Olli’s Saturday School – Happy Birthday Edition

For no particular reason I thought it might be fun to tell you things about birthdays in Germany. Neat, huh?

Starting with basic vocabulary the German word for birthday is Geburtstag.
Geburt = birth
Tag = day

Sometimes otherwise completely sane adults ((citation needed)) people insist on saying Purzeltag trying to be adorable.

It’s supposedly phonetically close enough to the actual word, and purzeln is a verb best translated as to tumble. Maybe it’s due to the circumstances of their birth and maybe they fell on the head in the process. No idea. Happy tumbleday, I guess!

Another word sometimes used in the same fashion is Schlüpftag from the verb schlüpfen.
It’s what we call the process of young reptiles, amphibians, birds and platypus breaking out of their eggs. So, happy hatching day?

Anyway, the German expression ein Ei legen (to lay an egg) can also be a slang expression for dropping some timber. Uh, dropping the kids off at the pool. Dammit, to poop! So I wonder what the people wishing Alles Gute zum Schlüpftag are hinting at.

Congratulations! In Germany, the usual thing to tell someone is one of the following three:

Herzlichen Glückwunsch – Congratulations
Alles Gute – All the good/Good things/all the best
Alles Liebe – 
there’s no good literal translation, it’s (in that context) a general expression of fondness and the wish only nice things happen to someone

followed by zum Geburtstag! – for your birthday!

Everybody knowing the song and the expression, you wont be crucified if you just tell a German Happy birthday! But as you probably know it’s the little things that count, and going the extra mile and being able to say something nice to someone in their native language will only raise you in their estimation.

As for a congratulary serenade, on most birthdays in Germany people will sing Happy birthday in English.
The song also has German lyrics, though. And French!

Happy birthday to you! turns into
Zum Geburtstag viel Glück! meaning For your birthday much joy.*
The French version hammers one of those two to the melody:
Joyeux anniversaire (joyful anniversary/birthday
or in Canada
Bonne fête à toi (Good party/celebration/festivities to you)

*Glück can mean a number of things: luck, fortune, happiness, serendipity, bliss…

There are a number of older German birthday songs, but Happy birthday to you has pretty much displaced those for most purposes.

German birthday traditions are pretty much the same as in most of the western hemisphere, I guess.
There’s often a party, there’s usually a cake, gifts and especially for kids there’s a number of candles on the cake. The number of candles equals the age of the birthdayee ((I just invented that word. Neat, huh?)) and they’ll have to blow them out in one go so they can make a wish on it. No telling!
In school or office environment it’s often a tradition that whoever has a birthday brings cake or maybe some other snacks for the rest of the department or team. It’s just something nice to lighten up they daily routine. Or you might go to a bar with a couple of people and buy the first round, whatever you feel like.

Now for a few pecularities of German birthday traditions. While we often have our birthday parties on the eve of the day itself, if it’s on a weekend or in my case on a public holiday ((oops. October 3rd. No, not Mean Girls. German Unity Day)), it is considered bad luck to wish a German a happy birthday before the day itself.

In Northern Germany there’s a special custom for 30th birthdays of singles.
Male singles are expected to sweep the stairs in front of the town hall.
Female singles are expected to polish doorknobs.  The German term for the latter is Klinken putzen is also a colloquial term for cold calling potential customers or going from door to door begging, selling insurances, etc.

In both cases, because friends are mean, sometimes they will make a spectacle of it. They’ll dump a ton of confetti on the stairs. They’ll give you a toothbrush to polish the doorknobs covered in filth and condiments. You’ll be dressed up comically. With any luck it won’t be a public event but doorknobs mounted on a board at your party. Or the stairs at home, not at city hall.
The traditionally only way to get out of this is to be freed by a member of the opposite sex. With a kiss.

I hope you enjoyed my little birthday lesson. I’ll take the opportunity at the end to thank my British friend Emilee who shanghaied a couple of of other UK-based friends into signing this lovely birthday card for me. Can you spot the one who spent a few years in Germany?

Dan, Sky, Adam, Morgan ((even though I’ve only met your sister so far)), Triv, Chris, Emilee, Jack and Shannon, love you all! Glad I was able to meet you ((minus one so far))!


Friends all-over the world

When I came back from my last short trip to England, a coworker asked me where I’d been. “England”, I replied. “Visiting my cousin and a couple of friends.”
“You have friends everywhere, don’t you? Pretty large network, impressive.”

I get that a lot. “Oh you’re so lucky to have friends in XYZ” ((South Pacific, all corners of the US, England, Austria, South Africa, Canada, all across Germany, etc.))

Am I now? Before we answer that, let’s look at my definition of “friend”. If you read my first blog post you already know that I’m pretty indiscriminate.

If you call me on a random day, at a random time with one of the following:
– “Olli, I’m so sorry, but I’m stranded at the airport/train station, could you come pick me up and could I crash on your couch for a night or two!”
– “Holy shit, I messed up, I need to talk!”
or something similar and I say “Sure, I’ll be there in a bit” then I consider you a friend.
As in: I will actually try and move things around even if it’s a major nuisance for me.

So yes, at the time of writing this, my definition of “friend” contains more of you readers than you might possibly think. And it’s easy to get from acquaintance to friend.

To be fair, I’ll already do quite a few things for acquaintances I like, but I’ll probably be less willing to go out of my way for something insubstantial.

Anyway. Yeah. Friends all-over the world. Lucky. Really?

I am shy. It probably doesn’t look like that when you first meet me over the internet.

<Crystal> are you shy ollie?
<ol> if he is, the rest of us are fucked
– IRC, 2005

I am not the type to go out to a bar, fair, festival and just “make” friends. I’m fine if you approach me, or if I have an actual subject or reason to talk to someone anyway, but if I’ve never talked to someone before, I’ll need a while to get talking. ((I work in sales. Hahahahaha)) Once I get comfortable, or get to know someone and my subconscious realizes “Hey, they like me”, I’m usually good.

That is why my social circle extends much further into the internet than into my actual surroundings. I like most of my coworkers well enough, but most of those I’d actually spend time with live more than an hour away ((and I don’t want to be a bother. Ha!)) and I kinda want to get away from most things workrelated once I’m out of the office.

My friends from school…well, from the 56 people in my class ((there were others, from orchestra and such, but I have hardly any contact to those)) I still have actual regular contact to 4 and their girlfriends/wives.
Then there’s another couple, he was a year ahead of me, she’s his girlfriends. And that covers my actual local friends I go out and do stuff with. Every couple of weeks.
The rest are people I might meet at the birthday parties of one of my friends. We have a great time and wont see each other again for a year.

So yeah, I have a lot more friends in various corners of the internet, than around here. I’ve been an internet resident since the late 90s, when we had free internet at school in the time we were just waiting for another class to start. I started getting into webchats and forums, that died down when I left school, went to the military for a year ((I don’t have any contact to the temporary friends I made there. Some where actually nice.)) but I got back into it when I got internet at home and started working.

I’d go back into the old webchat, joined an internet radio station, discovered IRC and started making friends, at first in Germany exclusively.

The first meet-ups happened, later I got invited to a Italian-American wedding in Italy.

In the first meet-ups I was the quiet, shy guy. Getting used to things and people, sticking to people I already knew pretty well. In the follow ups I came to be one of the regulars, one of the guys who’d always been there.

We had a ((well, actually several, with different groups, but same difference)) series of three or four meet-ups with the most mixed group you could imagine. Participants ranging in ages from 14 to 50, some bringing their own kids and dogs. We’d rent out a camp ground, put up tents, ate together, sat around the campfire in the evenings, play games, drank quite an amount of beer and wine and enjoyed pure bliss.

Basically we were one big family. Everybody looked out for each other, relationships were started on some of those. And we got depressed when we got back home, to our lives. Imagine a weekend full of bliss, joy, catching up, playing games, socialising with people that are basically a family away from home. Then you get home. Nobody there. You unpack, sit down and just think: “What now? Uh. Lonely. TV boring. Book boring. Video game boring.”

So you log into the chat, the gang is there, you talk about the weekend for an hour or two, log off again. BAM, sad. Of course, you get over it, but it’s never easy.

Meet-up hangover.  Post-Meet-up depression. Whatever you call it, I hate it. Considering I just came back from one a few days ago, I’m holding up remarkably well, probably because it was my first with that particular group.

But that’s not where it stops. I have lots of friends, good friends, people that I love to death, that I only meet in person once a year. If I’m lucky. A few more I’ve met three times in ten years. There’s people in America, the UK, the South Pacific and even Germany that I love to death, and that I’ve met once. Some of them I doubt I’ll ever see again, not in the least because it’s a massive investment in time off work, time and money just to get there.

If I take this further, since I’ve started using twitter about a year and a half ago, I’ve found quite a few people I’d start calling “friends” according to the abovementioned definition. I haven’t met most of those yet. And thinking about maybe never getting to meet some of them is almost physically painful. ((might just be RSI from being on the computer too much in the past few days))

The internet, infinite possibilities to make friends you’ll never see.

On a side note, that also covers the question: “What would you do with an infinite amount of money on the sole condition that you are not allowed to give it away for charity or investment!”
I’d travel. All the time. See all the places, meet all the people, make new friends through them that I meet again the next time I pass through. I’d probably only stop at home long enough to get my passport renewed.

Time to come to an end.

To sum it up:
– I have only a hand ful of local friends that I don’t meet often enough.
– Whenever I meet groups ((ranging from 1 to 20)) of my friends, which doesn’t happen enough, I get sad when I get home.
– I have friends I never met face to face or only once

“You’re lucky to have friends all-over the world, Olli”
“Yes, on average I see them once every 3 years. How lucky is that?”

Would I want to trade them for local friends?

Not for anything in the world. Oh, and if you happen to be near me, need anything or want me to visit while I’m on vacation in your general area ((and we’ve talked before. Don’t be creepy.)), let me know. I’ll be there. I’ll be sad when I get home, but it will be worth it.

here be dragons – friends from the internet

A lot of the people ((Funny, my first blog post, I don’t even know if anyone will actually read this, but I start with “A lot of the people”)) reading this probably don’t even need to be told what I’m going to write in my first post, because it’s – in a way – about them.

Internet people. Internet acquaintances. Internet friends.

And here goes. Even today ((or maybe more than ever?)) people like me will get looked at in a slightly weird way if you tell them something like “a friend I met on the internet”. I’ve occasionally tried to avoid that phrase when telling things regarding those people, because it’s often easier than facing skepticism  when you just want to give some context to something that has happened.

To a lot of people out there, the internet is a tool. They use it to buy books or movies, plan their holiday, copy their homework from wikipedia, watch cat videos or even catch up with old friends, relatives, colleagues or even people they met on their holiday. “Real life people”.

Granted, a lot of these people are from that generation that did not grow up with the internet, but there are as many younger than me who hold the same views.

The internet is full of phonies, liars, criminals, or worse. You can’t meet real people out there. You can’t make REAL friends out there. Dating websites (( Never used any, not that I mind people using them, but I kinda stick to the regular social networks. For now. ;-) )) don’t count.


Well, first of all, even if most people who know me probably wouldn’t think of me as “shy”, I am not the kind of guy who just goes out and “meets new people”. For some reason I have trouble going to a pub or bar and just randomly strike up conversations with people I’ve never met in my life. I don’t go dancing or to the village fair to meet new strangers. I’m social enough, I love having company and if I find some common ground to connect with someone, if there’s a certain spark, I might even be talking your ears off before I realize it.
If it doesn’t happen that doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t like you, it’s just that I often need a little warming up.

The internet makes that a lot easier for me. Whether it’s the old web chat rooms, IRC, forums and starting earlier this year twitter, I have had little trouble finding likeminded people of all age groups and various nationalities online and met quite a few in person, but more of that later.

So I wonder, what makes people think that “internet people” aren’t real people as well? Why is it okay to go to a pub, disco, barn dance just to “meet people”, but not into the forum of a gaming community, a chatroom on IRC or join twitter not just to stalk Justin Bieber but maybe have some fun random encounters and maybe even make friends and meet people?

“Oh, but that man/woman from the internet could abduct, kill, say bad things to or even rape you!”

Yeah, like that’s never happened to anyone who’s gone to the pub on a Friday night.

I’m not saying that you should throw yourself at the first person to suggest you meet up  in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. For heaven’s sake, trust your guts, make sure someone knows where you are, have some basic safety measures. Whether you go to the pub or to your first meeting of your new internet community.
I pride myself on having a pretty good judgement of people and I probably also got lucky with the people I met, but I’m willing to bet that in most internet communities you will find people that are looking out for each other. More likely than at any local watering hole.

But whatever reasons you give to people, there’s always some who will disbelieve or remain skeptical. So maybe take a moment and think about what awesome social things have happened to you that you have to thank the internet for.

Here’s my list, in chronological order, of the parts the internet played in creating my social life and a large part of who I am. Well, the parts I remember or was able to reconstruct from my picture collection.

In 1997 still in school I first entered a certain webchat, met a girl, and after a couple of days of chatting, we decided ((well I suggested)) we’d start writing letters. We’re still friends, see each other occasionally ((Once a year or every two years, I’d say, depending.))

I became a regular in a webchat and joined a web radio ((Just a bunch of people who enjoyed streaming music to a bunch of friends and talking nonsense. I’ve been a show host and member of the organisatorial commitee in various positions, including leading the whole kindergarden)) that was based in that chat. I am still a member, albeit inactive. There I met people from throughout the country and beyond I still count among my best friends.

It’s also where I met my first girlfriend. It didn’t last very long, but I also met her best friend at the time, who became one of my best friends and our friendship continues to this day. She got me into Doctor Who two years ago.

I went to my first community meeting ((actually chaperoning said best friend)) and started meeting up with people I’d never seen before.

The webchat and webradio became a circle of friends. I went to three community meetings that lasted a whole weekend. ((basically a group of thirty 16 to 40-year olds went camping, including bbq and board games, nobody killed anyone. Amazing, huh?))

Also some coworkers got me to join a large-scale browser game where I met people from all over the world via the game itself. I quit after a while but I stuck to the IRC network people organized their tactics in.

More of the same things of course. The highlight of the year: An American from said game I met in IRC had become something between an acquaintance and a friend. He was married to an Italian and they were planning to marry a second time for her family which still lived in Italy. And I got invited. Which was pretty exciting. But as his wife put it: “You spend so much time with these people online, if he’s  a friend, why not?”
That was a first for me but I actually didn’t even think twice about it. We’d spent hours chatting about pretty much everything, and it wasn’t the first time I got to meet internet people and their friends and family. So I flew into Rome, got picked up by his wife at the airport and actually had lunch with her family before I even met him. It was eerie but they were very welcoming, and ‘lo, there was nothing awkward or weird about it. Look, he’s human just like us. ;-)

Also in 2005 I started writing product reviews and parodies for a large community and product review website. I don’t write for that website anymore, but I’ve found friends there as well, there’s a meeting once a year and it never fails to be awesome.

I visited my cousin in Manchester, England and met up with several friends from IRC, two of which I joined on a train to Newcastle where we’d go see Iron Maiden and share a hotel room.

Apart from the usual community meetings, a friend I met through the web radio and seen in person twice for a weekend each chatted me up on an instant messenger.
“Hey, what are you doing?” – “Oh, just checking trips to the United States, but the single room surcharge is offputting” – “When are you planning to go?”
We went there together and had great fun when people assumed we were either a couple or siblings until we explained that we were just “Internet friends”. Oh, and I also met up with an internet friend in Las Vegas.

I paid a visit to a friend and her husband in the UK. I met her via an internet forum that belonged to a webcomic both of us were reading. To this day we’re friends and I’ve visited on two more occasion. I’ll miss her 30th birthday next year because I’m going to be on a road trip along the US East Coast, visiting … yup, internet friends. Friends.

The year I met my current ex. ((Is that the way you say it? Huh.)) We’d talked before, online, on the webradio, had a few phone calls, and then we hit it off on the anual community meeting of the web radio. Basically camping, a day of team building games, bbq, board games and all that. Quite a few relationships began that weekend. Oh, remember the best friend of my first girlfriend? Yup, met her again after years, and while the relationship with my girlfriend didn’t last, that friendship made it through ten years and two relationships, still counting.

Things were a little quieter on the internet front, but my girlfriend and I visited a lot of common friends that year

We’d moved in together, but the relationship ended in April. I met up with more internet people that year, but the highlight was the trip to Ireland. I had booked that for me and my suddenly ex. Cancelling the trip would’ve been rather expensive, but my friend who I toured the states with was available, and even though we hadn’t met up even once since 2007 we just continued where we’d left.
So the relationship ended, and suddenly I had more time on my hands, so besides connecting to my internet family I also started up playing an MMO ((something something spaceships)), getting to know awesome new people, becoming friends with them.
Another friend had vanished from the internet for months due to financial and internet connection issues and there were dozens of people trying to reach him. We’d all feared the worst because of what we knew about his medical background, but everything turned out right.

I took a round trip around southern England. Basically I flew into London, rented a car and first visited MMO people, then my webcomic friend who got me hooked on BBC’s Sherlock, and after that someone from IRC who I dragged around London for a day.

You thought nothing could top the wedding? Well, it certainly will be one of the all-time-highlights of my internet bio, but it turns out that one of they guys from the MMO lives on a tiny island in the South Pacific, and I’d gotten a travel voucher for my 10th anniversary at my company the previous summer. Long story short, banter happened, I got invited, booked three days later and then dragged a friend and coworker 20.000km across the globe, drove 10 days around New Zealand and took a plane to spend a week in paradise and still have more or less constant contact to him/his family.

In the same year I went to Cardiff with two internet friends ((one of them the girl I met via my first girlfriend)) and a boyfriend, we met very nice people via the couchsurfing organisation and got to see the Doctor Who Experience.

Also I joined twitter, and I’m pretty sure that at one point I’ll start meeting up with people I’ve found there. Dammit, if I had a teleporter, I’d probably spend more time buzzing around as a cloud of highly energized molecules than at home.

As to next year, I’m looking forward to meet all kinds of internet friends, from a gaming community, friends I’ve talked to on IRC from 3 to 7 years and who knows who else?

Hey, maybe YOU know me and you want to visit? I’m sure we can arrange something.

So. Yeah, I guess the internet is full of phonies and it’s not worth spending any more time there than it takes to order a book or watch a few cat videos on youtube.

The internet is awesome, there’s great people to discover and a lot of them just mean the world to me.

I don’t even distinguish between “internet” and “other” friends anymore, unless I have to explain where I met certain people.

Thanks for bearing with me, this got longer than I thought. And I mean every word.