Falling in love with a city once, twice, three times and maybe more

Where I waited every day to take the ferry to work in Sydney - bliss.

Where I waited every day to take the ferry to work in Sydney – bliss.

When I moved to Sydney it took me one day to fall in love with the city. I visited a flat and agreed to rent it – it was a steal in the quiet expensive area of Neutral Bay for $160 a week – and we were advised that the best way into the centre was to take the ferry. We walked 5 minutes, and waited at the beautiful harbour, marvelling at the small and quaint park behind us and the sweet breakfast café on the wharf. When we took to the ferry, it drove through all the sailboats and yachts and turned the corner to a picturesque site of Sydney with the Opera House and Bridge in full view. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as it pulled into the Circular Quay, a place where people had travelled for days just to take a picture. This was a place I knew I would love living in.

Fast forward two years and I was excited to be leaving. The sheen had worn off, the love had gone a long time ago and I hadn’t yet faced it until that point, and as I packed my final things and thought about the good times I couldn’t wait to start a new chapter elsewhere.

London was a different story. It took me about eight months to fall in love with it, and when it finally happened, it was for much more than just the aesthetics. I had allowed an outside influence affect me and my feelings towards this brilliant city in the beginning, and when I finally got rid of it I felt freed and like this place could be my home for a long time. London went from being unhealthy for my confidence to being the perfect medicine for it within weeks. It taught me that the company you keep has a big hand in making a city great. When I had to leave, and not by my own choice at first, I really didn’t want to.

London - the city where you work hard and play harder.

London – never get tired of this city.

Next came Frankfurt, and although the German skyline-capital was much like Sydney with the immediate love factor, it was for much more grown-up reasons that I developed such a strong affinity with this place so quickly. It provided a future, somewhere to find more permanent friendships, and a place that would be affordable and enjoyable to live in. It was the first time I pictured having children in a city and it put me on a path where I felt like I was no longer a carefree kid but someone who wanted to build a long-term future with someone else.

Unfortunately it didn’t work out for long with Frankfurt – only 10 months or so – though I hope we are reunited again someday. It turns out that this whole growing up thing, and growing with someone, means you have to make sacrifices that don’t fulfil just your own needs anymore.

frankfurt 2

Frankfurt: I miss you.

So here I am in Stuttgart. It isn’t quite love yet, just a strong like, though we’ve had our ups and downs. I am dealing with it’s flaws, and the differences it and I have. It’s also dealing with some of my flaws it would seem, forcing me to become more a part of German culture and adjust my own way of living from being an expat to ever so slowly becoming a local.

Perhaps it’s more like the slow-moving type of relationship where things blossom in a deeper way and can’t be reversed so easily. As I drove to work the other day, I crossed one of the bridges in Stuttgart central and caught a glimpse of the vineyards in my rear view mirror. It was one of the those moments that made that ‘strong like’ a little bit stronger. Who knows, maybe this will be The One after all?

In Defence of Social Media

funny-Facebook-people-Fry-meme

When I moved away from Australia I got a job working for a social media company in London. It had taken advantage of the rise of Facebook and quickly built millions of followers by setting up credible-looking pages for sportsmen. Off that, a successful business was born and now the company represents lots of athletes and sports organisations across the world, keeping fans in touch with their heroes on social media.

It was the only company that had replied to my application, and having sent out about 100 applications I felt very lucky to get the call back. I almost hadn’t applied on the fact that you had to work six weeks for free on an ‘internship’ basis, but I figured while I wasn’t doing anything else I might as well try it and work there while I applied for other jobs.

It turned out to be a job that wasn’t right for me for a number of reasons and within six months I was out. But my social media experience at that company propelled me into my current journalism position, which has in turn given me the opportunity to move to Germany and have immediate work, supported me throughout my many visa issues and above all, has allowed me keep writing about one of the things I love most; football.

Meanwhile, after finally getting out of a toxic relationship and feeling comfortable with myself in London for the first time, I travelled to Oktoberfest with some Australian friends feeling on top of the world. It was there that I met a guy who didn’t speak English but asked for my Facebook details anyway. I’m on a super-private setting where people who aren’t my friend can’t search for me, so I asked for his instead. He gave me a really weird name, making it obvious he was just as concerned with privacy, and I assumed it would be impossible to find him. But alas, the nightclub we were at that night posted a picture of us and I found him after his friends tagged him. I added him, not expecting anymore contact, and a year after writing to each other constantly we were quickly realising there was something more going on. Another year on, we were planning on moving in together.

Since being away from Aus I’ve prioritised keeping in touch with people around the world; I’ve talked about the difficulties of this before, but as well as the down points of trying to juggle past and present lives there are so many benefits I enjoy from the ways I can keep in contact. Without Skype I wonder if I would have left in the first place; it’s unimaginably wonderful having family there at Christmas and birthdays and all those times you’d feel pretty lonely otherwise, and it’s a massive bonus that you don’t have to be rich to enjoy the privilege.

My relationship with Facebook has changed over the years like my relationship with real-life friends. I, like many 20-somethings, went through the stage of obsessing about having as many friends as possible, and staying friends with people for far more political reasons than simply liking their company. I grew out of that, and got rid of a lot of the ‘quantity’ friends in real life as well as on social media when I moved to Germany. Now I feel good about Facebook, much like my real-life social interactions; and I use it a healthy amount. When I was travelling last summer my mother asked if I could post pictures on the way. At first I felt uncomfortable about it as I didn’t want to look like I was spending my holiday on Facebook. But then I thought, who exactly is this page for? Me and my friends and family to stay updated on my life or the people who might bitch about what I’m posting?

The constant ‘oh you shouldn’t post baby pictures, and people who post they’re drunk are so annoying…’ whinging should surely be put into perspective. You’ve chosen to be friends with that person, you can easily block them from your newsfeed without deleting them if social politics ask for it. And like in real life, there will be people who are annoying and weird and attention seeking. This is just another way to display those qualities.

So when I’m having stupid ‘social media is bad, get off your phone and see the world’ stuff thrown at me on, ironically, Facebook’s newsfeed – and the majority of the time by people who post the annoying stuff in the first place – it does get a bit tedious. Especially the Youtube video with the bloody spoken poem – next thing we’ll have someone preaching at us with puppets and interpretive dance telling us that real life is so much more important than the communicative services we use to make it so wonderful in this day and age.

If you’re sitting on your phone constantly posting at the expense of spending time with loved ones, you obviously need to change your habits. But I have a sneaking suspicion that these people would be doing something else just as lazy and obsessive (video games, watching TV, sleeping even) if they didn’t have a phone/laptop. So maybe when we’re all up in arms about social media taking over our lives we could remember it also enriches our lives a lot too and accept that some people are lazy, and some are annoying, whether it’s on Facebook or in reality.

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