And now for something completely different…

Finally some good news from the employment agency. They have agreed to give me 70 euros of the money I spent on train tickets to job interviews back. That means I now have a whole 100 euros for the month of September instead of a mere 30. Maybe I won’t be reduced to a diet of tinned tomatoes on toast after all (baked beans being ridiculously overpriced in this country).

Anyway, since I have absolutely nothing to talk about today and because Sleepyjane specifically requested it, I’m going to do something I don’t think I’ve ever done on Confuzzledom before and give you a recipe. For chilli con carne. The amounts given here are what I use for two people. For those of you with actual families it shouldn’t be too difficult to adapt.

Basic Chilli con Carne

You will need:
A packet of mince (here that’s 500g) – for any American readers, I believe that would be ground meat
Garlic cloves – how many depends on how you like it. I normally use 2-3
An onion
Dried chilli flakes or chilli powder (but not that horrible ready-made chilli con carne spice stuff). You can also add a fresh chilli if you want.
Tin of chopped tomatoes
Tin of kidney beans
Optional: oregano and tomato puree

Method:
1. Chop up the onion so it’s fairly small. Either crush the garlic or chop it up as small as you can. If you’re using a fresh chilli you should chop that up into small pieces at this point as well.
2. Heat a small amount of oil in a large frying pan (or a saucepan if you don’t have a big enough frying pan). Put some of the dried chilli flakes or chilli powder into the oil and stir it around a bit. Once the oil is hot enough add the onion, garlic ad fresh chilli (if you’re using one) and fry for about 1-2 minutes.
3. Add the mince and fry until all if it has gone brown. While it’s frying season it with salt and pepper. At this point you can also put oregano in if you want. The last two times I haven’t (because I didn’t have any) and it still turned out nice so it’s really up to you.
4. Once all of the mince is brown I usually add about a tablespoon of tomato puree. This will make your chilli more red later, you don’t have to do this though, it tastes just as good if you only use the tinned tomatoes
5. Add the tin of chopped tomatoes and the tin of kidney beans (don’t forget to drain the weird sugary-water liquid from the kidney neans first!), stir the chilli well and heat though.
6. The chilli is now basically ready. All that’s left to be done is for you to taste and decide whether it needs more of anything… chilli powder, salt etc.
7. Serve the chilli with rice. Or some of those crispy taco shells. Or inside a jacket potato. It’s entirely up to you.

That’s it. Easy, no?

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Just because you have a job doesn’t mean it’s all sorted…

Let’s talk about the employment agency shall we. We haven’t done that in a while…
So, as regular readers will know, I’m about to start a new job after a period of unemployment. The new job is some distance away from the town I’m living in (an hour on the slow train, about 25 minutes on the fast – but expensive train), but it’s a doable distance, the company seems great and it means no more dealing with the German employment agency – or so I thought…

After signing my contract I downloaded the change of circumstances form from the employment agency’s website, filled in the bit saying I’ve found a job and no longer need to be registered as unemployed and sent it off. A few days ago I received a letter from the employment agency – “since you now have a job and you will be getting paid at some point in September your benefits will now be cut off. Starting from 1st September 2009. If you think you’ll need help for time between us cutting off your benefits and when you actually receive your first months pay there is a loan, which you might be allowed, but only if you apply for it. ” Considering the last payment of my unemployment benefit (ALG II) was on 15th August and my first pay from work won’t be until the end of September I think I might just need that loan. I have worked it out and, despite being very careful, with the money that’s currently in my bank once I’ve paid September’s rent, the electric/gas bill, the internet/phone and bought two monthly tickets – one for the train to work and one for the tram from home to the train station – I am going to ahve about 40 euros left. That’s 40 euros for everything else I could possibly need… like food for example. And toilet roll. I can’t even afford the 6 euros it will cost to send my baby brother the books I bought him for his 3rd birthday. So I emailed the employment agency asking how to apply for the loan. Today I received this reply “I need to see your employment contract and proof from your employer of when your first wages are to be paid. Then we can decide whether or not to give you a loan“. Because obviously there couldn’t just be simple procedure. Now I need to find out whether they will accept a copy of my contract, because if not (which they probably won’t) I will have to go there in person and physically show them my contract. This will have to be done by Monday because I start work on Tuesday and will therefore not actually be in Karlsruhe at all during their office hours. Oh, and I have to somehow get proof of when I’m getting my wages from the new boss. The boss who told me when I signed the contract that she goes on holiday at the end of August and will still be away when I start work.
Oh what fun the next few weeks are going to be…

More about the German employment agency. Because lately I seem to have a one track mind.

When you’re unemployed in Germany and you register yourself as such with the employment agency, at your first appointment with an advisor you have to sign an agreement. What the agreement says differs depending on your circumstances… they like to add bits, put in legal clauses, take bits away and generally change things. By the end of it you’re left with the vague feeling that you’ve just sold your soul to the devil for a bit of money and a lot of hassle.

In my case, because I have no savings and am therefore receiving the maximum amount of unemployment benefit, I had to agree that the job I want is not easy enough to find and therefore I should also be looking for other types of job as well. Because in my current circumstances I am clearly a burden on society and the employment agency needs to get rid of me as soon as possible.

Another part of the agreement says that I am required to apply for any jobs that the employment agency officially suggests to me as soon as possible, preferably within three days of receiving them. If I fail to do this my unemployment money will be cut by 30%… then by 60% and, after the third offence, taken off me completely.

This is why I spent most of this morning googling various combinations of the words “letter of application” and “secretary”. Except in German… so not actually those words at all. But you know what I mean.
It’s also why, if I don’t get the job I’m being interviewed for on Monday, I may very soon end up working as an office assistant somewhere in the Black Forest. But that’s ok… at least it’ll get me out of the house.

Oh bureaucracy, how I hate thee

Today was employment agency day.
First I had an appointment at 9:30 am to hand in my application for unemployment benefit I (ALG I). I knew I wasn’t going to be entitled to it, but I had to hand in the application anyway because to apply for unemployment benefit II you have to show proof that I’m not entitled to unemployment benefit I. Complicated no? So the woman typed all my data into the computer, informed me that I’m not entitled to ALG I and printed out a letter of rejection to take along when I apply for ALG II. Then she told me where I have to go to do that… the town hall of all places?! After that I had my second appointment, with my advisor. She’s the one that’s supposed to help me look for jobs. That meeting went smoothly… she actually found even less positions than I did because they only check their own website and not every company advertises on there. So she printed out one measly little advert for me, printed out an agreement (which basically says they will publish my profile in their virtual job market and send me details of appropriate positions and I will continue to look and apply for jobs) then sent me on my way to the town hall. At the town hall I was asked a million and one questions, given a form to fill in and a huge list of things they need me to bring with me next time… a list which includes my bank statements from the last 3 months!  Then I was given an appointment with another advisor for next Tuesday. It’s exhausting stuff I’m telling you! I’m going to meet Jan for lunch now but after that I may need to lie down for a while to recover from all the forms, questions and traipsing around town.

Information overload

The last few days have been spent slowly and painfully trying to gether information on unemployment benefit II and how to get started as a freelance translator in Germany.

As far as freelancing is concerned I am clear on only two things.
1) Before I start I have to get a tax number to put on my bills
2) Doing my taxes at the end of the year will suddenly become a lot more complicated, which is nice considering I haven’t done my taxes for last year yet because the forms confused me.

And the more I learn about unemployment benefit II the less I want to actually have to apply for it.
Apparantly I’m allowed to earn up to 100 euros on the side while claiming unemployment benefit II (or ALG II, which is what the Germans call it and which is soo much easier to type). Any more than 100 euros and they start taking bits of it off me. This counts for all other types of what they consider “income” as well. For example, if I were to get money back from the electricity company that would be income. And if I ever do actually get round to doing my taxes, which would result in my travel expenses being paid back, that too counts as income.

Also, if the boyfriend wants to give me money… to help with the rent for example, and the employment agency sees that money from him is going into my bank account they will assume that I have a partner who is able to support me financially and am lying about the fact that I live alone to try and get more benefits out of them. Either that or they’ll decide it must be “income” from a source that I didn’t bother to tell them about, in which case they will again take bits of it off me (if I’ve understood the German correctly I get 20% taken off me for any income between 100 and 800 euros). I’m not sure what they would do if someone gave me cash which I then went and paid into my bank account… probably drag me in to question about this cash that I apparantly had lying around but didn’t declare on their form (yes, one of the forms actually has a section for you to declare how much cash you have. Huh?!).

As if losing your job wasn’t bad enough without all these complications. I don’t remember having half as much trouble getting job seeker’s allowance in England (which I did between finishing uni and going to Austria, just to get a bit of money in my pocket for the summer).
My advice to you all… do not become unemployed in Germany. Unless you’ve been paying your unemployment insurance for more than a year, in which case you’ll get unemployment benefit I which by all accounts is much less complicated.

How about some good news for a change?

The essay I did for Text Linguistics last month has been returned to me.
I got 67%… subject to the approval of the exam board. A pass at Master’s level is 50%, and I can’t see the exam board reducing it by more than 17% even if they do change it. So I never have to do Text Linguistics again. Woo hoo! I would say this calls for a celebration but as I’m trying very hard not to spend any money I don’t actually have anything to celebrate with.

My other piece of news is that I’m going to Rome. My mum is taking my brother as a treat for finishing his A-Levels and she asked us to go along so we could have one last family holiday before little bro goes off to uni (my sister and her boyfriend are going too). It was all arranged over the weekend… all that remained was for me to ask about time off then we were going to book it. Then, on the day that I was supposed to ask for time off, I lost my job instead. This left me with lots of time on my hands… but made spending money on a holiday seem a little bit wrong. So I told my mum we couldn’t go. Then the boyfriend decided that he still does want to go… and offered to pay for me as well. So we booked it… and I am now torn between feeling excited and incredibly guilty. Also, next time I’m at the employment agency (which will be whenever I get the forms back from my boss) I’ll have to inform them that I plan to leave the country and get their permission. Yes, you read that right. People who are on unemployment benefit in Germany are allowed to leave their place of residence for a certain of number of days each year but have to ask the permission of the employment agency in advance. I’m hoping they’ll let me off if I tell them it was all booked before I knew I was going to be unemployed and cancelling it would only cost more. Keep your fingers crossed for me, ok.

Running around town trying to figure out who can help

I went to the IHK today – the Industrie- und Handelskammer. That would be the Chamber of Industry and Commerce to my non-German speaking readers. Why did I go there? Because my boss thought they could give me better information on going freelance than the employment agency. So I took myself off there only to be told the IHK isn’t responsible for people who want to work as freelancers… they can only help me if I want to set up a business (and if I want to do that I have to pay fees and taxes and deal with a thousand times more paperwork). Instead the woman there advised me to go the the translator’s association. So I headed off towards home – the Baden-Württemberg branch of the translator’s association just happens to be pretty much round the corner from where I live. Unfortunately it was already closed. But tomorrow I shall take myself there before 2pm and see if I can find anyone to help me.

And right now I’m off to the boyfriend’s place. He still has my CV on his computer from last time I was job hunting, so I’m off to update it, make it look pretty and stick it on a USB stick for transferral to my own computer. I’ve already seen one job that I can apply for (translating for a software company) so I’ll be getting on that first thing tomorrow…

I would also like to say a massive THANK YOU to all my bloggy friends who left such lovely, lovely comments on my last post. I will definitely keep you updated… along with the rest of the internets. Who knows, maybe the information will be useful for someone else in the future. I’m probably not the first foreigner in Germany who’s ever found themself in this situation and I sincerely doubt I shall be the last… especially if this recession continues.