Sunday, 18 December 2016

The strangest thing I ate in Germany

Aachen (Germany) - July (continued)


  On my second weekend in Germany, Silke and I went to stay with her parents near Frankfurt. On the Saturday afternoon, I joined Silke’s mother and their gorgeous border collie on a walk.The path led directly from their house past fields and meadows bathed in warm sun. After about half an hour, we came to a sparkling lake where a fisherman sat.
“Found anything?” Silke’s mum asked brightly.
“I just caught this actually,” replied the fisherman holding up a foot long eel. “Do you want it?”
I was slightly horrified but Silke’s mum appeared delighted. The fisherman slit the eel’s throat and placed it in a plastic bag. I spent the rest of the walk next to a woman gaily swinging an eel-filled plastic bag which was slowly filling up with blood.
I sat at dinner that evening valiantly working my way through a rather unusual tasting pie when Silke’s mother said, “you know that eel we were given today?...”
“Uh oh!” I thought as it dawned on me what I was eating. The adventurers amongst you, I’m sure, relish the prospect of trying new exciting foods. This stick-in-the-mud, however, is much happier keeping to what she knows and likes. I’m only glad that I discovered the contents of the pie when I had almost finished eating my slice. And no, I didn't want any more thank you!

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

German false friends

Aachen (Germany) - July (continued)

On the Saturday afternoon of my first weekend in Aachen, we were sitting in the garden of one of Silke’s friends. Suddenly, her friend exclaimed, “Look! There’s an ‘Igel’” (pronounced ‘egel’).
          “An eagle?!” I thought. “Wow!” 
          "Ein Igel!" I cried."That's unbelievable!" My eyes scanned the sky but I couldn't see any birds at all. Then I realised that the friend was pointing at the hedge.
          "An eagle in the hedge?! That's even more amazing!" Silke and her friends gazed at me with baffled expressions.
          It turned out that the German word ‘Igel’ actually means hedgehog. Oops!
          There are several words like this in both French and German. They are often called ‘false friends’. That is to say, they bear strong resemblance to English words thus leading you to believe they have the same meaning whereas actually they have totally different translations. The German word ‘Chef’, for example, actually means boss in English. The German ‘Fabrik’ translates as factory. And one you really don’t want to get wrong, if anybody ever offers you ‘Gift’ in Germany, do not accept it!! It is not a present but poison!  

Friday, 9 December 2016

The wrong side of a locked door

          So there I was; standing on the wrong side of a locked door. My first solo trip abroad and, after having barely arrived in the country, my misfortunes had already begun. I had two options; to sit on the outside step for a few hours till my host returned at midnight or to seek help from an unknown passer-by. Both of which would cause a certain amount of cringing and painful embarrassment.

            Little did I realise that this was just the start of my misadventures on foreign land. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I had to spend time in France and Germany for my languages degree I would have given up long before I did.

British stick-in-the-mud

There are those kind of people that love travelling. Off they gaily set alone for months on end, revelling in living life from a backpack, experiencing different foods and customs and exploring pastures new.

            And then there is me. Now give me some credit at least. It’s not as if I can’t be away from home. After all, I eagerly flew the nest to start life at University. And it’s not as if I haven’t tried travelling. It’s just that the travel bug never caught me. It seems that I can only be at my happiest when rooted firmly in English soil. “England?!” I hear you cry. ”What’s so great about that?” Well, I quite agree. I am no big lover of rain or overcrowded roads or a high cost of living. I am, however, apparently only content when immersed in what I know. Where I don’t walk around feeling apologetic for being a foreigner. Where my family and friends are not separated by water. And where, as clich├ęd as it sounds, I can drink a proper cup of English tea (milk, one sugar please). As my husband once aptly put it; I like what I know and I know what I like.

            Maybe I am not the only unadventurous adventurer out there. Perhaps there are others who need to know they are on home ground to be content. And there is, of course, the possibility that people’s travels are not as exotic or perfect as they would have you believe. Returning to University from my year abroad, my fellow course-mates regaled me with stories of the fantastic times they had had. Stories, which, as I later discovered, glossed over the less than happy moments.

University travels

            Still there is no getting away from the fact that travelling and I just do not mix.  It’s ironic really, considering I have such a love for languages. Although, as I embarked upon my University degree, I was unaware of my aversion to living abroad. The idea of spending a whole year in foreign parts certainly sounded daunting but I assumed that by the time I entered the third year I would be ready for such an experience. As it turned out, my foreign travel began even earlier than expected. With the advice of the University lecturers, that it was best to spend as much time as possible in the countries of our chosen languages, echoing in my ears, I found myself on my way to Germany at the end of my first year.

Aachen (Germany) - July

I was due to stay with a teacher, a friend of a friend of my father’s, and help out at her school for the duration of my trip, a mere two weeks. I was easing myself in gently to living abroad and after all, what could go wrong in two weeks?

On my first evening in Aachen, Silke invited me to join her at her weekly choir practice. Since I am pretty much tone deaf (my childhood violin teacher called me cloth ears on a regular basis), I decided I better decline. However, as it was a lovely July evening, I accompanied Silke on her walk there. Arriving back at her block of flats, I let myself in the main communal door. I then inserted the second key into her flat door. Nothing happened. No matter which way I turned the key, however much I yanked the handle up and down and round, the door showed not even the slightest intent of opening. And it was thus that I could be found staring at a locked door wondering what on earth to do.

The wrong side of a locked door 

        I sat down on the bottom step of the communal stairs and took in a few deep breaths whilst considering my options. I could seek help from another resident or I could wait until Silke arrived home at eleven pm. I didn’t really fancy waiting on this concrete step for two hours. Plus, if I embarrassed myself in front a neighbour, it was quite likely I would never see them again whereas I had to spend the next two weeks with Silke. Decision made.

Silke’s flat was on the ground floor of a small block with four storeys and only one flat on each. I tentatively crept up the stairs to the first floor and knocked on the door. 

          "I'm in the bath!” came the voice of a middle-aged woman. “If it’s…, can you… If it’s…, can you…” 

        I had an urge to giggle. Obviously there was only a limited number of people who could be knocking on her door since you needed a key to gain access through the main door. Saying nothing, I continued up the stairs to the second floor and knocked once again.  

“Hallo?” came a timid voice.

“I need help!” I replied sounding much more dramatic then I had intended. The door flew open to reveal a Turkish lady.

        “I’m really sorry to disturb you,” I said. “I’m staying with the lady downstairs. I can’t open her door. I have the key (I waved it at her) but I can’t get in.”

The woman gave me a strange look but took the key and trotted downstairs with me following meekly. She inserted the key in to Silke’s door, opened it without difficulty and then, without saying a word, shot back upstairs. 

         Oh the embarrassment! I told myself there must clearly be a knack to opening the door to which I was not privy. I hastened inside and shut the door firmly behind me, trying to leave the humiliation outside. At any rate, I was very pleased to now be on the much more comfortable side of the door. I snuggled on the sofa for an hour in front of the television before getting an early night in preparation for the early school start the following morning.

      To my great relief, I didn't meet the Turkish lady again during my stay. I never mentioned the incident to Silke and it became apparent that she was not on close speaking terms with her neighbours. My secret (and dignity) were safe.