Thursday, 31 January 2013

Phone Phobic

I don't like using the phone - well that's not entirely true.... I don't mind chatting on the phone (for hours and hours actually) to friends and family - or even the bank etc as long as I can do it in English.


That is the thing you see, I can do phone calls in German - book appointments, arrange play dates, change all these arrangements most apologetically and so on, but I don't like to.  Being able to converse confidently on the phone in another language is quite a skill.  Indeed, being able to do so in your own language can be tricky - you see, when we talk on the phone, so many of the other communication tools and clues we rely on in everyday life are missing and that makes it very difficult.

In my native language, I'm confident in judging by tone and tempo how a phone conversation is going and what the subtexts of the conversation are - I just can't do that in German.  Indeed, I rely heavily on gesture when I speak German as mine is really not that good and I obviously can't do it on the phone.

According to this some researchers have put non-verbal communication as forming up to 80% of communication - with this comprising body language, gesture, posturing, eye-contact, clothing etc all of which give the participants a myriad of clues as to what is going on - and of course, all of this is absent in a a phone call.

So added to the fact that you miss a lot by relying solely on the verbal, and that my German skills still leave a lot to be desired talking on the phone can be a bit of a trial.  I plan in my head as far as possible what I want to say - but am often thrown by a response which I either mishear / don't fully understand / wasn't expecting - and then try to bluff my way onwards which as I usually rely heavily on hand gestures can be an interesting experience in murdering a language! I generally succeed in getting my point across and booking that appointment.....but I sometimes come away from the phone call not being 100% sure I've done what I set out to do - oh and did I get the time right..... half past and half to is just another one of those things designed to throw me!

So often, I chicken out and pop into wherever it is I need to call and have the conversation in person, I find it easier that way.....

Friday, 25 January 2013

Five on Friday.......

......the last five books I've read.

I'm a bit of a bookworm, I love my library - frequently read books more than once and haven't quite got used to the Kindle yet.....prefer real pages!  So along with a bit more time to myself (now the Kindling are all out during the day), an English-speaking bookgroup and my love of all things literary, I'm getting through quite a few books now.

Here are the last five I've read, with varying degrees of success/enjoyment

1) Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

A book group choice (mine actually I think).  I have really enjoyed this, it combines a family saga from Turkey to the US with a coming of age type novel with some medical curiosities thrown in.  This is my type of book, I love that history of a family through several generations type novel - seeing how people live and change as the world changes.  Throw in a family secret or two just to add a little twist and it's certainly gripping stuff! Definitely worth a read.

2) Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel

When I say 'have read' I mean .....still struggling through - manfully!  I am enjoying this although it is a bit heavy going at times - one of those books you really need to concentrate on or you'll completely lose who's speaking / what's going on.  I started reading it due to the publicity around it and because I was watching the delicious Johnathon Rhys Myers in the excellent TV series The Tudors so it all fit in together.  Wolf Hall is the story of Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII and it is interesting, but I need 'time off' now again with something a little easier going!  I will finish it though - it's not often I'm defeated by a book!

3) Fall of Giants - Ken Follett

Loved, loved, loved it.  I was captivated by Ken Follett's other series (Pillars of the Earth/World without End) and couldn't wait to read this opener to his new Century Series.  It's set in the first quarter of the 20th Century, detailing the Russian Revolution, World War I, Prohibition and the way in which certain families lives are intertwined between these events and between Russia, America and England.   It's one of those unputdownable reads - which as it comes in at a whopping 864 pages is some going - but as it ends, you're left feeling desperate for more...... good job there's a sequal!

4) The Hare with the Amber Eyes - Edmund de Waal

This is a non-fiction book about the author's attempts to try to trace his family from fin de si├Ęcle Paris through to the modern day.  The Hare in the title is a 'Netsuke' an ivory carving which is intrinsic to the family history.  Again, this one is a little slow going - and it still on the go, but it's fascinating stuff - I love the intimate glances you get of a family's life over the years and how you can see the actions of the previous generations influencing and affecting the subsequent ones.  

5) Jack in the Box - Hanna Allen

I read this on the Kindle - it was a free download from - now I'm not as I said above completely sold on the kindle yet - for one thing the page size is too small and so I'm forever turning the page....interrupts the flow of the book for me.  Anyway, I digress, Jack in the Box is a typical police whodunit.  It's set in London so for me has some familiar backdrops which made it a bit more interesting.  I enjoy this genre of book and it makes good escapist, easy reading thrown in amonsgt some of the more heavy going books I choose.  What can I say - yes, a good story, fairly formulaic as these types of books often are - but with a nifty little twist at the end.  Not bad for a freebie!

Friday, 11 January 2013

Five on Friday......

......foodstuffs I miss most from the UK.

Well, another Christmas over and I'm sure the supermarkets in England are proudly displaying the Easter Eggs already, which is a good thing as I, for one, can't get enough of that loveliness that is a Cadbury's Creme Egg.

I have a secret stash here in my cellar as you cannot buy them in Germany so I rely on visiting Englanders to keep me supplied.  I now only have one left........ but I'm not going into panic mode just yet as I have visitors coming in a couple of weeks to top up the contraband!

However, the diminishing supplies got me thinking - what are the foodie bits I miss most from back home?  I know I could probably get most of them here if I really tried - but it's not quite the same as popping into Sainsburys.

So here you have it - my 'Friday Five' - those things I can't do without.....

5)Bacon - in the land where pork is almost raised to a godlike state, the state of bacon is, suffice it to say, absolutely shocking. Fine if you want lardons to start of a stew or soup, and fine if you want very thin strips of streaky to wrap around things - but if you're after a bacon sarnie or bacon and eggs for breakfast, then it's disappointing.  All that seems to be on offer is very, very thin, small rashers of streaky bacon.  On the very odd occasion I see back bacon in the shops (it's marketed as 'English Bacon') you only seem to get 4 rashers to a pack so you'd have to empty the store if you wanted to make the family bacon butties for breakfast.  Good smoked back bacon is another of those foodstuffs I make sure I fill up on when home, and ask those coming over to smuggle with them, sometimes only a bacon sarnie will do to start the day!

4) Self Raising Flour, yes, I know you can make your own but I never, and I mean never, manage to get it just right.  As a result, some of my baking has become quite interesting - in a not very appetising way. And yes, you can find it in 'Ethnic Supermarkets' (though not in the Turkish ones I've been to) but that requires finding the right sort of shop and making a special trip, instead I come back with kilo's of it from the UK!

3) Crisps - proper ones that is - not the pale imitations you find here - pappy, paprika flavour.... nope - I want a burn your mouth salt and vinegar, a scrumptious prawn cocktail, even a ready salted kettle chip.  Now yes, you can get some of these here, but - and it's a big BUT, paying 3Eur plus a pack for kettle chips - no siree, and the salt and 'vinegar' flavour you can get here doesn't deserve the name.  So I always need to stock up when home. Actually, you could also add here twiglets (see no1 for the real reason!) and Bombay Mix which I've not seen anywhere here.

2) Cadbury's Chocolate - Creme Eggs, Dairy Milk, Crunchies...... I'm not that fussy when it comes to the purple stuff!

1) Marmite - food of the Gods - need I say more?


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Sparkling Sylvester

A very belated Happy New Year!!

Girls in their finest
We saw the old one out and the new one in in style this year - I'd planned a black-tie (we don't get much opportunity to parade our best frocks so need to make the most of any that arise!) and cocktail party to ring in the new, but for a number of reasons, it didn't pan out quite as planned.  Thankfully, a fellow Expat, who conveniently lives staggering distance away, offered us the use of her 'Partyzimmer' and co-hosted with me.

Feuerzangenbowle at Lipstickandlaptop's Christmas Party.
Now Sylvester is one of the few times the Germans really, and I mean really, let their hair down! New Year's Eve in Germany is inextricably linked with fireworks - yup come midnight - actually for quite a bit beforehand too - it's like world war three has started.  The bangs are almost more important than the sparkles....  There is a great article on the Telegraph Expat site about Germans and their love of all things fire related - be it fireworks, feuerzangenbowle, barbecuing or even just their continued addiction to the humble cigarette.......

I digress, back to the party.....  Glad rags on, Partyzimmer suitably decorated, drinks bought, canapes made.... we were ready to rock and roll!  And we had a great night - despite illness (Mr. Expat Emma) and bad weather (raining - thankfully the wind had dropped - that would have made the fireworks even more fun...) we managed to see 2013 in in style - think glamourous frocks, champagne cup, delicate canapes - you're about on the right lines (at least that's how I'm picturing it in my minds eye.....)

Enjoying the Champagne Cup!
The champagne cup - a mix of a Blanc des Blancs, Pomegranate Juice and Seeds, sugar syrup and white rum, went down rather too well but was balanced out by a 'mocktail' for those not partaking of the hard stuff - this was a concoction of grapefruit lemonade with a tropical lime/coconut juice (think Malibu without the alcohol!)  Apparently very subtle and sophisticated - but not having tried it I'll have to take that on trust!

The canape table groaned with samosas (unusually done in a 'fladenbrot' a flat Turkish loaf as there was a lack of pastry it seems in Dortmund that day - actually supplies were running low in Kettwig too...); blinis with smoked salmon and dill creme fraiche; sun dried tomato hummus; a plethora of other chips and dips and then (more) mince pies and Christmas cake! 

Ready for the Fireworks

Then as the clock hit midnight - I'm not sure how we checked this as we didn't have Big Ben bonging in the background, we all toasted the New Year with a glass of Sekt and headed outside for the fireworks.  The rain didn't deter us or dent our spirits at all - nor did it adversely affect the display - or the bangs!  What is really lovely is that the whole community are out on the streets at this point, each doing their own small display but what you end up with is an ongoing, much bigger firework show than you'd have managed on your own.  

Seeing 2013 in with a bang!