The challenges and pitfalls of starting a new family life in Germany give Glose plenty of reasons to laugh – and cry. (Part three of the series “A mum on the move”)
For this diary entry, I’m taking you grocery shopping with me, Frankfurt style!
Also coming are my three children. And their appetites. And a pushchair. And a scooter. And five reusable carrier bags. And a water bottle, nappies, bandaids, healthy snacks i.e: bananas, not-so-healthy-snacks-for-when-healthy-snacks-haven’t-quite-hit-the-spot i.e: chocolate biscuits…What have I forgotten? The keys!
Forget the weekly shop, we’ve got enough material to write a nursery rhyme here.
What else are we missing? There‘s about a ‘zentimeter’ (spelt centimetre) of space, just enough to cram in a change of pyjama bottoms. You see, my little boys have a knack for hop, skip and jumping through muddy puddles and the occasional, unnoticed canine ‘crotte’ which means, well, exactly what you think it means.
My days usually involve tending to the Eingag (entry) and Ausfahrt (exit) regions of the gastrointestinal tract. All the while, my tendees offer heroic resistance to any efforts at changing, cleaning or feeding them. Missiles of food, pre- or post-digestion, cutlery and baby wipes hurl through the air with deafening shrieks, landing strategically on the last stain-free spot of that beloved M&S jumper. Or my face, but that usually cleans right off. Collateral damage.
Medical school was the best preparation for life as a busy mummy in a foreign land. Underpaid, overworked, little-appreciated and waist-deep in litigation. Did I say litigation? I meant frustration. Or did I mean exhaustion? But, the perks are totally worthwhile. Intense feelings of self-awareness and satisfaction. Knowing that you are helping make a difference to someone’s existence. Life-long learning and self-directed study skills.
Some days are awesome and other days you would rather just stay in bed. Either way there are dependents waiting on your time and love. It’s always a matter of life and death.
There are some things that medical school and the workplace didn’t prepare me for. At all. One of them is the German language. Had I known life might have taken me down this path, perhaps I would have learned German in school. But then I would never have met my husband or been able to communicate with his family. Isn’t it mind-blowing, the meticulousness of God’s designs?
What is the mathematical probability of a Southern France-born and bred young telecommunications engineer (him), meeting a Middle Eastern-born, English-bred, young biomedical scientist of Indian origin (me)? On a train ride back to Paddington station, London? After a silent retreat for Catholic students near Reading in the UK? Which neither was meant to attend initially…Not high, I think.
I’ve always loved languages. I could have been a polyglot had I retained any of the Arabic or Hindi I had to learn as a child at school. But French is all I’ve got, ze language of love.
Not so with German, not so. The simple phrase
“I love you”
now becomes the very pragmatic,
“ich liebe dich”
The throat-clearing way of pronouncing the ‘-ch’ in Deutsch cements your profound admiration for the other, as well as situating at something around zero the chances of developing your relationship further.
Having said that, you would be hard-pressed to find another language as much fun to speak and write with. We have enjoyed many a giggle at the ‘Gute fahrt!’ signage on multi-story car-parks here in Germany. It translates to ‘pleasant journey’ or ‘drive safely’…or ‘happy gas-release’ if you have three boys in the car with you, two of them toddlers, one in his 30s. Another exciting find is the word ‘Eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher’. A gloriously named device for breaking open hard boiled eggs. Obviously.
Speaking of which, now’s the time to tell you about those rainbow-coloured eggs I referred to in my previous post. Under those ever-so-intriguing, tie-dyed shells, lies a very humble hard-boiled egg. The coloured resin forms a protective coating which gives the boiled egg a shelf life of up to several months. If you ever need a last-minute addition to your picnic basket, are feeling peckish yourself or need to rustle up some canapes for guests in a hurry, these are an eggcellent option. The Germans like to eat them with bread and cold cuts. Lecka! Delicious!
Lidl is our supermarket of choice and being the closest to home, our preferred option. A strategic move given the fact that we move as a pack. And take about twice as long to get anywhere. You can also shop at Aldi, Edeka, Netto and the more upmarket Rewe (pronounced ree-vuh). There are weekly farmers’ markets and Bäckerei (bakeries) for local delicacies and fresh produce a quarter of an hour’s walk from home. If you need a drugstore, you can head over to Rossman, dm (drogerie markt) or Müller … Think Boots.
And if you dare attempt a trip to the drugstore to find makeup with your beautiful brood in tow, be warned. Our last visit to help mummy find some lipstick resulted in a face-painting showdown where my five-year-old decided to give my very willing two-year-old a makeover. The baby was seconds away from ingesting waterproof mascara when I remembered why it had taken me this long to buy new lipstick to begin with.
You will find most groceries fairly standard all over Europe. I mean Europe and Great Britain, as of 1 February, 2020. Minced beef, chicken, couscous, pasta, tinned peaches, bananas and cereals. All similar in price, quality and taste. Some things Germany does fantastically well: a huge range of organic products more widely available than special-buy sections in the UK. Incredible apples, fresh pastas or Spätzle, teas, charcuterie and biscuits. We‘ve seen Jaffa cakes in kirsch, wafers in neopolitan and thankfully not a pink panther wafer in sight.
Fresh turmeric root has been a flavour revelation. Cheeses are mostly French imports, but really who can blame them? The varieties of Wurst are endless and we have bangers with mash more often than I would care to admit. We are after all in the city of the Frankfurter: it would be a shame not to. But I shudder to think of the sheer volume of salt and nitrites we have been consuming. With no traffic-light system to advise us on food packaging and artisan wheat beers found everywhere, we’ve left our kidneys with our common sense. Both firmly back in England.
I wonder if it’s time to dip into our carefully-rationed stash of baked beans yet? I never thought it would get to a point where Asda’s reduced-salt version would become the most requested meal option of the week. But you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Except rich tea biscuits and chocolate digestives, those are hands down worth their weight in Euros.
And never take your Lyle’s golden syrup or lemon curd on buttered crumpets for granted again!
We’ve tried every variation of rye bread with thermo-stable butter (no refrigeration required) going. And while it’s decidedly delicious, it comes with a heavy dose of homesickness. Non, je ne regrette rien…
Shopping and internal monologuing done, we head for the tills. The cashiers chat to my five-year old to try and distract him from emptying out the battery recycling bin. Meanwhile the two-year-old decides to try and refill the coffee-dispensing machines, or overturn them. They aren’t unruly kids, they’re just well, curious and…kids!
A lovely lady I recognise from Church comes over to chat to me in English (thank you, Lord, for little mercies!) We laugh about the sheer lunacy of shopping with children while I juggle the baby in one hand and try to fill groceries with the other. The pushchair is creaking under the weight of the shopping and I hope it survives the uphill trek home. Meanwhile, my boys are uncharacteristically quiet.
I find them hiding behind the cashier, unwrapping half a dozen Kinder eggs and looking up at me with a sorry expression on their faces. Their hands never miss a beat and another wrapper falls to the floor. A group of young men barely control their laughter and speak German to the effect of, “Boys will be boys!” Reaching down into my wallet to pay for the damage, I had to agree. I wondered if I could salvage some of the chocolate for later. It seemed the perfect excuse to try and make my own chocolate digestives.
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