Month: July 2014

ANGER MANAGEMENT

Ask my friends, I am a sweet natured soul. I will bring you soup if you are feeling poorly, and I will smile sweetly even as you take my last cookie.

But some things make me ANGRY.

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And by the time you reach my age, you will know, “we” (society) don’t like angry women. Be honest, society doesn’t even like “neutral face in repose” women. No, we have to be Pharell-friggin-Williams-happy just to be considered normal women.

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Cheer up, luv, it might never happen! (This is the male equivalent of me on a normal day.)

The other day my friend was standing in line at the cash till at Kaisers (Germany’s equivalent of Sainsburys). Just for all you lucky non-Germans out there living in capitalism-gone-crazy-land where you get fired if you don’t zap 10 barcodes every 4 seconds, in Germany it is quite normal to wait 15 minutes in line for the privilege of paying for your groceries. Let’s just say it’s not my favourite part of the day after working, picking up the kids and picking out food for our dinner. I try to turn it into “meditation-time-of-the-day”, thinking, “Oh look wow, I have time to just BE for 15 minutes because I have absolutely no other option.” Works almost never but I am not giving up just yet.

So my friend must have been doing something similar and had her “resting face” face on. Ok and we ain’t 20 anymore. Gravity is having its dirty little way with us. But despite this, she is a happy soul. Good man, good kids, good genes, great skincare products and great coffee shop on the street corner. What more does a Berlin gal need? So she definitely wasn’t miserable.

And this TOURIST in front of her at the till starts SINGING about MISERABLE Germans….I mean, really??? Said tourist was a younger woman, English or American and not quite hitting the high notes. But the gist of it was, that Germans are miserable and should cheer the fuck up. Yeah, thanks for that. My friend isn’t even German. (Like 90% of the population in New-Prenzlauer Berg). She happens to be Polish. But she has been here long enough to bark out our Brötchen-order in a Berlin-appropriate fashion.

You try standing in a queue every day of the week flanked by visitors to the city having deep conversations about the pros and cons of cotton tote bags over plastic or how cheap the rent is here and where the best club to have darkroom sex is and why the fuck don’t they sell decent bagels. We try to be tolerant, we really do. We are well aware that we are also tourists almost everywhere in the world and also need to buy groceries there.

But where is the sign that says we can’t look miserable if we want to? We are not here for your entertainment! If my friend had been a guy, she could have looked like her wife just walked out with her best friend and her cat just got run over and no one would have raised an eyebrow. Men are always looking miserable. But their resting faces get called things like “enigmatic” “grave” or at the very worst “asshole resting face”. I’ll still take being an asshole over being miserable any old time.

But really, I would just like to actually exist without the whole world assuming they have a right to comment on my exterior. Luckily, usually it’s positive stuff…But sometimes I just want to put a paper bag over my face and not have anyone comment either way. It really doesn’t affect my ability to go buy milk and bread for my kids. It makes me start to understand the women who wear Yashmaks.

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Last week I was standing on the pavement across from the selfsame supermarket having a natter with a mother from my older daughter’s class whilst holding my youngest’s hand. This guy, trying to push some newspaper or other, makes the journey all the way across the road and asks if we want a newspaper. Slightly startled at being so rudely interrupted in mid-flow, we both shake our heads, and by way of explanation the guy says “I couldn’t resist coming over, seeing three generations all together in one spot.” My friend and I exchanged looks and started giggling. We were both in the same glorious fifth decade of our lives and neither of us had plans to be a grandmother in the near future. The young dude (18 tops) beat a hasty embarrassed retreat realizing his mistake.

But afterwards, I actually felt kind of angry. a) because he interrupted my conversation and b) because, had we been men, (going as grey as we pleased, thank you) he would never have had the nerve to assume anything about our relative ages c) because he imposed his vision of us on us. There we were, contentedly discussing our latest romantic exploits, she with a New York curator, me with an Italian wide boy, and this overly self-assured guy felt the need to tell us what WE look like to him. Just go ahead and guess how many fucks I don’t give.

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Good Women

Before I get to the post I promised last week about “The Good Man”, I feel I need to get one for “Good Women” in my life out there first.

I always feel that women’s friendships are underrated, especially when compared to romantic relationships. Any woman who has “broken up” with a good friend knows it hurts just as much as the break up of a relationship with a man. In some ways more. She was your ‘person’, the woman you could call anytime and say “could I just offload at you about something really really boring for 10 minutes?” or call up all snotty and tearful because some guy was making you feel just so sad and bereft. Letting go of a close friendship for whatever reason is very hard. And we have all been there.
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But sometimes you get through it, with a bunch of honesty and bottles of whisky.

Measured by the bottles of wine beheaded and the number of hours spent in dark bars and cinemas and toilets, you can bet your last tampon that you’ll be spending more time with those girls of yours than most men in your life. And let’s not forget that men die way earlier than women on average (we’re talking five or six years earlier, depending). Six years, alone, or with your crazy-ass friends? Your choice.
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So these are the things that, for me, make a great friend. They really are the eggs and sugar in my cake, and I hope I am for them too.

  1. Not Judging
    Judging people is really a way of saying “My way is best; you are wrong and I am right; you suck and I am great.” The day I first realized how refreshing the lack of judgement coming off my girlfriends was, was when all four of us decided to put our kids in completely different schools with a different orientation (a bilingual state school, a private English school, a Waldorf and a classic German state school). We all chose the school we felt was best for our kids. Without presuming to know what might be best for another kid. And turns out, we are all pretty happy with the choices we made back then, and all the kids have matured into very cool young people.

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  1. Knowing when it’s time to be brutally honest (just hold that thought till there is no room for anything else: that’s the right time.)
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Getting drunk together can be fun, but really good friends also tell you when you’ve had enough. My dearest friend struggled with alcoholism for a while, and there came a point when it stopped being fun, because she got so out of hand or went comatose on me, and I really did end up with a body to dispose of at the end of the night, but it was my best friend and there was no one around to help. First I made excuses and tried to meet up at lunch times instead, just to avoid the situation, but then I finally faced it and told her she wasn’t so nice to be around when she drank, and, with other factors playing in, she actually and awesomely kicked it, and so became my biggest hero at the same time as being waaay more fun to be around.

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3. Getting your friends in on the gig

Guest lists, parties, back-stage passes. Everyone has one of those friends who are always telling you about the A-mazing time they had out at some gig or other and “You would’ve LOVED it!” but they never seem to invite you. Isn’t a great night better shared?  Really good friends don’t mind sharing you and will happily introduce you to people they think you’ll get on with. Some of the nicest parties and gigs I’ve been to were ones where I knew no-one except my one friend, who then took the time out of her own ego to introduce me to people in such a nice and fun way that the conversations that ensued were effortless.

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4. Regular love life updates

My two dearest friends actually WANT daily updates on my love life when I am going through a hot phase (or are they pretending? Maybe they are, but only cos they love me!)  like it was Olivia Pope’s affair with Prez or something.

5. Which brings me effortlessly to point 5:

Sharing really stupid stuff
I am kind of ashamed of this one, but one of my besties and I really bond over Scandal. We get so excited on the phone to each other when a new epi comes out that we can’t stop giggling and saying “I know, I know,” and flapping our hands with excitement (well I am anyway….) Talking about Olivia’s latest wardrobe piece or steamy scene in the White House or laughing at some improbable plot twist with my friend on the line is almost as good as watching it.imgres-1

6. Going out for dinner
Having gone out for meals with girlfriends over years, I have noticed all kinds of changes in us. The  vegetarianism, the vegan phase, being completely skint and just eating the breadsticks so you can still hang out with your friends, not wanting to eat mass-farmed chicken, constantly finding an excuse to leave the table to have a cigarette but feeling ashamed of smoking when all your girlfriends have kicked the habit, not being able to share food with others because of childhood sibling rivalry issues, checking your phone under the table nervously waiting for “the” call from some guy you end up marrying; we all have our weird stuff going on, but we evolve and the great thing is, the older you get, the more you have to laugh about.
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When I am out with the girls we sometimes get a bit too raucous and loud because we are laughing so hard. And you know what? I feel guilty for a second, but then I forget again because I am laughing so hard…who cares what we eat? And if everyone else thinks we are crazy bat-shit cat ladies.

7. Keeping in touch

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Even if your friends move away (and they will), nothing beats a good natter over the phone with a glass of wine in hand. I have a friend in Hamburg who I have to make phone dates with because, well, we are just busy living our lives, but I really look forward to those talks. Every time I get off the phone with one of my long-haul best friends who destiny has flung to other ends of the world, when my kids are around, they look all concerned: “What happened to Petra?” they say. And I am like, why, what? “Well, because you kept on saying ‘OH MY Gooooddddd!’ and it sounded like someone had died or something…”.
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8. You look amazing
Everyone knows someone who, when they meet you on the street, will look at you with concern and  say, “Are you sick?” or “Man, you look like I feel!” Seriously, even if you really were sick, has that ever made ANYONE feel better? My best friend tells me I look great almost every time I see her. Sometimes I am almost embarrassed because even I know I can’t be that good looking ALL the time, but I think she sees me through a fog of loving friendship. No matter how grey our hair may get, or how bad our skin is or whatever, I see her laughing kind eyes, and she is beautiful to me always, too.images

9. Being up for crazy ideas and projects

My girlfriends dream up the craziest ideas sometimes. That’s because they are creative and dreamy and fun and hungry for life, and maybe just a little bit unrealistic and crazy. It ranges from multi-storey translation agencies specializing in ornithology to a late career as a hospice nurse helping people die in dignity, offering personal shopping services to rich tourists to show them the “real” Berlin with all the cool designers. Or running a language course cum tour guide service in Norfolk for country-loving Germans. Or cooking and conversation classes combined. Or opening an own yoga studio. I am one of the most skeptical people I know when it comes to trying new projects for myself, but I am the first to make them a flyer, if that is what they want to do!  And believe it or not, some of these ideas really do come off!
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10. Be the biggest fan

The people I admire most are the women I am close to, because I have seen them go through hard times and great times too. I met them in completely random ways: one I got talking to because we were at a party and both about to pop (end stage pregnancy), one because she bothered to stop and ask me where I get my clothes, one because I had a tin of golden syrup she coveted at a neighbouring café table. One at the playground where we were both craving decent coffee, and ended up running our own café business together for ten years. One I worked with online for years (correcting each other’s work for a magazine) before we even met, but who probably knows more about my shower-habits and coffee-breaks than anyone else on this planet. These are women I tell other people about because they are so great, or recommend as “the best **** ever” when it comes to a job. And my biggest fans are my friends too. They are the ones who relentlessly “like” every last blog post I do, or, the ones who are really crap at computers but still send me a text message saying “like!” instead. Thank you ladies!

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