After enduring the German in-laws almost every weekend for months, it was time for my German other-half to stomach his British ones on a visit to England. Payback time! Yeah! To make it worse for Markus, where I come from in England is the complete opposite of where he grew up in Bavaria.
He is from a large rural village populated by clean-living, middle-class folk, situated on a beautiful lake with the Bavarian Alps as its backdrop.
I grew up near Southend-on-Sea in Essex, a large working-class town situated on the murky Thames Estuary, with the industrial works in Kent as its backdrop.
As we neared Southend on Markus’ first visit, I explained that it was a bit of a “sh**hole.” “That is such a strong word!” he replied. “How can somewhere be a sh**hole? That is like…..a hole……full of sh**!” One thing I love about having a relationship with a German is that they take every word you say so literally. Their language is extremely descriptive, which probably doesn’t help matters. (For example, gloves in German translates as hand shoes. Their word for bra translates as bosom holder. I think you get the picture).
I usually stay at my nan’s house when I visit England, as she is getting older, has a nice big house, and a fridge full of food. By Essex standards her abode is very posh. But by Bavarian standards it is a pokey old chaotic hovel full of lots of weird objects called ornaments. A startled horse rearing up on its back legs? Yes she has one of those – in green. A dog sadly staring out into the distance wondering what’s for tea tonight? Yes she has one of those too, in fine cream china. A tea pot in the shape of a man doing the splits? Yes of course! As Markus said on arrival: “It’s like a museum.”
Now we loved staying there and I love my nan’s house. But the German isn’t used to English houses, which usually come complete with – every German’s nightmare – CARPET. “We gave it up years ago in Germany!” Markus quipped. “It’s unhygienic.” And there was worse to come for my poor little German. CENTRAL HEATING. Germans are obsessed with fresh air. Even if it’s -10C outside the windows are open most of the day to ‘change the air’. Despite the cold and the lack of carpet, I have never found the heating on in a German house. Sod that. I’d rather be warm and confused. In addition to the heating on full blast and all of the windows closed, the fire in the lounge also comes on at my nan’s if the temperature outside dips below 20C. Markus almost died.
One morning, the warmth, lack of fresh air and good old English dust clearly got to the German. I came downstairs to find the front door open, the back door open and all of the windows open. I could smell fresh air! Had my nan been kidnapped? She was nowhere to be seen! I eventually found Markus. He was frantically hoovering the lounge, like a teenager on speed. “What have you done with my nan?” I shouted, with visions of her being tied up and gagged in a corner somewhere. Turns out she had gone for a walk, and Markus had taken the opportunity to Germanise her home as much as he could. “The cleaner comes tomorrow, so there’s not much point,” I said. “Yes!” he replied, all wild-eyed, with sweat dripping down his brow. “And I will tell her where to clean!”
Over the next week I proudly showed Markus around my home-town, trying to make his experience there as British as possible. We had fish and chips. We had a traditional Sunday lunch in a quaint old British pub. We walked along Southend seafront, taking in the colourful beach huts, tacky arcades, and the litter, syringes and dog poo scattered on the beach. We shopped in the high street, which has been taken over by chains like Primark and pound shops and doesn’t appear to boast a single independent trader.
We strolled past the town’s many grey seventies-style office blocks, which now stand empty because of the recession (another British pastime that doesn’t seem to exist in Bavaria). We dodged a lot of fights on a great night out, and read about numerous burglaries in the local paper. By the end of the week I had forgotten about the beautiful, natural, safe Alpine haven that we live in in Germany and I was happy to be in Southend in Essex. It may be a craphole. But it is my home. My craphole full of treasued memories.
What’s more, my family managed to get through the week without cracking a Hitler joke. My pride was immense.
Alas, the time came to leave England and to head back to squeaky clean Germany. Boo!
“So,” I said to Markus, with that glimmer of home-town pride still on my happy little face. “What did you think of Southend?”
“Yeah,” he said with a sorry look. “It’s a sh**hole.”
For once we agree on something.