Commute-Time Talking

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The thing about me is that I like to utilise every waking moment of my life – and this is very true of the time I spend on public transport. Usually in the morning I do one of three things: read, listen to podcasts or listen to SUPER HIGH ENERGY MUSIC that will get me in the mood for work. What I don’t like to do is talk.

This concept comes easily to British people. We just assume that this is natural and that we won’t be bothered. I have a lovely British friend who I sometimes see on my commute to work. I think he is one of the most amazing people I know and I very much enjoy talking to him. BUT the morning commute is NOT for talking and so he and I will know of each other’s presence and then move to different carriages.

The same cannot be said of a non-British colleague of mine. He’s a very nice, energetic guy. The friendliest you ever did see. Especially in the mornings.

This morning, I was on the bus that delivers fat, lazy people who can’t be bothered to walk from the train station to our office. I was reading quite an interesting article about Pharrell Williams (and wondering why no one was shouting at him for co-writing Blurred Lines…) when out of nowhere, up popped my colleague.

He placed himself next to me and started hopping from foot to foot, sighing. It was a sign that I should stop reading and pay him attention.

I didn’t.

The sighing got louder, when he let out a “wow, there sure are loads of people on here today!”

I looked up, grunted.

His head popped up at my shoulder. “Whatcha readin’?!”

“A magazine.”

“Oh! I like to read books”

Awesome.

As I got off the bus I felt him walk in step with me. I can’t walk and read at the same time but DAMMIT I wanted my quiet time. So I held the magazine in front of my face and walked. After an awkward amount of time of me pretending to read while walking, while trying not to trip up at the same time, he found someone else to talk to and I didn’t have to be rude to him any more.

Am I a terrible person, or just British…?

Queuing

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This week Dunkin’ Donuts opened in Frankfurt. My wonderful colleague queued up before work and brought us a big box of brightly coloured doughnuts. This whole concept brought me a bit of Japan-nostalgia since the city I lived in, Ise, had special mochi sweets on sale on the first day of every month. People would go down to the old district at 4am and queue up for some of these rare sweets.

My friends always went and I scoffed at them, but towards the end of my time in Japan I realised I’d regret it if I didn’t start going to buy these mochi. I went about 3 or 4 times in the end and it was really amazing because I could zip through a completely empty city on my moped at 4am, and then when we got to the line we always met really great people which made the (often) 2 hour wait completely worth it. Then after buying the mochi we’d queue again (above) for the special breakfast that was available at the restaurant next door. That breakfast was one of the best I’ve ever had. Hmm… I wonder if I have a photo of that too…

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Look what I found!

But thinking about queuing up for stuff in Japan and in Frankfurt got me thinking about queuing up in general. You may think this is not so much a topic interesting enough to blog about but actually, as a British person, I think about queuing a lot. These crazy 3 hour long queues are not a thing for me. In Japan they will queue for anything, and they have NO limit to their patience. If it says in a magazine that such-and-such a place has good cakes, they will wait for 3 hours to try one – even if they know the article is sponsored and probably a lie. At any given time on Japanese tv there will be crazy tv shows where minor celebrities go to some restaurant in some town and try some food, announce that it’s the softest, juiciest  tastiest thing they have ever eaten and afterwards that restaurant won’t be able to move for customers – they will be spending the whole day queuing outside to taste this soft juicy tasty thing. (Please click on the “crazy tv shows” link to watch the video… it’s SUCH a typical Japanese tv show…)

For me, I think my limit would be 40 minutes. When Krispy Kremes opened in Osaka I did wait for 40 minutes to get some (and boy were they worth it…) but when it opened in Nagoya I saw people waiting for 4 hours and said to my friend that they could go to the airport, fly to Korea (where they have had Krispy Kremes for years), walk into a shop and buy doughnuts, fly back and they would still beat the people in the queue.

As an expat, queue methods can also be pretty confusing. In Japan they have pretty much the same queuing system as in Britain, but with one added rule – old women can break all the rules and it’s ok. I remember this one time when I was in Japan I went to an illuminations event. When it was over, the route back to the exit was ridiculously crowded and so we had to wait in a long crowd-queue to get out. I was waiting patiently with everyone else until these old ladies started jabbing me in the stomach to get past me. They really had no shame. They will also push in front of you when you’re waiting for a bus or train as well. I’d gladly let elderly people through but I get annoyed when they are rude about it.

Here in Germany there is a slightly different queue style. Where in the UK we form one line that feeds multiple cashiers in a shop, in Germany they form one like per cashier. This means that you can easily be served first if you just join the right queue. German people are a lot less angry at people who push in, as well. In Britain, we are REALLY angry when people push in. But most of the time we just tut and glare and do no more. A few times I have had people ignore the line and wait at the side of the counter to push in but where German queuers are ok with this, German shop staff are thankfully strict.

Where German people are TERRIBLE, though isn’t technically a queue but it’s a related form of waiting; when the train is coming into a station and people need to get out. Instead of waiting to see who else is getting out, each person assumes automatically that they will be the only person and as soon as the platform is in sight, they will push to get to the front of the door so that they can be the person to press the button and exit the train first. And then people rarely let you off the train before they cram on it. I guess German people just get stuff done.

I find peoples’ queuing styles say a lot about their culture and way of life. British people get angry a lot but don’t say anything out right. German people are harsh and abrupt but get what they want in the end.

How does queuing happen where you’re from?

Getting Naked Abroad

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Most British people are ridiculous prudes. While we are happy to have topless 19 year olds in our daily newspapers, we would go through hell and back to prevent having to expose our own bodies in public.

When my family came to visit Japan for the first time, the first hotel they stayed at was this traditional hotel, with tatami mats and gender-segregated communal washrooms. My mum and sisters weren’t happy with this, and while one was in the wash/shower room, the others would stand guard by the door, and then switch when they were finished, so they could ensure only one person would be in there at a time – they wouldn’t even get naked in front of each other.

One thing you need to do in Japan if you ever go is to an onsen, or public bath. Onsens are usually outside, and then there are public baths which are indoors and are often equally as awesome.

I was always afraid of going to one of these public naked parties, because the thought of me being naked and white and fleshy in front of loads of skinny perky Japanese ladies scared me so very much. But my friend Ashley managed to persuade me (I can’t remember how…) and I entered the world of nakedness.

The thing with these baths is that the only thing to hide your modesty are these tiny hand towels, and when your modesty is quite sizable as mine is, these towels don’t often cut it. So I couldn’t exactly do the very British way of getting undressed and walking about using the towel to hide behind. Eventually, after a few trips to our local (and awesome) public baths, I got used to it. People didn’t stare at our naked bodies (to our knowledge), and the only awkward moment we had there was when this grandma was taking her 5 year old grandson to the baths and told him to go talk to us in English… because forcing your 5 year old grandson to speak English to two naked foreigners isn’t going to scar him for life.

And then I came to Germany.

I’d known about how German people like to get naked public before coming here… a friend of mine used to speak fondly about the public baths, and also on holiday you always find that group of German tourists who are on the beach playing catch with nothing but a thong on (though that’s mainly the men). But joining a gym here brought nakedness onto a while new level. Again, in gyms in England it’s fairly normal for people to be fairly cautious when they are getting changed and so on. You should look into your locker and focus on getting changed and even when talking to someone you should not look at them. In my German gym, naked is king. These women are not ashamed of their bodies at all, and stand fully starkers right there while talking to each other. The Japanese people from work who are also at my gym are fairly into this too, and don’t try to cover up much… so I have open nakedness AND nakedness of colleagues to deal with.

Is it normal to be naked in public where you are from? How do you feel about public nakedness? Let me know in the comments!

Glad to be Born in the UK?

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Last week I came across a wonderful link listing reasons why Japanese people felt glad to be born in Japan. The number one answer was that there are 4 seasons in Japan, which is a common joke within people who have lived in Japan. When Japanese people say this, they mean that there are 4 distinct seasons and that they enjoy each one to the fullest. I must admit, I have never experienced such amazing Autumns as I did in Japan, but that doesn’t mean that other countries don’t have the same (last Autumn was also pretty awesome, for example). Other answers are also typically “Japanese”, like “drinkable tap water” at number 2. A lot of Japanese people believe that their stomachs are different to those of non-Japanese people and refuse to drink tap-water outside of Japan,  as I did in India. On a side note, when I was at uni in Liverpool I noticed that the tap water there tasted horrible, but it’s pretty nice in my hometown of Bury St Edmunds. In Frankfurt, too, the water is pretty good, but has a lot of stuff in it that isn’t so good for your hair.

The list got me thinking about what makes me feel glad to have been born in the UK, and even what makes me glad to be in Germany. When I came back from studying in Japan, my mum told me that I’d become racist against my own people as I was just tired of how tired and unhealthy British people look, but really I was just missing Japan. Here in Germany I shock people by saying that I would much prefer to be here right now than in the UK, but rather than me being “racist” against the UK, Germany just offers a lot more for me than I could get back home.

ANYWAY I think I’d like to make two short lists – one for the UK and one in another post for Germany. If you’d like to make your own lists then please let me know in the comments section!

Reasons to be glad to be born in the UK -

1. The NHS.

When I was in Japan every time I got sick I felt that I was being forced to have extras even though I didn’t need them, just to bump up the price. While it’s the opposite in the UK and you may have hospitals being stingy with you, I have never had this experience personally and neither has anyone I know. I had extensive braces (think along these lines…) and it was all free. There’s no worrying about being able to afford these kinds of things, and it’s all available to everyone.

2. The food.

Yes, I can hear you laughing. Seriously, British food is really great. I mean, we’re not the fattest people in Europe for nothing, right? Cornish pasties are pretty much the yummiest things in the world. I miss Sunday roasts so much, but they take so much effort to cook for just one person. On the healthier end of the spectrum, there are shops like Eat which sell amazing healthy options at lunchtime. Supermarkets are full of healthier options and inspiration for better eating with locally sourced (not to be confused with locally horsed… fnar fnar…) items. This is something I’ve not experienced in either Japan or Germany. And if you have a bit of a sweet tooth, an American friend recently begged me to bring him back “some of those sugar coated gummies you guys have… fruit pasTILLES?” So apparently our sweets are pretty awesome, too!

3. Education.

There is a lot wrong with the British education system, least of all that your experience depends greatly on where you live. You can be in the catchment area for the best school around but someone a mile down the road is in the catchment area for an under-achieving school. We may not get the best scores on tests, or create the brightest children but what our education system does is teach children how to THINK. Again, I wasn’t really aware of this until I went to Japan and saw that everything is multiple choice in tests there. I explained to the teachers that in the UK even maths and science questions come in essay format – why won’t this experiment work? How would you improve on it next time? – there are so many ways in which we are asked to think and not regurgitate. So many times I asked my Japanese students to give their opinions, and every time it failed. When I was back home last, my youngest sister who is in year 10 right now was writing a complex essay in French on her thoughts about smoking. Britain creates independent thinkers, young people who go out and get what they want, people who think of ways to make things better. And with the bleak job prospects right now, we need these kinds of people.

4. It’s easier to “settle down” there.

I look back at people I went to school with and I see them buying houses and securing a good life for themselves. I look back at myself, living in a flatshare drowning rent money each month that won’t go towards anything. I would *love* to buy myself a house right now. To put money on a mortgage and work on a home, not a place to stay. But Germany (or Frankfurt at least) is a “rent for life” kind of place. And don’t even let me get started on Japan, where it’s impossible to even rent if you’re not a Japanese male. They will often turn away people for not being Japanese, from being a solo female and for other ridiculous reasons. When I left Japan I said I’d love to go back when I’m retired and live in a lovely old wooden Japanese house. I’d still like to do this if I could. But I doubt they’d let me.

5. British people are awesome.

Recently I’ve been feeling really sad about British people in general, mainly because I keep on making the mistake of listening to the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 every day, which is the audio version of The Daily Mail. There is SO MUCH racism on there that I decided to not put the BBC in this list. But I was speaking with some people who had studied in the UK and they reminded me how friendly people are there. If you are on your own, you can just go to a pub and you’ll have friends in minutes. People will strike up conversations with you on the London Underground. People will be concerned for your safety even though they are complete strangers. Sure there is a cesspool of people who don’t want any foreigners “coming in and stealing our jobs” but the majority of British people love Britain being so multicultural and welcome visitors and long-term stayers alike. We will even complain along with you when you moan about the UK. The friendliness of British people is something that surprises me every time I go home – and I am not the only one who has this as we talk about this regularly here.

So please let me know what reasons you have to be proud to be from where you are from! I’m really looking forward to comparing answers!

Diving

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I LOVE diving. I did my first dive in Malaysia a few years ago (above, with my brother) and it was love at first sight. So when I found that there were diving schools here in India, I knew I had to try it out.

Back then I did the discovery course, which gives you a few basic skills then an instructor will take you by the hand and lead you round the course. It was pretty scary the first time, but after ten minutes of me freaking out and trying to breathe normally through the mouth piece, it was pretty awesome from there.

I decided to take the discovery course again this time. Why? Because – and I know you all know me well enough by now to know this is true – I suck at everything. If something is to go wrong, it will do. Scuba diving has a lot of dangers attached, and this scares me a lot. However, there is a sunken ancient city in the south of Japan that I really, really want to see before I die. So I have to take my license sooner or later.

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This time, I went with Barracuda diving school, who were very professional and I really trusted them. It’s important that you make a good connection with your instructors since you are pretty much putting your life in their hands. Mine was the rather dashing fellow on the left, and though he was a mere whippersnapper, he knows his stuff and didn’t laugh at me when I couldn’t get one of the skills he was teaching me first time round.

The course here was a little different to the one I took in Malaysia. Back there, we had a short course on land then were out at sea. This time round I watched a video about safety, then I was taken to the pool to practise skills like taking the mouth piece out underwater (not as easy as it looks!) and how to let water out of my mask while also underwater. Then on the second day (the day after I was sick…) I went out to sea for two dives.

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I was a little worried that this would be pretty lonely, but there were two amazing Finnish girls with me, one of whom was a very experienced diver. She made me want to take my license even more, she was so cool. The instructor was also really friendly too, so I guess my worries were all for nothing as I wasn’t lonely in the slightest.

The first dive was pretty easy. We went around some rocks and then came back round again. It wasn’t very deep and the instructor was holding my hand the whole way round so there was little room for error. I got to see some scorpionfish which was pretty cool because they are very dangerous. Hehe. Other than that, there were lots of little brightly coloured fish – including a fish that I forgot the name of with gorgeous neon blue piping on it.

The second dive was a little harder – a sunken ship. It was harder because it was much deeper, and navigating yourself around such an object can be a little scary. However, I did feel a little bit like Ariel the Little Mermaid…

 

Yeah, that’s what was going on in my head the whole time. Dammit, why can’t I be Ariel…

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On a side note, I’d like to talk a little about one certain nationality who are very common here in Goa – Russians. I was pretty surprised to find a) how many of them visiting and b) how much negativity there is towards them. Most of the Russians I have met are very polite and kind and I couldn’t pick out a single sweeping generalisation about them in particular as a people. However, the ones I have encountered here have been, I must admit, pretty rude and adamant on doing whatever they wish to be doing. For example, smoking on the boat. Two Russians were with us on the trip and I was pretty disgusted at how blatant they were in ignoring the no smoking rule, even after being told that it’s because we have oxygen on board and this could cause an explosion. When I went to the night market, too, stall women complained to me that Russian customers never stop to talk with them, only ask the price and then go.

Of course, you could say the same with Brits – we are good people most of the time, but put us in some cheap, warm European country and marinade with cheap alcohol and we can turn into the lowest forms of life available. Knowing the lovely Russian people I’m friends with, I was just a little sad that their image is being tarred by people like this.

Two Sick Girlies

 

Last night I came back from work feeling rough. My nose hurt, my head hurt… I went to bed early hoping it would go away only to wake this morning to feel ten times worse. My whole face hurts, and my back too.

Little did I know, but my flatmate has exactly the same thing as me – with about a half a day’s delay on it. But it’s pretty funny to see how people cope with being sick.

My former flatmate, the German girl would lock herself in her room and wrap a scarf round her neck and be as much of a drama queen about it as she could. German people love scarves.

Japanese people wrap a mask around their mouth as soon as they start getting sick, but with my flatmate since she has been abroad for a while I guess she doesn’t feel the need to do this anymore since no one does that here.

One big difference between Japanese people and western people’s “sick time” customs is that western people will take a bath when they are sick whereas Japanese people believe the exact opposite – that you shouldn’t take a bath when you are sick.

Japanese people also take a shot of fruit vinegar (I want to say most mornings, but I think this is a very rare habit) to stay healthy as well. My nan says that the best cough/sore throat medicine is – a spoon of butter, some vinegar, some honey and some pepper all melted together. Does the trick, I promise!!

 

So anyway…

I’m off to London tomorrow for business and pleasure for a week. I will be taking my computer so hopefully I can blog but this might be a week’s break. Enjoy the last few days of summer!

Cultural Differences – Bed Life

Recently Mr and I have been having a few problems with our beds. Firstly, the nice pillow that I had bought (more on that later) seemed to give Mr an allergic reaction. And with his bed, he had accidentally messed up the sizes of his bed and bought a duvet that is slightly larger than a single but definitely not fit for a double bed – but bought a double sized cover for it. I had made the same mistake with the duvet but luckily my covers are all the right size.

As we were trudging round Galeria looking at overpriced covers we were saying how much easier it is in our home countries, where sizes came in “single”, “double” etc as opposed to numbers. And it got me thinking, the way we go about making our beds in different countries is more different than you’d think. But it’s something so trivial, no one really talks about it. So I will. Let me go through a few observations I’ve had from owning a bed in the UK, Germany and in Japan.

Let’s start with the one that I am most familiar with – the UK.

1. The pillow. British people love their pillows. Well, more so than the Japanese and Germans. We love our memory foam, contoured, textured, scientifically proven to be beneficial pillows. The one that Mr was allergic to was one of these – a wonderful contoured foam one with the offensive layer or feathers lining the top. It’s wonderful.

But in the UK you can buy all kinds of pillows, hard and soft. There’s a really wide range.

2. The duvet. As I said before, back home we have sizes in words, so it’s dead easy to go get a new cover, and it’s idiot proof if you need to buy a duvet for your new bed.

3. Duvet covers end at the bottom, and usually have poppers as opposed to zips. Sometimes with posh covers there are buttons too.

Now onto my current home.

1. German pillows are a bit weird. They are really soft, and are square – not rectangular. I’m not sure how people use them.. growing up with adverts telling me I’ll die an early death if I don’t sleep on something that supports my neck makes me doubt these German pillows. But Mr has these on his bed, and they are actually not so bad. I’ve not seen ones on sale that are harder, but then again, I’ve never really looked. They seem to me like cushions you’d put on a sofa as opposed to something you’d sleep on.

2. Duvet sizes come in idiot-confusing numbers. I am an idiot. So, I bought the wrong sized duvet for my bed. It covers the top, and the top only. German duvets are really good quality though. Though at uni in Liverpool I got one from Tesco that was thick and only a tenner, German duvets are not cheap at all, but are such good quality. I’m sure you can get them in other places, but my duvet comes in two layers, that you attach together during the winter. It’s VERY snuggly.

3. Duvet covers open from the bottom like British ones, but they come in zips which have no handles, and a hole with which to extract your thumb once you’ve finished zipping. It’s pretty cool.

1. Japanese pillows are the best. Full stop. They take a while to get used to them, but once you do, you never turn back. They are HARD and small and full of hard beans. It’s awesome. You will never wake up with a crick in your neck. Well, maybe you will. But that’s probably because you do not understand how awesome Japanese pillows are. Don’t worry, if you are a tourist going round Japan, Japanese hotel owners know how weak foreigners are and have a collection of soft pillows so you don’t have to put up with a Japanese one.

2. Duvets come in numbers again. I gave up trying to find the right sized covers after a while. It was really confusing. Japanese people like to add stuff to their beds depending on the season – in summer you put a liner under your sheet on top of the mattress to make you cooler. In winter you have something you attach to your duvet to make it heavier, and throws for on top of the bed. That last one probably isn’t so different – but it’s the obsession that Japanese people have with these things, and if you don’t have these on your bed then your Japanese friends (especially if you are friends with old ladies) will force you to own and use these things for fear of death.

3. Duvet covers open from the side, which makes putting on duvet covers SO much easier.  They also come in zippers too. Ease all around.

So there we have it! No one country has the all-round better way of doing beds. If I had my way, I’d have a Japanese pillow, British duvet sizing and German duvets. THAT would be an easy, awesome bed.

Perhaps some of my observations are wrong – please do write a comment if you have something to add. Or if you are in a different country all together, please let me know how things are where you are.

The three pictures were drawn on my 3DS.