Wednesday, 27 June 2012

German Men

Germany is a funny country. The longer you live here, the more baffling it gets. Thus with German men. At first glance, they seem quite normal. Maybe even slightly better than average. One appreciates the absence of creepiness,  there is a faint (if slightly boring) sense of camaraderie. Unthreatening, friendly, open. The more you look, however, cracks begin to show. Once you looked a bit more closely, you see the nervosity, the flickering eyes, maybe when you mention the operating system of your smartphone.Or you're doing really well at some sporting event, or you mention that you prefer Mozart to Beethoven...You get the picture. They really really find it hard to deal with "strong" (all the things mentioned don't actually indicate any "Strength"...!) women. They feel intimidated so easily, it is truly worrying. Sadly, this isn't just their own private problem - it can easily become yours too, especially at the workplace!

Often, you find that German women adapt instinctively to this "need" situation, and just play dumb. Meaning - at the workplace they rarely contradict, let alone criticise. But back to the menfolk.

Their conversational topics have changed over the years. But only slightly. Where it used to be cars, cars, and bits of cars, it is now technology and social media. When I say technology, I mainly mean iphones and other Apple-related gadgetry. Showing off with up-to-date, in-depth Apple-knowledge is absolutely crucial to being taken seriously as a German male. Weird. And very boring.You may say "Oh,  all men are like that", wich would be depressing enough, but actually Geman men (in my experience) have this urge to really really know more than any other person about technology.

The second topic is sports - again, no surprises. Except here, it isn't spectator sport - it has to be some "extreme" sports that they practicethemselves - triathlon, extreme speed cycling, or at the very least something dangerous. (Not quite as good as it can't be quantified).

Showing off, topping all others as a personal need in order to distract from their very real insecurity. Not unusual, but fairly irritating. And a bottomless desire to be admired. (For speed cycling??)

So yes, I find German men a bit tiresome with all their hang-ups, neediness and fear. Thankfully though, I'm not married to a German!

If you want to tell me that your sweet Heinz is "totally different", or I "obviously got a real psychological hang-up", or even if you agree with me, you're very welcome to do so on twitter (@Margit11) as I find this blog commenting a bit fiddly.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Instagram Intercultural

Right. I've done it. I've just joined Instagram - something I'd been avoiding for a very long time. But what else is out there? There's Saltire-waving blipfoto which makes you feel like an illegal immigrant with an infectious disease if you post from outside Scotland (and weirdly specifies that you're ONLY allowed to comment in English... so much for photography being a culture-spanning pastime! Then there is that photography mass grave called flickr, and various others like A photograph per day which are in a class of their own (literally).

So Instagram with its estimated 50 million users it has to be. First impressions? Alas, ropey. It's certainly not right for you if you're serious about photography. More like your worst Facebook friend - you know the one that always posts photos of 4 drunken mates, all pulling faces, huge beer bottle held into the camera, caption "Whaddya say????!!"-  had multiplied into the n-th dimension. "Most popular on Instagram"? Invariably blurry photos of dopey or blissed-out looking Korean girls, as if in various stages of a child pornography film. Best not look.

Filters, or as they like to call it over there "Special effects" rule the show. Purple cats, blurry, distorted faces, and possibly worst of all  - the hyper-hallucinogenic shots of some humdrum piece of English countryside.

Of course there's some good photography hidden away - but it tends to be of the school that wants to create art. "Art" in the sense of the street vendor next to Sacre Coeur, selling broad canvasses of soupy West Coast sunsets with a gleaming Harley on the left and an inky palmtree on the right. All depends what your definition of art is, as Bill Clinton might say.

I know a lot of people who love filters, either for pragmatic reasons ("It makes my crappy iphone snaps more interesting", said one), or because they love to create something special. Mostly though, they tend to be British. And I was thinking:  Personally I loathe filters. I want to see things are they are, and document them as they are. Light, clarity and realism are my goals in photography. In Britain however, life is infinitely harder - you need something to soften it. "Take the edge off the day", as the saying goes - which usually refers to alcohol. Filters also take the edge off things, turn an often stark reality into something fun, creative, and colourful. Run-down street? Sepia filters turn it into historicity. Horrible room? 1970's style filter make it edgy and cool,. And so on. Filters I think are eminently intercultural.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Expat Dilemma

I haven't written seriously about Expat Life for a while. (Only a little humorous post!)  The reason being that the topic is firmly in the hands of people or companies I find extremely dodgy - and therefore the whole  area becomes tainted for me. It's either handled by people who live about 30,000 miles from the next border and want to "coach" you to become a "Thought Leader"- for a $$-price naturally. Or by an offshore company who's ultimate aim is to convince you that "now is a good time to buy in Greece". So I kept shtum as I find these sort of bed-fellows very disagreeable.

HOWEVER (you guessed it...) The expat situation deserves a bit of non-commercial, unbiased scrutiny (and help if possible.) I'll concentrate on the situation I'm most familar with:  Let's take a British woman living an expat-life in Germany. Her situation will at first glance be quite enviable. On average, she will be well-off, have a job, live in a nice area, in a nice flat. Mostly, however, she will be renting. Simply because everybody does in Germany.

Say now, she's feeling a bit homesick - or wondering how to shape her future long-term. Going back to Britain? That would be very very difficult. Given that you have no property assets, you would have to start from afresh on the UK property-"ladder". Older than the average British first-time buyer, you would therefore have to be willing to start out buying an over-priced small flat in a dodgy area, and be financially, and lifestlye-wise an awful lot worse off than you were in Germany, renting.

Secondly, salaries are an awful lot higher in Germany than in the UK. There, you absolutely need a double-income to survive. Which, for the expat means her partner has to be willing and able to relocate back to Britain. Again, not at all easy - given language, job etc. constrictions!

If our female expat is planning to have a child in the near or distant future, again, things will have to be thought through carefully - in Germany you're looking at 12 months maternity leave at 80% of your salary. A perk you might not be willing to give up in a hurry.

And so it goes on - almost every area of life can easily turn out to be full of pitfalls that are difficult to computate. (And whilst this may generally be the case, as an expat you are just so much more aware of risks and consequences!)

I know from experience that being an expat isn't easy - hardly surprising, you may say - but I wanted to point out that it isn't just the usual moans and aches - language, food, carpets in the bathroom etc - but very concrete considerations that make you almost believe in the old saying "You Can't Go Home Again".

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Is Football Intercultural?

Well, wherever people from many different nations and cultures come together, there is something for the interculturalist to study. There are preconceptions, prejudices - there's admiration, envy, ignorance, and in the case of football - there are bound to be negative emotions like aggression and even hatred as well. So quite a rich field!

We've all heard of the England team always having high hopes, but somehow each time the end seems to be very close to the beginning for them. So there's almost a cultural expectation for that squad to break through their own limitations. "This time", we (or their fans) say - definitely! And thus a totally new intercultural field is created. England as a footballing entity is very different from England the nation (polite, funny... or whatever else we associate with England in other walks of life). England is suddenly the underdog we're backing.

It's therefore nice to see how arbitrary such preconceptions that we harbinger about other nations turn out to be. They are fluent, and transitory - not written in stone. Or think of the decade-long dread everybody had of England fans! Being drunken, violent yobs! When Chelsea last played Bayern Munich - and won! the fans sat nicely in beergardens (photo at the top) and behaved like ordinary tourists, bar the odd bit of chanting.

Whilst I wouldn't go so far as to hold football up for a prejudice-breaking area, I do think it is refreshing to see that sports in general comes with its own set of appreciation of other nations' abilities, problems and strengths.

Let's hope Euro2012 lives up to its expectations, and even if you're not a football fan - just treat it as an intercultural playing field!