Becoming German, englishman abroad

The time has come for better things

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

The Walrus and The Carpenter, Through the Looking-Glass (1872), Lewis Carrol

One of the more popular refrains in British media at the moment is that people are sick and tired of the Brexit process and want to get it over and done with, one way or the other.  In a similar vein, January saw an opinion piece in the Guardian entitled “What we don’t talk about when we only talk about Brexit”.

In my own life, I’ve been far too close to burning out over Brexit. I read the news from several sources obsessively. Maybe today would be the day, I thought, that my country turned back from its course towards rocks. Maybe today would be the day it heeded the lighthouse. Maybe today would be the day the bridge crew woke up.

Years passed this way. The last few months have seemed like the longest of the whole process. Vote, delay, repeat. Britain is nearly out of time now and parliament is due to vote (yet again, another conversation with itself) on 12th March. The last two weeks after that will probably last for eternity.

March 29th is Brexit day.

But I no longer care! I have finally fulfilled my New Year’s resolution! This afternoon I was at the Ausländerbehörde again, handed in my Sprachzertifikat and other documents, and got a certificate which confirms that, on receiving it, I became German.

So what can I talk about, now that I’m not talking about Brexit?

For starters, my wife and I are expecting our second child in April; I’m going to be a father again!

My daughter Aurelia has her birthday in a couple of weeks; she’ll be 7!

I put up my first fence the other day; it’s shit!

I’m doing a Master’s degree; it’s tricky!

I’m off to Hamburg next week for the kick-off meeting of a German project, and then off to Cadiz for an EU project.

Life can finally continue without the sea boiling or pigs flying.

 

Becoming German, englishman abroad

Halfway there

Well, I got my results back for the first of the two tests that I need to pass in order to get German citizenship. The DTZ (Deutsch Test für Zuwanderer) language test is in, and I passed. I don’t want to to boast, but I was one point off 100%.

Ok, Ok! That actually sounds a lot more impressive than it really is, it was only a B1 level test. Still, acing a test at one level typically means you are at least the level above it (B2). So that’s me happy. I can speak sufficient German to survive in Germany in everyday life.

All I need to do now is sit tight, and await the results of my Citizenship Test (Einbürgerungstest).

Becoming German, englishman abroad

The German Citizenship Test

Yesterday I took the German Citizenship Test (Einbürgerungstest). I had practised several times before, using on of the many online mock tests. I passed every time, most recently with 32 points out of 33, but that’s just a mock test. The real test was actually significantly harder! At least it seemed so to me. In reality, the questions on the mock test are exactly the same as the real test (no, memorising the answers isn’t really practical, the test draws from over 300 possible questions). Most of the online tests were pretty softball, whereas this real test asked questions like this:

How were the occupation zones in Germany set up after 1945?

besatzungszonen

A. 1=UK, 2=USSR, 3=France, 4=USA

B. 1=USSR, 2=UK, 3=USA, 4= France

C. 1=UK, 2=USSR, 3=USA, 4= France

D. 1=UK, 2=USA, 3=USSR, 4= France

This is fairly easy if you know some history, and you can guess it if you know some basic geography, but it’s still a pretty tricky question for a layman like me.

Anyway, After I’d finished the test, I counted all of the answers I’d given that I wasn’t 100% sure about. There were 14. You need 17 correct answers (out of 33 questions) to pass the test.  Therefore, I’m fairly confident I passed the test.

Compared to my experience of the DTZ test, this test was far quicker (I was done in 20 minutes) and the candidates were far better behaved.

So that’s it. That is really all I can do to pave the way for German naturalisation in time for March 29th, Brexit Day. All I can do now is wait for the results for both tests and visit the Ausländerbehörde again once they have arrived. Fingers crossed.

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!