Saturday, November 12, 2011

English native speaker?

My five year old son is an English native speaker, he speaks German but not as well as English. He had to take an English language test for entry to a bilingual school in Berlin, but they told my wife that they didn't consider him to have enough English. Reason? He hesitated when they asked him to do something or the other. They consider him to be a German speaker even though they did not test his German (and his scores for German from the Kita puts him at the lower bound for German competence).  Another reason they classified him as a German speaker is that I have a German passport. Obviously, if one of the parents has a German passport, German must be his/her native language. That's completely self-evident.

The arbitrariness of such decisions is sometimes too much to bear. This school doesn't even have an adequate process for detecting a bona fide native speaker of English correctly?

I should add that Atri went to another school the week before, and there he "passed" the test. I love randomness, but why does *everything* have a noise component? It seems like the entire course of his life could be set by the toss of a coin. No wonder the Hindus came up with the fatalistic "whatever happens is for the best." It's a coping strategy.


Next, my son went to the third school on the list, and this time he got 94%, which was regarded as performing "extremely well." I just can't understand how he can be considered a non-English speaker in one school and a clear native English speaker in two other schools. Doesn't this mean the selection process is flawed? A further issue is that Atri often uses German words for things that he encounters often in his German Kindergarten but not at home (e.g., Kerzen). Code-mixing is totally normal in bilingual or multilingual settings. So it's normal that a bilingual kid cannot think of the corresponding English word on demand. I wonder whether testers in Berlin schools understand this.

Incidentally, one cannot ever contest the result of a decision like this; if they decide your son is a native speaker of German in a particular school, he's going to be classified as such at that school, even if he is disadvantaged for the rest of his life (I recently learnt from a prof specializing in child education that it's critical that the kid learns reading in his primary language). No second opinions are possible. Isn't that amazing?

Basically, Germany stumbles every time it hits a multilingual setting, where everything is fluid and nothing is "purely" X or Y. Multilingualism lies outside the German experience. I hope this changes one day.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

First day of dialysis

Yesterday, I had my first dialysis after 27 years of being free from it. Here are some photos (below). It wasn't as big a deal as it seemed like; if things stay this way, it seems like a minor adjustment to one's life. So now I'm going to go three times a week, and be locked into this machine for four hours or so each time. A spiffy black mercedes comes to pick me up and bring me home; the only downside is the racist drivers. Already on the first day, the first one told me that I didn't look like a professor (perhaps a nice succinct summary of my German experience), and the second one going home told me all about the "little Taliban" (the Turkish population) that is ruining Germany. I frequently encounter this in Germany: first people are surprised I am not on welfare; then they tell me how great I am compared to these other brown-skinned people. (Once, I was standing outside a public toilet, waiting for my wife, and a man tried to give me 50 cents for managing the toilet as he went in.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why are Berliners so hostile?

I can't figure out what the reason is that Berliners are so... hostile and unpleasant. Here are three examples.

1. today: we (my wife, child and I) happen to be in front of the Asia Gourmet takeaway in Hauptbahnhof. We ask for two sets of 4 mini-spring rolls, not noticing that they come obligatorily with noodles. We ask the guy to remove the noodles, saying that we'll pay full price, as if we were buying the noodles (8 Euros). "Geht nicht," says the server. We insist (it costs him nothing! in fact, he saves money on this deal!), and he gives the spring rolls to us, but says nastily, "Nächstes mal, besser lesen." He could just as well have given the spring rolls to us without comment (or even, god forbid, with a smile), but no; there has to be a nasty comment accompanying the hand-over. The guy wasn't German, by the way, he was east Asian. This attitude is more of a feeling, a way of being, in Berlin. You live here long enough, you turn nasty.

2. Some months ago, Deutsche Bahn. My students and I get into the train from the first class side and are standing by the door. A conductor comes along and tells us to move to the second class compartment.  I don't mind that at all, except it's the way they talk. It's nasty and hostile, with an unspoken fuck you. What's the deal? Why is it so hard to say the same thing politely?

3. A year ago, a road-side ice cream shop near our apartment. We buy an ice cream for our son (then four), but we'd already bought two coffees for ourselves. Our son sits down at the chair outside the shop to eat, and we also sit with him. Suddenly the ice cream shop owner comes running out of his shop SHOUTING at us to get the hell out of his shop, because we bought our coffee elsewhere (he doesn't sell coffee). We say, OK, we'll stand outside the perimeter of the shop chairs (these are on the pavement), but he SHOUTS at us again to leave, we can't even stand there. Our son gets so upset he throws the uneaten ice cream into the garbage can and we leave. Wow. He could have asked us to leave POLITELY and WITHOUT SHOUTING AT US; but no,  of course, not. This is Berlin, after all.

I have experienced similar kinds of things in the US, Japan, and in India (but nothing like the shouting ice-cream man), but it's really about the frequency. India (rather, Delhi) is the worst of all places I know. But compared to the US and Japan, the level of unpleasantness in Berlin (Germany?) is amazingly high. Asia Gourmet is never getting me again as a customer, and I will abandon Deutsche Bahn---the Microsoft Windows of train travel---in a heartbeat if their monopoly on train travel is ever broken.  That ice-cream shop was never visited by us.  At this rate we'll have to stop going out of our apartment and order everything over amazon or something (duh: we'll have to deal with the DHL guy then).