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.
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.
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.”
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.
Click here to learn more about the term “Culture Shock.”
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