Oct 23, 2016

stories about wives

I started taking German courses again after getting some comments from my bosses that I needed to accelerate my language acquisition. I've lost my hatred of the German language- what remains is an indolent, simmering resentment of the difficulty it takes to master it.

I enrolled once more at IFA, one of the better language schools in town. Or at least, I tried to enroll. I filled out the online form and submitted it, and then waited to get the email with the bill and bank payment information. It never came. I tried calling, but the lines are always busy and the system dumps you out if the line is busy after three rings. Because I work for a living, I can't spend my day repeat dialing the same number over and over again. But I did it anyway for about half an hour.

I did finally get through. They told me that I had registered for the classes I wanted but that they had sent me an email with the payment instructions, and when I had failed to pay, booted me from the class and now all the classes I wanted were full. I explained that I had failed to pay because they had never sent me the bill. I know my inbox. I have a gmail account. IFA has it. They have successfully sent me things in the past. They just screwed up and then refused to acknowledge their mistake. So registered for the weekend course, which is Friday nights and Saturday mornings.

Saori's office is paying an IFA instructor to give once a week lessons at her office. Saori talked to her on my behalf, and magically, there was space available in the class I wanted to take. What a coincidence. Goes to show you no matter where you go in the world, some things stay absolutely the same. It also helps that Saori is gifted with a magical ability that people just instantly like her and want to help her.

My new instructor is actually a quite old instructor. Saori was in his classes for a long time, which is how I got to know him, and we both recognized each other when I arrived to class. A elderly Yugoslavian immigrant, philosophy enthusiast, with three children and several ex-wives, one of whom was Japanese. You don't learn all these things on the first day with him, of course. He talks a lot. On the first day of class we took some wide detours covering the importance of hand washing and the difference between the cold and flu, female genital mutilation, and Alfred Hitchcock horror movies.

Actually, the best thing about Deutschkurs is the other students. It feels a bit like a casting call round table for a new StarTrek TV series. Bright and mostly enthusiastic people from all over the world, eager to make German theirs to command and make the most of the European powerhouse. Actually, intimidatingly bright. One of my classmates is a Greek PhD student in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at the Max Planck institute. Another one of them told us this story:

J was from Romania, where she worked in a travel agency. She took a trip to Germany to visit a friend, but she took the wrong train somewhere in Germany and unable to speak German, mildly panicked. At the station where she disembarked, she sought the help of the DeutscheBahn assistance kiosk, and the man there was able to work out what her problem was, get her in touch with her friend and line up the trains she needed to take. He got her email, and then later they began a correspondence with the limited language they shared. He wrote to her one day that he wanted to come visit her, and did, and she later came to Germany to see him again, and one thing lead to another and they got married, and she now works as a sales clerk in Stuttgart, but also struggles with the language.

There is another story, a sadder one. My coworker, Schmid, always struck me as particularly harried, even for a specification writer. What I never understood was that his wife was in the hospital, and had been for a year, with a brain tumor. She died about two weeks ago, a few days after her 44th birthday, leaving behind her husband and three children.

The office went to the funeral, in a small town in the foothills of the Bavarian alps. Most people wore black, which is not surprising, but actually down to black button down shirts, which was. Like most funerals in the US, there was a short service in a small church, which unlike the US, included a terrible song about goodbyes from the 1980s sung in German and played through a CD player by the female minister. The casket was already at the graveyard, and we gathered once more there where I was surprised by a 15 person band in traditional Schwabish Alb costume and hats. They played some gloomy marches and then we all filed past the coffin held over the grave, and tossed some flowers on top before giving a consoling handshake or hug to Schmid. Afterwards, all the guests were invited to cake and coffee hosted one of the local traditional guesthouses.
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