Some Thoughts on Brexit. Or, ‘If I Were Theresa May’.

So, Theresa May has finally ‘pulled the trigger’.  At bloody last.  Since Friday, June 24th last year – the day that will forever be in my heart as the day I woke up without an alarm at 5am, cried in the shower and got told by someone to go back to my island – us Brits living in other EU countries have had a huge raincloud hanging over our heads.  I cannot tell you how often I’ve been asked if I will be allowed to stay in Germany, if I will become a German citizen, if my husband and I will end up living in different countries, if I’ll need a visa, and if the United Kingdom realises how stupid it is being.  So I am probably not alone in breathing a huge sigh of relief that finally, finally, we can get on with this.  The Brexit Drama has been like a badly executed relationship break-up  – you both know it’s over, you’ve cried your tears and been through the inevitable pain, yet for some reason you drag things on.  And on.  And on.  Yes, I am feeling grateful now that the divorce proceedings are at last underway.  Life can start moving forward into whatever the post-Brexit aftermath may bring, whether it turns out to be the Apocalypse or something else entirely.

You can guess that as a UK expat who has taken full advantage of the opportunities the EU brings in terms of freedom to work abroad, I’m not in favour of Brexit.  My postal vote strangely never appeared in Germany  – even though a painfully pointless vote for the London mayoral election did (conspiracy, perhaps?) – so I was peeved that I couldn’t add my voice to the 48%ers.  I’m all for democracy and I respect that things have panned out the way they have, so I won’t labour the point here – except to say that such a gargantuan decision should never have been given to the tabloid-educated and politically unaware masses.  There.  Said it.  I await the comments from Daily Mail readers with excited anticipation.

What’s left now is to see how the Brexit Drama: Act Two will play out on the world stage and if Theresa May’s performance in the negotiations will be award-worthy.  Thus far I haven’t given Ms May much thought, aside from thinking ‘Girl Power’ and ‘why the fuck are you holding hands with Donald Trump’ (although her early decision to make Boris the Buffoon the Foreign Secretary was a stroke of evil genius – like rubbing a hapless puppy’s face in the mess it’s just created.)  I’m looking forward to seeing if she can prove her mettle and negotiate a good exit deal, and I’m also prepared to hate her forever if this deal doesn’t work in my favour.  Your call, Theresa.  You’ve been warned.  But issues on migration aside, Theresa May does have some pressing problems to face in the coming weeks.  Such as, where does the UK find £50bn to pay this ridiculous divorce bill?  That certainly puts bailing early on your O2 phone contract into perspective, doesn’t it?  I’m pretty sure we don’t have a spare £50bn just laying around in the coffers under the Bank of England so if I were Theresa, I’d start handing all the die-hard Brexiteers a 70% tax bill, and backdate it to June last year.  Regrexiteers should pay an extra 5% – let’s call it a stupidity charge.  In fact, if I really were Theresa May – which I’m glad I’m not by the way, because aside from not liking her haircut, her wardrobe or the way she cosied up to President Trump, I’d rather stick a needle in my own eye than deal with this mess – but if I were, I would tell the nation that the referendum decision doesn’t stand on its own and we’ve found some hidden legislation that states we must do a best of three.  Like in rock, paper, scissors.

Then of course there is the small matter of Scotland.  Oh, the Scots.  I do love our friends in the North, beyond the wall.  Others may hide behind ‘fantasy’ and infer that the Scots are Wildlings (you know nothing, George R Martin), but nonetheless, you can’t help but be fond of our brothers who wear skirts and feast happily on sheep’s stomach, and should their second referendum on independence come to pass, I’d be sorry to see them go.  Nicola Sturgeon, who according to one Brexit-loving tabloid is basically Ms May with better legs, is certainly a woman with a plan, but let’s face it: much as we love a strong woman, we all know the plan will fail.  If I were Theresa May, I’d probably just lock her in the Tower and be done with it, after asking her which body moisturiser she uses on those pins.

Anyway, as luck would have it – for me and the UK – I am not Theresa May.  I am just one of 800,000 Brits living in an uncertain EU with an uncertain future.  I’m fairly certain this won’t be all I’ve got to say on the Brexit topic as the plot unfolds, so stay tuned for more of my ramblings in future posts.

Your faithful Remoaner,

Victoria x

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Language ‘Rules’

Depending on how you look at the title of this post, language is either the best thing in the world, or the worst.  Language does rule, in the sense that without it, we’d be stuck.  Or we’d be miming everything in an endless game of charades.  But to take the word ‘rules’ in a more literal sense… well, all I can say is, language rules suck.  Especially German language rules.

Before I continue, I have to make a confession.  I not only studied German for GCSE and A-Level, I have a whole bloody degree in German from a very reputable University, and I still couldn’t speak German that well when I first arrived in Hamburg.  In my defence, all that studying took place a very long time ago, and they do say memory decreases with age.  Moreover, it’s impossible to master the intricacies of a language unless you’re using it daily.  I have discovered – and they didn’t tell us this at school –  that the need to use it daily leads to the odd embarrassment.  Never in my life have I felt quite so much like Bridget Jones than when I’ve been to the pharmacy in Germany (and trust me, I’ve had my share of Bridget moments, mainly involving public speaking).  There’s no learning curve quite as steep as the one where you’re trying to explain to a pharmacist in broken German that you need thrush medication – after all, it’s not really something you want to mime.

Luckily, it turns out that German words are very practical, which is a reflection on the Germans themselves (more on general German practicality in a later post!)  When you have a doubt over a German word, you can always try and think of the most basic, practical way to describe it, and then hazard a guess.  For example, a kettle becomes a ‘water cooker’, gums become ‘tooth flesh’ and nipples become ‘breast warts’ (you have to love the Germans, right?!)  The difficulty, however, lies in the grammar.  Let’s start with verbs as an example.  Verbs are naturally very important because without them, you cannot ‘do’ anything.  In English, the blessed international tongue, verbs are very straightforward.  I have, you have, (s)he has, you have, we have (pl), you have (pol. & pl).  EASY, and hardly any exceptions.  In German: ich habe, du hast (you informal), er/sie/es hat, ihr habt (you pl), wir haben, Sie haben (you pol), sie haben (they).  Wtf??  And why oh why are there so many words for ‘you’??  That’s not to mention those verbs that have an extra bit that breaks off and goes at the end of the sentence, or so-called ‘reflexive’ verbs, which take an extra word that has to match whoever the subject of the sentence is.  Then you have word order on top: should the verb be directly after the subject of your sentence, or should it be at the end because it’s a subclause?

My pet hate when it comes to German language rules though is the question of noun gender.  German nouns MUST take an article, der die or das, and which one you use depends on the gender of the noun.  Yes, every noun in German identifies as male, female or somewhere in between.  There are rules in place, but for every rule, there are hundreds of exceptions.  If you guess, you have a 1 in 3 shot of getting it right, and I almost always guess wrong, which is why I don’t play Lotto.  This then leads to further issues when you get to the famous German cases.  Is the noun the subject, or object of the sentence?  Is something being done to it?  Does it belong to something or someone?  Is there a pesky preposition in front of it that dictates a case you wouldn’t otherwise use?  All of these mean that der, die, das could become den, der, dem, or des.  The best course of action for a beginner is to add the diminutive ‘chen’ on to every noun (meaning ‘little’), which automatically makes it neutral.  Who cares if you sound like you’re talking to a five year old?  At least you’ll be grammatically correct!  (N.B if this is all sounding familiar to you, I want to reassure you that eventually it does get better and make sense!  Der/die/das bingo will probably be played for life however, so just accept it and move on.)

What nobody tells you about living and breathing a foreign language is that your mother tongue will suffer as a result, at least at first.  At present I speak German like an Englishwoman and English like a German.  I admire people who can switch flawlessly from one to the other and sound intelligent at the same time.  After a few hours speaking German, when I switch back, my English is littered with German words and my verbs at the end of my sentence go.  Only my fellow Denglish speakers can really understand me.  Most embarrassingly, when I go back to London, I spend the first few hours saying ‘danke’ and ‘entschuldigung’ to everyone instead of ‘thanks’ and ‘sorry’, and sometimes I can’t immediately remember the English word for something, which can be socially awkward and makes me look like a dork.

Still, to go back to the positive side of this post – language rules! – it is truly the most satisfying journey to live and speak another language.  Your end destination may seem a long way off at times, but persevere, because the stops in between are rewarding.  I was too nervous when I got here to go to the bakery on my own and ask for bread (did I mention that social awkwardness is a general ‘thing’ with me?!)  Now I quite happily discuss Brexit with my bank manager and the likelihood of being bitten by a rabid dog in Africa with the lady doing my vaccinations in the travel clinic.  And it feels GOOD.

So if any of the above resonates with you, and you have those moments where learning your new language seems like the most frustrating thing on Earth, the key, my friend, is perseverance.  Accept the fact that you will make an idiot of yourself from time to time, and learn to laugh about it.  Find opportunities to learn and use your new language.  I did an evening class for three months at the Goethe Institute which not only helped refresh on the grammar rules I’d inconveniently forgotten, but also got me over the hurdle of speaking out loud in German, which I was somehow afraid of.   You can learn all the rules in the world, whether it’s from a book, an app or a piece of software, but you won’t really learn anything until you start to speak with people.  So get out there, find a tandem partner and TALK!  And most importantly, enjoy the journey, be gentle on yourself, and remember that gin is the best tonic if you find yourself feeling stuck (see what I did there.)

Until next time,

Victoria x

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