I know a lot of people don’t believe me when I say this but the Germans really are very funny people. Unfortunately, most of the time when they crack me up, they’re not actually trying to be funny.
A few weeks ago, I had a lesson with a really nice group. So, I thought I’d torture them with the third conditional, my favourite conditional and the bane of every English language learner’s life. You know the one I mean – if I had stayed in Latvia, I would have gone mad – that sort of thing.
Anyway, we’d got the tedious, learn-y bit out of the way so I whipped out a fun exercise I’d found on the internet. At least I thought it would be fun. It should have gone like this: the students brainstorm reasons someone could end up homeless, for example, gambling or drinking problem, financial difficulties, etc.
Once I’d written them all up on the board, the “homeless” students would then make a chain of third conditional sentences in order to convince a wealthy-looking passer-by to give them some money, e.g. If I hadn’t started gambling, I wouldn’t have lost all my money. If I hadn’t lost all my money, my wife wouldn’t have kicked me out. If my wife hadn’t kicked me out, I wouldn’t have ended up on the street. And so on.
The only thing I hadn’t factored in was, well, Germans.
Me: OK, so I’d like you to brainstorm some reasons that someone could end up homeless, like a drinking problem or relationship troubles…
Student 1: Some of them want to be homeless.
Me: OK, but let’s assume for the sake of this exercise that they don’t want to be homeless. Something bad happened.
Student 2: But some of them really do want to be homeless.
Student 3: Yeah, they want freedom.
Me: OK, but let’s assume…
Student 4: You’re right. I saw a documentary about it.
Me: OK, but…
Student 5: And you know what I really hate? When people ask me for money. I mean, I work hard for my money. I have bills to pay. Why should I just give my money to someone on the street?
Me: I think we’re going a bit off-…
Student 6: Oh! I hate that too! I mean, I’d give someone a sandwich but I’m not giving them money.
Me: Sigh. Well, it looks like we’re out of time. Good job, everyone.
A few days later, I had a conversation class with a couple of ladies who are going to England at the end of September. For the first four days, they’re staying with an elderly English couple and they’ve hired me to make them sound normal.
Me: OK, so when you get to the house, she’ll probably put on the kettle.
Frauke: What’s a kettle?
Me: What? Oh, it’s the thing you use when you want to boil water.
Frauke: Not a water cooker?
Me: (Snigger) No, it’s a kettle. So anyway, they’re English. They will put on the kettle. Tea is a national hobby.
Heike: Ugh, black tea. Probably with milk.
Frauke: But we won’t want tea at that time of night.
Me: You’re arriving at 8pm…
Heike: We will be tired. We will want to sleep.
Me: You can’t just walk in the door and go to bed. You’ll have to talk to them for a little while. She’ll probably have made some sandwiches or bought a cake.
Heike: But I will not be hungry. I will just want to sleep. Can I say I don’t want it?
Me: Well, you could but it’s probably not the best start.
Frauke: (Huge sigh) OK, then we will eat A sandwich and have a cup of black tea. Maybe I could ask if she has fruit tea.
Me: Yeah, good luck. So, when she asks you if you want a cup of tea, what will you say?
Frauke: Oh, that would be loooooovely, thank you!
Me: Wow, yes! That’s perfect!
Frauke: Yes, in English, everything is “lovely” – lovely tea, lovely weather, lovely house, lovely, lovely, lovely…
Me: Yeah, you should probably lay off the sarcasm a bit. Are you bringing them a gift? What do they like?
Heike: The husband likes photographs. Last time, I bought him a book of black and white photography.
Me: OK, nice! What are you going to get this time?
Heike: A book of colour photography?
Heike: Well, what do people think of Germans? Maybe I can get something traditionally German?
Me: Honestly? Beer, sausage, Lederhosen.
Frauke and Heike: BUT THAT’S NOT US! THAT’S THE BAVARIANS!
Me: Yes, I know that but, you know, people are stupid.
Frauke and Heike: BUT THAT’S NOT US! THAT’S THE BAVARIANS! WE DON’T WEAR LEDERHOSEN!
Me: OK, you can educate the English when you get there. Anyway, what will you say when you hand them the present?
Frauke: I AM VERY HAPPY TO GIVE YOU THIS GIFT. ARE YOU HAPPY?
Sometimes, I really do earn my money.
(If you haven’t checked out my new blog yet, head on over there and let me know what you think.) 🙂