Tuesday, September 18, 2012

First Day of School!

Today was my supposed first real day at school, when I would assist in the classes and not be the show-and-tell object for everyone’s entertainment. This was not so. At 9:30 I went to my first class, a group of eighth-graders who were very friendly with me and one another. I only got them to ask me one or two questions unprompted, but asked them things like favorite color and pets. They used my questions as a model for their own questions and we managed to pass the class period in a reasonably painless manner.

Then I had a three-hour break, because my usual seventh-grade class had a special sports day. I wandered around the town, found the train station (Bahnhof), visited a lovely church, and bought a planner. Unlike most of the stores in the States, the store I went to only had 2013 planners, no 2012/2013 or even 2012. So I bought a beautiful 2013 planner that was on sale and popped down to the larger store to buy a notebook. For the next hour I wrote dates in each page to create my own planner. I like the preprinted one better.

This is my school

Around noon I had my last class of the day, a tenth-grade class with a teacher who paraded down the hallway waving an American flag. I found this entertaining, but the students seemed to find it strange. This class was also primarily a question-and-answer session with me, but these students were very chatty and hardly needed any prompting to ask me questions. We also had a bit of a debate about the difference driving ages in the States and Germany – the Germans can’t get a driver’s license until they’re eighteen. One student asked me to say something in German (they don’t seem to believe I actually can speak their language) and a particular boy up front couldn’t stop laughing at my accent. I don’t think I’ve ever been so unreasonably embarrassed as I was then. Thankfully one of the other students told me she thought my accent was sweet, so I corralled my dignity and talked back to the mocking boy. My teacher-contact encouraged me to not feel embarrassed in the future and remind such childish students that I will learn German as they learn English. I suppose it’s no surprise that fourteen-year-olds think they’re on top of the world.

Yesterday I didn’t work – every Monday is a day off – and instead went around to all of the various bureaucratic offices with my teacher-contact to register my address, apply for a residence permit, and apply for a bank account. I was so grateful to have a native speaker alongside me; the appointments all went very well in great part (I believe) to the presence of someone who belonged in the country. She could speak with them far more quickly and fluently then I could, and was herself clearly German. Despite a natural suspicion, everyone seemed very friendly because of her. The people who work in these offices hear a lot of non-Germans attempt to get German residency because German social programs are all-encompassing and generous. The woman at the city hall said that she sees a number of people who have a family outside Germany and get money from the German government to support this family.

This sentiment seems slightly anti-immigration to me, though I understand a system that pays for non-citizens who don’t work in the country can’t be sustained. Certainly it’s difficult that people in Bulgaria or Romania have no good options in their own countries, but for all its economic success Germany can’t support all of Europe. I have to settle on the fact that it’s a difficult question and I understand both sides. It seems a bit of a cop-out.

I’ll end this long post with an example of the German character: this weekend a protest came through the neighborhood where I’m staying. It primarily included a bunch of trucks and cars, including what looked like trucks from waste collection and scrapyard facilities. These vehicles had signs on their fronts saying things like “Is This Integration?” and “More Than 10,000 People With Lives Ruined!” and “Show the People What it Is!” but I have no idea what the protest was actually about. The Germans I spoke with seemed equally puzzled. The people driving the trucks honked their horns and rang bells, though they also stopped politely at stoplights and stop signs, and to let people cross. 

Excuse the roof, this picture was taken out of a third-story window.

Even funnier than the polite demonstrators, though, was that a police car drove in front of and behind the whole procession. It turns out that if someone in Germany wants to have a protest, they must first inform the local police station and get a permit. The police station will send someone to watch over the situation, but not interfere with whatever is happening unless things get out of hand. 

In Germany, even protests are by the rules.

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