Ascending to the top of a leafy ravine, the sounds of people laughing down below echo over the noise of my heavy breathing, I can see the smoke from their family fire rise not in wisps and curls, but in a large hanging drift, like the clouds and just as grey. The leaves, yellow, golds, reds and greens hang lazily in the breezeless air, this hot summer has taken its toll on them and it will not be long until they can retire to earth.
Having lived in England all my life where summer temperatures only average around 22 Degrees, this hot summer in my second year living in Germany, makes me appreciative of my “toil” in the hot seasonal sun. I’ll admit this hard work has really been about fun, mainly in the form of exploring, socializing and travelling as still being relatively new to Germany, it is my duty to make the most of the warm season. Summer wine festivals, new friendships and street parties - there is always something amazing happening.
Stood in the forest here in Germany, I am aware of how much I enjoy living in this wonderful country, but there is something about this transitional and sometimes melancholy season that makes me pine for the UK. Given the choice between a grey autumnal British day and a grey autumnal German day, I would choose a British day every time, here’s why:
Germany has bars and restaurants, but nowhere except Britain and Ireland, have real traditional pub culture. The fire crackles at the other end of the pub whilst the bartender makes unobtrusive, lazy small talk with you; “nice day for it” “rains lifted up then?” “Cash or card?” More than enough to make you feel welcome, but not so much that you feel you have to continue a conversation. After all what you really came for wasn’t the chat, or the free Wi-Fi, but for the food! Menu’s filled with dishes like Beef and Ale pie, Fish and Chips and Toad in the Hole to top off your pint of ale and pat of the pub dog.
Familiarity of locations
Considering that I live in Germany there is always something more I could be doing to integrate with my host society, like learning the language for instance. What I do to make up for my lack of language progression is to integrate through the many festivals, traditions and foodstuffs that Germany has to offer. I much prefer this to bumbling my way through many German lessons.
As a permanent stranger, everything is new and there is so much to be sampled but it can make it difficult to build that sense of familiarity. “Shall we go back to such and such restaurant” “Oh, No, I have read about this other place I would like to try.” So off you go to another new experience.
I think with fondness about being back home where you know where everything is; you know that you can go to Westonburt Arboritum this time of year and it will be breathtaking, you know what you will see and how it will feel. You can go to a pub in Aldbourne (a small rural village in Wiltshire) and know that you can order a pint of Bombardier ale, with Beef Wellington and the 20 quid in your pocket will pay for it. You know how long it will take to drive, the best route, when not to leave and more importantly you know how it is going to feel. Living in a foreign country, you get used to everything being so, well, foreign.
Sunday Roasts and other soul food
You have “home cooked food” advertised to you wherever you go - it has always bewildered me why restaurants will advertise that it “tastes like home cooked” if I wanted home cooked that day, I would have stayed at home and cooked. Make me something that “tastes like it was prepared by professionals using the finest ingredients and tools”. That’s why I am paying good money for it after all, but I digress.
The days where you do want home cooked; there is nothing more homely on a dreary autumn day than roasting a chicken, peeling potatoes and spending an afternoon in the kitchen filling your house up with the smell of memories. That sense of familiarity is about as big an escape from continental life as you can get.
Fortunately for me, I never really had a lot of friends and in the summer everybody seems to disappear. Perhaps it’s on holidays, family BBQ’s or working long hours. Or so they tell me. I have my suspicion that the real reason we all disappear is that there is little to no sports on TV and if we did get together that would mean we would have to make actual conversation.
So, the coming of autumn helpfully coincides with the start of the soccer season, you generally begin to hear from your friends again who want to escape the house now that the days are grey and rainy causing their families to be holed up inside creating a stir craziness that is best cured by sitting in what is essentially someone else’s mutual large living room at a pub.
Sports on TV
Living in a foreign country and not speaking the language you become a slave to Netflix. There are plenty of sports on TV in the summer but none that anyone really watches, take Tennis for example, name one person who puts time aside out of their diary to watch the tennis? So that leaves, Cricket, Cycling and um, well that’s it really.
Autumn in England signals the start of the football and rugby seasons and every shot, pass and tackle will be televised and replayed so heavily that eventually you will have memorized the entire commentary.
What I also enjoy about autumn back home is the pace of life. The days are not so hot, bright and sunny that you feel compelled to get up and go and explore. The only reason I get up in the summer is due to an overwhelming sense of guilt and paranoia, that by being in bed I am missing out on something.
At home in this season though, when the mornings are darker it is perfectly acceptable to laze in bed until midday, safe in the knowledge that it is raining too hard and it’s too cold outside to do anything. You also know for a fact that all of your friends are doing the exact same thing. When you are lying in on a Sunday at home in autumn, you are not missing out on anything. Quite the contrary, you are doing the very thing you should absolutely be doing.
Described as a feeling of pensive sadness, typically with no obvious cause, it is a familiar feeling that autumn really brings it out. For me I begin to feel reflective and melancholic as the nights draw in, the blue skies replaced by grey, the leaves that make everything so virile and fresh, replaced with the naked torsos of trees and bushes alike.
Melancholy is actually not always unwelcome, but after a while you need to shake it off. This is a harder feeling to escape in a foreign land however, because when those “today I feel sad” days come on, you can’t immediately indulge your melancholy by feeding it the familiar; by catching a football game at a pub, cooking up some comfort food, or by going to your favorite store to buy some new scarves.
Living in a new and pleasantly unfamiliar land, it’s that little bit harder to slip out of, therefore in order for you to enjoy your melancholy, it might pay to have a healthy does of autumn at home.