Germans say the darnedest things

I recently started teaching a new group. As we’re still at that fun “getting to know you” stage, I decided to bring in some conversation cards to get them talking and find out a bit more about what makes them tick. There’s a question on each card so the students pick one and then try to speak about the topic for as long as they can.

For example…

First up, Fritz.

Fritz: Um, my question is “What animals are you afraid of?” I guess I’m afraid of snakes. And sharks.

Ulrich: Yeah, ‘cos there are so many of those in Berlin…

Fritz: And rats. I really hate rats. If I saw a rat, I’d be like a little girl – standing on a chair and screaming. 

Franz: Did you know that there are more rats in Berlin than people? 

Fritz: (Turns a little pale.)

Franz: Yeah, I think it’s something like three rats to every person. 

Hans: Yeah, I read that too.

Me: Heilige Scheiße. 

Franz: You don’t really see them though. 

Ulrich: Yeah, they’re a bit like cockroaches. For every one that you see, there are like 200 of them hiding close by just waiting to jump out. 

Fritz: What’s a cockroach?

Franz: Kakerlake.

Fritz: (Turns paler still.)

Waltraut: My friend has a pet rat. He’s so cute. 

Entire class: URGH. 

Waltraut: No, really! I stroke him and he nibbles on my fingers…

Fritz: (Thud.)

Berlin. City of lights – and rats.

Me: Right, I think we’ll leave that there. I prefer it when my classes don’t give people nightmares. Gerda, what’s your question? 

Gerda: What preparation do you do before you go on a trip? 

Me: OK, good. Better.

Gerda: Well, first I make a list of everything that I want to bring on my trip. Then I tick off the things that I already have. If I need something, I either buy it or borrow it from a friend, depending on how expensive it is. Then I buy a guide book. I make a list of all of the things that I would like to see…

Me: That sounds like a very German way to prepare for a trip. 

Gerda: I like lists.

To stop myself from wondering if she also laminates the lists, I moved on to the next stage of the lesson – making business small talk – a topic every German student wants to cover. With good reason.

We did a couple of listening exercises of people chatting at corporate events and then I put the students in pairs and asked them to write down two or three compliments they could pay their partner. They scribbled away diligently for around five minutes so I had high hopes for the speaking part of the exercise.

Me: OK, Hans and Ulrich, you’re up. 

Hans: I really like working with you. I like the way that you work. I like that you’re always friendly and willing to help other people…

Me: OK, good, but it shouldn’t be just a litany of one-sided compliments. Ulrich? 

Ulrich: He’s only been here two weeks. I don’t know him well enough to compliment him. 

Me: Erm, he has a nice watch…

Ulrich: I like your watch. 

Me: Sigh. Gerda and Fritz – your turn. 

Gerda: I would like to give you some compliments. My first compliment is that I like your willpower. My second compliment is that you give good presentations. My third compliment is…

Me: Jesus. Stop. You’re not supposed to just fire a list of compliments at him. When you talk to people in real life, you don’t just read a list at them, do you?

From the confused look she gave me, I suspect that she just might.

Me: It should be a dialogue, like we listened to. 

Gerda: But there’s no context. 

Me: Make it up! It’s one sentence at the beginning! “Oh, fancy bumping into you at the conference!” “Don’t you love our Christmas parties?” Use your imagination! 

Gerda deliberates for a moment or two.

Gerda: I like our Christmas parties. I had fun dancing with you. You’re a very good dancer. 

Fritz: Thank you. 

Me: You’re supposed to accept the compliment modestly. Anything to say back to her? 

Fritz: You are a good dancer too. You’re the second best dancer I danced with tonight. 

Me: Oh boy. I think we might need to spend a bit more time on this…

 

 

 

 

22 thoughts on “Germans say the darnedest things”

  1. I AM GERDA! Also, I might not come to Berlin ever again, after those nightmarish rat and cockroach stories. It’s one of those things that even tho they exist, we don’t need to talk or think about them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, I’m pretty sure there are plenty of rats in Moscow and every other capital city! Maybe only Germans talk about it 😉 Brutally honestly! Do some research – how many rats in Moscow per person… hmm…? 😉

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        1. Ha, well, they don’t really roam the streets of Berlin (much) either 😉 I guess they’re mostly in the sewers – see the odd mouse between train tracks but they’re kind of cute 😉

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  2. oh boy, I’ve had the same sort of experience with my early German classes. Business English leaves them ill-equipped for social graces, doesn’t it?

    Here’s what happened:

    Me: “How was Valentine’s day, Klaus? Did you do something special with your wife?”

    Klaus: “We had a very detailed and extensive breakfast…”

    Me: “Oh, that sounds… er…

    Klaus: “…followed by a bicycle ride in our immediate vicinity”

    Me: “Gosh. How lovely.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You should use Facebook Live and we could all watch 😁 But then we wouldn’t get these asides: “To stop myself from wondering if she also laminates the lists …” I laughed out loud at that one. At least your students are entertaining fodder for your blog!

    Liked by 2 people

        1. I think I might need it 😉 The dancing guy reminded me of the man in a bar who told me I was the only “relatively young, semi-attractive woman” there. Even when it’s a made up situation, Germans still have to be brutally honest, it seems!

          Liked by 1 person

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