That was the news flash I came away with the other night...
I had to go to the 'Elternabend'* for Ben's class. We have two children and therefore two Elternabends per term (joy) I usually send Si to Ben's and go to Jasmine's myself.
I asked Si if he was going to go, he thought for a moment and then said,
"this is where they talk all evening about nothing?"
I confirmed that this was indeed what usually happened (or didn't) to which Si declared that he wouldn't go. Fair enough, I'm not overly keen myself. And I would have left it at that but then I had a thought, Ben has changed teachers, so I really should show willing and I was trying to decide whether to go myself or not when I bumped into the mum who'd drawn up the agenda, which had as the penultimate point 'England Fahrt Juni 2012'**. I commented that it was rather forward planning (even for the hyper organised Germans) to be discussing the possibility of a trip by the bilingual class to England some 10 months hence. Her answer made me determined to attend the Elternabend no matter how dull and boring it would be. Apparently some parents were concerned about the safety of their children because of the riots that took place in parts of England in August.
The meeting kicked off at 7.30 and I think I made it home by 9.30, we got side tracked by discussions about toilets (really), the unfairness of having vocab tests for two different subjects scheduled for the same day (sob, sob) and whether the children would enjoy reading Oliver Twist in English (probably not). But the discussion that took up the most time was of course the prospect of the trip to England. The teacher, Herr J, tried to joke they could always go to New York to which I called out that the kids are learning English English and not American English which is a completely different language (in my opinion) and then down to his overheads showing whereabouts they proposed to go (Hastings or Herne Bay) and the timetable of events as used in previous years.
Herr J talked a good talk and kept going without interruption for some time, but eventually a parent could take the suspense no longer and asked the question that they were probably all desperate to ask, "will my little Josef be safe?"
I'm so glad I'd been forewarned and had spent enough time on the internet, swotting, because Herr J turned to me and pretty much asked me to allay their fears. I had felt like telling them that there was more danger from the weather (especially seeing as the UK was at the time being side swiped by hurricane Katja) and what about the risks of B.S.E***, Bird Flu or Swine Flu? But as the Germans probably wouldn't recognize my feeble attempt at humour unless I smacked them in the face with a wet fish, I thought I'd better stick to the truth, the truth and nothing but the truth.
So I asked, are you planning to take the kids to Croydon, Clapham, Greater Manchester etc? No? Then I think you'll find that England is as safe as Essen. I was backed up by another mother who'd been in the UK shortly before the rioting, I forebore to mention that I was there when it all kicked off...there's a time and a place to be a drama queen!
Safety dealt with Herr J moved onto the fact that England has been hit harder than Germany with the economic downturn over the last few years and that it could be that students stay with host families who maybe can't afford to offer three types of muesli for breakfast, it was possible that the kids might have to make do with bread and cheese for their packed lunch. I was so embarassed, the way he was talking was as if England was a third world country. Yes, breakfast does seem to be a big deal to Germans, whilst for the English it is often merely a breaking of the night's fast - a quick bowl of cereal or a piece of toast, but Kettwig is an affluent area, most of these kids will have visited foreign countries before, and hopefully they are intelligent enough (gymnasium afterall, should be top of the food chain) to expect things to be a little different from home (although for my son a basic English style breakfast is what he's always been used to).
The itinerary was also thoroughly examined, the pros and cons of visiting Madame Tussauds discussed and then we came to Dover Castle. Apparently it has 'secret wartime tunnels' but Herr J said "kein Angst" (= don't worry) and started on about the tunnels dating from WW II and how the kids enjoy it. I sat there thoroughly bemused. What's to worry about? It's a tourist attraction, it's going to be 100% safe, clean and thoroughly sanitised, there wont even be a cobweb out of place, let alone an unexploded bomb or a loaded pistol.
I came back from this two hour interlude chuntering under my breath about how Enlgand was now apparently a third world country and unsafe for German tourists and had to suffer Simon taking me to task for 'making a drama out of things'...next time he can damn well go, see if he can hold his tongue longer than I did!
* Literal translation of Elternabend is 'parents evening', but this is not where you get a one to one session with the various teachers in the school who have the (mis)fortune to (try to) teach your little darling (that's the Elternsprachtag) This is the session where all the parents gather and discuss (argue) with the main class teacher whatever has been put on the agenda.
** England trip, June 2012.
*** In Germany I'm not allowed to give blood, because I lived in England during the B.S.E years and presumably am highly contagious.