Sunday, 7 September 2014


Don't let the title put you off! It's just a little piece where I want to show how we are affected by preconceptions about the weather, with an intercultural twist. (Inspired, no doubt by the pretty ropey summer we've all been having.)

There are loads of myths and folksy believes attached to the weather any particular area has got (or is thought to be having.) Take Scotland, for example - most people will be associating one word here: RAIN. Yes, it rains a lot in Scotland but -after having spent a year there - I wouldn't say rain is the archetypal Scottish weather. In my books it is WIND. Whether it's sunny, or rainy, or just grey - one thing is empirically guaranteed: It will be windy. Yet RAIN will remain the salient first association when it comes to Scottish weather. Why? Because it goes with the complex image we all carry around with us: Cosy darkening afternoons with a cup of tea, a glowing fire, tartan blanket at the ready and a Victorian novel whilst the rain is lashing against the window pane. A nasty, bitingly cold wind when you walk up the Lothian Road? Not on anybody's favourite mental map of Sotland.

Or take Munich. At least within Germany, that's a town firmly associated with sunshine. Long hot summers, lasting well into the Oktoberfest season. Endless blue skies where you go rambling or rock-climbing in the neighbouring Alps. Or jump into one of the many lakes... tanned people frolicking in the Bavarian sunshine. The truth? There is more rain in  Munich than in the allegedly perma-rained on northern town of Hamburg!

So what I'm trying to illustrate is  that there is a real and actual weather - and then there's a weather of the mind: Psycho-Metereology. We have something in our mind, and stick a label on the object - regardless of the reality.

Another example is Paris - I noticed that it's an absolute trope amongst Americans to say how ever much they love "the city of light", it seems to get so much rain. I've been to Paris scores of times, but never noticed anything untoward about its weather. It seems to be standard central/Western European to me. So again, one's perceptions colour one's belief-structure. There are no absolutes - and people's preconceptions about the weather they associate with a particular place illustrate this beautifully.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

5 Things That Irritate Me About Germany

As some time ago I wrote about  "10 Things I Like About Germany", (  I thought it would only be fair to talk about the reverse of the medal. A word of warning though - this post will probably only make sense if you know a bit about Germany and are familiar with its actual day-to-day customs and ways. If you're more of the "Ah, the Germans - beer, sowercrowt and layderhouzn" school of thought, I reckon you'll probably find other sources more palatable. For those of you who've spent some time in Germany and/or know it well, here's my take on what gets to me about this country, and I'd obviously be delighted to hear about your pet hates.

1. Staring
I've written about this (to me) highly annoying German habit before here but it still tops the list of my gripes. Being used to the English way of never ever gaping at people, I'm baffled how Germans can spend so much time unashamedly staring at each other. This is particularly annoying on trains where you tend to have a person sitting opposite you. From looking one up and down to bovine open-mouthed stares, there's every variety. Children are not told that staring is rude and therefore do it just as much. I've since learned that there's a North/South divide with Northern Germans leaning more towards the English manner, but as I currently live in Munich which seems to be Starers Central, this is not much comfort to me.

I may sound like an Australian going on about Whingeing Pommies, but I have honestly never experienced anybody complain as much as the Germans. They complain as if their life depended on it. And as they have little comparison, they take the smallest ontowardness as a personal slight. The - really wonderful - train network (ever used an ICE linking major German cities? Well, I do this quite a bit, and it is just about the most agreeable form of travel imaginable. WiFi, quiet areas, sockets at every seat, snacks and coffee, often free newspapers, a nice dining car with seasonal food, air conditioning that actually works, and an amazing record of being on time - it's a travel dream come true.) But for Germans, it's a red rag. One minute late??? Unbelievable! Carriages in reverse order?? Typical! The Bahn is not the only thing they moan about. They complain about high prices, the internet, e-books, the health service,modern life, capitalism, hotels..., anything and everything. They seem positively unhappy when there's nothing to complain about.

3. Conversation
For which read: "lack of". Have you ever been to a German office party? Or any party? Then you'll know the feeling of having to deal with complete and undisturbed silence. Germans don't ever feel the need to "make conversation" - something they dispise and find "artificial" (gekünstelt). They have no banter and no phrases come easily. They're almost always awkward when in a group. Uncomfortable and desperatly shy they sit around a table, saying nothing. I don't know whether they find it awkward themselves but they tend to do it for a very long time. It takes a better person than me to suffer this cringe-making atmosphere. I've learnt to avoid gatherings of Germans. They're exhausting and  disturbing in an empty sort of way.

4. Sense of Entitlement
As Germany is still a fairly wealthy country, people enjoy generous perks and rich, early pensions. They get 13 (often 14 months) salaries and get paid extra for going on holiday. Of course employers pay an extra Christmas allowance (Weihnachtsgeld). Social benefits are generous, long leaves of absence for both sexes when a child is born, employer funded education (Weiterbildung), tax relief for almost everything including long commutes (which doesn't make a lot of environmental sense) and so on. Probably as a result of this, Germans tend to think their  Ansprüche need to be redeemed at all cost, and feel short-changed (!) when they don't get what they feel they're entitled to just by dint of being there. In the East, where people lived under Communist rule for decades, this tendency is even stronger - maybe people there feel they have to make up for lost time. I find this whole approach to life and society very unattractive, and am still shocked by it. I often wish people here had more of a feeling for how other nations live and that affluence isn't a universal human right.

5.  Sexism
Like the staring this is mostly an unconscious way of behaviour. If you asked Germans about sexism, they would tell you how much they abhor and condemn it. Yet in everyday life it is hard to find a more sexist society in a Northern European country .It isn't the lecherous wolf-whistle kind of sexism, but a deep-seated conviction (shared by both sexes) that men are simply the superior gender, and have to be listened to. A woman will by definition not be taken seriously in any position of authority. Vice versa, a man doing housework, say, will be a figure of ridicule (yes, this is 2014). Jokes about women drivers are perfectly acceptable, as is the conviction that men and women "think and feel differently". Shop assistants will be decidedly politer and more accommodating when dealing with a male customer. Handymen will be condescending towards women, and as a woman you'll be constantly asked what "nice things" you're planning to cook "for when your husband comes home". Women have totally internalised their inferior position in German society, and never complain. If they did, they'd be regarded as weird and called "Emanze", a strange out-dated expression from the 1970s.

I suppose there are things to dislike in every country, and in many ways Germany provides a more pleasant, easy and open society to  live in than many others countries I know. If you find this this post too "complaining", please turn to Alternatively, there's a post called "5 Things I Like about Britain" to compare and contrast.