The Reception

After the wedding, we headed back to the UK for a bit. The celebration was being held in a small pub in Cambridge, The Cambridge Blue and we had a few things to get ready ahead of time. Also, my parents were coming to the UK to hang with us and Alex’s parents.

The week up leading up to the wedding was fairly uneventful. We had a long and annoying trip home from Copenhagen, but made much less long and much less annoying be being given a lift from one of Alex’s friends. Alex and I argued hugely over what music was appropriate for dancing to and what music was only appropriate for background noise. We ended up with 10 hours worth of music for a day that would only require music for, at the most, 8 hours, but alt at least we didn’t end up killing each other.

I went on a trip with my Dad to Titpon, a small town outside of Birmingham, where an ancestor of ours originally came from. We went to the ‘Black Country Living Museum,’ which was all about mining in the area. I overcame my fears of small, dark, wet and cave-like places and managed to go on a tour of a mine, during which I must have seemed so confident that a middle-aged lady attached herself to me for the entirety of the trip. Literally attached herself to my bag every time we had to move off with a little, ‘Now, where’s my lovely lady?’ It was weird and also sweet.

The real shadow over-hanging the week, of course, was the prospect of the UK referendum. We’d all been gobsmacked over Jo Cox’s death the week before. Alex’s father told us he literally couldn’t stand to talk about it. I felt heartbroken, which was strange because I had literally never heard of her before then. I think it was a combination of the extremity of the violence and anger directed at her, the fact that she had small children, that she shared a lot of the same politics as myself and just seemed like a hugely decent human being with ideals, drive, energy and passion. It didn’t help that when I first heard about the incident she was alive and being taken to hospital and I somehow managed to convince myself she would therefore be fine. I still can’t believe she died. There’s some strange childish part of me that still thinks that if she’d have survived everything else that happened afterwards would have been ok. Or, at least, not as bad. Anyway, driving around Tipton trying to find the Dudley Castle with Dad the day before the referendum, I spotted a UKIP bus and legions of overjoyed UKIP fans (in stupid hats. Why in stupid hats?) lining up to have their photos taken with some UKIP councillor. It was shocking to see them all in the flesh – up until that point they had literally existed as characters on computer or TV screen for me (me being from the London global elite, and all *dramatic eye roll*). My first instinct was, naturally, to roll out of the moving vehicle and give them all a right good kicking. Which obviously wouldn’t have played well, nor would it have made anything about Jo Cox any better. Sure it wasn’t Nigel Farage’s fault directly. But he has a lot to do with the current hysterical state of debate.

Anyway, Alex and I headed into London on the Thursday so that I could vote in the Australian election. (UK) Labour supporters at the station gave me a ‘Remain’ sticker and as we got into London, the number of ‘Remain’ stickers on people both young and old, from all walks of life, gave me hope. I met a friend for lunch at the Jewish Cultural Centre, JW3. When I went to buy a Snapple, the guy behind the counter saw my sticker and said, ‘thanks for voting to keep us in’ (not that I voted, of course, not allowed and all, but it seemed too complicated to go into at that point). When the woman ahead of me took too long to buy her lunch, the cafe guy who had thanked me told me to just take the drink for free. I got a free drink just because he thought I had good politics! I mean, I had the decency to feel pretty guilty about it all, but it really did feel even more embarrassing to explain it to him afterwards at that point. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a bad person.

That night, as we were going to bed, an exit poll had Remain at 52% and Leave at 48%. So, when I woke up at 5am to find Alex staring at his mobile phone and he told me it was 52% Leave, 48% Remain, my sleepy brain, went, ‘oh god, no worries then.’ It took a good 60 seconds for it to properly process the sounds he had made, at which point I woke up completely. It was a complete panic. Not only was the state of the world very different to how I’d assumed it was, this decision seemed to completely upend Alex and my plans for the future.

That morning was difficult. We had so much to do. I had to buy flowers for the tables in the pub. I had to write a speech. We had to move out of Alex’s parents place and to the hotel we were spending the weekend at. I had to iron my dress. We had to go to the pub and check final details for the next day. But, neither Alex nor I had any desire to get out of bed. All we wanted to do was read more and more terrible stories about what the terrible future held and what terrible human beings we all were now that this was the way the vote had gone.  Alex said to me, ‘Have a shower. It’ll make you feel better.’ And all I could think was, ‘I don’t want to feel better. I want to feel WORSE.’

Somehow we got out of bed and got everything done that needed to be done. We went outside and the sky was not yet falling. People were walking around as if it were a normal day, instead of running and screaming and ducking for cover. It was all very strange. I kept trying to eavesdrop to see if I could find people who voted ‘Leave’ to hate or people who voted ‘Remain’ to commiserate with. But people seemed to determined to continue on as if nothing had happened. Had something happened? Surely something had happened. It was all terribly confusing. Had no one read the paper that morning?

Somehow we got to Saturday. I dragged myself out of bed (terrible night’s sleep) and started the whole process of getting pretty all over again. It was far less stressful this time. This time, instead of being stressed about being pretty, I was stressed about the speech I had to give. I didn’t want to give the speech. Even though Alex and I had both decided that we should give speeches, and it may have actually been my idea in the first place. Still, that was all irrelevant. Now I didn’t want to do the speech. I didn’t want to do a performance of love. I just wanted to be in love. I was in love with Alex, wasn’t that enough, goddamit, why did everyone insist on asking how it felt, it feels how it feels and you can’t describe it without resorting to cliche and making it sound cheap and ordinary and trivial and it wasn’t ordinary, not at all, so why did everyone insist I go ruining it by trying to describe it with my poor words, eh? Eh? Also, there was part of me that felt that if I got the ‘performance of love’ test wrong then my guests would all think, ‘well, that’s disappointing, isn’t it? The marriage is clearly not going to last. I mean, she’s clearly not REALLY in love. That was just not a good enough speech.’ Maybe someone would ring up Denmark and have our marriage made null and void. This is what my brain does to me.

Anyway, I managed to scrawl out something before putting my curlers in. Erin came round to help again and then we ‘paraded’ to the pub, less out of desire this time and more out of an understanding of Cambridge traffic jams. There was a jam and it wasn’t going anywhere. Still, a little child did stop in the middle of the footpath, gape up at me and yell to his mother (in Spanish): ‘The lady in red! The lady in red!’ That certainly made the walk worthwhile.

The pub had been beautifully done up by Alex’s parents, aunts and friends. We’d gone for a kind of ‘picnic’ feel so all the tables had kitschy, patterned tablecloths (made my Alex’s aunts and Alex’s mother’s friends), mismatched flowers and I’d made cheat’s bunting (strips of material instead of neat triangles). I’d been worried because we couldn’t put it all together before the day, but it looked super-dooper, even if I do say so myself:

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The first half of the wedding day was lovely until I remembered that I had to do a speech that I hadn’t even read through since writing it, at which point, it was panic-anxiety stations to the max. Petticoats and high heels and tight dresses to not assist when one is panicking, I must say. I got much advice ranging from ‘push on your lower abdomen’ to ‘have some more alcohol’ to ‘millions of people have done it before you and survived and you’ll be able to do it too.’ All of which was true and helpful but none of which calmed me down sufficiently.

Somehow, we finally got to the part of the day when speeches were done. My brother did a stellar job of MC-ing and Alex’s parents spoke beautifully to start. My own dad brought the house down with laughter and then, just to really stretch those emotional muscles, he made everyone dissolve into floods of tears, myself included. Alex’s friend Anna made, I think, the best Brexit joke of the day (in what was a hugely competitive field – I feel like a lot of friends treated our wedding as a wake for the EU, and that was ok, I completely understood and if it hadn’t been my wedding I probably would have done that too). As Wonderfriend Erin was taking to the stage, however, a huge clap of thunder made itself heard and the heavens opened, pounding our tiny marquee with hailstones the size of extra-large marbles. Poor Erin rose valiantly over the sound, but after she finished we took a 15 minute break. The hailstones provided an excellent distraction from my speech, especially as everyone tried to justify why the hailstones were ok. One friend explained that rain is good luck on your wedding day and what was hail but very hard, very concentrated rain, so this could only meanWh even better luck. Someone else explained that Zeus was angry because Alex had taken me as a bride and to be wary of any swans that might visit me in the evening time.

When the hail calmed down, Alex gave his (very sweet) speech and then I made mine. It was, of course, fine. People laughed in the right places, nobody called the Danish authorities to say a mistake had been made, we shouldn’t actually have gotten married, it was all ok. And that meant the only thing left to do was to enjoy the rest of the evening! We cut cake, we did a first dance to the Magnetic Fields’ ‘I’m Sorry I Love You’ (which I like to think of as the most British love song title ever) and all was good.

There’s not much else to say, really. It was a fantastic night with much dancing and drinking and talking and laughing. I danced so hard that the ribbon on the back of my dress came off somewhere between the pub and the hotel (poor vintage dress lasted 70 years in mint condition, it comes into contact with me and it lasts 2 events. Le Sigh). Brexit didn’t ruin it (though it tried damn hard and is still trying). It was so wonderful to have everyone there who was there and we hope they all had a fantastic time. The pub and it’s owners were great, made everything so easy with organisation and really helped us to get the best day we possibly could have. Everyone who helped out on the day or in the lead-up (and there were lots of them – friends who went shopping with me, friends who approved dresses, friends who picked up dresses, friends who did my hair, friends who attached eyelashes, friends who decorated on the day, friends who picked up cakes, friends who took photos, friends and family who made speeches, friends who organised Hen’s Nights and Stag Nights and Shag Nights, people I didn’t even know who sewed us 20 tablecloths, wrapped flower pots in paper and ribbons…) were incredible and the whole thing wouldn’t have happened without them. It was a perfect day only because everyone pitched in and it made both Alex and I feel so loved and cared for by our friends and extended family. So, to you, all of you, thank you.

 

 

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Filed under Dating, UK, Wedding

The Wedding

So we had a pretty big June.

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Yep! We got ourselves hitched!

As followers of this blog may know, I’m not a huge fan of the wedding industry. I’m also not a massive fan of the history of marriage or the modern institution, capitalist romance and the performance of said-romance (see also previous blog entries).  So, it might seem a strange thing for a gal like me to be getting married.

And, honestly, it was a strange thing. I know a lot of people view me as hopelessly romantic and whilst that is certainly an aspect of my personality that I may have accidentally cultivated with my interest in Jane Austen, BBC bonnet dramas and flowery clothing; but I assure you the other part of me is a hardened, crusty and angry cynic. I can only describe it as the effects of having been a young and hopeless romantic who came into late and unwelcome contact with the real world. I never really thought I’d get married. When I was in a relationship I couldn’t see a good reason to get married – as a young 20-something it didn’t seem to make a difference to my life. When I was single… well, I just thought I’d never be with anyone ever again. And, that was also… fine.

But, that all kind of changed when I met Alex. I don’t mean (*orchestra playing*) I finally met the love of my life and I suddenly saw the point of marriage. I mean, that because we are citizens of different countries, getting married seemed to make a lot of sense. At some point in our relationship we had each, individually and personally, decided that we wanted, and expected, to be with each other long-term. But that’s not so easy when you don’t have rights in the other’s country. So, getting married was an official way of saying to each of our countries: ‘we come as a package.’ Of course, that explanation doesn’t get rid of all the icky baggage that marriage is carrying around with it, nor does it acknowledge the fact that for many people, an official marriage is still not possible. But for better or worse (ha!) getting married did become very important for us.

Now, I can’t pretend I was impervious to all the traditional wedding stuff. Sure, I wore a red dress and not white, but do you know how much stress I put myself (and many others) through to get that absolutely perfect, one-of-a-kind dress? Sure we only had a civil ceremony in a town hall, but if, for language and visa reasons, you decide to get married in a faux-gothic, early twentieth century Danish town hall that happens to be holding said civil ceremonies in the goddamn clock tower on the day of your wedding, you will still have 6 year old girls looking at the photos and squealing, ‘Jenny! It’s your palace! You’re a princess!’

I think my attitude towards the whole thing was that it should be special, of course it should be special, but if anyone dared suggest that this was, or should be, the happiest day of my life, I would come at them with the unnecessarily high heel of my wedding shoe. Apart from anything else, it simply wasn’t true because we were having a ‘reception’ on a different day (and in a different country) to the ceremony (and possibly another reception in Australia next year – we’re calling it ‘The 2016 – 17 International Festival of Jenny and Alex’. Good God, what were we thinking). So, I deliberately tried to buy things that could be used after the wedding ceremony (and specifically, on the day of the reception). Not only the dress, but the headband, the shoes (which can be died a different colour than spill-attracting white-cream), the make-up (which I bought and did myself), the curlers that I used to set my hair (though I must acknowledge the stupendous help of my best friend Erin who stepped in both days and pinned my hair when I suddenly panicked and couldn’t figure out how to do the back of my hair when I couldn’t see it).

The reason we chose Denmark was that we had it on good authority that it could be very complicated for foreigners to get married in Germany. Also, the service had to be done in German or it wasn’t official and if we couldn’t understand properly we had to provide a translator. Denmark, however, has made a cottage industry of marrying absolutely anyone to anyone else, quickly, efficiently and in the language of your choice (provided that your language of choice is Danish, English or German). We contacted ‘Getting Married in Denmark’ who gave great advice, were warm, helpful all along the way (no matter how annoying or stressed the questions!) and got us exactly the wedding that we wanted.

We got into Copenhagen two days beforehand, with enough time to drop off our official documents as well as to visit the fantastic Tivoli Gardens – an historic and beautiful theme park. I can definitely vouch for rollercoasters and an 80m -high swing roundabout thing for getting rid of your pre-wedding anxiety.

StarFlyer

Yup. Went up that thing and lived to tell the tale. ‘Star Flyer’ image found here .

The ceremony was at 10:30am on Saturday, but when we gave in our official documents the woman at the desk had been very disparaging of the notion that we were getting married in the clock tower (way to up the pre-wedding anxiety, random Danish City Hall worker), so we had decided to get there extra early just to make sure that we were actually, really, truly getting married where we had been told we were getting married.

I spent the hours beforehand doing make-up and hair with the help of my stepmum and the the aforementioned Wonderfriend, Erin. I was anxious enough to get approval on almost every brushstroke. Not only is Erin a whizz with the hair, but she is luckily a theatre person and so knew how to attach fake eyelashes – a thing I had bought thinking they looked great but had failed to practice actually attaching to my face. Little tip – 50mins before you need to be at your own wedding is not the time to make your very first attempt at attaching false eyelashes to your face. One does not even know where one should attach fake eyelashes 50mins before one’s wedding – the upper lip? The outer rim of the ear?

Anywho, despite taking way longer than expected, I was ready on time, jumped into a taxi with my parents and wasn’t even the last one to arrive. The City Hall staff on the day were, without exception, friendly, polite, welcoming, happy for us and just generally wonderful. Each staff member showed us to a new section of the City Hall where we would wait a few moments before being shown to another section. The place is stunning with loads of interesting stuff to look at, from nautical and octopus themed wall paintings to exhibitions on WWII in Denmark, so this game of ‘pass-the- wedding-party’ was actually highly enjoyable. The only real issue was when it became increasingly obvious that there was no lift. Not even a little lift for just a little bit of the upward journey. We were to power ourselves all the way up to the clock tower with our own two feet. I mean, it was terribly romantic climbing up all those spiral staircases, but petticoats really do get in the way of making certain that your feet are going where you think they are going.

I can barely remember the ceremony, it was over so quickly. I’m told I squealed. I really hope not. But, then again, I can barely remember the amazing view from the clock tower because I was just so darn excited. So, maybe I squealed. I hope everyone can forgive me. The staff who conducted the ceremony were wonderful and even though we’d never met our celebrant before, she was just perfect – both funny and sincere and just generally warm and empathetic. The little speech she gave in English, of what I can remember, was lovely: something about making sure that we strengthen our relationship by making sure we remain individuals and strengthen each other as individuals. Ah, it was just so perfect. Like I said before, I’ve got issues with romance and public romance, but, I tell you what. This was spectacularly, fantastically, beautifully romantic. Alex was crying (from happiness – I swear I didn’t force him into it). I couldn’t stop smiling.

When we got down to the ground, I dropped our newly minted wedding documents off to be translated and made official (or something) and then we gathered our wedding group together for the post-wedding lunch. We had a bit of time and I was still worked up, so I insisted that we all ‘had to parade’ to the restaurant. In reality, all that meant was walking for 20 mins over cobblestones (though, in hindsight, I should totally have forced them all to play music and throw streamers over me. Missed opportunity). Everyone was extremely kind and all agreed. Nobody even tried to protest. The power of the bride.

Luckily we got to the restaurant just as everyone’s feet were giving out. We had chosen the most Danish restaurant we could find, which served open faced sandwiches and schnapps: Told og Snaps. Again, the staff were wonderful, so friendly and so helpful, considering what a big group we were. They explained we couldn’t possibly drink schnapps without first having beer. This was the way of things in Denmark. So, we all ordered beer and then a schnapps was selected from their long list (‘I will choose a good one for you – if you have never had schnapps before it is difficult to choose’, said the wonderful waiter). The sandwich menu was incredibly long and each one we ordered was incredibly delicious. Who knew a bit of toasted bread with some stuff on top could be so gourmet? The Danes, that’s who.

All the excitement of the past 24 hours: the emotions, the happiness, the stress, the make-up, the hair, the rollercoasters, the lack of food (I’d been unable to eat dinner or breakfast before the wedding) and then the sudden food (so much sandwich! So much cheese!) was starting to take it’s toll. Alex and I went back to the hotel and, in all honesty, all we had the energy to do was watch Danish nature documentaries. Alex fell asleep. Really. I don’t know how couples who do the ceremony and the reception all on the same day do it. I was exhausted.

After about 4 hours of lying down, we had enough energy to go out and get dinner. Around 8pm, people started coming to our hotel room and we had a good ol’ fashioned hotel room party just like in the old days. My brother had brought us lichen liquor from his stop-over in Iceland and we forced everyone to drink it. It was great. I mean, not the liquor, that was pretty awful, but that my brother had brought it and that everyone felt compelled to try it. That was great. Thanks to excellent Danish hotel design, absolutely none of the other guests complained, because absolutely no one could hear anything outside of the room. Spectacular.

On Sunday, Alex and I got up late and then wandered around Copenhagen trying to see a few sights before our flight. Copenhagen is really pretty. That’s my verdict. I would highly recommend it as the place of your next wedding or holiday.

Well, I was going to try and do wedding and reception together but I think it’s getting a bit long. I’ll write the next bit tomorrow.

 

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Filed under Berlin, Dating, Wedding, wedding dress

FOMO and David Bowie

Leaving Australia at the start of January was difficult. 3 weeks at my (old) home was pretty spectacular. It was sunny, I got to wear as many summer dresses as I liked, all these wonderful people that I hardly get to see were there and they are all still very nice and we had more than our fair share of avocados and life was good.

But apart from having to give all of that up, I had also decided I really, truly, hated Berlin.

Of course, that was a bit of an overstatement brought on by sun-mania, dehydration and hyper-avocado-enemia, but there is at least a little nugget of truth at the heart of it.

I’ve had a lot of problems moving to Berlin. I’m terrible about the language thing. Not necessarily that I can’t speak, but that I can’t speak PERFECTLY. That really bothers me. There are some ex-pats who live here very happily knowing no German and there are some ex-pats who live here and work hard and become fluent. I fit into neither category. I’m too lazy to learn German properly, but cripplingly embarrassed about this moral failing in a typically Anglo-Saxon middle-class way.

Plus, I’ve really struggled to find things here that I like to do. I go to work, I come home, I watch Netflix. Seriously, this is my glamorous ex-pat life. The only difference between me and people I grew up with who stayed in Australia is that I get German subtitles on my Netflix and, also, that there are some pretty awesome looking foreign films on offer (that I can’t understand because there are no English subtitles available and because of, you know, the aforementioned language problem).

You’ll be pleased to know that I am taking steps to try and rectify the situation. I’ve turned one of the doors in our apartment into a ‘Berlin To-Do List’, covered in post-it notes that can be easily removed and thrown in the bin (in a most satisfying way), once the activity has successfully been completed. I don’t actually think the To-Do List is that great. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll keep me occupied and it’s stuff I do want to get done, but it still feels like I’m kind of missing something.

Berlin is such a byword for the creative and the avant-garde, the interesting and unique and revolutionary. And yet, in direct contrast, here is my dull little existence, basically indistinguishable from my dull existence in any other city that I’ve lived in (apart from the exciting/cripplingly embarrassing language thing).

Of course, some of the things that make Berlin ‘Berlin’ are uninteresting to me anyway. Taking drugs and staying at clubs all weekend long. That’s a thing, apparently. Working as a kitchen hand and making art in all your free hours and still living comfortably. That’s also a thing, as I found out when I first moved her and stupidly asked Berlin people ‘so, what do you do?’ generating many sniffy responses, which pointedly delineated between paid work and ACTUAL work and that my lack of understanding of the difference made me fairly lacking in value. But neither of those lifestyles, for all their Peter Pan-like appeal, particularly interests me.

I guess this is the problem. Without realising it, I had some strange, perhaps pathetic expectations about how Berlin ‘should’ be and what would happen to me when I got here. A place that was meant to be inspiring and motivating for so many artists, I just kind of assumed it would just naturally inspire and motivate me too. Part of it was my state of mind when I moved here (I GIVE UP! THEATRE IS DEAD TO ME!) But I think I had a secret hope that somehow I would be motivated, inspired and full of words and writing without having to do anything about it. That hasn’t happened. There is nothing I have created here that people will be able to point to and classify my ‘Berlin oeuvre’. And, I have to admit, it’s kind of disappointing.

Certainly it’s hard to be inspired when your main connection with the culture of a place is through a shared obsession with baked goods (so many bakeries! so much fresh bread!) but I’m also at a bit of a loss as to where to find this inspiring, interesting, revolutionary Berlin culture. Is it still there? Was it ever there? Is it something you can actually pinpoint in a moment, or day-to-day, or is it something that you look back on and say, ‘ah, yes, there it was. That time there.’

I certainly haven’t met a contemporary Nabokov or Isherwood or Bowie or Iggy Pop to hang out with, or if I did, I didn’t recognise them (more fool me). Similarly, I haven’t come across an equivalent of the Rote Armee Fraktion (not that I’ve been looking, I swear, CIA). I have visited the ‘trendy’ areas where every young person wants to live and, quite frankly, to me, they seem insufferably full of tourists and ex-pats and pop-up shops selling crappy knick-knacks with moustaches on them. Certainly nothing that’s radically changed my life, or opened up my point of view. I’ve tried to go to artistic nights of poetry and music. I tried to set one up, which we just won’t talk about. I’ve attended a ‘storytelling’ night where various ex-pats told highly ‘moving’ stories of all the drugs they’d taken in countries across the world. But I just can’t find an ‘it’ to satisfy whatever early stereotypes I had formed before I got here.

I don’t want to complain that nothing here is ‘authentic’ any more and I’m certainly not claiming to be some kind of ‘authenticity’ arbiter pointing to bits of the city and declaring this part worthwhile, whilst this over here is valueless. But I just can’t seem to get excited about this place. And so many people are so excited about this place. I just feel like I’ve somehow been left out of the party for the past two years and I don’t quite know what to do about it.

Princess

 

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What Do You Want?

One of the awkward parts of heading home over Christmas was the amount of times I had to answer the question, ‘So, are you still acting?’ Because I gave up so many months ago (though, really, if no-ones asking you to audition for anything and you’re not getting paid any actual money, is there anything you’re actually ‘giving up’, really?) and then wrote several blog posts about it and then put those blog posts on Facebook, I kind of assumed everyone would have gotten the message. I mean, obviously my family and friends have all subscribed to my blog and eagerly await each new post, which they then read in minute detail, taking notes so that they can later discuss me and my life choices at some kind of ‘Jenny blog’ reading group they have, right?

RIGHT?

Apparently that is not the case (do they not LOVE me???) Nothing like heading home to have to come face-to-face with a whole bunch of stuff you happily ignore in your fake, not-quite-adult, day-to-day Berlin life.

‘No, I’m not acting anymore.’

‘No, I’m not writing either.’

‘No, no theatre, none at all, absolutely no interest, but, anyways, HOW ARE YOU?’ (Mental note: must get better at effective conversation subject changes)

The next question then is, ‘Well, what are you going to do now?’

To which the response is, ‘I don’t know.’

And, then, inevitably, ‘Well, what do you WANT to do?’

To which the response still is, ‘I. DO. NOT. KNOW.’

Idon'tKnow

DON’T KNOW, DON’T KNOW, DON’T KNOW

This is a troubling answer to a lot of people. Who doesn’t know what they want?

(Side note: I often don’t know what I want, but usually it’s 8pm, I haven’t eaten since lunch and someone is attempting to figure out what restaurant to go to. At which point, my response is to cry until someone finds the largest possible plate of the nearest available food and gives it to me)

See, I knew what I wanted. For many years I knew what I wanted and that was to work in theatre and I didn’t know how that was going to happen, but that’s what I wanted and I was going to make it work. Somehow. Many people told me that was not what I wanted, or I that I shouldn’t want that, or that was a stupid thing to want, or a bad thing to want or blah blah blah and it turns out those many people were right. Kudos to them, I hope you all feel very proud of yourselves and wow, wouldn’t life have been swell if I’d listened to you all. No, really, I’m not bitter at you, I’m bitter at me.

ANYWAY, the main point is that after having given up on that one thing that I actually wanted, I literally am left with nothing else.

That’s rather melodramatic. Of course there are plenty of things that I could do, and, furthermore, have considered doing, but exactly how does one choose between them? When there is no strong feeling guiding you in any direction? My main criteria at the moment is, ‘must not choose wrong thing again,’ which I’m sure you can imagine is fairly crippling. I do have one other main criteria which is, ‘cannot work shitty, casual, low-paid, soulless work anymore’, which is also kind of ephemeral and all-encompassing and, in it’s own way limiting.

Despite my ridiculous amounts of fancy schooling, I am trained in nothing useful and nothing necessary.

And, to have people still asking me the same shitty question that got me into this mess (‘But, what do you WANT to do?’) is just the icing on the cake.

 

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Filed under Berlin, Employment, Introspection, Theatre, Unemployment

3 More Years in Berlin?

So today I got my sponsored work visa to stay in Germany. My youth working holiday visa finished at the start of September (because I am no longer a youth – I am 31 and old according to governments the world over) and the kindergarten that I work for offered to sponsor me so that I could continue working for them.

It was a strange moment when the woman at the Auslanderbehörde (Foreigner’s Registration Office) handed me my passport with the new visa inside. Not least of all because she decided to speak English to me, and I had been pretty certain, up to this point, that all German bureaucrats had to speak German to everyone at all times because they are:

a) working in Germany for the German government and

b) could mistranslate something and then give someone the wrong information and then get the government into a lot of trouble.

That’s a reasonable sounding rationale I made up in my head to explain why everyone in Berlin speaks perfect English except the people in bureaucracy, and especially the people who might need to actually speak a language other than German (for example, at the Foreigner’s Registration Office).

Nevertheless, the strangest thing about getting my visa today was opening up my passport and seeing that, as long as I kept working at the same kindergarten and did nothing else, I could stay in Germany until August 2018.

3 more years.

That seems like a really long time.

Of course, it’s not. The years are going by faster and faster these days (and yet, I still don’t seem to be able to get anything useful done – how did I ever have time to graduate high school and also watch daily episodes of Neighbours and The Simpsons?) and I even have friends with children older than 3 years (which is, incidentally, terrifying) and just next year we’ll have another Australian federal election (though it sometimes seems we have changes of government even more regularly…)

However, for the past 5 years, I’ve been living visa to visa and every time I’ve made a move, it’s for a limited amount of time, usually under 2 years. Ireland was meant to be a year and I stayed for a year and a bit. My UK visa was for 2 years and I stayed for just under that. My original German visa was for a year. And in between times, I’ve had all sorts of other plans that never came to fruition. At some point I was considering moving to Canada for a year. For a couple of months near the end of my UK visa I was coming to terms with the idea that I would have to move back to Australia and deciding what kind of life that was going to be. At the start of my Irish visa I was going to live and work in Cork for 6 months, then hike the whole island of Ireland and some of the UK and then travel home to Australia via the Trans-Mongolian railway (some day, my friends, some day).

This slightly nomadic existence hasn’t always seemed entirely of my own choosing. Once I started I was unable to stop. I collected countries and youth visas the way that children used to collect Pokemon. There was a strange compulsion to the country hopping. Sure there were always reasons for the next country (not least of all because the visa in the last one had run out), but at no point did it seem to enter my head that I could just stop. Go home. Be still and quiet and nest for a while. There was a time limit to the visas I was on (the 30 year limit), which perhaps created the whiff of desperation. There was also a reluctance to return to Australia once I’d gotten out here. Not because Australia is horrible, but because… Australia is far away. And once I’d gotten far away, it seemed like a lot of effort to go back. And to go back to… what, exactly? Yes, my family is there and friends still, but there wasn’t exactly a life that I left behind. I had no job, no career, no house, no pets. I knew I didn’t want to live in Sydney anymore, I probably didn’t want to move back to Newcastle, but there was nothing that said I had to come home. There seemed no reason to end the ‘adventure’.

With a 3 year visa in my hand, the nomadic existence seems to be at an end. I’m not exactly sad. But I’m also not exactly certain about the place that I’ve landed. I came mainly because another visa was at an end. For the first few months I resented being here and that coloured a lot of my initial impressions of the place. My lack of German makes working in a German environment hard – not because I can’t understand instructions or what’s going on around me. But because it makes me feel like a different person – a quiet one, an introspective one, a boring one, someone who sits on the edge of conversations and barely keeps up, instead of someone who actively, happily participates. I’m aware that I want to do *something else* but whether or not that *something else* (whatever it is) is possible in Germany without qualifications or proper German is also up for debate. The German government has opened it’s arms to me, warmly, strangely, unexpectedly, in a way that the Irish and British governments never did, would never do, and yet all I can say is, ‘uh…. I dunno… let me get back to you.’

Obviously just because I have a 3 year visa doesn’t mean I have to stay here. I’m not exactly certain if the constant moving is really at an end. Maybe A. and I will go back to Cambridge in a year (though we also said that a year ago when we first moved to Berlin). Maybe we will move back to Australia so that A. can get acquainted with the poisonous snakes and I can remember all the good things about my home. Maybe I’ll start writing racy historical bodice rippers for the self-publishing arm of Amazon and I can buy A. a run-down Irish castle, who knows? But wherever I end up, this new visa is the end of an era. The youth visas are over. From now on my choices of country will have to be more deliberate and more permanent.

I suppose there’s a comfort in that feeling of permanence, of stability, of knowing where you live and who you live there with and what that place is like, of knowing that things will happen at certain times in certain places, of knowing how to tip and how to buy a travel card, of where to get a good breakfast and where to get a good dinner, on knowing the exact phrasing and intonation on public transport announcements, on having supermarket preferences. The dull bits of life I got bored of in Australia are the things I am now most loathe to lose the next time (if there is a next time) that we move. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old. Or maybe it’s because I’ve worked out what I actually want. Or, maybe it just is what it is and there is no deeper meaning.

I went out looking for adventure and found my ordinary life.

Foreigner Registration Office in Berlin (seriously. This is the place where you go to get visas here. Can you picture this in Australia? Or the UK?)

Foreigner Registration Office in Berlin (seriously. This is the place where you go to get visas here. Can you picture this in Australia? Or the UK?)

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Filed under Introspection, travel

On Speaking the Language

A few weeks ago I wrote a self-deprecating, whiny post about the fact that I hadn’t learnt German yet and that barmen still switch to English even if I’ve managed to get through ‘One big Radler and one big Dunkels beer’ in German without stumbling over my tongue. A few people at the time (possibly sick of my whiny, self-deprecating writing style) reminded me that I was still doing pretty ok with my rudimentary restaurant German and at least had a head start on all those monolinguists out there.

In all honesty, that didn’t encourage me to be easier on myself, but after another barman switched to english in a busy bar last week and as I mentally and verbally kicked myself out the door and down the street and on to the U-Bahn, A. finally snapped and reminded me that I still, at most, only had 12 months of pretty scrappy language learning behind me and was contending with people who had been learning English for, if not all their lives, most of their lives and, in the nicest possible way, could I please just give it a rest for the trip home, it was quite late and we’d drunk a lot of beer. Ignoring his tone, I realised that he was right and have subsequently put my rose-tinted glasses back on and think only happy thoughts about my German. I’ve also started trying to practice more, which I had stopped doing, on the grounds that I was no good and therefore there was no point in trying to learn anything. It made sense at the time.

Furthermore, I also had a very amusing conversation with a fellow ex-pat and he told me a story about one of his friends who had visited him in Germany. The poor girl had scraped together all of her high school German and attempted to order a beer, in German, to which the barman had replied by glaring at her and then demanding (in English), ‘Why is it MY job to teach you German? Just SPEAK ENGLISH. It’s EASIER.’ Which is harsh, but I can see his point. If you’re in a busy bar and you’ve got a stuttering, mumbling ex-pat in front of you and a disgruntled queue of people waiting for drinks behind, yeah, just SPEAK ENGLISH. It’s easier.

Nevertheless, haters aside, I have been trying to practice more. I went to Frankfurt to meet an old friend from my au-pairing days and as she is German, I attempted to speak some German to her, which was… slow and painful and embarrassing but I got more confident as the days went by. Mainly I just annoyed her with lots of questions in English like, ‘So, how do you say the ‘o’ with the little dots on top properly?’ And ‘Is it true about the difference between the two German past tenses?’ and just a lot of ‘What’s that in German? And that? And what’s that in German? Right, cool. What about that?’ I basically treated her the way my pupils treat me.

She did teach me lots of awesome German phrases. Some of these I had seen/heard before, but she let me say them over and over to her until I was pretty certain I had them right. I present them to you now, because they are absolutely awesome, especially if you translate them directly into English:

Ich glaube ich spinne (literal translation: ‘I believe I spider.’ Meaning: ‘I think I’m saying the wrong thing.’)

Jetzt haben wir den Salat! (literal translation: ‘NOW we have the salad!’ Meaning: ‘We did all that and tried so hard, and THESE are the results???’)

Bring mich nicht in Teufel’s Küche! (literal translation: ‘Don’t take me into the Devil’s Kitchen!’ Meaning: ‘Don’t get me in trouble!’)

Mal nicht den Teufel an der Wand (literal translation: ‘Don’t paint the Devil on the wall.’ Meaning: ‘Don’t jump to the worst conclusion’)

Du gehts mir tierische auf den Keks! (literal translation: ‘You go me animally on the cookie!’ Meaning: ‘You make me crazy!’)

Du bist auf den Holzweg (literal translation: ‘You are on the wood way’ Meaning: ‘You’ve got it wrong’)

Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof (literal translation: ‘I only understand train station’ Meaning: ‘I don’t understand anything’)

Ende gut, alles gut (All’s well that ends well)

Das ist mir Würst (literal translation: ‘That is, to me, sausage’ Meaning: ‘It’s the same to me’)

And if that has whet your appetite (or you’d like to hear some of the above phrases spoken, at speed, by actual Germans) watch this hilarious video.

I’ve been practicing them ever since, muttering them under my breath as I fall asleep, exclaiming them out loud when A. least expects it, hoping that passerbys will think I am genuinely German (A. thinks I sound like I’m in some terrible ’90s sitcom and there should be a laugh track played every time I say one, like a character on TV show who has an annoying catchphrase). I think of them as good German exercises for my poor English tongue and that maybe practicing them and getting them perfect will make me not only appear to be German to passerbys, but sound German when the time comes to create sentences of my own.

No, but, seriously, I went into an incredibly intimidating German couture wedding dress shop today (just to see what it was like, just to see if they’d kick me out before I opened my mouth, just to see if all the precious white dresses would explode in my face like some kind of fancy alarm system if I touched them the wrong way) and I spoke entirely to the woman in German. And she spoke German to me. THE WHOLE TIME. And I understood everything! And it was complicated! And she kept speaking German even though she could tell I wasn’t German and she kept speaking German even when I told her I was from Australia because I UNDERSTOOD! And she UNDERSTOOD that I UNDERSTOOD!

Of course, the wedding dresses were ridiculously expensive and I don’t think I’ll be going back again, but the main point here is, I spoke German! And I made sense! Oh happy day!

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Filed under Berlin, expats, German, German language, German phrases, Germany, learning, speaking, teaching, translation, wedding dress

The Dress

If you’re a friend of mine on Facebook, you’ll know that A. and I recently made a pretty big life decision, one which involves at least one ring, but does not concern the fate of Middle Earth.

(As a side note, FB friends probably also know A.’s real name and realise how boring a moniker I’ve given him (you may notice it’s boringness even without being a FB friend). He’s actually demanded a new one, something along the lines of Lord-High-and-Mighty-the-Intelligent- Handsome-and-Great, but it’s too late now, I didn’t know at the time (sometime last year) how potentially important he might be in the story of this blog, and he has his boring moniker and I’m sticking to it.)

Anyways, getting back to the point, as a consequence of this major life decision, which we will refrain from naming by name (and not because we are scared of it – though we are scared of the targeted advertising, which is somehow yet to find us), I have been searching for a dress. No, wait, not just, ‘a’ dress.

THE Dress. The Dress of My Lifetime. The Dress of My Dreams. The Only Dress That Ever Was and Will Ever Be.

See, I thought I was just buying a nice dress to wear on a nice day of my life. But that is WRONG. There is a ‘Cult of The Dress’ out there, and they have RULES. RULES THAT MUST BE OBEYED. Perhaps even more disturbingly is how many of these rules I have internalised and am sub-consciously attempting to fulfil when looking for my own dress. GET OUT OF MY BRAIN, HIVE MIND!

1) THE RULE OF TEARS

When you put on ‘The Dress’ you will start to cry. Your friends and family (who you have, of course, brought along for this momentous moment) will start to cry. The sales assistants in the shop will start to cry. EVERYONE THAT CATCHES THE SMALLEST GLIMPSE OF YOU IN ‘THE DRESS’ , INCLUDING STRANGERS AND STRAY CITY PIGEONS PECKING AT LEFTOVER CHICKEN OUTSIDE THE SHOP WINDOW, MUST IMMEDIATELY START TO CRY, OR IT IS NOT ‘THE DRESS’. Look, basically, if everyone in the world isn’t being swept away on a sea of tears, brought into existence simply by the beauty of you in your dress, then you can take off the gown comfortable in the knowledge that whatever boring, everyday taffeta nightmare you just tried on was not ‘THE DRESS’. If the bridal store doesn’t look like that water scene from Alice in Wonderland, then take off the dress. It’s not for you. Maybe it’s for someone else. But not for you.

How your bridal store should look. Found at: https://happeningsonchaosranch.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/postcards-to-share/

How your bridal store should look. Less animals, possibly. Found at: https://happeningsonchaosranch.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/postcards-to-share/

2) THE RULE OF WHITE

Wedding dresses are white. Or creme. Or pearl. Or beige, biscuit, sand, mushroom, eggshell, taupe, off-white, fawn, neutral or whatever other synonym you can come up with that means ‘sort of white’. Otherwise, how does anyone know you are getting married? How do YOU know you are getting married? What if you turned up to the church/temple/mosque/town hall and SUDDENLY FORGOT what you were there for and went home again without getting married??? HOW DREADFUL WOULD THAT BE???? Best get a shade of white just to make sure everyone, most of all you, knows what is happening.

3) THE RULE OF SPECIAL

Wedding dresses are special. It’s a special day. You’ll know it’s a wedding dress because the price tag will incorporate it’s specialness. The size of the dress should also indicate it’s specialness and the bizarre shape, practical for no useful activity (such as breathing, eating or walking) should indicate it’s specialness and, of course, the number of diamantes you’ve managed to squish on the bodice will indicate it’s specialness. It should be so special that you’ll never, ever be able to wear it ever again without having interactions that start: ‘Hey, isn’t that a wedding dress? Oh, no, I’m not judging, it’s just, well…. it’s nice and all, but why exactly did you decide to wear it for a mountain bike ride?’ This dress SHOULD be the most expensive and most impractical dress you have ever, and will ever buy, and if that way of thinking ends up with you, on your special day looking like one of those dolls that sat on top of your grandmother’s toilet rolls, then SO BE IT. REVEL in your specialness! REVEL in your obscene amounts of taffeta! REVEL!

4) THE RULE OF YOU

Who are you? What would you say your personality is? Are you an introvert? Extrovert? Romantic? Modern-Woman? Girl Next Door? I’ll wait here while you go do some Buzzfeed personality quizzes, if you like. Worked it out? Great. Now, I want you to describe that personality to me AS A DRESS. Do you have a tea-length personality? Or are you more of a ‘dramatic train’ kinda gal? If you don’t know what your personality is, was, and always will be, then I can’t help you buy a dress. Don’t forget. There’s only ever ONE dress for ONE woman and if you can’t sum up your entire life history, personality, likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams into that one, single dress, then nobody is going to cry, or even really care, when you say ‘I do’. I guarantee it (don’t think you’ll get out of this question by having a reception dress as well as a ceremony dress – that’s just cheating and everyone knows you’re a weird fence-sitter and possibly sociopath who can’t make up their mind about their own personality. MAKE UP YOUR MIND)

5) THE RULE OF PHOTOS

Will it look good in the photos? Will you look thin in the photos? Will you have a nice bum in the photos? Will you have good cleavage in the photos whilst also still looking thin? Will you look both sexy and demure in the photos? Will you like the photos when you look back at them in a year’s time? 5 year’s time? 60 year’s time? WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE PHOTOS??

6) THE RULE OF THE THEME

Don’t get married out of context. If you’re getting married on a beach, you can’t ALSO have a ball gown. Like, obviously. I mean, you wear pink on Wednesdays but you can only wear track pants on Friday. Don’t confuse people! If you were wearing pink tracksuits on a Tuesday, people would be like, ‘Oh, god, wait! What day is it? What’s happening? Who am I? I seem to be in some sort of extended Mean Girls metaphor! Quick, get me out!’ That’s how people will feel at your wedding if you get married in a ball gown on the beach. The space-time continuum will collapse and life as we know it will disappear. It’s pretty simple: you work out your personality and then you work out your theme and then you work out your dress. Otherwise you’ll be like that girl I saw on the second-hand dress website who had to sell her unworn, $6000 wedding dress because it ‘no longer fit the theme of her wedding.’ Amateur.

Oh, pink! It’s Wednesday then. Phew. Now I understand. Found at: http://allmyroads.com/tag/we-wear-pink-gifs/

7) THE RULE OF PRINCESSES

All women on their special day must feel like and/or be treated like and/or be a princess. Never wanted to be a princess? Too bad. Should have thought of that before you decided to get married. Whilst this is definitely a rule, it seems a little amorphous, to be honest. Maybe I’ll understand it more after my big day. Should everyone stop referring to you by your first name and only address you as ‘Your Highness’ for the duration of the ceremony? Does everyone need to curtesy whenever they see you? Should you develop a sudden and passionate interest in polo matches and ridiculous hats just for your wedding? Perhaps you have to incorporate some kind of coronation for your mother and father during your wedding ceremony just to ensure the legalities of being a princess are all in order and up to scratch?

CONCLUSION

As I’m sure you can tell, I’m coping really well with the search for the dress and am in no way stressed or overreacting or hyperbolising. And I most definitely did not go into a Vintage Store on Monday, hide my engagement ring in my wallet, and then tell the woman in the store that I was looking for a dress to wear to my friend’s wedding just because I couldn’t handle her possibly bringing up all rules of the dress and force me out of the store wearing this:

With that facial expression, also.

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Filed under Berlin, Random, Wedding