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Germany 1 England 0 May 16, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Just carrying on the anglo-dissonance theme while fresh back from a jaunt to the Kingdom. It wasn’t to London, so I don’t have to feel guilty about not having seen anyone. No, it was more social duty, but also fun, visiting an old lady I know in the middle of nowhere. She isn’t at all the reason Germany wins 1-0 (or any other score) in this short-term comparison exercise. She was bliss. And, I think, with the passing years, the decreased mobility and, therefore, limited social abilities, feeling as anglo-dissonant as if she was herself abroad. She sang – although her singing was a bit like speaking (or rapping, I suppose), it must be said, but she is 94 – Cole Porter songs, which was lovely, and that made me proud to be American, until I remembered I wasn’t, and then we tried to be proud of Noel Coward instead, but it’s not quite the same, is it? Little knowing that her questions were grist to my current mill of feeling remote from England, I fed her answers that reinforced both my current pro-Germanness and her worries that England’s gone down the pan. “Darling (this is her, not me), do German youths swear as much as English ones? Would a German teenager call his friend ‘a pile of shit’ at cricket (as her great-grandson had just done)?” I ignored the cricket factor, thought for a sec, and answered, “No, he wouldn’t.” I said to the other people gathered that I was finding England a bit philosophyless, a bit empty for my liking at the moment. I don’t think they were overly impressed, perhaps not surprisingly, both at me criticising from afar, and, worse, having gone over to the Krauts.

I think I should only enter England by sea. Although I now brace myself for it, the airports’ swirly carpets still lower my serotonin levels without fail every time. But I think Gatwick must have received complaints. There were only a hundred metres or so of bechewinggummed, filthy, stinking carpet and then it went sort of neutral tiles and glass and, for a sec, with no-one around, sun shining and a neutral landscape, I thought I was in Dallas, or Washington, or anywhere. I queued up to show my passport, which has seen better days since it was issued the second before I moved abroad almost seven years ago and have lived in countries where I prefer to have it with me at all times ever since. Our queue’s woman was a bit of a stickler. I think she was being trained as a man stood a discrete but nosey distance to her rear. “Can you stand where I can see you?” she said to the occasional Engländer who was jumping the gun and wanted to do an emergency bit of extra-shopping – yes, you can duty-free shop when you arrive now too – and I enjoyed watching each of them having the same raising-eyes-to-heaven reaction to their friend next in the queue at the bollocking. Once I got through and met my pal who was waiting, we got down to Anglo-German business. She is a real Engländer(in), not a fading one like me. She had enjoyed the people-watching possibilities afforded by Gatwick arrivals herself. “English people are all perfectly round and pink,” she said. My flight arrived with ones from Faro and Alicante, so there was a gaggle of freshly enpinkened Engländers coming through at just that moment. I’d enjoyed watching them on the other side too. Huge groups compared their tans and there was the fuss, as they approached the front of their respective queues, as each group-leader redistributed to their minions the passports that had clearly been in their control since they’d been waved nonchalantly at Spanish and Portuguese officials a few hours earlier. The men were dressed mostly as if about to walk on to the hallowed turf to represent their nation (but without the studs). And I suppose the women were sort of a bit like footballers’ wives. Clean(ish)-cut. Tarty. (Sorry, am I allowed to write this in 2006?) Stiff-haired. And angry.

But England itself was lovely. Trains are now posh, efficient, and empty. I was in a lovelily quiet bit of West Sussex, with wheezing and almost bracing walks on the Downs, peace and the aforementioned 94-year-old and her miscellaneous descendants. I even had a drop of booze, but it doesn’t count, because England was my Alicante. And I chatted and listened and fussed vaguely round my hostess, her worrying all the time that, what with feeling so utterly well at her huge age, she might never get round to dying at all. She rushed me off yesterday, worrying that I’d miss my train, with ten pounds, “because that’s what grandmothers do. They give their grandsons money.” I reminded her that she wasn’t my grandmother, but that didn’t matter, and she said I could give it to a poor German, if such a species existed. She worried about England out loud to me, and was worried that Germany still suffered from its wartime legacy. “Darling, my first memory is waving my father off to the First World War. As he wandered off down the road, I cried after him, ‘Don’t kill any Germans, daddy’.” Unfortunately, one killed him, and she has been a life-long pacifist and all-round romantic ever since. And bloody good company.

So that England was lovely. But Gatwick wasn’t. So I was in two minds as I got my plane home. Has England gone horrible? Do I want to be in Germany? Is Berlin nicer? (Well, it’s nicer than Gatwick, and, admittedly, no-one lives in airports for fear that their life stories will be made into a Hollywood blockbuster and what could POSSIBLY be worse than having to live down the ignominy of being played by Tom effing Hanks?) Half-amusingly, one of the trolley-dollies was one of the three outrageously drunk ones I met a few posts back and who’d half-made me think I’ve turned into a German (or Russian or composite Euro-type). I didn’t say hello, obviously, and luckily he stopped serving about a row in front of mine and I had a pair of German queens on my trolley instead. The low-budget airline in question, which isn’t Ryanair, likes to make the flight as theatrical as possible and the staff make every announcement as if they are desperately trying to suppress giggles, presumably because Andreas the purser has just been caught trying to snog Mike the pilot. Or something. The announcements were made in two languages. After we landed, and once the gaggle of Italian pensioners on board had finished applauding its smoothness, the queens went head-to-head in a Germany-England match-up for who could make the funniest goodbye speech. My one went first, and heroically got through his spiel about how great it had been having us etc. without letting his voice descend into out-and-out fake laughter. The German queen, who’d made the odd embarrassingly unwitty remark during the flight, peaked at just the right time. His first joke, “Even though I know you want to switch your mobile phones on straight away so that you can ring all your friends and say what great crew this low-budget airline provides, please wait another couple of minutes until you’re inside the airport building etc.” already sent a ripple of laughter down the aisles amongst the German-speakers. To make my annoyingly bilingual, good-looking and in-love Polish neighbours feel left out, I laughed along too. But then he went in for the kill. “Unfortunately, none of the great crew was on duty this evening, but we hope you’ll phone your friends and tell them we did a good job all the same.” The Germans went wild. There were whoops of joy. There was applause. The German women who didn’t have short blond hair, glasses and goofy teeth instantly delved into their bags to get out their comedy-German-outfit set (of short blond wig, glasses and goofy teeth) so they could guffaw as conventionally as everyone else. The German queen had stolen the show. Once I got through immigration – passport checked by a strapping, handsome and friendly policeman – that was it. I knew I was home.



1. daggi - May 16, 2006

Very good. But not sure about the last sentence – at least I’ve only ever been dealt with by stupid, fat, surly German border guards checking my passport at either Schönefeld or Tegel (or indeed Tempelhof, oh yes, I have flown from-to London City Airport from there once. Do look impressed.).

One once got quite angry because I’d been protecting my crap and not-designed to be carried around anywhere or it falls apart British EU-passport in a “Bundesrepublik Deutschland Reisepass” brown plastic wallet I bought for about 3 Marks in a branch of “McPaper & Co.”. He removed the said item from the other said item, pointed at them both and firmly said “No”, as if it was a younger, fatter and German version of Ian Paisley with a tache.

Now they get shirty about the leather holder with the royal coat of arms on it, and in revenge, fold back the back page as much as possible, so it will fall to bits quite soon, landing me with a horrendous bill for a new one (complete with RFID chip and scanned iris data etc.).

Why don’t the UK start making proper passports that don’t fall to bits when they get used more than once every 3 years? If I were the Daily Mail, I’d blame the Eurocrats, but the German passports have a cardboard/cloth outside (though they are maroon, and not green like in the good old days).

2. BiB - May 16, 2006

Has Tempelhof now closed? I’ve flown into it once, and loved the smallness. The lobby bit looks just like a Soviet railway station. And I love the suitcase conveyer belts only being as long as on a supermarket till and the suitcases just plopping off the end after ten seconds.

Will Her Britannic Majesty’s government replace my passport without let or hindrance three years ahead of schedule? Mine really is in a parlous state. The coat of arms has been rubbed away off the front, which at least makes me look mysterious when people are doing that trying-to-work-out-which-country-folk-are-from by getting glimpses of their passports in the queue. Unless I’m giving you a piggy-back, you wouldn’t be able to see mine. Anyway, everyone comes from Poland now.

I get a totally blank page when I open your blog, unless I somehow accede to an individual post, when all is fine again.

3. daggi - May 17, 2006

A completely blank page? I get it as always, in Internet Explorer, Opera, Mozilla or whatever. I can’t explain it. Try clearing your cache?

The government will be very pleased to send you a new passport, after all, they’ve just gone up tremendously in price. I don’t think any one cares about the coat of arms, but if the rest of it is falling to bits, and you have drastically changed appearance since the photo was done, they’ll accept that as a fair reason. And you will get one of those nasty radio-chip modern ones, as those are the only ones Düsseldorf (where you’ll have to get it done – they do it very quickly) do, which has put me off getting mine replaced early (again).

I think I’ll wait until I’m somewhere exotic before I get a new passport. “Issued by British Consulate, Tashkent” beats “United Kingdom Passport Service” (and “British Consulate-General Dusseldorf”) any day.

4. BiB - May 17, 2006

Clearing the cache did work, once I’d worked out how to do it. My computer, alas, speaks to me in Russian. Why did that allow me to see your page again? Too queer.

I quite fancy the idea of having mine issued here. UK passport agency is boring, and very complicated when you want to get power of attorney over a Russian’s bank account and the flustered clerk asks, “Yes, aber which TOWN was it issued in? Is United Kingdom a town?” Hysterics at her expense from all the other Russians in the branch of the bank. I gave up.

My previous (and first) passport was issued in Belfast, for no good reason, even if I do have ancestors from that godforsaken corner of the world. But did Big Brother then do it according to one’s roots? And, anyway, apparently there’s a campaign to get us foreigners to become Germans. I’m not against, in theory, as long as I don’t have to give up Britishness. Are we eligible? I wouldn’t pass a language test, unless it’s, “What is German for ‘house’?” and I don’t have to give the article in the answer.

Anyway, get blogging again. And did you get the e-mail about the Stammtisch? Berlin Diary can’t come because he’s expecting his (I think first) child any second now.

5. daggi - May 17, 2006

Mine has “Dusseldorf, Germany” (no, I stand corrected, their computer stretches as far as an Umlaut to make it “Düsseldorf”), which does also confuse some border guards – i.e. you can hear their tiny minds overheating with the question “Is there also a Düsseldorf in the UK? With an umlaut too? Why is a British town called “Germany”, is that the borough it’s in?”.

So if you want me to control your Russian’s bank account (the debt is one thing I don’t need, mind you), you shouldn’t hesistate to ask. It seems at least you’re getting the upper hand in your relationship at the moment. But then again, why would he want to control your cheque book- there’s no money in the damn thing, is there?

On becoming a German – no, they make you give up your first passport (and British citizenship). Both things cost quite a bit of money. There’s a form the embassy have should you want to officially tell the Queen to fuck off, but I know from (a friend’s) experience, they don’t hand it over very willingly. She gave up.

Theoretically, you could spit on Liz’s grave, join the Jerry (as I type this some ‘allo ‘allo-type accordion music is playing on Deutschlandradio, who knows why) as a Bürger, then reapply as a traitor to the embassy, and get another British passport, and hope the Germans don’t find out.

But, then again, why? Just because there aren’t 48-page passports any more? Or one for visiting Israel (the German one?) and one for the rest of the Middle East? Or just to collect passports as it’s so awkward to collect passport stamps any more?

6. Bowleserised - May 17, 2006

Ah BiB – you spoke my mind about those carpets. I swear most of my air-sickness begins when I see them. Echh. You friend sounds wonderful though…

7. BiB - May 17, 2006

She is wonderful, but very bored of being alive now. She’d happily pop her clogs rather than sit in her chair and shuffle around between bedroom, loo and next to the fireplace.

Give up my Britishness? Don’t think I want to do that. In fact I know I don’t. Who knows what wicked things the Germans might do to me once they had sole access to my soul? Would I have to do military service? So I’ll have to be a British faded Englander and only a Euro-type in spirit. Not a bad option. (The Russian would kill for either passport. Not to have access to my fabulous wealth, of course, but just so that he could be a normal person here. I think, even if we went to the UK, he’d presumably have to wait another 100 years before being naturalised. Oh dear. Sometimes, in fact often, I praise the Lord – figuratively speaking – that I was born in England.)

8. leon - May 17, 2006

My old passport used to atttract all kinds of attention for some reason. A Czech border policeman once czeched it and burst out laughing before handing it back to me.

9. BiB - May 17, 2006

Actually burst out laughing? That’s a touch on the rude side. We need Britain to join that Schengen thing.

10. Geoff - May 17, 2006

I went through the ‘Germany 1, England o’ phase while I was living in Berlin. Moving over to the other side of the country quickly made me realised it was Berlin and Berliners that I felt more at home with than the rest of Germany.

But then again I suppose I feel the same about London compared to the rest of the UK. So maybe it’s just a big city thing.

11. BiB - May 17, 2006

Geoff, hello. Long time no see. And when are you going to blog more? Yes, I suppose that, ultimately, these comparison things don’t work. I was amused as I queued to get on my plane back to Berlin to hear two young German women with children moaning about England and what a shit time they’d had and how bad English service was etc. etc. (The other Germans were sniggering at them but they were too furious, for whatever reason, to notice.) Personally, I would say service is one thing I prefer about England. Some things I prefer here. And, yes, I’d just as much rather die than live in Dortmund as, say, somewhere horrible in England. And I live in a funny queer – I don’t mean gay. I mean odd – bubble in Berlin, so it’s hard to make assumptions on the strength of that. Neighbours here are a pain. I miss speaking English. I hate that look of disgust and offendedness that German ladies seem often to sport. And yet, today, or this week, I’m just liking it here. I suppose one really can be happy almost anywhere, given a satisfactory combination of circumstances. Very momentarily, perhaps, Berlin is currently doing the trick.

12. Bowleserised - May 17, 2006

I second the Berlin bubble theory too. I haven’t actually been anywhere in Germany apart from Berlin (mainly the East of the city at that) and the Spreewald. I’m not joking.
When I went to the World Beard and Moustache Championship last year my friend got me all the way to Alt Tegel, then said ominously, “This is what it’s like in West Germany”. Terrifying.

13. BiB - May 17, 2006

I am yet to recover from my first venture onto German territory. In autumn 1993, I visited a friend in Oldenburg. It was the cleanest, most perfect (in a boring way) place I’d ever seen. Big, pretty, spangly houses. Manicured streets. A loathsome pedestrianised bit. And a comical gay-bar called the Zwitscherstübchen (the little chirrup parlour) where leather- and tache-clad gents knocked back Schnapps and then snogged each other senseless. I was chuffed to bollocks to understand a sentence of German, “Was hast du kaputt gemacht?” yelled by the taxi-driver at my friend because I think one of his eyebrows wasn’t quite perfect enough. Do NOT move to Oldenburg. Well, at least not for another 50 years, say. Having said that, I’d rather live there than in Luton.

14. Geoff - May 17, 2006

Hello, I’ve just been busy. And still not got round to taking the blogging plunge. I’ve only just got the interweb at home so I’m running out of excuses now.

I still feel very much at home every time I go back to Berlin, even despite my German having decayed back to sub-GCSE level due to underuse (seriously, when I attempt to read German these days it amazes me quite how much I’ve forgotten. I find it particularly strange that I studied German the longest, and lived there and yet I’ve forgotten most of it, and yet my French & Dutch are much better, despite never having lived in either country, and having learnt them for less. Odd), so I can quite see why it’d doing it for you.

And yet despite all the differences on the surface, I’ve always thought that the Germans and the English have far more in common than either would like to admit (or even see sometimes), and I think some of the features we identify in each other are things we’re in denial about ourselves.

15. daggi - May 17, 2006

B.:When I went to the World Beard and Moustache Championship last year my friend got me all the way to Alt Tegel…

One of the reasons I don’t write too much in my blog is because I think most of it would be nicked by the Guardian’s Berlin correspondent. Are you him? Or is your friend? Can I claim my 10 pounds please?

16. Bowleserised - May 17, 2006

No, I’m not the Guardian’s Berlin correspondent. Nor is my friend. We are not Luke Harding.

BiB: my grandma got very bored in her 90s too and used to mutter to my mum that it was about time she (grandma) died, whereupon my mother would suggest we got her some E, so she could go out happy.

*NB this may give a false impression about the relative liberalness of my upbringing*

17. daggi - May 17, 2006

Does that mean “Luke Harding” is a made-up name for various people?

Sorry, I’ll shut up. My potatoes should be done by now.

18. Bowleserised - May 18, 2006

As far as I know he is a real person, and not a syndicate.

19. BiB - May 18, 2006

I’d never heard of Luke Harding, but have now googled him and found his Guardian blog. Does he only do football? Daggi, by the way, Berlin Diary was there too, at that championship. If only you’d all known… (Mind you, maybe you weren’t bloggers then.)

Geoff, yes, we’re alike. Very, in many ways. Germans, to me, are more like Englanders than Frenchies or Russkies, by far. But sometimes, as with a mispronounced word, the slightest of differences can sometimes seem enormously huge. Some things, though not on the personal level, but on a national one, say, are massively different, I think. I think politically the Germans are far more an ideas-people than we are, for example.

And I still want a different job. I HATE TRANSLATING.

20. daggi - May 19, 2006

Germans: ideas people? Have you been subliminally infected by the latest image campaign of the Großkapitalisten (calling themselves “Deutschland FC”) “Deutschland: Land der Ideen”? That was one thing I once wanted to write about. There were stupid posters at tram stops with a different idea for each day of the year 2006, the ideas being laid out so that they together gave the shape of Germany.

But, I ask you, what is the “idea” behind “the Home Office of the Federal State of Hesse, Wiesbaden”? (11 June 2006 is the day of that idea).

The posters were full of similar rubbish – unfortunately they don’t seem to be easily available online. (www.land-der-ideen.de).

Luke Harding – I believe before he came here, he was the Guardian’s Baghdad correspondent. I wonder if he went in for less tabloid themes when he was based in Iraq? I can’t imagine the novelty of a beard championship being, erm, very novel, in the Middle East. Unless “Dana Internatonal” were to win, and an Israeli transvestite (transsexual?) would be unlikely to be allowed to take part anyway. I nearly went myself, incidentally, but typically had to work after all. That’s something else I almost wrote about myself on the blog, but didn’t, and then read a simple report of the same event/film/occurence (purporting to be “European news”) in the newspaper that I once liked to read. But not now. It’s too small and the sentences are too short.

I have given up my job, and I wonder if it was a good idea. I suspect not. My boss says I’m “brave”. (Translation: “you won’t get a job anywhere else and certainly not with us ever again”). Perhaps it’s best to stick with what you’ve got, at least try and do something else alongside the translating before you chuck it in altogether. How about a car mechanic? You must have picked up a lot of technical knowledge over the years, surely.

21. BiB - July 2, 2006

Oh, I seem to have missed a comment somehow. Well, yes. I’ll stick with translating until I’m offered my book/film/album deal. What’s on the cards for you for life post books?

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