Eight Hungarian men have moved into my apartment block. Thankfully, the only hot one moved into the apartment opposite mine. He has a propensity for walking around half-naked which I find pleasing. We have mildly flirtatious conversations that I can barely understand as he only speaks Hungariman. They don’t seem to go to bars but, instead, enjoy knacker-drinking on the roof of the parking garage which is just below my balcony. I feel like a bit like Juliet some nights, if Juliet had had eight Hungarian Romeos, that is.
On one such occasion, they offered me some Hungarian moonshine. (If you want to know what that tastes like, go and swig some petrol.) We all ended up at a party in one of their flats and I immediately impressed with my one word of Hungarian – “egészségedre!” Where I could have picked up the word for “cheers!” in Hungarian (and around 15 other languages) is a mystery…
Anyway, on Sunday, I decided that a major blitz of my flat was necessary. I had amassed enough paper over the last year and a half to start my own recycling plant. Five sacks of paper and general rubbish (separated, of course) sat in the hall and I proceeded to lug them down to the bins one by one. On my fourth trip, I bumped into the Hungarian who acts as an interpreter for the rest of them. He looks a bit like Chris Evans, unfortunately not the hot Hollywood one.
He also likes wearing socks and sandals.
He kindly unlocked the front door for me and I trudged back upstairs. I was hoping he’d have finished his cigarette by the time I went back down with bag number five but no, he was still there.
András: Wow, so much rubbish.
Me: Ja, heute ist Putztag.
Luckily, he hadn’t seen me schlepping down with the first three bags. He opened the door for me again and then paused on the steps.
András: Em, Linda, can I ask you something?
Me: Sure, (whatever your name is).
András: I’m looking for someone to practise my German with and I was wondering if you’d be interested.
Me: I’m not sure I’m the right person for that job. I’m pretty sure your German is better than mine. (Educating someone on the art of the Sitzpinkel does not make you an expert on the German language; it merely means that you have a rather unhealthy fascination with the peeing habits of German men and like talking about it when you’ve been drinking Hungarian moonshine.)
András: (peering at me intensely through his black-rimmed glasses) I’d like to try though. I can cook dinner for us. Monday?
Me: Erm, no, I can’t tomorrow. I have a pub quiz.
Me: Erm, erm… Maybe. I have a late lesson though so… we’ll see. Maybe. Byeeeeeee!
On Tuesday, I arrived home, put on my slippers, spooned some beans into a saucepan and started up my laptop. I hadn’t even had time to enter the password when there was a ring at the bell. Scheiße.
Me: Oh. Hi.
András: Are you coming?
Me: Well, I’m really tired and I’ve just got in the door. (He lives directly under me so he had obviously heard me coming home.) Would you mind if we left it for another night?
His face fell. More.
András: But I’ve already cooked.
András: It’s 20 minutes out of your life and I’ve already prepared everything.
Me: (Sigh.) OK, then.
I then flopped around the flat, sighing loudly, sulkily taking off my slippers again and angrily bunging my poor beans into the fridge. I gave the bottle of wine in there a last wistful glance and walked wearily downstairs.
When I stepped into the living room, I was comforted to see that András had his laptop on and was currently browsing a website full of terrifying-looking knives.
Me: Em, what’s that?
András: Oh, it’s a hobby of mine. I make knives.
Me: … Cool?
He then opened a cupboard and proceeded to show me his collection. Just in case I wasn’t convinced by the glinting blades, he then shaved a chunk of hair off his arm to demonstrate how sharp they were. Tufts of ginger hair floated lazily to the floor.
Me: (Hmm, I wonder if I should throw myself through the window or try to make an attempt for the door…) Um, wow, impressive. Oh, is that a photo of your family?
Immediate crisis averted, we sat down to eat. To be fair, he had gone to quite a bit of effort. He’d even bought wine. I tucked into the goulash while making what I felt were appropriately appreciative noises. We chatted a bit about his family in Hungary, his work here and the joys of learning German. He pulled out the book he was using. It was quite possibly the most boring book I’d ever seen.
András: I’m using this book.
Me: (Say something positive, say something positive) Bah hahaha! That’s probably the worst book I’ve ever seen! It’s just table after table of conjugated verbs! It’s so dry!
András: (Peering at me over his goulash) You think your books are better than my books?
Me: (Say no, say no) Yes, for sure. They have pictures and dialogues and useful everyday German. I can lend you a couple if you like?
I polished off my goulash and got ready to make good my escape.
András: I’ll get the main course.
He set down a plate of grilled chicken and a pot of vegetables. I refilled my glass.
Me: Mmm, this is really good, thanks.
András: You know, I don’t want to be… wait, I don’t know the word.
He started typing the Hungarian word into the translator app on his phone. The German word appeared letter by letter:
Me: (Gulp) Violent? You don’t want to be violent?
Me: And are you?
András: I don’t want to be. But when you said you didn’t want to come tonight after I’d prepared everything…
At that moment, I knew exactly how Julia Roberts had felt in “Sleeping with the Enemy”. Door it was.
Me: Well, that was delicious but I really must be going now. Thank you for dinner!
András: Next Tuesday?
I scarpered back upstairs and gave Manfredas the abridged version over Messenger.
Manfredas: Double lock your door.
Manfredas: And your balcony door.
Me: Also done. I mean, he has a wife and kids, but then, so did Fred West.
The real tragedy of the story is that I never did get around to eating the beans.
Me: I think Green Day are coming this year. I’d love to see them live.
Manfredas: I’d be up for that. When are they coming?
Me: Not sure. Hold on, I’ll check… Aw crap, they’re coming on Thursday! There’s no way I can make that.
Manfredas: (Sad face)
Me: Oh well. Guess I’ll just have to wait until the next time they’re in town. (Sigh)
The next morning, I woke up to a Facebook message:
Manfredas: Do you fancy going to see Green Day in Paris?
Me: ??? Mais oui, bien sûr!
Within the next couple of hours, flights were booked, concert tickets were reserved and an AirBnB apartment in the centre of Paris was found. German efficiency. Stupidly early on the 3rd of February, we were off!
We got to Orly Airport and made our way outside to wait for the Orly Bus to the city. The first one was too full to get on, with passengers’ faces squished against the windows. We managed to squeeze onto the next one, where we stood like sardines the whole way into the city. There was no chance to validate our tickets so it would be a free journey back. Irish rule-shirking.
We navigated the Métro easily and were soon standing in front of our apartment building on a postcard-perfect, cobbled street in Saint-Michel.
We had been sent a list of quite detailed instructions by the owner of the apartment, Julien. Unfortunately, he had failed to include the correct code for the front door. Luckily, another resident was leaving just as we were punching in the wrong code for the fifth time so we finally managed to get in.
After that u have to cross the yard : dont climb the first stairs but the last. The flat is at the 4th floor (without elevator) and it’s the door in front of the stairs, the last possible.
The door is sometimes a bit hard to open. The lock to open is the lower one. The tip to do it easily is to push the key until the end and to take it back a little. Then turn a quarter round unclockwise and it’s done ;).
I wisely let Manfredas grapple with that.
Please don’t throw anything anormal in the toilets, it’s getting blocked really easily. There is a bin under the bathroom sink.
Poor Manfredas would refuse to poo in the loo for the whole of our time there. He figured, using flawless German logic, that a lady poo would probably be OK but a manly poo might be too much for the delicate French plumbing. It was actually quite hilarious having a German in a French apartment; if he’d had his tool kit, I think he would have spent most of the weekend straightening the crooked shelves and replumbing the entire apartment.
French plumbing meets German disapproval
Thankfully he didn’t and it didn’t seem like Julien possessed anything remotely practical so we were able to leave the apartment and start exploring. The narrow, winding streets around the apartment were just so pretty and so French that I may have had a tiny orgasm. We certainly wouldn’t go hungry or thirsty as practically every second building was a bar, restaurant or café. The chances of going broke were far higher.
We managed to find a place that wouldn’t require taking out a loan and enjoyed our first croque monsieur and bottle of wine in Paris. We strolled around for a while, scoped out where the bus to the concert venue went from, and I exclaimed “Sacré bleu!” and “Oh là là” sporadically and for no apparent reason.
After a little rest (and some wine) in the apartment, we made our way to the bus stop. Upon overhearing our conversation on the bus, a lively debate sprang up among the locals about which stop we should get off at. Yeah, the French are soooo unfriendly…
We got off, got half-heartedly frisked on the way in, and made our way to our seats. Manfredas went and got us a couple of beers and then Green Day were on.
Having been a fan for quite a long time, my expectations were high. Green Day surpassed every one of them – they absolutely rocked the house. There was a lot of audience participation and one girl even got to keep the guitar that she played on stage. Manfredas had the added bonus of listening to me roaring along with the band for over two hours. Lucky devil.
We stumbled out of the stadium on a total high, jabbering on about how amazing it had been and how cool it was that we were actually in Paris and had seen Green Day. I wondered if I should hang around and wait for Billie Joe to come out so I could creepily stalk him but decided that a celebratory glass of wine was more important.
Coming across as a complete “Basket Case” probably wouldn’t have endeared me to him much anyway.
I woke up the next morning to find Manfredas dancing around the room with a slice of raisin bread the size of my suitcase in his hand. It seemed it was market day. (And yes, you read that correctly – I slept through him showering, leaving, going for a coffee and exploring the market. This is thanks to a combination of German-early-risingitis and excellent earplugs.)
I hopped (sort of) out of bed, pulled on my slippers (that Manfredas had packed for me) and put on the kettle to make a cup of tea (with one of the tea bags he’d also packed). German men just keep on giving…
Manfredas: I texted the owner for the wifi code.
Me: What did she say?
Manfredas: (showing me his phone) Sur le meuble dehors dans le couloir ou se trouve les livres!!!
Me: She forgot an accent. “Où” is where; “ou” is or. And three exclamation marks is excessive.
Yes, I’m even a grammar nazi in languages I barely speak. We located the code, which was so long and complicated that even a German would be impressed. I simply gave up. Instead, I made my way to our sun-dappled petit jardin with my tea and hunk of bread.
We discussed our plan for the day which was basically no plan at all. Perfect. After surviving the bathroom, we made our way down the main street to the market. They’d closed the street to traffic because of it – it seems that being able to buy cheese, meat and wine is far more important than being able to get from A to B in these parts. Gotta love the French for that.
A little kid came running up to us with a basket of fresh bread which we nibbled on as we strolled around the gorgeous streets.
Mountain in the background, Latvian in the foreground
Really, with a name like that, how could you not get into wine?
As we walked, I thanked my lucky stars that it hadn’t been one of these that had shat on me the night before…
After a couple of hours of meandering, and with the sky starting to look a bit threatening, we stopped off for a bite to eat and the first (but certainly not the last) glass of wine of the day.
The heavens opened just after we sat down and, around half an hour later, we got to see a man drenched as the awning collapsed under the weight of the water. It was time for another carafe of wine to celebrate that it hadn’t been us.
Once the sun came out again, we made our way to the tourist information office where I picked up enough leaflets to open my own office. We also learned about the Petit Train Touristique and, as luck would have it, it was leaving in around ten minutes. We strolled over to the pretty park at the edge of town, paid our fares and got on.
The tour would take us through the steep, winding streets of the town, out into the rolling hills and vineyards beyond, through the town of Hunawihr, and give us a panoramic view of the three castles that dominate the landscape. All in just 50 minutes. Who could ask for more?
There was an audio guide in eight different languages so we popped on our headsets and off we bumped. It was so much fun taking up the entire street and just praying that we wouldn’t meet anything coming the other way. Pedestrians scattered and I gleefully gave them the royal wave as we passed. The scenery in this part of the world is just breath-taking.
Going round the bend
Not even the English twat doing the commentary and pronouncing “Riesling” as “Rise-ling” could dampen my spirits. Back in town, I discovered that the French take shit just as seriously as the Germans do.
Having recovered myself somewhat, we decided that it was time for a little dégustation. We headed for one of the many options dotting the main street.
We tried the Rise-ling, which was lovely, but the Pinot Blanc was the clear winner for both of us. Obviously, they do sort of expect you to buy something at these places so we picked up a bottle for a little nap-cap. It had been an exhausting day, after all…
By the time we were ready to hit the town again, the town had all but shut down. A couple of places we tried had already closed their kitchens – at 9pm. We persevered and finally found somewhere. The evening was a bit chilly so I had a hearty, traditional beef stew. (It did not photograph well.)
After realising we were the only two people left, we paid up and let the wait staff go home to bed. Even though Ribeauvillé is far enough removed from Berlin so as to appear to be on another planet, old habits die hard. Going home at 10.30 on a Saturday night? NEIN!
Thankfully, we found the rather German-sounding Bar Streng up a side street. After a couple of minutes, I got chatting to Caroline – part-time waitress, part-time vineyard worker.
Moi: Oh my god! That would be my dream job!
Caro: Well, I start at 6am on Monday – you’re more than welcome to come along.
Moi: Maybe another time…
I’m probably far better at drinking wine than I would be at making it – but I guess we’ll never know for sure.
I am currently (or finally if you ask him) dating a German man. While it’s true that Germans aren’t known the world over for their romantic side, I feel that this is something that should be rectified.
A German man, or at least this German man, shows you in a thousand different ways how much you mean to him – and he does it in a way that doesn’t make me want to vomit.
These little Germantic gestures include things like:
getting up at crackofdawn o’clock to drive me halfway across the city to a morning lesson when I’m running late
having a thermos of black tea with milk waiting in the car to soothe the savage beast
doing the midnight run to the petrol station when we run out of wine
having a word with a security guard at a concert to see if I could stand over by the exit so that I might see something other than the backs of tall Germans’ heads – it actually worked
buying me little gifts, not because it’s a special occasion but simply because he thinks I’ll get a kick out of them
He also bought me the rather entertaining Travel Pussy, which shows how well he knows me…
He listens to my bizarre questions about his mother tongue and claims to find them “endearing”
Anyway, I could go on but that’s probably enough for now. The point is, he does so much for me that when he injured his leg playing football, I felt that this was my chance to do something for him so I offered to move in and play nurse for a week or so.
Regular readers will know that I’m hardly the most tender soul on the planet but well, what was the worst that could happen? My mother told me to wish Manfredas luck in between disbelieving snorts of laughter, and I told his next-door neighbour to call 112 if she heard screaming coming from the apartment. We were all set.
The second I moved in, I felt at home. This was partly to do with the fact that he’d previously bought me slippers that said “Home” on them. I quickly unpacked my bits and bobs and put them away in the drawers and spaces that he’d cleared for me. If he was horrified by the lack of neatness, he didn’t say anything.
We had decided from the get-go that we would speak more German. Ostensibly, this was to improve my fluency but I think he was secretly hoping for the entertainment value. Naturally, I didn’t disappoint.
Me: I just need to brush my hair.
Manfredas: Ha ha ha ha!
Me: What? What did I say?
Manfredas: Bah hahahaha!
Me: Oh wait. I know. Breast, right? I said that I need to breast my hair…
(Bürsten – to brush, Brüste – breasts)
Me: What’s “to score” in German?
Me: But that’s “to shoot”.
Manfredas: It’s the same in German.
Me: But isn’t there another word for “to score”?
Me: And “Ziel” means “goal”, right?
Me: So… in German, you goal it in the goal?
Me: GOAL IT! GOAL IT IN THE GOAL! Ha ha haha! Anyway, es ist nicht vorbei bis die dicke Frau singt… (it ain’t over til the fat lady sings)
Manfredas: NEIN! That doesn’t work in German.
Me: Oh well. It was worth a goal I guess…
Amazingly, he didn’t kick me out and, as the days progressed, we slipped into a nice routine. I’d go out to work, popping back home whenever I could, and picking up any supplies we needed along the way.
Every morning, I’d get out of the shower to find that he’d laid out everything I’d need to make breakfast, including a fresh pot of tea.
Every evening, I’d come home to find my washing done and a delicious meal underway. Pasta bake, pork tenderloin, roast chicken, burgers barbequed on the balcony… I started to wonder who was taking care of whom. Still, I wasn’t complaining.
We’d spend most evenings out on the balcony, chatting, drinking wine and making up stories about the neighbours. I’m convinced one guy, who Manfredas dubs “The Constant Gardener”, is actually out there to be closer to the all the bodies he’s got buried under the lawn (but that’s just me).
Regrettably, Manfredas’s leg got a little better every day so, after 9 days, I moved back to my own place. Yup, it’s back to toasted sandwiches and beans on toast for me. I’m not sure I was any better as a nurse than I am in the kitchen, but if it’s true that laughter is the best medicine, then maybe I helped a little after all.
I had been told before visiting Vienna that the Viennese were a tad rude and unfriendly. However, having lived in the Land of the Po-Faced for four years, I figured I could hold my own on that front. So, following a last-minute dash to buy sandwich bags, I was on my way to meet Manfredas to get the train to the airport.
After an easy 50-minute flight (or just enough time to drink one tiny, over-priced bottle of wine), we landed in Vienna. The great thing about travelling with a German is that they are, well, German. A guide book had been procured, maps acquired, travel itineraries to and from the hotel worked out, and 72-hour public transport tickets purchased. This meant that, once I’d recovered from a fit of hysterics at how much the voice in the lift sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger, we were already on the most direct route to the hotel.
We checked into the Hotel Mercure, where Manfredas surprised me once again by producing some tea bags he’d brought with him – just in case they didn’t provide them at the hotel. Germans…
At this point, we were pretty hungry so we decided to head out into the night to see what Vienna had to offer. Luckily for us, the hotel was right opposite the Naschmarkt, a huge area with all kinds of international cuisine, but I only had one thing on my mind.
While listening to the “THUMP, THUMP, THUMP” from the kitchen of the chef beating more meat into submission, we savoured our Schnitzels, sampled the local wine and, by the time we were finished, the Naschmarkt was shutting down for the night. When plans fail, Linda’s “bar-dar” comes into play and beep, beep, beep, sure enough, within around three minutes, I’d located a likely spot for a nightcap.
The bartender was as overjoyed to see us as we were to find an open bar so it was a win-win from the off.
We were just sitting down to enjoy our (probably) last glass of the evening when we were joined by Helmut. At first, we were happy that a local wanted to speak to us, then we realised he was possibly on day release from the local asylum. To say he was hammered would be an understatement but there was something about his mother dying in a car accident, his grandfather being a famous race car driver, him being in an orphanage, umm, umm, maybe a daughter somewhere, the secret service were looking for him but couldn’t find him… And then he cried. And then he laughed. Then he held onto Manfredas for a very long time. And then we left.
Night one down.
Having checked the weather forecast (of course), we knew that Friday was going to be the best day weather-wise so we were up and about early(ish) to make the most of it. After a quick breakfast at the Naschmarkt, we started walking toward the Museum Quarter.
One of the first things you’ll notice in Vienna are the amazingly cute traffic lights. They were part of an initiative by the city’s PR team, after Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision, to put LGBT issues on the agenda. From some of the reading I’ve done, it sounds like the country still has a long way to go, but I guess every little helps.
Once I’d been dragged away from the traffic lights, it was on to see Vienna proper.
It is impossible to put into words just how beautiful this city is. I think I said “WOW” more in the space of a couple of hours than I ever have before in my life. A few photos don’t even begin to do it justice but hopefully you’ll get the general idea.
It is stunning.
After being wowed out by the Museumsquartier, it was forward to Stephansplatz, home to the imposing (and too big to take a decent photo of) Stephansdom.
Dizzy from the majesty of it all, Manfredas suggested a time-out at Do&Co. You can buy the most expensive döner kebab in all of Vienna here but, as €26 would pretty much cover my weekly shop in Berlin, I decided to settle for just a drink. Knowing I’d be laughed out of my local in Berlin for ordering a Spritzer, I snorted a little when Manfredas said that was the Viennese drink of choice, but hey, when in Vienna.
Surprisingly refreshed by the girly drink Spritzer, I was ready for more. Having left the guide book in the German’s capable hands, because:
German + Guide Book = No-Brainer
I was rather surprised when we emerged from the U-Bahn here:
Seemingly, the Prater is a must because of the funfair and giant ferris wheel but, after the splendour of the morning, it felt more like a jarring eyesore.
It does run alongside quite a nice park, but all the shrieking in the background made it less than relaxing for a stroll.
We decided to meander back into the city along the canal, which was a much better idea.
Ahhh, that’s better
And, of course, it’s when you walk a city that you find all of the unexpected things it has to offer. It turns out that, on a sunny day, half of Vienna heads to the beach or, to be more precise, the City Beach. Young and old alike (some disturbingly topless) were sprawled along the bank of the canal, in deckchairs, on the ground, or pretty much anywhere else they could find a space.
So naturally, we just had to join them for a Spritzer before deciding how to spend our second evening…
Fire and booze are the backbone of any German celebration. Christmas? Fire and booze! New Year’s? Fire and booze! Easter? Fire and booze! I’m not complaining, mind. Most things are more fun with some fire and booze added. In fact, maybe we should start an “Every Day that Ends in Day” fire and booze tradition.
During the week, I was telling one of my students about my first Easter Fire (and booze) experience. The conversation moved from there to fire in general and then on to smoke alarms and fire drills. Yes, a lot of my conversations are rambling.
Germans are nothing if not safety-conscious so it didn’t surprise me to hear that he had a plethora of smoke alarms in his house, all interconnected so that if one goes off, they all go off. However, you can have all the nifty technology in the world but people are, unfortunately, still people.
One night, when all of the smoke alarms went off, he watched as his wife and two young daughters ran around like headless chickens, unsure of where to go or what to do.
As it turned out, there was no fire and everyone was fine but still, this simply would not do. NEIN!
Luckily, as a German, a plan is never far away. All the better if that plan involves scaring the bejesus out of your loved ones – in a fun and educational way, naturally. I like to think that he started formulating his cunning plan it as he stood there in his manly German Hausschuhe, though I can’t be sure.
After drilling a fire escape plan into his hapless female family members, he went out and bought some dry ice. He put it in bowls in various strategic locations around the house and added hot water to it. Then he set off the smoke alarms. His newly-educated wife and daughters had to find a way out, avoiding the “smoke” that was now billowing around their home.
Once they made it outside, they encountered a fire raging in the garden. With the help of teamwork (and a garden hose), they managed to put out the fire. Fortunately for them – God knows what kind of a plan B he would have come up with.
In keeping with the German love of paper, each of them received a certificate, and a medal, as proof of their now bad-ass fire-escaping abilities.
I think my dad, a habitual smoke alarm-checker, would be rather impressed by this approach to family safety. If he reads this post, I predict some dry ice in Mammy O’Grady’s not-too-distant future…
I just hope she wins the medal. I’ll be rooting for you, Mammy O’Grady!
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain