“Growing Up” in Germany

Sometimes I feel like Germany has moulded me in the past year and a half, although early mid-twenties hardly ever counted as the impressionable years. But indeed, the impressions are imprinted on me.

Right as I’m saying this, I’m struggling slightly to type quickly and accurately on my good old macbook. I’ve gotten used to the German keyboard since starting work.

I’ve become more careful with my manners. Back home, we don’t show appreciation or give thanks as much as the Germans. Now it becomes more natural to say that “I’m looking forward to it!” when arranging a meet-up with a friend. Or to say “it’s so nice to have met you!”

I’m also in the midst of creating a new habit. I’ve started trying to use people’s names when speaking. It could be a personal habit or an asian thing, but I’ve never been comfortable using people’s names. This is especially so for the older generation (I never call my aunties and uncles by their first names in Asia), but it also applies to the younger generation. But lately it’s becoming easier to say, “How’s it going, (name)?” and “(name), thank you for your help!”

I’ve learnt to look out for quality over quantity when purchasing, because Germans buy things with the aim of keeping it for a long time. I used to buy tons of flats for $20, so that I could switch among them, but the reason why I end up switching so much is because none of them last a season! I’ve become a little less stingy while shopping.

Most importantly, having the German language all around me, hearing it and speaking it all day isn’t as exhausting as it used to be. In the past, a two hour intense conversion in German is enough to kill me for the rest of the day. Now it’s like meh.

It’s interesting to be a foreigner and not really feel like one anymore. 🙂

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Breakfast conversation

H: (looks out of the window) There’s a horse carriage coming.

I: Cool.

H: There’s a porsche coming, just behind the horse carriage.

I: Uhhuh.

H: A horse carriage and a porsche. Welcome to Europe.

I: Where the rich and the richer are.

H: Exactly. But I’m not sure which one of them is richer.

World Cup 2014 & Germany

Finally, it has all come to an end.

It was an excellent, excellent tournament. So many surprises, so many outstanding talents, superb goals, etc. It was such a joy to watch. (Except the match between Netherlands and Brazil, that wasn’t quite worth my sleep.)

You see, I just spent 9 months in Germany. That also meant that for the good 9 months, the fiancé and I have been enjoying our Bundesliga matches. I used to watch the English Premier League at a brief stage and then just the World Cup matches, so I do know the basics of the game, what an offside is, and so on.

During the 9 months, he patiently explains why this was considered a foul and that wasn’t, why this was worthy of a yellow card, and the other a red. I thoroughly enjoyed watching excellent football at regular hours being in central european time.

(I know, I spent 9 months there and came back to Asia during the World Cup season. And they won. I can’t be more annoyed that I can’t join in the celebrations.)

Coincidentally, I was supporting this very country last World Cup, before the fiancĂ© and I were even an item. I enjoyed this team because unlike most teams, there’s this particular one or two star players, and the rest are almost just there to make up numbers. These star players may have the talent, but that isn’t a team sport. I’ve great admiration for team sports, despite not having been in many myself.

But in the German team, there’s no need to remember names, if you’re just starting to watch them. Anyone can bring their A game, anyone can be the man of the match, anyone can be scoring the goal. And just to prove a point, the final winning goal last night was in fact through a beautiful pass from one to the other substitute, who controlled it amazingly, letting it bounce off his chest, then off his boots, slightly bent around the keeper, into the top right corner of the goal. Both of them weren’t even in the starting eleven of the match / the finals!

And oh god, I think the best part is perhaps that while they’re boys and enjoying good fun, none of them are arrogant pricks, taking too much limelight (they seem to shy away from it, if I may say so). They seem to genuinely just enjoy the sport. I like that in sportsmen.

Germany, you are the deserving World Cup champions, and I am proud to have followed you all through the tournament. Thank you for playing great football (for giving me a new home and a partner to love). 🙂

Perspectives

Returning to my parents’ in Singapore after being away for 8.5 months has been rather interesting. Spending a long time away from everything here, and a long time together with the love of my life has really changed my perspective.

As we know, the Germans are stereotyped to be direct, frank, honest, straightforward. S, in particular, is all about going straight to the point or opening up a discussion. It was a say-it-and-mean-it culture. When something is bad, one discusses the many solutions and evaluate which is better.

Coming back to the land of reservations and judgements, it was a slight culture shock. I’ve forgotten what sarcasm and bitchiness was like. I’ve forgotten that what one says doesn’t necessarily dictate the truth. I’ve forgotten how one shouldn’t say this and that to this person because it would cause him or her to lose face. I’ve forgotten how power play was like. I’ve forgotten how I should shut my mouth because some older folks aren’t interested in hearing what I’ve to say actually.

But approaching these folks with no judgement also helps (I think!) to bring out the best in them. It does surprise me how that changes. Sometimes we behave according to the thoughts of others, which is really weird.

But if that’s true, I’m glad S has brought out the non-judging, the problem-solving person in me.

On a side note, I’ve not much time left to refer to S as my fiancĂ©. So from this point on, S shall be referred to as the fiancĂ©.

Another perspective I’ve gained is that leaving the fiancĂ© for an indefinite amount of time while we first got together, or leaving the fiancĂ© for a fixed number of months, or leaving the fiancĂ© knowing that I’ll live with him soon, or leaving the fiancĂ© with an engagement ring on my finger has no effect on my crying. It’s equally bad each time.

But it really sucks to be apart from the one you spend every waking happy moment with. Perhaps in a way, the leaving always makes us more appreciative of each other. In any case, ohne dich ist alles doof!

Ja comes at a price

It was a fine Friday afternoon. S had spent the Thursday evening being grumpy with me. I had spent the Friday early afternoon nagging at him to leave the house so we could have lunch as I was a starving monster.

We laid on the mat, ate our nicely warmed up leftovers at 3pm for lunch (I devoured it really quickly), and we sat in the sun enjoying each other’s company, when S asked me, and I said yes. Among other things.

A week later, I’m still somehow pleasantly surprised by our status as being engaged, and I finally get to say things like, “will you still scratch my back when I’m old?” That soothes my soul.

On top of the worries of my parents, bureaucracies aren’t letting us get what we want easily. He’s blaming my country, while I’m blaming his. At least while spending ages in the waiting room of the civil registry office today, we managed to agree on several things for the wedding party. (Or at least I demanded for them.)

S: Is the cake real?

I: We must have edible cake and real flowers.

S: You’re demanding.

I: And you shall not wear a hat!

S: Aww man.

Culture Shock and Living With It

Last weekend I travelled west to Stuttgart for an assessment center, which took place on Monday and Tuesday. Okay, so I didn’t get the job, but it was an amazing experience, where I got to meet lots of like-minded (i.e. business-minded and high-achieving) Germans and just not through S.

It was nice to be reminded that I am also a qualified person, I also seek many high-achieving dreams like these people, and my German was truly conversational. I could understand 95% of the time, and could respond in a way where my grammar was off and on right, but completely understandable. And I didn’t have to nudge S to say, hey what did he just say? Well, he couldn’t be there at that very spot with me, though he did do the big trip with me.

The city was also beautiful and quaint, with (very) German-styled architecture, yet with the view of the mountains and rivers. Apart from that, I would say the city is more similar to Singapore. The cars were fancy, the roads were clean, the people were rich and career-driven.

Returning to Berlin was a little strange. There I was, back in the capital of this country, and then I hunched back and returned into my comfort zone of jeans and sneakers. Then I went to class and met with artists (painters, directors, photographers) and spoke to people 10 years younger than me, or 20 years older than me, with their dreams of making it in Berlin – the fellow jobseekers.

The buildings are grey but the city still sparkled in an unconventional way – and it’s strange to still find it unconventional. It should be conventional now that I see it every day for seven months. It’s the city where rules aren’t rules.

It’s interesting now that I can really foresee living in both cities, it would be perfectly okay. It used to be just a catchphrase, a way to sound cool. I don’t know where I’ll be in a few months. I don’t know where I’ll live in a few years. It depends on so many things – my career for example would play a huge role. But it is a good feeling to truly be at peace with myself and say, it’s true. I can foresee myself living in a different city.

Receiving Attention

Yesterday I had a very strange experience. A guy was creating an advertisement for the language school, and so he pleaded with me to do a short monologue. In German. In front of the camera.

The reason why he had to plead with me was because I freak out a little when I’m standing alone in front of the camera. The spotlight is shining, the camera man winks and puts his thumb up. I start to speak. In German.

It was possibly too quick and too short in the beginning. But we worked on it, and by the third take, I was done with my 30 seconds of fame. It all happened so quick but I was thoroughly pleased with myself. The director of the school told me that I spoke well, and began to ask what I was doing in Germany, how long I’ve started lessons here, whether I had already started learning back home before arriving, etc.

(So I explained that I am looking for a job in Germany and it’s frustrating because I want to work, I’m ready to work. I am ready to be motivated to go to work and contribute in some way or another! But somehow it’s so difficult to have anyone respond to my application with a YES.)

Anyway, I digress. I get a little crazy when the spotlight shines on me. In class, I’m the most participative person. When I don’t understand, I ask. When someone is trying to clarify the meaning of a word and I know it, I speak. When a question is asked but nobody answers, I speak. But when the teacher says, okay you now have 4 minutes to speak freely (and solo), and the crowd turns and stares at me, I speak too, but my heart is racing and I start to blush. It’s unbelievable. There’s practically no difference, except that I had rightfully that time and space to speak, as opposed to just sharing my opinion in a discussion.

The same goes with this video. I was speaking to the camera man for ages in German that day, finding more about him and what he’s doing, telling him what I’m doing, etc.

But then when the cameras shine, uh oh.

The Mother Tongue, and when it is spoken

We live in a world where most people know at least two languages. Some know five or six but they’re crazy. And we all use a language at work, or for our daily lives. But it doesn’t mean that is our mother tongue. I’ll explain how you know what your mother tongue is.

Your mother tongue is the language you speak in when you’re really mad. A particular cuss word that begins with an F doesn’t count. People say it universally. They cuss with it, but it’s just one word conjugated in many different ways. When you say more than just that word, it’s typically in your mother tongue.

S and I speak in English about 50-60% of the time, and the rest in German. Although he speaks mostly English, when something crosses him, he blurts out a series of German words that underline his dissatisfaction. He also says that when he’s being disturbed while sleepy.

Yesterday during class, we had to conduct a debate in class. I got crazy into it. Midway through, I felt a surge of English words flowing to my head and I had to slowly translate them one by one.

I often say that my mother tongue is English. In fact, it isn’t. It’s Singlish. While passionately discussing something with S and pushing my point across, all of a sudden, I blurted out, “Ya lah!” Mind you, I haven’t spoken to Singaporeans (the only people I speak in Singlish to) for a few days then. It just took me by surprise, and caused S to have a grin on his face as he cheekily repeated it in his best accent, “Ya lah!”

The mother tongue sticks with you, everywhere you go. Even if you’re in a different country. Even if you spend every day with a different language.

Mein Lieblingskartoffelnesser und ich

Another part of living together makes you experience things as simple as potato-cooking.

I come from a land where we don’t have potatoes as a staple. S and his dad can eat a million potatoes in one go. Because of that, S and I have never agreed on the amount of potatoes to cook. He always puts what looks enough to feed four of me, while I put what looks enough to feed two of me. (As I cook often either just for me or for both of us, the portion sizes go according to how many of me I feed.)

So finally, yesterday, I decided to let go. I placed more potatoes in the pot than I was comfortable with.

I: Na? Ich hoffe, die Kartoffeln sind genug fĂĽr dich, mein Lieblingskartoffelnesser!
(Well? I hope the potatoes are enough for you, my favourite potato-eater!)

S: Awwwwwww, so sweet!! Danke, meine Lieblingskartoffelnkochin!
(Awwww, so sweet!! Thank you, my favourite potato-cooker!)

I: Ohh, deine Mutter wird nicht glĂĽcklich sein.
(Ohh, your mum will not be happy to hear that.)

S: Oops! Shhh!

You’d think we have sweeter pet names for each other…

From LDR to LT (Living Together)

Having spent two years in a long distance relationship, you’d think that life is a bed of roses when you dramatically slow-jog into each other’s arms, and passionately kiss each other like each day is your last.

Not quite.

To be honest, I spent the first month getting used to living with the love of my life. Nobody said it was easy – We’ve both been warned (just days before living together) that cohabiting could make or break you. I mean, are you really sure you love the person enough to be able to stand being around them all the time? To see them and their habits in their natural habitat?

I told myself, of course – we’ve spent 24 hours X 14 days together before. I already know him. This should be no different. But it is.

In the first month, I had gone through an emotional roller coaster ride, on both sides of the spectrum. But then we weren’t on holiday anymore, and we have our lives to run. We can’t be spending every minute with each other (as we would while visiting each other during the LDR phase), and we can’t always be 100% loving as if one of us were leaving.

Having said that, one month later, I think we’re in a really good place. We’ve figured a routine that works for both of us, and we have our own lives to lead now. My social life is still not as stable as his (not in a comparative way, but living in a new city does make creating a social circle a little tough) but we’re figuring it out.

We’ve finally both understood how to savour the moments of being together while still being able to give each other space, in this same apartment we both call home, to do what we have to do.

This did take work. We’ve talked about it, debated about it, (I’ve) cried over it, and now for the past few weeks since his return (he spent 2 weeks away for work), I’ve never felt happier!

Last night we had dinner in front of the TV, switching between shows I like to watch and shows that he likes to watch. (They are different.) Then he put on some great music, ready to complete some reading he needed to do, while I needed to study for a test today. But the music was great and his dancing feet triggered a chain reaction, and we danced like it was the 80’s. Finally we put everything away while he read on the coach, and I sat on the floor by the coffee table.

It was some kind of bliss!