It’s me again, the non-Nic. I am fully aware that this is not likely to be met with whoops of delight in the blogosphere, but I’m not to be put off and shall do my damndest to win you over anyway. In my first entry I gave you some background on who and I am how I found myself here, but now it’s time to get down to the topics proper. Nic has in the past looked at ways in which Germany is similar to the UK and the chasms in culture which separate us. What I thought I would do is talk about survival in a foreign land. I will avoid the topic of real survival, there will be no utterances of zombies, hooligan crews, killer viruses or evil empires, there will instead be a look at the things that get me through the days here and make life here easily digestible and as pleasurable as possible in lue of tons of cash and luxuries. It’s really all about making the new home feel as close to the old as possible, and it can be very simple indeed. Here are the things I need:
I know, I’m going straight for the stereotype. I don’t even care. I cannot stress enough how important this stuff is to me. Sure, the vast majority of English people cherish a brew in any and all situations, but for people like me, you come to be a snob about it. My mother’s side is from Yorkshire and I need to hold on to this tightly so as to balance out how much of a Southerner I sound like. As Nic mentioned in a previous entry, tea is a big part of culture in Germany, but it is the ugly face of herbal/fruit teas in a myriad of odd flavours and varieties. None of them cut the mustard as far as I am concerned. I need something robust in my mug and it seems that Germans don’t share my interest, I need Yorkshire, nowt else is good enough.
Really though, there is nothing more comforting than returning home from a day of occasionally being bewildered by the oddities of existing in a foreign land to a cup of true British tea. Getting the stuff is not all that easy though, there are places where you can but PG Tips or some other brands, but I have yet to find a place that sells Yorkshire. Thank god for the internet, whatever the cost, I will pay it.
Boom. Straight for another stereotype. I am so British right now. Again though, it’s about having a haven you can set up for yourself in a matter of moments. For the past 3 and a bit years, my hero of a father has been kind enough to record Match of the Day for me on a weekly basis, posting it out to me here on a CD. It is always the highlight of my week: make a brew, on with the disc. For that 90 or so minutes, I could easily be home. Now, that is not to say that I necessarily love the verbal stylings of Messrs Shearer, Hansen and Lawrenson, in fact, I don’t really at all, but as bad as they are, it takes me home in an instant. “The boy done good”, “the strikers are literally on fire right now” and other such phrases please me as much as they infuriate me, showing me that no matter how much I may cherish my language, there are people being paid thousands a week to chat inane, illogical shit about a sport that I love, it’s beautiful in its paradoxical ugliness.
Proper hot sauce
I like spicy food. I know, shocker. Germans, however, are still in the process of being won over by the taste sensation. Unlike Britain, Germany does not have the same traditions with nations from the east, the result of which is that if you want a great selection of Turkish food, you are spoilt for choice, but if you want a proper curry, or any other spicy food for that matter, your search will more often than not come up short. There is a remedy to be found, once again, online, a proper, balls to the wall hot sauce. I have, for the last five years been a devout disciple of Flying Goose hot sauce, I cannot recommend it enough. Put it on anything and, if you like spice, you will surely feel better about the world. No matter how good they may look, don’t trust German versions of hot sauce, or chilli sauce, or anything that calls itself “scharf”, it won’t be scharf enough.
Enough is enough, European cheese is shite. Gouda, Emmentaler, Butterkäse, all of them, no, just no. Now, that is not to say that I won’t ever eat them, but every time I do I am always left with a sense of being unfulfilled, of being ripped off. The cheeses that are readily available in German supermarkets lack vigour, lack flavour, lack robustness. Years of being raised on cheeses like Cheddar and Stilton have left me with a pallet that craves more than a vague cheese flavour combined with a waxy, soft texture. I want crumble, I want to be slapped in the mouth by the cheese, is that so much to ask? Cheddar is not stocked in many shops, in fact, I have to buy my cheddar in a town I work in which is 3 train rides and 90 minutes away. That must sound pretty mental, but needs must. It is totally worth it.
The other things on this list are all about escapism, about being able to pretend for a few precious moments that you are home, that things are as they always have been. This helps, sure, but it is not enough if you are going to truly survive in a foreign land. When I first came here, it was for the job, for the money, for a year. Targets were simple and I never thought for a moment that I would need more than that. Eventually though, work, tea, MOTD and hot sauce were not sufficient for filling the days.
In my very first week in Nürnberg, on a general wander around town, I walked past an English pub. At once I promised myself that I would never go there, telling myself that I had not travelled to another country to spend my free time in a faux English pub. I lasted a year then word of mouth got the better of me and I ventured inside. What I found inside, as well as an array of football shirts on the ceiling and a decor that felt wonderfully English, was a community. Places like these serve as a hub for a wonderful array of English speakers, native and non-native alike, that’s the key. Having people you can talk to in your mother tongue is important in a foreign land, being able to talk about the normal things, about bollocks. Of course, you should strive to at the very least gain a grasp of the language of the nation your are living in, there’s no excuse for not doing so, but not having to always panic about vocabulary and grammatical structures when unwinding after a week at work is something to cherish.
As nice as all the other things on this survival list are, I know full well that I would not be committing myself to at least another 9 months here without the community I am now proud to call myself a part of. Don’t fall prey to the notion that embracing your own national identity in another land is failure, acquiesce yourself with it instead and find yourself people like you, it makes life a whole lot easier to deal with in an alien land and goes a long, long way to making it home.
Until next time, safety first.