m that organised, even in the face of madness. Unfortunately, the transport system did not reward me. Works on the line meant finding a replacement bus to another train station, getting back on the train, but ultimately missing the last bus I had to take. A dash in a taxi meant that I arrived at 9.15 on the dot.

I sat down and waited. And waited. The students never showed up. The second group were 15 (very unGerman) minutes late. I had 45 minutes to scoff a bit of lunch and then two more groups – neither of which turned up. Then it was back to the bus-train-bus-train-train game. Needless to say, by the time I got home, I was not in a particularly good mood.

Bjorn was still talking like I’d been there the whole time. But it was OK – he’d be heading to the airport again in an hour or so. They’d managed to book him on another flight. I tuned him out as best I could and waited. Finally, he left. Oh, the sweet blessed relief! I took myself out to a local Greek restaurant and revelled in the lovely normal Germans, indulging in lovely normal conversations all around me.

Food had never tasted so good
Food had never tasted so good

I danced home, cracked open a bottle of wine, and was just toasting my blissful solitude when Bjorn walked back in. Now, one of the main reasons this apartment appealed to me was that my flatmate would be travelling a lot. I just didn’t realise that when he said “travelling”, he meant travelling to the airport and NEVER getting on a f****** plane.

So, when you realise your flatmate is a nutter, you’ve got two courses of action as I see it – try to help him, or avoid him as much as humanly possible. As I’m no psychiatrist, I went for the latter. Or, as the old saying goes, if life gives you lemons, go and drink wine and eat cake.

Technically it's a waffle, but that works too.
Technically it’s a waffle, but that works too.

On Friday, I took myself off to pretty Potsdam and had a wonderful day.

And one for the ladies...
And one for the ladies…

I watched Germans playing a game I don’t know the name of, but I like to call, “Germans throwing sticks at sticks while drinking beer”.

Germans throwing sticks at sticks while drinking beer.
Germans throwing sticks at sticks while drinking beer.

I went to the flea market at Tiergarten… and didn’t buy anything.

Nein. Just NEIN.
Nein. Just NEIN.

I experienced my first Flammkuchen…

Gott, it was gut!
Gott, it was gut!

and went for a wander around the park with my childhood friend. I didn’t even know he was living in Berlin until he read in the Latvian blog that I was moving here and got in touch.

My photography skills don't do it justice.
Tiergarten –  my photography skills don’t do it justice.

And so, life goes on. Bjorn has calmed down a bit. It seems that telling someone who’s acting like a total nutjob that he’s acting like a total nutjob has an oddly calming effect. Maybe I should have been a psychiatrist after all?

Interesting times…