From the meetings that I have had on this matter so far, it feels like it might be a multi-parter kind of blog post. The fact is, yes, I am becoming German. According to my mum this is something that is not just happening on paper. After twelve years of living on and off in Germany I am not surprised that some of it has worn off on me, but officially becoming German is still not as straight forward as it sounds, not least because I still don’t feel German!
It might seem a little late to be writing about homesickness when you have been living in a foreign country for nearly ten years of your life, but I’ll explain how its relevance grows with time rather than wane.
When you have children, you inevitably meet other women who also have children. In my case, this was pretty much the only category of people outside of my husband that I met up with on a daily basis. This is perfect for sharing insights, joys and (sometimes) woes, but it also throws you together with the craziest mix of people who only have one thing in common-their recently spawned sproglets. Over time you do thin out for yourself a few people with whom you can actually imagine your “old self” hanging out with, and some curve-balls that your “new mummy self” also enjoys hanging out with. For the sake of entertainment and social interest, I thought I’d introduce you all to a few types of mums that I have come across. In the interest of spreading the love and supporting other women, I’m going to also tell you about the benefits each type of mum has for you, even if they sometimes make you want to tear your hair out:
1. The Ambitious Mum. You will recognise her either because she is trumpeting loudly to everyone nearby about her child’s achievements, or she is slyly pretending to show interest in your baby, only to then be “surprised” by your response, then replying her baby is better/faster/further than yours. And entolled into Oxbridge at the age of five. How Ambitious Mum can help you: she will know all the latest trends, baby courses, best schools, studies, books etc. because she does her research to stay ahead!
2. Organic mum – yes she has handmade teething cookies on the go and made all of her own clothes. She might (silently) judge you with your wet-wipes and Primani but she can help you when the babies are ill and you need some alternative ideas to mainstream medicine. She might also have some wholesome, tasty recipes to pass on when your darlings overdo it on the quavers.
3. Overly Careful Mum. She will feel faint if you meet at an ugly, crowded, worse-for-wear playground and she will be a flaky member of the group because she’ll cancel anything if there is the faintest sign of a sniffle. She knows the best ways to sterilise anything and she also knows who has emergency duty in the doctor’s surgery on a bank holiday weekend. Good to have her number on hand.
4. Glamorous Mum. Just her dazuling put-together presence in the group will remind you that you came out in a vomit-covered sweater and are letting your eyebrows grow into an interesting expression of facial caterpillars. Her shoes and bag will match, and her hair will sit, even after birth. A lady like this is a healthy reminder that we all need to take a bit of care of ourselves from time to time and if you need any beauty advice, she is your woman.
5. Chaotic Mum. I’ve seen pretty much every mum go through this at some stage because a chaotic mum is often Distracted Mum off duty. She has committments in other places (work, seven other kids etc) and deserves respect for keeping pretty much everything bar world peace together. Chaotic Mum will need your help sometimes with things she has forgotten, but she will be willing and honest about her experience with her kids if you can grab her attention for long enough for a cup of tea.
6. Overbearing Mum. This type of mum is the most difficult for me to deal with because she stifles a lot of freedom and joy. Overbearing Mum will correct her child, train her child, take over from her child and may do this to you too if allowed. Can leave a sense of failure behind if not put in place. The bright side here is to remind yourself to be a Moma Bear, stand up for your beliefs and defend freedom. Overbearing Mum will most likely be ablt to handle a respectful debate with you and offer good practice for you for standing your ground.
Ok, this was meant to be a little bit of fun and there are probably more types of mum I could think of, can you? The main point is, that all types of mum can be valuable to us and once the initial “we’re together because we have babies” has passed, even perfect-seeming mums will let their guards down and admit their hillarious mum-fails. Without my mummy friends I know I’d be lost.
While you are all getting ready for Pancake Day, Germany is getting ready for the end of its fifth “season” which is Carneval Time! It starts at 11:11 on the 11th of the 11th (November) and goes on until Ash Wednesday. The pinnacles of this time are Monday and Tuesday next week when you would see parades with floats (think Rio but more beer or schnapps and less glamour), many groups of men or women dressed up in carneval costumes. The biggest Carneval towns are Cologne and Mainz.
I was in a hotel in Oberhof in 2008 and we were in the bar downstairs getting ready to go out in the snow, when suddenly the place burst into a big frenzy and people pulled out party poppers and mini Jaegermeister bottles out of nowhere. It felt like we were being Punked, but no, it was the start of Carneval.
People throw Carneval, or Fasching, as it is called in my area (nothing to do with faschists), parties and expect you to dress up for example as a cowboy or ladybird or something else ridiculous. Then it is pretty much a normal party with food, drink and dancing. Lots of fun being stopped by the police whilst driving home dressed as a cowgirl. No, I hadn’t been drinking.
Obviously the children love Carneval. If you go to a parade, the people on the floats throw sweets and plastic bead necklaces (can hurt). They also celebrate Carneval in their Kindergarten or school where they can dress up and get fancy snacks like this über cool donut.
So greetings again from here in Germany. Today I’m going to share with you a little bit about the different Birthday traditions here in Germany. Ok as a foreign country, you expect some traditions to be done differently; like Christmas on the 24th not 25th of December (shock horror) or maybe celebrating things only specific to the history of the country (try explaining Bonfire Night), BUT you would have thought Birthdays are pretty standard. Most of it is in Germany, for example there is cake (hurrah) and presents (phew!) and parties (nice) but there is also a difference, and it is a difference of perspective.
In my years growing up in Britain birthdays meant that you got to wish for what you wanted and pretty much design your dream day, or if not the whole day, then maybe a nice dinner at least. You can choose a restaurant to meet at or have your nearest and dearest cook your favorite meal. It is nice because you get spoiled, and if you’re lucky they will clean up or pay for your meal too. Hurray. Of course for the people getting invited to your Birthday and maybe many Birthdays, this can get a little expensive, but hey it is your Birthday and they love you.
So what is different here? Well, from what I have experienced in the 10+ years I have lived here, is that Birthdays are flipped around a little here. If you want to go to that new, fancy restaurant, then you better save your pennies because you will be “inviting” (I.e paying) for everyone in your party unless you make it pretty clear beforehand that this is not the case. If this is too pricey and you decide to host at home, then get ready for a busy day, because you will be shopping, cleaning and serving up your guests most of the day before falling into bed at the end of it.
I’ll admit, for the first few years here, it seemed pretty rubbish. I really missed just being able to choose a nice place and receive lovely gifts, wander home in a happy cloud and be thankful for a lovely day. My husband and his family felt bad, and we even tried a couple of times to do it the “British way” so they would prepare for me etc. but it all felt a little bit foreign.
Just last year, I had a change of heart, and perspective. You see I am not the only one who finds it pretty exhausting to host the hundreds on your special day, and I realized that people were putting off their Birthdays and not celebrating because they felt that they could not or would not host for family and friends. Instead, they were just hiding and avoiding it. How sad! I tried to convert them to a British way of thinking, but it is too ingrained in the culture here to be taken seriously. But as well as them being sad, I realized that I was sad too because I wasn’t able to spend some time with this cool person on their day without being a burden. As I thought about this, I realized too that it was sad, that I couldn’t show them this until it hit me that I could…..on MY Birthday. It was like discovering the true meaning of Birthdays (ok a little overdone, but an eye opener at least). Instead of it being all about me, and seeing everything else like a burden, I decided to see it as a chance to spoil them people who are good to me all the time. I realized that they were coming, not to enjoy the wonderful culinary talents (of my husband), but to see me and spend their time with me, so serving them was actually a nice way of balancing this out.
You will not be shocked to know that it does not mean that my baking skills improved (still much love for Dr. Oetke) but it did mean that I actually look forward to my Birthday now and think about how I can spoil my guests a little. Ok, I don’t take them all out to a fancy restaurant because as well as being expensive, it is also like an Olympic sport with young children, but I do cook, bake, clean and prepare for them coming with enjoyment and not resentment. This may all be pretty obvious to you, but for me, it was a big step in finding myself here in a different culture and finding the golden lining in my cloud. Sadly, my Birthday is now over, but if you have time next year feel free to come over (for a civilized dinner, not a FB house party). Don’t bring anything, just an empty stomach.
Sunday is the beginning of Advent. The first of the four Sundays before Christmas. Here in Germany, the most important job I have to get done now is baking Christmas cookies and biscuits with the children before Sunday.
The sweet treats are then served each Sunday in Advent. People meet up with their families and friends in the afternoon over coffee and outdo each other with their fabulous creations (often not made with children!).
The children bake with their parents, grandparents, or in kindergarten. If you are baking with little ones, it is easier to prepare a simple cookie dough in advance like this one here (or in German here). They can then cut them out. I have collected an interesting array of cookie cutters:
By the end of advent you never want to see another Christmas biscuit in your life. But then a year rolls around….. And you do it all again.
Next in our German traditions is St Martin’s Day on the 11th of November. Lilly and I made a short video about it for you (with some added information which may not be in the origional).
The two main things for parents here to do are:
1. Buy a lantern/make a lantern. We have gone with a simple one this year. Although it is supplied with a candle, which should be stuck inside, you would have to be brave to send your child out with a candle in a paper lantern…
2. Go out walking with your child and many other children from your town singing St Martins songs ( link to Laterne song).
You may also want to punish the geese for giving Martin away and cook one. (German recipe for Classic Martins Goose). Anyway, its a nice tradition, if a little bit of a fire hazard! I think we’ll go with an LED candle. Photos to follow.