The One Party You Don’t Want An Invite To: The German Work Christmas Party

Fun and games at the German Work Christmas Party.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The British work Christmas party typically involves two things; alcohol and sexual shenanigans between people who shouldn’t be having them. So I had high hopes of finally seeing some Germans shed their inhibitions and – dare I say it – lose control when I was invited to a German work Christmas party last year.

How wrong I was.

The first thing that should have told me this was that I was invited at all. For I am just the partner of someone else who works for this company. Partners, at a work Christmas party? These annoying specimens don’t even get a look in at the English work Christmas party. There are two reasons for this: One is that companies claim they can’t afford to invite partners of employees anymore, particularly after the credit crunch (which never existed in mega-rich Bavaria).  The second and real reason is that there’s no way Fred in accounts could finally get his dirty way with Jane from Human Resources if his wife was there, could he?

The second thing that screamed “this is going to be The Worst Christmas Party Ever” is that there were CHILDREN there. Honestly. Children at a work Christmas party. At that point I guessed there wasn’t going to be any cocaine or strippers either then. Oh God.

All work Christmas parties vary in England. I have been to ones in pubs, clubs, bars, the work canteen, you name it. But in all cases everyone gets rip-roaring drunk, women in slutty, ill-fitting dresses dance to bad music and there is plenty to gossip and laugh about the next day.

English women on their way to the work Christmas party.

When we arrived at the Worst Christmas Party Ever however, there was no music. A small group of people were stood awkwardly around a table in the boss’ showroom, which had been stylishly turned into a pretty winter wonderland. That’s right – no traffic light-style disco lights here.

Whoop whoop!

None of the women were in slutty dresses either. Instead they were wearing Jack Wolfskin t-shirts tucked neatly into khaki-style trousers. And there was to be no dancing around handbags tonight – for these lot had brought their rucksacks. We were going on a hike afterwards or something? I manually adjusted the hem on my little dress by yanking it down a bit, and wished I had at least put a vest top on under the laciness of my dress and over my bra. Then I prayed there would be no hike.

German women on their way to the work Christmas party

The Worst Christmas Party Ever consisted of the boss, Ludwig, a successful young family man with long floppy hair and one of the biggest smiles I had ever seen. Then there was his wife along with their two young children who clearly didn’t want to be there either. Then there was Gert, my partner’s colleague and his wife, both aged in their fifties. Gert is from the former communist East Germany, so you can forgive him for being a bit weird. Then there was the apprentice, Stefan, who stank of B.O. and had the social skills of an ape. Then there was the straight-laced secretary, Hilda, who had brought her nine-year-old daughter along. This was going to be a long night.

Sensing this too, the boss’ children suddenly started acting ill and their mother had to leave and take them home. The rest of us sat down to eat a beautiful meal prepared perfectly by some local caterers, albeit in the quietest and most awkward surroundings ever. It didn’t help that my German at this stage was at the same level of the average German two-year-old’s, which made it very hard to join in any conversation that did dare to take place. No one seemed to speak English because, well, this is rural Bavaria where people speak a funny form of German. As many expats will know, you often feel like a deaf mute in these situations.

One thing that did shatter the awkward silence however was the secretary’s daughter sat next to me. She ate and ate as though she had never seen food before. She pigged out so much that her podgy little stomach couldn’t handle anymore, and she started – wait for it – farting. As she was sat next to me though no one could really tell who had let out the farts, despite my obvious ‘you just farted!’ glances I threw hastily in her direction. She just sat there seemingly oblivious to her torrential gas situation. The little bitch.

After the most excruciatingly long few hours of my life, the Worst Christmas Party Ever was finally over. No one got that drunk, no one fell over, no one made a fool of themselves to YMCA on the dance floor, and on one shagged someone they shouldn’t have. But in typical German style the food and hospitality was amazing and no one lost their dignity, jobs, or knickers down some cold alleyway somewhere on the way home. Boring!

Unfortunately the following day everyone who had been at the Worst Christmas Party Ever came down with a vomiting virus so severe we were all chucking our guts up for two days. The little girls who had been taken home ill by their mum got it from school first, then their mother must have picked it up from them before passing it on to all of us by handling our cutlery before we ate.

And that’s why kids really shouldn’t be at Christmas parties. One because they are farty and annoying, and two because they carry disease-ridden germs most of the time.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. It was very nice of the boss to invite us and feed us all with such lovely food. But I really hope we don’t get an invite again this year.

What Two Years of Living with the Germans has Taught Me.

I have been living with the Germans for two years today. And I haven’t killed myself yet! In fact, I have learnt a lot from these lovely lot. Like…

English: high heels

The most un-German shoes ever. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Sexy doesn’t have to mean heels, mini-skirts and cleavage.

The only women you’ll see in Germany combining all of the above are the hookers. German women dress very conservatively and practically. Think rucksacks instead of handbags, terribly comfortable walking shoes for all occasions and Wolfskin jackets instead of stylish macs.  It is as if they are always anticipating the next hike.  I was by no means a terribly slutty dresser when I came to Germany, but my favourite FMBs have definitely not seen the light of day since I’ve been here. While I miss London’s vibe of fashion, individuality and style, I have learnt that flaunting it isn’t always the best look. Go Germans!

Germans' idea of going wild

To Get Out and Enjoy Nature

Germans love going for a hike or bike ride in the countryside on their days off. The roads around here are full of cyclists – including entire families – on weekends and holidays. Us Brits on the other hand prefer to spend our days off with our heads in the toilet nursing off our hangovers. We also spend far too much time in shopping centres or watching television in our free time compared to the Germans. This is evident from how quiet high streets are in Bavaria on Saturdays compared to those in Britain. Many shops close at 1pm on Saturdays – even just before Christmas – while in Britain high streets are heaving on a Saturday. Go Deutsch. Go to the woods instead!

Make Things Instead of Buying Them

These Bavarians are a crafty lot. Since arriving I have received hand-made woolly hats, a drawer full of hand-knitted woolly socks, hand-made greeting cards, home-made cakes, and a hand-crafted and painted one-metre stork (a gift put up outside our home after I gave birth here). While us Brits rush out and buy everything ready-made, the Bavarians try and make it themselves. They do a lot of home improvements themselves too instead of hiring the experts. My Bavarian boyfriend can’t understand why we have huge shops in England selling just greeting cards. “You English are crazy about buying cards. Just make them,” he says. Genau!

To Support Young People and Families. So they can buy more beer.

Young people in Germany are supported once they leave school, both by the system and their families. Many go into paid apprenticeship training or to university for free (sometimes for decades rather than three years). Many live at home for as long as they possibly can too. In England, it’s just not cool or acceptable to still be living at home in your twenties, despite the soaring cost of living.  Most people I know in Germany in their twenties are still living at home. It’s not uncommon for older people with children to still be living with parents here too, to help them save for their own homes. There is no stigma attached to that. New mothers are assisted to stay at home by the state and society does not look down them.

That Britain Is Still Great

The Brits moan a lot. They say there are too many immigrants, gas prices are too high, the weather is miserable and the health service is failing. But it wasn’t until I left England that I realised what a fantastic place it is too. We have an education system that helps the disadvantaged. We have a society that is generally very open and tolerant of others regardless of their race and sexuality. We have a health system available for all including free contraception and many other benefits you would have to pay extra for in other countries (in Germany you have to pay for contraception on top of your health insurance. A coil would cost you in excess of 200 Euros). There is a society, charity or support group for virtually anything.  We have a world-class media with high-quality journalists, TV and Film makers. We have charity shops. And the British weather isn’t that bad once you’ve experienced Germany’s. We also know how to get into the spirit of things (hello London Olympics). And most importantly, we have Digestive biscuits.

Brit Joins German Gym – Finds Everyone Gets Naked There Too.

Original image description from the Deutsche F...

Workout done. Let’s get naked. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been living in Germany for almost two years. And in those two years I have seen more strangers’ penises and bottoms than I ever could have imagined.

That’s because life in Germany goes like this:

It’s summer! Let’s go down to the local lake! Get down to the local lake – oh look, there’s an old codger sunbathing with his willy out! And there’s another emerging from the lake, with all his bits on show! And wait! There’s another, changing out of his swimwear with all of his manhood dangling out! In England you would be arrested for this kind of behaviour. But in Germany? That’s just how they roll.

Or:

Let’s go to the local swimming pool! Get there to find that the changing rooms are just one big room. Mixed. No curtains. No dividers. Number of strangers’ penises I have seen now doubles in one go.

Then there was the time we went for a nice family swim only to find that it was naked sauna day and we were the only ones wearing any clothes.

Even when I was on the beach recently in Gozo, Malta – where nude or even topless sunbathing is banned – I ended up having a conversation with a German man whose willy was on show. He was wearing trunks but they were so small his manhood had manoevured its way out of there. Or maybe it was so used to being out on the beach it was like: “Hey, what’s going on? Why am I locked up? It’s so dark in here! Let me out!” And with that it found its usual freedom, pulled up a sunlounger and enjoyed the nice cool breeze.

Swimming trunks

Let me out!  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In short, there’s no avoiding cocks and bottoms in Bavaria, unless you always go out with a big black bag over your head.

So it’s no surprise that Germans get naked at the gym too. I joined a gym in Germany for the first time last week, and with that I took my German cock count up from 100 to 125.

Now don’t get me wrong. From what I have experienced so far, German gyms are amazing. Firstly, they are absolutely spotless. Secondly, when you walk in everyone using the gym turns and says hello to you. When you leave, you’re expected to say goodbye to everyone too. I think that’s really cute. Another difference is that as all Germans have OCD, you are expected to carry a little towel around the gym with you that must act as a barrier between your sweaty self and whatever equipment you are using at ALL times. Forget your little towel and expect to be on the receiving end of some scary German looks. Considering Germans are so frightened of germs, I’m surprised that they are called Germans and not Cleanmans or something like that.

After my very satisfying gym session I decided to pop into the sauna. In England most people wear their swimwear in the sauna even if it’s not a mixed one. That’s because we are prudes who would rather die than let anyone other than a very select few see us naked. However, my previous experiences of German saunas have taught me that wearing any clothes at all is not the done thing, whether it’s a mixed sauna or not.

Deutsch: Keltenthron Sauna

Don’t be fooled. The towels must come off. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

But what about a gym sauna? Surely it’s a bit awkward to get completely naked in front of that old bloke you just exchanged niceties with over the chest press machine? The one thing that got me through going naked in a German sauna once before was the fact I wouldn’t see any of the other people in it ever again. It’s a different story if you use the one at the new gym you’ve just joined.

Reily

After this we’re all going to get naked! Ja! Photo credit: Tulane Public Relations

Holding my towel close to my chest, I opened the door to the mixed sauna, and found a spot right next to the door. There was a man aged approximately in his sixties and two women around the same age already in there, all naked of course. From their conversation I gathered they all knew each other from the neighbourhood, and had probably seen each others bits and bobs on numerous occasions before. There was no awkwardness between them at all, and none of them seemed worried about having boobs down to their ankles, pot bellies, or pubes as long as their noses.

Floating sauna

At least it wasn’t a floating sauna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact, one of the women even got up and did a funny little dance in tune to whatever they were all chatting about, and the others laughed as her big, wobbly bits jangled about and almost knocked me in the face. After she left and everyone fell silent it was really hard to stiffle my massive internal giggles.

This time I decided to keep my towel on, much to the amazement of the other members They were all giving me rather strange looks that said: “Is your body covered in warts or something? Come on, get your kit off!” While I commend the Germans for having the guts to get naked in front of each other without a care in the world, it’s just one culture shock that I will never be able to comfortably adapt too. Especially down at the local gym and in front of men I don’t know.

Nudity will always be associated with sex in my eyes because sadly that’s the kind of society I grew up in. The society I’m more used to is also not as safe as in Bavaria. If a woman went nude in a mixed sauna back at home it would be a risk as unfortunately some might see it as an invitation. When you have been used to certain constraints for most of your life it is very hard to shrug them off when you move abroad and things are a lot different.

And on a less serious note I have yet to see a hottie in the sauna. Maybe I’ll change my mind about German saunas when I do. Until then, it’s just old men’s wrinklies all the way.

German Hospitals Rule – There is Beer!

As regular readers of my blog will know (all five of you), I recently spent a week in a German hospital following an unpleasant car crash.

This was actually my second week in a German hospital, having spent a week in the same one last year after having my baby there. (Yes, an entire week! No chucking you out after a few hours here!)

So I wasn’t that shocked to discover on my second stay that German hospitals are very different to English ones – i.e. they are nice.

Or should I say Bavarian hospitals. I have come in for some stick lately for referring to Bavaria as German. Tut tut!  How dare I confuse a German state as actually being part of Germany!

I even took a few pictures to back up my claims. Do all German hospitals look like this or is it a case of mega-rich Bavaria coming up trumps again? If so, I really undersand why the rest of Germany is so jealous hates this state. Take a look for yourself.

Spotlights and polished wooden floors? Ja Danke!

Wards with balconies overlooking the gardens? Naturlich!

Plenty of green space for patients to wander about in? In England this would have been turned into a money-making car park long ago!

An empty bed? Definitely not an English hospital then! Watch and weep, David Cameron.

Fancy artwork on the walls? This would never have made it on to the wall of an English hospital, for fear someone would use it to attack one of the staff then steal some morphine.

And a kitchen for patients with free tea, and use of a coffee machine. How lovely!

However, it was in this said kitchen that I also found someone’s secret stash of beer. Remember this is a Bavarian hospital, where prescriptions for beer are readily handed out. (Americans – that was a joke).

My only complaint of the German hospital was the food.

This was breakfast, and the same was ‘dished up’ for dinner.

Bavarians eat a lot, so I was surprised to find really meagre portions existing anywhere in Bavaria. So meagre in fact that when my little German couldn’t bring me food, I had to order take-away from the pizza place across the road. And I honestly don’t eat that much. That pizza man must make a killing from all of the hungry Bavarian patients! Especially the ones with the beer munchies! The most profitable businesses in Germany must be the restaurants close to hospitals! Open one if you can.

Finally, I couldn’t help but laugh at this poster for the hospital hairdresser that I spotted by the lifts.  It’s amazing what men can get for 29 Euros these days.

The German in England

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.

February at Southend Sea front

Photo credit: garyt70

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.

We’re off to England!

After almost six months of continuous Bavarian winteriness (never again), we are taking a break in England. I have never been so happy and excited to return to my crappy homeland. Because a break from Germany means no more heavy snow! No more resorting to miming actions when I fail at the awful German language! No more being expected to eat a whole cake when we just want to visit someone! No more explaining to people that ‘that was just a joke’! No more naked people at the local swimming pool! No more being considered a hooker when I dare to wear heels! No more ‘it’s Sunday, what the hell are we going to do today – everything’s shut?’ And, no more…..Germans!

Living in Germany has really made me appreciate my own country in ways no one or nothing else ever has. As an Expat it’s the little things you miss about home. I am most looking forward to having a cuppa with my nan, laughing at my dad’s constant sarcasm, having a good bitch with my girlfriends, being crude without offending anyone, and buying a ridiculously huge British newspaper on a Sunday without paying the international price tag. Then of course there are the gorgeous British pubs, cheddar cheese, fish and chips, Cadbury Creme Eggs, (yes, this is as good as British food gets) and the way everyone is so so grateful when the sun comes out. I wonder what other Expats miss most about their own countries?

I am fortunate that home is just a 100 Euro, one-hour plane journey away. Popping back for a week here and there is not that hard. And despite my extreme happiness you know I will be glad to be back after all that constant tea, rain and those bloody miserable Poms. Until then, Auf Wiedersehen!

Life’s Simple Travellers: The Storks of Bavaria

Not much happens in the little Bavarian village I live in called Raisting.  Well, the library at the local school opens on Monday and Thursday evenings. And the Doner Kebab man comes and parks his little van here on Thursdays too. So I would say that Thursday is definitely the busiest day in Raisting (population about 12). But what little Raisting lacks in people power it definitely makes up for in terms of animals.

When I take my baby son for a walk around the village the monotony of pounding the same streets time and time again (there aren’t many of them you see) is broken up by the various animals we see. There are the horses, the black fluffy ‘moo’ cows, regular black and white ‘moo’ cows, chickens and lots of different types of birds that little Max loves to see and watch me try to impersonate. Back in my hometown in Essex in England we really don’t have much wildlife (apart from the drunk animals you get on Southend High Street every night) so this is all a novelty for us.

My favourite Raisting wildlife however has to be the storks, who return year after year to this little part of Bavaria to their nests. The White Storks are believed to be as faithful to their nests as they are to their mates, hence their return to the same spot here each spring. In Raisting we have a number of purpose-built platforms on the top of high poles that the birds use to build their nests, and it’s great to see so many of these long-legged creatures rambling wild around the village in the summer. I once cycled through a field and noticed a good 30 of them just hanging out, catching mice or whatever it is storks do in fields. Typically I didn’t have my camera on me but I’ll always treasure the memory. There’s something really special about seeing an animal in the wild, and not cooped up in some crappy ‘wild’ life centre.

The birds also melt my heart as they remind me of when my son was born on April 2 2012. As I waited for his birth the storks had arrived in the village and were flying high above as I waddled around with my huge bump hanging out of my leggings. Of course, the legend goes that storks bring babies, and I thought it was too cute that I was waiting for mine just as they arrived here in Europe all the way from Africa.

Storks are strong in German folklore, with their nests believed to bring good luck and protection against fires. You will also see many wooden stork decorations in front gardens to announce that a child has been born to the family that lives there. When I arrived here all fat and pregnant I thought this was the best tradition ever. In Essex this cutesy stuff just doesn’t happen. Mainly because people aren’t that thoughtful, and also because the storks would be stolen or urinated on if left outside at night.

A wooden stork in Raisting

Anyway, when I realised that other women were returning home from hospital with their babies to these wonderful giant wooden birds in their garden, I decided I had to have one too. Forget the baby. I WANTED A STORK. And most men should know that it always pays to listen to the really hormonal, emotional woman who has just given birth and won’t let them forget that they did so for the rest of their lives. I made it clear to Markus that his life wouldn’t be worth living if I came home and there was NO stork. If I was going to squeeze his baby out of my vagina, I WANTED A STORK. And crap loads of chocolate.

Despite my extreme subtlety, he got the message. And this is what greeted little Max and I, Mariah Carey, when we first arrived home.

The stork was hand-crafted and painted by our friends (Bavarians are really good at making things). It’s holding an Australian flag as its sack because Max was conceived there (in the country, not in the sack). It’s by far one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. I’m tearing up now just thinking about it, but that’s because I’m a mum and we cry at everything, including things like manky-looking pigeons that can’t walk properly.

The storks are yet to return this year, although two did stay in Raisting this winter, according to the local newspaper (yes, this does make headlines here). I saw one of them poking around someone’s garden in the snow last week. These travellers migrate to Africa from central and eastern Europe, but have to go all the way via Turkey and Egypt to the east or Gibraltar in the west because the air thermals they depend on don’t form over water. They must bloody hate the Med. But then at least they don’t have to fly over Malta, as the Maltese like to shoot birds for fun, and then they would be dead. And that would be a terrible blow to little Raisting (pun intended).

Many people who are keen travellers often find it hard to stay in one place for too long. As another travel blogger said to me recently, life can seem to be a tug of war between nesting and nomadic. Therefore I salute you, oh pretty storks. You seem to have the perfect mix in life. Nesting in Europe for the summer, then buggering off before it gets too cold for a fantastic journey south into Africa.

Without the barriers in life that hold us humans back, they make it look so simple.