Monday, 15 August 2011

Reflections on the past week

House-hunting: Haus, kaufen, immobilien, and more...
The front of one of the houses we are still to officially visit
This past week I must have spent a total of 24 hours on the internet looking for our new home. Germany has a great website which brings all the advertised properties into one space.  I spent the first few days figuring out how to put in the right search criteria, but once I got that nailed, I could search for hours. It becomes quite addictive because all the areas and types of houses are so different from South Africa, I didn’t want to miss anything important. Like ‘stellplatz’means parking place, but does not necessarily mean you will have a garage; it means you will have some place to park your car – even on the pavement in front of your house!   Then of course, the entire website is in German (I am in Germany…one of my friends kindly reminded me last week).  So ‘Google translate’ has become my new best friend, I love it, it has been a huge help. You can copy any text into the space and in seconds it gives you a translation into the language of your choice.    The translations are not always accurate though. LOL.  This was one of the not-so accurate ones: “If you follow the designed with high quality carpet stairs into the basement, there are two bright bedrooms and a study are available, which are connected by a long hallway. The rooms are variable in size, since the partitions are not pregnant.”  I asked Arne for the correct translation, and it was supposed to say that the partitions (walls) are not load-bearing.  But any of my friends who have been pregnant could probably confirm it is load-bearing :-)   The next step was talking to the estate agents on the phone to set up appointments to view the potential homes.  The first few calls were a bit daunting, but once I had my little script in my head it became a lot easier.  I would introduce myself in German, and say that I could only speak a little bit of German, then switch to English if they said ok. Most of them were fine with it. There were only one or two agents that struggled with English, and that’s where my friend Google translate had to help me out while on the phone.    The next step was the actual appointment.  You only get the address of the house once you set up the appointment.  This isn’t ideal when you don’t really know the areas well. So Arne and I would get there, and totally hate the area.  We didn’t want to waste the agent’s time, but also felt we needed to see the appointment through.  Now, to save time, we have become quite sneaky over the weekend.  Since I don’t have a car to drive around during the day, we can only go in the evenings to view houses.  With Arne being in a new job, he can’t simply slip out of the office to go house-hunting. Wasting a whole evening going to view a house in an area we hate was not an option.  We have addresses for 4 of our appointments for this week, today, tomorrow and Wednesday. So this weekend we took a drive past all 4 places to suss them out. 2 of them are great, but 2 of them are not so great and we could honestly not see ourselves living there.  They were either really far out in the forest (literally) or joined (literally) to a really old run-down house I now have to make the phone call to these agents this morning to cancel these 2 appointments. But hey, now we don’t waste our time or theirs. From now on I will ask where on the map the house is before I agree to an appointment.   

Do I travel with my house shoes?
At one of our actual house viewings this weekend I nearly burst out laughing. It’s probably not that funny if you’re not there.  But, some may know, the Germans are quite strict when it comes to wearing shoes inside their houses. Or should I say…not wearing shoes.  So, you take off your shoes at the front door, and then slip into ‘house shoes’ or slippers, flip flop type shoes.  Now, here’s my dilemma. If it’s not your house, you have to walk around in your socks.  I’ve been caught off guard twice already with this scenario, both times on freezing cold, wet days, where walking around in my socks was not ideal.  The first time was when we went to Christoph’s house for his birthday. Everyone took off their shoes and left them at the front door. If I went onto the patio, where half the party was, my socks got wet and cold. I asked Christoph if we were supposed to bring our own house shoes and he said ‘no’; but maybe he was being polite. Some people had their own slippers on, others not.  The second time was when I went to spend the day at the Montessori school last week.  As soon as I walked in I was asked to take my shoes off; socks were the order of the day for me.  But the other teachers and all the children had their house shoes on.  It was bearable; right up until the children ate their lunch. Imagine 3-year-olds eating rice with a knife and fork…most the rice lands up on the floor. And while I was trying to supervise this lunch, I stood in squishy rice which came through my socks..ew!    Anyway, getting back to the house viewing on the weekend.  When we arrived, we were not asked to remove our shoes, but rather (and I think this was quite a clever idea) we were asked to cover our shoes with blue plastic bags. These bags appeared to be especially made for shoe covering and were elasticized at the top to stay around your ankles. Great idea! But when we started walking around the house, I looked down at Arne’s feet, and the agent’s, and my own, bright blue plastic bags…I just couldn’t take it seriously and had to hold my laughter in. I was dying to whip out my I-phone and take a picture but didn’t think it would be appropriate.  Now the question is, when I travel to meetings and functions…do I take my house shoes with? Well, for a start, I don’t own any house shoes; I’d have to buy some for Arne and myself. Plus, I may need a new handbag, a bigger one...I already have to travel with my umbrella and shopping bags!  I will ask the ladies at the women’s club coffee tomorrow what they do.  And perhaps I may even be asked to remove my shoes there too.


Women’s clubs…
Last week also saw my inaugural British Womens Club of the Taunus coffee and cake session.  One of the ladies kindly gave Nicola and I a lift.  Nicola and her husband have also just relocated to Germany and will be renting a house not too far from us in Bad Soden.  They arrived two days after we did and stay a short train ride away.  They lived in SA for 3 years, but have relocated quite a bit with Dave’s company and have lived in Hong Kong and India as well.  They are British by origin. So I’m thrilled to have a friend in the area.    The club coffee was a nice afternoon.  The ladies we met are all a lot older than us, but gave some helpful advice and tips. One of the ladies already picked me up and took me to a huge supermarket where you can by absolutely anything under one roof called REAL.  I would not have known about this otherwise. We bought my bike there on Saturday btw.  I have another club coffee tomorrow, but this time it’s the American Women’s club of the Taunus.  Nicola has gone home to the UK for 10 days, so I’ll be flying solo.  I’ve also been put in contact with another South African lady who I’m meeting for coffee on Wednesday.  It’s not that I only want to meet SA people; it’s just nice at this stage to have a network of friends who speak English and can relate to your situation.  I will definitely make some German friends when the opportunity arises.

Children are children, no matter where you are in the world…
On Wednesday I spent the day at a Montessori school (Montessori Eco-School) in a little village called Schmitten. 
View from the school
For those who read my previous post, my bus ride was great! Arne dropped me at the bus stop so that I didn’t have to take two buses, only one.  I took two buses on the way home, and I am very impressed with the public transport system.  There will be a bus stop in the middle of nowhere, with a timetable, and you can have faith that if it says the bus is coming at 14H04, the bus will come at 14H04! And there is an excellent website RMV where you can plan your public transport ride, including trains, buses and trams. You can type in your destination and it will tell you what mode of transport will be available and how long your journey will take, where to change trains/buses etc.  So I made it safely and soundly to my appointment at the school.  I spent the day with the children, observing and doing some work with them.  It was very sweet to watch the really little ones, under 2’s, and such a pleasure to watch the older ones, around 4 ½ doing their work.  They peeled and chopped the carrots and cucumber all on their own, for the class snack.  One thing is for certain, children are the same all over the world. Their one teacher spoke English to them and the other spoke German, so I was told to just speak English.  But once the children figured out that I couldn’t speak much German, a few of them got clever and ‘teased’ me saying in German: “we don’t understand you, we don’t understand you!”, laughing and joking.  But when I responded in German “Yes, you do understand me”, they quickly settled down.  The school was beautiful, the children and teachers lovely, and all the Montessori equipment was in place. It was honestly the nicest school I’ve been to. And the surroundings were ideal for children. In the afternoons they go walking in the forest.   But I just don’t see myself being able to work there until my German is a little better.  So for now, I will get my German skills up to speed before I apply for any other jobs at German schools.  I’ve enrolled for the language course starting on 5th September.  It was very kind of the owner to allow me to spend the day with her school, and she even invited me back if I wanted to consider working there.  Thanks Katja.  

All in all it's been an eventful week. Rounded off my great adventures on my new bicycle...another post altogether!

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