This morning, I had an (of course) online lesson with a group of students who work at a pan-European company. The Spanish and the Italians didn’t show up – 8 a.m. isn’t exactly my finest hour either so I can’t say I really blame them – so I was faced with eight Germans, one Dutch guy and a French girl. It’s a start-up so they all look like foetuses and have Very Important Sounding Management Titles in teams that, to my 44-year-old ears, have no business existing. Champions Team. Onboarding Manager. Conceptionist… No, just no.
Anyway, we’d been studying the present simple and present continuous for the last few weeks so I devised (i.e. stole from a website) a genius idea to use the tenses in a speaking exercise. I suppose most of you are wearily familiar with Zoom by now but, for those of you who aren’t, there is a chat function where you can send messages to individual participants. So, the idea was that I would send a student a word – it could be a person, an object or a verb – and they would have to describe it to the others who had to try to guess the word.
To demonstrate, I typed “Ed Sheeran” on the whiteboard and asked how they would describe him.
Ute: Ed Sheeran is…
Me: Yeah Ute, it kind of defeats the purpose if the person’s name is the first thing you say. Try again.
Ute: Oh, right. Erm, he’s a singer. He’s got red hair.
Me: Good enough. I think there’s only one. So, you all get the idea?
All: Silence and staring which you assume means “yes” in a Zoom meeting.
After one of the German guys described a “sneeze” as “like an explosion in your nose”, I thought my day couldn’t get any better but that’s the great thing about this job – people can always surprise you.
I sent “Boris Johnson” to one of the German girls.
“I don’t know who that is.”
I mean, really, I think the world would be a better place if none of us had ever heard of Boris Johnson but how was this even possible?
I sent it to another German and asked her to describe him. I’ll admit that my high hopes of witty, political commentary (or just bitchy comments about his hair and fondness for suitcases of booze) were starting to fall a bit flat at this point.
Lydia: Erm, he has blonde hair. He’s the Premier of England. (I decided this was close enough.)
Silence. Then the French girl unmuted herself to save the day.
Me: Right. Three things: She’s a Chancellor, well, now ex-Chancellor. Of Germany. And, as far as I’m aware, she does not identify as “he”.
With most of Germany being on holiday, my work schedule is pretty light at the moment. As a result, I’m spending much more time than I should scrolling through my Facebook feed. Still, every now and then, a little gem pops up that makes a bored blogger’s heart skip a beat. In this case, it was a post by Pulse of Europe called Speed-date a European.
Having read that it wasn’t a romantic thing, and assuming that there would be no touching involved – I’m still scarred from the Cuddle Party – I decided to ask my Irish friend, Gay, along for the ride.
Gay: What is it?
Me: I have no idea.
Gay: It sounds a bit mad. In.
Everybody needs a friend like this.
With the event kicking off at 2 p.m., we decided to meet at 1 for a confidence-boosting glass of wine. Well, come on, we are Irish…
Despite being billed as a “meetup with a twist, a fun way for Europeans from various countries to meet, ask questions, fight bias and smash boundaries”, we still didn’t really know what to expect. But, brave souls that we are, we sat down on the steps of the Konzerthaus, making our Popos comfortable on “I speed-dated a European” cushions.
If the first surprise was how many people were there, the second was the average age. In my cynical way, I had anticipated the place being overrun with irritating hipsters in their 20s, but no, it was pretty much a sea of grey hair. I actually felt young.
In light of recent events – Brexit (BOOO!), Trump (BOOOOOOOOOOO!) and Marine le Pen (phew!) – it seemed like the perfect time to get people from different cultures together. The atmosphere was jolly, people waved various flags around and the organisers took to the stage. The opening, by a German girl and a French man, in German and English, was a little Eurovision-y for my taste but that’s why bringing a friend to these things is always a bonus. Eye-rolling and chuckling done with, we settled in for an intro to what Pulse of Europe is about and how the event would work.
Ms Eurovision: By now, you’ll all have red or blue sheets of paper.
Gay and I exchanged confused glances and looked around to see that everyone else had, in fact, got red or blue sheets of paper. He hastily got up and went to remedy the situation. Red sheets were for non-Berliners and blue were for Berliners. The idea was that you had to talk to someone with the opposite colour for five minutes, with three switches taking place during the hour. The words to Ode to Joy were printed on the sheets (in German) but I didn’t give that much thought at the time.
Mr and Ms Eurovision called out various “get the conversation going” questions for each round, but I’ve never needed much help in talking the ear off someone so they were largely ignored. My first victim was a German lady in her sixties and we chatted away happily for the first five minutes. The gong rang and we were supposed to move but, well, sitting… so we chatted away for the next five minutes, too. I could now add “speed-dating a sexagenarian” to my ever-growing list of odd things I’ve done in Berlin.
For the third round, a German man in his sixties sat on the other side of me – next victim ensnared. After a little political stuff from the stage, I spend round four in a sexagenarian threesome. The “prompt question” this time round was “what are your cliches about my country?” I’ve always thought that Ireland was pretty easy to stereotype so I was a bit surprised when my new man date came out with “sheep”.
Thoralf: Yep, sheep.
Me: Anything else?
Me: Wow. OK.
Frauke: Wait, it’s green.
Frauke: Oh, oh, RED HAIR!
Thoralf: (looking at me a bit suspiciously) You don’t look very Irish.
Me: Nope, I guess I was just born lucky.
Thoralf: So, what are your cliches about the Germans?
Me: Socks and sandals, putting beach towels on sun loungers on their way home from the pub, beer, sausage, Lederhosen…
Thoralf and Frauke: THAT’S NOT US! THAT’S THE BAVARIANS!
Me: Yes, yes, I know. (I glanced down at my sheet of paper) Um, do we have to sing at the end of this?
Thoralf: Oh yes, it’s wonderful.
Me: It might not be so wonderful for you with me singing in your ear but OK.
And so we did. With Bernd playing Beethoven on a banjo, hundreds of voices filled Gendarmenmarkt square as Beethoven probably spun in his grave. It was great.
All that was left to do was for everyone to hold hands and dance around the square but with my “no touch” policy still firmly in place, this was my cue to leave.
Taking our free cushions with us, Gay and I made good our escape. Still, I have to say, it was a lot of fun and a very well-organised afternoon. Pulse of Europe runs similar events in cities all over Europe on the first Sunday of every month so if you fancy some talking, singing and maybe even a little dance, I suggest you check them out.
Now, once more for Europe, all together please, with feeling:
It all started one evening when I was working hard arsing around on Facebook, and Veronica from The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife popped up for a chat. We engaged in some very important discussions about life, love and the universe – or maybe I talked about my cup of tea – and then she told me about an idea that she and Pete, of Black Sheep fame, had come up with.
The idea was dangerously simple: invite funny expat bloggers from all over Europe to contribute to a comedy anthology, publish it on Amazon in time for Christmas and donate the proceeds to charity. They’d had the idea around nine months ago, but hadn’t really got around to doing anything about it.
While Irish Linda was lazily formulating the thought, “Ah sure, it’s grand. Eight months is no time at all, at all…”, German Linda efficiently stomped her and went into military mode. Within a day, we’d compiled a list of the bloggers we wanted to take part, emailed them to ask if they wanted to contribute, I appointed myself editor, and asked a friend to design the cover. Veronica would take on marketing the book and formatting it for Amazon. (Thankfully, as I am clueless about that stuff.)
“Uprooted and Undiluted” was born. I also gained the lovely title of “Linda the Whip”. (Thanks for that, Pete.)
Luckily, everyone else was just as taken with the idea as I was and, in no time at all, the blog posts started rolling in. We decided to divide it into topics, rather than simply by blogger, so we’d cover things like daily life, sexy time, man flu, battling red tape, and problems with learning the local language. I compiled all of the posts into one monster document and got down to it. Needless to say, it was a lot more work than I had initially thought; I finished editing it yesterday and my right hand now resembles a claw. The ‘N’ has also worn off my keyboard although that could be more a side effect of typing “NEIN” all the time.
We have bloggers covering Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, England, Croatia, Sweden, France and, of course, I’ll be contributing my hilarious antics from both Latvia and Germany. You can find the full list of writers on my new page and, I have to say, they really are a funny bunch – editing the book was incredibly difficult as I just couldn’t stop laughing.
As I mentioned, the proceeds of the book will go to charity. Now you’d think it would be pretty easy to give money away, right? NEIN (sorry, N). We contacted a couple of major international charities to ask if we could use their logo and donate the money to them. The amount of hoop-jumping and bureaucracy they wanted us to go through would make even a German’s head spin. One actually wanted us to sign a contract guaranteeing a minimum annual donation… Um, what? Can’t we just give you the money?
In the end, Veronica came to the rescue by emailing an old friend who’d set up a charity called Hands Together that builds schools in Nepal. They were absolutely thrilled to be part of the project and we are delighted to be donating the money to such a worthy cause. They’ve offered to help us market the book in any way they can, and the Chairperson, none other than the Absolutely Fabulous Joanna Lumley, is even going to write a foreword for us.
With the editing done, the cover a day or two from completion, and the charity on board, it’s all starting to feel very real. I have no problem admitting that I am stupidly excited about it all. I think the book is fantastic and I hope that everyone immediately rushes out and buys a copy. Or, rather, sits comfortably in their armchair and clicks a couple of times. (Technology, eh?)
You’d better be quick though, before Mammy O’Grady buys them all.
The Facebook page can be found here – #uprootedandundiluted. I think. I still don’t really understand what hashtags do…
This post was updated October 15. The editorial team is re-visiting its connection with the aforementioned charity as the book might be too ‘undiluted’ for their taste… More to follow in a later post.
“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