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Things You Should Know about Germany

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You’d think that Germany wouldn’t be so different from living in, say, Britain. But actually, there are loads of little things that are quite unique to Germany that take some time getting used to.

A lot of these may be Frankfurt based, but some can be applied to all of Germany, so if you’re planning to come and visit or if you’re moving to Germany in the near future, these may be of use to you!

1. Shops shut on Sundays.

You may not think that this will affect you so much, but as someone who works full time, I’d love to be able to spread my shopping errands over Saturday and Sunday. Some handy info, though – shops that are in train stations and airports are still OK to be open on Sundays!

2. Germans are ok.

“Oh, you live in Germany? I bet those Germans get on your nerves!!”

Sigh. No, German people aren’t all humourless control freaks who throw towels everywhere to mark their territory.

German people have such dry, dark humour they’re hilarious. Anyone who thinks they take themselves too seriously should take a look at the German satire magazine Titanic. As for the towels…if anyone thought Brits they met abroad (especially in places like Mallorca or Ibiza) represented the average British person, I’d cry myself to sleep every night. But I think most people see Brits on holiday as one set of people, and British people in general as another. And so you should do the same with Germans. And perhaps Russians (for they are a pain when they’re on holiday too).

Take this from someone who lives with 4 very different German people – Germans are great.

3. Lots of pork.

Do you like pork? Awesome. You’ll get it with everything, even things which do not usually contain pork will have pork in.

4. Safe, on the whole.

One of the things that surprises me about Germany is how trusting they are of passers-by. When I lived in my old flat, there was some construction going nearby and the building materials were just left out in the open overnight. If that was England, they’d be stolen right away.

At the Christmas markets, goods for sale dangle dangerously close to the end of the stall, so that it would be very easy to just stand out of sight and take something. But no one does. I doubt the thought goes through the German mind that this is a thing that might happen.

Germans always say that Frankfurt is really dangerous, but mostly it’s drug or corporate crime that bumps up the stats. There was a guy who got shot near to my flat but that was just a rare thing.

Saying that, I have known of a few people who fell victim to pick pocketers, so if you do come to Frankfurt, don’t let your guard down. As long as you use common sense, you should be as safe as in any major city.

5. Buying things from outside Europe

You need to buy a certain thing. You look on Amazon, and find a seller selling that thing. Awesome. Only, they are not in Europe.

When that thing is sent to you, the chances are, it’ll be sent through the zollamt – customs office – and that will be nothing but a huge headache.

Anecdote 1 – I move from Japan to Germany, send two suitcases with heavy books and winter clothes to my new home by boat. I have to go to the zollamt to open the cases myself so they can check what’s inside them, then pay about 10 euros per case in taxes/fees before I can have my belongings.

Anecdote 2 – I can’t find anyone in Europe selling the game Apples to Apples so I bought one from America through ebay. It was sent to the zollamt and, when asked if this was something I’d bought or whether it was a gift, I gave the wrong answer and said that it was something I’d bought and so had to pay 20 euros in taxes. ALWAYS SAY IT WAS A GIFT.

It’s even worse because the zollamt in Frankfurt is really out of the way and not easy to get to. If the thing you’re picking up is heavy or difficult to carry, you’re going to struggle.

6. Rules in the contract

Whether it’s a job contract of a contract for your home, be sure to read – or have someone help you read – it all the way through. Germans take their contracts very seriously, and I almost got into trouble for not knowing my rental contract all the way through when I wanted to move.

7. Insurance

Germans love insurance – and you’ll need it! Home insurance as well as rental insurance are a must for expats!

8. Journeymen

You’re sat in a German restaurant, full from your mountain of pork and making your way through your 7th bucket of beer. When all of a sudden some young men dressed in a weird way enter and start Germaning really fast – maybe as a poem or a song? Then they come round to each table with their hand out, asking for money. What’s going on?!

They are most likely to be carpenters on their “waltz” – men wanting to go into these professions have to spend 2 or 3 years on the road traveling from town to town relying on the kindness of others. Some may be looking for a place to stay in exchange for them fixing broken things in the home, but most seem to be looking for extra euros.

In my 2.5 years in Frankfurt I’d say I’ve seen journeymen about 3 times now – and that’s from a person who rarely goes out eating in German places!

9. Religion

Are you Christian? If you say so when you register as living in Germany, then you will have to give a certain % of your salary to the church each month. It’s not a lot, but is something to think about just in case you put christianity down as your default reply.

10. Germany is awesome for expats

German people are awesome, it’s illegal for you to work more than 10 hours, workers’ rights are great…there are so many reasons why you can easily make a comfy life here in Germany. Plus, they’re the strongest economy in Europe – so that’s also reassuring!

Is there anything I’ve forgotten on my list? What do you think people should know about Germany? Let me know in the comments!

Reader Brittany has written a post about things you should know about living in Bavaria – it’s a really great post so check it out!

What I Ate in London (Week One)

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Would you like some London food porn? OF COURSE YOU DO – if there’s one thing I know about my readers, it’s that you like cats and food. I’ve not seen a single cat this week so to make up for the lack of cat pictures have some photos of food.

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YES that’s hummus! It seems the magic phrase here in London right now is “street food” and on my walk to work I noticed a place called Yalla Yalla who do Lebanese street food. I would love to go on a foodie tour of Beirut but unfortunately it’s not the dafest place to be and so I have to make do with what’s available…

The hummus was amazing. Really yummy. And with nice warm bread to dip in…MMMM…

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I also ordered something which I would have avoided normally but the menu told me this dish had won some kind of prize. So that’s how I ended up ordering chicken livers in pomegranate sauce. It really REALLY was yummy.

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Breakfast at Pret a Manger! I have breakfast at the hotel but it’s really busy and also I don’t have wifi there so I like to go to Pret to do internety things for half an hour. Their porridge is pretty good and you can choose from a selection of toppings.

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Probably my favourite food of this trip. I really want to go back to Carnaby Burger Co but I’m not sure I’ll have the time.

I was walking around the Carnaby St area looking for food and saw a sign in the window saying that they had free wifi! Free wifi AND burgers?! Hello heaven!! The burger was really good and the chips…omg the chips…

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Creamy smooth guacamole AND chilli sauce. What a combo! It was heaven.

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Crussh is one of the many “healthy fast food” outlets that deal mainly in smoothies, wraps and sushi. They advertised organic porridge but I chose a breakfast bowl instead – and was shocked to find that it was icy cold!! Probably one for the summer…

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Somewhere in Chinatown I found a little Chinese bakery and couldn’t help buying a bao – Chinese steamed bun with filling. This one had meat inside it…I was trying to find some kind of niku-man like I had in Japan. It wasn’t in any way like that but it was SOOOOO yummy.

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I met up with a girlfriend and went to Shoryu – a ramen place.

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They had gluten free ramen!! It was super yummy and really hit the spot. MMMM look at that kara-age!

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They had gluten free niku-man here but it wasn’t really right…and the gluten free-ness of it made it kinda yucky. Good job the ramen was awesome!!

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I finally found Leon and tried their breakfast pot. It was tiiiiiny but contained everything you’d expect in an English breakfast – beans, sausage, beans, bacon, beans and egg. With beans on top. It was really yummy but didn’t fill my up til lunch, that’s for sure!

I certainly haven’t been eating healthily in London but pfft, it’s Christmas and I’m on holiday and I love food!

Podcasts!

podcasts

I’m not entirely sure how and when I got into podcasts. I wasn’t ever really interested listening to anything but music on the radio when I was younger but somehow I started listening to them. It may have been when I went to study in Japan, since I was really into the Adam and Joe podcast. I remember sitting on the bus each week on the way to my part time job trying hard not to laugh out loud at it. It really reminded me of home and was a real comfort when I felt homesick.

I guess I use podcasts in the same way now – to make me feel more at home. As you’ll see, I do listen to a lot of BBC podcasts, but that’s also because I hate having time in the day when I’m not working my brain. I’d like to be learning even when I’m out and about, and podcasts are the perfect way to do that. So, here are the podcasts that I listen to!

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First up is a little boring, perhaps. BBC Outlook is a 50 minute “true life story” podcast that’s put out every weekday except Friday. This is also the reason why I have 100 podcasts I’ve not listened to yet. They contain stories and interviews with really extraordinary people, from a Korean guy who used to be a North Korean spy to a Nigerian singer to a girl who was sex trafficked to America. Some of them look a little boring from the outside, and 50 minutes is a long time, but if you have a long commute or spend a lot of the time driving about, these are great in the background.

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Next up we have one of my favourites – the BBC Food Programme. These come out weekly and have roughly 30 minutes of programme about specific food areas. There was one about street food the other week and that just made me hungry…and the one about Irish cooking made me want to hop on a plane and get over there. As you may have guessed, I like food. So I love listening to things like this with all the latest food trends.

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Next up is more BBC with The listening project. In regional BBC centres over the country, the BBC set up recording booths for people to go in and just talk to people they know, and these podcasts contain snippets of the outcome. I’ve listened to 6 year old little girls interviewing their grannies about their past boyfriends, guys talking to their parents about being gay and the conversation that will stick with me the most – two nurses talking about what people do and say just before they die. Some of them make me laugh out loud, some make me cry in public. But I think more people should listen to this since it’ll make us all better people.

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Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy is my last BBC podcast and contains two comedy shows – The News Quiz and The Now Show. The News Quiz is hilarious… kind of like Have I Got News for You, but for radio and with Sandi Toksvig who is really amazing. The Now Show is a bit naff, even though it has a lot of great people on it like Hugh Dennis (the dad from Outnumbered). I bare with The Now Show weeks and just look forward to the weeks with The News Quiz.

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Lastly is a podcast channel which I only just found recently, and it’s my new favourite thing ever. You know that feeling where you have a favourite tv show and you’re looking forward to it all week? Well I have the same feeling with this – Fortnight on the Internets. As the name suggests, it only comes out every other week, but it’s well worth the wait. It has all the “news” from around the web – memes, YouTube videos, internet trends…basically all the things I love. I wouldn’t have known about the weird happenings with Pronunciation Guide or what Drake Hands are if I wasn’t a listener! There really isn’t another podcast out there like this – it’s amazing.

Now over to YOU! Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which ones! Let me fill up my phone with even more!!

Working in Japan

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I know so many people who would do anything to be able to go and work in Japan. It seems to be on the bucket list of so many people, whether they are people who are obsessed with anime, people who like to travel or just people wanting to live an adventure for a year.

I want to write (what may be a kinda long post) about how you can live in Japan – from what options are available to what you’d need to do. SO, let’s get going…

Question 1 – Do you have a degree?

If the answer is NO, you have two choices; be a student or get a working holiday visa.

Japan doesn’t give working visas to those without degrees. It kinda sucks, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t go live in Japan still, it just means that it might take a little money.

If you want to be a student, you can enroll at a language school, or perhaps if you are a university student you can be an exchange student like I was.

HOW CAN I DO THIS?!

Well, to be a student, first you should pick a school to study at, then apply for your visa. You can get lots of info on this here. I’ve never done this (I went through my British university) so I’m afraid I don’t have so much advice. Shop around for the best deal with the school and check out the local area, too. Some universities have programmes where you don’t have to be a university student yourself to go there, but going to a language school is probably the easiest option.

To do a working holiday visa, it’s slightly harder as there are certain conditions, such as being from a certain country, being within a certain age bracket, having a certain amount of savings stocked up and so on. I found a really good website that talks you through the process so check it out. If you don’t have a degree then this is possibly the best way to go about Japan for the year.

Question 2 – Would you be up for fighting for a popular job?

If you have a degree then perhaps you’d like to become an ALT (assistant language teacher) in a school. I asked if you’re ok with fighting for this job because the process is very complicated and involves writing essays, having interviews, and applying for a job that thousands of other people are also dying to get.

This is mainly with The JET Programme but if you happen to fail with them, there are other companies that do the same thing such as Interac, and depending on the city there are other, smaller companies too.

Why is JET so popular?

Well, there are many advantages to being on JET. The first being that the pay is very, very good. I’m willing to say that unless you get a real job at a big company in Japan, you won’t find a salary this good in Japan. Interac and the others don’t pay quite as good, but it’s still better than most.

JET is great because you are welcomed into a great community. You have pre-departure meetings in your home country, and then everyone gets to go to Tokyo together and we take of the Keio Plaza hotel for a few days while we are all training. Those days were so much fun and I made friends with JETs from all over the country.

It’s also a fairly easy job and you don’t need much to be able to do it. The application process requires you to be on the ball though – you need a great essay and to be able to be charismatic and engaging in the interview. Nothing in your application process should hint that you want to go to Japan because of anime, or because you want to find a Japanese partner. You need to have some REAL, solid reasons for wanting to go there.

Why did you leave JET?

There are also a few downsides to JET. The main one for me was that I felt I was over qualified for the school that I was placed at. Some people get placed in amazing schools. Some get placed at schools who use them as human tape recorders. My placement was somewhere in between that, but it still didn’t mean I was actually teaching. I wrote a lot more about it in this blog post from a while back.

They tell you that you are there to teach but really you are there so that they can have random foreigners in the countryside. You will probably not be placed in Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka etc. You are more likely to be placed in the middle of nowhere, with one convenience store which is a 20 minute bike ride away, and where wild boars come scratching at your door every night (hahah, you think I’m joking?!)

I miss life on JET a lot, but I am very grateful to be in a job where I use my skills and my brain.

HOW CAN I DO THIS?!

I’d love to write a blog post on how to get into the JET Programme, but actually a great guide has already been written. Go check it out, and good luck!

Question 3 – Do you want something a little less…stressful?

If the fight to get a place on JET doesn’t appeal to you, then you’re still in luck! In Japan there is a culture of taking classes outside of school – usually called “juku” or “cram schools”. They leave school and go straight to these schools to sit for another few hours cramming their brains with more info. It’s rare that juku would hire native English teachers since they would focus on grammar (being taught in Japanese, of course…) but there are also after school English schools called “eikaiwa”. There are big names ones like Aeon, ECC and the troubled NOVA, and then smaller ones that are owned by, usually, a middle aged Japanese woman who studied abroad and wants to share her love of English with children (correct me if I’m wrong, guys!!)

How is this different to an ALT/JET job?

Well first of all, your salary would be less. It may even be commission based (I had some friends who were to build up their student base and only then made a decent wage.)

Your hours would be different, too. An ALT works from 8am -4pm. An Eikaiwa teacher might work something like 2pm – 10pm. It means that these two different creatures don’t get to hang out so much as their schedules are totally opposite.

Like I mentioned above, as an ALT I went into classrooms and mainly stood at the back until the teacher needed me to say something, then the kids would repeat after me. Occasionally I’d plan a 15 minute game or something. I worked as an eikaiwa teacher part time when I was at uni in Japan. It was a very small school, run by a nice Japanese lady. I was to teach alongside a real idiot British guy (the type who has lived in Japan for 10 years but speaks only a few words), and in an evening the two of us would teach 4 elementary classes back to back. We’d start with a welcome song, then maybe do some alphabet workbook activities, then maybe read them a story and finish off with some shadowing (a strange practice they like to do in Japan where the kids listen to, say, a fairy tale cd, and try to mimic what they say in real-time. The kids have no idea what they are saying. I have no idea if it’s any good or not.)

TELL ME MORE!!

I can’t personally, but I have found some pretty great links that explain what it’s like working at one of these companies.

Keeping the Peace in Japan working for AEON

What can I do with a BA in Japanese Studies – unnamed school

Susie Somewhere at Peppy Kids Club

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There are, of course other ways to get to Japan. Perhaps you can get a gig as a foreign model, or you are a real life teacher and get a job at a university. But these are the three most popular ways of getting to live and experience Japan, and this post is LONG ENOUGH.

Have you ever lived in Japan? I’d love to hear how you got there and what you did!

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