Us and them

Dearest Reader,

I’m not usually one to talk politics. This is mainly because during my training as teacher, I was advised not to touch on topics that easily divide people, like immigration, scientology, and pork.

Having said that, although I live on the opposite side of the world, it is virtually impossible to avoid hearing and reading about the US presidential election, in all its Americanness. The first thing I must say is that being European, I find America and its citizens fascinating. I’ve spent my whole life observing, watching their TV shows, listening to their music, dreaming about living in New York. It’s for sure the culture I know most about without actually belonging to it. I love how different things are over there, even if I sometimes don’t understand them, and I am generally impressed at all the new exciting things that come to us from there.

One thing I enjoy observing politically are the eternal references to the US constitution which undoubtedly nobody has read in full. It’s a little bit like the Bible, there’s a lot of hearsay going around, but few bother to read the original because it’s just too darn long and weird. In Europe, what unites us is not a constitution, or the Bible for that matter, but a rich archive of jokes about the French which we have carefully collected and agreed upon over hundreds of years. It’s mainly endearing, and we certainly wouldn’t want to be without the French. If they left us, who would provide the amusement?

The other thing I find astonishing is the way they approach crime. If the US were a candidate for entry to the EU, their approach to law and order would certainly raise most of the red flags – legalised guns, death penalty and torture islands are all quite frowned upon over on the old continent. But of course, it’s America. The Wild West. I enjoy watching these kinds of debates simply because they would be impossible in today’s Europe, debates like “should teachers get guns, too”?

Semantics are also different. You can start a sentence by saying ‘This is America!!’ and by saying that you mean ‘I can do whatever I want!!’. If you just said ‘This is Sweden dammit!!’ people would just look at each other, confused. No declaration involving a European country means freedom. The only thing that would be universally understood would, again, be something like ‘Ah you know… The French!’ And we would all know what that means, chuckling.

Finally, there is of course the circus that is the actual election for the leader of the country. Undeniably, any kind of US election has become an incredibly surreal soap-opera-style phenomenon with all the things you, dearest reader, and I want – sex scandals, trophy wives, backstabbing, secret babies, classified emails and all the -isms you can imagine: racism, sexism, elitism, and islamophobia…-ism. Out of all countries in the world, in the most influential one, Austrian gym enthusiasts can become governors, and business owners with virtually no social skills can compete in a presidential election to represent a nation of which they openly hate half of the population.

Yes, it’s social porn and we love to indulge in watching adults say things that we thought you could only say in the privacy of your own home. In addition, we shiver in pleasure as the ignorance of the uneducated washes over us, and their furious fists go up in the air, howling at the easiest explanations for their misfortunes and disadvantage.

And in Europe we are guilty of the same fun politics too, like Silvio Berlusconi who has entertained us for decades with his sexual escapades with teenage girls and by investing most of a once great nation’s profits into his monthly hair gel supply. And only recently we have also applauded the British for taking democracy to a brand new level by disregarding any political and economic experience available among the leaders, and instead letting the misinformed masses decide on things they enthusiastically googled afterwards.

But this, at the very least, has resulted in them becoming the new French in popular European joke-making, and has created many new amusing puns that rhyme with the word ‘exit’.

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Dearest Reader,

Over the course of my life I have travelled to many places and lived in different countries. I love meeting new people and I love to hear their stories, but sometimes, the human species also puzzles me with some really strange introductory conversations.

The thing is that some people people try to connect with you by saying isolated phrases to you in your language or about your country. The following is a really typical example:

Where are you from?
– Germany.
– Ohhh! Sprechen Sie Deutsch?? (=Do you speak German?)
– He he, yeah..
– Bayern Munich!! 
– Mhm..
– Nein, das ist mein Hamburger!! (= No, this is my hamburger)
– Right..
– Do you know Rammstein??
– I do.
– I have to send you this video where this guy compares how words are pronounced in different languages, and then he makes fun of German! It’s so funny!
– Can’t wait to see it!
– Hehe but maybe you won’t laugh because Germans have no sense of humour!

So, there are some interesting points to be made here.

Firstly, asking me if I speak German appears to be a redundant question seeing as I am from there, and what is more, they don’t speak German so I am not sure where this conversation will lead us. But nevermind, I get it, I guess it was meant to be cute. So I smile and play along.

The second question isn’t really a question, but it is a German football club. I appreciate this knowledge about a German sports team they know, also seeing as I enjoy football, why not? At this stage, I don’t have the heart to tell them that I hate Bayern Munich, in fact if there was one German team I always hope loses, it is Bayern Munich. But I shall play along with this little sporty banter as well, I do not want to be difficult.

The third phrase appears to be from some sort of phrasebook every English native speaker has somehow been taught with when they had 6 months of German lessons in primary school. Astonishingly, it is the one and only phrase everyone remembers and I still don’t quite comprehend how this was one of the key sentences a beginner had to learn. I wonder how often in life one finds oneself in a situation where there were a number of hamburgers and there was overall confusion as to which hamburger belongs to whom, and someone was about to snatch away your hamburger. I feel like whichever book this was from was written by some Germans trying to make fun of Americans looking for their burger. And we do that sometimes, making fun of Americans. So I smile and play along with this too, because it’s not their fault for liking and losing their burgers.

Rammstein is also a common icebreaker. Of all the German bands out there, it saddens me that Rammstein has become iconic. It is a band that is probably more popular outside Germany than it is inside the country. Probably because outside nobody understands the disturbing lyrics.

And then ahhh, the video. The video that shows you how ‘butterfly’ and ‘hospital’ are pronounced in some European languages, and then at the end there is some guy shouting the German version in a Hitler-like manner to demonstrate its harshness, perhaps its strangeness or simply that the words are very long. Needless to say, I have been sent this video hundreds of times, by many of my friends and acquaintances who forgot my answer to the first question, which is that I do indeed speak German and that I already know how to say butterfly and hospital in my language. But it’s always good to get a refresher I suppose!

Finally, I am confronted with my lacking sense of humour, after all the bad humour I have just endured politely in this preceding conversation. It has been firmly established worldwide that Germans have no sense of humour, and some memo went around to remind everyone that they must advise Germans of this fact when they meet them. The same memo also says that should the German person in question deny to have a bad sense of humour, they must prove their funny-ness by laughing at a joke about Hitler and his disciples that usually follows. Should there be no laughter, the absence of a sense of humour is officially confirmed.

One wonders dearest reader.
Do Americans laugh about slavery? Or the way ‘butterfly’ sounds in English? And if they do, are those truly the prime specimens to judge humour by? But what to do, it is a burden every German must carry.

But perhaps in order to understand this better, let me turn this conversation the other way around, dearest Reader. In this example, let’s pretend that you are from Australia, and I am from Germany.
So here it goes.

 Where are you from?
– Australia.
– Ooooh! Do you speak English?
– Ehm, well yes..
– Sydney Roosters!!!
– Right..
– Hehe good
– Do you know ACDC??
– Mhm..
– I have to send you this link. It has a list of all the really funky sounding names of Australian cities and suburbs! Like Woolloomooloo and crazy shit like that!!
– Ah yeah? Hehe sounds great.
– Oh but you probably don’t know how to use the internet yet seeing as you’re still busy hunting crocodiles, right?



Questions of Rhetoric

Dearest Reader,

Sometimes I lie awake at night and think about something one of my high school teachers once asked. I know this sounds ridiculous but I have not been able to forget it and it has been consuming me for over a decade now. It was a rhetorical question, and I never understood or found out the answer. Now I know what you’re going to say next – the purpose of rhetorical questions is to encourage critical thinking, not giving answers. But 15 years of critical thinking in the dark later, I still can’t figure out what it was all supposed to mean, and I feel that in order to move on with my life I need to deal with this question once and for all.

The question was asked by my sociology teacher, who was explaining the underlying gender roles we  have in society. It was very interesting. But then, with no particular context, he ended the lesson by saying:

“And I want to leave you with a final thought on how we raise boys and girls differently – we give boys cars to play with, and we give girls dolls to play with – I mean, think about it. Which one is more realistic?
I’ll see you all next week.”

Although I was completely confused, I didn’t dare to say or ask anything because he said it with such confidence, like it was a really obvious, in-your-face kind of comment and only a stupid person would raise their hand and asking seemingly redundant questions.

But Sir, after years of tossing and turning in bed trying to understand your point, I want to put my questions out there.

Firstly, in terms of realism, both cars and dolls would score equally realistic (or unrealistic). Both are an imitation of a real thing, though perhaps in terms of size the ‘doll to real baby’ ratio is certainly more realistic than the ‘toy car to real car’. On the other hand, a toy car can drive around with the help of manual operation while a doll can’t do anything, unless you buy those fancy ones that have a button to cry and poop. But real babies, from what I’ve heard so far, don’t have buttons for that.

So maybe you didn’t mean realistic in the literal sense but perhaps you meant what is more ‘real’ in life, as in ‘responsibility’. One might argue that yes, babies are serious business and you could kill it without proper care, but imagine all the countless babies you could kill if you drove your car irresponsibly in a school zone. So the death toll would certainly be higher in the car scenario which might be why we ask little boys to start practising early on. In fact, you need to go to a special school and get a special licence for a car, whereas even the most unqualified and irresponsible people can make babies; indeed many babies are in fact the direct result of two unqualified and irresponsible people getting together.

Perhaps what you meant was that it was more gender role targeted, like pressuring little girls into mother roles while boys can play with their cars. Even in adult life cars can be used as a hobby or for sports, and we have yet to come up with hobbies or sports that involve racing babies or displaying babies at baby fairs or having baby magazines with reviews about the newest babies on the market.

Did you mean to teach me that dolls are more ‘adult-oriented’ or ‘mature’, that they take the fun out of childhood because while you’re still basically a baby yourself you’re already asked to look after a plastic baby to practise how to keep our species alive, while boys use cars to drive away from commitment? Is that what you meant?

I’m going to simply assume that this is what you meant. So of course we could simply swap, hand a girl a toy car and a boy a doll. And yes, years of playing with toy cars have resulted in girls driving nowadays, they even combined the two and drive their babies around town.

And we also gave dolls to boys, you know.
Usually a portable blow-up version they can put inside their car.
And sadly, sir, they didn’t bring paternal instincts to the fore, nor did they promote a new sense of commitment and responsibility. In fact, it resulted in rather disturbing outcomes.
Which is why we gave them back the toy cars.

Real Estate Expertise

Dearest Reader,

I have had my fair share of interaction with real estate agents. I am not sure why this profession attracts such ominous people, but long story short – I’ve seen some worrying things.
At one viewing for instance, the agent greeted me rather abruptly with “what’s your budget, and do you have pets?” while at another viewing the agent looked at me, took me to the side and quietly said “you seem like a decent person” and showed me where to sign.
While it is not a profession I particularly understand the purpose of, it is clear that it is required – finding an apartment in Sydney has become so competitive that it might soon indeed be recognised as an Olympic sport. To secure the apartment, applicants desperately try to stand out in any way they can, perhaps by offering higher rent, making larger deposits, promising to never complain and sacrificing their first-born son.
Not surprisingly, the application process has become equally ridiculous, something I noticed as I crashed the photocopier repeatedly by trying to fax the 20 pages required to apply for my current apartment. It included everything from bank statements, employment reference letters to medicare cards and birth certificates. In fact, with so many applicants, agents can ask for pretty much anything, and people will obey. For this last place, I was even asked to write a cover letter, similar to a job application. The problem with that is that I know what qualifies me for a job, but I am unsure what qualifies me to live in an apartment. I mean what skills and experience could I recount to demonstrate my superior ability to reside on these premises?
Perhaps it would read something like this…
Dear Rental Apartment Sales Person,
This is a letter to support my application for the apartment I viewed on Saturday. I viewed it well, and thoroughly, one might say I was the key viewer at this event. Perhaps you noticed me, I was the most responsible-looking person there.
I believe to be very capable of living in this property, and I have experience in living in apartments. I can look after myself and will not require additional help from you or the owner. I know where everything is and I know which function each room has. I am also confident with keys and locks, and I am an expert in opening and closing windows..
I am also experienced in operating all the machines that are in the kitchen, I have used them all before, and I am experienced in using a bathroom. I can use different types of flush handles/buttons, and have some knowledge of when one needs to do a half-flush. I also understand the use of light switches, as well as any other power fittings.
I don’t know much about defrosting a freezer, but I am willing to learn and I am a very hard worker. My enthusiasm will undoubtedly see me excel at defrosting, also considering the transferrable skills I have gained from cleaning out the fridge.
I make enough money to pay the handsome sums of rent you ask for, and I have no intention of deceiving you as you know where I live and made me sign a 30-page binding document. 
I’m overall a very decent human being, I don’t do much after 8pm, and I am familiar with the term ‘recycling’.
I breathe air, but I always leave enough for the other tenants.
I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Kind regards,
Zozan Balci
Head of Renting


The Beginning of the End

Dearest Reader,

I recently turned 29.

I’m going to let that sink in for a moment.

This means that even by the most generous calculations, I am closer to 30 than I am to 20. And once you turn 29, you join a very special sorority. Let me elaborate..

In your teens and 20s you have, if not an actual list, at the very least a mental list of things you want to achieve by the time you turn 30. Usually there’s some heavy stuff in there, like marriage, babies, houses, career goals, maybe a car, maybe even a cleaner for this big house you can now afford with your awesome salary!

But when you turn 29, as you blow out the candles on your birthday cake, a terrifying realisation washes over you, followed immediately by hysteria-ridden irrational positivity. In your head, it goes something like this:

“Oh God. Oh God. Only 12 months left. I’m a huge failure. I still went to the bar asking for ‘the cheapest beer’ for Goodness sake. I’ve achieved nothing! No hang on, this is only 29. It’s ok. Calm down. You STILL have 12 months. Sure, you couldn’t do any of this in the past 28 years, but now is the MAGIC age. This is the time to tick things off the list! To achieve all your life’s goals at record speed! If humans can fly to the moon, why can’t you tweak your CV and shoot up three tax brackets in 12 months? And making babies only takes 9 months, that leaves you a whole three extra months to get to know the father and find a house!

It is the fear, the panic, the ‘last chance’, the ‘final straw’, the ‘beginning of the end’ angst that makes 29 such a special age, because you have been made to believe that if you haven’t ticked them off the list by the time you reach 30, you’ll never achieve them.

But of course if you’re anything like me, you’re far from having any of these things. To put things into perspective, I still can’t really afford the $1 extra they charge if you want guacamole with your burrito. And I still don’t own a washing machine. And I still don’t confidently know how to hold a baby without breaking its neck.

And that’s ok. Because the truth is that being 29 doesn’t mean you’re an adult. It just means you’re 29. All you know about adulthood at this point is that it’s tough and scary, it’s full of difficult decisions that make you sleepy, it’s not all just candy before dinner, and you would rather not be an adult, or at least delay it for as long as possible.

But truth be told, 29 isn’t all bad either. I feel like I have finally earned enough years to understand what is meant by ‘you live and learn’. I certainly have many years of learning ahead of me to be taken seriously by society, but I feel that I can at least drop some golden nuggets of wisdom on the average 21-year old, thanks to all the extra years of getting my ass handed to me by life.

Also, I can now stop pretending to like leaving my house at 10pm and returning at 3am, because dammit, I survived 29 winters and it was tiring, and I just want to ‘be’ for once!

Another unexpected new thing is that high school kids give you their seat on the bus, because you’re finally old enough for at least one generation to show you some respect. Because apart from all those winters, you also survived the hell that is high school!

So as I manage the perks and devastations of being 29, I shall share my thoughts with you, dearest reader, and hope it will make you smile.