Ich habe Déjà Vu

My life feels a bit like a series of TV reruns at the moment, as I’ve come back to home, Oxford and Berlin within the space of a month. These various returns have been wonderful in very many ways but, at times, the rude intrusion of reality into the much-anticipated fairyland of Home has left me feeling a touch bereft, especially as I’m still missing my Montpellier life and friends. The term “reverse culture-shock” gets bandied about a lot, and I think it springs from the strangeness of realising that your expectations of home were just as inaccurate as those of your temporary destination. Philosophising aside, here’s a rundown of what I’ve been up to… 

Back to the Shire

The big homecoming has been to my actual home in darkest Herefordshire, UK. I’ve absolutely revelled in going into shops that have ALL the English sweets (to the extent that I’ve seriously embarassed hapless companions by jumping up and down and pointing), as well as finding the drizzly “summer” weather endearing rather than infuriating. It’s also been great to catch up with my family, and I’ve been basking in the luxury of things regularly not falling on my head; there really is a lot to be said for living in a Proper Grownup house full of things like food and working shower curtains. That said, my return to Herefordshire has reminded me how little time it takes me to go completely stir-crazy when I’m stranded, carless, in a village with literally no public transport.

Even my unmitigated joy at being reunited with my cats has been slightly marred by the advent of summer, which means the sacrificial-offering-of-small-animal-intestines rate is up to at least two a day. My patience was especially tested when I woke to find an incomprehensibly large amount of furry vomit draped lovingly across my windowsill and floor. This delight was then supplemented by the discovery of a mummified bird slowly turning to dust on top of my wardrobe, having supposedly decayed totally unnoticed by my family in all the months they spent watching TV in my room. I smell a rat. Or rather, a rotting sparrow. Still, there’s nothing quite like curling up in bed with a purring cat, even if you did just see it crush a baby rabbit’s skull with its teeth.

The cat-human heirarchy is summed up in the above cartoon.

I’ve spent the rest of my time clearing out monumental quantities of flea-market tat from my room, as well as working for Mum and Dad’s shepherds’ huts company (www.hollowash.co.uk), and procrastinating from revision by playing the piano for up to five hours a day – now why wasn’t I that motivated when I still had a chance of becoming a child genius?

Other notable happenings at home include the Hay Festival, at which I saw a bunch of talks, plus hilarious standup shows by Marcus Brigstocke and Bill Bailey. Much middle-class fun was had by all.

Back to Oxford

I spent two weeks kipping on various people’s floors in Oxford in order to make the most of post-finals celebrations with the many friends who are abandoning me next year. Summery exploits included punting, exploring and visiting several thousand pubs; Pimms is another thing that I will never again take for granted. The most surreal event was when, on a walk along the towpath, Isabel and I almost literally bumped into some stragglers from what I assume was World Naked Bike Ride (look it up, it is a thing.) In proper British fashion, we behaved as if absolutely nothing was out of the ordinary until we were well out of sight.

Cartoon (requested by Harris) of a man being mauled by a swan. Feel free to interpret this as a metaphor for Oxford’s effect on the mental and physical wellbeing of your average student. Its going to be odd going back into the bubble, where time is a luxury and everyone is ridiculously work-focused; I’d forgotten how busy life really is there.

Back to Berlin

Now we come to the exciting travelling-y stuff: I loved Berlin so much that I came back to live with the delectable Laura for three more weeks. Unfortunately, I’ve spent most of the first week struck down with a hideous cold, complete with Walter White-esque cough, so we mostly watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because we’re cool like that. I’ve still managed a fair bit of cultural stuff though – so much so that I’ll save it for another post, as your reading muscles are probably aching by now. Suffice to say that I’m having a fantastic time.

Oh, and I seem to have started following the world cup. Yes, the football world cup. The one where they kick a ball around for some interminable period of time and then an arbitrary group of people cheer a lot. Shockingly, I’ve been quite enjoying it, partially due to the fact that I recently tried to learn to play and can actually follow what’s going on, and partially due to the aliens who have clearly taken over my body and changed my entire personality. Either way, it’s a good way of joining in with German culture.

Really, everyone watches it. The identical, simultaneous reactions of the men at the bar to every event in the game were a sight to behold. Incidentally, vuvuzelas (and teenagers) are the scourge of the earth and should be banned from the S-Bahn.
We even went to the famous Fanmeile, where thousands of people turn out to watch all the Germany matches. This was good fun, but it turned out that neither mine nor Laura’s interest in football is great enough to make standing in the heat for an hour and a half something we care to repeat. Beer garden for the semi-final it is.

Back to School

My official excuse for being here is that I’m attending a language school to learn German from scratch. This is both interesting and frustrating; it’s great to be part of an international community again (my class of 8 includes students from Russia, France, Japan, Ukraine and Italy) but I’d underestimated how embarassing the first stages of learning a language can be. Outside the classroom, there’s a peculiar sort of shame that comes with being a native speaker of English, which everyone I’ve met speaks fluently, while I can barely stammer away in basic German. Introductions were slow to get off the ground because of an infernal plague of smartphones, but I made friends with my classmates pretty quickly, and we’ve been dining out in fantastically cheap restaurants with a different cuisine each day.
The double edged sword of technology: the problem with hiding from awkward first conversations behind a smartphone is that it does tend to prevent any conversations at all.

Back to reality

It’s been a very eventful year and, now that it’s officially over, it’s taken me a good month to gather enough coherent thoughts to have something to say! I guess the overall cliché I’d draw from this rather disparate collection of events is that you can never really go back; I’ve loved reconnecting with the friends and family I’ve been missing all year, but the comforting familiarity I’d expected to feel has been suspiciously absent. The obvious solution to this is to make the most of having room for adventures, and that’s certainly what I’ve been doing in Berlin; stay tuned over the next few days for tales of more escapades (occasionally in a fairly literal sense!)
There’s a certain sadness in coming back to old haunts, only to realise that your experience of them will necessarily have changed. But then, where’s the fun in living life on repeat?

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