Becoming German, englishman abroad

My experience of the Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer (DTZ)

This morning I toddled down to a private language school in Oldenburg for my appointment to take the German Test for Immigrants (DTZ – Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer), as part of my ongoing quest to Germanize myself before Brexit. Here is what happened.

The candidates, about twenty of us, milled around aimlessly outside until I got the arse and went inside, to ask if I could go inside. I could. So I went upstairs and sat alone in a corridor adjacent to the computer lab which formed a makeshift examination room for the day. Once I had been joined by the other students, the invigilator, a portly German lady in her thirties, and her assistant, a slim young man of around twenty who spoke Arabic and Kurdish, ushered us into a room. The exam was due to begin at 0900 but actually started closer to 0930, as this was how long it took to get a group of twenty young, mostly male students to follow simple instructions.

I have to say, although the entire point of being there was to take an exam that showed we could use sufficient German to survive in day-to-day life, I felt that precious few of the people in that room could have, based upon their inability to follow exceedingly simple instructions such as “sit over there”. Anyway, thirty minutes pass and we’re all sat down, and the exams are being handed out: “Do not open the exams until I tell you to, this is very important! You will be kicked out if you do!” said the German lady approximately forty times. Behold, six of the other candidates flatly ignore this and casually peruse the exam before the official start time. This is not very German behaviour. Throughout the exam, it was the norm for candidates to talk to each other and attempt to look at each other’s answers. They did not listen to the German lady. Occasionally they heeded the assistant when he addressed them in Arabic or Kurdish. The lady decided to move some of the male students to stop them from talking to each other; this nearly caused a riot. It seemed to me that they didn’t like being told what to do by a female.

Anyway, the first part of the exam itself was reasonably straightforward, listening followed by reading and then writing; it took me less than an hour. The writing subtest had me write a letter of complaint about my unsatisfactory (fictional) experience of buying a television online, which I gleefully did.

Then came the speaking subtest, in which I talked about myself, as well as a picture of an entirely too-happy looking family cooking dinner together in their spotlessly unused kitchen (I mentioned this), and then finally I had to make plans with my partner.

I’m relatively confident that I passed this exam. It’s just a B1 level test (lower middle difficulty) and, frankly, the standard of the other candidates was so awful…

Next up is the citizenship test, in ten day’s time. Questions about Germany, its history, society and political system.

Step by step I am mitigating the Brexit shitshow and sticking to my new year’s resolution

Becoming German, englishman abroad

Off to the Ausländerbehörde

This morning marked the next step on my hopefully successful journey to German citizenship: a trip to the Ausländerbehörde. This “Foreigners’ Office” is in the nearest large town, about 15 minutes away, and is where I took all of the documents I could. This included passports, birth certificates, forms and the like but also a Handschriftlicher Lebenslauf. That’s right, a handwritten CV/résumé.

This last one was an absolute bugger to write. A Curriculum Vitae. BY HAND. And anyway, it’s not a job application so what do you put in? “I am a perfect candidate for being German because I’m always punctual and haven’t laughed since 1994. My previous role as an Englishman included propagating an inflated sense of pompous self-worth, making appointments and using Microsoft Office”.

They also wanted to know where I lived and when for the long, bureaucratic forms. I needed a continuation sheet for this because I’ve lived in about twenty different places. Speaking of long, bureaucratic forms, they asked about nationality (Staatsangehörigkeit) but also my ethnicity (Volkszugehörigkeit) which I wasn’t really sure how to answer. In Britain, they tend to include a few helpful suggestions for questions like this, along the lines of:

White

  • English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British
  • Irish
  • Gypsy or Irish Traveller
  • Any other White background, write in

However, I had absolutely no bloody idea as to how writing “White” in the ethnicity box (in Germany of all places) would go down. It’s a bit political, a bit socially constructed. It might be a faux pas similar to writing “Aryan”, so I left it blank. It turns out (yes, of course, I asked!) that this box is intended for people who are, e.g. ethnic Germans who were displaced due to borders being redrawn etc. Just as well I didn’t write anything.

The lady took all the forms and asked me a few questions about the German political system.

She: “What sort of a state do we live in, here in Germany?”

Me (thinking): oh boy, what a state. You can say that again.

Me (speaking): “ein Rechtsstaat” (a lawful state/state based on the rule of law)

She: “What sort of a political system do we have here in Germany?”

Me: “Well, I would say it is a federal republic, based on a constitution, with a parliament which…”

She (rolling her eyes): “cough”

Me: “Oh, right, a democracy.”

We then came to the part where she checked all the financial information we had brought with us, including my wife’s details. “Oh, your wife is a civil servant! This is fine. I’ve seen enough. Typically I’m dealing with two people who don’t have a job between them. This is good. Those people normally get citizenship, by the way”. As far as German hints go, she may as well have given me a welcome package there and then: “here is a passport, some Bratwurst, and a German flag. Please do not look directly at the flag”

So, I’m feeling a lot more confident than I was before about my prospects of becoming a German. All I need to do now is pass the language test and the citizenship test, both of which are scheduled for next month.

Fingers crossed!

Becoming German, englishman abroad

Becoming German?

This Wednesday was the deadline for registering for the only “Immigrant Language Test” in February that I could find. The next available test would have been in April, after Brexit day. So, like any rational person, I jumped onto the train in a mad panic and zoomed down to a test centre in Oldenburg to book my place on this course. Then I high-tailed it to the local community college and booked myself another test: the Naturalisation Test. These two tests are just two of the many prerequisites to becoming a German citizen.

The DTZ (German Test for Immigrants) is a speaking, writing, reading and listening language test, targeted at the A2-B1 levels. I know a little bit about language tests already, having prepared students for all manner of English language tests, often at this level, for years. I think I know more or less what to expect, and I’m reasonably sure that I’ll pass at the required B1 level.

The Einbürgerungstest is a citizenship test of sorts. It comprises 33 questions about Germany, covering aspects such as the German constitution, rights and responsibilities, democracy, society etc. There’s an online test to practise with, and I’ve passed it every time I’ve tried it. I’m certain I’ll pass this, too. There are many other requirements, all of which I am confident I can fulfil.

Yet, somehow, I don’t feel confident that I’ll get citizenship at all. I can’t quite put my finger on why. This bothers me. If I don’t manage to do it in the time that Britain remains in the EU, it probably means that I’ll still be able to become German in future – but I’ll have to give up my UK citizenship to do it.

Would I still do it in this case? Swap my UK citizenship for German citizenship? Trade membership of a non-EU country for an EU country? Exchange my unlikely return to an insular, has-been nation to secure my future as part of an important, European country?

Yes, obviously. Of course I would. But I’d rather it doesn’t come to that; I’d never be able to get my hands on Marmite again.

englishman abroad, history

DNA Results

In my vainer and more self-important moments, I like to imagine that people read this blog. More than that, I pretend that they notice if I don’t post for a while, as I have not done for about two months now. “What’s that mad Englishman who got stuck in Europe up to?” they might wonder. “Did he ever go to Lush again? Does he still have that Dad-belly?” they’ll muse.

Well, yes, The Dad-belly is still with me. I never did go to Lush again (yet) as I’ve moved out of Oldenburg and into a much smaller town. The house is taking up plenty of my time, which is why this blog has been neglected for so long. I also got my DNA results.

To recap, I recently applied for a British passport for my daughter, and the whole process got me interested in my genealogy just a little bit. I remember being at school and my mate Robert teasing me that I must be Greek because I had skin a little darker than his, he also used to joke that my nose must be fake because it was absolutely ginormous. A Corporal once told me I had hair like a boar. I thought about these and similar comments over the years as I waited for the DNA results to come back. Could I be Greek? Could I be part Jewish, as someone else suggested? Could I be part German, in some mad twist of fate? Was I distantly Irish, as my mother’s own family-tree research had suggested?

The answer was no, on most counts.

According to MyHeritage DNA, I am:

  • 7.4% Iberian (Spain/Portugal)
  • 22.3% English
  • 24.5% Irish, Scottish, Welsh
  • 45.8% Scandinavian (Sweden, Norway, Denmark)

Now I know you have to take these things with a pinch of salt, but I’m reasonably confident on the veracity of most of it.  Essentially, If it says I’m more than 20% something then there’s a fair chance there’s at least some something in me. The percentages don’t matter too much. Instead, the descriptors are the interesting point. And Iberian? Me?

No, de ninguna manera.

englishman abroad, history

DNA Test

Genealogy had never really interested me until recently. My mother has traced some of her side of the family into Wales, Devon and Ireland and my father-in-law has a proudly displayed family tree in the hallway. Still, he’s a farmer and there’s a palpable sense of history on the family farm, which has been passed down for generations. But what about me?

Like many people born in England, I just presumed that I was as English as the Anglo-Saxons and didn’t think any more about it. True, England was invaded thereafter by Vikings, Normans, Irish, Scots and several others, and the Anglo-Saxons were Germanic anyway (and preceded by the Romans) but whatever. I was English in England and that was that.

Last year I went through a lot of rigmarole in getting my daughter, Aurelia, a British passport in Brexit’s wake. I had to dive a couple of generations back to facilitate this, and call up the General Register Office and get all manner of old birth certificates. Including that of my Grandfather Steve.

It turns out that Grandad Steve, who I’ve never spoken to and has lived elsewhere as far as I can remember, wasn’t really called Steve. He had an absolutely nutty name that I won’t put on here. Just really bonkers and quite distinctive. Not typically “English”.

So I’ve decided to do some digging and see what comes up, so I’ve ordered one of those ‘test your DNA’ kits that so many genealogy sites are offering.  I’ve done some research and I know you have to take these things with a pinch of salt, there’s surely a margin of error etc. etc. Nonetheless, I’m curious as to what such a test might say.

It’s sitting on my dining room table right now and I’m going to send it off this week; there isn’t really an answer that I’m particularly hoping for or dreading.