Sauna, So What?

Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.

What do you think of when when you think of Germany?

  • Wurst
  • Beer
  • A pretty successful national football team
  • That bloke with a funny-looking moustache and haircut… cough, cough
  • Come on now, admit it… Nudity

Germany is famous/notorious for “everyone getting their kit off at the first opportunity.”  Actually, that’s not quite the truth.  Walk down any German high street, and everyone is fully clothed.  Sit on any German train, and they are all fully clothed, even during a heatwave like we have today, temperatures of 30+ degrees c.

Whereas Germany does have the FKK (Freikörperkultur – “free body culture”) beaches and sections of the park, it’s still the minority of Germans who do go there.  (Well, as far as I am aware.  I admit, I have not done a scientific survey of my colleagues and neighbours.)  Most Germans will still wear their swimming costume, bikini or trunks on when they go sunbathing.

There is, however, one exception.  Woe betide you if you break this rule.  Germans go au naturel when they sit in the sauna.  Now it’s time for me to answer all the FAQ’s that I get from Brits.

  1. Phew phoar!  No, I have never got, cough, cough, “excited” in the sauna.
  2. No, it is not at all erotic.
  3. No, after my first visit to a German sauna, I did not rush out to buy a season ticket.
  4. Sex gods and goddesses do not visit the sauna.  Most German sauna-goers are not by any means salad-dodgers.  However, they tend to eat those salads on top of their cheeseburger, large Pommis mit weiss, bratwurst, and washed down with a few gallons of beer, followed by a large piece of Black Forest gateau.  Most of them make me look slightly anorexic.
  5. No, I have never met my bank manager/next-door neighbour/that lady who works down the local cafe, while sitting minding my own business down the sauna.
  6. No, I do not make sure I have a good look, phoar…

What impressese me is how businesslike, practical and logical Germans are about the whole business of sitting in the sauna:

  • in the buff
  • in your birthday suit
  • in the nip (Irish English expression)
  • au naturel
  • starkers
  • insert your favourite euphemism

My favourite sauna is the infra-red sauna at mine and Schatz’ favourite health farm.  45 degrees warmth and the infrared warms those sore joints.  Next to it is the Tecaldarium, with tiles rather than wooden slats.  Ideal if you have back or joint pains.

So what happens if you do enter the sauna in clothes, eg bikini or swim shorts?

Answer: One of the workers will rush into the sauna at the speed of a thousand leaping gazelles, shout at you, double you out of the sauna and tell you that you are to:

  • Undress immediately
  • Shower
  • Re-enter the sauna

…which has to be much more embarrassing than being seen naked in the sauna would have been.

Oh yes, once you do enter the sauna, you must-  by tradition – call out a mighty, cheery “Halloooooooooo!” to all the gathered textilfreie people on the slats (or tiles).

I have to say I find the German attitude to be a lot more mature than the British, rather giggly-girl, attitude towards people taking all their clothes off.  And believe me, after the first three nanoseconds, you really, really don’t bat an eyelid.  You just end up sitting in silence if everyone else is silent, or you join in the conversation about the weather, Brexit, Helmut Kohl, etc.

Have a textilfreier day, won’t you!

sauna-sign

Praise in public, rebuke in private…

So, a break from articles about the diet.

Church matters.  Specifically house group.

Once a week I attend house group with other members of church.  Yesterday we started looking at Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Yesterday evening Deckname Markus sat next to me, as he did the previous house group session.  Deckname Markushas, at the last two sessions, spoken really loudly all the way through the last sessions.

The effects:

  1. I had to put my hands my ears whenever he was speaking.
  2. I whispered in his ear, “Could you speak more quietly please.”  (Just once.  He then spoke quieter for a sentence, then WENT BACK TO FULL VOLUME a few seconds later.)
  3. Rather than stop for a cuppa and small talk, in the great tradition of the Sunday newspaper reporters, I “made my excuses and left,” shoes on, heading down the stairs from the 3rd floor and to the nearest taxi for home, solitude and the sound of silence.

Another house group member also “had to dash.”  (British euphemism: “I don’t have to dash, but I don’t want to stay here any longer tonight.”)

I asked that person:

Does Deckname Markus work with old people, or is he hard of hearing?

Reply:

Phew, yes, he was talking really loudly today!

Today I bit the bullet.   I sent our man an SMS, as low-key as possible:

 Could you talk a bit quieter at house group please?  The last two times you were so loud, I had to cover my ears when I was sitting next to you.  Danke Dir!

Polite, friendly and zum Punkt.

This afternoon a reply came back.  I’ll translate from the German.

I hate SMS.  It’s a terrible form of communication.

I phoned Schatz to seek her opinion, as she understands the German Weltanschauung better than I do.  She has a good expression.  “We must talk about the blue elephant in the room.”  I rang Deckname Markus to try placate him and explain there was no malice intended.

He admitted that is one of his weaknesses, but still took umbrage at my texting him.

So, folks, straight question.  What should I have done?

Have a low-decibel day, won’t you!

Ears

The Eight-Week Blood Sugar Diet

My name is Ginge in Germany.

I am obese.  I weigh 122.4kg.  My waistline is 120cm.  I am a type 2 diabetic. I am maxed out on tablets.  I do not inject insulin (yet).

I have tried various diets, as well as hypnosis.  Hypnosis has been the most effective method so far, dropping from 120kg down to 108kg in 12 weeks back in 2003.  A week ago I was chatting to an old classmate of mine, who is now a nurse.  She recommended the 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet.  This is the book.

Minutes after chatting to the aforementioned classmate, I had ordered the book off Amazon.  Two days later the book arrived.  Schatz was away all weekend.  I dedicated myself to reading the book from cover to cover over the weekend.  The first section was all about VLCD: very low calorie diet.  I get the idea.  I whizzed that part, yellow highlighter pen in hand.

On Sunday I bought a pocketbook at the McPaper stationery shop.  This book has now become my food diary.  Everything gets jotted there.  Today I started in earnest.  Smoked salmon omlette for dinner.  Most pleasing to the palate.  On the way back from the supermarket  I called in at my local cafe.  Tempted as I was, I refrained from ordering my usual piece of cake or bread roll.

Nur eine grosse Tasse Kaffee, bitte.

The lady sitting at the table next to mine turned out to be from Croatia.  I ended up practising my very rusty language skills with her.

Dugo nisam govorio hrvatski.

One hour and three cups of coffee later, time to head home.  I had forgotten all about eating sticky, sugar cake.  As Barak Obama once said…

…Chuffed to bits.

Any cold turkey?  Any cravings?  So far – no.  Perhaps coincidentally a slight headache, though that may be caused by the dull overcast weather or slight dehydration.  I am following expert advice and drinking 2-3 litres of water a day while on this WOE (way of eating).  On the other hand, I think my blood sugar has already improved.  I feel more alert, energetic and awake already.  Maybe it’s also because I’ve also given up on drinking cola…  Nothing like a good de-tox.  Oh, and I feel a lot more cheerful and positive, with an improved attention span.

Today I decided to work from home.

Lead us not into temptation.

That way I avoided colleagues offering me sweets, birthday cake, encouraging me to go on, have the lovely dessert, etc.  Close confinement at work, with minimal food in the flat.  If it isn’t there, you can’t eat it.

It’s day 1.  Let’s see how it all looks on day 56.

Have a healthy day, won’t you!

 

What did Greta Garbo actually say?

What did Greta Garbo actually say?  I want to be left alone.  The “left” makes a big semantic difference.

What prompted me to think of that quotation?  This Huffington Post article did.

I sometimes go to my local cafe.  I nickname it “Das Wartezimmer” (“the Waiting Room”).  Why?  Let me tell you.  [Rant mode on]

The local cafe is full of people sitting in their cliques round each table.

Fair enough so far.

But once you’ve drunk up your cup of coffee, is it not time to either order another one or to vacate your table so other paying customers can enjoy a coffee/tea/brunch etc in peace and quiet?  After all, you have been sitting there, hogging that table for over an hour.

Last week, and not for the first time, I called into the Wartezimmer at 16:50L after work.  Not a single spare table for me to sit on my own.  Each table has one empty cup of coffee, surrounded by three or for people standing guard over each cup.  By the time I had left at 18:20L, having:

  • Eaten two cheese and ham rolls and a piece of apple pie
  • Drunk two large cups of coffee
  • Written a week’s worth of diary notes (for I was in catch-up mode)
  • Scanned through the latest edition of Private Eye.

For us Brits, to have a table to oneself if sacrosanct.  Never mind “me” time.  We Brits also need “me space.”  No need to wish me, a stranger, Guten Appetit/Guten Hunger/Mahlzeit.  Just leave me alonePunkt.

I am reasonably empathetic.  But as per the Huffington Past article, even though I am not eye candy, I just want my space.  Yet every time I writing my diary or reading my book or magazine, I get one of my enforced neighbours trying to help me out of my loneliness.

Man standing guard over empty coffee cup:

Is that book interesting?

Ginge in Germany:

Yes.  I’m halfway through it.

(I’d be three-quarters through it, matey, if you’d just kindly go and hold court elsewhere, preferably in another city.)

MSGOECC:

I saw you a few minutes ago writing in a book.  Is that your diary?

G in G:

It is.

(I’m tempted to say, “No.  I’m doing another forgery of Hitler’s diaries, to see if I can fool the historians again.”  But I decide that passive-aggressive tutting, curt replies and absence of eye contact should be sufficient hint that I have come here to eat, drink, be merry, read and write in peace.)

MSGOECC:

Are you left-handed?

G in G:

I am.

(What I wanted to say: “You should know.  You’ve been watching me for the past 20 minutes, writing my diary, using my left hand.”)

All I can think is, thank goodness I did that interrogator’s course nearly two decades ago.

Come on, I dare you, ask me more questions.  I’m so itching to give you the ICATQ treatment.

I think MSGOECC finally got the message.  He finally stands up, pays for his coffee and wishes me, “Schönen Tag noch,” and heads out to… wherever.

Have an aloof day, won’t you!

The Church-Shopper

I’ve been remiss, I know.  No blog articles from me for a while.  I apologise.

Let’s recap a few facts about me.

  • I am a British expat, living in Germany.
  • I try to integrate: I speak German.  I have a German Schatz.  I respect the Ruhestunde.  I prefix insults with, “Es ist nicht böse gemeint, aber…”
  • I am a practising Christian (Anglican/Episcopalian).  Practising, because I can never get it right.  As part of my faith, I attend church (Anglican => Anglophone) most Sundays and go to weekly (Anglophone) bible study/house group (“Hauskreis” in German for theo).

So, what is this article about?  Well, I’m not Catholic, but I do have a bit of a bad conscience, “ein Schlechtes Gewissen”.

The house group I go to is very multinational: Americans, Africans, Brits, Germans, Malaysians, Chinese, you name it.  ABC… G, M and much more.  Please don’t get the wrong impression.  It’s not a theology seminar, with everyone sitting round piously studying Ezekiel 25:17.  We drink tea, we sing worship songs, we pray together, we laugh and joke.  All in my beloved mother tongue, English.  (Remember Samuel L Jackson when he was reciting from that passage?)

As part of the study we read a chosen text from the bible and chew it over.  Hence: bible study.   Each of us takes it in turn to read aloud a paragraph.  Roger so far?

Now, here is why my bad conscience has crept it.  One of our house group members is a nice guy, (Deckname: “Hermann”).  But…  But…  But… his command of the English language is somewhat lacking.  (That’s British understatement, by the way.)  I frankly also think he is a bit of a “church-shopper,” the kind of person that you don’t see for months because they’ve been going to…

  • A Chinese church, because they do such wonderful refreshments after the service
  • An African church, because the preacher is so entertaining
  • A local German church, because they needed an extra singer etc

You get the idea.  Harumph…

So back to house group/bible study.  “Es ist nicht böse gemeint…” but here are my points of frustration.

  1. Hermann’s tendency to church-shop.  Why does he never, ever come to our church on any Sunday?  Is house group a social activity, in the same way that some people nip to the pub, evening classes, chess club, etc?
  2. Does he have “English-groupie” tendencies?  This seems to happen among some people.  Wow!  The chance to mix with exotic foreigners and practise my English and be sophisticated.
  3. A purely practical point.  Is Hermann’s English good enough?  To give a wider context, we have a policy in our church that children at Sunday school most be sufficiently proficient in English to be able to understand the course material.  Further, they must speak only in English during the lessons.  “Es ist nicht böse gemeint…” but it’s to provide a lingua franca in the lessons.

I can’t help thinking, what would happen if we applied that English proficiency policy to our house group?  Notwithstanding Hermann’s being a nice guy, in terms of MoSCoW priorities (Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have yet), house group’s must-have is to study the bible.  Here I have serious concern.  When Hermann’s turn comes to read from the text, he makes me feel like I’m back at infant school again.  He speaks so slowly and haltingly in English.  (Think of when you were at infant school and your classmate would read out like a Dalek on mogadon.)

Then… the cat… and… the… dog… went… in… to… the… house…  and the… maaaaaaa-gicccccccccccccccccc-ian-… cast… a… spell… on… the… dog… and… the… cat…

(Ten minutes later your classmate has finished reading out the sentence, during which time classmates have started rocking back and forth.)

So imagine the double-whammy of a church-shopper who reads in English like a Dalek that has just swallowed a large dose of mogodan, combined with no-show for months on end because he happened to disagree with the text we were studying.

Then add the mispronunciation of Biblical names:

  • Abraham/Ahhhh-braaa-haaaam
  • Sarah/Sarrrrrraaaaa
  • Canaan/Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah-naaaaaaaaaaahn
  • Noah/No-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh

This being after he had heard everyone else reading the same names out in the correct, Anglophone way…  Pay attention at the back of the class, puh-lease!

Then there is the “Umschreiben.”  This is ironically a difficult word to translate into English.  Let me explain by way of worked example.  I don’t know the word for “dog” in a given language.  I therefore say in your language, “The animal that barks and has four legs and chases cats.”  That is Umschreiben.  Hermann does a lot of that, a fact which again makes me think, “He’s not quite going to get the discussion if he hasn’t got the vocabulary.”

Am I being too harsh?  No?  Oh, thank you!  You see, I’m thinking of joining a local Albanian-language house group.  My Albanian is a bit limited, but they do do a nice cup of tea there, and I like their preacher, and…

Have an Anglophone day, won’t you!

I love to travel (2)

I love to travel, even if only on the local-stopping train round England.

June 1998.  I’d been to Gavin’s leaving do.  I’d had a few drinks.  I was merry, slightly drunk.  I board the last train back to Bracknell from Reading.

I sit in one carriage.  It’s nearly empty, with just me and a couple of other men.  I start to flick through the newspaper for a few minutes.  Meantime, I listen in on the two other men sitting opposite me.

Foreigners…

Slavonic…

Ah, Russian.

I decide to spend the next few minutes listening to them.  Time to kill before I reach Bracknell.

One fancies a girl off his course.  The other had had a McDonalds for breakfast.  Interesting stuff.  A good chance for me to practise my language schools.  (Three years at sixth form college and four years at university.)

Three minutes before Bracknell, I put the newspaper down.

One minute before Bracknell, Our Boris says to Our Ivan:

Попроси газету у этого толстого козла.

(For those not fluent in Russian: “Ask that fat bloke if you can have his paper.”)

Ginge in Germany, holding his copy of the Evening Standard replies very nonchalantly:

Почему ты сам не спросишь?

Translation: “Why don’t you ask him yourself?”

Suddenly two very embarrassed and surprised Russians, their faces now as red as the old hammer and sickle flag.

My train stops.  I get off.

One word: satisfaction.

Have a multi-lingual day, won’t you!