Last month I decided it was finally time to improve my German writing skills. I figured after 20 years of living in the country it was kind of embarrassing to have to ask my teenage daughter to correct me every time I needed to write a proposal for work. I was also curious to see what it would be like to write in a different language and to see if what I consider to be humorous would also work in German. Whether or not Germans would laugh was another matter all together. Ironically, on my way down to the Volkshochschule (look it up suckers, I had to) I passed a trendy clothes store with a dummy in the window wearing a T-shirt that stated in no uncertain terms, “Life is too short for learning German.” I chose not to take this as a bad omen.
I also tried to ignore the fact that literally every single person I passed (mainly groups of people who actually have a life on a Friday night and are going out to have fun) were speaking English. ALL OF THEM. Was I perhaps 20 years too late with my mission? Who would I be writing for? Would anyone in Berlin still be speaking German 10 years from now? So off I walked, bravely into the world of German night classes and excel computer courses. The group of 12 consisted of Peter, with a personality disorder, (his words not mine) Oswald, a 75-year-old vicar, Chantal, a transsexual with a not so great wig but great taste in clothes, two Henriettes, 1 Gertrude who deserves her very own category and six other women of indeterminate age including me.
The course started off with the teacher coming in and feeling miffed because the table she coveted was taken (the delinquent offered to move, but it was TOO late for that, the mood had been ruined), tore open all the windows and then proceeded to bark at everyone who accidentally walked into the room looking for – how could it be otherwise – the excel computer course. Man, I was catapulted back to my school days faster than an atomic accelerator time machine.
Kicking off with some great writing tips she told us that early mornings were the best time for writing, even if it was just for half an hour, and when one woman interjected that she didn’t think she could find the time in the mornings, one of the “good girls” of the class said “Well, I just make the time.” An image flashed in my mind of three kids of pre-school age crying and peeing all over the kitchen floor whilst she sat with Buddha-like calm at the kitchen table taking her half an hour to write. Luckily the teacher then admitted that perhaps “Everyone has to find what works for them.” Phew, thank God for that then.
Germans like things to be structured and categorised. Even rubbish.
I don’t know what I was expecting, I guess I was pretty open for anything, but she is really giving us our money’s worth. And there are two more days to go! I now know all the categories and sub-categories and sub-sub-categories of lyrical, narrative, scenic and reflective types of writing. And it wouldn’t be Germany if there wasn’t a right old shindig about the definition of “autobiographical” writing, and about the legal repercussions of slandering one’s own mother.
That was very important because, turns out pretty much everyone in the room has issues with their parents. And not all of them because they were Nazis! Some because they were just plain old crappy parents. I can’t WAIT for tomorrow!