By the time I got to year 10, what was originally a German course consisting of sixty people in two classes with different teachers (effectively a department in its own right) had been whittled down to one class approximating about twenty-eight. GSCE German was an unsettled affair; while year 10 was all right, year 11 was fractured in twain by our teacher leaving partway through the year, being replaced as he was by a woman who could barely speak English, never mind the language she was being paid to teach.
Our first teacher was excellent, although not much of what he did could really be classed as “teaching”. He relayed anecdotes about his wild youth in Heidelberg, he constantly reminded the ice skater (on whom I had a crush) that she wasn’t on skates during the lessons, and he made wildly sexist comments for shock value after which he would mime stirring the pot. He was rude, clever, witty, and whatever he said, or did, everyone came out of every lesson knowing a lot more German than we did when we went in – whether or not he’d spoken any.
I sat at the front of the classroom in a kind of reverent worship, surrounded by the others who wanted to do well in the subject – the flirty one, the cheeky one, the earnest one, the hormonal one, and the other one. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but one of the above was me! We laughed, we talked, we cracked jokes, and had a generally good time.
One lesson was about baggage handling during international travel, because that’s the sort of language you’re really going to need. We leaved through our battered textbooks which still referred to “the Federal Republic of West Germany” and did a rough translation of the questions being asked, then answering them. In German, obviously.
“I’m having trouble with this,” muttered Lightsinthesky. “I’ve got as far as ‘what are the advantages of having a big…’, but I don’t know this last word.”
I scanned through my dictionary.
“Package,” I said. “That makes sense, since it doesn’t mean luggage or a suitcase or something.”
“What are the advantages of having a big package?”
Our teacher heard that and repeated it, in a loud, ringing voice that filled the whole room.
“Yes, I do wonder… what are the advantages of having a big package?”
“They’re easier to handle,” I translated freely from the sentence in the textbook, before realising what I’d said, at which point the flirty one hyperventilated from laughing too much. Our teacher had an expression hovering between nonplussed and amused – supposedly during his wild youth he had heard more – and Lightsinthesky looked as if Christmas had come early.
“I don’t understand,” lied Einstein as we relayed this to him over lunch. “What are the advantages of having a big package?”
“He was referring to the male genitalia,” the cheeky one squeaked. (I tried, at this juncture, to point out that not only males have big packages. Not that anyone heard me over all the laughter.) “I can’t really comment.”
“Neither can I,” I said, to more general hilarity. “But I’m certain it’s a package I could deliver.”
Einstein, who took French, finally managed to say, “…so, do you actually learn any German in the lessons, or…?”
The following day he taught us how to say “my girlfriend is gay” (which would be useful, I rationalised, if you were a girl) and “this lesson is crap”, which we would use a lot when his replacement teacher joined us the following term. I got his e-mail address and began a correspondence, but although we unsteadily headed towards a friendship from that point onwards, I was careful not to mention packages.
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