Tag Archives: Efficiency

More German efficiency

In a bid to make a bit of extra cash before Christmas, last week I applied to a school that is approximately 30 seconds from my house; perfect for these cold, dark, winter days. I got a reply and dutifully trotted across the road at 14.50. I rang the bell. No answer. I rang the bell again. No answer. I called the number and was routed to some central messaging service where, surprise, nobody answered. Slipping in behind a woman who had a key, I made it to the front door of the school, rang several more times and then gave up.

At around 15.10, an unkempt woman with greasy hair and rumpled clothing appeared.

Frau Sau: How did you get in? 

Me: A woman had the key. 

Frau Sau: Huh.

She opened the door and instructed me to sit down in the hall. No apology then. She went into her office and reappeared with part of her coffee machine, went into the bathroom, filled it with water and went back into her office, all the while looking at me like I was some sort of curious exhibit in a museum.

Finally, I was called in. After the oddest interview ever –

Frau Sau: Do you have the right to work in the EU?

Me: I’m Irish. We’re EU citizens. 

Frau Sau: For now…

Frau Sau: This school has been going for years. I don’t know how many.

Me: 28.

Frau Sau: Oh. You know more than I do.

– she offered me a group of 5-year-olds as a cover lesson at the end of the week. Now, I have taught kids before but it’s been a long time and even they were 7 or 8.

Me: Hmm. OK…

Frau Sau: Great. So, 15.30 on Friday.

Me: Well, OK but what am I supposed to do with them? Did the regular teacher leave any notes? 

Frau Sau: (Blank look)

Me: Or is there a book that they normally use? 

Frau Sau: I guess you could try this. It’s in German but pictures are pictures.

Argh, my eyes, my eyes!
Argh, my eyes, my eyes!

Me: Um, OK. What if I want to make copies? Is there another photocopier here? Your office will be locked. (She works from 15.00 – 18.30 every day – poor woman must be exhausted.)

Frau Sau: You’ll just have to make your copies now.

Me: But I don’t know what I’m doing with them yet.

Frau Sau: (Blank look)

Me: Which classroom should I use? 

Frau Sau: Any of them.

Me: Huh.

Frau Sau: Can you sing? 

Me: Uh… (putting the book in my bag)

Frau Sau: You can’t take that with you. I’ll leave it out in the hall for you for Friday. 

Me: …

She then proceeded to fill out forms on her computer, making me say everything out loud, despite all of the information being in front of her in my freshly-printed CV and certificates. After that, she took me through the “student database” – a box filled with alphabetically-filed cards. Instead of there being one card for the group with all of the students’ names on it, each student had an individual card which would have to be filled in after the lesson. Sigh.

As I would want to get there earlier than 15.00 having had no tour of the school or any clue what I was doing, she gave me the key to the building – this seemed a bit strange as she really didn’t know me from Adam. Stranger still was that I didn’t need any sort of police background check before working with young children. Then again, maybe German law is different?

I went home and got on Facebook to tell Han how it had gone.

Me: Ugh, I don’t even know what a 5-year-old looks like…

Han: They look awful.

Me: They can smell fear, right? 

Han: Yup.

Me: Gulp.

On Friday at 14.45, I let myself in. I had a wander around the rooms and chose the biggest one. I had planned on doing a lesson on food but changed my mind and decided on parts of the body, mainly because I didn’t want to sing this:

Even for 5-year-olds, this seems retarded.
Even for 5-year-olds, this seems retarded.

“Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” I could get on board with. I located the one CD player and got set up. At around 15.05, Frau Sau showed up.

Frau Sau: What are you doing with that book? 

Me: That’s the book you left out for me.

Frau Sau: But that’s a book for kids.

Me: I’m teaching kids. 

Frau Sau: No, you’re teaching school children. 

Me: But you said 5-year-olds. 

Frau Sau: Must have been a misunderstanding. 

Me: (panic) OK, so how old are these kids? 

Frau Sau: Oh, from grade blah blah to blah blah. 

German grades don’t make much sense to me but this sounded like a big range of ages and levels.

Me: Riiiiiiiiiight. So what am I supposed to do with them? Is there a book?

Frau Sau: No. 

Me: Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. So what am I supposed to do with them? 

Frau Sau: I don’t know. Their homework I guess. 

Me: Christ. 

I went back into my room and had a moment of ARRRRGGGGHHHHH. The floor looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” was written.

20161111_1509361

The “kids” started to show up. I guess they were between 9 and 16, with wildly varying abilities. Some of them had English homework, some didn’t. Some of them had English books, some didn’t. Three of them were actually there to study German.

Me: Gulp.

I got the ones who had English homework started on that and set the others a simple writing task. After about 30 minutes, they were all done.

Me: Gulp.

Wolff: Where are you from?

Me: Ireland. 

Wolff: Coooooooooooooooool! 

Gerlinde: Where’s that? 

Wolff: (with much eye-rolling) It’s an island near Great Britain. (Sigh. Eye-roll.)

I decided that we may as well play games for the last hour so we whiled away the time with past simple Xs and Os, Hangman and Who Am I? I have no idea who the cool kids know these days but I figured it was a safe bet they’d heard of Donald Trump. I put Heribert standing with his back to the board and wrote Donald Trump on it.

Heribert: Am I a man? 

Wolff: I HATE YOU!!! 

Heribert: Donald Trump? 

5 o’clock rolled around.

Gerlinde: That was so much fun! Are you going to be here on Monday?

Me: No, sorry, it’s just for today. 

Wolff: Tuesday? 

Me: Nope, sorry! 

All: Awwwwwwwwwwwww!

Me: Yeah, I know. 

Hedde: I really like your hair…

They trundled out and I went to the office to find Frau Sau. Naturally, she’d chosen this exact time to disappear. I stood making idle chatter with a parent she’d also left sitting there waiting.

Mutter: (rather ominously) Yeah, I’ve had dealings with Frau Sau before…

Frau Sau reappeared, went into the bathroom without making eye contact with either of us, and then emerged to call me into her office. I started filling out my invoice.

Frau Sau: I need the key back. 

Me: (through gritted teeth) Yes, in a minute. 

Frau Sau: How did it go? 

Me: Yeah, fine. We did their homework and some writing practice and then played some games. 

Frau Sau: Oh, there are a load of games in that cupboard. You could have used those. 

So I grabbed her by her greasy hair, swung her around a few times and hurled her through the window.

Not really.

Needless to say, I won’t be going back there.

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The Myth of German Efficiency

If someone were to ask you to name the nationality you thought was the most efficient in the world, you’d probably put the Germans pretty high on your list, right?

Well, you would be wrong, so very WRONG. The reason you might think that is because you’ve never actually lived or worked here. I, too, once held Germany up as a beacon of all that is organised, systematic, logical and good. Ha! What a fool I was!

Listing the failings of state institutions such as the Bürgerämter would require a novel, not a blog post, so I’ll put them to one side. (Frankly, how any of these harridans and jobsworths are even in employment is beyond me.)

The funny thing about the Germans – yeah, another one – is that they actually think they’re hard-working. (Excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor and wipe my eyes.) You see, the EU-standard 4-week holiday is not good enough for our German friends. No, most German workers get 6 weeks, some even more than that. I know one woman, who’s on an old contract with one of the major banks here, who gets a whopping 34 holiday days a year.

Maybe that doesn’t sound so excessive (except to any Americans or Canadians reading), but when you factor in that she’d already taken at least two weeks’ sick leave in the first half of the year and will probably take two more before the end of the year, that’s almost eleven weeks off work – or, if you look at it another way, she’s not in the office one fifth of the time.

One thing Germans are truly excellent at is taking sick leave. They’re so well protected, and the health insurance here is so good, that a trip to the doctor for something vague like a bad night’s sleep and a bit of stress will probably result in a week or two off.

There’s even a programme called “Die Kur” (the cure) where, if your doctor has exhausted every possible avenue of treatment for your imaginary illness, you can apply for “resort therapy”. And yes, it is exactly what it sounds like – an all-expenses-paid trip to a spa for an indefinite amount of time which, of course, doesn’t come out of your annual leave. That just wouldn’t be Germany…

In the unfortunate event that you’re not actually sick and lack the imagination to make something up, fear not! This is where “Kind Krank” comes into play. Kind Krank can be directly translated as “kid sick” and, from what I’ve seen, entitles the parent to as much time off as they like.

A typical email exchange might go a bit like this:

Me: Something incredibly efficient and professional.

German 1: Out of office reply.

Me: (Waits 2 – 4 weeks)

German 1: Oh, sorry for the delay, I was on holidays! But I don’t actually deal with that. That’s German 2 who sits beside me. 

Me: Oh, right. Can I have German 2’s email address? 

German 1: Sure, but she’s off work at the moment. Kind Krank, you know?

Me: Right. 

Me: (Emails German 2. Waits 2-4 weeks.) 

German 2: Oh, sorry for the delay! My kid was sick. But it’s not actually me who deals with that. That’s German 3.

Me: (Emails German 3.)

German 3: Out of office reply. 

Me: (Waits 2 – 4 weeks.)

Anyway, you see where I’m going with this.

The nice thing about being a German in full-time employment is that you pretty much have to murder a colleague to be fired. The laws here are so strongly in the workers’ favour that it’s virtually impossible to get rid of someone.

I have actually heard of people who’ve done zilch for years. Instead of sacking them – far too much trouble – the company will leave that useless lump sitting there filing their nails and hire someone else to do exactly the same job. I doubt it’s a couple of isolated cases either. This basically means that all over Germany, you’ve got thousands (if not millions) of people who are essentially being paid to do nothing.

I recently had a lesson where I got the students to talk about what they do on an average day.

Me: So, Gudrun, what did you do today? 

Gudrun: Well, I checked my emails, forwarded some to other people, collected the mail, distributed it, and set up the conference room for a meeting. Then it was time to go to English. 

Me: Our lesson is at 4.15…

Gudrun: (Chuckling contentedly) Oh my, you’re right! It doesn’t really sound like I did much, does it? 

Me: I could have done that before the kettle boiled for my first cup of tea of the day. Then done the work of everyone in your entire department and possibly the department next door and still have been finished by lunchtime. 

OK, so I didn’t say it out loud – unfortunately, I can be fired.

Even when Germans think they’re being organised, what they’re really doing is over-complicating everything in a sea of graphs, charts, spreadsheets, and documents that often run to several hundred pages. Information that could be delivered in three sentences takes months of meetings, labyrinths of red tape, and possibly a mental breakdown or two. Thank God for “Die Kur”…

Anyway, enough ranting for one evening. Tomorrow and Wednesday, I’ll get up at 6am for the students who probably won’t show up due to holidays, Krankheit, Kind Krank, or the myriad other reasons Germans find not to work. After that, I’m on holidays for a week. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right?