On the still-hotly-debated-but-now-rather-tedious dinner party subject of Brexit the other night, some kiwi friends and I got to talking about foreign exchange holidays at school. Did you ever do one? You know, the classic year 8 trip to Strasbourg to stay with a French ‘friend’ where you were desperate to know who their favourite popstar was, mainly so you could tell them no sorry, they weren’t as good as Nick from the Backstreet Boys.
L-R: No, yes, definitely not, no and who invited the accountant
Anyway, these kiwi friends hadn’t had any exchange programmes in New Zealand, so I was regaling them with tales from mine.
I did one French exchange and two German exchanges. The main thing I remember about my French exchange was buying some lip balm so that must have been a riveting week, but the German exchanges were rather more memorable.
My first German exchange – in which obviously the key objective was to learn German – I was placed with a Chinese family who, unsurprisingly, given it was their mother tongue, spoke Chinese. However, on the upside, they lived above their Chinese restaurant and so, while my friends were pushing away plates of bratwurst and schnitzel, jammy little disasters over here got a veritable all-you-can-eat banquet every night. I didn’t learn a speck of German but I ate with all the force of a great typhoooon.
My friend Zoe was pretty pissed off at me given my German/Chinese exchange pal was originally meant to be her German/Chinese exchange pal but I had made Zoe switch with me when we’d first been matched up. I say “matched up”, neither Paddy nor Cilla were involved; our teacher chucked some handwritten letters at us and I got a girl who’d excitedly written in broken English about her family pet, a huge hairy dog (“ein riesiger haariger Hund” if you will). I made Zoe swap with me. I said I was allergic to dogs. It’s not my fault Zoe fell for it.
Anyway, this story isn’t even about that exchange. This little disaster took place while I was on my second German exchange, my second chance to be truly immersed in the culture and language of my GCSE subject, and on which I was placed with a Spanish family who had just relocated to Germany.
That may be the longest introduction ever but I shall proceed since – if you’re reading this – you’re still with me. Cut to me, living with my Not the Least Bit German exchange familia. I decided I wanted to go out on a little explore of the local area, borrowing a bike from them to take a little cycle around.
I love to cycle, so I was having a gute Zeit (or ‘buen tiempo’ as I believe they say in Germany), until a car nearly careered straight into me. I can neither deny nor confirm whether I was cycling on the right side of the road.
Being the self-righteous little upstart that I am/was, and knowing that I was on foreign soil where no one knew me, I let rip.
“What THE ACTUAL HELL??” I screamed into the windscreen at the couple in the front seats, waving my hands dramatically around for effect. I stood in front of their car on the road so they couldn’t drive off and continued my one-woman advert for English diplomacy.
After a while, having exhausted all my words, hand gestures and sense of moral superiority, I stepped aside theatrically and let the stunned couple drive off. Then I got on the bike and pootled the couple of streets back to my Not the Least Bit German exchange family’s house. My exchange pal was waving at me excitedly as I pulled up into the drive.
“Mis abuelos han llegado! My grandparents have just arrived! Come and say Hola!”