Some years ago now, restless and ready for a little adventure, I took a trip over to Northern Ireland, to visit my bestie, Mollie. It’s always tough when someone you are close to moves away, but it turns out that this is part of growing up (*gulp*), and on the plus side, you have a reason to visit somewhere you’ve never been before.
Since moving to Munich I’ve been learning to take time, a luxury I’ve realised I haven’t been making the most of.
When I think back to the days of secondary school, I’m really quite amazed at my younger self, and the fact that I never just collapsed in a heap in from the sheer amount of things I used to get done. Naturally there was school and homework, which I never missed, there were after school sports, then other sports outside of school because indoor snowboarding was a thing. There was a part time job which was often the precursor to a social activity that I’d head to one the shift was over, and I took an extra A-level for the fun of it. Through all of this I some how held down a far more active social life than I have now and I was much better at texting back.
I write to you from my sofa, under a crocheted blanket, having just eaten some freshly baked banana bread. Since getting back from our trip to the UK last week I’m making more of an effort to be appreciative; of the quiet times, of our home, and just generally doing the things I want to do whilst being a little bit more positive and aware. Whilst bank holidays here are a little different from the UK, Munich has managed to align itself with my home country on this particular one – it’s pouring with rain outside. In spite of the weather there’s still a lot to be thankful for, and this chilled out bank holiday situation is one of them.
There have been very few times in my life where I have known, with absolute certainty, what I want to be doing, but today was one of those times, and I wanted to bake banana bread. Having flicked through some foodie blogs this week on the hunt for an overnight oats recipe that I am capable of (the hunt continues) I stumbled across a recipe for banana bread and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
So when Felix asked me this morning if I’d help with fixing the fence I said I would, once I’d baked some banana bread.
My parents were here to visit us in our new house this weekend, the sun was shining so we could enjoy our little garden and wander around the new part of Munich that is now home. Having the space to share your home is a truly wonderful thing and I hadn’t realised how important that was to me.
In a week of ups and downs, this was a big up, but what goes up, must come down. You’d think I’d be getting better at goodbyes by now, but alas, there were tears at the airport. There are always tears at the airport. I sometimes wonder if that will ever get easier.
In amongst the people that start to become part of the furniture at an Irish pub in Munich, you get the customers who come back every so often, and you end up being really glad that they did.
I once met a man who was probably in his late 80’s, wore a rain mac and hat and just wanted someone to chat to. Over the course of his 4 or 5 visits to the pub I became trusted enough to be let in on a top secret – his brand new invention, that he would soon be presenting to the head of one of the biggest telecommunications firms in Munich.
On each visit, he filled me in a little more on the travels he had made in researching his idea, the people he had met and of course his background in animation which had all but nothing to do with this idea but was interesting to hear all the same.
On our last meeting, which was now some time ago, he revealed this idea to me in a whispered breath after a dramatic pause …
‘It will be called … Telecommunications WorldWIDE’.
He explained the connections he was planning to make, and the information he was planning to make available and the more he spoke the more convinced I became that he was actually inventing the internet, but I decided not to be the person to tell him that. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason, and he was a really lovely man.
There is no denying that a bar or restaurant is the type of working environment in which friendships grow quickly. Gastronomy people hang out with gastronomy people, it is a simple case of working hours, and often arguably temperament.
As with any group of people, each person has their own character that develops over time. Some people are full of energy and bounce their way around the pub, others are more laid back and even their happy face makes you a little cautious with your approach. You have the tea-makers, the energy-drink drinkers, those that eat a lot, those that moan a lot and there are of course those that don’t do a lot, but they don’t last long.
You come to learn things from these people, through the food they bring in from home, the stories they have from their hometown, or the culture shock they themselves are going through. One of our staff even came to learn that dinosaurs actually existed. Most people learn that in the natural history museum, but if that won’t do it the Pub is probably the next best place as the teasing that ensued has ensured she won’t forget the fact in a hurry.
I was once working with a colleague from Latvia, who mid-conversation gasped with the realisation of something and seemed to be very annoyed with herself. “Yesterday was my friend’s name day, I can’t believe I forgot”.
For those that don’t know, (as I certainly didn’t) in Latvia (and many other countries it would seem) each day of the year is dedicated to a selection of names. Each name day is celebrated with the giving of a card, much like a birthday, but then she also recalled missing her mother’s so I am a little curious as to the true extent of its importance. It seemed like a funny tradition to me, but then I remembered that I grew up in a land of Morris Dancing. There aren’t many traditions stranger than men wearing ribbons and bells tied to their legs whilst dancing with wooden sticks.
Tibetan People Put Salt In Their Tea
Whilst Morris Dancing may or may not be something British people are proud of, Tea is something that is taken fairly seriously. It was therefore fairly hard for me to comprehend the fact that Tibetan people put salt in theirs. It’s not exactly PG Tips or Yorkshire, but still seemed a little strange.
One of the ladies working at the pub is from Tibet and let me try the tea once, it is primarily made of butter and milk, which made the salt seem a little less bizarre, and I’m not going to be converted any time soon, but it tasted quite nice. I was very aware however, that I was essentially drinking melted butter and I wondered how she, like many other Tibetan people, was so incredibly tiny.
I also learned from this lady that she earns more money in Munich than at home, that Tibet is not a stable place to live, and that she lives here with her sister. It really puts things in perspective to hear how much someone’s life can change by moving away from their home country, though I still haven’t got my head around why she has to clean toilets. With every step that is taken towards making this world fair and equal for all of the people on it…there comes the realisation that we are far from it.
The Balance of Power
When you move from one country to another there are the obvious changes to contend with; the language, perhaps the food, but there are usually other parts to culture shock you might not have previously considered.
When our American colleague started at the pub she couldn’t quite get her head around the customer – waitress relationship, as it was completely different to the states. In the US the customer is always right and if they are not 100% satisfied then as the waitress she wouldn’t be doing her job properly. In Germany however, the customer takes a lot more responsibility for their own experience. It is up to them to order something they will enjoy, so aside from the order being wrong or badly cooked, there is really no responsibility placed on the waitress for ensuring they have a nice time.
In Bavaria the waiting staff are in fact notoriously direct (which some may find rude). On one occasion she was faced with a customer that didn’t enjoy his starter. In Germany, if the customer has ordered something, and then eaten it of their free will, then they will be paying for it. Seems pretty simple when you think about it, but culture shock can be a strange thing and can make something you never expected to, seem very normal.
My customer didn’t like the mushrooms…what should I do?
Did he eat them?
Then charge him for them.
Lightening the Mood
This same American taught me a valuable lesson in simply being able to make light of any situation. One of the drawbacks to gastronomy is the behind the scenes stuff; the napkin folding and the polishing cutlery. It is, quite frankly, mind numbing, but someone has to do it.
During the summer months, when the staff downstairs in the cellar bar are shining up all the cutlery for the upstairs staff and their tables full of customers there comes an awkward guilt with the job of coming downstairs to take (or as it was seen, steal) all of the newly polished cutlery. Each person develops their own way of dealing with this situation. She chose to do so by saying, in the most dramatic manner she could muster, “what’s that?!!!”, whilst pointing to the ceiling behind me, at which point she scraped up as much cutlery as she could, as loudly and over acted as was possible, and made a run for it.
On this day I learned that even the most mundane task can be entertaining when a sarcastic American with a dry sense of humour is around.
The Strong One
Culture shocks aside, there are some people in this world who simply teach you the meaning of being strong, if a little crazy. Since I met this girl she has either been attending more than one university or doing more than one job, and always a mixture of the two. On top of that she is the girl with all of the luck, both good and bad. She gets parking spaces right in front of her flat, which happens to be beautiful, and in the middle of town, but then her car inexplicably catches on fire. Not ideal when you live in Munich and study in Austria.
She comes from a country where they pay you to go to university and she applied for a Masters, for which she didn’t match a single pre-requisite yet she got accepted. She’s the person who is constantly ill but never complains, doing everything with a smile, a full face of make-up and above all is always (mostly) on time.
This is a person with a lot on her plate, early mornings and late nights, and on top of everything else a fairly severe shopping addiction to deal with, but she knows what she wants out of life and she will do everything she has to to get there. There are times when she has so much going on it’s hard to understand how she can even function to have a conversation with you, let alone be going for a run in the morning, picking up breakfast and cleaning the apartment before her flatmates are up out of bed. I guess some people are just resilient, and have hardened the f**k up.