Donnerstag, 30. Juli 2015

Blooping ist menschlich. So enjoy your bloopers, and learn from them!

Oops! Embarassing bloopers are all part of learning.

I've been blogging as a Brit in Bavaria for over five years, and covered many typical expat experiences, from embarrassing myself in a brass band to unashamedly cheating in a cyling competition. But I notice that I've hardly ever discussed what I do almost every day: Teaching.

A good starting point is "bloopers". Also known as "howlers". When you mean to say one thing but say something totally different. If this were a feature film it might be called "For They Know Not What They Say". Teachers are not exempt from blooping, of course. My own biggest blooper was on my first school trip to Germany, when I met my exchange partner’s mother, shook hands and announced “Ich bin sehr erregt”.  I meant to say I was nervously excited (“aufgeregt”), but had confused it with the word for naughtily excited. No wonder she raised a quizzical eyebrow. 

Laughing together with your students about embarrassing "faux pas" like this is a great way of bringing light relief into the classroom. Besides, when students slap their forehead and say “Ah so!” you can bet they won’t make the same mistake again.

The other day a student announced her friend was no longer coming to class because she was “becoming a baby”. When I gave her a surprised look she corrected herself: “Sorry, I mean she’s getting a baby”. “Oh”, I replied, playing along, “is she adopting, buying it online?” It’s one of the most common bloopers you’ll hear from German speakers in English. A tell-tell sign of how arbitrary language can be. Does saying “having a baby” really make any more sense than “getting a baby”? 

Roleplays produce hilarious bloopers too. A student was recently welcoming a guest to her company. Shaking hands with her male counterpart she wanted to say “Ich möchte, dass sie sich zu Hause fühlen“. It came out as “I‘d like to feel you at home”.  

In another roleplay I asked a student to react to the statement “May I smoke here?” Thinking it might make her cough, she obviously had the German word “sensibel” (= sensitive) in mind. The response came out as “Please don’t smoke, I’m sensible.”

But beware serial bloopers. Especially when they lead to misunderstandings. I was invigilating an oral exam in which students had to negotiate the sale of a consignment of jumpers. Yet instead of jumpers the seller kept talking about “journeys”. Her partner clearly had the correct word on their role card too, yet at no point did she say “Oh, don’t you mean jumpers?” She ended up buying 2,000 journeys. Destination unknown.

If only I could have a Euro each time students have inadvertently flirted on the phone by asking callers “Can I give her a massage?”. Better still – creepy creepy – when asking to speak to the “Chief Execution Officer”.

I encourage students to note “minimal pairs”, which look similar but are pronounced differently. There's a clear-cut difference between "end" and "and", for example. Like that 1980s group Cool and the Gang, who German radio presenters still announce as "Kool end ze Geng".

Practising word pairs like this can help students sound less like Lothar Matthais and more like Daniel Radcliffe.

It should also save them from embarrassment in front of their friends too. My all-time favourite blooper came in a class discussion on hobbies, when a student announced he liked to “play sex at the weekend”. The room went all quiet and I noticed some of the girls gag a giggle. My gut reaction was to gracefully ignore the comment. But seeing he was totally serious I had to giggle too. He was simply talking about that musical instrument, the sax.

Dienstag, 28. Juli 2015

Achtung! Leitungswasser feels like a dirty word in Germany

Tap water in Germany: Pure and plentiful.
Just don't dare ask for it in restaurants.

The other day I was in Regensburg, entertaining friends from London. The best preserved medieval city in Germany, Regensburg is my most favourite and well worth a visit if you’re anywhere in South Germany. After enjoying a stroll round this world-heritage gem we decided to call at a restaurant for a midday meal. I’d been there before and loved the pasta. It was very hot, so along with beers we also asked for Leitungswasser. We were served a jug of sparkling water - obviously decanted from an Evian bottle, or similar. When I politely pointed out the mistake to the waitress, she looked a bit confused, and disappeared without a word. Still, she came back after a while with a jug of "normal" tap water and everyone was happy. The meal was lovely too. But when the bill came I noticed they'd charged us 6.99€ (!) for "Mineralwasser".

The waitress seemed out of her depth with my questioning the error, so I asked to see the Manager, explaining we had asked just for "Leitungswasser". We're not allowed to serve tap water, he told me. I was about to enquire if that was for public health reasons contamination risk maybe but then remembered this is Germany. Better avoid humour. Instead I asked "So why didn't the waitress tell me that, instead of simply putting expensive mineral water on the bill?" After a lot of "hin und her" as they say in Germany, the Manager told the waitress to give me a 3€ refund, which was simply handed to me without commentary.

Leaving the restaurant, head held down, I felt a bit like Oliver Twist who’d been similarly rebuffed after daring to ask for second helpings. The three euros in my hand felt more like a trophy than a refund – I’d certainly had to fight for it. Why do restaurants in Germany feel so challenged by a simple request for tap water? Even the poorest countries in the world offer it free without you having to ask.

In future I think I’ll just stick to ordering beer with my meals. And bring along my own tap water.

Montag, 18. Mai 2015

Blow the budget, I'm hypnotised by the wonderful world of BMW.

Outside it looks more like some giant, half collapsed toadstool.  A cross between Dubai airport and space-age shopping mall, BMW's eye-catcher is more about experience than aesthetics.

Billed as an “adventure and delivery centre”, BMW Welt is Munich's third biggest tourist attraction, just behind the English Garden and Marienplatz. Joining me for a guided tour is my class of Tourist Management and Hospitality students. We're treated to a V.I.P. behind-the-scenes look at where customers pay a pretty premium to pick up their new cars in style. A showroom for some of BMW's most flashy and costly vehicles. Like the Fantom Rolls-Royce, price tag 450 000 euros. Christina our guide explains how 450 man hours have gone into building this work of art. And they clearly haven't skimped on accessories. Opening the passenger door, she slides her hand into a side pocket and pulls out a telescope-shaped case, out of which pops an umbrella. It’s all very larger than life, and I'm almost expecting James Bond to come round the corner any moment, jump in and speed off in a cloud of dust.

Models and more

Instead, however, Christina leads us past a plug-in hybrid i8 (above), which she describes as “cutiful”. I’m debating whether to stop and have my photo taken, when our guide beckons us round the corner into a mini cinema. After a flashy publicity film on the BMW brand – more hui than pfui as they say here in Bavaria – a roller shutter behind the screen rises to reveal line upon line of vehicles stacked one over the other. Just this moment a rack robot glides past, hooks itself up onto the car directly in front of us, and carries it off. This is one of around 100 vehicles which are united every day with their owners, and we're about to see such an event “live”. In BMW-talk it's known as “premiere”.
Returning to the main concourse, we find ourselves on a 
BMW Welt - Half airport, half Star Trek
walkway suspended over vehicles ready for collection. “See over there”, says Christina, pointing to three persons standing at the stop of a Hollywood-like staircase. We watch how a car suddenly starts revolving, remote controlled by a pinstripe-suited BMW ambassador. Customers can book from a range of “premiere plus packages”. Little extras include rose petals strewn over the bonnet, a sea of balloons descending from the ceiling, and – for those with matrimony in mind – a wedding ring furtively stashed away in the glove compartment. We don’t actually see any one go down on one knee  – rose stem between teeth – but, given German males’ greatest passion is for cars, no doubt this happens regularly.
Since I’ve asked my students to review BMW Welt as part of their course work, I look later at comments other visitors have left at TripAdvisor. These range from “A car head must” and “Classy, efficient, unpretentious” to “Too much capitalism”. One visitor proudly describes himself as “BMW hypnotised”. 

More  “hui than pfui. Somewhere inside the arch there's also a car.

The nicest thing about BMW Welt, I'd say, is that it's admission free. You can wander around and sit in a brand-new luxury vehicle for nothing. After saying goodbye to my students, and making sure no one I know sees me, I quietly slide behind the steering wheel of the latest Mini Cooper Hardtop. A sublime “only-if” feeling tickles my tummy. I'm awoken from my daydream by a friendly Chinese American touting a zoom lens, asking if I'd like my photo taken. Of course I would.

BMW Welt is not really selling cars, it's selling lifestyle. For me cars are simply about getting from A to B. Function over frills. The thought of measuring my status by the Auto I drive doesn't appeal. And yet for once, just for once, I'm slightly overcome by the glitz and glamour of all these awesome dreams on wheels. Possibly, quite possibly, I too have become “BMW hypnotised”. 

Ah, blow the next holiday Down Under. Where do I put my signature?


Sonntag, 15. März 2015

Follow me on Mission Kiwi

Hello again. If you wondered why I've not been galloping around in my lederhosen recently it's because I was time-outing Down Under. Perhaps you've been following my travels on Howes Out, When I get down to deciphering all the notes I scribbled on the back of old maps there'll hopefully be a book out too. Meanwhile there's a lovely report on my Kiwi travels in The Weekly Telegraph.

New Zealand has to be one of the most beautiful, contrast-rich lands in the world and I'd love to share it with you. I do school and college presentations and will be happy to give a slide show and talk on Mission Kiwi if I'm in your area. Contact Know Howe

Wecome to Mission Kiwi - follow me......

Oh, and here's how I imagine the publicity blurb on the inside cover:

"The Howes always regarded their home in deepest rural Bavaria as way out in the sticks – almost a good hour’s drive from any decently sized town. Until, that is, a 3-month time out takes them to New Zealand. Travelling from Auckland to South Island they stay with local folks, living like Kiwis. Staying inexpensively and often free, but always in stunning mountain top, harbour-view, beachside locations; and invariably remote. But none so out of the way as mainland Takaka – accessible only by boat, 5-seater plane or a winding up-and-down-the mountain track. Will their stays at the end of countless dust tracks, often hours away from the nearest sizeable town, change their view of what it means to ‘live out on a limb’? And, after endless discussions on the ups and downs of moving to New Zealand, will they finally opt to “give it a go” Down Under? From Puttenhausen to Takaka – ex pat Brit Tim Howe gives an amusing insight into travelling a country so far flung yet so familiarly British."

Weekly Telegraph 26 May 2015

Gotta fly, catch you later!

Samstag, 11. Oktober 2014

I bin a Holledauer

Welcome to the gang - uniform's on the way.

“Du spielst doch auch Becken, oder?" (you DO play "Becken", DON'T you?”) says Basti, making quite clear this is not a polite enquiry but a firm command. Basti has been my mentor for the past few weeks while I’ve rehearsed drums with the Jugendkapelle, our local brass band. I was so looking forward to playing drums in public. And now he's relegating me to "Becken".

“Ahhm, yeeees”, I reply hesitantly, not wishing to sound unwilling.

To be honest, I’m not actually sure what’s on offer. When Germans talk about “Becken” it can mean a variety of things, including basin, bowl or pelvis. But it suddenly dawns on me that Bastian is talking about none of these at all. It seems they’ve had a committee meeting and decided I’m no good on drums. Bastian goes on to explain that their cymbals player has given up just two days before our public appearance. They've searched high and low for a replacement and couldn't find one. He doesn't say so directly, but the message is clear: I'm their very last choice.

Just to fill you in, if you're new to the blog. I'm on a mission to find out what it's REALLY like to be a Bavarian. I'm essentially trying to become a Bavarian - and a very special type too - a Holledau Bavarian. That doesn't just mean putting on a lederhosen and swaying from side to side with a beer-fuelled grin on my face. No no, I've gone the whole hog. From helping grannies pluck hops at a public viewing to fluttering fingers to cheesey Neil Diamond songs (very Bavarian). My final challenge, before I can call myself a die-hard Bavarian, is to play in a brass band.

Which brings me back to the cymbals. The only member of the percussion family I’ve ever played is the triangle, and not since school. Cymbals typically weigh in at around 3.5 kg, and holding them up to my chest it feels like I’m auditioning for Iron Man at the local INJOY.

We haven’t even finished rehearsing “Weiß Blauer” and my hands are already feeling like they’re about to disconnect from my limbs and slide off.

The Gallimarkt is the region’s biggest beerfest and one of the oldest in Bavaria. On the opening night we’ll play for an hour near the Town Hall and then head the procession of clubs and associations towards the beer tents. Marching time: approx. one hour. I seriously contemplate thanking the band for the nice experience and pulling out gracefully, before I make a complete muppet of myself.

On the big day, however, I decide to go after all. I arrive at the meeting place just after five, as instructed. But absolutely no one is there. Neither band nor spectators. So much for German punctuality. I panic. Maybe I’ve got the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong day even? Pulling out my mobile, I step into a shop doorway and pretend to look busy, checking my social media accounts, like an embarrassed teenager being stood up on a first date. No messages, no status updates. Nothing. Just as I'm about to leave, the band suddenly all appear, as if from nowhere. Soon Christian is handing me cymbals, along with a very smart hat and jacket. “When we march off, start on your left foot and just count one-two, one-two”, he instructs.

Proud performers, And don't we look great, dressed up as Mennonites.

The concert goes quite well, actually. At least I manage not to drop the cymbals. I’m obviously much louder than anyone else in the band, because people are soon starting to clasp hands to their ears and move away from me. Band members and spectators alike.

Finally we start marching and it feels great, moving down streets lined with onlookers clapping and cheering us all on. Unfortunately, all I can remember from the march is the ear-splitting noise of my cymbals.

Our destination is "Dausinger" – an enormous beer tent, where the Bürgermeister is getting ready to do the "Anstich", the ceremonial tapping of the keg. Before we've even sat down the band are ordering mountain-size servings of Schweinshax’n and Halbes Hendl. I'm always amazed how Germans can wolf down XXL portions with every liter Bier. I’m far too excited after marching to eat anything at all. Soon we’re all clinking Mass mug and swapping stories. I start talking to trumpeter Maria, and ask if she’s still fit after blowing two hours non stop. “That’s nothing”, she says, “tomorrow we’ll play six hours”. I say how much I’ve enjoyed being their guest cymbalist and, laughing, she suggests I come to more rehearsals. Nice to hear they want to see me again. But Maria, it seems, has different ideas: “Du sollst a bisserl mehr üben – you really ought to practise a bit more”, she adds.

Looking for the loo, I spot the Hallertau Beer Queen coming towards me. After the long drawn-out official proceedings, the evening is only just starting for 17-year old Anna, who I met recently at the hop-plucking ceremony. She tells me they’re all going to the After-Show at "Almhüttn", an alpine-style log hut behind the big tent. Will she be dancing on the tables too? No, Anna laughs, that’s for the younger ones.

By now I’m a little hoarse from trying to make myself heard over the sound of “Froschhaxn-Express" playing up on stage. My arms have almost gone dead after marching with two 3.5 kilo weights. Deciding to call it a day, I hand in my band hat and jacket and head off home.

What an amazing finale to all those rehearsals. Performing in public – albeit “only” cymbals – was far more fun than I could ever imagine, and I loved every moment of the concert and the ceremonial march. Thank you to everyone in the Jugendkappelle for letting me join your ranks and share the thrill of being part of a Bavarian brass band for a little bit.

So then, home and dry! My mission to be Bavarian - a Holledau Bavarian - is accomplished! And evidence below, that the whole process was more than worth it....

Burgers of the Holledau, you're the greatest – Ihr seid die Besten!

Good to go anywhere you like!

Weekly Telegraph 30.10 - 05.11.2014

Dienstag, 2. September 2014

Plug your earholes – this Englander's set to boom-bang-a-bang in Bavarian band

Hurry up!  Bavarians can't join a "Verein" quick enough. 

What’s the best way to get to know the locals when you move into a new area? In Britain it’s simple – just head for the local pub. But in Bavaria, to fully integrate, you must join what’s known as a “Verein”. The nicest thing about these associations – whether they involve playing skittles, skating on ice or fighting fires – you don’t actually have to do any of these activities. You simply need a strong bladder – but more on that later.

Here in the Hallertau it’s a straightforward choice: You either join a football club or sign up with a marching band. Every single town, often the teenyweeniest village, has its own “Blaskapelle” – or “blowing band”, if you want a literal translation. Frankly, neither option really fires me with enthusiasm. The only instrument I ever tried to learn to play – the humble recorder – was a disaster. I simply couldn’t blow and keep my fingers over the holes at the same time, and my poor music teacher was obviously at her wits end when she wrote on my school report “Tim is totally devoid of all motor skills”. So that just leaves football. Hmm…

Bavarians take their football clubs extremely seriously. When they talk of “Vereinsleben” – life as part of an association – they mean precisely that. Their whole life revolves around the club. When the village team plays, for example, housewives commonly spend all weekend cooking up a storm to serve their menfolk after the game. Sadly I’ve no time for football and my Hausfrau credentials would hardly pass muster, so it seems I’ve no choice but to try for the “Blasverein”.

For a second opinion on my musical talent – if you can call it that – I consult Stephan Ebn. Ex-drummer with pop diva Gianna Nannini, Stephan regularly tours with the band Middle of the Road, whose hits include  "Chirpy Chirpy Cheek Cheek”. They still play this earworm on Bayern Eins, and I catch myself humming it as I ring the bell of his studio in the pretty little town of Abensberg.

Foreigners often have this stereotype image of Bavarians dressed in lederhosen marching to brass band music, but Stephan quickly points out that Bavarians hardly play the best “Blasmusik” in the world. “That’s because of our beer consumption”, he tells me. “We join a “Verein” not to play music but to drink”.

I suspect Stephan already has a notion about my poor coordination skills when he suggests I try my hand first at drums: “Anyone who can’t play well in a band gets the drums”, he tells me. Standing astride a ginormous bass drum – 30 times the size of a regular pizza – Stephan demonstrates the basic marching beat, and then hands me the sticks. It’s easier than I expect and, feet pounding up and down to the Boom, Boom, Boom, I’ve soon got the hang of it. Next up, Stephan gets behind the full drum kit and shows me the “roll”, used to herald the start of a march. This is much harder, and Stephan patiently watches as I try, and retry, to multi-task on cymbals and drums, whilst pumping the foot pedal.

  More Eurovision than Bavarian brass band, but good to go. 

The lesson's over far too quickly. Celebrating with a high five, Stephan encourages me to audition with our local brass band in time for next month’s Gallimarkt, the region’s greatest beer bonanza, second only to the Oktoberfest. There’s just one thing though, he says. All of a sudden I’m nervous. Will he criticise my deficient motor skills? But no, he’s pointing to my Bermuda shorts and smiling: “Don’t forget to wear Lederhosen, okay?”

Will the local Blaskapelle take me on? Watch this space…

Donnerstag, 10. Juli 2014

Wo-ho-ho and yodel-odel-eee. I've just become a Bavarian, fluttering my fingers to sounds of the seventies

Hands up if you want to build a human pyramid..

What’s the best-loved party song in Bavaria? Surprisingly, not the latest chart stormer. It's not a yodeller or an alpine horn blower either. It's actually a 1971 hit by Neil Diamond. Everyone – young and old – knows the refrain Wo-ho-ho, good times never seemed so good. And they know exactly what to do when it comes to Hands, touchin’ hands, reachin’ out, touchin’ you. That’s the signal to stretch out hands, flutter fingers in mid-air and form a human pyramid. Like members of some strange sect, willing the holy ghost to move amongst them.

I’m witnessing this weird ritual right now. It feels like a happy-clappy church event or  ̶̶   the mere thought scares me  ̶̶   a Neil Diamond fan club reunion. But actually, what’s happening here has nothing to do with that at all. It’s “Sommerfest” at my daughter’s kindergarten. Huddled up on beer benches in an enormous tent, we’re being jollied by a pop duo with the unpronounceable name of Leidlfestodreiba. “Where are you all, children?” asks the lead singer. Rows of hands rise  ̶̶  mostly grownups. Next moment everyone's clinking beer mugs together and breaking into the chorus of “Hey, hey-ey baby, if you’ll be my girl".

But it’s not only middle-agers who seem suckers for schmaltz. Local teenagers also crave songs their parents grew up with. It’s difficult to imagine Neil Diamond having the same effect on British adolescents. What is it about these tunes that makes so many Germans, regardless of age, slap their thighs and swing from side to side, as if under hypnosis? I ask Matthias if he likes this music. “Actually not” he says, “I’m more into rock”. Nonetheless, Matthias is dressed in lederhosen, and his wife and five-year old daughter are clad in very pretty dirndls. As if to excuse his folksy outfit, he adds “But this here is different. Local tradition. We have “Stimmung”, good feeling, you know".

Matthias describes “Stimmung” by sketching a rough graph. “Look”, he says, joining two axis with a 45-degree line, “The level of willingness to sing and dance rises parallel to the level of alcohol consumed. Oldies and German hits, known as “schlager” unite people of all different ages and music tastes", he explains. “You can have a group of different nationalities, all speaking different languages. And music is their universal language”. As if illustrating the global appeal of soppy songs when under the influence of alcohol, he cups his beer mug and starts swinging to the sound of “Country roads take me home”

This John Denver oldie  ̶̶  not even the BBC play it any more  ̶̶  is another typical crowd pleaser at beer festivals all over Bavaria. Hardly a day goes by without it being played on Bayern Eins, the state's most popular station, with a playlist so changeless you can predict what’s up next.  

There’s nothing very eclectic about the music playing here in the kindergarten tent, and yet we all seem to be tapping our toes to it. Some parents have even started swaying, doing little jigs, as they hover between bar, beer bench and child’s play area.

Yodel-odel-ee ­– back to roots with Reiser

To find out more about this phenomenon, I meet up with local singer songwriter Maria Reiser. Hailed as the inventor of “Yodelpop”, Maria describes her music as “Bavarian home loving” with catchy melodies and beats. We’re listening to her latest single “Glabbelwirt” and Maria is wearing a dirndl, of course. I tell her that any non-German dressing up in such clothes in England would be regarded as a bit odd. 

So why do young Bavarians get such a kick out of dressing up in traditional costume? Maria explains it’s all part of a back-to-roots trend, which begun when Germany staged the World Cup and – hitherto unheard of – started draping every available surface area with red, black and gold flags. “This patriotism, a sort of longing for local traditions, became a real movement from around 2010”, she explains. Privately, Maria enjoys Beyonce and Keith Urban. But she too admits singing along to Diamond and Denver.

Back to the kindergarten, and they’re playing “Sweet Caroline” once more. Before I can quietly disappear I’m being pulled into a pyramid of linked hands, and, wo-ho-ho, it’s actually quite fun. Matthias and Maria are right, the music, motions and traditional costumes – I’m one of the few people at the fest not wearing this attire ­– do create a sense of togetherness, the feeling of belonging to a local community.

Their music may be 40 years out of date, but young Bavarians are keeping local traditions alive and kicking, which must be good. I’ll sing along to that, even if it means fluttering my fingers and chanting Wo-ho-ho...

 Keeping traditions alive. Let's all drink to that....