Maid in Britain – and staying that way
by Rachel Ragg
It’s official: Britain is the worst place to live in Europe. Long working hours, low pay, high prices and cold weather all conspire to make us more miserable than any other nation. According to a uSwitch survey, 46 per cent of those surveyed had thought of emigrating.
Well, all I can say is: if you think it’s bad here, you have never lived in Germany.
I will add at this point that some of my best friends are German. In fact, several of my relatives are German, as are my washing machine, fridge and dishwasher.
But designing a good dishwasher is no excuse for being a culinary desert. Can you buy Cadbury’s chocolate in Germany? Nein. Nor can you buy essential items like baked beans (no, gebackene Bohnen are NOT the same, whatever the Germans tell you), Cheddar cheese, Yorkshire Tea, sliced Warburtons bread or, in my experience, fresh milk. Believe me, a cup of ‘black tea’ with UHT milk just doesn’t make for a high quality of life.
Nor does a German Sunday. German Sundays are like going in a time-warp back to my 70s childhood, when the height of excitement was Dad washing the car or mowing the lawn. Only in Germany, they’re both deemed so exciting that they’re illegal.
If the elderly Hausfrauen are to be believed, they are not the only things that ought to be illegal. Wearing a skirt in winter (obviously you should be wearing trousers, and equally obviously it is the business of Frau Klugscheisser to tell you so when you’re minding your own business at a bus stop), failing to put a hat on your baby, crossing the road with the red man: all provoke “Na, so was!” (said with a curled lip and a shake of the head). Which roughly translates into Victor Meldrew saying: “I don’t believe it!”
“Na, so was” is rather what I thought about all the shops being shut on Sundays – until I realised that they are not desperately enticing when they are open. Unless you’re obsessed with your health. The town where I lived was notable for its assorted chemists shops, complemented by the wonderfully named Reformhaus (aka health food shop). Though to look on the bright side, if there’s nothing but muesli bars to spend your money on, you might well feel quite wealthy.
Which reminds me: if it’s wealth you want, you could do worse than wait for a friend at a German station. Because waiting at a station means that you are a prostitute. Oh yes. Stand there for more than thirty seconds, and you’ll find some dodgy type with lace-up leather-lurve-trousers and scary facial hair sidling up to you and asking how much you charge.
However, being propositioned paled into insignificance compared to my experience on a train (as opposed to waiting for one). Standing opposite me was a man. He was staring at me and waving a sausage. Why’s he doing that? I wondered. Only after several minutes did I realise that it was no random frankfurter (yes, I was a very inexperienced nineteen-year-old). I did what all good British people do, and pretended not to notice. But it didn’t half make me nostalgic for a good old British banger.
To look on the brighter side, Germany is endlessly fascinating to children. First of all, there are the loos with little shelves so they can inspect their own poo. As I have moved out of the phase of being intimate with my children’s poos, I was not keen to hear the details. Then there are the sex shops. “Mummy, is that a World War Two shop?” my seven-year-old asked as we found ourselves in the vicinity of Hamburg’s Reeperbahn. “Um, something like that,” I replied vaguely (it was the rubber masks in the window that fooled her).
Best – or worst – of all was the selection of books by the tills in a Berlin bookshop. We have ‘entertaining’ light reads about how to fart in the office and get away with it – but the Germans do everything bigger and better. “Why are those ladies weeing on one another?” my daughter asked as she flicked through what looked like a harmless little novelty item. For once, I was lost for words. As were my children when they heard that German schools finish at lunchtime.
Toilets with shelves? Books about wee? Half days for ever? All of a sudden, they were among the 46 per cent who were planning to emigrate.
And that is surely the killer argument. However bad Britain is, however lousy the weather, however hard we work: our children don’t finish school at lunchtime. Let’s be grateful for small British mercies.