Tag Archives: Expat

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

I’ve recently started teaching a rather interesting man. He’s working in Berlin as a security guard at the moment, where, I gather he’s been living all his life. But, he has a dream, and that is to move to Norway and live and work there. In a bid to make this a reality, he’s now studying English and Norwegian and doing a computer course. Maybe there’s nothing so remarkable about that – until you learn that he’s 75 years old.

Norway, captured by the wonderful Cindi Keller
Norway, captured by the wonderful Cindi Keller

When I got an email from one of the schools that I work at telling me his story and asking me if I would take him on, my initial reaction was “Wow! 75 years old and about to embark on an amazing adventure in a new country!” I also couldn’t help comparing this to what I’d seen of people of roughly the same age in Latvia. The average life expectancy for a man there is only 68.9, so if they’re not dead already, they’re probably fast approaching the exit by 75.

Fabulous treatment of old people in Latvia
Fabulous treatment of old people in Latvia

Naturally, I just had to meet this guy, so we started doing lessons around a month ago. He told me that he’s going to Norway in August, “with his cat and car”. It sounds like he’s very much set on the idea.

I must admit, after meeting him, my initial reaction of admiration quickly turned to incredulity. I mean, I admired his gumption, but it was hard enough for me moving to a new country at the age of 36 – this guy was almost 40 years older than me. His English and Norwegian are both at absolute beginner level, and I would imagine his knowledge of computers to be around the same.

Other problems also quickly became apparent.

Me: OK, listen to the CD and write down the names of the people. 

CD:

“Hello, nice to meet you. What’s your name?”

“My name is Hayley.”

Me: (pausing the CD) What’s her name?

Dolf: Carlos? 

Me: Erm, let’s try that again. 

It turns out that his hearing isn’t the best, so I had to keep moving the CD player closer and closer to him until it was basically sitting in his lap. It didn’t help much.

Me: Hello Dolf, how are you?

Dolf: Nice.

Me: No, not “nice”, “fine”.

Me: Hello Dolf, how are you? 

Dolf: Nice. 

Me: (mini-sigh) Nice to meet you. 

Dolf: What?

Me: Nice to meet you. 

Dolf: I’m nice. 

Me: No, no, it’s “Nice to meet you, too”.

Dolf: What? 

Me: (turning around to write it on the board)

Dolf: Snore. 

Yep, he has actually nodded off a couple of times in class. But I like to think that this is not because I’m insanely boring. No, like I said, he’s still working as a security guard so, some mornings, he’s been awake since 3am, worked 5 or 6 hours and then come to our English lesson at 10.30. (Germans, eh?) I’d probably doze off too. In fact, I’m a little tempted to just call it nap time and join in the snoozing, but that would probably be bad teaching form. Instead, I give him around 30 seconds and then start talking loudly pretending not to notice when he re-enters the land of the living.

Anyway, the point of this post isn’t to make fun of an old man. God knows, I have the ultimate respect for any adult attempting to learn a new language, let alone two. I also admire his get-up-and-go attitude but I have to wonder how realistic his plan is. At the risk of sounding defeatist, or worse, less energetic than a 75-year-old, moving countries is hard. This move to Berlin has probably been one of the most trying experiences of my life and I only have to learn one language. I also don’t have a cat to take care of; it would be one sorry cat if I did.

But maybe I’m just in a tired, old place right now so instead I’ll open it up to my lovely readers – what do you think of Dolf’s plans?

Happy older Germans on the move
Happy older Germans on the move

 

For more beautiful photos of Norway, you can visit Cindi’s site by clicking here.

 

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.

Wedded Bliss

Amazingly, I’m not bound and gagged on someone’s basement floor, but am, rather, alive and kicking in Berlin.

I’ve settled into my temporary home in Wedding, which I have until the 23rd of September. The old guy who owns it is currently in hospital so, most of the time, I have the place to myself. However, he does pop in every day (colostomy bag in tow) to give me helpful pointers on how to use various household objects in a more German way. For example, this is unacceptable behaviour in Germany:

NEIN!
NEIN!

After my previous lecture on how to hang up a dish towel correctly, I thought I’d just let things dry naturally from then on and avoid the whole dish towel issue altogether. Now Hermann comes in every day (at unexpected times) and puts everything away where I can’t find it neatly. We’re a bit like an Irish-German ‘Odd Couple’ – after I’ve spent the whole of the previous day unintentionally deGermanising the place, he comes round and reGermanises it, tutting good-naturedly at my slovenly ways.

However, fun as this is, the prospect of being homeless in under two weeks is gnawing at me so I’ve lined up a couple of flat viewings for tomorrow. (One woman replied saying she wanted someone ‘god-fearing’ so I ruled that one out.) After chatting to some people, I’ve decided to just go for a room in an apartment for the first few months and look for my own place a bit further down the line.

I thought my luck was in last night. I’d been at an English language stand-up comedy night in JÄÄ-ÄÄR (Estonian for ‘iceberg’) and afterwards headed back to Offside on the off chance my new buddy might be there. He wasn’t but I did meet a red-headed German named Paddy, complete with leprechaun tattoo, who offered me his spare room. It seemed like fate but it turns out I’d have to buy a bed so that’s not going to fly. Moral of the story – don’t get excited over things that happen while drinking green shots that taste like Listerine.

There’s not much to report on the job front yet (but I do have an interview on Thursday) so instead, I thought I’d make a little list of things that I’m looking forward to in Germany.

1. More sausage than I can handle – and just good-quality meat in general. Take that as you will.

2014-09-13 18.51.41
Giant sausage

 

2. Order, rules, systems… it’s going to make such a pleasant change.

3. Being surrounded by polite, considerate, helpful, cheerful people – and yes, I do mean the Germans. Except when they’re in Primark on a Saturday afternoon – then they’re just scary.

4. Sex in German – ja, ja, oh mein Gott, schneller, schneller, ja, ja, das ist ausgezeichnet… what a sexy language.

5. Learning German so that I can understand what’s going on during the sex.

And that pretty much brings us up to date!