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Social autism January 23, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

…won’t get the rent paid.

I am currently at war. A low-intensity war, where I mostly lie low and then leap out of the jungle in a limp attempt at an ambush every now and again. It’s fairly Davidy-and-Goliathy, and I’m very much the David. Only there are twists. One, I don’t win. Two, there are three Goliaths.

I am at war with my employers. The bane of any freelancer’s life – well, apart from having to do the work in the first place – is the extra hassle of getting paid. The transaction would appear easy enough. Thief requires translation. I do translation. Return it to thief. Thief pays.

Except it isn’t that simple. My thieves, though they have never dealt in outright robbery, can’t seem to manage to last part of the transaction. Tradition demands you wait 30 days for your dosh once the job is complete. In my more childish moods, I wonder why this can’t be quicker. What takes 30 days, after all? Have a shufti, biff the invoice off to whomever, transfer the wedge. Hey presto…

There is a hierarchy of ineptness amongst thieves. And you’ll be happy to hear, I hope, that it is strictly along national lines. Unfortunately, I haven’t worked for people in many countries. My freelancing activities have only taken me, financially, to Russia, Switzerland, Belgium, the UK and, of course, Germany. Now, darlings, give your prejudices and stereotypes free rein and try to put the thieves in order of unspeakable cuntery… But just in case you can’t bear the suspense, let me tell you who pays like a dream and who are heartless, thoughtless arses who’d happily let you starve to death rather than bother signing the bastard invoice onto the next stage of the snail-speed process…

Admit it, you thought the Russians were going to be the naughtiest, didn’t you? They’re not. They’re the best. Along with the Swiss. Send them an invoice and they pay it. Imagine! That simple! No 96 reminders. No saying, “Oh, 1 euro seems a bit much. Can we pay you 99c instead?” (They leave that to the Germans.) No waiting till the 29th day to have the money on their accounts for that bit longer. No solicitor’s letter before they budge. Just straightforward, honourable, gentlemanly interaction. From the Russians, perhaps, because they know the value of eating. From the Swiss, no doubt, because the invoice is fed into a cuckoo-clock alarm-reminder. Or something. And they need to launder the money as quickly as possible.

The Germans are the tightest. There’ll be (virtual) head-shaking and hand-wringing when you quote a price that will keep you above the starvation threshold. “Couldn’t it just be a borderline starvation wage?” they’ll ask, and I say, “Oh go on then. You don’t ‘arf drive a hard bargain.” And we’ll guffaw, virtually, and all will be pally… Until 31 days later when they still haven’t paid and I fire off, at one second past midnight, an e-mail so full of bile and vitriol that I hope it comes through on their two-bit, shit-stink computers with a warning. “WHY hasn’t this invoice been paid? When EXACTLY will it be paid?” And the office Sabine, who can probably hardly get in the office door with such huge teeth and glasses, will answer sheepishly that something must have gone tits-up, as on every other occasion, but they’ll pay soon. But she does answer. And they do pay.

By insulting Belgium, I am really insulting every nation in Europe, so please don’t feel excluded. Trying to get money out of the EU is no doubt on a par for difficulty with every other interaction with an organisation with such a huge bureaucracy and at which, presumably, every message scribbled on a post-it note has to be translated into however many official languages it is now. You do your work for the EU thief. The EU thief is in contact with you 1700 times a day during that process. “Could we have it back a day earlier? Can we quickly just change that whole text and add another bazillion words and not pay you any more? Can we just…?” And then a deafening, echoing silence the moment the work is done and the invoice is with them. You can even see the phone ringing, unanswered, in an office that’s been cleared in a rush. E-mails go ignored. Calls to other departments don’t come up trumps. And then, you sneakily ring at 9.30pm. A sheepish voice answers. “Can I speak to Thief, please?” “Speaking.” “Um, hello, this is BiB. Perhaps you’ve had my 17000 e-mails this last half-hour?” “Um, sorry, Thief isn’t here.” Extraordinary.

But for downright, brazen, spectacular wickedness, I’m sorry to say my compatriots win hands down. Private sector. Not spectacularly huge companies. All loaded. They pay well enough. But you practically have to kidnap their children to get the fucking money out of them. It gives me BSE every time.

My current multi-front war is, unfortunately, UK-heavy. I decided to spread my guerrillas a bit thin but go for a three-pronged attack today. The Germans surrendered with relative ease. Sabine answered my pornographically rude e-mail and couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been paid but would get onto it within the next 5 years. But the English are made of sterner stuff. I’ve only written 800 e-mails pointing out that I’ve now relocated to under a bridge and haven’t eaten since Hallowe’en. Not a peep. Heartless, they are. Heartless. One set of thieves is only scandalously, wickedly, disgracefully late. I am happy to have my e-mails ignored by them for another good few years. But the other set is so criminally, unforgivably, contumaciously late that the invoice is written in pounds, shillings and pence. In Latin. Cunts.

So I thought it was time to phone.

I am rubbish at the phone. I don’t know how they work. I have never, ever – OK, that’s bollocks, but never since moving from potty to real loo – willingly made a phone call. The idea of sitting with a bit of plastic wheezing into my ear as recreation has never sat well with me. No, the phone is a necessary evil which I use as rarely as possible. Which means I stutter and dribble and make a hash of phone etiquette.

Today, I phoned Thief Headquarters to ask for an up-to-date e-mail address for the correct thief to contact for matters relating to their theft. I assumed the previous thief had left or been murdered seeing as he had ignored my previous missives… in Latin, Old English, Middle English, French and our current tongue. “Would that be ledgers or accounts?” asked a dowdy woman with one hand on a doughnut. “Fucked if I know,” I stuttered back. She left a passive aggressive pause before transferring me to another human. A 29-year-old gent, slightly overweight and who’d never had a moment of unhappiness in his life, dealt with stage 2 admirably efficiently. I stutteringly explained that I was naked, shivering and under a bridge as my translation of the Magna Carta – or was it Beowulf? – hadn’t been paid for. “Which mag was it for?” “Cartas Weekly.” “And your name?” “BiB.” “OK, I’ll put you through to G_,” and before I could say, “But I only want an e-mail address,” I was being put through to a girl with a modern name.

“Fuck, fuck, I’m going to have to be assertive.” The girl with the modern G-name answered. “Fuck, fuck… Um, hello. Um, bridge, rags, hungry… BiB… Latin.” “Oh, that’s funny,” said the bubbly G-girl with a LAUGH. “I’ve just been forwarded your 9000 e-mails from the man in accounts.” “So you mean he hasn’t been murdered?” “No, he’s just been ignoring you.” “Oh good.”

“So, um, about the invoice?” “Oh, sorry, I’m afraid I’m not in a position to give you any information further to your inquiry. I don’t do invoices.” Pause for laughter. “You’ll have to wait for an answer from the man in accounts… Yes, the one who’s ignored your 9000 e-mails. Thank you for your patience at this difficult time.”

So once you hear the news-story about a man in rags, speaking depleted English, who goes on a murderous rampage through a central London accounts department shouting, “Don’t you understand? I’ve got a Russian homosexual to support!” before surrendering feebly to the (beefy, uniformed) police, don’t forget to write to me in prison.



1. Neil @ World-Of-Facts-O-Rama - January 23, 2007

Translation is badly paid? You jest, surely?
The trick is to only take the very last minute rush jobs that require one to stay awake, working constantly for the 72 hours up to the deadline. Because, let’s be honest, even if I’d had a month’s notice – I’d waited until the last minute anyway. Then charge a fortune for the last-minute service.
Oh, and never do anything for DaimlerChrysler, obviously.

2. daggi - January 23, 2007

Tradition demands you wait 30 days for your dosh

Fuck that. Tradition, ok. But technically the money should be paid immediately, the work having been done, the sum being due the minute to send it to them. After 30 days (or is it 14?) they’re in arrears, and then officially the “fun” can start. Send those red bills. Charge them for them; add 12% (I think that’s the current rate- there’s a complicated formular deciding how much it is exactly) interest and then do it all again. And when, finally, after about 5 months, they pay up, but of course, only the first sum (tops, but usually less for no obvious reason), and not the extra postage, interest, fines etc. you can either sit down and accept it, assuming you are hoping to get offered work from these gobshites in the future; or if you don’t care and hope they rot in hell and seriously never want to deal with them again, you send another bill and finally get the German small claims court involved (a vaguely simple matter of filling in a form and giving them a laughably small amount of money), whose fees will get added to the final bill, which Sabine’s boss will have to pay too.

3. Neil @ World-Of-Facts-O-Rama - January 23, 2007

And proof read your blog comments and never work for anyone called Frank. Or Farhad.

4. Neil @ World-Of-Facts-O-Rama - January 23, 2007

Or SZ Magazin

5. daggi - January 23, 2007

Or a German weekly rag with the initials “J.W.”
I said weekly.

6. pleite - January 23, 2007

Actually, I forgot to mention in my anti-EU bit that normal firms in Belgium have caught the bad habit and are equally loathsome and untrustworthy. But, Neil, thank you for those tips and I will never work for any of those companies or for men whose names start with F. I never manage to charge that rush-job extra bit, even though every job I do is, as you say, rushed at the last minute. Yes, a month’s work done in 3 days. Actually, the very worst English cunts – the ones I socially autistically rang today – DO pay a supplement if it’s a rush-job. But I’m normally so exasperated by the time I’ve wheedled the money out of them that any cause for gratitude is gone.

Daggi, is that the way to proceed? I’m such a useless pushover. If I added all those 12%s and the like to the wickedest English cunts’ sum, repeatedly, for every millennium they’re late, I’d probably be able to pay off the world’s debts and statues would have to be erected in my honour… I won’t work for German weekly rags either.

7. daggi - January 23, 2007

If you really are interested about the niceties of how to burn your bridges to German people/companies who employ freelancers and then don’t pay up (and by doing this actually get paid), I can send you the appropriate details by email… It’s not difficult.

8. BiB - January 23, 2007

Daggi, please do. I’m longing to burn my translation bridges – apart from the ones I’m sleeping under – as it would force me to find something else. Perhaps. Or to move to under a bridge. Actually, all the assorted thieving cunts who currently owe me money at least don’t give me the worst of the worst as translations go. Not too hellish stuff. And only the Germans pay kopecks… But the thought of a nice, regular Überweisung from being a checkout girl at Lidl, just nicely being there on the 28th of every month, does, sometimes, sound sorely tempting. But REALLY I need to join the circus… As a freelance translator.

9. Blonde at Heart - January 23, 2007

“Trying to get money out of the EU is no doubt on a par for difficulty with every other interaction with an organisation with such a huge bureaucracy”
Unless you are a Palestinian terrorist organisation. Then the money will be transferred to you immediately. So maybe you should say you belong to the Allah Brigades of the BiB batallion and money will flow.

As sad as your story is (done a bit of freelancing, so I know it is a pain), it made me laugh.

10. BiB - January 23, 2007

BaH, thankfully, I have already burnt my EU bridges. Well, not really deliberately, but I haven’t worked for them for ages, and otherwise I avoid Belgium like the plague. (Though not the country, which I like. Apart from Brussels itself which is almost as nasty as Stevenage, which is the nastiest place on earth. Brussels is surprisingly nasty.)

Actually, one bit of work I did for Brussels did involve handing over cash… but not to Palestinians. Anyway, I probably signed a confidentiality agreement valid for 999 years, so I mustn’t say more (not that the information is top secret or interesting or anything).

11. daggi - January 23, 2007

Stevenage? You’ve never been to Grays.

12. BiB - January 23, 2007

Daggi, I think you’re right. Is Grays near Thurrock, or vice versa? I once went to Thurrock as my sister wanted to attend some establishment of Higher Education there. (Does one exist, or am I inventing all this as I go along?) For some reason, I was her 14-year-old chaperone, and I even sat in on the interview! Anyway, I think that Thurrock shopping emporium was being planned, and it was hot and sunny and the place looked as much like Saudi Arabia as I could imagine. Just a huge, boiling, sandy desert.

Have you heard it’s Milton Keynes’s birthday? Apparently, 150% of the residents say it’s the best place in the world to live. Or something.

13. daggi - January 23, 2007

“Grays Thurrock” is the telephone dialling code. Or it was, before it got merged into an east London/Essex telephone dialling code hell (Romford-Hornchurch-Upminster-Hornchurch-Ingrebourne-Havering atte Bower-Elm Park-Grays Thurrock). 01708. Oh, for the days when dialling codes were different depending on where you were phoning from. 22 or 33 or 12 oder 4332, and stiff-upper-lip recorded messages telling you not to use the national dialling code (“STD”, which now has a wholly different meaning) should you have been cheeky enough to try.

Lakeside. Where’s the lake? There’s a big bridge over the Thames, lots of junkyards. And where’s the blue water in Bluewater, the Gate at Eastgate, the arcades on the Schönhauser Allee? With shopping centres named like that, I’d expect to be ripped off once inside them. Sale of goods act? My arse.

Milton Keynes was the idea behind the new Hauptbahnhof. Open a station, call it “central”, but make sure nothing’s anywhere near it.

14. pleite - January 23, 2007

I am planning to take a train from our new Central Station in late February. I’m so excited I could puke, although, admittedly, that has little to do with the station’s non-central central location. Is that area going to become newly groovy then? I once went to a cinema near it, to see another Kaurismäki film, actually, and the building was just a shell and the area was deader than dead. When we turned up at the cinema – sort of Acud-like – we were the only people there, and the girl who sold us the tickets still had to give some sort of spiel at the start of the film, welcoming us, or something, but she looked straight ahead of her, nowhere near us, as if she was talking to a full house. Odd.

15. narrowback - January 23, 2007

dunning clients for my pay (and looking for clients in the first place) is a major reason why I’ve elected to stay an “employee” rather than go into consulting… it’s comforting to know that regardless of the state of affairs I will be getting that paycheck every other Friday.

While I expect that the actual amount/percentage would differ somewhat – on this side of the pond it is customary to add a penalty for billings unpaid after 30 days with the penalty compounding at 15 day intervals… My employer, however, never pays the penalty. “So, do you want just the original amount we owe or do you want to go to court for two years complete with attorney’s costs – to try and get the other 10% as well?

16. BiB - January 23, 2007

Christ, couldn’t they even pretend to be nice? Of course as ‘my’ America is largely fairy-tale, TV America, all this talk of attorneys and courtroom drama is both exciting and scary. “Objection!” “Sustained!” “Subpoena!” (OK, not that subpoena could ever really warrant an exclamation mark, but still.) Well, luckily, I’ve always got the money out of my people in the end. If it was for bigger sums and I was a nastier type, it would probably be worth my while hiring a couple of huge meatheads. It would have to be a lot of money, though, considering I’d have to have them stationed between England and Germany. Come to think of it, though, one full-time position I held also didn’t even guarantee payment at the end of the month. Unless I go and become a civil servant, it seems I am doomed to fight for my money.

17. narrowback - January 23, 2007

“Pretend to be nice”? In certain business circles that’s just not done lest you be perceived as being weak and vulnerable.

I’ve two brothers who dabble in the collection business… they might be persuaded to take on a European job just for the adventure of it.

18. pleite - January 23, 2007

With my late-payers, I think it’s mostly a case of stunning incompetence rather than outright naughtiness. And the fact that the invoice presumably gets farmed out to some distant and instantly forgettable accounts department elsewhere doesn’t help. But I think I contributed to one non-payer’s nervous breakdown so I still need to tread carefully. I’ve got a feeling, when the Russian was still in Russia, that someone wanted him to be a heavy that went round collecting debts. Except he’d have been more a light than a heavy, at least by Russian standards. He has a neck, for a start. But I think it’s a good thing to have moved away from Russia, even if I have always found Russians to be punctual payers! I’m having naughty thoughts about your brothers already… Are you bringing the family album when you come to Berlin?

19. pleite - January 24, 2007

ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA. Translating, probably. So I should just shut up. But won’t. Lots of folk tell me a regular, structured 9-5 would be brilliant for me but I’ve never believed them. I value getting-enough-sleep and solitude enormously. And I’m not REALLY in rags and under a bridge, of course. (Yet.)

If we’re talking pure, pure fantasy, something singy or dancey would be up my alley. But I can neither dance nor sing. I DID enjoy my job in Russia, working with rough kids, but staying in Russia was impossible, and it was thankless in other ways. But troubled teenagers were fun. (Says the non-parent.)

What about you? Do you know your dream job, or are you contented with what you’re doing? Do you have to make death-threats to get paid?

20. Marsha Klein - January 24, 2007

Your story made me laugh too.

Chasing people for payment is a pain in the proverbial. I quite often have to chase clients for payment and the excuse is always along the lines of “Oh, I’m sorry but you see our company’s name isn’t spelt with a “C”, it’s spelt with a “K”. Of course, we noticed the mistake the second we received your invoice, but we reckoned, if we did nothing about it until you began chasing us, we could delay asking for a new invoice and thereby gain ourselves (at least) another 30 days in which to not pay you”! Big clients are very often the worst, usually because the exec. who “passes” the invoice for payment and the accounts department are at opposite ends of the country and the actual processing of the invoice is done somewhere in India. Add to this the fact that digital communication, so beloved by us proles, seems to have passed these types by and they are still relying on carrier pigeons and you have the perfect recipe for raised blood pressure (mine) and obscenely huge profits (theirs).

21. pleite - January 24, 2007

Marsha, yes, that is exactly my experience. And I’m glad I raised a titter. Although there was quite a lot of class A swearing, wasn’t there? I worried about that for a sec, but I suppose it’s allowed in this day and age. (Do you know, once a youngster left a comment saying that I had used a rude word?)

(Currently listening to a hilarious, fake radio phone-in show on Radio 4.)

22. Marsha Klein - January 24, 2007

Oh “Down the Line”?! Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson are very funny, clever men. Hilariously, this show attracted some less than favourable comments when it first aired, from people who thought it was for real (also from people who thought it was unsuitable for Radio 4) “Dear BBC, I really must complain, in the strongest possible terms…”etc etc, that sort of thing.

I recommend this afternoon’s Afternoon Play (via Listen Again) by Corin Redgrave. The Afternoon Play’s always a bit hit-and-miss, but I really enjoyed this one. Oooh, this is what the internet’s all about, isn’t it? Swapping opinions on Radio 4 progs late into the night. I’m SUCH a rebel!

23. MountPenguin - January 24, 2007

Hmm, would that be (frantically searches BBC website) Down the line? I’ll have a listen once this week’s repeat of Dead Ringers has finished.

(Sorry to hijack the thread, but on the page linked above it says mystifyingly “Or from 29 Jan – 09 Feb, you can press red from any BBC TV channel to watch this film.“. What is “red”, and how can I press it from a TV channel?)

24. pleite - January 24, 2007

Exactly, Down the Line. Hilarious.

Tips are exactly what the internet’s about. Maybe. Well, blogging, anyway, if this is chatting online.

I’m still waiting for a blogger to give me my dream-job tip. Or for some blogger to come and scoop me up in his/her big, bloggerly arms and sort my life out for me. It seems bonkers, in a way, NOT to be doing something more interesting in Berlin. Although there’s no work here, really. But it still feels vaguely like a place of opportunity.

25. pleite - January 24, 2007

Penguin, we cross. Yes, that’s the show. Should have you tittering. God knows what ‘press red’ means. Ring the show to complain! But make sure you have a distinctive accent/voice before doing so.

Hijacking is encouraged.

26. Marsha Klein - January 24, 2007

I think you’ll have to join the queue, BiB. The sorting-out-your-life services appear to be in high demand among bloggers. Many (although by no means all) seem vaguely dissatisfied with life, which is why they’re blogging in the first place.

What would you like to be doing?

27. Marsha Klein - January 24, 2007

“Red” is the red button on your TV remote control

28. MountPenguin - January 24, 2007

It’s a long shot, but you could always register yourself with the Arbeitsagentur (formerly known as the Arbeitsamt) as arbeitsuchend, even if you don’t have any unemployment insurance. For complicated bureaucratic reasons I became a “customer” there last year for a brief period, and they actually sent me one or two job offers based purely on my qualificiation as a native English speaker. You’d need to go to the Arbeitsagentur Nord near Westend station, because they practise class segregation at the Arbeitsagentur and that’s where they deal with people with degrees (or people who say they have degrees, they never wanted to see mine).

29. MountPenguin - January 24, 2007

Sorry, “qualificiation” should read “qualification” of course, but I was listening to G.W. Bush on Dead Ringers questionarising someone from Sesame Street at the time of writing.

30. MountPenguin - January 24, 2007

Marsha: on my German remote control, “red” is the off-switch. Hmm, mysteriouser and mysteriouser. I think I shall have to spend more time in the UK before they take away my passport.

31. pleite - January 24, 2007

Penguin, thanks. I don’t even know what unemployment insurance is, so presume I don’t have it. And I’m only underemployed, of course, or misemployed, rather than un. Would ‘suchend’ actually mean I was an unemployed person? That would give me BSE. And I certainly don’t want to start giving the German state any say in my life. But if it’s registering as ‘seeking’ and they can give me the odd pointer, that could be sex.

George Bush and Sesame Street? I need to track that show down…

32. Marsha Klein - January 24, 2007

No, sadly not. Just boring references to some piece of legislation (the exact name of which I can’t remember) which involves charging interest at base rate plus 12% or something. I occasionally get to threaten legal action, but as we’ve never actually taken any (and probably wouldn’t know how to), I’m not sure it has anyone quaking in their shoes.

I am certainly less than contented with my current job, although it does afford me a vast amount of time for surfing the Internet. As for my dream job, I have, in the past, harboured the desire to go on the stage ( I actually auditioned for a drama college once) but am far too inhibited to have made a real success of acting. I suppose something language-related would suit me but as I don’t want to teach (despite having quite enjoyed the little teaching I have done) my options are, apparently, limited. Politics, journalism, or some other kind of writing? Well, I thought blogging might be a way of finding out if I could write and how long did that last? As for politics, I tend towards the hypersensitive – not a good trait in a politician!

Sorry, this comment has gone on much longer than it should have (and it was nearly longer) but this subject (my ideal job) is often on my mind at the moment.

33. pleite - January 24, 2007

Marsha, no word limit here. Write away… But I shall have to read whatever you say in the morning. The tennis has begun, which is my cue to hit the sack.

34. Junky D (a temporary name during my immediate post-TEFL Smiler state) - January 24, 2007

Hilarious post – your best yet (of the ones I’ve read). Pity it’s born of pain and sorrow – but isn’t all great art? ;-(

It’s a horrible dilemma – to be owned by a company for the sake of a good, regular wage.

Or to do your own thang, but spend most of your time getting an ulcer due to the worries of modern-day hunting and gathering.

Having tried both, I’m now looking more for being a corporate slave. At least the tax-form’s easier!

Pressing the red button on your remote is connected to digital TV in the UK. They’re always telling you to do it, and it’s never for anything good.

35. MountPenguin - January 24, 2007

Yup, if you haven’t got any unemployment insurance (you will if you’ve been in regular employment in Germany for more than a few months, otherwise not), you can still register yourself as “seeking”, and as you’re then not in financial thrall to the state, they have no hold over you. I don’t think that would make you officially “unemployed” either (but even if so it’s not as bad as it sounds and you don’t actually have to go and hang out in from of your local Imbiss wearing baggy jogging trousers and start drinking beer from about 10am or anything like that).

36. MountPenguin - January 24, 2007

Post-TEFL Junky D: a digital thingy is it? Ah, that explains a lot, like these “BBC3” and “BBC4” things I keep hearing about. No doubt the red button activates the nearest surveillance camera and scans your iris to see if you’re a terrorist, or worse, an illegal immigrant, or something like that.

37. pleite - January 24, 2007

Junky D, you’ve snuck in just before bedtime. I’m looking forward to seeing the post TEFL incarnation. And only just coping with the culture shock of this temporary incarnation!

Actually, the only job that really has given me an (almost) ulcer – pre-ulcerous state, I think it was called, or erosive bulbitis, technically – was the one in Russia I liked. The teenagers were great. But the other staff were mostly despicable. Alas… Mind you, I’ve always coped with any brainless jobs I’ve had before. (All the other ones, in other words.) But I was still just as skint. And, about once a year, I suppose translation can be vaguely thinky/createy. Hopefully it keeps the grey matter vaguely grey.

Right, must go to bed. It’s 1.40am. And I haven’t even drunk or smoked.

38. pleite - January 24, 2007

Penguin, oh, I’d probably be quite good at the beer. Damn us nocturnal chatty bloggers. Must hit sack.

39. MountPenguin - January 24, 2007

Me too. I am blessed, or cursed, by a line of work which involves poking and tweaking servers (and an ongoing, depressively sysiphic battle against scrapers and spammers), and the best time to do that is when everyone else is sleeping…

“Erosive bulbitis”? What an interesting pair of words, I shall see if I can casually work them into conversation some time.

40. Daggi - January 24, 2007

Arbeitsamt blah blah…people with degrees

No. No. No.(imagine a Thatcher-like voice) Academics. This is Germany.

41. narrowback - January 24, 2007

…and as I finally get an opportunity to check in its now somewhere around a gawdawful time of the middle of the night over there

sorry but I doubt I’ll be dragging any family album over. my baggage is usually enough to give a stevedore a hernia as it is

42. MountPenguin - January 24, 2007

Daggi: no, no, no, Agentur für Arbeit, Arbeitsamt is so unreformed pre-Hartz. But you’re right, Academics is da word (though the relevant section of the AA calls itself Hochschulteam).

43. Christina - January 24, 2007

I’m a b*tch when it comes to money. When I consulted, I did things like gave them abstracts of the results and only released full reports with full payment. But I guess that’s easier for statisticians to do than for translators. I also was consulting on the side so I could say things like, “It’s not worth my time to do that unless you pay me an inordinately obscene amount of money.” And I hated tutoring snobby Duke undergrads, so I started charging $30/hour. Never had a single customer and it was great. I’d say start charging them interest at midnight on day 30, then threaten to call in a collection agency. Those red letters are nice too.

You could also try one of those Manpower-type agencies. Not sure exactly how they work, but they’ve been recommended to me by others.

44. Marsha Klein - January 24, 2007

How about this as an alternative (or additional) money-making option?


45. Ben - January 24, 2007

Your story enrages me all over again and reminds me why I had to bid good riddance to the freelance translation thing three years ago. I’ve been royally shafted on piddling technicalities often enough to, gulp, accept a clock-punching day job (albeit with humane hours). I admire your perseverance and hope you either get paid or get revenge–if the latter, then put in a hit for me, too. Now I edit and write for a daily trade paper and, while it’s not exactly creative fiction or always exhilarating, it is dependable and suprisingly interesting. So, at the very least, I guess I avoided getting an ulcer at 31.

In your position I recommend either (1) keeping to the freelancing but expanding your exposure online, getting more contacts, posting on freelancing sites, tweaking out your cv, until you’ve got enough offers you have turn down half of them –or– (2) biting the bullet and putting in a few ads in the classifieds as some kind of, I don’t know, English expert (teaching, perhaps?), Tip, Zitty, Tagespiegel, etc. Life’s too short to put up with this disrespectful crap. You deserve better.

46. Ed Ward - January 24, 2007

As someone who’s been freelancing before most of you were born, I can only say ’twas ever thus. And still is. There’s something demeaning about not getting paid a wage that’s already well below the poverty limit for the country you’re living in. And there’s something *really* demeaning about running after people who pay that wage to fulfil their contractual obligations when you realize that after having done so, they’ll put you on their blacklist and you’ll never be able to work for them — albeit for that meager wage — again. After all, there are a lot more where you came from, and it’s not about quality, it’s about filling pages so the ads don’t all run together.

Even worse is when you have to just eat the unpaid fee. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched the parent corporation restructure so the magazine keeps coming out but the folks who owe you the money are no longer liable for it. If I’d actually been paid all the money I was owed over the years, I’d have bought a tropical island and I’d be flying you all in for a caviar party.

47. pleite - January 24, 2007

Ed, it’s bloody infuriating, isn’t it? Hopefully all the thieves come to sticky ends and rot in hell where they are doomed to constantly try to pickpocket each other but – ho ho – the pockets are full of fire and they get their fingers burnt. But, in hell, residents only have the memory of a goldfish so the thieves try it again a second later and so on… Except they’re probably living on tropical islands, aren’t they? Bastards. I haven’t yet been ripped off as you have. I’m livid on your behalf – just waiting for months for the money is bad enough, but not getting it at all… – so, once I get down the gym and start pumping iron – don’t hold your breath – I’m more than willing to become your own private vigilante and to go kick some thieving ass. (American spelling deliberate in this case, Brits.)

Ben, you give me hope. There is life after freelance translation. Maybe I need something like Ed’s experience to finally jolt me into doing something else. Of course it’s a lazily cosy life – when they pay – and it’s easy enough to just calcify into it for ever. This is almost a downside of living in such a cheap place. It’s easy to get stuck doing something shitly-paid. Although cheap is good, of course…

Marsha, hark at you putting a link in a comment! Being paid to demonstrate. My god. I can’t believe Germans will be willing to pay for that. And I’m trying to think which groups of unscrupulous folk would be so concerned about numbers that they’d be prepared to pay to swell their ranks.

Christina, yes, I’ve sometimes used the trick of quoting a ludicrously high price when I don’t want to do something. It usually works a treat. Although occasionally it backfires and folk think, “Oh, expensive, they must be good.” Damn. The annoying thing about the very naughty English thieves is that they actually pay well.

Daggi/Penguin, do you mean I’m an academic? I do have one degree. No PhDs or anything excting like that, though. So am I qualified enough to go to the Arbeits-thing for qualified folk or do I just go to the regular one for us thickies? (Penguin, what are scrapers?)

Narrowback, I like the word stevedore. I met one once – a friend-of-a-friend’s father – and, of course, had no idea what it meant but I think I got away with a convincing aaaaah.

48. Marsha Klein - January 24, 2007

The caption on this photograph made me laugh (when read in the context of the whole article) and I thought I’d share it with you.


I’ve gone link-crazy!

49. pleite - January 24, 2007

Reality TV is one thing I am glad not to have cottoned onto (yet). People I know back in London who can read and write and everything have told me it’s gripping. But I once saw ten seconds of Big Brother on an England trip when the famous Jade was in it and I instantly turned into Melanie Phillips, so have never watched again. There was a Serb boy who constantly flashed his willy on the German version once, so the Russian and I would occasionally linger on the remote-control if his willy was on view, but, otherwise, I have to resist the temptation. (We do watch, when we catch it, a talk-show round-up. But I feel awfully hypocritical. I used to bollock my ex for watching Jerry Springer.)

50. Marsha Klein - January 24, 2007

I’ve never understood the point of reality TV. You would think that telly that comes under the heading of “entertainment” would include an element of escapism – surely there is quite enough “reality”, accosting us on all sides, in everyday life already?
But I did like that caption. I could just imagine some sub-editor searching the programme archives for a photo showing this girl on the “far right”.

51. BiB - January 24, 2007

Gosh, I didn’t even make the far-right connection. Time to go and have another brain scan.

Mind you, on the reality-v.-entertainment thang… In some quarters, including my own, we DO want our art or entertainment to be as realistic as possible, don’t we? I thought it was partly why those Dogme films hit such a nerve. Although I suppose you could even argue that soap operas have their elements of realism, but they haven’t ever really done it for me. Perhaps reality TV isn’t nearly real enough. Fly-on-the-wall is interesting, but if in a real setting. Holing willing captives up in luxury for weeks on end isn’t very real, nor is sending dim girls to desert islands. Mind you, do you remember when Joanna Lumley was abandoned on a desert island for some early take on reality/survival TV? She was fucking brilliant. And just as resourceful as you’d expect that type to be. She made shoes out of a bra. And she cheated and had smuggled booze in with her off the plane, which was against the rules.

God, I haven’t drunk or smoked in ages…

52. Marsha Klein - January 24, 2007

Yes, you’re right. I don’t know what made me say that about escapism/entertainment – it really doesn’t represent what I enjoy on TV/in film at all. I think it’s just “reality” TV (the inverted commas are vital) that I don’t like. Maybe reality is one of those words which, like “celebrity” used to have a different set of connotations (by ‘eck, when I were a lad…etc etc)

I do remember that Joanna Lumley thing. She went a little bit crazy, didn’t she? Which was also genuinely realistic.


53. Daggi - January 24, 2007

Penguin:But you’re right, Academics is da word (though the relevant section of the AA calls itself Hochschulteam

In fact, the Hochschulteam is there for those still at university/Fachhochschule (I could say “poly”, in fact I think I will, ok: “poly”. Good.) in an attempt to remind students that their future job, if any, needs no qualifications whatsoever. They could write a book and call it “The Joy of Callcentres”.

In my local Arbeitsagentur there’s a nice sign near the entrance pointing out, along the lines of old East End racist pub signs, “NO ACADEMICS. GO TO WESTHAFEN.”

I’ve got a so-called qualification from the OU called the “CertHum (Open)”. I suppose I’m an academic too, aren’t I?

54. daggi - January 25, 2007

Obviously that sign should actually read

55. pleite - January 25, 2007

Marsha, just haven’t had any going-out-on-the-town opportunities. Although I did help empty a bottle of red last night, which was heaven. Sobriety is greatly overrated. But I fully intend to smoke my little lungs out tomorrow.

Speaking of reality TV, there seems to be a rush of Nazi WWII wickedness documentaries on at the moment. I’m not sure if there’s a specific anniversary. And, in any case, German TV always has a selection of Nazi-era programmes on. I just can’t hear enough stories from that time. Sometimes I think, “We mustn’t let ourselves think that the height of wickedness has been reached, that nothing so bad can ever happen again.” And then you hear another story and you do wonder if, at the same time as experimenting on humans, the Nazis were also experimenting with just how wicked humanity could be. Four pretty incredible survivors of Auschwitz. One child’s last view of his mother, as they were separated, for her to be killed, was her mouthing to him, “Help me”. Not something a 5-year-old should experience. He called Auschwitz the upside-down world.

Daggi, as soon as I work out where Westhafen is – that’s not where the Ausländerbehörde is, is it? – I’ll make my academic way there, wearing a mortar board and with my degree certificate rolled up and wrapped in a ribbon. Sadly, I was already in Russia when my graduation ceremony took place so my mother hasn’t got a photo of me looking ludicrous to adorn her mantelpiece. She has got one of me looking ludicrous on Unter den Linden. And, oddly, though I know I should appreciate it, one of the Russian on the U2. Hopefully, when the neighbours pop in – they do still, in London, and she hasn’t lived there for long. Mind you, the old man next door swears at her – she answers their who’s-that-sitting-with-you-on-a-foreign-tube-train-photo questions with, “My son’s… um… friend.”

Beauty competition? Do only people without a degree become Miss World? Are Venezuelans, ergo, the least educated nation on earth?

56. daggi - January 25, 2007

Westhafen, indeed, is where the Ausländerbehörde is. Did they have a big file on you too? I was a bit concerned, but didn’t ask if I could have a look.

But actually, I think MP was right, the Academics’ Unemployment Centre is probably at Westend. Their tips probably include “signing up for another degree course so employers don’t have to pay any national insurance or health contributions, thereby making you much cheaper and more likely to find a dead-end part-time job.”

57. BiB - January 25, 2007

I’d love to sign up for some course or other, in a way. But I’m sure I loathed student life, actually.

I haven’t darkened the door of the Ausländerbehörde for a long time, but I have to go and renew my residence thingy soon, so look forward to that great joy. Gosh, I hope they have a nice, big fat file on me, saying things like, “Phoned mother, January 12th 2002,” “Got drunk,” (a slew of dates) etc. etc. I STILL haven’t seen Das Leben der Anderen. Nominated for an Oscar, dontcha know.

58. MountPenguin - January 25, 2007

Daggi, I think you’re right about the Hochschulteam being only for those suffering from current or recent studentdom. I looked through my sparse correspondence with the AA and the word doesn’t feature anywhere. Thinking back it was the receptionist at the AA I thought I had to go to, but which had become unwashed-masses only, who described them as such.

BiB, the place to go is definitely Westend, if you’re from Ruislip (I can send you details per PM). Dunno whether theyll be of any use to you, but you never know, and it doesn’t cost anything. And they’ve gone all friendly and efficient-like with receptionists and Termine, none of this pulling-a-number-and-wait-all-morning-for-your-turn. Just don’t try to find anything on the Arbeitsagentur website (a bargain at €130 million or something) or deal with anyone from there by email.

As to the Ausländerbehörde, that’s another place which has gone all modern and terminbasiert and ostensibly customer-friendly in the last couple of years. Spoils the whole experience. Mind you every time I pass by on the S-Bahn I remind myself how happy I am that I never, ever need go there again. Not even with Mrs. Penguin, who like totally forgot an important deadline last year and became an illegal alien.

59. BiB - January 25, 2007

Penguin, does that mean you now have to hide Mrs. Penguin every time there’s a knock on the door? Have I blogged – I’m sure I have – the fact that THE POLICE turned up at our flat once when I’d done that initial 3-month registering thing and hadn’t gone back to prolong it for a proper period on time? The police! Thankfully, the Russian opened the door and, with a natural distrust/fear of authority, lied and told them I’d gone back to England. I was in the bathroom.

Please do send me the details by PM. But what is PM? Has e-mail been updated? Of course I’d rather deal with the humans by e-mail than face-to-face, but this social and linguistic autism is what has got me into a work-pickle in the first place. So I’ll have to conquer my fear… and then turn down any job they suggest. (Mind you, I vaguely know one geezer who’d just finished his studies and he went along for advice and they instantly got him a job at a radio station. Imagine! He was chuffed to bollocks. But it was one of those 1-euro jobs. Aber trotzdem.)

60. MountPenguin - January 25, 2007

A “PM” is a Prime Minister, I keep a small herd in the cellar for use as messengers. Sorry, I mean it’s short for “private mail”, (I think) commonly used in public internet fora when the information becomes too obscure / irrelevant / private for public consumption. Would say an instant message via Skype be preferable?

Fortunately Mrs. Penguin is now entirely legal once again, but that’s an anecdote I’ll save for its own blog entry.

61. pleite - January 25, 2007

Ooh, an instant message via Skype sounds lovely and instant, but I don’t have it. I have had Skype, when a Russian pal in Moscow instructed I install it. Which I did, and then he said, “Right, got your microphone?” And I was defeated at the first hurdle. Except we did ‘ring’ each other, and he spoke and I typed, and it felt too much like some sort of online porn experience, and I had to truncate it. And now I appear to have deleted the thing altogether. Perhaps I should buy a microphone.

So if Prime Minister wouldn’t be a total pain, that would be brilliantly kind of you.

62. Junky D - January 25, 2007

Skype is great – all the cool kids have it. You do want to be a cool kid, dontcha? Actually, it seems to me that all the young uns use MSN or Yahoo. But everyone I know (my acquaintances mainly being of a Zimmer-frame persuasion) IMs (that’s ‘instant-messages’) via Skype. Do people use it for voice calls, too? I only do that with friends in other countries.

You should get a Skype plug-in (does WordPress do those?), and then we can all have a massive group Skype-fest via your blog. Or something like that. Gosh, no-one would ever get any work done. Me, I’m applying for the-dream-job-that’s-got-my-name-on-it-and-appeared-the-minute-I- killed-my-blog. Partaking in an IM-orgy would probably take up too much time to do that kind of thing.

Oh, I think I’d better hurry up and start that new blog (late next week) before I write too many really long comments all over other people’s blogs!

63. pleite - January 26, 2007

No, write away. But do open your new blog. Is it only going to come into being once you’re in Copenhagen? And once you’ve got that brilliant new job? All the best for that. I so hope it comes off, and that you’ll inspire me to get off my arse too.

Oh gosh, blog-chatting! Sounds terrifying. Then you’d all realise that I’m a 17-year-old called Donna, which I did reveal once before, actually, but it got forgotten and I let it lie. Unless I can come up with a convincing man-voice, I’m going to have to keep this blog strictly low-tech.

64. Junky D - January 26, 2007

It’s the whole ‘plug-ins’ thing that gets me. I imagine them as being placed under a bald man’s scalp to encourage hair to grow. (‘Plugs’, right? Close enough!)

Yep, once I’m back plus a few days. I’ll need time to catch up on some sleep, slowly find a new design, and choose between two names – I’m wavering at the moment. And I’m not sure who to go with. TypePad are the easiest, but you have to pay. Not that it’s much, and they really are easy. I imagine I’ll go with them again.

Damn, there I go again, typing away! Perhaps I should add another post to junk culture. I forgot to add that the icy temperatures have frozen the gears on my bike, and now I’m stuck in third gear all the time!

65. pleite - January 26, 2007

Is typepad EVEN better than wordpress? I see that junk culture is wordpress. Whom are you working on that with, or is it top secret? Apparently, wordpress charge if you want to use tonnes of space, or something like that. Or if you make a gazilion changes. So far, I haven’t had to fork out. But, yes, it all seems easier here too.

Snow at last. Isn’t it heaven? Of course we’ll all be moaning after a couple of days, but nice while it’s nice. I remember once being in Copenhagen in April (1998, I think) and winter returned with flint-tipped snow-arrows spearing us. I was trying to be all positive and saying, “Oh, it’s not so bad really,” when it was about -20. My two Danish pals looked witheringly at me… Is third gear good or bad for all the time?

66. Junky D - January 26, 2007

J, male, British, old uni friend, Stockholm. E, female, Swedish, friend of J’s, elsewhere in Sweden. Both have had blogs in the past. Don’t know if it’s totally secret – not really, as there’s a link to J’s pro-blog! We haven’t really planned it, as such – just going ahead with it to see how it turns out. Looks like it could be a fun site. I’m still very much finding my feet, trying to work out how to write posts that aren’t about myself!

With TypePad you don’t need to write even a single link in code or ever look at any html at all, not even when customising your design options. I like the service a lot. But then, you do have to pay for it, and if you miss a month your blog disappears for ever. (Apart from Google’s cache, I imagine.) I exported the whole of my old blog as a file onto my computer and an external harddrive, by the way – I can even import it back next time if I want to, although I think I want a fresh start.

I was still in Helsinki in April 1998. Yes, it was cold and snowy. But perhaps that’s less surprising for Finland!

No single gear is good to be stuck in, as I normally go through all seven on any journey. Third’s probably a decent average. I’ve been informed all will be well once it gets a little warmer.

Oh, must sleep!

67. Didier - January 26, 2007

My freelancing activities have taken me to France, and I can tell you it’s worst then what you can imagine.

“You’ll be paid 145 days end of the month” which means 145 days after the end of the month they received your bill.


“You should be pleased to work for us, it’s good for your reputation”


Cocorico !!!

68. daggi - January 26, 2007

Just don’t try to find anything on the Arbeitsagentur website (a bargain at €130 million or something) or deal with anyone from there by email.

I don’t know. I have found some jobs on their website. Nothing relevant, and nothing I’d want to do (in particular the level of pay was crap), obviously. But I did the “search for the phrases ‘englische Muttersprachler’ and ‘Berlin'” thing myself a few times (while not logged in and after deleting all cookies, obviously, just in case) and realise I am indeed doomed to IT customer service hotline hell, though I suspect the jobs concerned are based outside Dublin and in the suburbs of Mumbai, and not in Neukölln.

And I have a mini-e-mail relationship with my Betreuerin. Not a real e-mail relationship, obviously, as her real e-mail address is kept very secret and she signs off, Beamte-like with her surname (I wonder if she rubber stamps her VDU before clicking on ‘Senden’). But she even wished me a Happy Christmas and New Year after I expressed my disappointment that I couldn’t come to the appointment she’d set up for me at very short notice, as I was in fact at work, and not to worry, I would be on the dole again very soon, and should look forward to meeting me then. And if she could send me – by Arbeitsagentur E-Post – the details of the job they had me in line for, so I could apply for it asap. She then let me know they’d unfortunately used the wrong text on the slightly threatening letter they’d sent me – there was actually, surprise surprise, no job. I’m in love! (I was scared it’d be in a meat processing factory, staffed by academics with English degrees. But if I want that, I can go to Iceland. Where it’s fish, not meat. I am vaguely considering doing that, in fact. But not in a fish factory.)

69. daggi - January 26, 2007

And they sent the bloody police round? When I was first here, I told the Meldestelle (which is now a boutique called ‘Meldestelle’) I didn’t need a residence permit, as it was all EU. She wasn’t convinced, but for the wrong reasons. After explaining that the UK has been in the EEC, EC and EU in total since 1973, and after showing her this fact in many languages in my passport, she accepted this very wrong piece of information and gave me the piece of paper. Only later, when trying to get into university, did I require a very rushed visit to Westhafen.

70. pleite - January 26, 2007

David, so was it just TEFL-chance that took you to Denmark? And did you fall in love with it when you arrived? I love it there too, though that’s probably because I’ve got a few very dear friends there, and one of them has a fucking gorgeous summer-house. I think Denmark is my smoking-and-drinking spiritual home. And we ALWAYS, without exception, have trouble with the neighbours if a Dane comes to visit. The Russian and I have a new Danish pal here – he’s about to leave, sadly – and it’s such a different type of fun. Within hours of meeting him, we were dancing to Danish pop in his living-room. (Well, he and I were. The Russian looked on concernedly.)

Didier, 145 days! Plus a month, potentially. That’s half a bloody year. Thieves. Aux voleurs! I once worked for a German thief(ess) in the UK, which was the perfect – in terms of badness – combination. Extreme miserliness combined with extreme reluctance to pay. They offered the lowest price by far I have ever agreed to – I was desperate, and the work was difficult, technical AND boring – and then they said, “We pay up to 60 days from the end of the month we receive your invoice”. So, if you sent your invoice on January 1st, they could pay at the end of March. I started hassling them after 31 days anyway and they eventually lost the will to live and paid up.

Daggi, yes, the police. Ludicrous. You’d think they’d have better things to do, like kneecapping every member of staff at companies who don’t pay their invoices in 30 days and then ignore your emails. I might join the police, actually. Is it a licence to kneecap? I’ll be a very ideologically correct kneecapper. Sort of IRA meets Robin Hood… And Iceland? Are you thinking of moving there? I always think it sounds very groovy, because of liking The Sugar Cubes and that film Reykjavik 101 where the bath is in the kitchen and the son has sex with his mother’s lesbian lover. Or something like that… Can you ask your Betreuerin to look for double-jobs? Then we can give each other moral support as we prepare to descale fish.

71. Junky D - January 26, 2007

Had lived here in 90-91, as part of UK degree. In Danish. No particular reason. Must rush, to put perfect application for perfect job in the post.

PS Drinking and spiritual home? Must be why Copenhagen has the lowest male life expectency of all capitals (or was it large cities?) in the EU (or was it Europe?). That, and the fact it’s where most of the country’s and Scandinavia’s drug addicts tend to congregate, it seems.

72. pleite - January 26, 2007

I was born to be a drug addict. I don’t know why I haven’t become one yet.

Was the Danish degree at UCL? Or do you mean you can do Danish degrees at multiple universities in the UK? I know someone doing a Swedish degree here. I think his chief motivation was the big, blond boys. Now he’s discovered he fancies Danes more and is gutted.

73. BiB - January 26, 2007

Daggi, here’s the list of Icelandic films from the wonderful imdb. I’m sure I’ve seen other Icelandic films too but none of these titles looks familiar, which is just another sign of my Alzheimer’s, I think…

Junky (if I may temporarily call you Junky), he lived in Sweden for part of his studies and used to escape to Denmark every now and then for fun.

Narrowback, true. I suppose I should respect the rule of law. The deeply annoying thing about one of my sets of thieves – the conscious thieves rather than the incompetent thieves – is that they play with the dates. As I start complaining, the thieves tell me the invoice is about to be paid… and here’s another translation in the meantime. So I can never free myself from the bastards. Luckily, these thieves provide interesting work. But they pay criminally little. Once I’m finally free of them, a curse on their one house…

74. narrowback - January 26, 2007

I think that outside of the third world (most) societies typically frown upon the police dispensing drum-head/curbside justice such as knee-capping debtors… you hire someone else to take care of such stuff.

75. Junky D - January 26, 2007

UEA. Think they’ve killed the department now, the fools. Norwich was lovely.

Perhaps he’ll move back to Swedes once he realises they tend to be very kind-hearted. Plus, they live for a really long time. Well, don’t people say endurance is good in a partner?

76. daggi - January 26, 2007

The fish-gutting jobs are available constantly at http://www.ninukot.is , but people in Germany are meant to apply through the Arbeits’agentur’. Incidentally, I’ve seen far better Icelandic films (read some slightly better Icelandic books) than 101 Rejkavik. If I could remember what they were called, I’d tell you. The brain’s a bit cold at present, but they definately get shown at Arsenal now and again.

77. narrowback - January 26, 2007

I had a friend once go off to Alaska to work in the canneries…At the time a combination of demographic factors & the high pay associated with pipeline work made workforce recruitment difficult at best. They were paying a princely sum at the time and he headed off to make his fortune over a four month period…he returned looking like the survivor of a war/ecological disaster & years later still can’t even look at a can of tunafish without coming close to a breakdown…hopefully EU workplace regulations would make a similar experience for you folks unlikely

78. narrowback - January 26, 2007

I watched employers play similar games with consultants and absolutely hated it when my boss would use me as the contact person/buffer with the consultant…this genuine human being would tell me his tale of woe about having to feed his wife and newborn and all I could say would be “ah, hmmm…let me see what I can do”

As I said earlier it is this precise problem that has kept me out of consulting until now… when I’m independently wealthy it’ll be a different matter…I’ll take on consulting to stave off the boredom.

It’s not so much of a question of “respecting the rules of law” as it is one of deniability… anyone who has come to know a LEO or two well will attest that they often take matters into their own hands…albeit not to the extremes that you suggested.

79. pleite - January 26, 2007

Narrowback, on my first trip to NYC, I met three Norwegian girls at the YMCA (on, I think, W34th St.). We teamed up for the next few days and it was as much as I could do to stave off their forthright and unbashful sexual advances. Anyway, once they’d given up and realised I was a whoopsy, we could get on with being mormal pals and I stayed in touch with one of them. She lived right up at the top of Norway, near the border with Russia. There was NOTHING to do there but work in the canneries and, in winter, clear the roads of snow. Her husband was a snow-clearer on a part-time basis and, in the early 90s, was earning about 3000 pounds a month. She came to visit me and the ex in London. We lived in a minuscule flat – you couldn’t even close the bedroom door because the bed took up 90% of the space – in a shitty area above a betting shop and, in 1992, were paying 600 pounds a month for the privilege. She had bought their house, with seventeen floors, 19 saunas and 400 rooms, for about 12 crowns. She looked round our flat in disbelief and poorly-disguised disgust. She was happy to endure 10 months of darkness and temperatures of 2 degrees at the height of summer for the sake of space.

Is LEO the star-sign, or an abbreviation for something like CEO which I don’t know? My brother is a Leo. Thankfully, as I remember every time I see him and cringe internally at the amount of money I owe him, SOMEONE in my family is capable of earning real money.

80. Junky D - January 26, 2007

“capable of earning real money” – are you absolutely sure your brother is a leo? ;-)

81. pleite - January 26, 2007

Yes, he’s the only solvent one in the whole extended family BiB. He’s the equivalent of the Joey Boswell character in Bread. “Um, Joey, it’s BiB. I’ve been spectacularly dim again. Can you “lend” me a million pounds?” And he does. Without a hint of complaint or hesitation. It’s so embarrassing. My sister sometimes rings me and we discuss our levels of mortification at how much money we owe him. The shame. The shame. My mother thinks, having grown up in a period when you could buy a house in almost central London for 2p, that we are all utterly loaded, of course. Secrets and lies…

82. narrowback - January 26, 2007

sorry – Law Enforcement Officer. I’ve been in work mode so acronyms just leap from my fingers.

Yes, I suppose that there are/were many similarities between artic circle Norway and Kodiak Island Alaska

83. BiB - January 26, 2007

My apologies. Getting zodiac signs involved at random. I’m not a Libra. I’m a LIBRA: Lost In Berlin Regretting (it) All.

I’ve heard the Russians are coming back to Alaska (if they were ever there in any numbers in the first place). New Orthodox churches, the works. At least they’ll cope with the climate. And the tuna.

84. Junky D - January 26, 2007

Then either he or I is not being true to the sign! That he shares his spoils is authentic leo, though. I suppose leos can earn, as long as they enjoy what they do with it, and providing help for the needy is a just cause.

Sorry, there’s nothing good on TV – and I can’t pack or paint, as it isn’t last minute yet. Hmm, but finding myself writing about star signs – as if they’re to be taken seriously – is undoubtedly my cue to myself to have an early night, I think!

85. pleite - January 26, 2007

I should join you – fnarr fnarr – as I’m translating about one word per hour. Better give up the ghost. Thank god I’ve got some emergency cigarettes to assist my faculties.

86. daggi - January 27, 2007

Catchin’ the penny, and missin’ the pound…[…]/to make BREAD!/keepin’ in the family/we’ll be right at home!

Ah, Carla Lane. Is the Russian most like Ma Boswell or Lie Low (“Lilo”?) Lil? And if your brov’ is Joey Boswell (Jag, slimy leather jacket, Greetings), which one are you? Presumably not Freddy (unless the Russian is either Ma or Lilo, or both)? The one a bit like Benny from Crossroads? The priest?

Incidentally, on the theme of Alzheimer’s, one of the Icelandic films I saw at Arsenal was this: http://imdb.com/title/tt0101526/

87. pleite - January 27, 2007

Damn, I can’t remember all the characters from Bread. Wasn’t there a brother that vaguely tried to be artistic, that was sort of maybe gay? I suppose I’d have to be him. Was he skint? And didn’t he then begin to turn up in musicals and the summer season at Cleethorpes? I just know I’ve missed my panto-vocation.

88. MountPenguin - January 27, 2007

Now that’s an idea: introduce pantomime to Berlin. It’s a whole 11 months until Christmas, so plenty of time to get organized. How about say a Nazi pantomime? It’d be very avant-garde, and it seems the climate is right for the gradual introduction of Hitler jokes to the German nation.

89. pleite - January 27, 2007

Penguin, presuming this will be a joint effort by expat bloggers, whom do you aim to play? I don’t know if I could be Adolf myself…

When I was at the cinema the other day, I instantly decided that frequent cinema trips should once again become tradition. And I saw that Hitler film’s poster, advertising itself like some slut in an Amsterdam window… and it somehow looked rubbish. Have you seen it? Has anyone seen it?

90. Junky D - January 27, 2007

You old slut! I know it was the available bed in the unlocked room you were after! Well, you’re not having it – I bought it and, er, got someone else to hammer it together, and I’ll be taking it with me. (To Copenhagen, I mean – clearly I have no plans to be buried or cremetated with a cheap IKEA futon.)

I saw a Christmas review thing at Bøssehuset (gayhouse-the) in Christiania, Copenhagen, in 1998, which covered Christmas in the Hitler household in 1944. All rather queer, as you would expect. At one stage Eva Braun opened the oven door to check her cakes, and while it was open all you could hear was screaming. She was using a gas chamber. That was when my legs stood me up and walked me out of there – some sick jokes about WW2 are just too sick. Best to keep that sort of thing out of your Nazi pantomime, perhaps…

91. daggi - January 27, 2007

Wasn’t there a brother that vaguely tried to be artistic, that was sort of maybe gay? I suppose I’d have to be him. Was he skint?

Adrian. (*After* writing that last comment, I am sorry to say I consulted Wikipedia, which obviously devotes just as much space to mid-80s sitcoms as to the theory of relativity). They were all skint, apart from the smarmy one (with the Jag and massive mobile phone, massive as it was 1986). But I don’t think he was gay. Prime-time BBC1 straight after Last of the Summer Wine and before Praise Be! just wasn’t ready for unemployed gay scouce Catholics in those days.

I’m a fan of Helge Schneider, a very intelligent man and talented musician who could never finish the music degree he studied for as an adult, which he should never have been allowed to start, as he didn’t stay on at school to do his Abitur. But – and I haven’t seen it, but having talked to a few people (Helge fans) who have, and having flicked through the cash-in book, the general opinion seems to be it is shite. Helge Schneider himself said it was rubbish, and that the story, plot and ending were changed after filming was completed.

Moral of the story: yes, it is allowed to laugh at Hitler; but not at this film.

92. daggi - January 27, 2007

When I was at the cinema the other day, I instantly decided that frequent cinema trips should once again become tradition.

I recommend getting a membership and book of tickets for Arsenal (get the Russian to buy them, it must be about half price for those with student ID – or buy yourself an international student card in eg. Titanic Reisen in the Kastanienallee. Not difficult, just put “Humboldt” as your place of study and a six-digit number beginning with 16 as your immatriculation number, which would indicate you began studying there in 2000 or 2001).

And am Hackeschen Markt (Hackesche Höfe Filmtheater) there’s a new bonus-card thingy with 10 films (regardless of what day) for 50 Euro, and you can share the card/and use if with someone else. It’s quite a saving should you want to go on a non-Kinotag.

Have you ever been to Krokodil?

93. BiB - January 27, 2007

Daggi, I was a regular at Krokodil once upon a time, but now whenever I walk past (with freshly-purchased croissants) and look at what’s showing, it seems to be mostly pus. Documentaries about the Hermitage. And no straightforward, what-the-Russians-call artistic (i.e. not documentary) films… Just popped over to the website and, actually, they are currently showing two good-seeming films. Табор уходит в небо (Gypsies Are Found Near Heaven) is by Loteanu, a well-known Moldovan, but they’ve dubbed it into German, so I have to boycott that, of course. But В той стране (In That Land) is being shown in Raaashan and is, apparently, all about isolation and vodka, so that could be right up my alley. Fuck, deadline… But I see it’s on every day till the end of the month – and perhaps beyond – so I trust I’ll be seeing you there. (They’ll have German subtitles, of course. And Russian beer. Which we all raved about when we were in Russia, but then I moved to Germany, which slightly destroyed that delusion.)

David, yes, I don’t think our Hitler-does-Cleethorpes (but in Germany) panto would be quite like that. And, as Daggi says, I’m sure this new ground-breaking, taboo-shattering (yawn) comedy about Hitler that’s out here now is just schlocky schlock. But it certainly hasn’t got any (majorly) risqué humour in it, I’m sure, and I can’t imagine any German who would dare joke about WWII atrocities. The director’s last film, Alles auf Zucker! (Go for Zucker!) might have been worth seeing. The first German Jewish comedy since the war. Didn’t look as shit as the Hitler one somehow. The Swiss (he’s Swiss, the director, Levy, but lives here) are very useful for Germans wanting to do Hitler. Der Untergang’s Hitler was played by a Swiss actor (Bruno Ganz), which, he claimed, helped put him at one remove, or gave him a freedom a German would never have had. It’s very much NOT a comedy. And also not a bad film.

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