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, language

I can’t speak French for merde

Well, I’m back.

I hadn’t been to France for any meaningful length of time for sixteen years and cannot speak French for crotte any longer. In short, my French is god awful and going to Bordeaux was a useful experience.

Useful? Yes, useful. Going to another country and having absolutely no idea how to function beyond the purchase of a croissant and a pointless school-French conversation about where you live and what you did for your work experience last summer is a humbling experience.

You see, I have been living in Germany non-stop for a few years now, and I’m just about able to get by despite making mistakes in every sentence. Clearly, I have been getting too big for my boots. Clearly, the powers that be looked upon my level of German competence and remarked

Did you hear that? They’re understanding what he says! Despite him repeatedly putting the accusative in the nominative and the dative in the genitive and the verb as a noun and saying “sie” instead of “ihnen”, and then “du” and then “ihnen” again.

He’s getting overconfident; I’ll send him a plague of frogs.

It’s quite an important experience, to go somewhere and be absolutely powerless. It’s especially important for adults to do this, to remember what it’s like for children. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve integrated somewhat into Germany and what an odd feeling this is. In so doing, I’ve moved past much of the everyday alienation and inaptitude that I had suffered when I first came to Germany, without any German, years back. It’s been good to have a fleeting, linguistically impotent trip to France to broaden my perspective and remember not to take things for granted.

As for the meeting itself, it was informative, well received and, mercifully, in English.

englishman abroad, parenting, the German way

Einschulung

Saturday was the day of my daughter Aurelia’s Einschulung. Einschulung is sometimes translated as ‘first day of school’, and I suppose that, technically, it often is. It’s not really that though. As I said, it happened on a Saturday and therefore isn’t a ‘proper’ school day. Besides, Aurelia has already had ‘trial hours’ (Schnupperstunden) at this school – she’s been there before. Another translation of this word is ‘enrolment’, which is also totally off. Aurelia was already on the ‘rolls’ of this school; she has been registered to attend it since about the time we moved to this town. What the Einschulung actually is, is a sort of ‘into-school’ rite of passage. Here’s what happened…

On that Saturday morning, after breakfast, Aurelia got her first proper look at the Schultüte which had been hidden away for weeks. A Schultüte is part of this German rite of passage. It resembles a brightly coloured and garishly decorated giant ice-cream cone; it’s also a bit like a Christmas stocking in that it is packed with goodies and not to be opened before the appointed time.

That appointed time is always after school, so off to school we all went: Oma, Opa, Mama and Papa. I carried Aurelia’s Schultüte, and Aurelia carried her gigantic, red and purple school bag. All German kids seem to have dementedly oversized school bags, called Schulranzen, which make them look less like first-year schoolkids than they do NASA astronauts. Off we went to school, bobbing along like an Ice-cream-themed Pride Parade for Questionable Cosmonauts.

On arrival at the school, it became apparent that I was the only one who had given this School-based theme-parkery a second thought: every single other child had a brightly coloured Schultüte and Schulranzen as well. The new space cadets first-years sat right at the front of the assembly hall and then it all kicked off. The headteacher introduced all the teachers, each year of the school performed a play or song or dance to welcome the new children, culminating with them being called onto the stage to stand with their respective mentor child and be taken off to their first, half-hour “class”. No parents were allowed of course, but I suspect that it was a little induction and introduction from their teacher. Back at home, Aurelia got to open her Schultüte at last: sweets, school stuff and her first ever alarm clock (pink, of course).

Tomorrow I’ll take her to her first ‘real’ full day of school; 8 am to 1 pm. I’m probably looking forward to it just as much as she is.

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.