Tag Archives: TEFL

Germany – where formal is normal

Last week, as I was arriving for a lesson, I met the Managing Director of the company on the way in.

Me: Hey, how’s it going? 

Bertilda: Frau Schmittendorf and Frau Ottovordemgentschenfelde will not be in the lesson today. 

Me: OK. I have no idea who you’re talking about. So, how are you? 

Bertilda: Fine.

Me: (makes mental note to do a lesson on small talk)

That day, however, the lesson was to be on “Greetings and Introductions”. Only four women work in the office, two in their mid-forties and two in their mid-twenties. With the absence of Frau Schmittendorf and Frau Ottovordemgentschenfelde, I only had two students – the MD and her assistant. After establishing once again that Germans are protective of their personal space in business (and pretty much all other) situations, we moved on to the discussion questions.

Me: How do you address the other person? Mister? Ms? First name?

Bertilda: Always Mister or Ms. Never first names. 

Ediltrudis: Yes, never first names.

Me: Never? Not even after you’ve known the person for a while and have a good working relationship? 

Bertilda: NEVER! 

Me: OK. But surely in the office you call each other by your first names? I mean, there are only four of you…

Bertilda: We use Frau plus surname.

Ediltrudis: Yes, always.

Me: So, as soon as you leave this room, where you’re Bertilda and Ediltrudis, you switch back to Frau such-and-such and Frau such-and-such?

Bertilda: Yes, of course. Immediately.

Ediltrudis: Immediately. 

Me: Wow. How long have you been working with Haduwig? 

Bertilda: 16 years. 

Me: And you still call her Frau Ottovordemgentschenfelde?

Bertilda: Yes, of course. 

Me:Frau Ottovordemgentschenfelde, could you pass the stapler, please?” Wouldn’t it be easier and faster to just use her first name?

Bertilda: (shoots me a look that suggests that the words “easier” and “faster” are not in her vocabulary)

Me: Is it weird for you that I call you by your first names? 

Bertilda: A bit but we are get used to it. I think it is different for English speakers. 

Me: Getting. Yeah, I’ve worked in America, Australia, New Zealand, England and Ireland and I don’t think I ever called anyone by their surnames. 

Bertilda: (disapproving sniff) 

Ediltrudis: (obviously trying to throw me a bone) Our Azubis (trainees) – they mostly work in another office – they call each other by their first names and use “du”.

Clearly this was news to Bertilda.

Bertilda: (lowering her glasses and picking up her pen) They do?

Ediltrudis: Well, I mean… I think that… sometimes they might, yes…

Bertilda: (scratching angrily in her notepad) I think we need to have a meeting. 

I knew I should probably wrap it up here but I was enjoying myself far too much.

Ediltrudis: Well, you know, they’re young and…

Bertilda: It is a sign of respect. Using surnames and “Sie” is our office culture. 

Me: Oh, but in Berlin it’s so hard. Almost everyone immediately switches to “du” and uses first names. Even my Hausmeister told me to call him Burkhard the first time I met him and he’s in his fifties. (gleefully waits for response)

Bertilda: (flatlines) 

 

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I do, I do, I do, I do, I do, I dooooo…

A couple of weeks ago, I ended up talking about weddings with one of my groups.

Me: Which hand do you wear your ring on in Germany? 

Students: The right. Unlike the rest of the world. 

Me: Yeah, pretty much. Oh, you don’t wear your engagement ring on the same finger? 

Students: Germans don’t do engagement rings. 

Me: What?! But how does that work? He gets down on one knee, proposes and gives you, erm, nothing? 

Students: Pretty much. 

Me: But that’s just… I don’t know… it’s just…

Students: Engagement rings are expensive.

Good old German practicality strikes again.

A little later, we were doing a listening exercise.

A: Patrick and I are getting married! 

B: Wow, that’s fantastic news! Congratulations! 

Me: So, let’s see the ring!

Me: There is no ring. I’m marrying a German…

Students: Sigh.

Anyway, there is a point to all of this, and no, it’s not that a German has proposed to me (but hopefully some day – hint, hint…). I’ve been invited to my first German wedding!

I imagine I will wear something like this. It is Berlin.
I imagine I will wear something like this. It is Berlin, after all.

When I lived in Latvia, if someone came out with “I wanted to ask you something”, it usually ended up with me working for no money, or a promised beer that never materialised. In Germany, however, this was followed up by, “I’m getting hitched in Berlin next year. Want to come?”

I do, I do, I do, I do, I do, I doooooo!

The invitation was all the more surprising as I don’t even know the bride that well. In fact, we only got to know each other after she started reading my blog and got in touch to ask if I wanted to meet up some time. We did, got along like a house on fire and have been friends ever since, although mostly on Facebook as she lives in London. (She’s marrying an English man which means that if my German starts to fail at the wedding, I’ll have his side of the family to talk to. Totally gewinning.)

The day itself sounds amazing – first of all, the wedding is not going to be in a church so there’s no risk of me being hounded by a priest for back taxes. There’s going to be a two-hour boat trip to Potsdam and, best of all, a 7-hour free bar…

I now see the point in not spending stupid amounts of money on an engagement ring.

Bridehilde: And you MUST write a blog post about it.

Me: Absolutely! 

Bridehilde: You can black out my face though. 

Me: Umm, that might look a bit creepy…

My best friend kindly let me butcher one of her beautiful wedding photos to prove my point.
My best friend kindly let me butcher one of her beautiful wedding photos to prove my point.

We might need to rethink the photography angle. But after a 7-hour free bar, there might not be much of an issue anyway.

Roll on June!

Mad Men and Mother Teresa

So, where to begin? It seems like my perfectly ordered German life is unravelling slightly. I mainly put this down to my flatmate’s rapidly disintegrating mental state.

Yes, it appears that what I’d taken for (sort of) charming eccentricity is, in fact, stark raving looniness. The repeated (empty) promises to clear out the fridge, the bathroom and a cupboard in the living room were mere annoyances. The shaking and the sweating, while off-putting, could be viewed as semi-entertaining. The delusional babbling could be tuned out. Everything would be OK as he was going back to Sweden for almost two weeks, and I could sort things out here, while his parents hopefully had him committed in Sweden.

We now collect maps too seemingly. Because y'know, one can never have too many maps. Umm.
We now collect maps too seemingly. Because y’know, one can never have too many maps, right? Right??

Wednesday rolled around and I clung to my last shreds of patience as Bjorn crashed around the apartment, banging off things, breaking things, flooding the bathroom, eventually ending up with a packed bag. He also offered me the use of his laptop which I knew he’d already packed. By the time he was ready to leave, he was really late so he had to call a taxi. I breathed a sigh of relief as he finally bashed his way out of the apartment, almost taking the door off its hinges in the process.

At 1.30am, I was sound asleep when he crashed his way back in again. There was a lot of muttering and pacing, something about humiliation, something about losing his laptop “under the lights” and then a lot of shouting into his phone. By 2.30, I’d had enough and did a bit of shouting and stomping myself.

At 5.30, I dragged myself out of bed. I was covering four lessons for another teacher, and had to get to the other side of the city for 9.15. Unfortunately, Bjorn woke up too. Now, while I’m not generally known for my patience, I can keep myself in check in most situations. It turns out that a Swede in pajamas, rambling about how he’s Mother Teresa is not one of them.

Anyway, after a lot of shouting (and eating bacon), I made it out of the apartment. I got the metro to the next train and hopped on. I was actually early – yes, I’m that organised, even in the face of madness. Unfortunately, the transport system did not reward me. Works on the line meant finding a replacement bus to another train station, getting back on the train, but ultimately missing the last bus I had to take. A dash in a taxi meant that I arrived at 9.15 on the dot.

I sat down and waited. And waited. The students never showed up. The second group were 15 (very unGerman) minutes late. I had 45 minutes to scoff a bit of lunch and then two more groups – neither of which turned up. Then it was back to the bus-train-bus-train-train game. Needless to say, by the time I got home, I was not in a particularly good mood.

Bjorn was still talking like I’d been there the whole time. But it was OK – he’d be heading to the airport again in an hour or so. They’d managed to book him on another flight. I tuned him out as best I could and waited. Finally, he left. Oh, the sweet blessed relief! I took myself out to a local Greek restaurant and revelled in the lovely normal Germans, indulging in lovely normal conversations all around me.

Food had never tasted so good
Food had never tasted so good

I danced home, cracked open a bottle of wine, and was just toasting my blissful solitude when Bjorn walked back in. Now, one of the main reasons this apartment appealed to me was that my flatmate would be travelling a lot. I just didn’t realise that when he said “travelling”, he meant travelling to the airport and NEVER getting on a f****** plane.

So, when you realise your flatmate is a nutter, you’ve got two courses of action as I see it – try to help him, or avoid him as much as humanly possible. As I’m no psychiatrist, I went for the latter. Or, as the old saying goes, if life gives you lemons, go and drink wine and eat cake.

Technically it's a waffle, but that works too.
Technically it’s a waffle, but that works too.

On Friday, I took myself off to pretty Potsdam and had a wonderful day.

And one for the ladies...
And one for the ladies…

I watched Germans playing a game I don’t know the name of, but I like to call, “Germans throwing sticks at sticks while drinking beer”.

Germans throwing sticks at sticks while drinking beer.
Germans throwing sticks at sticks while drinking beer.

I went to the flea market at Tiergarten… and didn’t buy anything.

Nein. Just NEIN.
Nein. Just NEIN.

I experienced my first Flammkuchen…

Gott, it was gut!
Gott, it was gut!

and went for a wander around the park with my childhood friend. I didn’t even know he was living in Berlin until he read in the Latvian blog that I was moving here and got in touch.

My photography skills don't do it justice.
Tiergarten –  my photography skills don’t do it justice.

And so, life goes on. Bjorn has calmed down a bit. It seems that telling someone who’s acting like a total nutjob that he’s acting like a total nutjob has an oddly calming effect. Maybe I should have been a psychiatrist after all?

Interesting times…