TV Shows to Watch if You Work in an Office

The shows listed below are enjoyable all on their own and I could talk about The Big Bang Theory for hours, quoting and reenacting my favourite parts, which measure whole episodes. Obviously the list I’m posting here is based entirely on my personal opinion and experience. There is a lot of cool TV and film content (let’s use the modern word, darlings) to choose from across countries and decades, should you feel the burning need to find fictional visual representation of what you may have witnessed in the workplace.

(I didn’t watch The Office because I just have other tastes and I did need a bit of mental distance, preferring to transfer what I had seen back and forth on my own terms.)

Any office is a world of its own, where we might sometimes have to come up with a bit of a character to survive encounters with all sorts of other characters. And so, I lean heavily on…

The Big Bang Theory

This is arguably one of the best sitcoms and TV shows ever made. Whip-smart writing and jokes, memorable characters, relatable humor and immediately recognizable situations, a talented cast that only got better season after season, terrific comic timing, masses of quotable quotes and that constant influx of nerdvana and pop culture that I feed on in my daily life. The Big Bang Theory was also more than the comedy in it, reminding of the bigger things beyond the laughs – friendship, love, family, movies, physics…

The reason that it’s perfect fuel for navigating an office job is because it’s like a catalogue of quote cards for the inevitable absurd or funny situations we encounter. Pull up a scene from TBBT and it adds some sparkle to a frustrating moment, or creates a shared laugh with a coworker who might also be a fan. The best part, of course, is seriously quoting suitable passages at someone who has no clue. This trick also applies to the other two shows I’m about to mention, and they are…

The IT Crowd

Another one for the books. This is a British show from some years back, starring the brilliant Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade and Katherine Parkinson, as well as many other wonderful actors.

The IT Crowd literally saved me from succumbing to a bad case of nerves during the first weeks of my new job. Not being an IT person, I had the typical episodes when trying to deal with a computer problem and then I had to actually contact someone about it. That was only half bad, being new and a shy person, but trying to explain what I thought was wrong and then attempting to answer additional questions was terrifying. But because I’d watched The IT Crowd and some of the things happening during my conversations with the lovely people trying to help me out were verbatim what I’d heard on the show, I knew this was real and that I would be alright.

In addition to the above, plenty of scenes in the show do deal with working in an office space and the resemblance to what I had seen in real life was, as they say, uncanny.

Downton Abbey

I got on this train rather late, after the first hype and leveled out a bit (or has it?). There’s something about all those British accents that makes me sit up straighter and feel like I can take on the world. Even when a chain of sudden social occurences threatens to create a scandal of horrific proportions one will never, ever recover from, the characters still sound like they could carry on. Or at least affect that posh accent and regal bearing while desperately figuring out what to do.

In the case of the “upstairs”, if you take away the grand setting and manners, it’s clear that the near constant upshoots of intrigue, emotional and social manipulation, mind games, but also attemps to work on things together are not much different from the day-to-day of interacting with other people while working on projects or creating something between the time spent at your desk.

Just as with the other two shows, a quote never hurts when someone tries to catch you out. In which case I would recommend either turning to the inimitable Lady Violet (hat off to Dame Maggie Smith) or Lady Mary, because whatever you may think of her, she certainly never has to look for words in her pocket, as the Russian saying goes.

 

What I Didn’t Know before Moving to Hamburg/ Germany

As it turns out, the information in the textbooks we used in my German language class back in the day (YouTube was in its baby years) and the actual move to Germany were two vastly different worlds. I had the grammar down pat, or at least most of it, and the next step was diving in. But the things I didn’t know…

Universal greetings worked, but local phrases worked better. Guten Tag was immediately and obviously formal, while the Hamburg Moin was a joyful discovery, since I love short ways of saying Hello. Then there’s the quintessentially German Na? This basically means How are you, what’s up? Works best among people more familiar with each other and a slight question mark intonation, but it’s important to not overdo it, otherwise the probably more reserved northern German you’re speaking to might feel threatened.

Sounds elementary, but I really didn’t think of (patiently) standing to the sides of subway train and bus doors to let anyone who needs to get off exit first.

Clearly visible lines painted on the floor beyond the counter in various places where you have to stand in line, advising discretion/ keeping your distance and reminding us all about the wonderful concept of personal space.

Anything that impends someone’s progress or gives them the feeling their time is being wasted causes immediate tutting (whether internal or external), frustration and sometimes even blame. But not if you apologize, for example for jostling someone or blocking the path. Then you usually get a polite headshake, maybe even a smile and a “Alles gut”.

Contrary to some perceptions of northern Germans, people are actually friendly, but you’re sort of expected to understand how things work on your own if there are signs around. Still, asking politely for directions or information never fails.

Humour in the workplace or academic settings should be distributed in small doses, at least at first. The same goes for sarcasm.

Mett is a thing.

It’s important to learn your verbs and how to use them correctly in questions, especially those meaning like, love, want and want less categorically. I once asked a classmate at university, “Magst du mit mir in die Mensa gehen?” What I thought I was saying was “Would you like to go the cafeteria with me?” What I actually said was something along the lines of “Could you follow along to the cafeteria?” She gave me a look and said, “Nein, mag ich nicht.” Well. I actually didn’t like her that much, anyway, so whatever, ha!

If you like making plans and lists, you’ll fit right in.

At work or an internship it’s common to bring a cake or something sweet for your coworkers on your birthday, or even after your trial period is over. There’s really no pressure and not all Germans do it, though I’ve been told by multiple expats they consider it a weird tradition.

Getting caught without a ticket on public transport is not an experience I would recommend pursuing.

Surprise, surprise, the German recycling system is well-known, but not all locals believe in it.

And finally, the biggest thing I didn’t know was how much I would love Hamburg, quirks and all. Moin!

 

Mary Higgins Clark, a True Writer

I saw the news that Mary Higgins Clark had peacefully passed away at age 92, with her friends and family near her. At first, of course, you don’t quite believe it, seeing as how this author has been around for so long and for so many readers. Decades of reading memories in my own family are attached to her unforgettable suspense thrillers, and my bookshelves are full of her novels that I pick up again and again and again.

Reading was and continues to be an enormous part of my life. As a child I was always curious about what the rest of the family was reading and I vividly remember my mother being immersed in the newest Mary Higgins Clark, a sight that I continued to enjoy year after year. I would ask her what she enjoyed so much about the novels and we would talk about different points as I grew up. Later on I’d see my father and my sisters with a new thriller in their hands. Once begun, the book was impossible to put down and I’ve been known to read some of her novels in one day. We would talk about whether we had guessed “who did it” and which bits scared us so much that we didn’t want to turn the lights out.

Some volumes from the family library made their way to my own after I moved away from home. Others I collected by myself since my university years, browsing second-hand bookstores for older novels, regularly checking international sections in bookstores across Europe after the release date for a new book was announced. It was so exciting. One of my favourite gifts ever was a beautiful autographed copy of The Shadow of Your Smile from my mother.

Mary Higgins Clark was not only a truly gifted writer and creator of suspense in her stories, but she also brought to life so many memorable characters. Menley in Remember Me, Celia in No Place Like Home, Maggie in Moonlight Becomes You, Ellie in Daddy’s Little Girl, Laurie in the Under Suspicion series, written with the talented Alafair Burke. How lovely and poignant that Laurie got her happy ending. The list of characters we grow attached to goes on and on. It includes both men and women, children, older characters. The people our characters have lost remain just as vivid through recollections of past actions, things said that contributed to where our heroines and heroes find themselves when we open the book.

While suspense thrillers build the bulk of fiction written by Mary Higgins Clark, she is also the author of many gripping short stories, an autobiography of her amazing life titled Kitchen Privileges, and she has co-authored several lovely books with her daughter Carol Higgins Clark, a successful and gifted writer in her own right.

You start to create and image of what your favourite author is like as you read more and more of their works, then actually find out about their life. Mary Higgins Clark was amazingly prolific and successful as a writer, but her life story is truly an example of not only a gifted storyteller, but a woman of exceptional strength and depth. All the hardships she experienced didn’t take away any of her vivacious joy of living, the drive to overcome.

A full life well lived, no unfinished business, a treasure trove of stories to keep forever, a true grande dame in more ways than one. Simply and from the heart, thank you, Mary Higgins Clark.

 

 

When You’re Siberian

For the most part, you…

Wear a hat when it’s colder, especially in winter, because, at least for me, piling up a scarf or a snood up to my ears, shoulders hunched, stepping in place at a bus stop is just not my look.

Don’t ride a bike after it snowed. Since I can’t get used to the sight of this after 11 years in Europe, I probably never will. A colleague of mine broke her leg cycling on icy pavement and once again I asked myself, why do this after Elsa clearly had her way with Let It Go on your street?

Have a built-in winter radar. You know when to layer up and when to pack it all away (only not too far, Hamburg is a city where you may need these layers any day).

Divide the year in two seasons: with snow and without (homegrown wisdom).

Barely use heating once you discover you’re in total control of turning it on, unlike back in the homeland.

Conscious of slippery surfaces underfoot in ANY season due to annual prolonged winter ice exposure. The careful step is an inner setting, ready to be switched on at a moment’s notice.

Aren’t immune to cold, but you’ll still meet plenty of people who will ask you if it’s “like summer” for you on a colder day.

Enjoy saying “I don’t find it that cold, just the wind has changed,” and mean it, too.

Know that not all your countrymen and women are obsessed with winter sports and activities.

Consider 1,5-hour flights similar to taking the bus, since flying from one city to another within Russia may take as long as 4 hours, maybe more.

Get used to the following questions once you say you’re from Siberia specifically:

But it’s in Russia, right?

Do you speak a different language there?

Is it that place where it’s really cold?

Is it dark all the time?

Is it close to Vladivostok?

Where exactly does the Transsiberian railroad run through?

But it’s really far away, right?

Where is it?

How come you speak such good (insert language here)?

Why don’t you have a Russian accent? / I can’t place your accent.

Can you go outside in winter?

Are you from a village?

Sometimes I relax my rules of polite conversation and remembering that it’s not a given person’s fault they are asking me something I’ve already been asked by other people they don’t know an x number of times, and tell the obvious truth…that I grew up in a forest. But that’s a story for another blog post.

Dear Summer, See You Next Year

Well, not just summer…spring too, and soon autumn.

It happens every year, I think, this moment of saying bye to your most recent summer. I wake up, the autumn sun is shining, but the temperature dropped to subzero levels for the first time since March during the night and traces are felt on the air as soon as I step outside. Hats and scarves have been retrieved the evening before from boxes largely untouched over the spring and summer months. I’m going to wait as long as I possibly can before putting on gloves, because that one is always a winter signal for me, and all my deeply entrenched Siberian sensibilities resist the approach of winter as long as possible before common sense sets in.

The final twinge of my sentimental heart comes from looking around in the park on the way to work. The trees are still covered with yellow and orange leaves, but plenty of those are on the ground and I can see it’s the last layer sprinkling all those branches before they become bare and autumn, too, is over.

I arrive at the office, take my coat off, settle myself at my desk and after a moment’s deliberation I turn on the heating just a bit. And then I see them in my mind’s eye, the crystal clear flashbacks that would certainly make a pretty sequence in a music video, the ones that everyone must have and which I momentarily dive into. New maxi dresses swaying to your and your friends’ relaxed steps during the heat wave, walking along in the shade, spreading out a picnic blanket under that tree in the park during lunch, lying back and looking up at the blue sky through green leaves fluttering now and again in the breeze, laughing at my own bad puns barely after getting them out, evenings full of conversations you don’t forget, before going quiet and smiling at each other, because the moment was just full enough and didn’t need anymore words.

So here we are, and I’m not even being corny, I mean every word. I guess I’m not a winter person, even if I appreciate plenty of things about the season. Enjoying warm drinks becomes that extra bit special and sometimes you literally just need it to defrost on a thankfully still non-Siberian level. Hamburg gets decorated for Christmas. Everyone starts talking about Christmas markets opening two weeks before they are due to do so. Staying in for most of a weekend day, if you can, is an increasingly repeated answer to the popular question “How was your weekend?”, if you want to answer more than “Good, thanks.”

There’s also the fact that these are basically a few months you can use to prepare for the next non-winter seasons, by way of buying summer dresses now on sale (what an exercise in patience and being organized) or dreaming about the next day trip somewhere nice when the days start to get longer. Because they will, and that’s the fantastic part. You only have to hold out until December 21, then the shortest day off the year can be ticked off your list and, as I always say, we start moving towards spring.

Not biased, just opinionated.

Adult Middle Child

Being a middle child is something that stays with you for the rest of your life. It’s certainly one of the most influential parts of my identity, and a part I’m still discovering. Funny thing: despite living in my adopted hometown for a long time and obviously having answered a lot of questions about myself in German, I find that the translation for middle child still eludes some people, or they’ve never come across it. Mittelkind is a literal translation, but since Mittel also means tool or remedy, I guess I can see why Germans would be confused when I confidently state “Ich bin ein Mittelkind” in response to a question about how many siblings I have. I’ve Googled the word countless times to check that it still exists, as you do.

Another term is Sandwich-Kind. I’m not a big fan, because, without fail, saying it turns on an image in my mind of a person being pressed between two life-size slices of toast, with salami and cheese slipping out. So far I’ve managed to keep this description to myself, verbally, at least. I don’t mind saying Sandwich-Kind if Mittelkind doesn’t spark understanding. Of course, the most simple way to go, instead of trying to stick to explaining who you are in this sibling constellation, is just to answer you have two siblings. Then further questions might follow, with the characteristic German love for putting things in order, about whether they are your younger or older siblings. At which point you can a) experience all of the above OR b) answer “Both, I’m the middle one”.

We’re not done yet. The conversation is just getting started. Or rather, the interview…

So, did you get enough attention as a child? You must have been under a lot of pressure? Are you good at negotiating? Is this something special? Why do you say it like that, that you’re a middle child? Do you feel more like an older sibling or a younger sibling? How far apart are you with your siblings? Do you get on well? Were you pampered? I’ve never even heard of the term middle child, does it mean something special? (If you want me to say I think I’m special, I’m more than happy to oblige.)

In reality, surprisingly without having (yet) reverted to deeper research about middle children going through life, I am able to identify quite a few points based on my own experience. Even within a varied group of friends I will regularly find myself in constellations of threes, and based on age I’m usually either the middle one or the oldest. When someone tells you you’re like a big sister to them, it’s very touching. At the same time you appreciate older mentors you become closer to also because they remind you what it’s like when someone looks out for you. You might find yourself prefacing sentences or responses to a discussion with phrases like “To be fair”. You don’t say “To be completely fair”, because you know it’s not possible to be completely fair, even though you keep trying, dammit. Expressing opinions is sometimes tricky, because basically you’re just always searching for that middle ground. And before you know it, you’re saying things like “We could do this, but I really don’t mind either way”, then dealing with two more polite friends saying the same thing, finally making the decision since you’ve turned into the middle party. You listen A LOT.

The truth is, of course, that being a middle child as an adult is an experience like any other adult one – you’re just a person with a background and a past. Lots of the stuff described above is not exclusive to being the second-born of three. And it’s certainly never dull.

 

 

 

Downton Abbey the Movie

Downton Abbey the movie is a beautifully filmed 2-hour bit of escapism. Gorgeous English landscapes, a magnificent mansion of a house bathed in history, fabulous costumes and loads of accents to feast your ears on. It’s 1927 and they’ve been expecting me.

Is it possible to follow the film if you haven’t watched the show? I’d say yes. The story is very neatly wrapped up, without getting tangled in itself. Otherwise a bit of Wikipedia reading and some wonderful behind-the-scenes interviews on the Downton Abbey YouTube channel are both very helpful if you want to know more about the characters and their backgrounds. The Internet has your back.

Dame Maggie Smith is unforgettable as ever, playing Lady Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham. I bow. She both scared and surprised me way back in the day in The Secret Garden, delighted as Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter movies, just to name a few examples, and she’s given us an array of quotable zingers from Lady Violet.

I’m not a die-hard fan and I haven’t seen all the seasons of the show, but I have a lot of respect for the many examples of impressive acting in there. Step aside from the inevitable (and, of course, necessary) discussions about what life in England was like back then in terms of class, society, British aristocracy, women’s rights, equality, and it’s still a vast collection of stories about people and family.