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

Ladykiller

“Avid” (ahem) readers of this blog will know from previous articles that I have a few claims to fame.  I also have a link to notoriety, namely: my room-mate in my first year at university went on to murder his girlfriend.  The number 1 question I am asked is:

What was he like?

It is the aim of this article to offer you a insight into the character of a convicted murder.  I’ll start with a look at the stereotype of a murder, the reality, then I’ll move onto two key aspects of his personality.

The Stereotype

The stereotype of a murderer can be summed up thus:

Well, he was a bit of a loner.

That was never the case with John.  He was, to use his words from his press conferences, “…outgoing, a lover of life, with everything to live for…”  He was:

  • Very extrovert
  • Jovial
  • A charmer
  • A keen cricketer
  • A keen footballer
  • A keen drinker
  • A keen electric guitarist and rock musician
  • A bit of a “jock” (to use an American expression)
  • The “life and soul of the party”

Again, contrary to the stereotype, he had a wide circle of friends and a never-ending string of girlfriends.  (By heck, was I – as a slightly nerdy lad, a ginger Adrian Mole, from the council estates of Redcar – jealous of his success with women!)

The reality was, however, not so attractive.  John had two aspects of his personality lurking below the surface. Let’s be blunt about it.  They were not likeable aspects.

Aspect 1: Passive Aggression

Quite ironic, now I think about it.  The last article I shared was a humorous one on passive aggression.  The irony has not been lost on me.  In psychology, passive-aggressive behavior is characterized by a habitual pattern of passive resistance to expected work requirements, opposition, sullenness, stubbornness, and negative attitudes in response to requirements for normal performance levels expected of others.  In John passive aggression manifested itself in many ways.

  • Days before his birthday, in my presence, his friends went to his part of our room, took his prized poster of a scantily-clad model (reclining atop a sports car) off the wall, then repositioned the poster on the wall, with the back showing.  When I came back to our room that evening, I found that he was in bed, not even pretending to be asleep, and had placed a key in the door lock to prevent me from getting our room.  After nearly an hour of desperately knocking on the door, pleading with him, together together with neighbours, for him to open the door, ending with me being on the verge of tears and needing to sleep, he finally let me in.  The following day no more was said – from either side.  From my side – don’t provoke him any further.  From his side – he knew he had done wrong, but did not have the round objects to talk about it.
  • The stories of the laundry room key.  Each room was given a key to the hall laundry room.  The catch was, the resident had to sign for the key and had to pay a five pounds deposit, returnable on safe return of the key at the end of the year.  So far, so good.  One laundry key per room.  I signed for it.  I got it.  I paid the deposit on it.  So far, so good.  I used to keep the laundry room key on my desk.  John would take it when he needed to go to the laundry.  So far, so good. Then one day, I decided to place the key on my book shelf to keep the desk a bit tidy.  Seeing the key on my book shelf, John marched up to me, grabbed me with both hands by the front of my shirt and snarled, “You’re not having the monopoly on that.”  Rather than explain that I had paid the deposit and that he could still use the key, I took it on the chin (nearly literally).
  • And there’s more!  Days before the end of the year, I was looking to do a batch of laundry.  John had been to the laundry hours beforehand.  Now he was sitting by his desk, playing his guitar.  I asked him for the key.
    • I haven’t got it.

    • But you had it this morning when you went to the laundry.

    • I haven’t got it.

    • Well, could you just have a quick look, please?

John just carried on humming, strumming and singing to himself, clearly not interested, not a “team-player.” Not even the common courtesy of pausing even for a second. Doubtless I’ve slighted him earlier in the day, and this was his passive aggressive way of “punishing” me.  Kiss goodbye to five pounds deposit, I was by now thinking.  Then the following morning an announcement: He had found the laundry key. Followed by a profuse apology for the hassle last night.  Ha, you gotta be joking!  It had fallen into his bag of condoms.  (Yes, I’m such a lady’s man, I need a bag of them.)

Now, getting fret up about a laundry key might seem petty on my part.  Lke the chocolate bar you stole from the communal fridge, it’s “only a key,” but maybe you saw the bigger picture of the (passive) aggression when dealing with peers.  These are just a small sample of his actions, others relating to his attitude towards women.  Perhaps for a later article.

Aspect 2: The “Great ‘I am'”

John’s other character trait was the “great ‘I am'” attitude.  How to explain it?    Let’s have two examples.

  1. John came back in a foul mood one day, complaining to me, hardly able to contain his anger, that his then girlfriend was f***ing useless in bed, in the same way that you might complain that the babysitter had sneaked into your bedroom and sneakily looked through all your private diaries.  Hey, folks, I was still very much inexperienced with woman.  Any bed action with a woman would have made me happy!  How dare she not enjoy sex with him?  She should have realised he was a real ladykiller.
  2. Again at evening meal in the canteen, I greeted him with a cheery, “How are you doing?”  He “greeted” me with an arrogant jut of the chin in my direction and, “Whatcha rapping on about?”  How dare this f’ing ginger speak to me when I want to have my dinner?

Before university, he had, in fact, been a tutor at a cathedral school.  Just as an ex-military man has left the Army, he is still a soldier, maybe John still considered himself senior and superior to those around and under him.  “Do as you’re told.  I’m in charge here.”

Conclusion

It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.  Wrong.  It’s the life and soul of the party types you have to watch out for.  Great fun, as long as things are fun and you dance to their tune.  But cross them, and see what happens.

  • Don’t help out with a good-natured prank on him.
  • Don’t even think of having the monpoly on that key.
  • Don’t be a timid, inexperienced lover.
  • Don’t have the audicity to reject his obsessive, browbeating behaviour.

Have an insightful day, won’t you!

Being Old-Fashioned

I’m quite old-fashioned, and proudly so.  I believe in:

  • Saying please and thank you
  • Holding doors open for people
  • Waiting with female friends at the bus stop until they’ve boarded their bus
  • Saying “shedule”, not “skedule”
  • Using a fountain pen

I use a fountain pen.  I use it when writing my diary (Anne Frank/Samuel Pepys/Adrian Mole-style), which I often write while sitting in the local old folks waiting room local cafe. I’ve often found it to be an effective ice-breaker.

“Are you left-handed?”

(Your hearing might be going, but by Jove, your eyesight is still good, Kumpel.

“Is that a fountain pen?  It’s really stylish-looking.  What make is it?  Where can I buy one?”

Actually, they don’t bombard the questions.  That’s just a summary of what they ask.

The piece de resistance is when they see me filling my fountain pen with ink.  Even traditionalists who write with a fountain pen tend to use cartridges.  Not me.  I use a converter.

converter

 

Imagine the look of amazment on the face of a nine-year-old member of the Ipod generation, watching a left-hander writing a diary entry with a fountain pen and then seeing him drawing ink from a bottle into a converter.  She must have thought she was watching an episode of How We Used To Live.

Edit: Here is a sample of my handwriting, in in English and Russian/Cyrillic.  I messed one word up on the second line.

20161004_174900

Have an old-fashioned day, won’t you!

Doing it English-style

The British and the Germans are cousins.  Yet, we do things very differently…  Let me give you a prime example.

A Sunday evening in April.  Anglican (therefore, English-language) evening service in a city in Nordrheinwestfalien, Germany.  The trouble is, on turning up to the venue, none of the electronic cards will open up the storeroom where our bibles, service sheets and (English-language) hymn books are kept.

Had that been Germans, you could have anticpated expressions like:

Es ist eine absolute Unverschämtheit!

Das geht nicht!

Das kann nicht sein.

etc etc…

However we are the Brits, old bean…

The chaplain arrives.

Ginge in Germany:

Padre, we have a situation here.  We cannot get access to the bibles, service sheets or Mission Praise books.

Chaplain:

Well, no worries.  I have a my book of prayer.  I can take on off-the-peg service out of that.  Do we have any German-language hymn books in the room?  If so, let’s sing in German.

A quick scan.  Yes, we do have German-language hymn books.

Problem solved.  Chaplain welcomes the congregation of ten, a mix of Germans and Anglophone expats.  He then explains that due to unforeseen circumstances, we will be singing in German.   The reaction: very British.  Shrug of shoulders and “fair enough.”

The singing was good, pretty good, I have to say.   The first hymn was Lob den Herren.  English-speakers may recognise the tune.

Have an adaptable day, wont you.

There but for the grace of God go I

(Vocab point for non-native speakers of English: “Es hätte auch mich erwischen können.”

It’s October 1989.  I arrive as a fresher in my room at Nottingham University, ready to start my degree in Russian Studies.

“What a big room,”  say to myself on entering, then a few seconds later, I find out why.  I’m sharing the room.  Room-mate: John, a New Zealander, studying Classics (Latin and Greek an’ all that.)  He seems a fairly reasonable bloke.  If I can share a room for nearly two decades with my own brother and survive, I’m sure I can share a room with John for a few months.

In the end we tolerated each other.  I was a little immature (which fresher isn’t?).  He was somewhat alpha-male.  I was a bit of a scruffy, unwashed student.  He was often the life and soul of any party, albeit occasionally passive aggressive.

Cut to April 1991.

An Oxford undergraduate goes missing during exam time.  More “Dog bites man” than “Man bites dog.”  Then it turns out the fingers is pointed at the boyfriend, my ex-roommate.

“Nah,” I think, “it’s just the ‘meejah’ (media) turning on the scruffy, long-haired student.  A fortnight later she’s still missing.  Ex-roommate gives press conference, begging her to come back.

His body language.

Her body.  Found under the floorboards of her student house.  He had killed her.

Cut to December 1991.  I am on my year abroad in Russia.  My fortnightly call to my mum.  She tells me ex-roommate had been convicted of murder.  A few days later I receive in the post newspaper clippings from the British newspapers.

I am still stunned.  You don’t meet someone, especially a fairly affable person, thinking, “Hmmm, potential murderer?”

Since his arrest and conviction I have given two TV interviews, shortly after his arrest, and then shortly before his release.  My assessment of him then was that he was fundamentally a decent, likeable guy, but something must have gone wrong in the months leading to the crime.

My assessment now after a quarter of a century of thinking is less generous.  Let’s leave it at that.

In the end I can only admire his victim’s parents, devout Christians, who forgave him and even said they’d like to visit him in prison.

In the end he “only” served 12 years.  (The average life sentence in England is 13-15 years.)

In my younger days I was a stereotypical fiery redhead.  The whole case made me think and made me calm down.  It made me re-assess people.  First impressions aren’t always right.

After his sentence, John returned back to New Zealand.  I hope he has been a decent member of society post-sentence.

Have a decent day, won’t you!

Why I love my Schatz

Germans have a reputation for being much more direct than the Brits, who often hate to “cause a scene.”

A classic example was some months ago in a restaurant-cum-bar in Essen.  Pre-cinema drinks.  A new waitress.  She was very friendly.  To her buddies, seated at a table at the other end of the bar.  Small talk, small talk, small talk, flirt, flirt, flirt.

Ah, here she comes now.  We place our order.  She takes an order off the couple at the table next to me and Schatz.  Executive summary follows.

Lots of small talk, flirting and sharing of jokes with her best buddies.

Nigh-on impossible to get eye contact with us as she walked past me and Schatz.  The couple next door had to wait 20 minutes for their drinks.  “But I placed your order!” protested the waitress.  (Yeah, but you never bothered to check on how the pair were getting on, did you?)

We wanted several times to order further rounds, but after the constantly being ignored, my blood pressure was rocketing.  (Schatz thinks I’m normally “ausgeglichen.”)

Finally Schatz asks the waitress’ colleague, a great Hungarian guy who I call “Elvtas” (“comrade”), for the bill.

Elvatas: Sorry, I can’t do that.  You need to ask my colleague.

Schatz: Your colleague is terrible.

Now, to say that takes balls.  Schön gemacht!

And there’s more.

Waitress comes to us.

The bill comes to €42.30.

Schatz hands over a €50 note.

Waitress takes the banknote.

I stand up, put my pullover on.

Schatz sits there, looking the waitress in the eye.  (That’s your cue to start giving change, my dear.)

First, coins back, slightly slowly, with pregnant pauses.

Waitress seems to be awaiting the words,

“Stimmt so.”  (“Keep the change.”)

(It’s not going to happen.)

Then finally, the waitress hands back the €5 note.

Pregnant pause and expectant look at Schatz.

You can look.  You can expect.  You won’t get a penny out of us tonight.

Then the penny drops, but not into her hand.  No tip from us tonight, bella.

Danke.  Schönen Abend noch.

Schatz and I stand up and head to the exit.  I could have hugged Schatz for her action.  Let’s hope the waitress learnt her lesson.  Goodness is its own reward, and for customer service staff, also more financially rewarding.

Have a direct day, won’t you!