Thursday, 13 December 2012

We'll take it!

I could be wrong, but I think there's some irony there.

Myths about life as a returning expat:

No.1 You might not like being back but you will be ecstatic about being able to do everything in your own language.

Living abroad is excellent fun, until you have to deal with a problem in a language that is quite foreign to you. My first experience of this if we don't count having to ask in Kaisers if the mince contained any horsemeat, came as a dreaded phone call to Kabel Deutschland as our pin code wasn't working. Talk about a cold sweat. It still gives me nightmares.

Eventually after overcoming numerous problems in a combination of poor German and excellent mime, you can't help but think back to life in your home country and think "there would be no problem big or small that I couldn't solve! Phone calls would be a breeze! Returning faulty goods would be something I would actually do! Oh the exotic plethora of words I would spill onto council officials and call centre operators!".

And to a degree this is true. You have a problem; you know all the words you need to describe said problem; you understand the response, and bingo! Problem *should* in theory be solved.

But somewhere along the line I wonder if I thought the problems wouldn't be as frequent or as frustrating in my own land. And now, on our return I find they are. The house we have moved into is awash with problems. As I have already listed them in a 32 page inventory that took me hours to complete, I won't go into detail again here. But suffice to say, it does not feel like it has been easier. From front door keys that won't lock the door from the inside because they are either snapped or bent, to french windows that leak so badly that when it rains the carpet soaks right up to the bed which is a metre away from said windows. *sigh*. Oh and everywhere was filthy. So dirty in fact that we couldn't have the boxes unpacked. *double sigh*

I couldn't bath the kids for most of the week because the bath couldn't hold water as the plug had no seal and there was a big crack in the bath which we weren't sure was leaking or not. Nor could we stick them in the shower as it was veering from freezing to boiling and back and forward between the two. The boiler needless to say is so old that it makes it quite difficult to listen to each others moans as it sounds as if someone is repeatedly starting up an old tractor in the utility room.

But don't worry. The landlord says we are "difficult tenants". So that's that sorted then. Problem solved. Except that it's not and he isn't very keen to do anything and when I raced down to the letting agent the first morning after we moved in to ask if there was a 'cooling off' period or a way out of this contract I was told that no we are stuck here for a minimum of 6 months because we signed the contract. You don't even want to know how much rent we are paying for this place. And I can't tell you because I might start wailing and not be able to stop. Ok, let's move on.

No.2 You might not like being back but you will be ecstatic about being able to do everything in your own language.

What? Yes, it's the same as number 1, but shoosh! wheesht! I'm thoroughly fed up and I don't care. Do you remember I lost my phone on the u-bahn a few weeks before we moved? Probably not, but anyway I decided to wait until I was back in the UK to get a new one.

So then I started looking at which phone I liked the look of. Wrong, wrong, wrong, said Stevie. You need to work out what functionality you want and then decide how often you would be on the internet etc. Having never had the internet on my phone before it was nigh on impossible to guess how often I would use it in reality. But he had me doing spreadsheets comparing deals with data, text, and calls and phone cost across a selection of the major mobile phone providers. Then, he had me researching the deals offered by the companies that offer mobile phone contracts bundled with home phone and broadband and tv. I hadn't even chosen a phone at this point because beyond knowing I wanted one that looked nice, had the internet, possibly had sat nav and a half decent camera, I didn't know what else to really look for. So I narrowed it down to approximately 3 phones, but multiply that with innumerable phone contracts and you have at least a few evenings of thoroughly boring work. And that's not even factoring in the fact that I don't know what I am doing in Excel.

By the time I had finished I was pretty sure I could live without a phone if it mean avoiding having to do this kind of thing, and Stevie's popularity rating was reaching an all time low. But I did end up with a phone which was nice, though the relief from being done with the dreaded spreadsheet was only temporary as Stevie announced that we were going to get a Parkers Guide, fire up Excel again and let it tell us which car we should buy. Can I just say, many, many days later, we still are no closer to knowing what we are going to buy.

Now let me tell you what would have happened with the mobile phone in Germany. As indeed when we arrived in Berlin I needed to get a new mobile phone. All I knew at that point was that I wasn't going to get a contract as we weren't sure how difficult it would be to get out of it should we decide to leave before 2 years. So we went to Saturn, the only place we had seen that we knew would have them. We wandered around and had a quick look at them and then I said "That one looks ok, doesn't it?" and Stevie said "yes" and we bought it. None of the faffing about that you see above. Why? Because we didn't have the knowledge to know where to find deals and bundles, and we didn't have the language skills to ask about them. And that was the way we bought a lot of stuff in Berlin. If someone told us you could get tv through Kabel Deutschland then we went to Kabel Deutschland. When we needed a new washing machine we pretty much bought the one that we saw first and looked a decent enough price. And maybe it cost us a few more Euros but it was easier and didn't involve Ex-bloody-cel and dark thoughts of boyfriend hatred.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Goodbye to Berlin

Hello. It's been a while. We've been a bit busy. The movers came, packed a gazillion boxes, and then flung them out the window on a little lift. During all this Stevie and I set up office in the shower room and planned our attack on the crayon marks and flooring scuffs armed with baby wipes and Cif. 

Instead of painting the walls at considerable expense, we spent probably around 60 cents more on baby wipes and around 73 times more man hours scrubbing them clean. It was fun... sort of. At least my finger nails were bleachy clean. Then once the boxes were packed up we moved into a lovely hotel near the Ku'damm which we all thought was utterly excellent due to the single fact that we managed to pocket 17 very nice biros from a glass that they kindly replenished daily. By day we cleaned (and the kids continued to go to school) and by night, well, we pretty much dropped into bed and fell fast asleep stinking of bleach.

We did a bit of wandering around Berlin, caught the Christmas markets before the snow and the real festive feeling arrived, and visited the KaDeWe with the kids and saw their kind of Dumbledore Santa. I liked him for being so different, and also for sneaking me some chocolate from his pocket. Is it just me, or does that look like the beginnings of a "Santa? Yeah, whatever..." face on Orla? Ah, no, you're right, it's just her "God I'm sick of my mother taking photos" face. Phew!

And then, on the 4th of December, it was time to go. So that was a bit rubbish. Exciting, I'll give you that, but rubbish. The kids were over the moon to move into another hotel for a few days, us grown ups less so. And then! And then! after a few days we got to move into our new house! Boy were we ready for it! We were chomping at the bit. We dropped the kids off at their new school and raced to the letting agents to sign the papers and collect the keys. Woo-hoo!

Now, what could possibly go wrong.........................................................................???
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