So, I started drafting this a few weeks ago, but it’s such a striking issue, I thought I’d carry on and put it out, anyway…

With memories of the European Football Championships now fading into distant memory, I thought I’d reflect on the difference between attitudes towards the so-called beautiful game between two of its great rivals. If you have a very good arm, we live just over a stone’s throw from Freiburg’s stadium (they’re in the Bundesliga, don’t you know!), so it’s something that’s quite literally close to home.

Football is an obsession in both England and Germany, but there are some differences. This struck me particularly just before Germany’s opening game of the championship. Lots of people were dressed up in German shirts, flags and so on, but not just blokes with beer bellies. It was really all ages: kids and teenagers all the way up to pensioners. Also, cars with German flags were everywhere. One thing that made me chuckle was that most places displaying a flag other than the German one also put up a German flag, just to cover their back and pretend that they might not really be English/Spanish/Italian/Croatian etc.

I guess my point is that the stereotype of a German supporter isn’t your beer-swilling ‘lout’. Freiburg is chiefly inhabited by middle-class hippy types – people who you would be surprised if you found drinking Pimms or wearing a grass skirt, but football and national fervour were very much in evidence during the Euros. The Formula 1 reporting is also fantastically (and hilariously) biased in favour of Vettel, Schumacher, Glock and the other Germans.

It’s a good thing to be proud of your team and proud of your country. I lived for a few months in The Gambia, where many people just didn’t have that belief that their country was a place worth being. This attitude simply perpetuated the status quo. We all have a longing to belong somewhere and sport often offers an outlet for this kind of tribalism. It should go without saying that you can take it too far, but I think that happens when you stop valuing other countries/teams/communities as much as your own. They might have a different kind of culture, different strengths and weaknesses, but their fans are just as passionate. So, if you’re going to put all your effort into supporting IN-GER-LAAAAND, at least be gracious in defeat!

By the way, and not unrelated, I’m still looking for comments on my last post to see what your stereotypes of Germans/Brits are. Outrageous suggestions totally acceptable…

 

With an upcoming international football tournament, it’s time to get those prejudices and stereotypes out of the closet. So, if you’re not German and reading this, what do you think Germany is like? If you’re German, or at least non-British, what are your British stereotypes?

The plan is to collate, add a few of my own and then see how well Freiburg life matches up to the German stereotype. As for the British stereotypes, it’s mainly because I’m curious and perhaps if you’ve got some experience of being a foreigner in the UK you can add your own comments.

So, ready, steady… form and orderly queue!

Apologies for a bit of a break, life’s been pretty busy lately, but I haven’t forgotten the blog, here goes…!

So, lots of my friends seem to have a lean to the left and some might even be termed outright hippies. That means that if you’re reading this there’s a good chance that you’re interested in what impact the food you eat has on the world at large.

It seems that this kind of concern has swept both Britain and Germany in the past few years, but with surprisingly different  results. There’s a bio obsession (pronounced to rhyme with B.O., which causes me no end of private mirth). Every respectable fruit and veg vendor will devote a large amount of space to organically produced stuff along with a whole host of other products. However, something is missing. So far I’ve only discovered four fair trade products: one brand of orange juice, some chocolate biscuits, brown sugar and roses from one shop.

Back in the UK the emphasis seems to be much more on fair trade, although you can buy most of your fruit and veg organic if you want to, especially through a veg box scheme.

Why should this be? It’s hard to say. I wonder if maybe it has something to do with the colonial history of the UK and hence a much greater feeling of connectedness to the rest of the world and its people. Maybe it reflects that German hasn’t entirely lost the connection with the land and appreciation of good quality food. Either way, I’ll be buying as much organic as I think I can afford and fair trade whenever I can find it.

Some people appear to have difficulty making cups of tea, especially in cafés and restaurants (not only on the  continent, mind). Here’s some instructions to follow so that maybe one day I’ll buy a cup of tea that’s at least as good as I could have made at home myself.

Simple instructions:

  • Pour boiling water onto tea leaves

The verbose version:

  • Go buy yourself some decent tea. This is best done in the UK, because apparently they can have up to three times more tea in a British tea bag. In addition, the BEST 90% of leaf is sent to the UK. That said, my favourite is Sabah tea only available from Borneo.
  • Fill your kettle with water and turn it on. Now the countdown starts (not after it’s boiled!)
  • Get a tea-pot and put some (preferably leaf) tea into it. For a small pot about a teaspoon is enough, about two teaspoons for larger pots. This can, of course, be adjusted to taste.
  • When the kettle boils, or very shortly after (i.e. within 5 seconds), pour the water on the tea. I’ve never bothered faffing around with warming the pot. Apparently the best temperature to make tea at is 98°C, so some people say you should let the water settle until the bubbling stops.
  • Wait for 3 to 5 minutes before pouring out. If you use milk, put the milk in first (this is termed prelactarianism).
  • Relax and enjoy your perfectly made cup of tea.

Under NO circumstances bring me a tepid cup of water and a tea bag!!

If there’s any topic of conversation bound to crop up after a while in the UK it’s the weather. I think it’s because it’s kind of neutral – it very rarely actually matters and isn’t going to hurt anyone, and also because it’s unpredictable which means it’s interesting and surprising.

So maybe it’s inevitable that it’s one of the first things to comment on about Freiburg. This subject has been somewhat hastened by recent events. I write this at the end of a cold snap [a few weeks before publishing – it’s very sunny now!], in fact the coldest snap I’ve ever experienced, and colder than many locals have also experienced. Last week hit a low of -16.1°C and I was cycling to work and back in probably -8°C to -10°C. I can assure you, that’s pretty cold.  Given that the first couple of weeks I was here six months ago it was over thirty, it means there’s been a 45 to 50 degree temperature change since I arrived.

Apart from the marvellous capacity of the human body to endure such things, what have I noticed? To start with, the lack of snow and ice was, for me, weird. When it’s so low below zero there’s no moisture in the air. Static electricity increases and I spent several days feeling like a mobile Van de Graaf generator. When it eventually did snow the temperature increased so rapidly that it disappeared in a day or two. I have no idea if this is normal or not, but for me cold weather is associated with a risk of snow and ice, especially as a regular cyclist. I was a bit disappointed to be honest, but it makes moving around a lot easier.

Not so surprising is that life carried on as normal. People here are used to sub-zero. A few years ago in Coventry I remember a day with about 2cm of snow on the ground when all the schools were shut just in case we’d get more than that.  Cars put on snow tires and nothing ever seems to stop the trams. A few less people cycle, but there’s still plenty of folk on two wheels, some dressed up like the invisible man and all well padded.

I’m secretly quite proud to have lived through such a cold winter, and still pondering whether or not I like it better than the hot sweatiness of Summer, I think the answer is probably yes.

The intention of this post is to start a series commenting on things I notice about German life. Let me explain. I’m a Brit and, apart from a brief excursion to The Gambia before university, I’ve always lived in what we Brits like to call Blighty, aka the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Last August, all that changed and I moved, with my family, to Freiburg im Bresigau in the heart of the Black Forest and a long way from the sea. There’s obviously plenty of differences and similarities between life in the two countries, and these posts are a way to impart some of what I’ve noticed. This is partly motivated by an earnest request from Gudrun, a former German colleague of mine from who asked me to let her know what I thought of German life. So, here goes…

Let’s start with politeness. It’s an aspect of life I really like about Germany, because it’s everywhere and seems to be genuine. The bureaucracy can be a bit of a pain at times, but when you speak with someone face to face (once you’ve found them), they treat you like someone who actually exists, rather than just a number on the page. There doesn’t seem to be the same irrational fear of talking to strangers you come across quite often in the UK.

I think in general Germans are much better at face to face and verbal communication than the Brits. Everywhere you go there are people speaking on mobile phones, and free phone calls to anywhere in Germany come as standard with a phone contract. However, I rarely see anyone writing a text message.

Every person in my block of flats says hello on sight, whereas trying to squeeze a word out of my last set of English neighbours was like getting blood from a stone. This expectation of friendliness from and towards nthers is something that really brightens up my day.