Chill wind from England flies up the trouser leg

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The Independent Online
Frankfurt - Doctor Renz gave me that look of practised compassion. "I'm sorry to hear that. Quite a few people have problems," she said. My impending move back to England was beginning to sound like some ghastly disease. "I get phone calls from f ormer patients who now live there, asking me for prescriptions and advice," says the doctor. "They seem to find it rather difficult in England."

Difficult!? Here I have been leisurely preparing my return to London, when I should have been steeling myself for a pioneering thrust into the equivalent of Ulan-Bator on Thames. Obviously, during my five years of Teutonic good life, I had lost touch with the rigours of survival in the world across the channel.

As the schnapps level plunges in the rash of farewell toasts, German post-prandial reflections on life in England multiply alarmingly. It is a land, I am told, where plumbers would not know a qualification if it were shoved in a brown envelope into theirback pocket. It is a country where windows are cleverly designed to allow icy winds to scream straight from the Shetlands, cut between the frames and down across the floor, before racing up a trouser leg carefully tailored at 8cm above the heel to ensure maximum chill efficiency.

It is a place where, when things do not work properly, or cannot be explained, then it is always put down to tradition. Or, as one German sage sees it: "Die Englander, they always piss against the wind."

Should there still be Germans who do not believe the English are a queer lot, then reassurance is at hand each new year's eve. With an unshakeable sense of tradition, much of the nation gathers before the box to enjoy 10 minutes of England as they know it will always be. The sketch is Dinner for One, and has been shown in English for as long as most can remember.

It is about a pukka, old lady who has invited her friends to dinner. Regrettably, all are dead, and as the old dear entertains her guests, the butler manfully steps into the breach, drinking each toast as he moves increasingly erratically around the table. When he falls over the tiger-skin rug, a great roar surges as if Germany had just thrashed Brazil. Finally, in an advanced state of inebriation, the decrepit old things toddle off, and Germans, their thighs singing from repeated slapping, enter another new year knowing, Ja - that is England.

Filled with foreboding, I began preparations for the great return. I opted against a gentle acclimatisation, rang BT - and encountered Kieran. "Allo Juun," he said. I swallowed hard. Do I know this person? For the past five years I have struggled to expunge that Anglo-Saxon vice of using first names, and now I am being Juuned. One wonders why Germans give children first names. Most never use them until, at the age of 55, they allow someone through the social Iron Curtain and call themselves a friend.

There was worse to come from Kieran. Could you send the change of phone forms to Germany, I asked. "Naah, dan't worry about any forms Juun," replied Kieran. "Jus move in, an we'll sort it all aat later."

The lights on my nervous breakdown system were flashing red. No forms! Without forms there can be no certainty, and without certainty, no order, and without order, society breaks down. Germans will start crossing the street against the red signal at 3am when the nearest car is in the next village. People will start using first names.

For the past two months I have done little but fill in forms, begging Herr this and Frau that to accept documents without an The Independent office stamp as, through inexcusable English sloppiness, such a vital instrument had never been acquired.

I fear I shall never get out of Germany because of all the forms. I took a deep breath. "Now Kieran, could we start from the beginning again...."