Heimat - Liv Hambrett - ebook

Heimat ebook

Liv Hambrett

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Comprising the first five years worth of essays and blog posts from my German adventure, Heimat is a collection of stories, ideas, and meditations on all of the dust you kick up when you move countries, when plans and expectations go out the window. It is about relationships; with countries, with people, with ourselves. It is about the Germans, their beautiful country and being quite foreign within it. It is about having a Heimat and finding another on the other side of the world.

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Heimat: Notes from an Australian in Germany

How It All BeganHardArrivingAnchorsBist du Blind?Why Aren't Germans Fat?Cautionary TalesThrough the Looking GlassForeverWeiden in der Oberpfalz:The Thing about HomesicknessAprilNothing Ever Goes to Plan!WehmütigSydney: HomeGetting My Lust BackBeneath the Australian SkyThe Four Stages of WaitingThe Beach HouseKiel: Snow & SeagullsLanguage BattleMaking DatesFebruaryNever Really StillA Click, A Morph, A SomethingThe Wind UpWeiden: Let’s Try This AgainWhat’s in a Home?To the SeaKiel Again: HomeBeginThe Art of the StrollIn the NatureAn Encouraged HabitRows and RowsOf Kale & PinkelwurstFrom 2 to 3To Every SeasonUsed ToContentGetting GemütlichFrightful & DelightfulA Tale of Two SantasThere’s a Tea for EverythingGrowing UpSet ChangeHome & HosedA Peculiar BeautyOn Necessary StretchingApril, AprilOn Frigophobia and BarefeetFrühjahrsmüdigkeitOn Intestines & IdsYou AgainAn Awful Lot of LightWatch Your Fucking WordsWe Are Always MovingZu TankenThe Boy on the BeachThe Passport DecadeOn Dressing for Colder ClimesGermany. Why Can’t You Queue?On the Topic of ChocolateThe In-Between DaysFinding ColourOn DrivingAn Ending of SortsThank YouAbout the Author

How It All Began

How it all began …

What drove an Australian without a lick of German, who had never owned a 'proper winter coat' in her life, into the rainy, snowy, rule-loving, meaty arms of Deutschland? Good question. Excellent question. I still, to this day, can’t really answer it because I don’t know if we ever really know what we’re doing in our early 20s, no matter how convinced we are that we do. But I can try and explain. For one thing, Germany isn't London. For another, as a – very young and very inexperienced – writer, I was looking for stories. I needed a big, unexpected, unusual plot twist in an otherwise very lovely, rather uninteresting life. I wanted things to write about and I thought that by digging out my roots and dragging them, coiled and dirty, into a soil entirely different to that which had nourished them for 25 years, I would find precisely that. Tales and morals and lessons learnt, characters and tragedies I could put onto paper, weave into a narrative. And I had two added benefits; I didn't really know precisely what I was doing - oh what we can do when we don't know what we're doing - and I had a warm, solid, unconditional home to return to, should my little body grow aweary of the great world.

Moving to Europe after my studies was a foregone conclusion – I come, after all, both from the generation of nimble feet and instant gratification, and from a country of people who turn up with broad grins and a cold beer in every corner of the world. I had, of course, done my six month 'backpacking' (without, admittedly, a backpack) stint around Europe and the States following university, and soon after lived and worked for a summer on a Greek island. I wanted more. I was ripe for a grand gesture, something more interesting, more daunting. A bigger shock to the system. The UK, London specifically, as an English speaking European country that had disgorged my ancestors on Sydney's shores all those years ago, was the most obvious, but I ruled it out almost immediately on the basis it was already chock full of Australians, many of them old school friends. 'I live in London' had become, and indeed remains, interchangeable with 'I come from Australia'. I needed something more, something European, still, and thus conducive to weekend jaunts across borders, but something a touch more daring. So, you know, I went with Germany.

While my family's connections with Germany go back 160 odd years to a minuscule town in Baden Württemberg, a more recent one laid the foundations for what has become a lifelong relationship with the country – an exchange student. Hailing from Münster, he slotted into our family like my parents' long-lost son and over a decade, our families went back and forth, visiting each other. During my backpacking stint, I spent two months in Münster drinking Jägermeister and being terrified on the Autobahn. And so it was Münster that I returned to in the autumn of 2010 after another mercurial summer spent working on the island of Santorini, making cheap cocktails for cheap backpackers. The old North Rhine-Westphalian city of churches, with its grand old palace turned university, cobbled Altstadt, and millions of bicycles ridden by the immaculately groomed Münsteranians, was the first setting of the grand gesture, the plot twist.

I thought it would be so easy. So seamless. Uni degrees and Working Holiday Visa in hand, I was anxious to set sail, ready to be on the move again. I had a few wonderful friends there, one in particular I would flat with on a big, leafy tree-lined boulevard. I even had prior knowledge of the town I was moving to, knowledge albeit somewhat eviscerated by nights out on Liquor 44 and milk. All that was left was to become fluent in the language, land a wonderful job and become, overnight, a bilingual ingénue tapping out a cult blog and a bestseller simultaneously in cafes on cobbled streets.

Germany and I were, at first, wary of each other – I was the Australian who didn't know the meaning of 'winter jacket' and wore thongs on her feet in Autumn (just down to the shops, for God's sake, but the Germans’ eyes bored holes in my toes). And Münster seemed to know I had no idea what I was doing and take a perverse pleasure in that fact. The language and the pathways, covered in ice or rain or in that winter of 2010, were slippery and I fell over more times than I care to count, slipping and sliding, skinning my shins and bruising my bottom and self-confidence. Decisions were made flailing about, not in indecisiveness, but in not knowing anything about what I was actually making a decision regarding. I struggled to learn a language while working in my own, and the more people lectured me on how I ‘must speak German’, the more I retreated. Beaming myself bang into the middle of an, albeit beautiful city, where no one colours outside the lines was blunt, maddening and terrific. I signed three million pieces of paper, guessed 90% of what the foreigner's office said to me each time they (begrudgingly?) stamped my visa, got very sick, got equally as lost, got fantastically fed up. And I made some completely valuable, giving, intense, connected relationships with people – and myself. My God, did me, myself and I spend some quality time under the bed clothes with revolting quantities of Doppelkeks and 3€ French Merlot while it rained and snowed outside. As we got a little more comfortable with each other, Münster, for all of her completely irritating adherence to neatness and to rules and propriety, for all of her unyielding expectation of doing things the right way or not doing them at all, became another home. We reached an understanding, Münster and I. She and all of the people within her, and ultimately something shifting and growing within me as a clueless, cold foreigner, made Germany a home.

Somewhere in there, in between bottles of 3€ wine, Brötchen and those sugar topped Berliners that resulted in a wardrobe that consisted purely of leggings and large jumpers, I fell in love with a big pair of eyes and the kindest heart. It was only a few months after I moved to Münster and it was Big love*. Serious, wonderful, bone-warming, easy, changing love. The love I am sure my mother dreaded me finding anywhere outside of Australia because it's a game changer, this love. After seven or so months of living, conveniently, in the same city, his job meant we had to begin shuttling between Münster, his home in the north German city of Kiel, and various other German cities, depending on the whim and will of his work. This job would ultimately move us to a tiny town in the south-east of Germany, called Weiden in der Oberpfalz, just a hop, skip and jump away from the Czech border. And after that, back up his home town on the Baltic Sea. It would also make the prospect of living in Australia a very unlikely one indeed.

When that time came to leave Münster and move to Weiden, God I was tired. I was tired of being foreign, tired of signing papers and needing visas and muddling languages, tired of tiny little daily activities being embarrassing lessons in social and cultural norms I was not inherently privy to. Tired of not being from the place I was in. Tired enough to want change, to crave the topsy-turviness of newness guaranteed by a move. Perhaps it would be energising, perhaps it would be enough to jolt something awake. Bavaria was as different to Germany as we could get without actually leaving the country. So even though I had a job in Münster and great friends and the perfect apartment, and even though this tiny town in the middle of the Oberpfalz had absolutely nothing to recommend it except being somewhere else, I pulled my roots up again, and left. There were more stories to find.

We made a home down there and we made a home of each other. The Bavarians were warm and said hello to each other on the street. I stopped calling them Bavarians after a while, when it became clear they weren't just any Bavarians, they were Oberpfälzisch. There is a difference. (There is always a difference in Germany.) Their accent was utterly indecipherable. The main street of Weiden was the length of an average driveway in Australian suburbs. We drove to all of those cute little Medieval towns that Bavaria is dotted with. We drove into the Czech Republic. We drove into the village where, 160 years earlier, my Great Great Great Grandfather had left to make a new home in Australia. Soon after, I got on a plane and flew back to Australia for six months, desperately homesick and desperately uncertain if I was ready to sign on for ‘forever’ on the other side of the world. I went back, ultimately, and we got sent to Kiel for six months, the third city in which to make a home, one six hours closer to Denmark than to our apartment in Weiden. One in which snow and seagulls managed to co-exist in perfect harmony. One that came to be, for me, a Heimat. I finally connected with a place in the country I was in the process of adopting as my home. We sought to get out of Bavaria and move back to Kiel, something we got word we were successful in achieving on the very day we found out we were expecting a baby. Our daughter was born during a long, hot summer, the living embodiment of a cross continental and cultural love**.

All the while, I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. About all of the decisions, the plans, the changes, the choices. The newness, the uncertainty, the frustration and fascination. The homesickness. Love. I wrote about home, what it was, where it was, how to go about making one. I wrote about how, in the space of a couple of years, everything had changed and suddenly Germany, once a country chosen simply because it was different, because it was more interesting than the other options, was now so much more permanent.

And that's what this book is. This book is a collection of stories, of ideas and meditations on all of the dust you kick up when you move countries, when plans and expectations go out the window, and you dive so thoroughly, into something – into a people, into a way of life, a language, a place – so utterly unknown. It is about relationships, with countries, with people, with myself. It is about the Germans, their beautiful country and being quite foreign within it. It is about searching for, finding, and making a Heimat in an endless, gloriously huge, world.

*You will find him referred to, often throughout the following pages, as SG. It stands for Significant German.

** You will find her referred to as Die Lüdde, a Plattdeutsch expression meaning ‘the little one’.

Hard

Münster: Bicycles & Beginnings

Can I let you in on a little secret? Moving countries is hard. Quite hard. Harder than I ever thought it would be, although, to be honest, I didn't give it a lot of thought. It’s tricky enough, I’m assuming, when you move to a country in which they speak your native tongue. Then at least the ins and outs of establishing yourself in new soil are assuaged by being able to make yourself perfectly understood. It’s that little bit trickier when you move to a country where you don't speak a lick of the language. Without a shared language, a fundamental disconnect is in place, a frustrating backdrop to the entire adventure. I have been extraordinarily lucky and my hand has been firmly held every step of the way by a network of kind, open-hearted German friends whose English is far superior to my German, in that it exists. But still. It is like everyone's voices are muffled and the only one I can understand with anything resembling clarity, is my own.

Crossing the oceans in search of a new home is rife, so I have discovered, with irony. You are doing one of the most independent things you can do … but so many of the little things that make up one’s independence cease to exist while you find your feet. Turning on the TV for a couple of mindless hours. Going for a drive. Grabbing a magazine you can understand, watching a movie. Having your entire wardrobe and bathroom cupboard at your disposal when you're getting ready for something like a job interview, a dinner to meet new people, an apartment viewing. Things we take for granted, the easy things that take no concentration or thought, suddenly take a lot of concentration and a lot of thought - if indeed the option of having or doing these things exists at all. Like buying ingredients for dinner. Making a snap decision on a bottle of wine, based on its back-of-the-bottle blurb. Buying the right face cleanser. You are dependent on the kindness of strangers for translation help, for directions. You are dependent on the kindness of strangers for signposting cultural quirks that allow for a level of understanding you are desperate to possess. You are dependent on the kindness of friends for transport, help making appointments, help meeting new people, help explaining to those new people that you need to meet them because you are in a new country and you don’t speak the language very well and you’re still finding your feet, feet that insist on being rather elusive.

Another irony is that you relinquish so much control when making this big move that is, in essence, about defining the direction of your life. About taking control of what you want and how you will go about achieving it. When you’re bumbling about in a new country, you are at the mercy of pretty much everything and everyone else. You don’t know the ropes, the way things work. You’re still clutching the phrase book, which is a different book entirely to the rule book and it’s the latter you really need to learn, but you can’t do it until you’re at one with the phrase book. So you attempt to grapple with both simultaneously, whilst going about building your nest and injecting some comfort into your new surroundings. You’re bouncing around in the saddle, waiting for that moment when the reins jostle within reach. You are completely and utterly out of control and that realisation feels like a slap in the face – you were so certain you held the reins in this adventure, this planned, deliberate adventure designed to define and delineate. But such certainty is arrogance – you don't hold the reins, you can't. Not yet, anyway.

For a while, as you bounce, you feel like an imposter. Like everyone is staring. Like you’re always doing the wrong thing, things locals don’t do. Locals walk through the left door, not the right. And they don’t wear that. And they stick to this side of the path and they usually attempt to look this particular way when doing that particular thing. You are doing it all wrong and you are standing out because of it. The thing about standing out is, at home, you are okay with it. You know the boundaries, you know when and where and how you like to push them and you know, largely, what the results of that pushing will be. That's why you’re comfortable pushing in the first place. In a new country, a new culture, the boundaries are an unknown. Reactions are an unknown. Consequences are an unknown. Here, you don’t want to stand out so much. You don’t want to be so obviously not a local. Not until you know the boundaries. Not until you are as good as a local. Until then, you want to go about your settling in, in as discreet a manner as possible. Don't look at me floundering about, mangling things, it's embarrassing. Before you know it, you’ve pulled back a little bit, retreated into your shell, only poking the tip of your nose out. And all the while you’re thinking ‘this isn’t me, I’m not giving this city, this new life, the right impression of me – this is just my snout. The rest of me is in this here shell. Can you hear me? This is just my snout.’

Slowly, the dust settles – it always does. The ground stops being so slippery. Those elusive feet you’ve been waiting to find, appear, as if by magic, and you begin to walk with surer steps. The snout becomes your whole face, then your neck. Eventually you shake off the shell and store it for another day when you might need it down the track. You wake up one morning and what surrounds you is familiar. And you go out the front door, and you get on a bus knowing where it will stop and where you need to get out. You recognise signs and words, you even begin to understand some quirks. You know where things are in the supermarket and you can order your coffee without wondering if the rest of the queue behind you is sniggering at your clumsy manipulation of their language. And in the evening, when you get home, you realise your surrounds are no longer simply familiar … they are comforting. As comforting as that shell you’ve been loitering in since you arrived.

Arriving

It’s easy and in many ways quite logical, to assume that by physically arriving somewhere new, the process is all but over. And what a process it is, one of farewells and flights and customs and overweight suitcases and getting acquainted with hard airport chairs, or indeed floors. That feeling – of relief, of tired, happy relief - when you lug your suitcase through your new bedroom door and fall face first onto your new bed seems to be, for all intents and purposes, the end. You have reached your destination – you have arrived.

In some ways, many ways, it’s enough just to be bodily somewhere new. Breathe new air, walk new streets, hear a new language. In many others, it isn’t. Because whilst you may be physically bounding about your new home, soaking it all in, you’re mentally rather scattered. When you move to a different country, there is a small part of you that assumes, or at least hopes, that on some level, life will continue with a degree of normality – with the added excitement of it all being on the other side of the world. As much as you are there for the new experiences, for the thrill of change, the oxymoron is that, what you crave quite often, is the stability found in the familiar. It makes it all a little less overwhelming.

This inherently conflicted state is, of course, rather conducive to winding up existing in two worlds; home-world and new-home-world. You doggedly keep one eye on what time it is in home-world so you can be sure to catch friends on Facebook and Skype, because these people are your comfortable old slippers. And you spend your weekends with a bevy of new faces, your brand new sparkly shoes you need to wear in and adjust to. You keep in the loop about everything that’s happening in your friendship circle in the home-world, via lengthy Skype conversations and feverish emailing, at the same time as trying to create a new loop in the new-home-world. You zigzag between time zones and languages and cultures, clinging and building simultaneously, waiting for the New to become as safe and known as the Old.

And then there’s all the run of the mill things you need to get sorted in order to actually exist in a new country; a house and everything that goes in it, a job, an identification number with the city hall, a tax card, a bank account, insurance, your first pay cheque, wireless bloody internet so you can stop stalking Starbucks. As you’re sorting all of this out, you begrudgingly accept a sparse bedroom and an ever sparser wardrobe are just going to have to do until you figure out how to fill in your timesheet in another language so you can actually get paid into your brand new-home-world bank account and stop living out of your home-world bank account that charges you a fortune to withdraw money. And you lie in bed at night running through all the things you need to do in order to function as an ordinary human being in the new-home-world and realise that, on some subconscious level, you expected far too much to happen overnight – and when it didn’t you were a little surprised, more than a little frustrated, and in some moments, slightly depressed.

I have come to understand, and it's obvious when you are spat out the other side, that arriving means cutting some ties with your old-home-world. Or at least putting those ties on hold as you anchor yourself to new ground. It is being a series of different numbers with the bureaucracy whilst your old numbers wait patiently at home for you to come back and file. It’s understanding a new health insurance system whilst the old one at home waits patiently for you to come back and have your wisdom teeth out. Arriving is having a place to call your very own and feeling that little well of comfort as you push open its front door. It’s having people to make weekend plans with. Someone to text on a whim for coffee. It’s getting mail. It’s living out of a local bank account. It’s knowing what night your favourite TV shows are on and what radio station plays the best music. It’s your first pay cheque. It’s committing aisles to memory in your local grocery store. It’s a new set of memories and personal jokes with a new set of faces to share them with.

It took me a while to arrive in Münster and I say that perhaps not realising, at the time, precisely how long it took. Longer than the two months I originally, optimistically, envisioned. My arrival process was hijacked by several months in Greece, a summer that had all the hallmarks of aRomansbildung, a perhaps then fitting prelude to arriving in Germany.

But I know where to find vegetable stock in the grocery store now, and I feel that little well of comfort every time I push open my front door.

Anchors

The generosity of others helps when spaces need to be filled. We had already ripped up the old carpet and painted the walls with white paint we'd bought by the bucket and rolling paintbrushes we'd borrowed from a friend's bottomless basement. It was, I was to learn, the Germanic norm to repaint as a new tenant and indeed lay down new floors if you so desired. And it was ours. The threadbare, Kindergarten carpet had to go and in its place, shiny planks of laminate, part of our hardware shop haul, were laid. Now we had clean, white space and I had a few swimming costumes and a clutch of battered books with sand in their spines to fill it with.

Donations of a bed and a 70′s style ‘painter’s table’ desk came first – from the same bottomless basement as the paintbrushes - then a lovely big reading chair, scratched and scuffed by years of love. Then some shelves drilled to the wall one yellow Autumn afternoon, with the light coming in through the huge, naked windows. The drill bored, the plaster spraying into our hair, and the shelves slid into place; the whole time, all I could think about was how thrilling furniture is. My suitcase, full of clothes that would prove inadequate against a European winter - everything would prove inadequate against a European winter but I would find that out in due time – sat in the corner, next to my new bed. It was, until that week in Autumn where we put together a little home, the only anchor I had in this new world. But the desk, the reading chair, the shelves drilled into place, they were all new bricks, added weight, context. I put half-empty bottles of perfume on the shelves and a little glass of shells and hair clips and what-nots from Santorini, feather-light anchors themselves. An Ikea trip yielded a wardrobe and I finally stopped living out of a suitcase. It was a tiny wardrobe, but it was mine and it housed my things and I got to open its doors every morning. The wardrobe, out of everything, felt the heaviest. Ikea also provided a bedside table, a chair and some rose candles. Rose will always smell of that orange Autumn in which I was so exhilaratingly uncertain of what the hell I was doing.; of a time I had a big room, a little bit of pre-loved furniture and light streaming in from the naked windows and bouncing off the shiny, newly laid floor.

Books followed, new, crisp ones with jackets not yet bent or wrinkled. Little piles of crime fiction that grew one book at a time. Then folders of work documents and photocopies as I settled into a new job. More perfume, each scent tying itself resolutely to the moment, the time, the era in which it was bought. Shoes, ones appropriate for a Winter that was fast closing in, one that threatened snow and early. Clothes, big jumpers, a jacket deemed suitable for Winter, as opposed to the couple I had that were scoffed at as 'Autumn jackets'. Boxes of winter clothes sent from home, packed by my Mum with a jar of Vegemite wrapped up in a jumper. I think I cried when I opened the first box and found the Vegemite. The jar seemed a bit brave, a bit defiantly alone, like it had set out on a journey well outside its comfort zone. And it had found me, like the box of my jumpers and the A4 piece of paper covered in Mum's handwriting. It had all found me, even in my new room with its things completely unrelated to the life from which I had come.

And then after the anchors, come the little things, the additions that accumulate over the years and will be, down the track, subject to culling and clearing. Little markers of yourself, little splashes of colour that fill in the lines. You'll get rid of them in time, upgrade them, swap them, wonder why you ever bought them. Picture frames, vases, tea cups and coffee mugs, bed linen, calendars to break up the whiteness of those freshly painted walls. A blanket for the lovely big reading chair that is more to provide colour than warmth. And then one day, when Autumn had well and truly passed, seguing into a cold, grey Winter with heavy, bad tempered skies, I woke up and saw I had accumulated enough stuff to spill out of the shelves and wardrobe, to clutter the desk. A line of boots were stacked behind the door, books were doubling up, jumpers were squashed on top of one another and bulging out the sides. That furniture that had seemed like just enough, within the walls that had seemed un-fillable, was no longer sufficient. I needed more. I had enough things to stack in more shelves, to tuck away in more drawers. What an unexpectedly lovely realisation. As a traveller, I had actively, freely, gleefully left behind everything I owned, cutting my boat adrift. And there I was, revelling in being anchored, in weight. In being so heavy I needed more to accommodate the gain. I felt stable. I felt like I belonged. I felt like there were enough things in this town to make it a home, enough things in this room to show people I exist in layers and colours. And I realised the next time I move – because I would move again, Münster was not forever - I would have things to pack into a truck and ride with, things to fit out a new apartment with. Anchors for next time.

Making a home means measuring progress by both feeling and what fills your space. Leaving a solid, old, warm home for an adventure, no matter how adventurous you are, is to lose a little traction, to have your grip on yourself and what you know and what you have, become a little slippery. It is but one of the millions of tiny little adjustments we make over the course of our lives - that is, after all, what life seems to be, a series of adjustments, some more comfortable, more exciting than others. Some so difficult you long for that sense of sweet safety you had as a child, reaching for your father's knees and playing in your mother's wardrobe when she wasn't looking. And some that are so small, so seemingly inconsequential, they just happen. They fall into the little space you've unwittingly carved out for them with a small, barely audible thud and all of a sudden the street with its marching soldiers of elm trees that had felt so brand new and so foreign feels precisely like it ought to-- the pathway to your warm and waiting home.

Expectations explode when you move countries, and pieces of them land everywhere, some so cracked and splintered you can't ever put them back together again, you can only replace them with new ones. You have certain ideas of what it will all be like and what you’ll achieve. Most of all, you see it one way and then it goes and proves itself to exist in quite another. That isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s an excellent thing. Exploded expectations are completely necessary. You learn a lot, very quickly, about what you can and can’t do. You learn when to tell everyone telling you what you ‘should and shouldn’t do’ and what you ‘must do’ and ‘need to do’, to shut up, and when to block it all out. You learn when you need to listen to yourself, because this is no one else’s journey, these are no one else's stories but yours and yours alone. And you learn that, when something happens and those expectations explode all over again, and it feels like you are in complete and utter freefall – it helps to have some anchors, even if they are just second-hand books and a line of boots behind the door.

On the Directness of the Germans

(Small Talk … Das macht keinen Sinn.)

There I was, standing in line at the grocery store, a couple of months after I arrived in Münster, wondering what was missing. Clutching my own items, I watched the cashier swiping a woman’s bread and cheese at breakneck speed, the latter fielding each item and slipping it into a plastic bag she had brought with her, before whipping out her card, barking,'mit Karte bezahlen', signing for everything and striding out. The whole process was over in almost the precise time it took the person behind me to unload their Apfelschorle and some sort of packaged, mildly offensive Wurst onto the conveyor belt. It was only when the man in front of me stepped up to repeat the process, that I suddenly realised what was missing. Noise. Save for the beep beep of the cashier's computer and the general background hubbub that tends to pervade supermarkets, everything was quiet. After the quick 'Hallo!', customer and cashier fell silent until payment, which was transacted with minimal words. We were in a speedy, efficient, well-oiled system, designed for maximum rapidity and minimal much else. Talking, it appeared, was too time consuming.

I continued, in my early weeks in Münster, to find vacuums of silence in which I was accustomed to finding or engaging in idle chatter (even if my German, at that point, didn't stretch to idle chatter). On the occasion of making accidental eye contact with someone on the street, then smiling at them in passing, I would receive in return a blank or vaguely sceptical face, the latter in particular from elderly women who seemed to think I was going to mug them because I had made eye contact. While strolling down the street with a friend one day, I flashed a woman who happened to be coming out of the bank at the same time we were walking past it, a smile. My friend looked at me. 'Do you evenknow that woman?' Bus drivers didn't engage on any level, shop assistants said 'hallo!' and then pretended you weren't there and public exchanges seemed to last for approximately 30 seconds and ten words. It began to become quite clear that the Germans, or at least, the Münsteranians, weren't entirely fussed on engaging with strangers on any level. My own experience thus far being limited to Jägermeister-infused student parties, the same ones that introduced me to who would become my flatmate when I moved to Germany, I was utterly confused as to what was happening. Was there something on my face?

Yet another silent, speed-of-light shopping experience, drove me to raising the issue with my flatmate, an early mentor on all things German. Sitting on our tiny kitchen bench, I casually mentioned I noticed no one said anything when at the grocery checkout. She looked at me as if I had said 'I have noticed Germans enjoy beer, tell me about that' and through a cloud of smoke from her afternoon cigarette said, ‘of course no one talks, we want to get out of there. Talking takes time and no one wants to stand around in supermarket for longer than they have to.'

Logical, straightforward and honest. Quite like the Germans themselves. While the Australian greeting – to all and sundry – of 'hihowzitgoing', is designed to engage, demands a response that surpasses simple acknowledgement, the German greeting – a nod of the head, a crisp 'hallo!' or ‘Servus’ or ‘Moin!’- is designed to do the exact opposite. Each party is able to acknowledge but not required or expected to do much else. Germans, it would appear, are as linguistically thrifty as they are economically.

Some weeks later, I was strolling wistfully around the fragrance level of a department store, gazing at tiny bottles of elixir I had not a penny for. An alarmingly tanned sales assistant beamed at me and knocked me for six by saying hello and asking if he could help me. I stuttered through my'Tut mir leid, mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut'