Planning ahead of time; A fourth trip to South Africa

These last couple of weeks have been a mixture of job hunting, settling, exploring, language school searching and travel planning. Normally around this time of year I’m looking ahead to summer travels, but with the uncertainty surrounding my work and how I’m going to juggle everything, my attentions have turned to where we will spend our next Christmas.

The option of Australia was always unlikely as my boyfriend is also unsure of where he’ll be job-wise around then and with flights going up in price we decided to leave the big Aus trip for when we are both settled in our work and know how much time we can take. He still wants somewhere hot though, leaving Europe and Russia out of the question, and after fleshing out the possibilities South Africa brought so many positives we had to get on the planning straight away.

The beautiful Morgan Bay in South Africa, where we plan to spend Christmas this year

The beautiful Morgan Bay in South Africa, where we plan to spend Christmas this year

As an Australian living in Germany, for me the prospect of calling one place home has become rather complicated of late. And though I don’t have any relatives or connections to South Africa apart from my best friend coming from there, for some reason the country feels like a place I can certainly relate to in many ways and despite going there three times in the last seven years I want to visit more.

South Africa is a lot like Australia in certain aspects, with it’s vast landscape offering so many things to see and do. I was there for six weeks during the World Cup, and only got part of my list of things I wanted to do finished. I have been to Cape Town twice and still haven’t gotten around to climbing Table Mountain.

South Africa obviously can bring up some uncertainty when travellers are considering their next getaway, with safety a huge concern for someone who isn’t aware of local customs or cultures. I wouldn’t claim to be even close to understanding how life really is in South Africa; on my second trip there I was nearly robbed at a cash machine and had my car stolen, for reasons of which I only have myself to blame. I let my guard down at particularly important moments because for me, having grown up in Australia, safety has never been a great concern. If someone tells me a cash machine isn’t working I believe them, if someone says a carpark is safe they have no reason to lie. Such thinking can potentially be life threatening in South Africa, and because of this, even though I’ve been so many times already I’m taking advice from locals all the more seriously as I plan to return for the third time.

Having said that though, I’ve noticed how differently locals look at their own country and the great things to see and do compared with visitors in general. I was recently talking to an English friend in Aus who said the Whitsundays are at the top of her list of things to do. To me, those islands are overpriced and overrated – all-inclusive resorts aren’t the real Australia, seeing beaches that are undiscovered will give you a much better idea of the beauty of the country than these manicured surroundings ever will.

In the case of South Africa, when my friend got married there we all travelled over for the festivities, and went to a small private safari park before the big day. It was so amazing, we saw all of the ‘big 5′ and then some, washed and walked with elephants and went a quad bike ride around the park that left us covered in dirt and me feeling like I was having one of those perfect travel days that remind you why you spend all the money and make all the effort.

White lions at Inkenkwezi private park... Such an amazing creature and to see them so close was magical

White lions at Inkenkwezi private park… Such an amazing creature and to see them so close was magical

But for my friend, this park is only ‘ok’ and certainly not the kind of place she would consider having a wedding. To her it’s cheesy and has nothing on Kruger National Park, a place which costs 5 times the price to visit and shows you exactly the same animals from what I understand.

But that’s the thing about us being tourists in our own country; we don’t want to follow the path most other tourists do, we feel like we know it better because we’ve seen the highs and the lows of the place over years of existing there. This whole experience of preparing for South Africa has taught me to be a little more careful about dismissing some of the more cheesy – in my mind anyway – touristy things to do in Australia. And in turn, when my South African friends tell me to give a lion park on the way to Cape Town a miss, I will kindly explain that I do in fact want that ridiculous photo playing with a tiger cub ;)

Learning To Relax Around Naked Germans

The scene of the nakedness...

The scene of the nakedness…

I went to an all girls school in Melbourne and while you might think that would make it a lot more comfortable changing for gym classes and in front of one another, it was quite the opposite. I perfected being able to change a whole outfit without showing an inch of skin to the outside world and I turned my nose up at any girl who showed off her half-naked physique while doing something crazy – like changing into her uniform or coming out from the showers. I don’t want to see another naked girl! What is wrong with her!! My prudish nature continued until my late 20s, with changing after adult gym sessions taking place in the toilets when I couldn’t be bothered to manoeuvre my outfit with the above-learnt process.

Meanwhile, when I moved to Germany and heard about the wonderful-sounding natural spring baths in Wiesbaden, just half an hour away from Frankfurt, I put it at the top of my list to check them out. That was until I found out they were naked ones. ‘I knew someone who wore a bikini in there, and someone actually complained about them because they said it was distracting!’ a German friend told me, as my eyes widened with shock. ‘Everyone is naked and all the men are with the women, that’s the case throughout most of Germany.’

She was certainly right about that, and it was nothing like the spas I had experienced in Australia, where the masseuse hiding her eyes with a towel as I rolled over being the closest another woman had come to seeing me naked. As expected, I found England to be equally prudish about such matters, unless you played cricket with the boys in the country for some reason…

Anyway, my boyfriend found it laughable that I would have a problem with going to a sauna and being sans-clothes around other people. Having grown up in this culture, he is much more comfortable with the whole being naked in public thing. After discussing it for a while I figured maybe it was time to get over my hang-ups about getting my kit off and jump in the deep end; it’s worked before when I’ve been problem solving, why couldn’t it now? So we got a Groupon voucher for the best spa in Frankfurt and headed out to relax and have what was for me a very new experience. When we arrived, everyone was in bikinis. I was entirely confused. But there are sections for clothed people and unclothed people, it was explained, which made me feel a lot more comfortable.

We went for a swim in the clothed pools first and it was really enjoyable – I haven’t really been to a public pool since I was quite young, so experiencing the cool whirlpools, diving board, waterslides and the outdoor pool where you could swim indoors took me back to being a kid again. After an hour or two RZ suggested we go into the more adult area and my heart started to pound.

We went into the changing area, and while he slipped off his shorts with the upmost confidence, I resorted to my school days of taking my bikini off underneath my towel. It wasn’t so easy this time around, with me trying not to make it obvious how uncomfortable I was, but I got there eventually. Never have I been so thankful for a towel in my life – it would become my shield for the next six hours or so whenever I was experiencing feelings from slightly bashful to completely embarrassed.

Having said that, RZ assured me that everyone uses their towel in the sauna. This is fine I thought, I can just chill out in there whenever I’m feeling a little less comfortable with my nakedness! But as it turns out, people take their towels in, lay them out and just sit on them showing off all their best and worst assets. It took me a few hours to become comfortable with that, but by the end of the day I was at the point of happily lying down on my towel with my legs firmly crossed, which I would say is serious progress.

My comfortable-ness came slowly as the day turned into night. Seeing so many different people in all shapes and sizes around me just going about their business naked made the whole process a lot easier as I acclimatised myself.

I’ve grown up only ever seeing photoshopped and skinny pictures of other women naked, so it was quite refreshing to see what real bodies looked like, though I made a huge effort not to stare and to try and, like everyone else, just do my own thing.

We ended the day with a swim in the outdoor heated pool before getting our swimsuits back on and having a hearty schnitzel in the cafeteria for supper. It felt like I’d been on holiday for the day, my skin felt fantastic, and I no longer felt so horribly scared of being around other people with no clothes on. It’s something I definitely want to do again soon and for Christmas both my boyfriend and I gave each other presents involving spa trips.

While I’m not quite at the stage of heading there with my girlfriends or anyone apart from the guy who sees me naked on a normal basis anyway, I certainly feel a lot less inhibited about my body and any issues associated with it, and can see the benefits of relaxing in that feeling. Once again Europe, you have taught me something lovely and new! ;) xx

What I learnt About Europe During My First Eurovision Screening

Last night I fell in love.

Last night I fell in love.

I have a confession to make. I had never watched Eurovision until last night. I had no idea who the acts were who won it in the past (apart from ABBA, though I didn’t know they were on Eurovision), and I didn’t even really know what the structure of the show was, or what was involved. I have a friend who travelled to Europe to see the Eurovision final from Australia and he’s obsessed with it, but when he would talk about it I wouldn’t really pay attention. I’m not a fan of pop competition shows like Idol or The Voice, why would I find this interesting?!

After watching the show from the beginning to the end last night I cannot believe what I have been missing for the last 28 years of my life. The ridiculousness of it all, the glitter and the lights and the creativity, the hilariously weird presenters and how seriously every country takes the voting and all the accusations of political influences and cheating… it’s absolutely amazing! For so many reasons I loved Eurovision and here’s just a few…

- The women are fantastic role models, of all different sizes and body types and showing a much more diverse and interesting picture of a pop star than all the naked ones that keep coming out of America at present. I grew up idolising the likes of The Corrs, Alanis Morrisette and the Spice Girls, and yes Geri Halliwell wore short dresses but you never really noticed it when you were a kid. I do worry for young girls growing up with constant imagery suggesting to them that women must be as naked as ratings will allow and as often as possible to be considered sexy. And excluding Poland on this occasion (laundry porn seemed slightly out of place), 2014 Eurovision offered an alternative style, from beautiful skinny women to tall and short, curvy and big and even men dressed as women. There’s no shame here and that’s something I would love for a possible future daughter to witness and enjoy.

- It certainly improved my geographical knowledge of Europe. San Marino a country? You don’t say! More to add to my travel to do list…

- People might criticise it for being political but last night’s political involvement was all positive from my point of view. With Russia currently making it all the more difficult for gay people to feel comfortable in their own skin, it was great to see viewers protesting with their votes and voices during the show. And Austrian cross-dresser Conchita Wurst winning the contest will help people struggling to deal with their sexuality all over the world feel more comfortable with it and have a role model to look up to. That is bloody fantastic.

Conchita Wurst won the contest last night despite objections from some homophobic countries.

Conchita Wurst won the contest last night despite objections from some homophobic countries.

- I love bubblegum pop, there, I said it!! I had a friend in London who hated all mainstream music and was always trying to convince us to go and see bands that sang about depressing subjects. The way I see it, music is supposed to make you happy. I love listening to pop music because it puts a smile on my face, it makes me thing about one of the most positive and simple things life has to offer – love – and it puts a spring in my step as a result. Coincidentally, said friend was a pretty unhappy person. And probably would detest Eurovision. I know which camp i’d rather be in ;)

- Somehow, without even meaning to care, you get really involved in the results and towards the end you’re insisting you will never watch again if the Netherlands or Sweden or Armenia win. To end up being so enthralled in the result of something I didn’t care about until 2 hours before… they must be doing something right entertainment wise!

- The games that you can play during Eurovision (from the drinking ones to betting and guessing what the judges will say) are almost as much fun as watching the show itself.

So after watching the show I suggested to my boyfriend that we go to the next one. He didn’t particularly like that idea too much. But being able to partake in this European tradition, whether you love it or hate it as a European, made me feel a bigger affinity with this great, strange and wonderfully interesting continent.

 

xx

Finding small comforts when nobody speaks your language

After spending three months away from Frankfurt we finally had an opportunity to head back as my boyfriend’s twin cousins celebrated their 18th birthdays. We also took it as an opportunity to go shopping – lots of people in the south of Germany love to head to Frankfurt simply because it has a Primark. It’s something that used to make me laugh a lot as London has one on every corner and they’re really not that special to us, but I shouldn’t have judged so quickly, because just a year after moving to Germany here I was buying almost a full wardrobe of stuff for under 100 euro and feeling pretty good about it as I struggled with the massive ‘Primark’ bags around the city.

Primark is particularly packed on the weekend

Primark is particularly packed on the weekend

Anyway the main point of our trip was to attend the girls’ birthday party, and it was like going back in time to the first day I moved to Germany in Easter last year as we showed up at my boyfriend’s cousins’ house. For the record, no one in his family speak any English and though I’m able to understand some German, they default back to Russian constantly so the language they speak is one that might take me a lifetime to fully understand. Not being able to take part in a conversation for an entire dinner was at one point very daunting for me but now so long as the little things are in place I’m happy.

One thing that needs to be there is food. If I’m sitting there and there’s nothing to do with my hands, nothing to keep busy with, hours feel like days and my head goes around in circles with trying to understand what’s going on and just generally hurting from the confusion. It’s like sitting in a math class in Chinese, when you’re an English humanities student. If they at least give you a pen and paper the time will pass much quicker, trust me.

Secondly I need support from my boyfriend. It’s a funny situation we’ve found ourselves in, and my independent self is screaming at me when I constantly have to ask for help translating, making phone calls, setting up accounts and the list goes on. I’ve never been the type of person to need constant support from my partner at a social gathering – I like to make my own way and talk to people myself. Having to ask him what everyone is talking about, and when he does so much as go to the bathroom I’ll be cut off from the conversations entirely for that time, is tough to get used to. On the flip side though, I know this is only a temporary problem and our relationship is stronger because of it.

It also makes things a lot better when the people I’m around engage me in the conversation, more so than if we all speak the same language. Generally this comes from talking about Australia or my visa, or journalism and sport. RZ’s family are really curious about where I come from and them constantly relaying questions through him makes it feel like I’m a part of the discussions.

Above all though, I need to have patience, and enjoy the company of myself when they go off on a topic that I can’t really take part in and RZ is too distracted to include me. He does forget sometimes to relay things to me, he’s not perfect; and during those times I need to be able to relax and take comfort in my own thoughts without trying too hard to understand something that makes no sense.

It’s certainly been difficult, and wasn’t what I planned on dealing with when I met a partner I would quite like to spend the next 60 or so years with. But the amount of effort everyone constantly goes to to make sure I’m happy and comfortable around them – my boyfriend’s dad actually made a speech during lunch about how they want me to feel a part of the family, insisting every word was translated – and as the vodka flows so to does their confidence in at least attempting to speak some English to me. By the end of the day I had taught them ‘cheers mate’ and we talked lots about the different cultural expectations on us – from the girls insisting they want to have children by 23 and my response of ‘those are the best years of your life! Why waste them!!’ to talking about how my parents feel about RZ and the tradition he probably hates the most about Australia – buying an expensive diamond engagement ring.

One of the things I consider often is how our families will cope with meeting one another for the first time – neither can speak the same language as the other and I can imagine for both myself and RZ translating these conversations will be a challenging process.

We used to double date with his brother and a Russia girl who could speak English but not German, and so between the four of us three spoke English, three German (including myself there) and three Russian.  I’ve learnt so much about language as a whole, and how important facial expressions and miming is to telling a story. I’ve also learnt that just as when meeting a new person, you can tell what they’re like from how they try to get to know you, someone who doesn’t speak your language will either ignore you completely and become frustrated at you stunting the conversation or will make an effort to include you. It’s made for some interesting observations and will certainly make me a better English teacher!

 

xx

Dealing with Germany’s Sunday Silence

sunday

When I moved to Germany, it was Easter weekend. We took a stroll through the city of Frankfurt as I started apartment hunting and the main shopping strip, with it’s perfectly manicured trees and well-lit buildings, was looking particularly pretty as the snow settled throughout the streets. The boyfriend casually commented with disbelief at one of the clothes shops being open, and I was slightly confused. Sure, the shops shut on Good Friday but they’re open again on Saturday and Sunday right?

No. Not on Sunday. NOT ON ANY SUNDAY. And throughout Germany this is the case. I couldn’t understand it. Every shop shuts on a Sunday, even the supermarkets? Surely not the supermarkets?!

It’s taken nearly a year and I’m still struggling to get my head around that. In London, supermarkets had to shut at 4pm on a Sunday to give local market stores a chance to up their profits. The problem in England is the big chains are well-known for getting food in bulk for far cheaper prices than the smaller stores so this is their chance to shine. Another problem – as much as I’d like to support local shops, you make so little money in London that you often literally can’t afford to. Some nights I would eat pasta and cheese and nothing else because I couldn’t afford sauce. Or doughnuts all day because they kept me full and cost 50p for 5 at Tesco. It was that dire.

So most weekends, as you wake from what little sleep you’ve had the night before and wonder why you’re still in your heels and how the hell you got home from the club last night, as well as desperately calling your friends to recap other details of the night you don’t remember, a thought pops into your head: “I need to get to the supermarket by 4pm, I have no food in the house!!!!” The idea of missing that late afternoon deadline is as difficult to deal with as brushing the hairspray out of your hair or contemplating the effort of going through the shower-blow dry routine.

So as you can imagine, the thought of shops being COMPLETELY shut is just preposterous to me. The last 11 months have brought many Sundays involving me trawling through the freezer trying to find something to put together for dinner as I’ve forgotten again that there’s nowhere I can go for back-up; once I seriously considered going to a restaurant and asking for an uncooked sausage. Christmas was a near-disaster when we worked out at 12:45pm on Christmas eve that the shops shut at 1pm. Luckily my boyfriend can run fast or there would have been no turkey on the table. And my mum and sister ended up stealing tea bags from a cafe while we waited desperately for the shops to re-open on – I think it was the 28th?!?! That’s 4 days without access to any shops!!!!

Complaining to my fellow expat-girls about the constant problems that come with not being able to remember the shops shut on Sunday, and having to get all my jobs out of the way on Saturday, they turned the idea on it’s head for me; how about treating Sunday as a day of rest like it’s supposed to be rather than worrying about getting a million things done? They had a point.

Now I am making an effort to use my Sundays more as a time for watching movies, going for walks and cooking meals with pre-bought ingredients that are interesting and new for this house. Or writing, or just drinking tea and running a bath. It’s been a big change from the me who wanted to spend the day at a shopping centre, finishing off the errands I was too lazy to get around to on Saturday. It encourages more organisation, and more time for me, which is particularly nice after living in London where it was all about doing things that weren’t really very good for me.

So thanks Germany – you might have scared and worried me with your strange ways at the beginning, but now I am coming around :)

Turtles, Shots and Talk of Tasmania In A Bilingual Family

As my boyfriend and I were drifting off to sleep a couple of weeks ago I mentioned how when we finally make it to Australia in September this year it would be great to head to Tasmania. Startled, he asked ‘Tasmania is in Australia??’ This is not the usual question I get when the little island at the bottom of our great country comes out of my mouth. Either you’ve heard of it, and an inbred joke is coming, or you have no idea what I’m talking about. Confused, I asked ‘where did you think it was?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he responded, ‘i never realised vampires came from Australia.’ After a moment or two of trying to work out what the hell he meant, and at first questioning whether he was confusing the Tasmanian Devil (something else I was shocked he’d heard of) I worked out what he was referring to… Transylvania. Yes, the castle in Romania where Dracula lives. Definitely different from TAS-MAN-IA. It’s going to be a long time before he lives this one down.

Where Dracula ‘reportedly’ lives. No, it’s not in Tasmania.

This is one of my favourite things about being with someone who is from a completely different culture to me – he makes me laugh at things that before were just a normal part of my thought process and identity. And being around his parents is much of the same. His sister just says random English words and then i try to put them together as thought it’s a puzzle. It’s like being on a quiz show, and we get to use hand movements as an added bonus. Though the other night she did suddenly come out with ‘see you later alligator!’ as she was leaving. She was so proud of herself for remembering it we laughed together for a good few minutes.

Meanwhile, his parents more enjoy watching me do, or attempt to do, shots. We have a term in Australia – where you have a ‘face like a cat’s ass’ – and your whole face, i.e. eyes, cheeks and mouth, basically completely screw up towards the centre of your nose (do feel free to try it if you’re reading this in private, it’s quite an uncanny comparison!). That’s exactly what I look like when I do shots. And for a group of Russians who are used to vodka and whisky every 20 minutes I’m a constant source of entertainment for them while we all partake in the ritual. And then, after 5 the boy will step in and protect me from anymore as i start to feel woozy and hot and my legs begin to tingle. I’ve actually moved from being able to do 4 shots to 5 – my tolerance is increasing!!

Meanwhile we seem to find a common ground in speaking German to one another – I’m still not confident and while his mother can speak fluently his father can’t yet so it’s good to just say random words to one another and it makes sense, much like his sister with me. After dinner the other night, which I cooked for everyone – they had never tried stir-fry before and were amazed at how easy it was to make! – we sat around laughing at funny pictures of turtles that I found on my Facebook newsfeed. It really is the simple things that make a night when you’re on limited language terms.

This is funny in any language

But the love they’ve shown me since getting to know me has been clear despite our lingual differences. They seem much more keen to live in Australia than the boyfriend at the moment with his father extensively googling the beaches available in the country, and every night I get strange questions from them like, ‘what is your address at home so we can look it up on google maps and find out where you grew up’… it seems they’re as interested in the different culture in me as I am in them and should this continue to blossom, then his family accepting me without any Russian blood or the ability to speak any language they understand makes them a pretty wonderful bunch.

Keeping and Making Christmas Traditions As An Expat

After travelling to quite a few different places around the December/January period in my lifetime, I’ve come to the conclusion that Germany really is the king of Christmas. They do everything so well and for the month of December (and a little bit of November too) they make the cold weather feel almost enjoyable because of a simple little invention called the Weihnachtsmarkt.

The Christmas markets in Frankfurt
Even the decorations around the markets are beautiful
Buildings are turned into advent calendars!

For those of us who aren’t that advanced in our German classes it’s also referred to as the Christmas markets. Just a 10 minute walk from my house are rows and rows of stalls selling every kind of sweet you can imagine, as well as most European specialties and store after store of slightly different but equally tasty mulled wine.

Mulled wine, or Gluhwein, by the gallon

I’ve become somewhat of an expert on these markets in Frankfurt; i know where the best nuts are, the best kartoffelpuffer, the most amazing crepes (which come encased in wafers!) and the most unforgettable currywurst and fondue. Not to mention the Raclette, and the Finnish food, and the fruit covered in chocolates, and the waffles that i have to admit put Belgian ones to shame…

The main Christmas tree in Stuttgart – every
town has one and decorates it uniquely

Anyway this is one of the reasons why Germany really is the most amazing place to be at Christmas time. Being away from home is hard enough around this period, but a friend who lives in England and is currently travelling in Australia noted to me how little we celebrate it in my former home compared to in Europe. I argued at first but the truth is i never noticed before that the Christmas lights aren’t as much of a regular feature in the streets, there are certainly no markets, and I hadn’t even heard of mulled wine or christmas jumper nights out until i left down under.

My first two Christmases away from my parents were spent with families of friends I had made in London. Doing it this way made me feel like this time of year was still a family time, even if the only time i’d have with my own family was skyping twice to take into account the different time zones.

But my mum made me feel special by sending me loads of presents, and one year helping me out with some Christmas shopping money when I was particularly poor, and suddenly the traditions I knew so well before were changing. Yorkshire pudding worked its way into my Christmas lunch. Sitting in pj’s watching the rain/snow outside while we snuggled up with movies and board games became the norm. And mulled wine was suddenly one of my very favourite things about the holiday season.

Now the tables are turning – my family are coming to me in Frankfurt for Christmas. After the initial complaints from my father over the weather and my sister finding it concerning that she might miss out on some social engagements back home they are now all packed and preparing to fly out tomorrow. With plans to do a Australian and German Christmas as one, bringing in some Russian traditions from my boyfriend as well, it’s going to be a day like we’ve never experienced before.

The funny thing about it is that Christmas used to be the one day I would absolutely insist must be the same every year. When I was younger, we had to do everything exactly as the year before or it wouldn’t feel like it was really Christmas at all. One year my parents insisted we go out, and I was car sick on the way. I made them promise never to do it again and though my mum hates cooking she begrudgingly agreed that vom on such a day didn’t make for a great time.

And now here I am, learning to cook чебуреки (if you can pronounce that without being Russian you win a gold star), planning to show everyone around Frankfurt and beyond and trying to find a copy of Love Actually in English but with German subtitles. I guess some traditions you will always insist on keeping – opening my presents in the morning as though Santa’s been and spending time with a family, even if it’s not mine, will always make Christmas what it is for me – but some traditions, as I live abroad for longer, I realise can be bent and changed and have things added in to make what becomes an even better time than I ever hoped for.

Frohen Weihnachten wunsche ich Euch allen! :) xx

When A Russian Met An Aussie: Experiencing The Cultural Clash

In my life I’ve had three serious relationships – one was with a fellow Australian, one with an Englishman and the current one is with some sort of Uzbek-Kazakh-Russian-German hybrid. So you could say I moved up the cultural difference ranks with each boyfriend. From one who was from the same area as me, went to the same school and whose family were very close to mine; to one who lived on the opposite side of the globe but still spoke the same language, with subtle cultural differences that we both found interesting to compare, discuss and often argue about; to one who didn’t speak my language (he does now thankfully), comes from places I never thought I would visit in my lifetime and does and says things that well, sometimes just completely blow my mind.

I think it fully hit me just how different culturally we are when we were walking through the park the other week, being all romantic with one another as he whisked me off for an anniversary dinner. Noticing a rabbit bouncing through the park I almost squealed with excitement and exclaimed how cute it was. His response? “We should catch it and eat it, and then I can make you a hat for the winter.”

The thing I like about cultural stereotypes is that often, they do have an element of truth to them. My boyfriend seems to have some qualities that are German and some that are Russian. He insists on pouring my drink for me all the time and cheers-ing at weird times (for us Aussies it’s just once at the start of the drinking session, not every time you pick your glass up). Sometimes when his brother roams around the house screaming at him I have to confirm whether he’s actually angry or not – it’s about a 50/50 probability – and when I met his family I very quickly had to learn how to hide the fact that I couldn’t do a vodka shot every 20 minutes. Equally, he refuses to believe that I could possibly not like the taste of beer.

Meeting the parents was certainly an experience that I enjoyed and found fascinating – while his mother is the most amazing cook and puts any of my signature dishes to shame, she goes crazy if i walk around the house with no shoes on and makes me soaps with pretty knitted materials around the outside so i can keep my clothes smelling nice. His father insisted on having about 20 pictures with me drinking wine, eating biscuits and just generally standing next to him – he changed shirts at one point because he felt it wasn’t slimming enough – and the boy’s sister made me take her through the English words for every piece of cutlery we were using and everything we were doing.

This is another thing I should point out – none of my boyfriend’s family speak any English. It’s mostly Russian though he and his brother speak sort of half-half with German. His father tries to speak German to me as I understand the basics, so we do find that we can talk a bit. Of course my boyfriend has been amazing at translating, and his father in particular loves to tell a good Russian joke then poke him constantly till he explains it to me (a guy went to the doctor and said I had a dream, my alcoholism was cured. How do I make this happen? The doctor says well stop drinking, the guy says but then I stop dreaming LOL).

But the cultural differences don’t stop at the family. On a recent discussion over why it’s apparently less fun on a night out when girls are there – I couldn’t understand this as I have loads of guy friends in Australia who are exactly the same around girls as guys – the boy pointed out that I’m constantly saying he treats me with a lot more respect than any Aussie guy did. It seemed that a guy back home’s idea of a date involved a pub and his mates, though I will happily submit that I maybe wasn’t always picking the best ones. Either way, I do feel that the traditional Russian in this boy as well as his modern German-ness seem to have blended perfectly to create someone who can hold doors open for me but also do the dishes if i cook and doesn’t think I’ll be the sole carer of possible future children.

I’ll admit I have yelled at him drunk a few times that I won’t be the Russian woman who takes a submissive role and doesn’t question him staying out late at night. In my head, this is what the majority of traditional Russian women do; it’s that cultural stereotype sneaking in again. And every time he gets a very confused look on his face as if to say, if i wanted a Russian girl I wouldn’t have gone for you?! But we work through these little differences, and I learn more about his culture and he about mine in the process.

Next summer we’re apparently heading to Russia to visit the family where they live in Kaliningrad. His father is the mayor of a town there and if there’s anything in my life that will be a cultural shock, this will be it. So far i’d say China was the most different experience I’ve ever had but this will probably equal/beat that. And also Russia in summer? Apparently there’s beaches there and we can go swimming. The idea of swimming to me in Russia involves rolling around in the snow and then diving into a hot spring. I never thought summer existed in this country but I suppose I’ll find out for sure next June.

And on another side note, I’ll be taking him to Aus next September for my sister’s 21st birthday. I had to explain to him why this particular birthday was so important (because, er, we like to copy Americans?). I’ll take him to some sport, to the pubs, to the beach and then for a snorkle in the Great Barrier Reef. And according to my Russian-Aussie friend he’ll fall in love with the country and never want to leave. We’ll see about that.

xx