On Monday, there was a boy in my class wearing a shirt that read, in capital letters: MONDAY IS CANCELLED. FUCK OFF. Suddenly, asking after the dress code when I first arrived to teach seemed all kinds of stupid.
During an activity where I’d written things like ‘the Royal Family’ and ‘good manners’ on pieces of paper and asked them to line up in order of most to least important to British people, this same boy tried to throw his piece of paper (that read ‘politics’) out of the window. This made me laugh a lot.
On Tuesday, the most wonderful thing happened. I was trying to chat with the Spanish speaking assistant, Marina, who is really lovely but we had always had a hard time communicating because our German is, let’s just say, not quite native standard yet. Both of us were really trying to have a normal conversation but having trouble understanding each other – though we had been battling through anyway. What follows is my loose translation of the conversation we had on Tuesday:
*In German [I use the word ‘German’ loosely]*
Marina: How… was… the weekend?
Annie: Ah yes! Beautiful!
Marina: What have they… you… made?
Annie: We were… in… we… to Salzburg… have been… Ice caves!
Marina: Ice caves?
Annie: Yes that is… uh… when… um… if… she… goes in the mountain… and there is… hole… with inside much ice and snow!
Annie: I did not German study! It is for me so hard. I… have study… at university France… and Italian.
Marina: You speak Italian?
Annie: Oh my God, yes, you too?
Marina: YES! Oh my God I’m so relieved! Shall we speak in Italian? It’s much easier for me, if it’s easier for you? I don’t have a clue what’s going on in German half the time! Isn’t it such a difficult language?
Annie: ohymgodohmygodohmygod I’m so happy! I can finally understand you! Yes, let’s speak in Italian! Ahhhh this is such a relief!
Marina: What were you saying about the weekend? I have literally no clue what you were trying to say.
Annie: Oh, that we went to the ice caves nears Salzburg! Well, actually the town is called Werfen, it’s about 40 minutes outside of Salzburg on the train. It was incredible, we hiked part way and got the cable car the rest of the way up because it would have taken an hour and a half to hike the whole thing and we didn’t have time. There were such fantastic views, you should definitely go if you get the chance!
Marina: Oh, the ice caves!
Annie: Yes, the ice caves!
I was so happy to have made a real friend at school, because whilst the teachers are perfectly lovely and friendly with me, they pretty much ignore me in the staffroom. I understand why – I’m a different generation, so it would be difficult to chat with me even if my German were up to scratch, and as it stands, every conversation with me in German is akin to wading through treacle. Still though – it was nice to actually be able to talk with someone.
I thought that the most exciting thing I’d have to report from Wednesday was that the coffee machine in the staffroom was broken (a true tragedy) and that one of my teachers explained that one of my classes was particularly difficult to talk to because they are, and I quote, “computer freaks”, but then another great thing happened! As Marina and I were chatting together during our break, her Betreuungslehrerin (mentor teacher) came over and asked what I was doing for lunch. I said I’d be heading home because I was done teaching for the day, and she invited me to come back to her house with Marina and cook schnitzel. ‘Spontaneous’ is a word that has never been used to describe me (along with ‘assertive’, ‘decisive’ and ‘tall’) but I happily accepted the invite and we drove together to her house.
We spent the afternoon and evening chatting (mostly in German, but also a little in Italian, English and Spanish – we’re so international), laughing, drinking beer, and cooking a huge meal of schnitzel, potatoes, rice and salad, followed by coffee and biscuits, followed by Eispalatschinken (ice cream pancakes) and Aperol spritz. We met her husband and her gorgeous children and helped them with their English/Italian/Spanish homework, and went for a walk after dinner to try and ward off the sleepy after-schnitzel feeling.
It was so nice, and I got that lovely warm feeling you sometimes get when someone who doesn’t really know you very well goes out of their way to make you feel welcome by making a gesture that exceeds the nature of your relationship. I suddenly felt very welcome not just at the school, but in Austria as well. I left her house feeling tired, happy and with a rucksack full of German storybooks that she lent me to help me improve my German (they’re aimed at ages 5-9 and let’s be honest, they’re probably going to be a bit too hard for me) and Hausschuhe (slippers) made by her mother-in-law.
She came to me in the staffroom the next day and said how much her daughter (also called Eva, like my Austrian grandma!) had liked hanging out with us, and how we should get together again on a Wednesday – so watch this space for more forays into Austrian cuisine and Austrian wildlife!
Until next time, Wiederschauen!