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 (1)

Hello.  I apologise for the radio silence.

Fact 1: I love to travel, even when a bit hard-up. 

Back in November 2008, I had been out of work for several months, but was now working in Oxfordshire.  I wanted to visit Düsseldorf for the Chrsitmas markets.  To keep the trip low-cost, I decided to take the Eurolines coach there and back and stay in the youth hostel.

Fact 2: I used to snore – until my nasal polypectomy back in 2012.

Late November 2008.  A Eurolines coach from DUS to London.  £58 return.  Bargain.  Overnight coach.  The place: somewhere on the Belgian motorway.  Coach doing about 60mph.  The coach is half-full or half-empty.  Most passengers are wearing mp3 players or iPods with earphones or headphones.  A wise choice.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!  Roooooooooooooooar!!!!!!!!

Ginge in Germany is snoring like a pneumatic drill.  Most passengers can’t hear a thing.  They have ear/headphones.

One passenger doesn’t.  A Ghanaian man who was on his way to visit relatives in Nottingham.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!  Roooooooooooooooar!!!!!!!!

Ever few minutes, thump!  Mr Ghana thumps the back of my seat, annoyed at my snoring.



Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!  Roooooooooooooooar!!!!!!!!




Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!  Roooooooooooooooar!!!!!!!!





Finally, at 03:30, no thump.  Just a furious cry from Mr Ghana, at 100 decibels:

In the name of Our Lord and Saviour – I command you!  STOP SNORING, YOU WICKED, WICKED, EVIL MAN!

Even though half-asleep, I offer the most British of replies:

Oh, I’m terribly sorry.  I do apologise.

What more can I say or do?  Tell our religiously-inspired man, “Hey, you should have brought earplugs.”

Have a sleepy night, won’t you!

Our Mother Tongue (3)

To you they might seem like mild expletives.  To people in Elizabethan times, they were a lot stronger?

Which words?


  • Blimey – “God blind me!”
  • Crickey – 19th century euphemism for Christ.
  • Zounds – nowadays rhymes with “bounds”, but was originally “God’s wounds” (ie from the nails driven into his body on the cross).
  • Bloody – nothing to do with red (or blue if a royal) liquid: it’s a corruption of “by Our Lady” (ie, the Virgin Mary).

Back in those days of Elizabeth I, religious oaths were considered much stronger and profane than sexual “rude words.”

Have a rude day, won’t you!


Don’t be naughty

I’m a linguist.  I love learning about things like:

  • The Great Vowel Shift
  • Why is English spelling so hard?
    • Bough, cough, dough, rough, tough etc
    • Why is there an “h” in “ghost?  Blame the migrant workers!
  • Does the Queen speak less posh(ly?) than when she was younger?
  • etc. etc…

So, the word for today is “naughty.”

Let’s give some context.  Yesterday I was sitting in a rather intense meeting, discussing some quite weightly matters.  The chaplain then read out a passage from the Ordering of Priests:

…to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever.

For those who are German-speakers, “naughty” would nowadays translate into “unartig.”  (Think of that classic scene from Life of Brian: “He’s not the Messiah.  He’s a very naughty boy.”)

When the chaplain read out that passage (and a bit more beforehand), this caused a ripple of smirks and laughing out loud.  It was then explained to us that at the time of the Book of Common Prayer, hundreds of years ago, “naughty” had a much stronger meaning, more along the lines of “evil”, than nowadays.

We live.  We learn.

Have a naughty day, won’t you!


A Christmas Tale

So, another year since the last carol service.  Time flies by… and other cliches.

Yesterday evening we staged our Carols by Candlelight service.

  • About 10 zillion candelas of tealights around the church.
  • Extra seats humped and lumped from church hall into church.
  • Crucifix and candlesticks Brasso’ed to oblivion
  • Four brand new lighters tested and then used in order to light all the candles.

(It takes four people twenty minutes to light all the candles.  Doubtless by having all the candles and standing room only, we are in breach of German fire regulations.)  Last year we had 150 people turn up.  Yesterday… 232.  Result!  Where two (hundred and thirty-two) or more are gathered…

This year Schatz came along, together with her parents.  To use a British Army expression, rank has its privilege.  I had placed handwritten “Reserved” signs on the seats in the first two rows, including three for Schatz and her parents.  Being German, they arrived rechtzeitig . I showed them to their seats an hour before the service was due to start.  They sit and listen to the choir rehearsing, while various church members whizz around, lighting candles, folding service sheets, setting up PowerPoint slides, checking the lectern light and much, mouch more.

(Think of the webbed feet under a duck floating across a pond, and you have the right idea.)  Or the Seven P’s…

  • Proper
  • Preparation
  • and Planning
  • Prevent
  • Piss-Poor
  • Performance

Nine carols, nine readings, one of which of each is in German.  I look over my shoulder.  The first verse in English, the rest in German.  Schatz, Mamalein and Papi are all singing in German.  They look reasonably happy.

Phew!  Praaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaise yeeeeeeeeeeee the Lord!  (It is right to give thanks and praise.)

The pre-service briefing for Germans not used to the Anglican tradition had worked.

Points to note for first-timers to an Anglican service.

  • Anglicans stand to sing.  It’s better for projection.  The German sit to sing.
  • Anglicans sit or kneel to pray.  The Germans stand to pray.
  • As a rule of thumb, most Anglicans don’t genuflect, although some do.
  • No, the crucifix is not back to front.  Generally, Protestant crucifixes tend not to have the body of Christ on it.  Protestantism tends to emphasise the resurrection over the death on the cross.

In fact, come to think of it, I think all Brits, regardless of denomication stand and sit/kneel like Anglicans.  (But British Catholics genuflect quite a lot.)

One interesting observation came from Schatz’ mum, was how impressed she was that the congregation in Anglicanism takes a much more active part in a service than would be the case in Roman Catholicism. (Now, why did my voice automatically put on a Belfast accent?)  All the nine lessons were read by members of the congregation.  The chaplain preached and blessed and the “vicary” things.

Afterwards abundant relief that Schatz and her parents enjoyed the service.

Come to church.  The food is delicious, the service is even better!

Have festive day, won’t you!