The Little French English Improvement Project

little french person trying to improve her english, little french english person trying to improve herself, french english person trying to improve a little bit… and blogging along the way. (Now in Deutschland)

Posts Tagged ‘germany’

Learning key life skills in Germany

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on May 27, 2014

When navigating your way around a german kitchen, or indeed a german party, one of the most difficult things to find is a bottle opener. Surprising, is it not? When all your instincts, long nurtured clichés, and the physical evidence of empty Pfandflaschen (deposit bottles) piling up on every street corner/table/ledge tell you beer is indeed flowing. So a word of warning: when you, confused tourist in teutonic lands, ask for one, do not be surprised when someone hands you a lighter instead.

You see, a true German can open a beer bottle with just about anything, and not having a bottle opener leaves room in the kitchen drawer for other, more obscurely exotic kitchen essentials: your schnitzel hammer for example or this terrifying and dangerous cousin of the tin opener (you may actually need the schnitzel hammer to work it):

Having become used to this state of affairs, my policy has long been to find the nearest smoking german and ask them to open my beverages. If there are no smokers around, any german person will do the trick, the only condition being that there is in the vicinity an object with an edge. Not too difficult then. Do not judge me for taking the easy way out. Over the three and some years I have lived on this side of the Rhine, I have tried, usually ending up covering myself in beer and ridicule: at best I would manage to slightly bend one tiny bit of the beer cap and give up with a sore knuckle. Worst case scenario so far, I broke a lighter and dropped the bottle which smashed on a rock, spraying everyone with the foamy stuff. Maybe it is simply that my frenchness prevails when it comes to accessing alcoholic drinks. Certainly I may be rubbish at opening beers with an USB sitck, but I am very good at uncorking wine. It was even noticed by my colleagues when I was working in a posh-ish hotel in Kiel. Give me a wine bottle and a corkscrew and sit back and enjoy the show. I won’t need to lean on anything or squeeze the bottle between my thighs, no drop will be spilled, no loud popping noises and would Sir like to try a sip first?Scan0012



Maybe that was what my friend Jan picked up on last Sunday at the barbecue. Not that I did open any wine there – all screwtops there (BLASPHEMY), but there was a wine bottle lying around and that was what I was told to use, if I wanted to get to my beer. No I won’t open it for you, you need to do it yourself.

I failed miserably the first time around, but the second cap flew a metre or so away with a satisfying pop on my first try. I could have clapped, if I had not been holding a bottle of beer in my left hand and a bottle of wine in my right. Never mind, and hurray! I am now officially one step closer to being German, which considering the french results of the European elections, cannot be such a bad thing, surely.


Posted in Germany, Life, Uncategorized, Wine | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A year ago today: Getting to Berlin

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on March 24, 2014

p to b

Ok my Eiffel Tower looks more like that of Blackpool… but you get the gist.

It is a year today since I first set off on my Berlin venture, and to mark the occasion, I decided to get started on this long promised blow by blow account of what has happened since then (I also resigned from my job as a waitress – the 24th of March is a good day for a fresh start). So here goes.

I set off for Berlin on a premeditated whim. I had been mulling things over for a while and the absence of any culture-related internship in my 140-strong village seemed a good indication that I should be looking elsewhere. London kept sending me rejection emails and Berlin seemed appealingly alternative so I found a flatshare on the internet, booked a night-time carpooling to from Paris to the German  capital and hopped onto a train with as much luggage as I could carry. The deal was: I had two months to set myself up, find a job and an internship, or  I would have to go home.

The trip to Paris was more or less uneventful. The SNCF train was punctual apart from a smelly Yorkshire terrier in a basket which didn’t seem to be enjoying the trip. The carshare was allright too, at first. It was a big old Renault van, which meant a lot of leg room and luggage space. One by one, the other passengers arrived and started piling their stuff into the boot. Travelling me with me were five people and a dog. That worried me a little at first; having spent the previous 4 hours in the same cart as a barking vomiting hairy fiend had somewhat reduced my affection for the canine species. This apprehension was soon replaced by another however, as the driver started handing out blankets, two each. It’s quite an old vehicle, and it gets draughty, especially at night – he said. I remembered the weather forecast for that day: although spring had finally come to France and daffodils were popping up everywhere, the temperature in Berlin had been stuck at minus 10 Celcius for the past week or so. The next few hours promised to be interesting.

And indeed, after the first two hours of an elated “I’” giddiness, I spent most of the trip looking down at the road rushing by through a gap between the door and the floor of  the van. The driver hadn’t lied, it was draughty. It didn’t seem to disturb my fellow passengers though, who slept throughout, only waking when we stopped for cigarette breaks on the way. The dog was very good too, and nowhere near as loud as the one on the train, or as the snoring of its master.

The journey lasted 12 long hours and we were dropped off in icy Tempelhof, which meant I had to travel all the way across town to meet my new and very intriguing flatmate (but he deserves a post all to himself)

Anyway. I survived a year in Berlin!

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Extreme flirting in Bavaria. Nope.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 14, 2013

This article has been trotting around my brain for the past 8 months.This delay means I can now pride myself that I am sitting on months of hard empirical study, interviews, and even on occasion things said by some highly respectable  and quotable people in lecture theatres.

Let’s start with a handful of stereotypes. One could say that Italians and Spaniards are very open with their flirting, especially when young, and very apt and swift at slipping their hands on people’s backside and their tongue down people’s throat. Blame it on the hot mediterranean sun and temperament. The British, in spite of their long reputation for being timid and prudish, have spent so much time baking on the white sandy beaches of Ibiza that they have adopted a similar way of flirting. A modern english damsel out on the town will typically not be wearing very much, and will not raise her eyebrows and say “Shocking!” if she should encounter an exposed pair of gentleman’s buttocks. On the other side of the channel, we French are under a lot of pressure. Over the course of my travels I have often heard the French were supposed to be good kissers, lords of the dance(floor), and queens of hearts. Paris is ze capital of romance, sacrebleu! On a more serious note, I think we lean towards the mediterranean style, only we spend more time on the preliminaries and start kissing a little later than our spanish and italian friends.

SAVE0002As a general rule, flirting has become very physical. Better people have written better texts, essays and books about this, so I’ll not gloss over the details, however, Germany seems to be an exception. Innocent flirting is much more rare, and if there are a few tigers out there on the prowl ready for action, the rest of the German population will need much beer and time before they can loosen up and start “making a move”, or at least one that a foreigner will notice. The Germans are the first to admit this as a nation: a song was even written about the bewilderment of a french girl Aurélie, when confronted with the “subtlety” of German flirting.

Aurélie so klappt das nie
Du erwartest viel zu viel
Die Deutschen flirten sehr subtil

Meaningful stolen glances, hints that don’t seem to be followed through, invitations for coffee that may or may not have a hidden meaning… Someone has yet to explain all these codes to me. With some friends, we went to serious lengths to try and understand. We pooled our experiences, we even interviewed handsome young men in Munich (whose excuses ranged from “being more career-orientated” to “intimidated by women”), but still couldn’t come up with an acceptable answer. The scientific, student-ish part of my brain reminds me: different cultures have different codes, different ways to react to different signals. But whatever  the German “signals” are, I (and a bunch of other french lasses of my acquaintance) simply cannot see them.

However, there is something unique about the politics of flirting in Bavaria. A tradition, which, according to my heated imagination, springs from the frustration caused by the local corseted rules of relationship-building. During the night before the 1st of May, young men in Bavarian villages secretly go and erect a long-stemmed tree festooned with paper garlands under their beloved’s windowsill. A sort of extreme, cumbersome Valentine card, if you will.

Trollops get a fir tree wrapped in toilet paper.

It’s all or nothing, innit?

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Regensburg retrospectives

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on July 29, 2012

I am told the word “so” should never be used to start off a sentence, let alone an entire text. Having reached this point however I think it has the right feel and conclusiveness. Sticklers will just have to get over it.

So. My stay in Regensburg has finally reached its conclusion, although my brain is still having difficulties registering it. I know my writing habits have been less than satisfactory lately but I will not apologise. It was perfectly justified: I was far too busy rocking the student life in what was ultimately one of the best years of my existence. Certainly, it has been a bumpy ride, with soaring, glorious ups and grey mopey downs, and I have much to tell. And when I say much, I mean much much more than you think. Mad, random adventures, administrative challenges and casual observations of teutonic idiosyncracies. And I have more than half a mind to tell you all about it. It will help me organise my thoughts and stories before Christmas comes with the roast ham, Christmas pudding and compulsory tales and anecdotes.

In the meantime: Regensburg, I miss you already.

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French girl in a german sauna… the joys of FKK.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on February 27, 2012

FKK stands for FreiKörperKultur (free body culture…) Any idea what this might entail? No?

So boys and girls, let’s talk about nudity. Because you see, comparative cultural studies are a very fine thing indeed, but quite often restrict themselves to a very narrow range of rather dull subjects (such as education, economics and politics) that often turn out to be of very little use when dealing with “real life”. And so it happened that after thirteen or fourteen lessons about franco-teutonic differences I found myself cluelessly entering a unisex sauna wearing a bathing costume.

Unaware of my crime, I was happily sitting on the top shelf, completely alone in this dark damp hot hole of a room, looking through the tinted window into the corridor and waiting for S. and L. to come in from the men’s changing room so we could discuss badminton. I saw them coming, let out a mental “ooooops”, rolled onto my back and spent the next 30 minutes staring at the ceiling. I was also vaguely very aware three minutes later of three portly, balding middle-aged men coming in to join the fun and sitting themselves around me, blocking all escape routes. It felt very hot in there – but maybe that was just the sauna.

I know that nudity in saunas has less to do with naturism and the FKK than with sanitation and hygiene but the truth remains: Germans are far more willing to get their kit off in public than either the French or certainly the British. I have been scouring the internet for facts to throw at this article and found out that Berlin for example, with its 24 open-air nudist areas listed on is internationally recognised as naturist heaven. Can you imagine Central Park in New York or London’s Hyde Park having a naturist corner? Any person attempting anything like this in another country would surely end up arrested, unless Spencer Tunick were involved. And the Germans don’t restrict themselves to designated areas either, even on “normal” beaches it isn’t really frowned upon to sunbathe in the nude. You might want to draw a line at that though and not try anyone’s patience by running around starkers.

It may seem strange perhaps that residents of Germany, a country stereotypically cast as very strict and severe should so easily strip down to their bare skin. For once I will have to give credit to and agree with my lecturers at Uni. Social barriers in Germany are not as fixed ad they are elsewhere, and if that is probably not the only cause for this exhibitionist streak, at least I think it is not completely irrelevant. There is a very different concept of privacy here, a different way of dealing with public and private matters.

However being myself French and British and therefore uptight and self-conscious (you’ll never catch me condoning stereotypes. Never!), I might give the sauna a miss next time and spend those thirty minutes wondering about highly important universal questions. One example: Why is it that whenever it comes down to nudity, portly balding middle-aged men always seem to be on the front lines?

Posted in France, Germany, Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Half-marathons and musicals; singing my way to the Great North Run.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on November 11, 2011

I am dreadfully exhausted, completely kaputt, one might even say bloody knackered. That is because, ladies and gentlemen, I have now gone officially bonkers and have embarked on a project bigger, greater than any other I have ever mentioned here: I have picked up running.

Now you may think this is a bit of an anticlimax, and the most attentive among you (or possibly those with the greatest amount of spare time) may already be aware of my recent acquisition of a pair of running shoes. Since that day I have been trying to go out running every now and again, but nothing especially awe-inspiring. However now I have decided to take part in the biggest, most amazing, mind-blowingly great half-marathon of them all: the Bupa Great North Run. Maybe you’ve heard of it? 54000 runners, millions raised for charity every year. I think it’s awesome.  And what’s more, the finish line is just next to where my auntie Hilary lives. I’ll only have to run a few hundred metres further to get a shower and collapse on a comfortable settee with a nice cuppa (and possibly with both feet in a bucket of cold water).

But in order to get any of this, the first thing I need to do is actually reach said finishing line! I signed up on this “Take to the Streets” website I’d heard of which generated a lovely, very reasonable looking training plan, bought a pair of reasonable track suit bottoms and got running. Except it appears that unlike my outfit I myself am not reasonable, and struggle to keep to the official training plan.

It tells me: You’ll be running about three times a week for the next year or so. We’ll be starting gently: first week, do 5 – 10 mins easy run/walk. So I went out running and came back quite a while later, calculated the distance; 5k, not mad. Second week, maybe de 10-15 min easy walk/run.  Ok, so I felt quite good doing 5k, why shouldn’t I try doing a bit more. I came back 1hour and 9k later. Third week, you want to get used to your new rhythm, so do something similar to last week, 10-15min easy run/walk. I did 10k, got lost and somehow got home an hour and a half later. I don’t think I’ll be going quite  this far every single time I put on my sneakers – I simply don’t have the time – , but I also can’t imagine the use of  sticking to “10-15min easy run/walk” either.  So my plan is: whenever I get an automated reminder saying  “run”, I might just go the extra mile (or two, literally). Does that sound good? Are there any expert opinions out there?

So now I have just added something else to my already busy timetable (lessons, aikido/kickboxing, writing, exploring, going out culinary experimentation – latest to date: savoury muffins filled with feta cheese spinach olives and parma ham-…). And I don’t even like running that much! When I was at school I couldn’t stand even the idea of any form of physical exertion. I am getting better, but still going out running when one could stay nice and warm in bed… You need something to keep you going. What does the trick for me is west end and broadway musicals. I have heaps of them stocked onto my mp3 player. Admittedly it can be a bit of a bummer when you reach a hill, it’s raining and suddenly “Lost in the darkness” comes on…You just have to skip.  But just imagine, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on a bright sunny morning… just what you need to help you beat your personal best. The only really tough bit is not to burst into song and start tap dancing on the way.

There are auditions these days at the Uni for some sort of musical… maybe I should sign up. I really have too much free time 😉

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Very late breakfast: unexpected comfort food for expats in Berlin

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on November 7, 2011

Should I really  apologize again for my unpredictable, more than patchy writing habits? I think not, time is scant enough as it is and my bed is beckoning dangerously so let’s get to the point! I spent the weekend in Berlin, and it was pretty good.

You might be aware -or not- that I have been in Deutschland this past month and a half and the fact is: since my arrival, I hadn’t once stepped outside Regensburg (lovely little university town – I’ll come back to it some other time). So when Sven and Paul suggested a trip up to the capital, I jumped out of reason’s range, into the back of the car and we sped along northwards on the motorway, leaving all homework, academic and administrative bothers behind. This weekend was NOT going to be museum orientated: we set out to be unreasonable and  enjoy youth while we still have it; party much, drink a reasonable amount (my mam might read this blog so I’l leave it to everyone’s imagination) and sleep very little.

So at some point around 2pm on Saturday as we were walking along in the parks around Kreuzberg drinking takeaway coffee and gently emerging from our stupor, we realised we were going to need breakfast. And we went to THIS place:

We had walked past that shop the night before on the way to a party and it looked cool, a nice sort of whacky modern vintage look with big chunky furniture and many lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, and of course classic display racks and glass shelves covered in carrot cakes and scones and muffins. As an official half-expat it was pretty obvious I would have to go there at some point.

I was a little anxious at first, and with good reason: my experiences of british food abroad have been very mixed. Soggy chips, half-defrosted fish and wobbly set gravy. Some people do seem determined to confirm everyone’s deep-seated prejudice that british food is crap. Well this time I was pleasantly surprised. Particularly as far as the tea was concerned.

Tea preparation and serving policy varies much from one establishment to the next I have noticed, and this cuppa was very much in keeping with the contrasted stylish/funky atmosphere of  “East London- God Save Brit Food”. It came in one massive thick mug, and with all the elaborate paraphernalia one might expect from a specialist coffee/tea shop. Now I’m not normally one for over-complicated pedantic tea ceremonial. Like anyone else I just shake a teabag around in a mug of boiling water until the desired colouring has been achieved and then add milk. However for once I decided to obey the 5min indication on the timer and it was worth the wait. I drink about 1,5Liters of tea every day, and since I have come to Germany all I’ve had to quench my thirst was, well… german tea (ie: not English). But this time was something else. Possibly the best cuppa I have ever had. EVER. I was heaving a sigh of pleasure with each sip. Does anyone out there know what brand of tea they serve in that place, I didn’t even think to ask.

Anyway, that was for the tea. The food was good. I know this is a bit of a contrast with the lyrical description of a humble cup of tea but it was scrambled eggs on toast, so how much can I say? I could I suppose write an ode to comfort food but it’s getting late. Scrambled eggs is not exactly a good choice if one wants to write a restaurant review, but that wasn’t the point. It was comfort food, it was obviously freshly made, tasted good and was just what I needed. It went perfectly well with the cup of tea and I felt at home for a while, except I was speaking German all the way through.

What else can I say about the place… The staff are very friendly and all native English-speakers! If I remember rightly the cooks were English, and the waiters Australian and Irish. We were waited on by ozzy Annabelle, who smiles a lot and fits in perfectly with the surroundings: friendly bubbly and just a little bit odd (and I mean that as a compliment). She even posed with a scone for me, how much more helpful can you get?

So my verdict: I will definitely go again next time I’m in Berlin, if only a cup of tea and a scone and to enjoy the atmosphere.

And I know it’s a veeery long shot, but if the young man who was sitting at the table opposite us should ever happen on this blog, I really feel I should have come over and said hello that day (Saturday 5th of November) ; please get in touch?

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End of an era and Neubeginn in Regensburg

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on September 27, 2011

Did I ever actually mention I am now officially a postgraduate student? Yes, I have a degree: I have finally been able to academically achieve something higher than the baccalaureate. It took me some time, twice the “normal” number of years (ie: a grand total of 6), it seemed like an eternity, I sometimes wondered whether I would ever graduate, but  I made  it!  And now I am moving on, specialising in “Intercultural european studies”: lots of language, lots of translation, lots of comparative cultural whatnots.  Sounds like something totally up, down and spread all over the walls of my street. And the first year of that course takes place in Regensburg! Now I mean no offence to Clermon, which is after all a very lovely town, but I needed out and now here I am, with my 43 kgs of luggage, unpacked and sprawled across my room. It would seem my untidiness followed me here…

And so: Regensburg. New town, new flat, new uni (hopefully, if I can manage to climb over/ram through the extra tough made-in-Germany wall of administration), and new blogging projects. Now I make new year’s resolutions every other minute, but this time, it is the start of a new (school)year, and I think this is ideal for resolution-making.

It’s probably best not to kill my fledging ideas by overexposure to public scrutiny, so I will not tell you about them right away, but let’s say if it all works out, there should be some interesting things in store. Let’s just say I intend to get as involved in Regensburg as I possibly can!


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