Vignettes from German Class, Part II

I started a new German class a couple weeks ago. It’s the A2 Intensiv level, 3 hours a day for three days a week. It’s been interesting getting back into the swing of intense German grammar, which really rearranges how you form sentences. I told someone “I must to the grocery store go” last week and I wasn’t entirely kidding, that’s sometimes how my brain makes sentences now.

Starting a new class is always an opportunity to meet lots of new people. My class has students from Iran, Nigeria, Guinea, Iraq, Brazil, Spain, Mexico, Poland, Ukraine, Turkey, Bulgaria, Sri Lanka, and Egypt. I am the only American, and people are really confused when I say “Ich komme aus den USA” (I come from the USA), and usually I have to follow it up with “Ich bin Amerikanerin” to really get the point across, or “Ursprunglich komme ich aus New York” which seems to help. I wasn’t so strange in my last class, because there was another American, and the class before that one, none of us had enough German to really ask questions.

Now, I often get a really skeptical “Warum lebst du in Deutschland?” (Why do you live in Germany?) Most of the people in my class are fleeing wars or looking for jobs not available in their homeland, and they assume that coming from a stable, economically-ok country, I would not have any reason to move to Germany. Saying that my husband works for a German company appeases people, but I still get some strange looks.

Typically, I sit between an Iraqi woman wearing a hijab, and a Polish nun wearing a veil. I have joked that I need to get some sort of characteristic headwear to fit in. The best suggestion from my American friends so far is a “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” hat, which would certainly be comical.

Our German textbook tries to give cultural context along with grammar lessons, and sometimes this is pretty funny. The second chapter is all about trash separation -as a springboard to talk about life in apartment buildings here, furniture, consumer goods, etc. Still, it’s pretty funny to spend a week of classes talking about what types of trash you separate, how there are fines if you don’t separate the trash correctly, that you need to bring the glass to the containers on the street and separate it by color. One day we even brainstormed all the compound nouns that had the word for trash (“der Müll”) in them.

The upside is that we get to discuss the cultural contexts we come from, and so I’m learning lots about the homelands of my fellow students. Sometimes this can be heart-wrenching, as when Maysun Ali (from Iraq) shows me pictures of her sister’s house before the war (normal middle eastern house with garden) and after the war (pile of rubble). Sometimes it’s a little more comic, like when we discussed hostess gifts. In Spain, when you bring a bottle of wine to dinner, it’s expected your host will open and serve it. Our German teacher found this custom quite funny, since to her it seems like you are judging the host’s taste in wine. It’s great to experience these international moments, which are the reason we moved here.

 

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