Wednesday, May 2, 2012

COLD, Queensland, means REALLY REALLY COLD!

(I wrote this when we first got here 18 months ago.  Since the Queenslanders are beginning to complain about the cold 15C (60) weather again as we head into winter, I thought I'd remind them of what miserable really is.  And oh look, there's my old education rant raising its ugly head again.  And Anita, who I was obviously thinking of every moment of the day when I first got here and who I still miss dearly.)

Anita and I chat regularly on Wednesday afternoons as we cook up lunch for the kids and get ready to meet up later for English Group. Anita is one of my oldest friends in Germany – second only to Dominique who we met the first week here when we were still renting a Ferien-Wohnung in Stuttgart. I met Anita at the now-defunct Altdorf English Playgroup at the Methodist Church the first month we moved to Altdorf. She lives in the tiny village of Hildrizhausen, across the fields of canola separating Hildrizhausen from the tiny village of Altdorf.

I imagine her in her kitchen across the fields as I talk to her from my kitchen.

Her husband Uli, and my husband Damon, probably wouldn't understand why we'd have to spend two hours on the phone when we are going to see eachother within minutes of hanging up. Or maybe why we don't just invite eachother over and feed the kids together.

But afternoons suck for mothers of school-age children in Germany. School lets out between 12 and 12:30. (Although some classes not until almost 1:30 so that you have the added joy of having your children straggle in sometimes over an hour apart from eachother! From the same school.) This is ostensibly because Germany feels that children should have a warm meal and quality family time every afternoon. (I believe it is because Germanty refuses to invest in its outdated and decrepit education system and fund all-day schools.) In either case, mothers are expected to have the home-fires burning, the laundry ironed, the steps swept, the windows cleaned, the begonias weeded AND a warm meal waiting for their brood (of 0.8 children per family) when they come home.

And then spend an average of 2 to 3 hours of time doing homework with them.

When I explained this to a parent here in Lawnton she looked confused. ''But that just means the parents are doing the majority of the educating, doesn't it?'' You got it Karen. Mostly it means we are cleaning up the mess the school made in the first place. With no guidance -or communication at all – from the school because well, because I think Germans feel that schooling is the government's business and still haven't grasped the fact that WE ARE the government and that the government works FOR US...or should at the very least be working WITH US.....

So that Anita and I are very very busy just getting it together in the afternoons – and are happy to be able to do it all while talking to a friend through a receiver held up to our ear while we cook, do dishes and delegate homework assignments.

Anita is the most gracious person I know.

When I tell her that I'm moving to Australia she doesn't tell me that she misses her native home of South Africa. She doesn't moan about the weather in Germany or about the lousy education system her children are forced to attend. She is sad to be losing all of her best friends to better opportunities somewhere else : Janet (who I never met) back to Scotland, I believe (because of the education system and the general lack of friendliness in Germany); Sabine (who is German) back to California where, despite a bankrupt state, her children have a better education system and a higher quality of life and more opportunity than they did in Germany; Maria to Colorado (Bill is a US army contractor and, although they LOVED living in Germany, the kids were starting to be school-age guessed it!); Erika to Alabama where she and her German husband have better job opportunities AND the kids have better schools and social lives........

Anita understands all too well what I've come to call the ''KKK'' reasons to leave.

Klima. The climate. Europe is cold and dark and gray and rainy. It really is. Now, while noone can actually BLAME the Europeans for this, it is also something that noone who has never lived in Europe (or someone from Europe who has never lived outside of it!) can truly understand.

I didn't understand it myself until the summer after Aidan and Matthew were born when I became friendswith non-German Europeans through English Group. I quote her all the time but it was just such an eye -opener for me when Sue sai , in her lovely British accent, ''oh. But you wouldn't want it to be hot and sweaty all the time, would you?'' Well, yes Sue, personally I WOULD as it turns out! But I would have settled for a few MONTHS of it. Anything more than the two WEEKS we had this past July. Or Wednesday, as Jochen, safely American now and living in the Phoenix desert in the laughingly calls summer in his native land of Germany.

''But the weather is really quite alright here'' Syrie told me a few years after Sue's comment. Which made me realize that the weather -or our perception of its severity anyway - is all relative. In other words, it takes a Brit to truly enjoy what they call summer in Germany!

But if the Northern Europeans have an addled notion of what qualifies as ''warm and sunny'' to the rest of the world, well Australians have no clue as to what we mean by ''cold and gray.'' COLD, mates, is really really really cold. Snow only falls at 0 C.

That lovely white stuff you see in picture books not only falls in picturesque flakes gently upon pine trees and rooftops, but also lands on the roads and roofs of your car. Which means you wake up the morning – in the dark because the sun does NOT rise at 4 AM like it does here in Brisbane in December - and might not even deign to show its light all day. Or week. Or season. It is so cold out that you don't want to get out of bed. You dress in layers – you have to dress the kids in layers – including long johns, extra undershirts, gloves, hats, scarves, boots and snowsuits – and then head out to the car. Where you spend fifteen minutes with your red fingers feeling like they are going to fall off – getting those lovely snowflakes - now in the form of a huge sheet of ice – off the windshield and windows of your car.

Sleigh bells at Christmastime? Certainly. After you chip the ice out of the horses' water buckets.

Once you get back into the warmth – and the feeling starts to slowly return to your toes – it actually feels as if they are expanding, blowing up like a balloon, as the blood starts to flow back into veins that had constricted to preserve body heat to the core. Survival, you understand.

So that, yes, when you ask me if maybe you should buy a winter coat for your Christmas-time trip to Europe, yes, I do think you should buy a winter coat.

Not that I think you'll find one thick enough here in Brisbane.

The biggest misperception on BOTH sides though, isn't just the temperature but the LENGTH of time it stays that temperature. You see, I think the Brits are pretty pleased to be seeing even two straight weeks worth of sunshine in Germany. Two whole weeks. Without rain. 14 days. In a row, you understand.

Whereas the Australians think that putting off their December trip to Europe might save them the expense of a winter coat.

''Oh.'' one young lady said to Damon last week when he explained that yes, it will be cold, and that yes, she really should be thinking about investing in something warmer than a tank top and shorts, maybe even consider wearing shoes while she's there.

''Maybe I'll just postpone the trip until February then.''

FEBRUARY?! FEBRUARY?! Lady, that is the LONGEST, COLDEST, DARKEST, DREARIEST, MOST MISERABLE month in the Northern Hemisphere. I don't care WHAT it says on the calendar, those 28 days are almost unbearable.

And they are cold.

You see, the problem isn't just the cold. It's that it last for a good part of the year.

COLD lasts from November, December, January, February and into March. At least.

October is already cold enough to wear sweaters and jackets – and hats and gloves and scarves. September might be okay. And, if you are lucky, the sun peaks its head out again sometime in April. Or it might rain all of April, May and June into July as it did this year.

Not a warm Brisbane rain either.

Germany sees the sun for maybe 4 – 6 weeks a year.

If I were to place bets, I'd go either in June, July or August. One of those months is nice every year. But never all three months. And never the same month from one year to next.

Or give up on summer in Europe all together and try May. We're usually pretty happy then. Because, all things being relative, the worst of the weather is over. For a few weeks anyway.

And in any case, that's when the biergartens open!

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