Sunday, 21 August 2011

Travailleuse transfrontalière

I meant to write a post some time ago about the issue of rates and translation agencies, after one agency wrote to me proudly announcing that it was expanding, gaining new clients and considerably higher volumes of work. In return for this success and booming business, the agency wanted to assure me that it wanted to keep me on its list of preferred translators, if I cut my rates. It's good to know that it was perfectly happy to pay my rates (which aren't extortionate by any means) when business wasn't going so well, but now with soaring turnover and profits it would be a problem. I started drafting a post about this, and the trouble of the profession not being treated professionally, but then a few other things got in the way...

To cut a long story short, I had two job interviews and two job offers in the space of two weeks. An exciting whirlwind of e-mails, flight bookings, train bookings and a packed suitcase later, and I am now a cross-border worker (or travailleuse transfrontalière). I'm working as an in-house translator in Luxembourg but currently commuting from Thionville, over the border in the Lorraine region of France.

My new job is great so far - the team's very nice and friendly and it's a relaxed atmosphere. Tea and coffee is provided for free, so my caffeine addiction is suitably supplied (and I'm trying not to let living in France set off a bout of brioche addiction...). Train stations aside, I have a nice walk both sides - along by the Moselle river in Thionville and through the winding cobbled streets of Grund along the Alzette in Lux.

However, I've realised it's very important to make sure you know which train you're getting at Lux. It's not simply a case of potentially ending up at the wrong town, but also the wrong country. A train from one side of a platform might go to Germany, while on the other side the destination is France. Or indeed Belgium or Switzerland. Or just elsewhere in Lux. This isn't an issue I encountered when I used to commute to London... Coming from an island, it still amazes me how easy it is to get a train to another country in Europe. My train to Thionville from Brussels took me through Belgium, Luxembourg and France in a matter of a few hours, and would have taken me to Switzerland had I stayed on board (I was tempted - the last time I went through Switzerland on the train was going from Düsseldorf in Germany to Milan in Italy, and the scenery was incredible).

I'm only staying here in France for a month - a friend has very kindly let me stay whilst he's on holiday - then I go home for a week and, when I return, I move to Luxembourg properly. Here's hoping all the form-filling and registration goes smoothly...

Monday, 21 February 2011

Every little (bit) helps

One of the fun things about being in another country is not only seeing what is considerably different to your own country/culture but also noticing the little things - the things that are almost the same, but not quite.

Take something like breakfast. At home I might have cereal, or toast, or sometimes bacon and egg. In Germany, you have rolls (fresh from the bakery) with slices of various types of meat and cheese. You can have jam. You can also have cereal. But it is generally expected that you will want a roll with ham - although, to my mind, this is more like lunch. But when in Rome... (er, or in Münster).

Even something as relatively 'simple' as bread is not straight forward. In England we have fluffy white bread (which, cut in thick doorstep slices, is great with a bit of butter and chunks of Cheddar) or the healthier brown option, with seeded variants in between. We attempt to make French bread but somehow a baguette in the UK is never quite the same as one in France. Similarly, Germany has special white bread known as 'Toast' because that's all it's used for; otherwise expect shades ranging from light grey through the browns to black and getting heavier as you go. The rolls also come in wonderful varieties - from plain to seeded to ones with currants in to ones with chocolate chips in (to go with that breakfast ham?).

The great thing is that all these little differences (yellow not red postboxes, yellow and blue not green and blue road signs, jaywalking not being allowed) help you better understand others and their way of thinking. This in turn helps with language-learning and, in turn, helps understanding, etc., etc. The German language often gets a bad press for its grammar, long words and sentences where you wait ages for a verb; but it does also have some wonderful words and phrases - in some cases, ones we don't have an equivalent for in English. You know that feeling when you've got a song stuck in your head? The Germans have a word for that (a short one too!): they call it an Ohrwurm (literally 'ear worm'). Much more efficient and poetic than the English. Ah yes, efficiency, of course. Well, in some cases the stereotypes are (partly) true - but they still don't know how to queue properly.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


They say that you don't know what you've got until it's gone. While this is usually applied to people (e.g. a loved one) I think it can also be applied to an opportunity.

It is only when the opportunity for something no longer exists that you realise how much you actually wanted it.

The question is how to tell whether this means you need to strive harder for it in future, or whether it just wasn't meant to be in the first place. When do you continue to follow your dreams and when do you accept that they are merely fairytales?

Monday, 7 February 2011

Back in NRW

So, here I am: back not only in Germany but in the region where I once lived, North Rhine-Westphalia. The last time I was here I lived in the region's capital, Düsseldorf, but now I'm further north in Münster. A new city to explore...

The city's tourist information site describes Münster (not to be confused with Munster in Ireland, the TV show The Munsters or, indeed, Monster) as being the German equivalent of Oxford or Cambridge. There is a university here (the third-largest in Germany), more bicycles than inhabitants, is - allegedly - small-ish (although it feels big after Luxembourg) and somewhere there's a river (with the wonderful name of Aa), but other than that I've not noticed any striking resemblances. Yet. But then I've only been here for a day.

I've always had something of a love-hate relationship with German. I feel like it's possible to sink more easily into French; German seems to involve more of a battle. Perhaps that feeling subsided a little after I'd lived in D'dorf but that was some time ago and I still have a slight mental barrier to overcome whenever I try to speak German. So, part of my aim with the course I'm doing is to prove to myself that I can do it (P.P.P!) - and I was certainly thrown in the deep end today, joining a class in which most of the students have been out here for several months already. I did get to kill two birds with one stone though - we were given a brief guided tour of the city centre (ok, ok, maybe I'll concede that the old, pretty buildings and cobbled streets are Oxbridge-esque...maybe...) and I got to interpret throughout for two Japanese girls who are complete beginners in German. Practice makes perfect...

This post is a little unstructured but my brain's tired. I think I just wanted to say that I'd got here and that I'm looking forward to learning more and getting to know Münster better. To compensate for my ramblings I shall end with a link to something amusing: our tour guide told us that Münster is where the Treaty of Westphalia was signed, which reminded me of this comedy sketch.*

* I never found a straw shop in Lux. Worryingly, though, there is a shop with a sign that says "Second-hand food"...

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Positive, proactive, persistent

My new year's resolution is to apply the above three words in my approach to everything this year. I'm sure I intend to every year, but this time I mean it.

I actually kick-started this last year with my job applications, which led to a whole stack of exams and a lot of waiting around to hear results, another exam at the start of this year, and yet more waiting. I feel like I'm in a perpetual state of limbo. Still, at least I did the proactive bit - now it's out of my hands. And I'm trying to stay positive.

But what have I positively, proactively, persistently done so far this year? Well, I've got information about and signed up for classes in things I'd like to do more of/be better at etc. but have never had the nerve to do so far, e.g. a masterclass in stage acting, dancing lessons (although I've had other commitments each time so far - but I haven't given up so I'm being persistent), singing lessons (er, ditto), yoga (for general fitness and trying to raise my self-esteem) and horse-riding.

I've also just booked a language course in Germany to consolidate my language skills and brush up on my spoken German (as work involves just reading or listening to it). I've been saying for ages that I want to do this, so now I'm actually doing so. Also if the next set of exam results are good, next month is the only opportunity I'll have before more exams...

Of course, being out of the country won't help with my attendance at any of the above classes. I'll just have to find alternatives out there! P.P.P.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Inspiration in memoriam

I've been putting off writing this post for some time. I was going to write about going to the Schueberfouer funfair with Kermit, Bougielyns and Snork; about Kermit and I going to Esch-sur-Sûre for our anniversary where we climbed up castle ruins in the pitch dark and made scary zombie faces over the floodlights; about all the farewell dinners and drinks held over the course of the last weeks in Luxembourg, involving lots of mussels, lots of cake, and lots of crémant; about whether returning to freelance life would be less or more successful than before. The reason I haven't is because things were put sharply into perspective in September, with the news that a university friend of mine had passed away.

Shelley had cystic fibrosis. The doctors had always said that she would never live to reach an age in double figures. She did. They said she would never live to be in her twenties. She did. They said she would never be able to go away to university. She did. They said she would never live to be in her thirties. Sadly, they were right on that score. She was only 28 when she died.

Although she had cystic fibrosis her whole life, she was never one to complain about it. You never knew just how serious her condition was; even when she had to spend long periods of time in hospital, she would laugh it off with a joke if you asked how she was. She always looked on the bright side, always found something to laugh at, always looked to find something new to do. She studied engineering at university. She danced. She sang. She dyed her hair a multitude of colours so you never knew what to expect when you saw her. She played on the beach with her beloved pugs. She wrote stories. She even had her own real fairytale wedding in a Cornish castle five years ago the girl who had never believed in true love until the day she found it. And how amazing that she did find it in the all too short time she was with us.

This is a poor tribute to Shelley, and I know she would tell me off for 'making a fuss', but I wanted to thank her for being such an inspiration. Some people are too afraid to follow their dreams; others like Shelley are too stubborn not to, even against the odds. We'll miss you, Shell. Thanks for showing us that life is what you make it, not what you let it make of you.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Autumn arrives

I love autumn. I love all the beautiful colours in the trees as the leaves turn, the clear blue sky with the sun still shining but a little tiny touch of a chill in the air and a gentle, fresh breeze. That's exactly what today feels like, and is certainly an improvement on last week when it was dark and stormy and I kept expecting to see Hallowe'en decorations everywhere. Either way, it seems as though summer is over (although I've heard that September tends to be better weather-wise in Lux than August, so it may have one last fight left in it for this year, who knows).

I was lucky to have two visits this month, from Dr T (on her way home from Paris) and from the Polar Berry duo (on their way home from Burgundy): good company, good conversation, good food, good wine. During the latter's visit, the city had been taken over by street performers for the Streeta(rt)nimation festival, filling the streets with people in bizarre costumes*, performing tricks and stunts and playing music. There are certainly a lot of events organised over the summer here (and free) and the fact that the city's small means it really feels like everyone gets involved.

As for me, most of the month has been devoted to work in some way. You know how it is, when you've got something very important to do and it suddenly becomes so easy to be distracted by other things ("Oh I really must put my CDs in order") or let other people distract you ("OK, let's sit and chat for hours over coffee") when really you need to just focus... Perhaps this post counts as just another distraction, but sometimes you need to get thoughts out of your head before you can tackle something else properly. So, the blog's been updated and that means I have no excuses left not to get on with the task I need to be doing. After all, the arrival of autumn means there's not much time left. Wish me luck.

*Anyone remember "I want to be...a tree!"? Well, we actually saw that... We didn't see the fire-breathing dragon, though, but that might be because it was raining too much.