Culture Shock 16: The Absolute Best (and Weirdest) German Integration Class I Ever Had

Glam Transvestite Makeup Glam Eyeshadow
“Welcome to German class, everyone. Now, let’s get STRANGE.” — Image courtesy of Courtney Rhodes (http://www.flickr.com/photos/pumpkincat210/)

I am taking an intensive A1 German integration course here in Hannover, Germany. This means 3 days per week, 4 hours per day, I go to a giant, unairconditioned building to try and absorb the German language into my tiny little dinosaur brain.

My classmates come from all over the world: Russia, Kosovo, Latvia, Afghanistan, Syria, Ghana, Sudan and The Ivory Coast. Not only am I the only American in class, but I am the only English-speaker (except for the teacher). This surprised me; I thought for sure there would be a handful of English-speakers in attendance. Also, I expected at least 1 Turkish student, because Turks are, apparently, the largest ethnic minority in Germany.

None of my expectations were met, especially the morning when our regular teacher took a vacation and we were introduced for the very first time to our substitute teacher. What followed was a paradigm shift I shan’t soon forget, for it brought about the greatest and strangest German class I’ve experienced to date.

Crazy surreal dream about cats
“Seriously, you guys. Is it April Fool’s Day or something?” — Image courtesy of ilovebutter (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdickert/)

Now, I want you to imagine a day in late July. I’m sitting in the classroom with the rest of the students waiting for our teacher to arrive. The windows are open and an oscillating fan is running because it’s hot. Hot as balls. Suddenly, a very loud, very flowery voice absolutely murders the morning silence: “Guten MORGEN!” cries the voice, startling me so badly I drop my iPhone. I look over my shoulder to see a giant woman dressed all in pink with a smile so big it borders on creepy. She’s wearing a pink headdress with coke-bottle glasses, iridescent eyeshadow, pink lipstick and blood-red lipliner. And though I know this is not politically correct and I am ashamed to admit it, my first thought was, Muslim Tranny.

We soon learn this woman was born and raised in Germany, but converted to Islam many years ago. We also learn she is pure, concentrated vigor. She is loud, she is passionate, and she is psyched, man. Her energy is infectious. “You have two children?” she asks one of the students in very loud, very clear German, “AMAZING!” she exclaims. Turning to another, “And you come from Afghanistan? WONDERFUL!” Pretty soon, the entire class is smiling and sitting up straight; no longer are we the international gaggle of slouching bastards we were the day before. This is a whole new class entirely.

Muslim Woman in Pink Headress (Hijab)
“…I said, ARE YOU READY YOU ROCK?!” — Image courtesy of thefixer (http://www.flickr.com/photos/fixersphotos/)

The class moves along like a big, pink, freight train, and the teacher begins asking us about our hobbies. When it’s my turn, I say something in German like, “In my feminine free time, I very much enjoy the reading and the writing.” We go around the room this way until a woman from Syria admits she enjoys singing. The teacher asks her to demonstrate. Then implores her to demonstrate. And all of a sudden, this dude-lookin’ teacher has some Syrian chick singing a Muslim song in the corner and two dudes from Africa bobbing their heads up and down against their textbooks in prayer, and I’m all like, “What in the sweet holy FUCK is going on today?? Did my wife wake up this morning in a vindictive mood and decide to dose my morning tea with mescaline? Because, honey, if you did — that’s cool and all — but I’d prefer you wait until the weekend to send me down the rabbit hole.”

funny guy stoned
“HOLD ON. I’M TRIPPING BALLS.” — Image courtesy of Robert Anthony Provost (http://www.flickr.com/photos/twon/)

And get this — our substitute teacher was so moved by the song she even started crying. Maybe the woman from Syria decided to bust out the Islamic Call to Prayer or something. I really don’t know. But regarding the spontaneous prayer stuff I saw from Mr. Ghana and Mr. Ivory Coast over there, I have exactly two questions:

Did these two presumably Muslim guys from Africa feel so moved by the beauty of the music they lapsed into some kind of religious fervor? Or does their religion literally require them to pray every time they hear that particular song no matter how inappropriate the circumstances? Because either way, that shit makes me nervous.

Now, I gotta say, that song she sang was beautiful. Stunning, really. Everyone applauded and cried out things like “Wunderschön!” and “Wunderbar!” — none louder than myself. Afterward, when the moment of zeal had passed and everyone put their respective gods away, we enjoyed what was easily the best German class I ever had. This substitute teacher was a real stickler for grammar and pronunciation, and she didn’t let anything slide. She made each of us take turns speaking and writing in an orderly fashion, ridiculed us for leaning too heavily upon the language translation apps on our smart phones, voiced her sympathy regarding the complicated system of gender-based articles and cases in the German language, then absolutely piled on the homework for next class. We all learned something new, especially me, and we enjoyed the learning process itself. This teacher really seemed to care. It felt as though we were being engaged by this really intense (and potentially manic) human being who was absolutely thrilled with the opportunity to teach German to a class full of smelly immigrants like myself.

There was only one thing I truly did not like about this class, and that was knowing the teacher was only a substitute, so she would not be teaching us again tomorrow.

apple for teacher
What do you give your favorite teacher in Germany? Bratwurst or something? Maybe a nice warm beer? — Image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan (http://www.flickr.com/photos/booleansplit/)

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66 thoughts

  1. Just wanted to mention I’ve only recently found your blog and have been reading it literally all day! My dad’s mother was Austrian so I’ve always felt a bit ‘in touch’ with the sort of culture and crazy stuff they get up to over there. Reading this has been an equal mixture of hilarity and education, for which I thank you. So hard.

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  2. Good luck with the intensive course. I learned German leisurely over a 4 year span in high school, and then again over a couple years in college with a study abroad in there. Your intensive sounds a bit more like the Russian class I took freshman year of college, just replace the teacher with a dour Polish woman. In a room with no windows.

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      1. When I have the time and people to practice with, I can carry on a decent conversation, as long as things don’t get too technical. But college right now is on an as-I-can-afford-it basis. I’m a German major when I am enrolled, though.

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  3. Sigh. I love language classes. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to doing improv. It’s been a few years since I’ve taken one – you make me want to rush out and sign up for…something. I’ve been meaning to take up Swedish.

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  4. What a great story. My German class had too many English speakers, and I found her to also speak too much English. She was lovely and engaged us well, but this woman sounds like a German Goddess.

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  5. The reason there were no Turks in your class is probably because most of them already know how to speak German. Many of them are 2nd and 3rd generation German residents; there was a huge influx of Turks who came to Germany after WW II as guest workers. [There weren’t a whole lot of German menfolk left by the end of the war — at least not many young, able-bodied ones.]

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  6. Hahaha! I loved the phrase “big pink freight train”…. Such a great image! This woman seems to be exactly how energetic I DIDN’T feel in the classroom during my English teaching days…

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    1. I know, right? I would be the WORST English teacher. I know how to use the language, but no idea how it works. I’d just be all like… “You need a comma here. I don’t know why. Just do it.”

      Thank you for the comment, Soul! Have a great day!

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      1. That reminds me of my Italian teacher who – for want of a better explanation – would say: “suona meglio cosí” – it sounds better that way.

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  7. Love this post!! I’ve missed you. I’ve been busy with kids this summer. Oh, wow! What an experience. I could envision the whole thing. Personally, I think you should speak your kind of German all the time! Feminine time, yes? It’s just so interesting and engaging. Sad you can’t have this teacher again.

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  8. I would hope you suggest to the school that they bring that sub back and perhaps suggest your klassenkameraden do the same. i know from many years of slowly learning german that a good teacher makes all the difference. maybe even ask for her contact and see if she’s interested in private tutoring.

    i personally have a great teacher but am stuck in a class with low achievers who are there to visit. wish I could cross the ocean and take the class with you

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  9. I would hope you suggest to the school that they bring that sub back and perhaps suggest your klassenkameraden do the same. i know from many years of slowly learning german that a good teacher makes all the difference. maybe even ask for her contact and see if she’s interested in private tutoring.

    i personally have a great teacher but am stuck in a class with low achievers who are there to visit. wish I could cross the ocean and take the class with you

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      1. Haha, just to say I attended a French class, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m any good at it!

        Good luck with your German! I look forward to more exciting stories from your classes (not that I always hope your classes are crazy, but it definitely makes a good read!)

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  10. I’m debating between taking an Arabic language class or a German language class, seems like you got the best of both! Great post.

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      1. English has been the most consistent language I’ve written and spoken. I used to speak Flemish more fluently than English up to the age of about 8 or 9 but lost that ability. Now I speak Afrikaans and am learning Belgian Nederlands as part of my integration classes here in Belgium.

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  11. Are you sure it was a song? If other people in the class joined in, it might have been verses of the Koran. Were the others singing/chanting the same words? If so, that would definitely indicate that they knew the verses.

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  12. Wow, now look at this smelly immigrant! For once he has to say something nice about us ;-) But I totally agree, learning a language (heck, learning anything) sooo depends on who is teaching and how this person likes teaching. I took French in college and when they replaced our teacher after only 2 semesters with a [Warning: political incorrectness ahead!] fat, sweaty, loud lady with thin, greasy hair that she would comb just after entering the classroom which totally grossed me out, my marks went straight down 2 notches and I dropped French in favour of Spanish. Holding my thumbs (!) that you will be fluent soon – even if Ms. Weird-and-Wunderbar does not return.

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  13. You know, I like you had fun… maybe you should ask where this substitute teacher is teaching regularly and go and change classes. This way you’ll be able to enjoy her more often. :-)

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  14. Funny post! We moved from Portland to Aarhus, Denmark, six months ago, and I finally started taking Danish classes a couple of weeks ago. Like you, I was really surprised to find I was the only native English speaker in class. I’m constantly in awe of the level of English everyone else in our diverse class speaks. It’s hard for me to imagine learning a new language through a 2nd language. I’m really struggling with culture shock (thus the google search which brought me here), and can’t imagine how much more difficult it would be if my native language weren’t English. Or if most Danes didn’t speak superb English.

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    1. Right? It’s almost embarrassing when so many other countries can speak English. Scratch that — it’s definitely embarrassing. :)

      But hang in there! Culture shock is only temporary. Soon enough, you’ll wonder how you ever survived in America.

      Which part of Portland are you from?

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  15. Very entertaining post! Big, pink, freight train… love it. I also took a German integration course…. twice. Am still a level one (after 18 months in Germany) but haven´t given up. My teacher was okay, but the class was way too large with 25 students, with at least half speaking English.

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  16. Hello it’s me again! I’m an online German teacher (www.fluentlanguage.co.uk) and it’s AWESOME to hear that students enjoy a bit of grammar and unforgiveness. I mean – we didn’t make the language this way and I love doing immersion, but sometimes you just have to WORK IT!!

    I love your blog by the way. I’m tempted to start posting lists of all the things I find insane about Great Britain.

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