Monday, October 15, 2012

Missing the homeland

On moving from one’s native land to live abroad, it is a sure thing that there will be things one misses from the home country. And not always the things one expects one will miss. I was reminded of this today when I visited a factory that manufactures sweets.

People asked me when I was about to leave England what I thought I would miss most. Near the top of that list, I knew, was Marmite. Well, by occasional visits home, by asking visitors to bring pots with them and now, when one can buy it online from Amazon among other companies, I have not, to date, run out of it. If you’re not English, you may not understand this, but Marmite is an English institution. It is said that you either love it or hate it and I, obviously, come into the former category. It is thick, brown, salty and sticky (and edible, no misunderstandings, please). It is a by-product of yeast and it is vegetarian-friendly. The taste is strong and a limited amount spread on bread is lovely; spread it too thick and the taste is somewhat overwhelming. Hardly anyone here likes it (good – all the more for me), but I couldn’t envisage life without it.

There are, however, many things that I hadn’t really thought about that I now long for. Take bacon. In a nation where pig is the most frequently eaten meat, they don’t make real bacon. There is one more imported pack in my freezer that I am debating taking out, but I have to ration myself. Also strange, considering that the Germans do use ginger in biscuits and cakes, is that proper ginger biscuits – tasting nicely of ginger – are not available. Cook-in sauces, for the lazy cook, are for sale, but different varieties from those on the shelves in an English supermarket. Similarly I have never found chilli powder that is quite right. Self-raising flour is missing and I had to go to a specialist shop to buy cornflour. I have a big tub of genuine English beef stock cubes and some packets of other flavours – all I have found here is jars of stock powder which, again, are just not the same. Golden syrup (an ingredient essential if you have to resort to DIY ginger nuts) can’t be found and there is only a poor substitute. Strong cheeses are not so popular, and although I can buy, in some places, pre-packed cheddar, it is not the well-matured cheese that I prefer. The list of foodstuffs goes on, never mind the lack of decent vegetables – even in summer you can buy plenty of winter vegetables but hardly a fresh pea to be found; I have only seen plastic-wrapped mange touts to date. The only sweetcorn comes in tins apart from the odd plastic-wrapped pair of corn cobs. Nobody knows what a broad bean is (and, sadly, although I bought a packet of seeds in England in the spring so I could grow my own, they went missing so I haven’t managed to do so. How can I lose a packet of broad bean seeds?). A neighbour grows her own green beans and kindly gave me some in the summer, but if you want to buy those they too come mostly pre-packed in plastic and the quality is often not the best. A couple of years ago I was in the very west of Germany, close to the French border, and we made an excursion over to France to delight in the choice in a supermarket there. People living near to where we were staying said that they often did the same, so it’s not only me.

Of course, buying books in the English language is something I miss. I buy most of my books online now, but it would be so nice to go into a bookshop and just browse. There is a bookshop in Erfurt, the capital of Thüringen, which stocks a few English books, but the selection is limited and the prices high – no discounts there. I prefer to read books that were written in English in that language, although I now do read others in German if they were written in anything but English, so I am now an avid online buyer. Inevitably, there is no library available for me.

Newspapers can be bought, although at a price, and in this distinctly rural area if I wanted to buy them I would have to order. Once again, they can sometimes be found in Erfurt, in the shop at the station, but they are cut-down versions of the papers in the English shops. I have resorted to getting my crosswords online from an English newspaper site, and I read my news online. (I stopped reading The Times when they put up a pay-wall. Since I only browse and don’t read all the content, it’s not worth my while paying on a regular basis for access I use spasmodically.)

I have got used to many of the differences in the products I can buy here. Loo rolls are smaller and, almost without exception, white. No buying toilet tissue to colour-coordinate with the bathroom! Tissues are not bought in boxes but in small packets (usually in packs of small packets). Buying drinks by the case is common practice, whether beer, lemonade, cola and other soft drinks or even Sekt (sparkling wine, which is very drinkable and reasonably priced). There is a deposit on beer and soft drink bottles (but not wine or spirit bottles, strangely), although the way some people throw bottles – usually beer – around in fields and the forest you might not realise this if you didn’t live here. Bread is darker and heavier as a rule – white loaves can be bought but tend to be sliced and sold for toast and not very tasty. Bread rolls, though, are pretty good. Cakes are heavy and stodgy, and popular. I’ve just realised I’ve got back to food again. Oh, dear!

So back to the sweet factory. What was I doing there and why did it bring thoughts of things I miss to mind? Well, I went to talk about some translation work. But before I was put onto that I already knew someone who works there – inevitably, she rides with me, which is how I know a lot of people. And a little while ago she brought me a present. Now, although you can buy a Mars or Snickers bar, or a Kit Kat, here, there is some chocolate – my favourites – that hasn’t crossed the channel to this country. I hope Cadbury’s, after their sell-out to America, continue to manufacture the chocolate I know and love, because Milka – very popular here - just doesn’t do it for me. Expensive, good, chocolate is to be had, but not ordinary Dairy Milk. I’d love a Flake just now! Although I have had a bit of chocolate today, since the man who interviewed me ordered some to be brought into his office. And what chocolate! Germany had already acquired Rolls Royce before I came here, but now they have taken over manufacturing Bendicks chocolates. And my friend, as a Christmas present, brought me, not knowing that they are my all-time favourites, a box of Bitter Mints. Now proudly manufactured not an hour’s drive away from here, in order to be sent back to England – they don’t sell them locally. I walked from the car park to the factory with the scent of chocolate wafting in my direction. I’m glad I don’t work there; I don’t think I could resist the temptation on a daily basis. But I do have a welcome source of chocolates, at least intermittently.

So now I have to type up the test translation I did earlier and email it back to the chocolate factory. But before I do, I have one more thing to add. Please look out for my next blog in a few days’ time, when I shall be featuring an interview with best-selling historical romance author Samantha Holt.  

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