Sunday, May 17, 2015

Well...Are you fluent yet?

Without a doubt the top question people from home ask me has always been “are you fluent in German now?" They pretty much started asking me that from my first few weeks living here!

When I think of the word “fluent” I imagine understanding absolutely everything and since I'm not quite there yet then I feel bad about why not and tend to answer "no". However, a better definition of fluency is actually the the ability to get by in most situations, to make oneself understood and to be able to go about daily tasks such as working, going to the doctor, post office and so on without language problems or barriers.You might still have your accent and not sound like a native speaker but that's ok!

Often I'll be sitting in a meeting at work and have no problems keeping up with the conversation and tricky technical speak and I'll feel confident and fluent at that moment but then at another time I might be on a night out with a group of Germans in a noisy pub and I find it hard to follow the conversation with the background noise and then I feel a little lost. I used to ask people who had lived here a long time at what stage they felt really fluent and I was often told it took them three years living in the county but others said it took them at least five years.

Recently, I came across an article that helps explain how to tell whether you are fluent. One of the ways is that people don't modify their language for you anymore. When I first moved here I noticed that a lot of Germans would try to speak Hochdeutsch (high German - without using dialect or slang) and speak clearly to make it easier for me to understand. Now they talk quickly and normally using local dialects, which I'm now able to keep up with. Also I can watch TV shows and read articles in German and understand without having to stop to think about the translations in my head or acknowledge that it's not English, which is great.

My first month or so living here I found myself exhausted each night from the effort of having to constantly translate everything in my head, formulate an answer in English and translate that before speaking. Now something like 90% of the time I understand what's being said without having to try to think of the English equivalent. So I guess I would say I am fluent now!

If you speak other languages, at what stage did you feel truly fluent? Or do you think you will never reach that stage as a non-native speaker?

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Run for your life

To be honest I don't particularly enjoy jogging like some people seem to. Once the weather started to improve here recently I decided I would take it up again but I knew I needed some kind of extra incentive to motivate me. The GerMann and I follow the zombie TV series The Walking Dead and when I heard about a zombie jogging themed app I decided to give it a try!

The full app for your smartphone costs about four euro but I went for the smaller version that is focused on training you for a 5k marathon and costs half that. The idea is that you listen to it while you jog and using GPS it can determine your route and speed. There are different chapters or levels and as your running improves the story progresses. You are known as "Runner 5" during a zombie apocalypse world and you are sent out on mini missions to help the base camp, such as to find medical kits or bring back supplies.

The story began with an exciting start when my helicopter crash-landed into an area surrounded by zombies who I had to then escape to reach the base camp. Through my earphone I had the voice actors telling me whenever any were close and when that happened, they would shout "move!" and I had to run faster. It was really quite realistic - I could hear zombie groaning in my ear if I wasn't running fast enough!

At one point I was getting really into it and nearly jumped out of skin when a cyclist whizzed past me from behind just as I could hear zombie groaning in my earphones. And I found myself scanning my terrain for possible weapons to defend myself from a zombie attack..such as big sticks or rocks.

I've only done a few missions so far and the first was the most exciting. The ones after that so far have just been more or less training drills with a mixture of walking then running in short bursts back at the base camp.

What's good though is that you can choose your playlist from music on your phone and the songs will be interspersed throughout the story. However, it made me laugh at one point as just after escaping a zombie, the Sugababes Get sexy song blasted into my ear which somehow just didn't seem appropriate during a zombie apocalypse!

I've signed up for a 6km marathon in less than six weeks so I'm going to have to try to aim to get out running twice a week if possible. Once I've completed more "missions" in the app I'll let you know how I found it!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hey You! The tricky subject of the German "you"

Something that causes a lot of confusion for English speakers here is figuring out which form of "you" to use. The formal "Sie" or more casual "du". The rules go something like this...

If the other person is around your age or younger or a good friend then you can probably use "du" when referring to them. If the person is older, someone you don't know or someone deserving of respect then you should use the formal "Sie", unless they tell you it's ok to use "du".

And when you use "Sie" it also means you would refer to the person using their surname. Germans use their surnames a LOT. When I go to my hairdresser they always say "Guten Tag Frau X". Hello Mrs. X. It makes me feel a little old!

Normally if you meet someone and as you become friends they would probably ask "Können wir uns duzen?" Shall we refer to each other using the informal "you"?

At work, a lot of companies have a general "du" policy where employees refer to each other with the "Du" form. The boss may still be "Sie" though and any clients would naturally be the more polite and respectful "Sie". It's also considered an insult if you had been on "Du" terms with somebody and then you start referinig to them with "Sie".

I was also recently told by someone that you would use "Sie" during self-defence, which surprised me. I thought that if someone was hassling you then you would not feel like using the respectul "Sie" term but my German friend pointed out that anyone listening to the conversation would more likely come to your aid if you used "Sie" as then it would be clear that the person is a stranger to you. So you would say something like "Hauen Sie ab!" Get lost! or "Lassen Sie mich in Ruhe!" "Leave me alone!". Just something worth bearing in mind if you ever find yourself in that situation!

Some more tips and rules are outlined here.
Even Germans can get confused sometimes about which they should be using! So I wonder what hopes us non-native German speakers have of getting it right!

Monday, April 13, 2015

The perfect Easter break

We're just back from our latest trip to Ireland. This time we went for just over a week and it was perfect as it meant I had time to properly catch up with everyone but it also allowed for plenty of family and chill out time! The weather also played along and we only had one rainy day!

Easter is a great time to visit Dublin I find and because of the public holidays I didn't need to take that much from my annual leave. The weather is also nice this time of year and tourist attractions aren't as crazy busy as they might be during the Summer months.

I was chatting to a Spanish girl recently who lives in Dublin and she was saying that people working abroad should be allocated extra days off to cover trips back to their home countries. It can be tricky when you live abroad as you don't want to spend all your annual leave visiting your home country as you might also like to go for a proper holiday. So I liked her suggestion!

Though in fairness the amount of annual leave is really great in Germany; you get nearly six weeks off in the year and there are lots of public holidays! The only problem is that the public holidays aren't very spread out and if they happen to fall on a weekend then you just lose them.

The GerMann had been complaining recently that we never get to do that much sightseeing during our trips to Ireland, so this time we left Dublin and spent three days in a hotel in Wicklow, south of Dublin, commonly known as the garden of Ireland. We stayed in a place called Brooklodge and it was fantastic, with a lovely spa where we spent two mornings and I got a very relaxing full body massage.

The breakfast there was delicious (organic porridge with honey, full Irish breakfast, scrambled eggs and salmon) and the restaurant food, though pricey, was also great. They primarily serve healthy organic food and even have their chickens freely walking around the place!

We visited Parnell house and gardens, where one of the leading Irish political leaders lived, one one afternoon and enjoyed some lovely walks there and later on went to a 7-foot high maze which was also fun.

We went for lunch in Dun Laoghaire and then walked along the coast, which was just beautiful. And of course we found the time to indulge in afternoon tea! And apart from that we dined in lots of good restaurants and ate yummy chocolate eggs (including a huge Guiness flavoured chocolate easter egg!). On Easter Sunday itself we went to mass and chatted to the priest who married us and jokingly asked if we are "still married?" which gave us all a chuckle.

We are hoping to plan another trip back to Ireland in August so looking forward to that!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Paddy's Day - different but still good craic

Saint Patrick's Day, which is a national holiday and a big deal in Ireland, feels very different in Germany where it is more or less a non event in most places. This year I worked, which felt somewhat strange (normally I take the day off). The majority of Germans don't seem to even know what St. Patrick's Day is or even if they do know, they forget which day it is. In fact in Germany it's just a normal day in most places. I've heard in the States it's common to pinch people who aren't wearing green on St. Patrick's day. Well if I were to do that here, it would have been a very busy day of pinching! It would have been faster to point out the people who were wearing green.

After work I made my way to one of the local Irish pubs, and that felt more like it! There were lots of people, singing songs, drinking, laughing and it was just a great atmosphere! And of course there was lots of craic, which is a special fun atmosphere that only Irish people can produce.

Then last weekend we were also invited to a Paddy's Day themed party hosted by another Irish-German couple like us, which was also good fun. We watched some of the highlights online from the St. Patrick's day celebrations in Ireland. I hear that is was a four-day affair this year with loads of different events organized. And everything green of course!

Several Germans asked me about Saint Patrick, the man himself, and embarrassingly I couldn't say much apart from him being the patron saint of Ireland and that he got rid of all the snakes! And they also asked me about typical food we eat on the day, which was also difficult to answer. It's not an event revolving around food (but rather drink!), it's more about celebrating everything Irish!

Hopefully some year we'll make it back to Ireland for the few days. Flights then are always extra-expensive, of course. In the meantime, all the Irish people abroad can get back to planning our secret mission of world domination or - at the very least - world inebriation!

Did you celebrate St. Patrick's Day where you are?

Monday, March 9, 2015

What's your word? #MicroblogMonday

There was a scene in the well known book and subsequent movie Eat Pray Love where the main character has to think of one word that defines, drives and inspires her. While chatting about it with some friends at the weekend we tried to come up with our own words for ourselves and each other.

One chose Beauty. Not in a superficial sense, but beauty that can come from within and as a creative person she finds it in lots of things. Another friend chose fun as to her that's what life is about, craving enjoyment. The other friend choose drive as she is very motivated and driven in each stage of her life.

Thinking about what my own word could be I initially came up connection or meaning as I tend to want to find deeper meaning in things and connect with people. Family also came to mind as very important. My friends however choose the word, loyalty for me. The reason being that I'm a very loyal friend and I value loyalty in others.

I asked the GerMann what his word might be. He didn't like limiting himself to one and mentioned wife, health and wealth. Talking some more about what he meant exactly I came up with well-being as his word to try to convey a sense of how he values having a good work/life balance, standard of living, being healthy, exercising and having a companion.

What about you? Is there a good word that describes you or your life motivation?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

An Irish Summer in Lanzarote

We spent last week on holidays in Lanzarote, one of the Canary islands. When we were in Mallorca before, we couldn't help noticing how many Germans there were. Well Lanzarote seems to be a top destination for fellow Irish people as we heard familiar accents everywhere we went!

We also lost count of the amount of Irish pubs there are in Puerto del Carmen, the region where we stayed, but we managed to have a drink in several of them - I always try to support other Irish people living abroad! We enjoyed some great live music in one and even took part in the karaoke evening at another.

The Canary islands belong to Spain but because of their location close to Africa it is normally much warmer compared to the rest of Europe. We were rather unlucky with the weather while we were there though, which was reminiscent of an Irish summer - very changeable - one minute sunny and pleasant and the next overcast and rainy. so yeah, I felt quite at home, haha!

Puerto del Carmen has a seven kilometer long promenade beside lovely beaches and there are plenty of great restaurants, pubs, and cafes. The island is also covered with volcanoes and an excursion to the Timanfaya National Park is worth a visit. We opted for a half day trip which included some wine tasting. It probably sounds bad if I admit I was more looking forward to the latter, which ended up being a little disappointing with only one half glass to taste! There was also an option to ride camels up the volcanic mountains, which neither of us particularly wanted to do so we wandered around taking photos at that stage and then went back to the bus when it got too cold.

Visiting Lanzarote in February is still a little risky if you are counting on great weather and a beach holiday. The lowest temperature there during Winter would only be about 14 degrees so it's really quite pleasant all year around. That said the evenings were chilly and there was a very cold wind!

Still though, we had a fun relaxing time. Our next trip planned will be Dublin over the Easter break.

And our karaoke songs of choice in case you are wondering? I attempted "Help" by the Beatles and the GerMann had a go at the Garth Brooks classic "Friends in Low Places". Neither of us can sing particularly well but didn't matter since nobody knows us in Lanzarote!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Wishes for 2015 - wondering what the year might bring

You know it's strange, no one here has asked me about my New Year's resolutions. Maybe it's just not as much of a thing in Germany or maybe everyone has gotten less motivated to make New Year's resolutions that they ultimately end up breaking!

This year instead of making resolutions I decided to think instead of my hopes for the coming year.

Buy a house

We've been on the lookout for the right place for us for probably about a year at this stage. We've been to several viewings and even made an offer on a house we liked and got very close to actually buying but the negotiations fell through in the end. It's difficult. Since Baden-Württemberg is highly populated and has a strong economy with plenty of jobs, the price of land is expensive.

And of course location is very important. I don't want to end up buying a place that's really far from town and everything else and ending up with a long commute to work and it would affect our quality of life. Maybe we need to adjust our expectations or just keep waiting until we find the house or apartment of our dreams! Anyway the search continues.


I love to travel and see new places so I hope in 2015 we can go on some adventurous holidays, and not just back to Ireland, even though I love those trips too of course! I read once that experiences are what you remember such as a great weekend away with friends, and so it's better to spend your money on things like that as opposed to buying material items like new clothes or gadgets.

Have a baby

Well it's out there. Are you listening, universe/God? My not-so-secret-anymore hope is to get pregnant this year. That was also my wish for last year. It's getting to the stage where we may have to go to the doctor for help (though IVF scares me and I'm hoping it won't come to that!) but planning to give it another six months first. And in the meantime I'm trying to relax more, get healthy, try the alternative options and just be patient and enjoy the time when it's just the two of us!

Blog more

Blogging is a fun and creative outlet and I would like to keep it up and blog often this year. The main 'theme' of my blog is living abroad as an Irish person in Germany, but I also plan to write about my life generally and thoughts on all sorts of topics, just whatever I feel like writing about that day.

Improve my German

It's been awhile since I took a German course and I'm sure I'm regularly making all sorts of grammatical errors when speaking! I would like to try to take another refresher course, maybe even an online one which I could do from home. And I know I should push myself more to read in German.

And finally, make healthier choices.

Haha! Well I had to put it in there. I've been getting quite lazy about going to the gym the last while what with the weather so miserable and days so cold and dark but I hope to start going regularly again. And maybe start jogging again too. And food wise, just cooking more healthy meals from scratch, more vegetables, less red meat. Not always saying yes to cake.

And my resolution?

What about you? What are your hopes for what 2015 might bring? And yes I do realise that it's February already!