A company that I teach at has recently moved offices. Unfortunately, their new conference room is a bit like a fishbowl, surrounded by around 50 other people who waste no time in gawking in at my highly entertaining lessons whenever they happen by. While I have no problems with having an audience, my Germans (believe it or not) are a little on the shy side.
As a result, they’ve decided to have their lessons in one of their offices. This would be fine but for the fact that desks, shelving units and files take up most of the space. Being the short-arse that I am, I also can’t see my students’ faces over their computer monitors. In short (ha ha), it’s not ideal but I persevere.
On Friday morning, the usual dance of manoeuvering chairs around the desks and wheeling extra chairs in from another office began.
Me: Jesus, it’s like musical chairs in here.
Bertha: What is “musical chairs”?
Me: Oh, you know that game that kids play. If there are six kids, there are five chairs. When the music stops, they have to stomp on each other to get a seat.
Bertha: Oh! Yes, Germans play that, too!
Me: What’s it called in German?
Betlinde: Stuhltanz (chair dance).
Bertha and Bertilda: NEIN! It’s “Reise nach Jerusalem”.
Me: What? Journey to Jerusalem?
Me: But why? What does Jerusalem have to do with anything?
Bertilda: I know not.
Me: Don’t know.
Bertha: Maybe they have not enough chairs in Jerusalem?
Me: Don’t have. Hmm, it seems unlikely. Jerusalem has been in the news quite a bit recently but I don’t think I’ve seen any mention of a shortage of chairs…
Curiosity sufficiently aroused, I did a Google search when I got home. It turns out that nobody really knows where the name “Journey to Jerusalem” originated but there are a few educated guesses. It could date back to the mass migration to Jerusalem during the Crusades when space on the ships was limited. It could also refer to a military manual from Byzantine times when (yawn) Emperor Maurikios devised a method to (yaaaawn) identify enemy spies…
Curiosity sufficiently dampened, I was about to close the window when things got interesting again. Seemingly, “Stuhltanz” is the East German term, and “Reise nach Jerusalem” is what the West Germans call it. They also call it “Journey to Jerusalem” in the Philippines, probably because the Philippines are so similar to Germany in every possible way…
I’m not sure how accurate the following translations are (I found them on a website called grandparents.com) but they tickled me so here you go – a short list of what “musical chairs” is called in other languages:
Japanese:”Isu tori game”(The game of stolen chairs)
Romanian: “Pǎsǎricǎ mutǎ-ţi cuibul” (Birdie, move your nest)
Swedish: “Hela havet stormar” (The whole sea is storming)
And my personal favourite:
Russian: “Скучно так сидеть” (It’s boring sitting like this)
If anyone has any more to add to the list, I’d love to hear them. My thirst for largely useless information really does know no bounds!
I’ve just had one of the funniest lessons I’ve had in a long time. This was in no part due to my amazing skill as an English teacher, but rather due to the Germans’ amazing lack of skill when it came to something I think most six-year-olds have probably already mastered. (Not that I know anything about six-year-olds. Or want to.)
We were doing a lesson on comparatives and superlatives – you know: good, better, the best/bad, worse, the worst (or bad, badder, the baddest if you’re German and new to the language). The book wasn’t overly inspirational on this topic, so I thought I’d spice things up a bit by bringing in a game I’d found on the internet.
The game consists of a series of squares with one adjective in each. The students roll the dice and move their marker to the correct square. Once there, they have to flip a coin – if it’s heads, they have to make a comparative sentence; if it’s tails, they make a superlative sentence. Simple, right?
Bertha: Um, I don’t think I can do that.
Me: Do what?
Bertha: Flip a coin.
Bertilda: Can you show us again?
Betlinde: Yes, please show us again. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.
Slightly incredulous and wondering if they might be taking the piss (unlikely, given that they are German), I placed the coin on my forefinger, deftly flicked it with my thumb, neatly caught it and slapped it onto the back of my other hand. Triumphant, I looked around at the blank faces before me.
Bertilda: Can you do it one more time?
After another flawless demonstration, it seemed like we were ready to start. I passed the coin to Bertilda and we were off. She threw the dice, moved her marker, read out the adjective, picked up the coin and… regarded it dubiously.
Me: Go on! You can do it!
The flip was more of a flub – the coin hopped about a millimetre into the air before crash landing on the table with Bertilda snatching at it wildly.
Me: Bah hahahahaha! Oh my god! Sorry, yes, erm, heads. Make your sentence.
Sentence made, the coin worked its way around the table.
Me: Come on, Betlinde! Flip that coin!
Me: Or you can just fling it at the table. That works, too.
I can best describe what Bertha did as fist pumping the coin into the air. She bungled the catch and the coin tumbled to the floor, rolling under the table. Ensuing “flips” saw the coin land everywhere in the room except for where it should have, including other people’s laps. I looked at the open window, wondering if I should close it before the battered coin made its getaway. I thought it might be a good idea to end the game before things got to that point but I was laughing too hard to speak.
Bertilda: My turn.
By now, she had developed this method of bouncing the coin between her hands as if it was burning her. Through my blur of tears of laughter, she seemed quite proud of herself.
Bertilda: “Interesting.” Umm. This English class is more interesting than my job.
Me: Aww, thank you! Wait, I don’t know how boring your job is. Maybe that’s not really a compliment.
Bertilda: Yes, my job is very boring.
While the German gift for the coin flip was a flop, it seemed the German talent for ego-piercing directness was still alive and kicking.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Wolff: Where are you from?
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.
Me: Nope, sorry!
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.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain