Issue 7- June, 1998
In this issue...
Cheers, ole Blighty...
Saying goodbye is the hardest thing
I had never imagined myself much of an Anglophile. But after seventeen months in this wonderful country, it is very difficult to imagine not being one.
I had originally intended this to be a "best of the best", and started a list: the lovely attitude of the people; the bitters beers, the BBC, Cadbury Chocolates ... and before exhausting even the first three letters of the alphabet, realized that it would be an impossible task. There really isn't anything not to like here. In fact, we will likely reflect upon this time as the best year and a half of our lives.
I'm not very big on long drawn-out goodbyes, and I truly hope that this isn't -- goodbye, that is. We hope to be back.
So, for now, cheers. We hope to see you soon!
(This webpage will stay active until 22 July, but we have no way of checking our email, so please don't send any messages to our demon.co.uk address. Hopefully, we will quickly establish ourselves with an internet provider in the States. As soon as that happens, we'll post links and addresses here and on the index page. Please check back periodically - we'd love to hear from you!)
Let me give you an insight into the (sometimes deranged) British sense of humor.
Some years ago, a coworker of mine was driving a van to Wales with a group that included a rather gullible, and not terribly bright girl. Entry into Wales on the M4 (the main east-west highway) is via a long bridge punctuated by a toll plaza. The coworker saw his chance, and turned to the girl. "Well, we're about to enter Wales. You did bring your passport, didn't you?" The poor girl was dumbstruck. "You didn't realize this was another country? That's the border control up ahead," he said, pointing to the tollbooths. "You'd better go hide under the blankets in the back."
At the toll booth, the coworker said, loudly, "Here's the money. Oh, and HERE'S MY PASSPPORT. NO, SIR, IT'S JUST US. REALLY, THERE'S NO ONE HIDING UNDER THE BLANKETS BACK THERE."
In Britain, we call this "taking the piss out of someone."
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Yes, it rains a lot in Wales. And the sun often shines too. And it's misty, and clear, and overcast - more often than not, all several times within a day. If the weather is changeable in England, it's downright fickle in Wales.
As with the weather, the countryside has infinite variety also. Rolling hills slope gently to the seas; ancient monuments and castles dot the countryside. But above all, it is quiet and gentle; an unhurried pace and friendliness is everywhere.
Welsh goats in a graveyard
Smart Sheep Story: We were driving along a particularly narrow road, when around the bend came four sheep walking the other way - Mum and Dad, and two lambs. We stopped. The sheep stopped. We stared at the sheep. The sheep stared at us (a little indignantly, I might add - this was, after all, their road). I backed down - remembering that we had just passed a wider area in the road, I backed the car up thirty yards and pulled into the lay-by. The sheep seemed to understand perfectly, and hustled past us. I'm not sure, but I think the father "harrumphed" as he went past...
near Fussen, Bavaria
A disney castle, with an interior.
Our second out-of-country trip after arriving in England was to Frankfurt. Now, Frankfurt is not exactly tops on anyone's tourist destination list -- it wasn't on ours, either, but since a relative of Jane's was getting married there, we were nominated to "show the family flag". Not that it was bad, mind you, it was just sort of, ... unremarkeable.
More recently, I returned to Frankfurt on a business trip, and even more recently, we spent an extended weekend in Munich and Bavaria. After all that, we must admit that Germany has grown on us.
First of all don't expect signs saying "Frankfurter" to be selling hot dogs. In German, it's the adjectivial form of Frankfurt, a sort of Frankfurt-ish if you will, so you have Frankfurter banks and Frankfurter newspapers and Frankfurter millnery shops.
Not that you can't get the lowly sausage-in-a-roll here. Quite the contrary. You know the myth of the jolly rotund German? Well, it's no myth. Here, you will not go hungry. In Munich I ordered a "wurst sampler" that had eight different kinds of sausage. Hearty and very filling, I was burping garlic up for a day. And while driving through the Bavarian countryside,we stopped at a small bakery. We had to communicate by pointing and smiling, because the woman didn't speak any English, and our knowlededge of German is rather rudimentary. But, our pereverance was rewarded by the best baked goods ever, in that tiny shop in Mittenwald.
Frankfurt has been accused of being all business, sterile and character-less. It is very modern - at first blush, it appears more American than European. The city was practically destroyed during the war, so the archietecture and the city layout is quite modern. That's not altogether bad -- the plumbing always works, and streets are wide and straight and quite logically arranged. Or perhaps it was always so, given the famous German penchant for orderliness?
Munich, on the other hand has LOTS of charachter. Lovely old-town, great people. Perhaps our opinion was a bit colored because we arrived on the town's 840th anniversary, and had the pleasure of partaking in a city-wide party, with beer and food available in copious quantity everywhere.
Also, in Bavaria, we got to experience the Germans' passion for driving. We had requested a compact car, (one up from the bottom) and the rental agent said, "Is an Audi A4 okay?" Uh yeah, sure ... (trying to maintain a nonchalant exterior while internally screaming "YESSS!!!"). Nothing focuses your attention better than a sustained Autobahn drive at 160 km/hr (100 mph). And nothing imparts humility better than, in the center lane at the aforementioned speed, a Porsche flashes by in the high-speed lane. But the most amazing thing is that you can do it - legally. The German highways are perfect - wide shoulders, gentle curves, perfect pavement without a single bump. Yet another manifestation of the orderliness and efficiency of this country.
Speaking of orderliness, it's really comforting to be someplace where everything works. Frankfurt, and Munich somewhat, are not really tourist-oriented cities, so some things take a little figuring out at first - like transport - but once you puzzle them out, you can be dead certain that things will continue to function the same way. The rail systems, for example -- Once you master how to buy the correct ticket, you can rest assured that it will work reliably and consistently henceforth. If the schedule says the train leaves at 8:13, you can bet that one second past that time the doors are be closed and the train is moving.
They even developed a country-wide timekeeping scheme. Many desk clocks, wall clocks and even wristwatches in Germany these days have no knob for setting the time -- instead thete's a single-chip radio reciever that locks on to a timebase transmitter and sets the thing for you. It even adjusts for seasonal timechanges.
And when you express amazement at all of the orderliness and efficiency, a native German usually responds with a puzzled expression, "but of course, why would we do it any way else?"
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