94 posts categorized "Stupid Slice-of-Life Shit that's Supposed to be Charming"

Celebrate My Fit of Pique!

Bite Me Black Dress

What does it take to unleash your indignation?  Eight years ago, a calendar and a couple of beers did it for me.

It came to my attention that some busybody proclaimed the second Monday in January as National Clean Off Your Desk Day.  This impertinence provoked me to declare the following day, January 13, The International Day to Bite Me.   

The busybody in question was one Anna Chase Moeller, daughter of Bill Chase, who co-founded the Chase's Calendar of Events in 1957.  Rumour has it that Anna helped in the family business, and in so doing, shared a desk with her father.  As is the case with pretty much all entrepreneurs, forward-thinkers, creative personalities, and productive people of every stripe, the desk was a mess.  In a snit, Anna declared National Clean Off Your Desk Day to humiliate her father's habits.  Once a year, Bill was forced to sacrifice a day of personal productivity to appease his daughter, who no doubt could have worked on the goddamn kitchen table if the sight of actual work upset her so goddamn much.  Neat-freaks have used it to shame us normal people ever since. 

In 2017, The International Day to Bite Me falls on a Friday.   By coincidence, the first Friday the 13th of every year is National Blame Someone Else Day.  (It's also National Rubber Duckie Day, but that's another story.)

On Friday, August 13 1982, a sleepy Michigan woman found that her alarm clock had failed to ring.  This set off a cascade of lateness and bad luck that hounded her throughout the day.  The National Blame Someone Else Day commemorates her string of excuses and apologies.  In truth, it should be National Blame Fate Day, since the mechanical failure likely had no human source.  Unless it was the woman herself who failed to set the alarm on August 12—in which case we should celebrate National Sorry, It's My Own Damned Fault Day.

Who was this unfortunate woman?  None other than a certain Mrs Anna Chase Moeller.  

Clearly, this amounts to an abuse of privilege. Anna's way to vent petty annoyances was to declare a day after them, because in the days before the internet, she was one of the few who could.  Well, two can play at that game now, eh?

Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 08.58.53By the authority vested in me by Typepad blogging software, Deutschland über Elvis declares The International Day to Bite Me 2017 open for all.  The ritual Flipping of the Bird will take place across Germany and the rest of the world, perhaps flipped all the harder because it might occur over Friday drinks.  

Personally, I spread the message by keeping calm.  On the International Day to Bite Me graphics page, you'll find an #ID2BM Keep Calm message, created on the official Keep Calm and Carry On Merchandise Store.  I had it embroidered on a pillow, suitable for screaming into. 


Brexit Explained

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Where is he gay today?
 A burger joint on Fulham Broadway, London.

Overheard from the next table, a group of men in their early thirties. 

"Of course you got sick.  Can't 'elp it if you travel abroad."

"Mate o' mine reckons you can get sick from just handling the money. It's filthy."

"A lot of them carry their money in in their arse-cracks.  The criminals are so afraid of looking gay, they won't touch another bloke there." 

"They say you should get your cash out of the machine in the morning, put it in your pocket, and jump in the swimming pool."  (Murmured agreement)  "Yeah, the chlorine cleans it right up."

Conversation ends as Spanish waiter arrives at table with lunch. 

No, I'm not making this up. 


Denglisch or Dancais?

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As you approach Stuttgart, the A8 Autobahn takes a precipitous dip. A big, menacing sign warns you that the speed limit is reduced to a lousy fifty miles an hour, under the headline Gefahr Danger Pericolo.  

I drove past that sign weekly for two years, intrigued.  The road connects Munich and Vienna with Strasbourg and Paris.  Why would the authorities write a sign in German, English and Italian, and neglect French? 

OK, I'm kinda slow.  But many fellow English speakers assume that when you see an Ungerman word in German, it's been borrowed from English.  Though less prone to lexicographical thievery than our own tongue, German has stolen quite a bit from west of the Rhein. 

This adds une complication for those of us whose mother tongue doesn't inflect—that is, doesn't change grammatical rules depending on whether a noun is masculine, feminine, or neither.  

All other things being equal, German assigns a neutral gender to nouns borrowed from a foreign tongue; das Sushi, das Curry, das Handy, das Big Mac. On the other hand, if a word sports a gender at the source, then it carries over into into German.  Latin words hopped directly over the Alps into scientific usage without a detour into English; that's why der Radius looks butch, but das Radium sounds like it's had the snip.

Tricky for those words which come via English rather than from it.  A credit card arrived this week and the issuing firm urged me to download die American Express App, turning this petite slice of software into a woman.  I hadn't thought about it until an online pal prompted me to ask why it should be so.  Surely, the term app came straight out of Silicon Valley.  It ought to be gender neutral. 

But Silicon Valley is fond of Latinate terms, which English sucked up from Norman French.  La application enters German as feminine, die Application.  This shortens into the rather girly term, die App.  

So it didn't surprise me to overhear two bemused people in the supermarket, wondering aloud in German, whether the product pictured above was das Pain, or der Pain.  And if the latter, should it not be im Bäckerei?

My husband, who you may recall is Japanese, thought this was a stupid name for a hot sauce, too.

In the Meiji era, Japan imported many exotic foods, along with the words to describe them.  Sensibly, they chose most of their new Western diet from France—let's be honest, if you could choose among global cuisines, would you choose any from the English-speaking world?  To him, pain (パン) will always mean bread, no matter how much American marketers boast of the agony their condiments inflict.  

When speaking German, you cannot be laissiez-faire about such things.


Ordnung ist das halbe Leben VI: im Supermarkt

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For your information, every open container has been weighed!

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Please, on hygenic grounds, use our one-way gloves. 

Only organic
Please put only organic items in organic bags
(Bio-logical!)

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!!!Attention!!!
The Federweißer is not provided with a fermentation lock, so the cover is not completely closed. We therefore ask you NOT to lay the bottle on its side because otherwise it will run out. Many thanks, your Supermarket Team. 

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Please always line up at the Meat Counter! 
Thanks. (Clown Smiley)

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Honoured Customers!  
Please lay your entire shopping on the conveyor belt.  Thanks.  

Trust is good
Trust is good, checking is better
No sale of alcohol to youth
Young people often don't look their age. Please understand if, when selling alcohol and tobacco, we ask for age identification—for the protection of all children and youth.

Belt divider hygiene

And note the excellent checkout belt divider hygiene.


The Definition of Sanity

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Peace.  We heard that word a lot over the recent holiday season.   Prayers for it, wishes for it, regret at how little of it seems to abide.  Heavenly peace, peace on earth, the prince of peace, peace to all men, peace was on everybody's lips.

Isn't it ironic that the new year always begins so peacelessly?

That goes double for our otherwise genteel neighbourhood.  A mere 5 doors away from us, we find the Europaplatz; a noble public space which the city government, for one night of the year, surrenders to hammered arsonists with explosives.  They're so drunk, most of them can't even find the place, and begin to blow shit up anywhere handy.  This was the view from our front window at one minute past twelve. 

 

That jars with my customary New Year's resolution.  From the previous sentence, you might conclude that I make the same, unsuccessful resolution every year.  You'd be right.   

My new year's resolution would appear to fit the definition of insanity often attributed to Einstein: it's crazy to do the same thing year in, year out, when the only result so far has been failure.  

Personally, I prefer a different definition of insanity: Giving fireworks to drunks.

My usual New Year's resolution aims for an oft-misunderstood state of mind; that is, mindfulness. To be present in the moment, to abandon that which angers, to be thoughtful in word and deed.  To mutter, when needed, Reinhold Niebuhr's famous Serenity Prayer, minus the first word.  

In 2012, I made a binding promise, in public, to be mindful.  Like, with a meme on a website, and everything.  It lasted eight days. 

This year felt different.

An afternoon walk on New Year's day, as always, revealed a the detritus of the night before.  But the sun, low in the sky, cast a light that made the trash, abandoned atop some recent snow, seem almost poignant. 

Detritus footpath

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Detritus whirligig

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Detritus beastmaster
Cars tried, and failed, to keep their dignity under the snow dumped on them.

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Buildings and trees schemed which pals to tag for the Ice-Bucket Challenge.  

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The usually sombre St. George's Church felt quite perky.  Under fresh snow, even their graveyard shines with optimism.

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By the time I reached the Maximiliananslagen, our local park, I was primed for a good mood.  Mind you, the park lifts your mood no matter what.  Its visitors have mastered the very skill I lacked; an unselfconscious ability to hang out, and enjoy simple pleasures. Especially on the sledding hill. 

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Yes, Rover, the yellow snow always smells more interesting, doesn't it?

It was then, I stumbled on an impromptu lesson in being present in the moment.  Three hung-over-looking men decided that the best thing to do this fine day, was grab a few shopping bags, and in an ass-chilling fit of madness, go for a slide.

  

I shall use these men—clearly too old to find joy in anything so childish as losing control of the direction in which their butts are travelling—as my example for 2015. 

This year, the resolution might stick, mildly.  I'll keep you posted.

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Blueskystudio2The first photo is entered in the PhotoFriday Weather challenge.


Ordnung ist das halbe Leben V: Protect Us from Dancing

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This helpful sign tells us what German youth are allowed, and not allowed, to do.  It clarifies the regulations under the Federal Jugendschutzgestez, or Youth Protection Act.  Hey kids, don't get excited over the word "allow"; the first sentence makes clear that just because it's legal, parents don't have to agree to it.  So none o' your lip. 

Naturally, many of the provisions concern alcohol. Thirsty adolescents should note in §9 that one may drink legally at the age of sixteen, as long as the drink contains no fortified spirits.  Germany recently declared college education free for all students, including those from abroad, and this loophole makes the deal even sweeter for many American youth who need to wait 'til they're twenty-one for a Miller Lite.  Dichter und Denker, meet underage Trinker. 

You may even do this in a pub—before midnight according to §4—but not in a nightclub.  Because there might be dancing.  

Youth dancing is controlled as strictly as alcohol.  §5 forbids those under 16 from entering a disco without the buzzkill of adult supervision.  And kids under 14 can't even do folk dancing past the hour of 10.00 pm. 

Bavarian Tanzangst reaches a peak next week when we celebrate the Feast of All Souls on November 1.  Halloween parties for all ages need to clear the dance floor on the stroke of midnight, lest it run afoul of the notorious Tanzverbot, or dancing ban.  The Church, still a powerful influence on German life, insists that the day remain solemn.  No dancing, public or private, for people of any age.

Because dancing might lead to sex.  That's probably why the sign tells us, in the grey highlight near the legend, that none of these restrictions apply to married youth under 18.   

The Tanzverbot turns adult citizens into adolescents.  Flout it.  Who wants to join me for a quick Madison in the Stachus next Saturday?  


Ordnung ist das halbe Leben IV: At the City Finance Office

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!!ATTENTION!!
PLEASE NUDGE THE REVOLVING DOOR
ONLY LIGHTLY.

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PLEASE first take a WAIT NUMBER!

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-Contact Desk.
Please wait until your call
100
shows on the display panel.  
Two persons are waiting in front of you. 

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PLEASE note Contact Desk 1 or Contact Desk 2

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(Contact Desk 2 has not been manned since 2005)

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 Please note hereupon, 

that you [must] lay the provided ball-point pen back again after use.

Because the next visitor would like to fill out his form/application with it.

The ball-point pens are placed by
the Finance Office Munich Service Centre
in the context of [a] Service Concept for the disposition of visitors.

They are not promotional giveaways!!

We thank you for your understanding. 


Tattooed on the Memory

Where is he gay today? Edinburgh
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Thirty years ago, I found myself wishing bagpipes had a snooze button. 

Those sleepy mornings—over two dozen of them—took place in Edinburgh in the summer of 1985.  Seeking cheap digs, my pals and I bunked out at the Leith Nautical College, on the Firth of Forth.  A visiting pipe band from Canada, in town for Royal Tattoo, had the same idea.  They used the sports field outside the window to rehearse their drill.  Every morning, promptly at six forty-five.  

We spoke to management.  We explained that we were a comedy troupe from Australia, playing the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  Jet lag was eating our brains.  Lights went up for our show at midnight.  And we drank a lot after the curtain fell—in Scotland, we reasoned, such an argument held sway.  Could the Canadians please keep the noise down until lunchtime?  

The administrator replied in soft tones reminiscent of Gordon Jackson in Upstairs Downstairs.  "Now, you do realise you are in Scotland?"

Yes, we said.

"And you know that this college is an arm of the Royal Navy, and as such, is a military institution?"

Yes, we said.

"And you imagine that militia, in Scotland, might march to tunes played on a bagpipe?"

Um, yes, we said.

"Well..." he concluded, with a phrase that betrayed a schooling in classics not uncommon among east-coast Scots, "caveat emptor."

*     *     *     *     *   

Leith Nautical College closed its doors in 1987.  One of my fellow troupers quipped that had he known, he would have delayed his visit two years.  

But bagpipes before breakfast were a small price to pay for an extraordinary several weeks.  

Our band of undergrad comics regularly played the fringes of the festival in our native Adelaide, and sought to open our gills in a bigger pond.   We came as rubes from halfway across the world, and left as actual, minor-league almost-professionals.  (Up to a point. Only one of our troupe went on to earn a crust in showbiz.)  At the Fringe, both competition and opportunity ran hot.

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The Royal Mile.  As ever, packed with patrons of the arts

By the late seventies, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe had become the largest arts festival in the world, dwarfing the festival proper.  Every church, school, gym, pub, spare room and coat closet morphed into a theatre—though in 1985, we were still half a decade away from using the word morph.

Postcard_1985Millions crowded into a city which, under normal circumstances, held barely 350,000.  To squeeze the maximum number of butts on seats, most performances ran less than an hour.  Audiences sprinted from show to show, through as many as eight or nine in a day.  As you dashed to make the next curtain, performers plied their witty ways to get a playbill in your hand—a practice known as flyering.  It was chaos.  Energetic, inventive, brilliant chaos.

Billing ourselves haughtily as the Australian Comedic Revue, we touted that we were a hometown hit on the Adelaide Fringe—an exaggeration: we were less a hit, and more a mild slap.  

Several of us threw together a show called Wagga Wagga High High.  From memory, the blurb went something like the tale of a school so evil that it can turn children into accountants.  I played a character called Zeldor Fitzgerald, Teen from Another Planet. The costume included my own high school uniform, into which I still fitted. Yes, 1985 was a simpler time. 

We gave an even milder slap to the Edinburgh Fringe, but felt we acquitted ourselves well enough.  Thanks to a not-unkind review in The Scotsman, we sold out our season.  Russell Harty wanted to interview us, too.  But that fell through, because his phone at the BBC didn't allow Subscriber Trunk Dialling, or something.  

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Edinburgh has since grown to half a milllion souls, but can still barely contain the beast.  In the first three weeks of August 2014, the Fringe sold 2,183,591 tickets to 49,497 performances of 3,193 shows in 299 venues.  

If you divide the number of tickets into the number of performances, one gets an average audience size of a little over forty.  Few impresarios count this as a real figure.  In 1985, rumour put the median audience size at twelve.  This year, word on the street tipped nine. 

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Better Together

In the decades since, I'd wanted to return, simply as an audience member. This year, encouraged by friends who now live in Edinburgh, we did.  The promise of some fine travelling companions clinched the deal.  

When I told people in Edinburgh that I'd performed on the Fringe thirty years ago, they grew curious.  It must have been very different back then, surely.

I shocked them with my reply.  No.

In my observation, here's what's changed.  

  • Lager drinkers can choose from a wide array of bottled craft beers.
  • American university students majoring in theatrical administration or arts publicity often work on the Fringe as a course requirement.  We met several flyering. 
  • Edinburgh's quality broadsheet, The Scotsman, once provided the most authoritative critiques. The paper remains an authority, but nowadays a mammoth website called Broadway Baby overshadows it.  Curious, since the Fringe is about as un-Broadway as you can get.

That's about it.  Here's what hasn't changed since 1985. 

  • Busking bagpipers on the Royal Mile love the theme from Star Wars.  
  • Tickets are pretty cheap, but dedicated cheapskates pick up bargains at the half-price box office.
  • Snooty, sensitive, arty types hate the atmosphere.  Australian acts thrive.  American and Japanese artists enjoy the looser rules.  
  • An act lives or dies by its reviews—if you get a decent review, you put it on your flyers and flog the hell out of it.  
  • Modern times have seen the rise of the professional publicist.  But still, the best way to get an audience is for an artist to wear out some shoe leather, press some flesh, and perform on the street.  
  • Never sit in the front row for a stand-up comic. When he asks "And where are you from?"—and he will—whatever your answer, he will mock you mercilessly.  He will mock you mercilessly, too, if you decline to answer at all. Too often, the where-are-you-froms displace actual jokes.  It's heckling in reverse.  Hey, buddy, I'm your audience, not your material.  Lookin' at you, Fred McAulay and Scott Capurro.  I repeat, never sit in the front row for a stand-up comic, unless you crave attention.
  • You can take your drinks into the theatre, or indeed, anywhere.  Restaurants in most parts of the world will bundle leftover food in a doggie bag; in Edinburgh, pubs decant leftover drink into a Starbucks-style doggie cup.  Have you ever sipped beer through a straw?  Not my preferred means of suckage.
  • Scots like to vomit.  Billy Connolly's most famous routine even jokes about it.  Drinking Scots should be required to carry airsickness bags, in the same way dog-owners must carry plastic bags as a measure against their pets fouling the pavement. 
  • The Fringe organisation does an awesome job of managing the herd of over 20,000 temperamental performers. Nowadays, it provides a cool mobile app that lets you squeeze more theatre into a given day than you thought humanly possible.  Their website pulls together a programme, ticketing system, reviews and social media seamlessly.  But the telephone-book sized Fringe programme remains the most popular means for visitors, literally, to get their acts together.
  • With 20,000 performers in a city the size of Edinburgh, the Fringe thrusts artists and audience together in ways you simply don't find elsewhere.  Many performers mingle before and after the show—given the set-up of most venues, it's unavoidable.  If you want to talk to your comedy heroes face-to-face, go to an Edinburgh pub. 

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Umbilical Brother Dave Collins clowns with the public in the foyer after his show
—which was superb, by the way.

I've changed.  But the Fringe hasn't.  Every year, it finds new sources of energy, originality, and outrage.  Perhaps I shouldn't leave thirty years between visits.  Nowadays, I can afford a quieter place to sleep. 


English on the March: Push-Up

Push-Up Bra
Over recent months, this subway ad has tittilated many a Munich gentleman—and not a few ladies, for that matter. 

Immune to feminine charm as I am, one might think this fine display would hold scant interest.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It wasn't the breasts that caught my attention. 

Don't get me wrong, I like breasts well enough, for a piece of anatomy. The breast ranks between the earlobe and the frenulum as an interesting bodily quirk.  What's more, you can pierce any of those three for added entertainment value. 

No, the fascination lies in the language.  A scant two words of copy—five if you count their component parts—ply some remarkable English. 

Pecta super protrudo

First, let's not count the word super as English.  You bookish types know that super is Latin for above.   Likely it came into English through Norman French, and into German through French French. 

Super makes itself equally at home in both languages.  And a good thing, too.  It's easy to invent new words to say how awful things can get—in German, these expressions contain the word scheiß as a grammatical requirement.  But to find a new word to say something good...well, our languages have to work at it.  

According to LEO, that fast source for all things deutschsprachig, most of the synonyms for super have to do with being on top or sticking out.  For example, spitze (peak), prima, or the futzy hervoraggend  (literally, protrude forth).  Other expressions refer, disquietingly, to annihilation; todschick (deathly chic) or bombig (bomby). 

English synonyms for super tend to be a bit more abstract (excellent, awsome, or phat—for pretty hot and tempting).  Slang often employs irony (bad, wicked)*.  Failing that, we opt for the more literally violent—smashing, belting, kick-ass—rather than the deadly.  It feels less über.

To see super in a German language ad raises scarcely an English-speaking eyebrow.  Not so push-up bra.

Brassiere Sincere

Hang on a minute.  Alert readers will have noticed the absence of the word bra.  That part is in German.  The letters BH stand for Büstenhalter, or breast-holder.  

Many authoritative sources, such as the makers of Trivial Pursuit, hold German count Otto von Titzling responsible for the first modern bra.  Bollocks.  That's an urban legend.  Everyone knows that the brassiere was invented in 1862 by British aristocrat Lord Booby for his amply-endowed Argentine mistress, Countess Gazonga, during a tryst in Bristol.  

(By the way, as I was googling researching this post, I discovered the German word for a nursing bra is a Still-BH, or distillation bra.  How splendid to live in a nation of scientists!)

A Word Under Pressure

The real curiosity on this poster is the word push-up

The Honourable Husband's First Rule of Odd Foreign English is that no language borrows an English word just to sound cool—the language has to need it. 

Why would German need a word so basic as push-up?  Surely there is a simple German equivalent for the phrase. 

I tried to think of it.

Aufdruck, the literal translation, means engraved printing.  Hochdruck ("high push") means high pressure, especially blood pressure.  Oberdruck would mean to print a second time on top if the first printing. An Ausdruck is a print-out—and ausdrücken can also mean to express yourself.  The literal word for above, oben, is seldom used as an adjective: we usually usually hear nach oben, or "toward above". 

Dammit.  Everything's taken.

The humble German pushdrücken—works awfully hard.   In English, we use a set of several words for related concepts—press, print, push, pressure.  In German, one word does the lot.  We see it everywhere.

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Drücken used as "push", on the doors of a Frikadellensemmelkönig

Your computer printer is a drucker.  If your boss hassles you about a deadline, you're unter druck.  To give someone a hug is to drücken them.  To beat someone down, or oppress them, is to drücken them.  In a game of dodge-ball, one would drücken the Kugel.  We drücken our toothpaste onto a brush.  The German expression for let 'er rip is to drücken it out the tube.  No wonder a modern German speaker is loathe to burden poor druck any further.  

Here's an example how to tiptoe around druck.  The word for push-up, when it refers to an exercise, can take two forms.  The first is der Liegenstütz, which kinda sorta hints at being horizontal and supporting yourself.  The other is der Einstichboden, which subliminally tells us that one should be stinging, or puncturing, the floor.  Thus, we deftly avoid yet another stretch of the druck

Der Volkische Push-Up BH

The need to borrow the word push-up for a bra becomes becomes clearer when one looks at German—and especially Bavarian—folk costume.  Women in Germany have pushed-up their assets for centuries.  But they did it with dresses, rather than undergarments. 

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A bit of German stereotyping, found at a Russian bus stop.

Why do you need a silly old bra to überboob yourself, when the DIY solution has worked since forever?  A push-up bra feels like a foreign affectation.  Better to use a foreign name for it.

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* "Slang often employs irony."  Hey, have I turned into a pompous ass, or what?