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Life On An Eversilver Plate

Thursday, February 08, 2018

On The Beaches, In The Fields, German Everywhere

The German B1 test is one that those who are looking to live in Germany permanently need to take. People generally do that after having lived here for a few years. I have no intention of staying here for the rest of my life but having been here for sixteen months, I thought I'd take the test anyway. For weeks leading up to the test, I beavered away at it. It wasn't hard work in the way that I had worked for exams before, learning by rote and slaving at it dawn to dusk. But this was altogether a more enjoyable way to work for an exam. No German magazine or newspaper would go through the household without having at least an article read by me. Some I understood but most, I had a minimal grasp of. Still, I put in the hours reading and reading some more.

At the cafe and elsewhere, I spoke as often as I could to others in German and most were polite enough to humour me. I booked myself in for a training course and spent a Friday evening learning tips on how to pass the exam - mind you, this came after I'd spent eight hours earlier in the day cooking at the cafe. A colleague from the cafe spent an afternoon speaking to me in German ahead of the oral exams and I cooked for her as a thank you.

"Wir werden an den Stränden kämpfen,
wir werden auf dem Landeplatz kämpfen"
The exam itself was not that hard but concentrating for hours at a stretch was exacting. I'd not taken a German exam up until then and wasn't sure what level I was at and decided to keep my expectations low. The results would come later that evening and I asked my son whose school had finished early that day, to join me in the city while I waited. We watched The Darkest Hour dubbed in German, marvelling at the irony of watchingWinston Churchill vowing to fight the Germans on beaches and in the fields in German.

The results were to be called out by a woman from the Goethe Institute who would then hand out the certificates. I was really not certain about the outcome and chose to remain in the corridor while my son sat on the sofa in the waiting room where the results would be announced. The woman walked in. My son beckoned me inside. I shook my head. Come in, he mouthed. No, I said. You will have passed, he assured me. Don't think so, I mimed. You are so good, Amma, he said. I'm rubbish, I pleaded. The woman started calling out names alphabetically. Mine wasn't the first one like it usually is (initials AA). I was about to leave. Mine wasn't the second name either. I was on my way out. A pause. Then I thought I heard my name. That's my mum, said my son clapping for me. The woman said something about my marks which didn't register.

I came out into the corridor clutching my certificate. I had passed. 83% in reading, 80% in listening, 77% in writing and 90% in speaking.

That's when I realised how seamlessly our roles had reversed. My son was the reassuring parent and me the child riddled with self-doubt. He was cool and certain about my abilities while I was a wreck. That evening I knew what I was most proud about. The tall, ridiculously handsome and utterly charming son who became the parent when I needed one? Or the language skills? That's easy. German's a doddle. 

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