You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2012.
i’ve been trying to read Oscar Guardiola-Rivera’s What if Latin America Ruled the World, for a book review. My notes are full of page numbers marked “Bad Prose” or just “BP” since there are so many. The clunky academic prose reflects the lazy thought and unexamined generalisations and airy waftings.
If i hadn’t requested a review copy i would just drop it now but i feel obliged to finish it and do a review. On the one hand i resent having to waste so many hours on bad prose; on the other, most of the books i request are good so i shouldn’t get too worked up about it, since they’re free.
OG-R writes of the “geometrical earthworks and canals” visible from the air above Brazil; they date back to about 5000 BC:
Seen from above, the geometry and organisation of the canals, causeways, reservoirs and circular mounds of the Grand Sinú region immediately strike the observer as identical to the straight lines and circles used in Sinú gold art and jewellery, and to the abstract geometry of other similar constructions on a comparable scale along the Caribbean coast and in western Brazil and Bolivia.
These lines and circles and other abstract geometrical forms are deeply meaningful. When seen from the air they seem to leap out of the landscape towards you. They are things of spectacular beauty. When looking at them, it is impossible not to feel closer to the peoples who created them thousands of years ago. What you feel is not mere sympathy, the idea that you can imagine yourself in the place of others and ‘feel her pain’, but an affective connection that is also real and extraordinarily meaningful. For these lines, zigzags, spirals and dots are symbolic. They were a code.
In a way, these symbols both create and are the expression of a common space that is deeply affective, but also cognitive and real. The zigzags, spirals, lines and dots visible in the gold objects found in the museum of Cartagena de Indias express the collective effort required to build large-scale engineering projects such as those visible from above in the area of the Grand Sinú around Cartagena, but also create the common space that made possible both these collective efforts and the science behind them. Not only do they represent the social bond; they are the social bond. This is why, when you look at these objects and constructions in the museum or from the aeroplane above, you feel you share a common space with the allegedly extinct cultures that made them. You feel that you are there with them, rather than instead of them. You, the observer, project your own sensibilities on to these objects of contemplation, appreciate and enjoy their beauty, and also enter into a relation with the being of others through these objects, and come to know how they think and feel. The existence of these common objects, spaces and actual sites and constructions are the condition for this vicarious form of communication, while at the same time embodying it.
The plethora of boldly vague declarations, contradictions, and outright New Age effusion is depressing. However, i think i can understand something of what he feels, or claims to feel – that the explicit order suggests a wider, mastering order:
For over half a millenia, since at least the 1500s, peoples of the world have been led to believe that human beings are flawed creatures thrown into a fallen world. Redemption would have to wait for the next one. In the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, at various turns in the cyclical history of the relations between the west and the rest, philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke depicated human life and the human soul as ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’, or as a blank slate presented by society to realise our natural predisposition to accumulate, acquire and transform the planet’s vast wasteland into privatised productive property.
Their nightmarish vision, which was also a reaction to and against the dreams and powerful meanings that circulated among the natives encountered by Arawaks of Beni and Grand Sinú, has come to be accepted in our time, especially in the most basic assumptions of sciences like economics, as the most accurate representation of the our very being and ultimate mission in a fallen world. And yet, in the midst of crisis and despair, precisely when everything around us seems to confirm such nightmarish visions of a fallen world, our most basic instinct tells us that it does not have to be this way. We feel it when looking at the earth from above. On such occasions we ask ourselves: is it possible that we are not inherently envious, materialistic and self-interested, but, rather, as the archaic peoples of Grand Sinú and Beni and their contemporary descendants show, are of a very different nature?
i don’t really care for this book so far, or for the author’s persona, as i perceive it. i was, however, interested in this passage, at least in the general drift. i think cultures express their sense of the deepest order through various artworks; for example, Cathedrals, tombs – or Futharks. It would explain why men felt moved to carve Futharks onto rock, an act which seems as pointless as spray painting the alphabet (but much harder, with a chisel).
These artefacts express a deep order. It is pointless to ask after their “function”; this is a brainless Darwinian reflex. Who knows what went through the minds of their carvers. But they articulate an order; they maintain an order. One could say that all art is a Futhark of sorts – it tells you how the world is; and so we react so violently to certain art, because it seems to negate our own understanding, not merely our surface understanding of e.g. how to get a job, but our profoundest understanding of how the world is – our spiritual position. One could sketch out a man’s spiritual position & orientation from the books he most violently hates (in my case, the entire corpus of CS Lewis).
The most enduring artefacts are those which eschew explanation, context, easy clarity. Wallace Stevens: poetry must resist the intelligence almost successfully. This is one reason i loathe CS Lewis – he takes matters of spiritual value, and falsifies them into a Christianity for Dummies kindergarten theology. He was a don, through and through. The really valid and lasting works of art go deep; thus the epic of Gilgamesh could be lost for a few thousand years, re-emerge, and no harm done. Likewise very few today would read Homer or Milton as intended; but this is precisely their worth. CS Lewis, by contrast, is a propagandist, the Noam Chomsky of Christianity.
i once told a friend that i only want to write if my books will still be found good in a thousand years. i no longer feel so; it is enough to write for one’s time, to combat degeneration and decay and stupidity. Nonetheless, if you write true you write beyond your time. Thus the pleasure of some Medieval lyrics, scribbled on the margins of manuscripts and forgotten. i would like my works to be forgotten for a while – a few centuries – and to re-emerge without a name, without provenance, eroded and half-illegible. Mice, Tantalus, a tyrant’s tomb, the last tower, maps, a burning canvas, a wild child, wolves, baths, walking, and so on.
Enno Bunger, ‘Ich möchte noch bleiben’
In der Luft ein elektrisches Knistern,
ich fühle, wie meine Nerven pulsier‘n.
All den Frust, all die Hektik vergisst man,
wenn sich unsere Hände berühr‘n.
Um uns blitzen und tanzen die Lichter,
Gläser klirren, der Boden vibriert.
Wohin wir geh‘n, entspannte Gesichter
und du hälst dich fest an mir.
Wir lächeln und schweigen,
so vertraut und doch fremd,
ich möchte noch bleiben,
für diesen Moment.
Als wären wir vertraute seit Jahren,
die Luft ist dünn und das Fieber steigt.
Und wir näh‘rn uns an, mit Haut und mit Haaren,
wir brechen und biegen das Eis.
Du suchst meine Nähe und ich lass dich nicht warten.
Ich fühle, wie das Blut sich staut.
Ich mag deine Stimme und spür‘ deinen Atem,
auf und über und unter der Haut.
Wir lächeln und schweigen,
so vertraut und doch fremd,
ich möchte noch bleiben,
für diesen Moment.
Wir lassen uns treiben,
zum springenden Punkt.
Ich möchte noch bleiben,
die Nacht ist noch jung.
Two German crusties got on my train last night. They had odd, abrasive accents, were dressed like hippy scum, and seemed drunk or high. The woman kept screaming and wailing: “Michael! Michael! Nein! Nein! Nein! Arschloch! Nein! Fick dich!” and so on. The other passengers looked amused and disapproving. Things like this don’t happen in Munich. Or they happen in Oktoberfest and such antics are then regarded with tolerant disapproval and mild disgust and secret glee, as evidencing the vile coarseness of all other nations, and hence, the superiority of Germany and in particular Munich.
In Watching the English Kate Fox asserts that the English are shy and nice and polite – and so we are scandalised by the antics of footballers. She dismisses laddish subculture (drinking, fighting) as largely harmless. i wondered if she’d spent much time in just about any English town or city on a Friday night. i guess she has, but perhaps as a woman she hasn’t directly experienced the general menace and occasional violence to which men are subject. i’ve found that women and the elderly sometimes just don’t notice the broken glass, pools of blood, fights, screamed threats, that are normal in England now, because the perpetrators and victims are usually young men.
England became noticeably worse in the decade before i left (2009). When i worked in Manchester i sometimes asked my colleagues when they felt the real decline had begun; they all named the late 90s. It seems improbable that the Nu Labour government could have done so much harm, so quickly, and yet it’s hard to ignore the coincidence of dates – they came to power in 1997. By the time i left England in 2009, vowing never to return, it had changed a great deal. Orwellian posters threatening punishments were everywhere, as was CCTV, but it was rare that anyone would go to prison for anything less than murder, so the threats had no effect on the mass of no-good-boyos; they only served to remind you that the State is now everywhere and you should keep your head down. A typically conflicting message: under New Labour the welfare state expanded as the socialist government encouraged an underculture of lifelong scroungers, with a vast apparatus of public sector workers to administer welfare payments – both parties dependent on the State; and meanwhile posters like this were everywhere:
i saw one with a picture of a rat-like chav woman scuttling out of her council house. There was a hotline for good citizens to call, to let the State know something was amiss. At first i thought it was a joke, a satire on Nu Labour’s increasingly Stalinist methods; then i realised it was just the way things were, after a decade of socialism.
i think it’s true, as Fox contends, that most English people are fairly nice and wouldn’t bash your head in with a human thigh bone. But it’s not necessary for everyone to be a Rooney, for an English city to be dangerous. It would be strange if every single English person was a sociopathic animal. It is, however, only necessary to meet one, to end up on the pavement with some Rooney-alike kicking you repeatedly in the skull. The Rooneys may be a minority but they exercise disproportionate influence, rather like a particularly deadly poison – you only need a drop.
So while it’s true that there have always been no-good-boyos, there seem more of them these days. And you don’t really need millions more – a few thousand will do, to make an entire country into Sunderland. These are the scum who rioted last year – not, as Guardianistas and BBC fools maintain, because of Capitalism and Injustice, but because they wanted a bit of action and a new TV. i would guess that in the past, the no-good-boyos were principally nutters & hardcases; now, they seem to be just about anyone who’s had a bit to drink or is fed up with his Playstation.
i’m not sure why this has come about, though it certainly got much much worse in the Nu Labour years. One factor may be the prominence of people like Rooney and John Terry – for many young people, footballers are role models and when, instead of being sacked for their misdeeds, put in stocks and pelted with rancid eggs, footballers are paid more & more, and treated like gods – then naturally belligerence and crass selfishness becomes the norm. However, the state of the culture is now such that no one would seriously discipline these vermin. To do so is to be branded a puritan or a snob or just plain Hitler (as one can see with the abuse heaped on conservatives like Peter Hitchens and Theodore Dalyrmple).
i think societies tend to be hierarchical, to some degree, and our leaders, our perception of them, has a strong influence. One can see this in offices, when a manager is away, or is replaced, the atmosphere changes a great deal. In addition to the ruinous policies of Nu Labour, perhaps one could also point to the ruinous personality of Tony Blair, a Pecksniff of a man – profoundly hypocritical, brainless, greedy, sentimental, self-righteous, and an inveterate hater of British traditions and culture (or any tradition and culture pre-dating the 1960s). Theodore Dalrymple’s essay should be read at Blair’s funeral:
Blair’s resignation announcement was typical of the man and, one must admit, of the new culture from which he emerged: lachrymose and self-serving. It revealed an unfailing eye and ear for the ersatz and the kitsch, which allowed him so long to play upon the sensibilities of a large section of the population as upon a pipe.
He knew exactly what to say of Princess Diana when she died in a car accident, for example: that she was “the people’s princess.” He sensed acutely that the times were not so much democratic as demotic: that economic egalitarianism having suffered a decisive defeat both in theory and practice, the only mass appeal left to a politician calling himself radical was to cultural egalitarianism. He could gauge the feelings of the people because, in large part, he shared them. A devotee himself of the cult of celebrity, in which the marriage of glamour and banality both reassures democratic sentiment and stimulates fantasies of luxury, he sought the company of minor show-business personalities and stayed in their homes during his holidays. The practical demonstration that he worshiped at the same shrines as the people did, that his tastes were the same as theirs, more than compensated for the faint odor of impropriety that this gave off. And differences of taste, after all, unite or divide men more profoundly than anything else.
Two things i’ve read in the last two days:
1. From Kate Fox’s Watching the English:
‘After a while,’ one commuter told me, ‘if you see the same person every morning on the platform, and maybe quite often sit opposite them on the train, you might start to just nod to each other when you arrive, but that’s about as far as it goes. ‘How long is “a while”?’ I asked. ‘Oh, maybe a year or so – it depends; some people are more outgoing than others, you know?’ […] ‘So, a particularly “outgoing” person might start to greet you with a nod after seeing you every morning for say, what, a couple of months?’ ‘Mmm, well, maybe,’ my informant sounded doubtful, ‘but actually that would be a bit, um, forward – a bit pushy; that would make me a bit uncomfortable.’
The informant – a young women working as a secretary for a PR agency in London – was not an especially shy or retiring person. In fact, I would have described her as quite the opposite: friendly, lively and gregarious. I am quoting her here because her responses are typical – almost all of the communers I interviewed said that even a brief nod constituted a fairly drastic escalation of intimacy, and most were highly cautious about progressing to this stage, because, as another typical commuter explained, ‘Once you start greeting people like that – nodding, I mean – unless you’re very careful, you might end up starting to say “good morning” or something, and then you could end up actually having to talk to them.’ I recorded other commuters using expressions such as ‘tip of the iceberg’ and ‘slippery slope’ to explain their avoidance of premature nodding, or even making eye contact with other commuters (eye contact in public places in England is never more than a fraction of a second; if you do accidentally meet a stranger’s eye, you must look away immediately – to maintain eye contact for even a full second may be interpreted as either flirtation or aggression.
But what would be so awful, I asked each of my informants, about a brief friendly chat with a fellow commuter? This was clearly regarded as an exceptionally stupid question. Obviously, the problem with actually speaking to a fellow commuter was that if you did it once, you might be expected to do it again – and again, and again: having to acknowledge the person’s existence, you could not go back to pretending that they did not exist, and you could end up having to exchange polite words with them every day. You would almost certainly have nothing in common, so these conversations would be highly awkward and embarrassing. Or else you would have to find ways of avoiding the person – standing at the other end of the platform, for example, or hiding behind the coffee kiosk, and deliberately choosing a different compartment on the train, which would be rude and equally embarrassing. The whole thing would become a nightmare; it didn’t bear thinking about.
2. From Malory’s Le Mort d’Arthur:
Fair damosel, said Sir Launcelot, I may not warn people to speak of me what it pleaseth them; but for to be a wedded man, I think it not; for then I must couch with her, and leave arms and tournaments, battles, and adventures; and as for to say for to take my pleasaunce with paramours, that will I refuse in principal for dread of God; for knights that be adventurous or lecherous shall not be happy nor fortunate unto the wars, for other they shall be overcome with a simpler knight than they be themselves, other else they shall by unhap and their cursedness slay better men than they be themselves. And so who that useth paramours shall be unhappy, and all thing is unhappy that is about them.
The rules of English culture are, for outsiders, bafflingly complex. English males typically express friendship with vile insults and denigration and scorn. It is indeed a sign of friendship, to be insulted. The males who treat you with formal politeness don’t like or trust you. One of the pleasing aspects of my relationship with Juniper (a German MILF) is that we have settled into a lighter version of this mutual flyting. i dare say her German friends would be horrified, and exhort her to dump me, if they heard only my side – and no doubt they would be further shocked to hear her side and would wonder if she hates or despises me. It is, rather, a means of expressing mutual understanding, that we won’t take things the wrong way – even if others would; this indeed makes it romantic and intimate, like a secret language though on the surface it just sounds like she’s calling me a hapless retarded buffoon.
It’s true that the English rarely say what we “mean”, or rather irony is so inwoven in our culture that we automatically “mean” with irony. It’s not that we think something is shit and then say “it’s a bit irritating”; we feel a negative emotion and then think and say “it’s a bit irritating.” If a foreigner demands to know if we really don’t mind, e.g. having our arms chopped off by a combine harvester, then we analyse the words and feeling and admit, irritatedly, that we do but when we say “it’s a bit irritating” this means we really dislike having our arms chopped off, very much.
Fox rightly, i judge, says that we tend to believe in “fair play”, so although there is corruption and cheating and so on, we react with outrage rather than an Italian shrug. Perhaps this is one reason for the popularity of chivalric romance in the Middle Ages: not merely knights riding about bashing giants & knaves, but there is a distinct sense that the perfect knight plays fair.
It’s not true that outsiders can’t understand the English; for example, Toddball and Hayes, two of the American teachers, have a very Englishly black sense of humour and specialise in ball breaking (or abuse, as Hayes calls it). They respond appropriately to understatement and are even capable of using it. i’ve spent enough time with Toddball to feel safer talking openly with him than most non-Brits. On Monday he came into McLingua in shorts and a t-shirt and drunkedly demanded i feel his legs, which he claimed were rock hard after a great deal of manly exercise. i poked his thigh and said: “that’s the most disgusting thing i’ve ever touched in my life.” He just chuckled in a satisfied, amused way.
On the other hand, the main reason i left Kassel is that most of the teachers turned against me as one – as if coordinated – the explicit cause being my ordinary & evidently friendly joshing with one of the English teachers, for which i was denounced as a complete and utter cunt, by the non-British. i became so paranoid that i begged the English teacher to be honest and tell me if i had offended him; he dismissed it as ordinary English humour and said that even intelligent foreigners often fail to get English humour, and can’t be trusted to understand tone.
i’m about halfway through Fox’s book. She often notes parallels between the Japanese and the English, both of us inhabiting an overcrowded island. Formality, reserve, embarrassment, rituals, tradition. i’m not sure how true these still are of England – from the late 90s on these seemed to almost visibly dwindle. Yet, perhaps there’s something about islands, that you are all in the same boat but also can’t so easily just wander east for Lebensraum; so it is necessary to develop highly elaborate coping rituals, to live with so many others.
i realise i’ve never been particularly English. My father being a deranged Indian who could barely speak English, and my mother white trash from Rotherham, masquerading as middle class, and having no real friends till i was 21, i grew up without absorbing an accent or many English customs. i’ve never had a local, i’ve never been interested in normal football, i don’t drink beer, and so on. i’ve always alternated between crippling shyness, to the point of intense agoraphobia, and direct garrulity and outright hectoring. i made my friends this way – they appreciated my unEnglish directness. But it naturally made me uncomfortable with the English.
In Germany, i’m more or less normal. i have learnt a professional, schmoozy manner as a teacher but drop it as soon as my students signal their readiness (generally by telling me personal semi-secrets). More and more, i feel i’m in the right place. In Germany, i am not merely an expat; i am actually a kind of übermensch and can’t walk down the street without children strewing rose petals in my path, women baring their breasts for my delectation, and men shaking their heads in stunned Germanic admiration.
Not bad for a half-caste mongrel from Huddersfield.
1. Taking the escalators down to the u-bahn station, two girls on the steps below, one running her hands through the other’s hair and twining it into a ponytail, stroking it with quiet pleasure.
In England, this would be a grotesque sexual provocation, performed by leering drunken chav sluts, vermin who work in a call centre Monday to Friday and give gratuitous blow jobs to all & sundry at the weekend. i call them The Children of Blair, the inevitable products of socialism in England: vile subhuman scum.
In Germany girl-to-girl affection & grooming seems innocently friendly. No one else so much as looked, i seemed the only one struck by both the oddity and the beauty.
2. Taking the elevator up to McLingua, when i’m too lazy for the 6 flights of stairs, i often share the ride with sundry Bosche. They usually studiously ignore me, and i them (since i am English), until they alight, whereupon they nod formally and say brightly: “Auf wiedersehen!” i usually ignore this (since i am English) or, at the most, grunt. Occasionally, elevator-Bosche engage me in conversation; when i understand i offer one-word answers; most of the time i don’t so just nod and smile, understanding nothing.
3. German is a ferociously difficult language though i gather Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Finnish, Hungarian are even worse. i can craft functional sentences but the grammar is invariably wrong; and i can’t understand anything anyone says, unless there is a clear context and they speak simply and slowly. After 3 years, learning German grammar & vocab almost every day, that is remarkably bad.
A lot of what i hear is Bayerisch (Bavarian), which is as far from Hoch Deutsche as pre-war Geordie is from the Queen’s English. i have absolutely no interest in learning Bayerisch.
When i visit my MILF in Kassel (close to Hanover, the geographical centre for the Kaiser’s German) i generally understand most of what i hear on the streets; in Munich – even after 17 months – i understand nothing. i once sat on the s-bahn opposite two women, who i assumed were Polish or perhaps fair-skinned Arabs, from their language. It sounded like the mooing of drunken, brain-damaged cows:
After 20 minutes of this retarded mooing we passed some new apartment blocks and they mooed: “eghhhuwwa uhgghschor zzggzzggh schtzzulnugh nguuuuzzuuuh wohnzzunzgzen ryuuuuuuzznnnnn vzvzazzzulthya nyyyyha!”
And i realised, from the word wohnungen, that they were speaking some form of German, that they were in fact speaking Bayerisch.
4. It is not accidental that English has become the lingua franca, rather than French. It is very easy to learn functional English. Very very hard to learn perfect English, inwoven as it is with our culture, but you can communicate what you need with very basic grammar. From the study hours i’ve put into German, i would be level B2 or C1 in English now; in German, i’m A2/B1 and my most ordinary utterances are chockablock with grammatical errors.
But i don’t regret coming here (see point 1). i actually like the formality of German culture. Kate Fox accurately enough describes English small talk as consisting mainly of embarrassed circumlocutions; i vastly prefer German conversation, where you can simply say “ich gehe” and leave, rather than the long-drawn out “well, see you round. It was nice seeing you. Hope we can get together soon. Thanks for the wine, it was lovely. Uh, yes, uh, so…so you soon. Bye! The sofas were really very nice. And uh, yes, nice weather we’re having, so…bye…we should do it again sometime…”
Perhaps because my father (a doctor) was/is a brutal, 3/4 insane Indian neanderthal and my mother was white trash masquerading as upper middle class, i’ve never had an easy feel for English culture. Some of it i naturally absorbed; other things i didn’t encounter in my childhood and they never felt natural for me. In many ways, i was always German, though not echt Deutsch, never echt anything. At least in Germany nobody expects me to be German and i rarely meet Brits so i can just be an elberry; and even when i meet Brits, i can say “i’ve lived here too long, i’ve become a Bosche.”
5. i feel closer to German than English culture, after 3 years, and living here is changing me, developing latent tendencies. For the last few months, i’ve been engaged in a project with some English Southrons (rich self-satisfied apple-polishing Caucasian golden boys with children & a mortgage & a Volvo). They’ve always disliked me, perhaps because i’m not a part of their belly-patting back-slapping aren’t-we-grand, we-live-in-or-near-London-and-we’re-so-rich world. In my office years i would have tagged them as born managers, self-satisfied patronising bullies. Put them in any office environment and they would naturally apple polish their way to the top, treating their superiors with respectful flattery, their peers with back-slapping camaraderie, and their inferiors with casual contempt and loathing.
They fucked up their end of the work, two or three times. Each time i let them know, assuming they would get it right the next time. Because they think i’m a stupid Northern cunt they ignored me. The fourth time i told them more bluntly, that they had fucked up and should get it right; they accused me of throwing a hissy fit and being “precious”. i didn’t really know what they were talking about, since i was just telling them to do their job correctly. It wasn’t, for me, emotional. i felt, at most, irritation.
i read their dismissal at the McLingua computers, sitting next to Toddball. Toddball is a working man and would never, i think, make a convincing manager – too human, too decent for that. He asked why i looked so bemused.
“This guy says i’m throwing a hissy fit because i asked his cadre of apple polishers to either do their work correctly or not do it at all,” i explained, showing him the email and more or less verbatim quoting him my apparently intolerable communication.
“It sounds like he’s throwing a hissy fit in accusing you of throwing a hissy fit,” Toddball decided.
“i should throw a hissy fit now. No one accuses me of throwing a hissy fit. i feel quite hissy. Maybe i should kill someone. In a hissy way.”
Later, however, i realised i was just being German, i.e. a bit of a cunt. For Germans, it’s normal to say “this is shit, do it again.” It isn’t really personal. The famed German directness is in part to do with a separation of work from worker. They maintain quite strong boundaries between the human being and the work he does, or his work persona (hence they are more likely to just follow orders). After years in Germany i can say “your work is shit, sort it out” and i don’t mean it as a personal insult. i might like a lazy, wholly unreliable slob like Michael because he’s amusing and not an apple polisher; his work ethic – or lack thereof – is just a neutral fact, like his deplorable taste in music.
i wondered if i was being too German, but in general i am too wishy-washy and nice.
After my brutal rejection, i am attempting to once more take some pleasure in teaching. It is still a fun and mildly worthwhile job and since i elected to refuse bad groups i now have a manageable workload. Recent students:
1. Lila. She looks just like Jaime Murray:
She’s not actually a recent student, i’ve been teaching her for a year or so now. She is 30, has big tits, long legs, a lovely personality, a husband, and a tedious but highly-paying job in a large German company, and is increasingly irritated/disgusted by her asshole coward manager. Our lessons now mainly consist of her expostulating about how much she despises her manager. i encourage her. Last Oktoberfest she wore a dirndl to our lessons.
For some reason she has one-on-one classes with me but also sometimes joins a group course in her department. For the last group class she told me she had spent the summer working in her garden. i then crafted a roleplay around this in which she had a sterling idea – stressed out senior managers could pay a few hundred euros a day to work in her garden, to relax and get in touch with nature (a very German theme) and she had to present this to the Board. i got a little carried away and told the group: “…and Lila, you want to be able to beat any managers who don’t work hard enough. You will wear a dirndl and whip them if they are lazy. This will be good for them. To get in touch with nature. You will kick them with your high heels and grind their faces into the dirt and call them ‘slave’.”
This was a typically superb roleplay in which Lila performed well.
i’ve noted that as long as i occasionally mention my girlfriend my hot female students will quite happily flirt with me, one of the added perks of the job. i’m not sure if they even believe i have a girlfriend as they all seem convinced i’m gay, e.g. a particularly gorgeous girl rejoined one of my classes after an absence of 6 months; in the intervening 6 months she had cut her hair and the sun had bleached it blonde.
elberry: Angela, i see you cut your hair. Did you dye it?
Angela: No, it is like this because of the sun.
elberry: It suits you.
Angela: You are the only boy who noticed my haircut or the colour.
elberry: But everyone in this department is a woman.
Angela: Even my boyfriend didn’t notice.
The girls all exchange titillated “he must be gay” looks. i then launched into the gardening roleplay.
2. Jack. He looks like a cross between Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, and Brian Cox. He is portly but moves like a killer.
He’s a senior senior bigwig at some software company and gets to travel to Microsoft and shout abuse at Bill Gates. Pretty cool. He radiates power and a sense of feeling very comfortable with himself; and of being amused by his own life & foibles. i like him immensely. He told me about his interview technique – he deliberately gives oddballs & weirdos a chance as some of his best staff are freaks. He came up with a very clever game for soliciting information from candidates; i don’t think even he realised how clever it was: he manages to put the candidates into a state close to drunken loquacity just by asking them to imagine certain scenarios, they tell him everything he needs to know. He also apparently enjoys deliberately disconcerting candidates and just about everyone and tried it on me:
Jack: So perhaps I say, do you think I am fat? To confuse the candidate.
Jack: Do you think I am fat? Tell me, what do you think?
elberry [considers Jack’s gut, even getting out of his chair to get a closer look]: Well, you’re not thin.
Jack looks slightly taken aback but amused nonetheless.
elberry: I didn’t notice you were fat but i suppose you are. But you don’t really look fat, not Jabba the Hut fat. You don’t move like a fat man. Fat scum usually move like this. [elberry gets up and waddles painfully about the room, brutally mimicking fat people]. You move like a normal human being, not a disgusting pig.
Jack continues to look slightly taken aback.
That’s how we roll in Huddersfield.
My students sometimes ask if i think about returning permanently to England, or trying to teach in Italy, or any easier country. It is extremely hard to survive as an (EFL) English teacher in Germany. The only way to reliably get enough work is to only work for a McLingua (Berlitz, inlingua, Wall Street); if they know you work anywhere else they stop giving you work and, as happened to one teacher in Kassel, they will actually threaten to fire you – illegal but it happens all the same. The pay is so low that the only way to survive is to work as much as possible; however, teaching 12 hours a day will swiftly lead to a burnout. Independent schools offer higher paying work but it’s hard to get more than a few hours a week and almost impossible to coordinate more than one school. Inevitably, most teachers are Californian drifter types or have a rich partner. i don’t know a single female teacher who isn’t supported by a rich German partner; and this is even the case with some of the male teachers.
It’s made harder for me, because in addition to standing alone i have huge debts, incurred over my 6 months of almost-unemployment in Kiel (thanks to inlingua), and my 5 years of minimum wage tempery in England. Munich students are also considerably pickier and bitchier than in Kassel. i don’t think i received a single complaint in Kassel; in Munich, i’ve now gathered about a dozen. They complain about everything: the other students, the materials, the pacing, the classroom, my socks, the amount of speaking time, too much/not enough grammar, not enough vocabulary, vocabulary not hyper-specific to their “needs”; not enough/too much “Business English” etc. etc. etc. One bitch, who talked 50% of the time in a 4-person group, complained that i wasn’t letting her speak enough.
A low-level group recently complained that i wasn’t doing Business English. This is a McLingua group which means i’m only paid to teach the McLingua materials. That’s one justification for paying next to nothing – that anyone can teach it, supposedly. One student, a retired teacher, just wants to learn some English for going on holidays. The other two have to use it at work and complained that they weren’t learning the “Business English” they need for their jobs. My boss then told me to make it into Business English where possible, as if i should just rewrite the materials, for free.
i explained that there’s no point trying to teach Business English until their general English is better; and that furthermore they work in different sectors (one is a PA in an Insurance company, the other an IT technician) so that even if i wanted to totally rewrite the McLingua materials, for free, i couldn’t find something that would satisfy them both. And that, FURTHERMORE, to write relevant Business English materials, i would have to know their jobs in detail, that i would need, in effect, to be a PA in Insurance and an IT technician, in Germany, before i know how to teach what they want.
i had a similar complaint from a group of Accountants, to whom i attempted to teach “English for Accountancy” last year. They complained that i didn’t know anything about Accountancy. i looked into their autistic, bespectacled geek faces and wondered if i should explain that, to be able to do more than teach from a (highly tedious) textbook, i would need to be an Accountant; an Accountant with fluent German; an Accountant who had decided to leave Accountancy and become a freelance English teacher on 1% of an Accountant’s salary, with no job security, no health insurance, no pension, no holidays, no sick pay.
Instead i just looked at them and they looked back with their stony, bespectacled German geek faces, and i considered the angry self-righteousness & indignation in their tiny pig eyes. At times, i understand the “they’re all Nazis – all of them” talk i heard in the Kassel teacher room, from one of the Jewish teachers. My worse students have an attitude of complacent self-worth, mingled with unrealistically high expectations, total lack of understanding about how one learns a language, and a propensity for complaining. It’s no doubt beneficial to have to appease and placate these trash, to constantly suppress my personality; but i have diminishing patience and increasingly homicidal lusts.
i long to escape this life and consort instead with good Germans, the right kind of Germans, artistic Germans, Germans like this:
More German oddities:
1. Sitting opposite two pretty teenage girls on the s-bahn, both taller than me, leggy and innocent (perhaps). They are listening to music on earphones and when they get up i realise they are sharing one mp3 player, an earphone per girl. They stay close but move without undue difficulty, joined by one music and cable. i’ve seen this a few times on the s-bahns now and still find it amusing and weird and quite pleasing.
2. i buy Toddball a burger at Burger King. We go upstairs and find approximately 20 trays left on the tables, each with half-eaten burgers, cold fries. It looks as if a bomb vaporised the people, leaving their burgers intact. We prowl around, taking bites out of the uneaten side of the burgers, sniffing for lukewarm fries. Toddball finishes his burger first and automatically goes about stacking the trays on each other and leaving them in a corner. He does it without complaining or fuss or any signs of conscious volition, much as others would stare out of the window or play with their smart phones.
i would have just tidied my own tray and left everything else as it was. Michael (now flown to Malta to escape the Finanzamt and hundreds of Euros of s- and u-bahn fines) would probably have left his tray on the grounds that someone else will clean it up, and besides it makes almost no difference, one more untidied tray.
elberry: what kind of people spend five euros on food then leave half of it?
todd: Rich kids. Filthy rich kids.
There is something unthinking and automatic about goodness (Wordsworth’s little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness); the truly good people don’t talk about it, don’t prosleytise, they just tidy up other people’s mistakes because they may as well, since they’re there. Having said that, Toddball steals unchained bicycles and occasionally shoplifts for “the crime rush”; goodness is often complex and unpredictable, existing in the midst of ordinary human weakness & mess. But i feel that people like Toddball do more good in the world than left-wing windbags bellowing about injustice and inequality and liberation and revolution.
3. If i ever really lose my temper in Germany it will most likely be getting off the u-bahns. The Bosche on the platform crowd around the doors and try to force their way on as the passengers try to force their way off. It is a scene of daily and monumental stupidity. If the passengers can force an exit the waiting Bosche stand back, but at the first gap they rush on, forcing old women and slowcoaches back. Several times i’ve had to fight my way out. Not with Bourne-style blows and kicks but with shoving and snarling. My mantra is “get the fuck out of my way”. i’ve elbowed one fat German in the solar plexus when he tried to rush in as i was getting off; he fell back and his friends jeered at him, and justly so, the fat bastard.
For all that the Germans love order and regulations, they are incapable of forming an orderly queue. In shops they try to force their way in front of you and when you approach the counter they stand right next to you, placing their worthless goods on the counter and visibly seething with impatience. i try to ignore it but in my less than serene moments i turn and give them a slow cold stare until they move.
4. Taking the stairs up from the underground, i experience a violent sneezing fit as is my wont. An elderly Bosche descending on the escalator nods as we pass, and says politely: “Gesundheit”. i manage an automatic: “danke” and then i am up in the sunlight and he is behind me, our paths having crossed for just two or three seconds, enough for a sneeze, a Gesundheit, and a danke.
A typically German scene.