Posted by: megaschwez | March 31, 2010

The Airbus A380

Emirates Airbus A380 Stairway

I must have been just to the right of these businessmen

I’m not sure whether you’ve ever flown on an Airbus 380. It happens to be an enormous, double-decker aircraft. Lowly economy-class passengers such as myself can only peer up the stairs to the top deck as far as the bar, which is adorned with more seductively glittering bottles of alcohol than you can poke your travel toothbrush at. I can only imagine what other luxuries await the passengers lucky enough to have a first-class boarding pass in their Louis Vuitton travel wallets.

During my hiatus from this blog, gentle readers, I was alas required to fly from Munich to Sydney in  a distressed state. Luckily, I had a seat (economy-class, but a seat nevertheless) on this magnificent machine, which happens to have a whole lot of room even at the front of the lower deck for wandering around, sobbing quietly and projecting existential angst out of the tiny windows and into the inky blackness beyond.

While I was wandering, sobbing and projecting, a Flight Attendant (from Queensland, as it turned out), to his credit, tapped me on the shoulder sympathetically. The following exchange ensued, which only served to confirm my equation of upper deck with a kind of aviatory nirvana:

FA: What’s wrong?

Me: relates tale of woe

FA: sympathetically aww, that’s rough.

Me: nods, slightly comforted

FA: Can I get you anything?

Me: Perhaps some water?

FA strides to curtained kitchen, emerges with water bottle in one hand.

In the other, he carries a magnificently decorated tumbler containing a delicious-looking dessert, strawberry tilted at a jaunty angle on the rim. He beams at me.

FA: here you go

Me: Oh, you shouldn’t have, that’s really lovely of you reaches for dessert

FA: Uh, that’s not for you. That’s for upstairs.

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Posted by: megaschwez | March 29, 2010

Aufwiedersehen to the Hausfrau Blues

So I’ve been on hiatus. Turns out, I’m not a hausfrau anymore!

It was all just one big misunderstanding. No one informed me that english-speaking expats in non-english-speaking countries are in fact able – nay, expected – to choose from a wide range of jobs, including:

  • English Teacher,
  • English Trainer, or
  • English Private Tutor.

Who knew?!
After careful consideration, I decided to teach English to both very small people in a kindergarten, and adult people. The small people are more fun – they give you more hugs, laugh at your jokes more often and usually do what they’re told when bribed with Pez. However, they tend to climb on tables at regular intervals, and also you come into contact with a greater quantity of bodily fluids than in the adult classes. Life is about compromise.

So, I’ve been concentrating on teaching the classics to my kindergartners in their weekly 4.5 hours of English, that noblest of languages. By classics, I mean less Pride and Prejudice than Heads and Shoulders, Knees and Toes, which includes the lesser-known verse ‘eyes and ears and mouth and nose’. Now, they say that teaching others holds a mirror up to your soul. In this case, it brandishes a dictophone and plays it back at full, horrifying volume. Turns out that I have transformed my class of little Austrians into a pack of tiny aussie bogans. To wit:

Me: what are these? (points to eyes)
Tinies (in the manner of Steve Irwin): Oies
Me: and what are these? (points to ears)
Tinies: eeys
Me: and this? (points to nose)
Tinies: nouz
Me: *slaps forehead*

I am expecting them to come out with ‘a dingo stole my baby’ any day now.

aussie bogan displaying spectacular flannel shirt and mullet

Fig 1: Sample future yearbook photo

Posted by: megaschwez | August 20, 2009

Reasons I shouldn’t be a Hausfrau

hausfrau

All the expats have a story here, about how they came over to live in Austria when they were sixteen, barefoot and pregnant, not speaking a word of German, and how they battled through months of loneliness and homesickness only knowing the words for ‘bread’ and ‘gynaecologist’.

I have no such story. By the time I arrived in Austria last year, I had spent six full years at a tertiary institution learning to distinguish my pluperfect from my conditionals. I speak better German than Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Actually that’s not hard, I nearly had a heart attack the first time I heard him do an interview in German. It is frightening to see a weightlifter with the vocabulary of a preschooler.)

However, although fluent of tongue, there was a long period of time when I was restricted, like aforementioned expats, to carrying out housewifely duties. This is mostly due to the fact that the Australian and Austrian heads of state respectively have never sat down over a Tooheys and knocked out, say, a cheeky bilateral work agreement.

So although neither pregnant nor barefoot, there I was, a lonely non-EU citizen, unable to work, living in a borrowed apartment and feeling sorry for myself that I had to catch TWO separate forms of public transport to get anywhere near civilisation.

In fact, I felt a little bit like Cynthia Nixon’s character in Sex and the City, when she moves from somewhere in the middle of New York to suburban Brooklyn. Sure, this comparison unravels a little when you take into account the fact that a) the storyline is totally different and b) I’m not a ranga (sorry Mum).

My point, however, remains. I went from a deliriously busy schedule of inner-West weekend breakfasts, coffee dates at Coogee baths, evening cocktails and facebooking at work, to looking at my blank schedule and fervently willing google reader to fill the vacuum left by the absence of steady employment and a spectacularly frivolous social life.

After one too many times being caught in front of the computer in my pyjamas at 6pm when the wife got home, I ‘decided’ to throw myself into the joys of housewifery. One of the first major projects I assigned myself was to clean our third-floor balcony.

By way of illustrating the grandeur of this task, let me say that in Linz, the most common way of getting your balcony plants to look green again is by wiping off the layer of black grime from their leaves. Linz is an industrial city, which means not only does it have fully sick locations for some kind of gritty, futuristic film, but the air is also saturated with microscopic particles of filth.

To wit: Cleaning the balcony was no easy mission. After fruitlessly sweeping the grime from one side to the other, I cracked the shits, and flung a bucket of soapy water over those particles, sweeping them in an arc over the edge with my trusty broom. A glistening balcony was my almost-instant reward, and I had just sat down to read about celesbians online when the doorbell rang.

Having by this stage developed a mild social phobia, I cringed, then panicked, then stayed silent and rigid in the hope that the postman/potential axe-murderer would leave, disheartened. After the third ring, I padded to the door and opened it, not so much brave as annoyed at being interrupted whilst reading about LiLo and Sam.

I found myself face-to-face with someone I had never before seen in my life, although the hair on one half of her head was dripping, and she was holding a pair of shorts, also wet. She looked quite shitty.

I rapidly discovered that she was my neighbour of two floors down, and that by sheer coincidence, she had been hanging washing out on her terrace just as I was deluging said terrace with dirty balcony water.

This explained the wet hair, the shorts and the shitty look. I wondered momentarily what my last facebook update had been, in case it had been my last. But here’s where my mad skillz came in.

I explained, in my best German, that I was oh so terribly sorry, and that I had looked over the balcony to check (this part was true) just moments before (this part was not true, it was more like three hours previously), and hurriedly mentioned that I was Australian, as this usually distracts people and makes them think of snakes, Paul Hogan and Uluru.

She looked less rabid after this, and for the rest of the conversation I may have put on a bit of an Australian accent to emphasise my cute foreignness.

Satisfied, she slouched off down the stairs, on her way to put those two full loads back in the machine. Later, I brought her round a bottle of cheap red wine and some fancy biscuits to apologise, and she was pleased as punch, having now scored alcohol AND a story about foreigners to tell the girls down the pub about.

I left the balcony to its own devices after that. We moved out, but not before I destroyed, in separate cleaning incidents, a shelf, a vase, and a pottery ornament with sentimental value, none of which belonged to me.

The moral of this story: My hausfrauing days were destined to be numbered. I am about to start a job where I will get paid just above the average McDonald’s wage, and I have no compunction about spending a disproportionate amount of this on hired help.

Posted by: megaschwez | August 4, 2009

Copperplate tattoo

Tattoo and piercing parlour

Yeah, thass right, byatches, I’m gonna get me a tattoo at the toughest parlour in town. They so tough, they don’t be needin’ no stinkin ass fancy graphics. They get their momma to just write it on out with her fancy pen, dem Riesz Brothers.

She so tough, she draws real scary stuff, like spiders an webs an shit. She prolly pierce you wit her crochet needle an everythin.  Don’t you go messin wit dem Riesz Brothers, thassal I’m sayin.

Posted by: megaschwez | August 3, 2009

Austrian Bogans

Bogan tyre cover

This… this goes to prove that there is a bogan diaspora in Austria.

Taken with my woeful camera phone at the Narzissenfest at Bad Aussee, which is an event worthy of its own entry.

Posted by: megaschwez | July 29, 2009

Part of Europe

Part of Europe

I spotted this on one of my many trips to the local council, aka the Bezirkshauptmannschaft (German: why use 7 letters when 22 will do?).

What I am wondering is, why is this the first such sign I have spotted?

I’m off to put this letter in the mail:

Dear Iceland,

I’m sorry that your banks collapsed and now all you have are geysers and Björk. I just wanted to know, where are you going to put your sign once you get EU membership?

Yours sincerely,

Sonja

Posted by: megaschwez | July 24, 2009

Beating the heat, Brüno-stylee

Hetties picnicking

When you think ‘central European summer’, what comes to mind? Mild sunshine, a picnic by the lake, perhaps? I know that’s what I pictured in my mind-hole.

This summer in Linz, however, it’s more similar to a picnic where someone has cranked the heat up about 15°, wrapped you in cling wrap and forced you to do the hokey pokey. It’s so humid it could be Sydney circa February. Which is obviously delightful for Your Humble Narrator, as it makes me feel right at home.

It is also an endless source of amusement to read the local newspapers, full of tips, tricks and facts about how to deal with these unfamiliar phenomena known as heat and humidity. I have included two of my favourites below.

To be fair, though, it’s pretty much the same as if it suddenly snowed in Potts Point. That rag of a newspaper, MX, would be full of bullet-pointed lists and lame icons indicating ways to avoid falling over on icy pavements, how to scrape the ice off your car etc. Stuff that would have the locals here in stitches – they’s been shovelling the driveway free of snow since they were knee-high to a grasshopper.

My only complaint in all this homely mugginess is the lack of air conditioning. Linz and Sydney have many similarities, including the fact that there is a complete lack of appropriate climate control during one season of the year.

In Linz, this means that the only place I’ve been in all week which was in any way airconditioned was the local running sushi, where it was so cold my maki was nearly snap-frozen.

Still, it’s hard to beat memories of Sydney winters, which include huddling inside the classroom with my poo-brown blazer on, compensating for the fact that the tiny government-issued schoolroom heater emitted about as much heat as a fart in a snowstorm. Or the many times I alighted, frostbitten, from a cityrail train. As a city, we enjoy pretending that winter just doesn’t exist. Which explains the ‘scarf and thongs” combination so adored by sydneysiders.

Without further ado, the articles in question:

Schwüle tips

1. How can I best protect myself from the heat and humidity?

2. How important is it to drink enough?

3. Which drinks are best?

4. What should I eat when it is humid?

5. What clothes should I wear?

6. How can I keep my apartment cool?

7. What are the best tips for the office?

8. What if I’m lethargic in the morning?

9. What if I work outside?

10. How can I sleep well when it’s hot?

I admit, were I the author of this article, I would be more than tempted to suggest that Red Bull and midday exercise were the best remedies, and observe the fallout.

Cotton blankets and water

Let's be honest: No one is interested in the advice here about cotton blankets and water. The only interesting part is the info on sexy times. To wit: 'The long summer days mean that the sex hormone testosterone is released. The heat releases pheremones, which function as a sex attractant.' O rly? Sexy times was the last thing on my mind this morning when I was stuck under an armpit on the tram. Fact.

Posted by: megaschwez | July 10, 2009

Things I don’t miss about Australia

Australia flag map

If you happen to be outside Australia, and you run into an Australian citizen, it is statistically a dead certainty that the topic of ‘what I miss about Australia’ will be canvassed, most likely at length.

I would be prepared to go down to the local TAB-equivalent here and place bets that the words ‘beach’, ‘tim-tams’ and ‘barbie’ will be liberally scattered throughout the next conversation I have with an aussie expat. (Let’s be honest, most of those phrases will probably come from me)

To clarify, I am the last person to play down homesickness. Homesickness is the worst feeling. It can make you even sadder than when Barbara Hershey dies in Beaches*. It is kind of like having a broken heart, but you don’t get as much sympathy when you shovel in a whole tub of icecream and a block of milka to dull the pain.

However, just because you’re overseas does not make it okay to rabbit on about the $10 schnitzel dinner at your local RSL club and how much you miss it (note to self).

Thus, I’m campaigning for the following to be a legitimate conversation topic: ‘Things I Don’t Hate About Australia, But Also Don’t Really Miss’. Here is my contribution.

Tim-tams

Tim Tam SlamLet’s start with the obvious. I like tim-tams. But there are a lot of chocolate biscuits here that do the trick just as nicely. My verdict: Tim-tam slams are overrated (I cannot believe there is a wikipedia entry devoted to this practice) There, I’ve said it. I expect a torrent of abuse in the comments.

Christmas hamper advertisements

Christmas hamperTo explain: In Australia, a series of low-budget advertisements run from about December 26. They advertise the fact that you can pay a monthly instalment to receive a christmas hamper delivered to your door next Christmas, choc-full of useless and faintly repulsive grocery items.

The ads are tailored to the Readers’ Digest crowd, and/or the kind of families where the mum still prints out labels to iron onto the clothes of her university-aged children.

I have just conducted a straw-poll amongst my english-speaking but non-Australian colleagues, and they all shook their heads in confusion at the concept of ‘let me get this straight, paying in monthly instalments for a basket of stuff that you can buy in the supermarket anyway?!’

I don’t miss these ads.

Ugg boots

ugg bootsIn europe, the revolutionary concept of central heating pretty much renders the old uggies useless. No one likes sweaty ankles, and that, my friends, is what you end up wtih if you pull them on indoors during wintertime, when the house is heated to a cosy 22°C.

Also, don’t get me started on wearing uggies outside. Lindsay Lohan can get away with it because she is a celebrity lez and we are all too busy looking for traces of cocaine in her nostrils to notice the aesthetically unappealing footwear.

Inflated wine prices

passion popTo my knowledge, the only wine-related products in Sydney under $7 are passion pop and queen adelaide. These are cool when you are 15, then they become uncool as soon as you turn 18 and can legally purchase a decent semillon savignon blanc with your retail wage.

Then they become retro-cool again, mostly at uni parties where all the indie kids wear threadbare dunlops and get ‘like totally wasted’.

Mostly, in Australia,  you pay $13-$21 for a bottle of vino (depending on how much you like the person whose party you are going to). Here, I can’t remember the last time I paid more than 4€.

I am pretty sure there are a whole bunch of other things I don’t miss, including the Royal Easter Show, Karl Stefanovic and annoying commercials such as the ‘Good Guys’ ad. Here it is, to remind you how much you don’t/wouldn’t miss it.

*if you haven’t seen it, you deserved that spoiler

Posted by: megaschwez | June 16, 2009

Obscene apres-ski disco songs

apres ski party and dirndl

Anthropological studies have often been based on song texts. In keeping with this scientific tradition, I present to you

The Austrian soul laid bare:  Lyrics to aprés ski songs

Correct – nothing is more suited to an anthropological study of the Austrians than the tunes they belt out in their ski huts and their village discos. And nothing is more deserving of an Adults-Only rating.

Why? Because most songs are built around a chorus which alludes to at least one of the following:
– Genitalia
– Intercourse
– Voyeurism.

The recipe involves a dash of reproductive organs, a nod and a wink to the horizontal mambo, smothered in lots and lots of innuendo.

Joana

Let’s take a humble cover song, for example. Roland Kaiser wrote ‘Joana’ in 1997, a hymn to love at first sight. An average one, let’s be honest. To wit:

Joana, born to love/ to live forbidden dreams
Your glance hit me like a stab to the heart/ I knew there was no going back
Your wishes met mine, it made me bashful/ something I thought I’d never feel again.

So far, so bland.

Fast forward to 2008, and a guy called Peter Wackel inserts a few extra lines here and there, and rockets to the top of the german-speaking charts in the process.

May 2008: I nearly have a heart attack the first time the song is played at the local bar, and the ENTIRE ROOM sings the following:

Joana
YOU HORNY BITCH
born to give love
YOU HUSSY
to live forbidden dreams
YOU HOT PIECE OF ARSE

I am talking EVERYONE, singing at the tops of their austrian lungs, from village mums to eleven year-old boys who weren’t even alive when the original was released.

For your listening pleasure, music is here
German text here.

Let us recover from our collective shock and move on to an examination of the song entitled ‘twenty centimetres’. We’re not talking the length of a tomato stake here.

Twenty Centimetres

That’s not 20cm, not on your life, little peter
In reality, 20cm is far bigger

You can forget it
you’ve obviously screwed up the measurements
keep it short and sweet
Looking at that little thing, I’m outta here
That ain’t 20cm, not now and not later.

Short and spicy it may be
But I like it long and thick
you got a raw deal, it you can forget flirting with me

17 are alright
18 don’t hurt
19 are nice
20 when they stand to attention.

Music here
German lyrics here.

For a ditty to qualify as ‘innuendo’, I would think it would have to at least contain some subtlety?

Lieschen

Bringing up the rear, so to speak, is an oompa-pah plea to ‘little’ Liese, which could, at a stretch, be described as a vulgar chalet version of Donne’s ‘The Flea’.

Little Liese, Liese, Liese
Come for a little bit
to the lawn
where you can blow me one

just like before, before, before,
only this time with a little rubber cap
no shirt and no panties
chop-chop!

Music here
German lyrics here.

To round off today’s offering, a track that proves that alpine music is nothing if not inclusive. Even your humble hairdresser fetishist is catered to:

Ten naked Hairdressers

There are 100,000 women/ whom you would not put anything past,
I say no

There are 50,000 women/ with immaculate torsos,
I say no

I want ten naked hairdressers
ten naked hairdressers
ten naked hairdressers
with really wet hair

Music here
German lyrics here.

And the only tune the Aussies are known for is that lame ‘Men At Work’ song that says something about a vegemite sandwich…

Posted by: megaschwez | June 10, 2009

Rhyming Couplets

I try to stay away from literary generalisations (e.g. ‘sarcasm is the lowest form of humour’ – obviously untrue.)

However, I think it can safely be said that rhyming couplets are the most embarrassing form of poetry. Sure, Chaucer was good at them, but then he also possessed the unique talent of creating a literarily significant epic about a horseride.

HOW MORTIFYING, then, to discover that not only entire newspaper columns, but also letters to the editor, are routinely written in rhyming couplets in Austria. Even about serious stuff.

I have tried to keep the original cringeworthy spirit alive in the following free and hasty translation:

rundschau

Who likes to torture animals?

Recently, we heard, oh woe, just wait,
someone likes to lay out bait,
to hurt the dogs and leave them slain,
sometimes after awful pain.
Whether poisoned meat or nail traps
packed in sausage, laid out flat,
hidden and put out for free,
so that dogs die horribly.
You cannot but help wondering
who would do such awful things?
How sick is someone who can’t wait
to see an animal trapped by bait
what’s gone wrong inside their head?
they can only be braindead.
Someone who thinks torturing animals is right
how on earth do they sleep at night?

A moving plea, I’m sure you will agree.

Also, if you have ever wondered whether the world would be a better place, were letters to the editor to be written in rhyming couplets, please let me set your mind at ease. By answering in no uncertain terms: negative, ghostrider.

I present, as evidence for the defence, Wofgang Schwungfeld’s contribution on ‘banks and the financial crisis’.

leserbrief I cannot bring myself to translate it, however it does manage to include a line about managers laughing over their bonuses, whilst the workers slave away. Literary gold, obviously.

This week I’m going to keep an eye out for freshly minted poetry on, say, the Air France crash, or Obama’s address to the Arab world. Stay tuned.

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