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9 entries from September 2008

I do? That's easy for you to say.

As if to rub our noses in it, our local park, Europa Platz beim Friedensengel, does a brisk trade in wedding photos. What's to bet that the bride chucks a wobbly and demands they retouch the rubbish bin out of the picture?

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Naturally, Master Right and I are in favour of gay marriage. But we violently oppose gay weddings.
So many trappings of a conventional wedding demean and insult the couple whose joint life it is meant to celebrate. The bride officially becomes property of the groom, while the groom is more-or-less a bytander at the whole affair. Mainlining alcohol, guests unpack their emotional baggage on each other and behave like monkeys. Yes, weddings suck.

Thankfully, in Germany, one doesn't need to do all that. One simply visits a notary's office, signs an agreement, and you're hitched. Gay or straight.

Well, it's simple if you're German. If you're a foreigner, you need to wave a brace of documents under an official nose, to guard against bigamy, marriages-of-convenience, or other hanky-panky.

First, you need to prove when and where you were born, and that you are not married to anyone else.

No problem for Master Right. His birthplace, Japan, is sensible. The whole thing can be taken care of in a single visit to the consulate.

As a citizen of both the USA and Australia, I am in a messy position. Both countries are federations of states, and each state keeps track of hatches, matches and despatches.

The US authorities are uncooperative or obtuse, and the Australians are mostly drunk or something. The US is not a signatory to the Hague Convention for the internationalization of documents, so my birth certificate needed to cross the Atlantic several times to be stamped, sealed, confirmed, apostilled and vouchsafed by an army of civil servants. And in spite of letters and sworn statements which showed the contrary, the Australian Botschaft (embassy) still issued documents which referred to Miss Master Right. The Australian Botschaft? More like the Australian botch-up.

If you and your spouse wish to live here, the demands mount. One needs to prove coverage by health insurance and a sufficient income. You must submit a floorplan of your home; German law demands a home provide 12.5 square metres per person.

Further, the notary must satisfy herself that both parties understand the agreement. This means that one needs a sworn translator into one's native tongue.

Thus, a rather peculiar wedding party assembled last week, amid the girly, weddingy decor at the offices of Frau Ehe, Notary Public. There was Master Right, his Japanese translator, my English translator, and me.

Oh, and my translator's dog. He goes everywhere with her. Since this is an anonymous blog, I shall not post pictures of the wedding party, but I feel it safe to show a snapshot of the dog. His name is Kuscheln. Or, in English, Cuddles.

Cuddles always pees at weddings. It's the excitement.
As we waited for Frau Ehe to arrive, our translators chatted. Both had recently served time behind bars; that is, they translated in prison. I joked that they need adjust their vocabulary only slightly from arraignment to marriage. The Japanese translator remarked that foreigners can get themselves into trouble under both circumstances.

I really lucked into a great English translator; a leader in her field, and office-holder in the professional association of translators. She was curious to observe her Japanese counterpart, another highly-qualified professional, who faced quite different obstacles with her assignment.

The Japanese language uses sparse grammar and limited sounds. Much day-to-day Japanese is structured to keep a polite distance between two speakers; it can be constructed to reveal little.

When one needs to speak of more complex matters--like law, love or laughter--Japanese reverts to elaborate metaphor. And emotional arguments sometimes carry the same weight as rational ones.

A linguistic challenge, given the thorough, and thoroughly dry, German documents that Frau Ehe led us through. She took great pains to stress that the Lebenspartnerschaft wouldn't apply in the US, Australia, or Japan. She wanted to make clear that this union was not a back-door way to obtain a legally-binding marriage in our home countries.

Therefore, it was only useful if our life would be based in Germany. Herr Honourable has chosen to make his life in Germany, she observed, and asked if Herr Right had yet done the same.

Before Master Right could answer--indeed, before this were even translated into Japanese for him--the translator leapt into a passionate speech. This man, she pleaded, was a man of courage, following his dream and creating a new life in spite of the odds. This went on for several sentences. Master Right was touched.
"Would you like me to tell you our story?" I offered, in English.
"No," replied Frau Ehe, "I get it."
Naturally. our Japanese translator embarked on a subsequent translation of this whole exchange. And it served as a neat segue into Frau Ehe's next subject. A little homily.
We asked for no wedding vows or such silliness, but Frau Ehe decided she'd toss in a speech, for free. It picked up on the theme of courage.
She reminded us that the uncertainty which affects modern life acts against the idea of marriage. That making a commitment to a shared life, forever, takes bravery and faith in the future. She congratulated us for making that choice, in a binding agreement before the state. And, she added uncomfortably, God. Or, um, whatever we would like to call that thing up there. Ah, good ol' Catholic Bavaria.
Both our translators signed the document, along with Master Right and me. Et voila, we were husbands. We declined the you-may-now-kiss business--we're not into PDAs--and gave each other a hearty, relieved hug.
The perfect wedding, I think.
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P.S. Hat-tip to Brock and Manuel for referring us to Frau Ehe.

UPDATE

We presented our Lebenspartnerschaft to the Kreisverwaltungsreferrat. (Don't you love German words?) Good news. Master Right now has a visa to stay in Germany, but he has five years to learn German. That will be amusing.

Apologies to Oliver, Echo of Elvis


Pity poor Oliver Steinhoff, Germany's leading Elvis impersonator.  

According to all reports, he is the very Echo of Elvis.   He is also a customer of Google's AdSense.  Google searches for blogs whose contents match his business profile, and places a link.  They charge him a small sum for every click-through.  

Blogger, a Google subsidiary, encourages its users to place AdSense on their blogs.  I did so, thinking that Google may favour AdSensed sites in searches.  (They don't).  

First, AdSense worked out I was gay.  It loaded ads from a lot of pray-the-gay-away ministries.  As soon as the software discovered DüE wasn't a fertile recruiting ground for tortured closet cases (i.e. a porn site), it began to parse the content a little differently. 

That's where poor Oliver's bad luck began.  I imagine he thought it would be a good idea to specify content that included the words Deutschland and Elvis.  So where does his ad end up?  On a site that is not written in German, and has nothing to do with Elvis Presley.  

I clicked his link, out of curiosity.  Oops.  He now owes Google around five-twelfths of a cent, and it's all my fault!  Further, perhaps one-twelfth of a cent will make its way into my own undeserving pocket.  I'm ashamed to take the money. 

Please help me make it up to him.   Perhaps you'd like to attend his Elvis meets Jazz concerts in Bad Nauheim, where Presley was stationed in the late 50s.  

Or visit Oliver's online shop.  Let me commend the Elvis Gospel Christmas CD, perfect for the upcoming holiday season, or his exquisite Elvis Schmuck.  (Hint to English speakers: you'll need to use the Kategorie wählen drop-down menu.)

He also sells a selection of quality health, grooming and beauty products.  Hey, a guy's gotta eat. 


The links will linger a little longer

Seguin, Texas is a small town of about 25,000 people. It is known for its pecans. Seguin shares sister-city ties with Millicent, South Australia, a town I know rather well. By the looks of this entry on Seguin from Exquisitely Bored in Nacogdoches, the two sister cities have much in common. That is, nothing ever really happens.


No wonder the citizenry seek diversion on the internet. Seguin is home to a certain Mr. 66.69.65. He spends a lot of time at Deutschland über Elvis. What can I say? Welcome!

To keep himself amused, he is working his way through the link list to the right. Excellent idea, Mr. 66.69.65! That's what they're there for.

Oh, I have leapt to the conclusion that you're Mister 66.69.65, since the links you like seem to be mainly the gay ones. Not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, bully for you.

It's just that I want to do a radical cull of the link list. That's the advice I got from the never-less-than-honest website Ask and Ye Shall Receive. Their URL reads iwillfuckingtearyouapart.blogspot.com. Can't say I wasn't warned.

So, Mr 66.69.65--or can I just call you 69, for short?--please let me know when you've made your way through the sidebar. I can wait 'til you're finished for the big chop.

And why don't you leave a comment with your faves? I'll be sure to spare them.

HB8

P.S. Congratulations to Seguin on lifting stage two water restrictions. Short showers suck, don't they?

EDIT

Our friend from Segiun appears to have been frightened away.  Probably, he feared detection.  SiteMeter said he was using Windows NT, so he was no doubt surfing from work.


Celebrity Neighbours

The Australian reality TV series My Restaurant Rules is an incredibly high-stakes game show.  The producers give a vacant shopfront to each of six inexperienced couples.  Cameras then chronicle the heartbreaking work of turning it into a restaurant.    I had a burger at the Greedy Goose, the series two winner, when I last visited Adelaide.  At the time, I knew nothing of the history of the place, but they did a damn fine burger. 


Some weeks ago, our local watering hole closed.   The Bar Rechts der Isar was not just a ludicrously convenient place from which to stagger home, but it was pretty cool, too.   

The fact that it closed surprised us.  They surprised us even more when someone trashed the inside; we soon learned that was all part of the theatre.  Bar Rechts became the Munich location for Mein Restaurant, the German-language My Restaurant Rules.  Precisely five doors down the street.  

Master Right and I are really rooting for the Munich couple.  (That's rooting in the American sense, not the Australian sense)   Toby is an IT nerd turned circus performer who applies his juggling skills to tending bar, like Bryan Brown and Tom Cruise in Cocktail, only better.  He and his wife Anna clearly have the most energy and best sense of humour.  

They almost blew it, though, when they presented their restaurant concept to the panel of judges.  

I would have thought the concept of a restaurant was already pretty clear; i.e. provide food in exchange for money.  But this is TV, so the judges demanded a theme, too.  

Surely the theme should centre upon Toby's amazing theatrics, juggling drinks and flying desserts.   But our hapless heroes spouted some cockamamie idea about an Alice in Wonderland themed restaurant, with big things on one side of the plate and little things on the other.   Guys, guys, guys...

The judges preferred the boutique-owning, chain-smoking couple who pitched The Copa Room, a Rat Pack-themed Vegas-style cocktail lounge in Cologne.  In Cologne.  

The dedicated Müncheners have soldiered on with their theme, and Der Grinzekatze (The Grinning Cat) opens on Monday.   The chef has won awards--way to go, guys!  We'll check it out and get back to you.  In the meantime, watch Anna and Toby's recruiting video.  




That's not funny, dummkopf.

All aboard for Rottenburg! Use the caboose.

I don't like to blog about work, given the obvious dooce risk. But this curious bit of info came across my desk the other day, and it begs to be shared. Someone asked the population of a number of different countries if it's healthy to have a sense of irony.

Only about a quarter of Chinese agree. No surprises. They can lock you up for irony.

The UK is in the middle of the pack, and that surprises most people. Britons are line ball with the Irish and the Americans, at around fifty percent. I believe that only an older generation practices that peculiarly British habit of ironic self-deprecation. Young Britons are naive goofballs, just like their counterparts in the rest of the world.

France scores high; over 70% agree. No surprises there, either. They think Jerry Lewis is a genius. The only way you can appreciate Jerry Lewis is ironically.

The most healthily ironic people on the planet are...wait for it...Germans! Over ninety percent agree that a sense of irony is healthy. Whoah!

Before I came to Munich, friends gave me a book on assimilating into German culture. It stresses that one should not fall for the stereotype of the humourless German. Germans have a wonderful sense of humour, it declares, but they don't feel it's necessary for communication.

True enough. One hears much laughter and plenty of jokes, particularly after a beer or twelve. But don't expect a laugh from a casual acquaintance. I mean, have you tried to coax a smile out of a Bavarian shop assistant?

There's very little lighthearted, silly, absurdist humour. Of course, there is a species of German joke called the Antiwitz, which plays on stupid non-sequiturs. It is not funny, however.

Humour is serious business. Almost every remark I've heard from a German, in jest, drips with cynicism. German humour always a negative sting in the tail, where the gag comes from thinking the worst of people and their motives. Germans, after all, are the inventors of Schadenfreude. In every joke, there has to be someone who is the butt of it. Irony is the favourite laughter of the misanthrope, is it not?

Apparently, the German sense of irony is not new, as the extract below tells us. Hmmm. Is Kafka part of the fanciful, fantastic and extravagant tradition of German irony the author describes?

I'm a big fan of irony, so I should feel right at home in Germany. I even have a DVD of the so-called "lost" episodes of Monty Python's Fliegender Kirkus. It's subtitled in Japanese, just to up the irony ante.

OK, you bicultural types. What do you reckon? Do the Germans actually have a better sense of humour than anyone else in the world?


Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine on
The Modern German Irony, 1835.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.


I miss Engrish!

"Visit us now! We repair your English."

I speak something that resembles German. Friends have described it as German from Outer Space.

It embarrasses me to know that every time I open my mouth, I cock it up. There is a bright side, though. One earns the right to laugh, legitimately, at other people cocking up English.


Alas, here in Munich, people don't cock up their English very much. (Damn those highly efficient public schools!) It took over a year to find this inflatable pool, the first real example of Englisch.

I'm using Englisch to refer to the German equivalent of the Japanese Engrish. That is, when someone uses English to look cool, but it goes amusingly astray.

An example of genuine Engrish, from that
treasure trove of mangled speech, Shibuya.

Before we get too smug, English-speaking natives drop the worst clangers. We think foreign languages are pretty cool, since few of us actually understand one. Our native tongue borrows words without shame. That leads us to believe we can pluck an exotic phrase from thin air and mash it into a sentence.

The most common atrocities come from the French, since there are so many half-integrated French words and phrases in common English use. ("This wine has a certainoh, I don't knowa certain je ne sais quois"). The recent fad for tattoos with Chinese characters provides a huge new canvas on which for us to gaffe.

On matters Chinese, does this restaurant in Schwabing commit Engrish, Englisch, or nothing at all? It might seem like a goof, but the phrase has no meaning in German, and could just as easily be taken at face value as a Chinese name. In German, Man Fat would read Herr Dicker. I mean, what's funny about that?


Herr Dicker. A typical phrase to stick in the ear of an English speaker when in Germany. It doesn't sound totally silly. But it does sound...well, dirty. Nothing you can quite put your finger on, but said with a raised eyebrow, it would pass as a gag in a Carry On movie. Come to think of it, the word gag would pass as a gag in a Carry On movie. So would the phrase come to think of it, come to think of it.

I once needed a lift to the airport and tried to recall this Stuttgart limo firm. As an English speaker, my mind had filed the name completely wrong. Wisenheimer Ass-Muncher? Wise-Ass Muff-Fingerer? Assholer Muff-Diver ? I eventually had to google the sloganwhich, by the way, means More Skillful Service.

Having lived six of the last nine years outside an English-speaking environment, I have lost some of the instinct which lets a native speaker know when stuff sounds just plain wrong, as opposed to novel and interesting.

Does the German boutique Off & Co. sound odder than British tailor Thomas Pink? Not to me.

The title of Robert Hughes' book The Shock of the New is recognised as a powerful creative statement. Yet when the German state of North Rhein Westphalia says We Love the New, they get canned for it. Sounds fine to my ear.

When I lived in Japan, things were clearer. All English was functional translation for tourists (and hence, you need only get the gist of it). Or, it was simply decoration, rather like the Chinese character you see on your wall-hanging or in a tattoo. You could guarantee that it would sound fucked up. It's tougher here. All this tension makes a guy just want to barf out. Really.