Sonntag, 19. September 2010

My home is my facebook

I like....

How do you judge how popular someone is? It used to be by counting the number of cards hung up around the house when you visited them at Christmas. This worked well in theory, except many people kept on bringing the same cards out every year, stringing them up so thickly until you could hardly see anyone across the room. Besides, it always made me wince when I compared this awful British tradition with the tasteful way Germans decorate their homes at Christmas.

Nowadays of course we measure a person’s popularity by how many friends they have on Facebook. But I’ve been wondering recently what actually took us all there in the first place?

I joined FB as a low-cost way of keeping in touch with family and friends back in England. A place for exchanging horror stories about travelling home with Ryan Air and swapping chocolate fudge cake recipes.

But I haven’t really been doing any of that. I currently have 22 friends, compared with my most popular virtual friend, Chris from Down Under, who boasts 643 followers (heck, that’s almost half the population of Australia). I’m also friends with two expats living in Germany, and three back in the UK. But most of my FB friends live here in Bavaria, and some just down the road.

Before Facebook one of the most popular networking sites was “Friends United”. Its purpose was for old school “mates” to link up and exchange playground memories. Millions of mates – myself included –  paid a 5-pound annual subscription, before realising we’d been duped. Why pay for something you can get free? When Facebook arrived we deserted en masse. And that’s where an amazing 70% of all Brits now hang out – both at home and work.

Two million German teenagers also hang out there, with roughly 70% in each class I taught last semester confessing to “facebooking” daily. Some of my best lessons are on the pros and cons of social networking. Recently I showed the documentary “Facehooked” and asked if pupils ever worry about megaphoning so much about their lives to the world at large. Most students seem aware of the risks involved, but regard these as a fair trade-off for so many benefits.

Facebook is of course miles ahead of all its rivals. And unlike those very early social networks it’s no longer about searching for long-lost friends, all asking the same questions like “How are you?” (–OK, thanks), “Any kids yet?” (–No, but we’re practising) “So what do YOU do in life?” (–Well, personally, I just get on and live).

And Facebook lets us not only make friends, it also help us keep them. “What are you doing RIGHT NOW?” sounds so much cooler than “How are you?”.  And there are so many FB tools which I’m still dying to try out: I’ve never actually “poked” (“Freund(in) Anschupsen!”) anyone and one of these days I’d just love send some soul a virtual bouquet of flowers.

Facebook can be addictive – like when you log on at bedtime with the sole purpose of wishing all your friends goodnight. And should you ever feel insomnia creeping in then just scrolling through the oh-so predictable comments to every goodnight announcement will help stave away any boredom. It’s the networkers’ equivalent of my favourite childhood programme “The Waltons”, which finished every single time with the words “Goodnight John Boy. Goodnight Mary Ellen, Goodnight Elisabeth….”

I just wonder how long Facebook will reign supreme before something more “techy” takes over. Will it be replaced by a neckband with a built-in microphone that allows us to record our every thought 24/7? Imagine it beaming our innermost feelings onto a cyberspace station, and feeding Big-Brotherly highlights to subscribers. Wow.

Sorry, I’m starting to get carried away. You'll find me back on earth next week, once again enthusing about the joys of living in rural Bavaria. And if not then please do me a favour. Log onto Facebook and gently poke me.

You never know, if I’m in the right mood I might even poke you back.

Montag, 13. September 2010

How the Germans can drink you under the table - and still stay sober

In Bavaria all the best things come duplicate...
 
With the Oktoberfest just a few days away what better to talk about than Bavarians and their beer habits.

I’ve always marvelled how the Bavarians manage to toss down the contents of a liter jug quicker than you can say “Deutscher Rheinheitsgebot“. Not even batting an eyelid and still stay amazingly sober. Unlike in my home land, where beer is seen chiefly as a means of inebriating one’s self, there’s some thing very civilised and cultured about the way this beverage is consumed in Germany. You only have to walk around the Hofbräuhaus to marvel how calm and collected drinkers behave outside what is ostensibly the greatest booze bar in the world. Were this establishment in Britain people would be staggering out day and night in state of drunken ga-ga and there would be a constant sound of glass shattering on the pavement. Beware Saturday nights in particular.

Not once have I seen even a single shred of broken glass within throwing distance of a pub in Germany.  I love the law-abiding orderliness of the Germans, even when they’re drinking themselves silly en masse to the deafening oompah accompaniment of “da-da da-da!

My overriding memory of the Fest is of roaring drunkenness, amidst croaky cries of “A prosit!“.
And that none of us could make ourselves understood without cupping our hands like megaphones to shout ear to ear. One year we managed to end up on a table of Aussies - not the best idea. If you’re going to get properly drunk make sure you don’t do it with anyone from Down Under. Unlike the Germans they really don’t know when and where to stop.

While I don’t plan any more laps of honour round the Wies’n I have a deep soft spot for Bavaria’s wonderful beer gardens. Where you really can hold a proper conversation with friends. And the forecast till month’s end is looking good – temperatures of 21 degrees on the last three Wies’n days. That might not matter if you’re huddled together in a Wies’n tent, but it’s good news for all us alfresco drinkers.

Enjoy your beer, wherever you drink it.

Sonntag, 5. September 2010

Heaven’s a huge let down when you’re stuck there without butter

Where’s it better to live – town or countryside? Growing up in a quintessential English village only a few miles from World Heritage City Bath, I’d always believed it were possible to have the best of both worlds. Enjoy attractions and services of the loveliest city in Britain, yet wake up every morning to the sound of “cockadoodeldoo!”

That is, at least, till I moved to bucolic Bavaria. First home here was in a faceless dormitory village in the “Dachauer Hinterland”. The name says it all. When an opportunity arose to move to the Hallertau the first thing we did was change car number plates.

I’d say we’ve found our little piece of heaven here. Bordering the garden is a little stream, behind which hops fields fan out far into the horizon. As I write the “green gold“, as it’s called, is being harvested and tractors trundle by, bursting full with this aromatic crop. Being surrounded by wildlife’s also fun. Yesterday we spotted a hedgehog circumnavigating the lawn, and only just managed to stop Matilda giving it a well-meant prod in the stomach. Just over the stream in a small enclosure our offspring is also able to stroke goats, pot-bellied pigs and - if she’s quick enough – bunny rabbits too.

But living in Lower Bavaria comes with a caveat. The lack of shops is a major let down. Especially if you run out of butter at the weekend. Speeding off to purchase some from the neighbouring village bakery (we have zilch stores in Puttenhausen), I ran up against a sign saying “Offen Samstags 8 bis 10“. Rough translation: we open only for a peep-squeak moment at the crack of dawn on Saturdays, so tough luck if you work every God-given hour of the week and have the temerity to treat yourself to a short lie-in at the weekend). What the heck happened to customer-friendly shopping hours in rural Germany?

Ten miles further down the road in a two-horse village, I was relieved to find a shop still open mid-morning. A yellow postal-horn hanging in the window made it appear like a post-office cum general convenience store. Imagine my shock-horror to discover all it sold was wines, spirits and – hold your breath – stamps too. Had I run out of petrol during my wild-goose-trail tour of the Hallertau, I would have been left hanging high and dry. They don’t do filling stations in rural Bavaria, it seems, but you can buy Briefmarken in the boondocks.

Munich’s “Abendzeitung“ this week celebrates the Bavarian capital as most popular German city after Berlin for Zuagroasten (local word for those persons not from Munich or removed to Munich). Small wonder – plenty jobs, abundant leisure facilities, petrol stations on every corner and, you’ve guessed it, shops still open for business when you get out of bed in the morning.

Not for the world would I exchange the house of our dreams here in the Hallertau for a concrete pile in Munich. But oh how nice it would be just to pop down the road for daily essentials, without clocking up miles and more to the nearest town.

Before I start sounding like a windgemop I’m off to the neighbours to scrounge a packet of butter.

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