Category Archives: Beer

Learning the Lingo

As an expat living in Berlin, it’s pretty hard to avoid bumping into other foreigners living here. While I’m always interested in what brings people to a new country, I’m equally fascinated by their attitude to learning the local language.

From what I’ve seen, these can be grouped into a few categories:

  • the people who never bother, usually because “everyone speaks English”, or they don’t need it for their job so why make the effort?
  • the people who “try” but languages really aren’t their strong point…
  • the people who think they speak German because they can say, “bitte” and “danke”.
  • the people who get to a certain level and think that’s good enough.
Good enough
Good enough

Then you’ve got the people like me who, if it’s the last thing they do, will speak the language like a native, albeit, in my case anyway, with an endearing Irish accent…

I’m no expert on language learning – far from it – but I’ve got myself from zero to a level I’m reasonably happy with in the space of a year and a half. And boy, do I have a long way to go. Still, I figure I’m probably doing something at least half-right so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts will all of you poor souls in the same boat as I am. Obviously I’m using German as my focus but there’s no reason this shouldn’t work for any other language. Here goes…

  1. Pay attention. It’s not enough to be surrounded by the language every day. You’d be amazed by the number of people who seem to walk around wearing ear plugs and blinkers. You need to listen, to read, to analyse. That couple you’re eavesdropping on on the train… why did she say that sentence that way and not another way? And yes, I’m condoning eavesdropping as an acceptable language-learning aid. There’s no such thing as politeness when it comes to learning a language.
  2. Use everything as an opportunity – and I do mean everything. Take this, for example:
Snigger.
Snigger.

OK, so it’s a titter-inducing advertisement for a sex shop, but look more closely. Dildo King can teach you more than you think – and no, I don’t mean in the self-love department. OK, so sex would appear to be the same word in German – always useful to know. “Macht” comes from the verb “machen” (to make) and “schön” means beautiful. Take it further. “Macht” can also mean “power” or “might” when used as a noun, and how many expressions can you think of that have “schön” in them? What’s the comparative or superlative form? “King” probably isn’t a German word so what is “king” in German? Or “queen”? Thank you, Dildo King, for being such a fountain of educational knowledge…

3. Get input. Before you can start outputting, you need input. Listen to the radio, or just have it on in the background. If a film or TV programme is too much for you, watch a couple of ads or listen to a song. If reading a book is too challenging, read a newspaper or magazine article, a blog post, an ad. But do something. If you’re learning any of the major languages, there’s an embarrassment of riches online that you can utilise.

4. Ask questions. Lots of them. Will you drive your friends mad? Probably, but you can find new friends.

Me: If “ich bin raus” means I’m out, does “ich bin rein” mean I’m in?

Long-suffering friend: That would seem logical but NEIN! It’s better to say something like “Da bin ich dabei”.

Me: Alright, that makes zero sense but OK. German. Danke! 

Me: If you can say “damit” (with it), can you also say “darohne” (without it)?

Long-suffering friend: That would seem logical but NEIN! 

Me: Dammit. Alright, that makes zero sense but OK. German. Danke! 

And so on until everyone you know has been committed.

5. Start speaking. As soon as you’ve got a few basics down, it’s time to put them to use. If you find it too embarrassing speaking to people you know, find people you don’t know. Go into a bar (my personal favourite), order a large glass of something and strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Torture them for as long as they’re willing to bear and then move on to your next victim. Repeat until you can no longer form a coherent sentence in any language or your money runs out.

Prost, my unsuspecting conversation partner...
Prost, my unsuspecting conversation partner…

6. Find a way to learn that you enjoy. Formal language classes, group or individual, aren’t for everyone so find something that suits you. I consider myself really lucky to live in Berlin where there’s always something happening, be it German through art workshops, German through theatre games or various other German language meet-ups. A lot of these activities are run on a donation basis, which also means they’re cheaper than regular lessons. Cheap is good.

7. Have fun with it. Are you going to sound like an idiot for a long time? Yes. Should you care? Hell no. Have as much fun with the language as possible and keep trying until you succeed. I recently played “Taboo” with a group of students. “Divorce” was one of the words they had to describe. They’d got to a certain stage and the other team knew the word in German but didn’t know the English word. A lot of people would have given up at this point but not these guys.

T1: It’s kind of like “air-force” but not. Well, the second part but not the first.

T2: So, “force”…

T1: Yes! And the first part sounds like the princess who died.

T2: Di.

T1: Yes! OK, now put them together…

T2: Die-force! 

T1: JAAAAA!

Me: Well, “divorce” actually but close enough. 

Was there much merriment? Did they sound a bit silly? Did they make tenuous connections?

Yes to all of the above, but they also had a lot of fun and I don’t think they’ll ever forget that word, just as I’ll never forget that lesson.

Anyway, that’s about it for now. I’m sure I’ve forgotten to include loads of things but you get the gist. I’m off to be confused by German TV for a couple of hours.

Schönen Abend 😉

 

 

 

Job hunting in Germany

Little by little, I can feel myself becoming more German. This manifests itself in many different ways, but a few that spring to mind are:

1. I now rinse out empty jars. Some day, I might even bring them out to the correct bin.

Badly rinsed jar
Badly rinsed jar

2. I have been known to walk 2 to 3 kilometres out of my way to find an ATM machine in order to avoid paying the ridiculous charges other banks inflict upon the unsuspecting.

3. I say “kilometres” instead of “miles”.

4. I speak German more and more often.

5. I’ve had street beer, park beer and train beer. And I don’t even feel guilty about it any more.

6. I can open a beer bottle with a lighter in under 3 seconds. It took an English friend of mine two years to crack it; I did it on my first attempt. In Germany, bottle openers are for Sitzpinklers.

Anyway, the long and short of it is, I love Germany. I love Berlin. I love the people and the way of life and I want to stay here for a very long time – possibly forever. However, in order to do that, I need to find a job.

With teaching hours as scarce as Germans not wearing Jack Wolfskin, I’m currently job hunting. If I’m honest, I’d been getting tired of teaching English anyway. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy it, and I’ve met some lovely people, but the work itself isn’t that challenging any more. It’s a handy “in” to a country where you don’t speak the language, but I never imagined myself doing it forever. The lack of work right now is just the kick up the arse I needed to start looking for something else. And, by god, am I looking.

Every day, I trawl recruitment websites, looking for marketing, advertising, and especially, writing-related jobs. And there are quite a few out there. As Berlin is start-up city, a lot of them don’t even require German, as the working language is English. Of course, as an Irish person, I’m trailing behind most Europeans on the language front. Some ads say things like “Fluent English is a must. German would be an advantage. Knowledge of Spanish, French, Dutch, Japanese and Swahili also a bonus”. Umm. (Hangs head in shame and has a little cry.)

In addition, for every ten jobs, I’d say nine of them are tech-related. Technical writers, app developers, gaming enthusiasts, SEO, SAP, LINUX, SEM… half the time I can hardly understand the ads even though they’re written in English. I’m thinking of changing my name to “Linda O’Gradysaurus”.

I did, however, apply for one of these jobs – not because I thought I had a chance of getting it, but because they offered “outrageous randy benefits” and I wanted to see what those would entail. They rejected me – possibly because I pointed out in my email that “outrageous randy benefits” made them sound all kinds of dodgy.

Maybe something like this?
Maybe something like this?

If I had my time here over again, I would have started looking for something much sooner. The recruitment process takes an insanely long time. Most companies use sites like “Jobvite”, where you can track the progress of your application. Oddly, sitting there looking at it and clicking “refresh” doesn’t make things move any faster. Still, at least German companies are polite enough to actually contact you to let you know you’ve been rejected. This, unsurprisingly, has happened a number of times.

Still, it seems like my luck might finally be changing. Last week, I had a Skype interview and, on Monday, I’ve got an interview with another company. I would be ecstatic if I got to work for either of these companies so please, cross your fingers for me. (Or press your thumbs – it’s a German thing.)

Observations

On Wednesday, I have my first observed lesson in Germany. This is obviously taken a lot more seriously than it was in Latvia. In fact, I worked for one school in Riga for two years, and wasn’t observed once.

Of course, they tell you that it’s “routine” and designed to “support the development of the teacher”, but the fact that it could just as easily be used as ammunition to fire you is always top of your mind – or maybe that’s just me. (Gives self a kick and a lecture on being positive.)

I first received notification of my observation in mid-December in the form of a rather lengthy email. And, as with most things in Germany, there is a shitload lot of paperwork to be completed – both pre- and post-observation.

ARGH!
ARGH!

Oh, and to add insult to injury, the observation is at 8am. On my birthday.

As it happens, this lesson is the last lesson with that particular group – one of my favourites – so it will mainly be a review of what they should have learned. This meant that it was time to reach for The Notebook of “Huh?”.

When I’m teaching, I generally prefer to leave error correction until the end of the lesson. Instead of interrupting students all the time (and risk them clamming up), I just jot down some of the more common mistakes they make and correct them in the last 5-10 minutes of the lesson. This means that I now have a notebook full of common mistakes Germans make in English.

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The Notebook of “Huh?”
Even though this particular group is elementary level, a lot of these mistakes can be found pretty much across the board. So here they are, some of the top mistakes German students of English make:

1. It’s no secret that Germans like long words. Just today I came across this “little” gem in an insurance document – Altersvorsorgeverbesserungsgesetz. Often students will ask you what something is in English. I tell them it’s not a word in English, it’s a paragraph.

It seems that our puny little English words are not complicated enough for them though, so they’ll often add an extra syllable or two to make them more German-friendly – “organisator”, “conversating”,  “feministic” and “divorcement” are a few that spring to mind. Maybe it was being too feministic that led to the divorcement…

2. Unlike Latvian or Russian speakers, Germans have no problems with articles (a/an/the) in English. They have them in German – too bloody many of them in fact. However, like most non-native speakers, they still struggle with prepositions. You’ll hear things like:

“I was on a meeting” (at)

“At Sunday” (on)

“I drove at work” (to)

“I reacted on it” (to)

And so on/off/at/in/to/for/from.

3. Another one that gets most non-native speakers is those tricky conditional sentences, so I’ll try to give a few German-appropriate examples of correct usage.

Zero: If it’s a day ending in “day”, Germans drink beer. 

First: If I see Karlheinz, I’ll shake his hand. (Germans love shaking hands.)

Second: If I had a poo shelf, there wouldn’t be so much splash-back. 

Third: If we hadn’t eaten those sausages, we would have been very hungry. 

Mixed: If I hadn’t drunk that last Glühwein, I would feel much better now. 

4. Germans really like making literal translations. (Not that I can talk – hoch fünf anyone?) Hearing things like “I have not a car”, “Let’s meet us after the weekend”, “the mother of my wife”, “hand shoes” and “we see us next week” are pretty common.

I’m just waiting for the day that someone tells me they’re grinning like a honey cake horse…

5. Pronouncing every “s” like a “z” and “th” like an “s”, for example:

I sink I will zee you zoon.

Anyway, enough of Germans’ mistakes – for now. I’m off to try to scrub off Saturday night’s mistakes. Again. Yes, it seems that German clubs even stamp more efficiently than any other nation.

Two showers and counting...
Two showers and counting…

Sigh.

 

 

 

 

My Mannschaft

Don’t worry, I haven’t had a penis transplant. No, ‘Mannschaft’ is the (rather hilarious) German word for ‘team’. And, in my quest to become a fully-fledged German, supporting a football Mannschaft is an important step. Plus, I’m a big fan of any hobby that you can do with a beer or a whiskey in your hand.

Choosing a team was relatively easy – coming from a country that loses at virtually everything, this time round, I was going to pick a winner, and that meant Bayern Munich.

OK, they're not Bayern Munich but hey, hot Germans with their shirts off... why not?
OK, they’re not Bayern Munich but hey, hot Germans with their shirts off… why not?

This would prove to be an unpopular choice at the Offside Bar a few weeks ago. Bayern were playing Dortmund and it was standing room only, with everyone in the bar supporting Dortmund. Oh well, now I’d get to combine being annoying with beer, whiskey and football – perfect.

When one (bad) German stood up to leave, I shot into his seat and found myself at a table with several jovial German men. Dortmund were winning 1-0 for most of the match so I decided to spice things up a little.

Me: I bet you a whiskey that Munich win 2-1.

Knut: No way! 

Me: Yes way. 

Knut: Ha, OK, I’ll take that bet. 

And then Munich scored twice and I got a very nice whiskey out of it. Football is fun.

A few days later I was chatting to my English friend.

Me: I really want to go to a football match. 

Nigel: I have a season ticket for Union Berlin. 

Me: Cool! Maybe I’ll come along some time. 

Nigel: I’m going to a match on Saturday – Union are playing 1860 Munich.

Me: Count me in!

So, I bought a ticket and we hopped on the train to Köpenick. As you have to walk through a forest to get to the stadium, we decided to get a beer for the journey. My first street beer – how German am I?

We joined the queue at the security area, which is where I made the unfortunate discovery that they don’t let men frisk women. Helga Hammer-Hands gave me a rather brutal seeing to – she touched places my most intimate man friends have seldom gone. But then we were in.

20141122_130116[2]

The atmosphere was electric and the fans were über friendly. We got chatting to loads of people, including two Japanese guys who didn’t really seem to know what was going on most of the time. Luckily, the Union chant is written on the stands, so I was able to join in immediately. ‘Unsere Liebe. Unsere Mannschaft…’ It sounded great roared in an Irish accent.

Me: I bet you a whiskey that Union don’t score before half-time. 

Nigel: I’ll take that bet. 

One more whiskey for me. Clearly I am excellent at this football stuff. In the end, we lost 4-1 but it was a fantastic day out. I think I’ll stick with Munich Mannschaften in future though – there’s less chance of being schafted.

Germanification

I feel like my inner German is growing stronger by the day. I’ve even started glaring at people who jaywalk – not because I disapprove, but because it seems like rather a German thing to do.

The process is being accelerated by the fact that I live with two German girls, and I believe that their German influence over me is stronger than my Irish influence over them. Although, in the beginning, I thought that the Irish might win out.

Hildeberta: Last night I had a night that you would be proud of. 

Me: I assume that something terribly sophisticated happened. 

Hildeberta: HA! NO! (A classic example of that German delusion-crushing directness you’ve probably heard about.) No, no, I ended up drinking with a bunch of randoms in some gay bar, then somehow found myself in an African bar, then finished the night sitting in the road eating pizza with a homeless guy. 

Me: Hmm. Yeah, that does sound more like something I would do…

However, despite this little Irish blip, it is, most definitely, a German apartment. This is mainly evidenced in the fact that it is spotless – apart from my room, obviously.

The cleanest bathroom in the world
The cleanest bathroom in the world

The reason for this is that Germans never stop cleaning. Even when something is clean, they’ll clean over the clean – just for good measure. When it comes to O’Grady vs Germ, I adopt a very ‘live and let live’ attitude – it’s worked for me so far. When it comes to German vs Germ… well, let’s just say you feel sorry for any germ that has the audacity to lurk on German soil.

The most used hoover in the world
The most used hoover in the world – and Elvis

I think that all of this might, one day, have the effect of turning me into a good decent semi-decent Hausfrau. The other day, I actually hoovered – spontaneously. However, I feel that my progress may not be speedy enough for ze Germans.

Last week, I was über proud of myself when I finished a carton of milk and remembered to put it into the “cardboard” bin. I swaggered off somewhere and came back to find Hildegard standing in the kitchen holding the offending item. I’d messed up in two ways –

1. I hadn’t folded the milk carton to the size of a 10 cent coin.

2. I’d put it into the “cardboard” bin, when it was lined with plastic and probably still contained some drops of milk. (Actually, I knew it did.)

Hildegard: I know! It’s such a German thing! 

Me: Yeah… haha. 

Although she was laughing, there was German steel in there at the same time. I then got my first lesson in Mülltrennung (rubbish separation), the one thing every foreigner dreads when they move to Germany.

20141104_122954[1]

20141103_150751[1]

Guess which one is mine…

Still, I console myself with the fact that while my German Hausfrau-ness is a work in progress, my German beer-drinking abilities are second to none. Well, apart from the Germans – natürlich.

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…