A Custom Worth Importing
When I arrived at work this morning, all of the school’s entrances had been blocked off by people in white isolation suits and face masks, the kind health workers wear during outbreaks of epidemics. Several hundred students waited in line to have their bags searched, be frisked, and get spritzed with bottles of “disinfectant.” Someone gave orders through a megaphone. “You in the red shirt! Get to the back of the line. Pointing at the health inspectors and laughing will not be tolerated. This is a serious matter.”
The school, it seemed, had been exposed to a dangerous virus. Actually, several. In addition to bird flu, we had cases of swine flu and acute abiturientitis on our hands.
The health inspectors made me spin around in a circle a couple of times, rifled through my purse (“Kleenex? Have you been exhibiting cold symptoms?”), and sprayed my pants with water.
Although I wasn’t expecting this scene, I wasn’t too concerned. The white isolation suits appeared to be made of porous cotton gauze, and the “health inspectors’” poor posture and excessive eye make-up indicated that they were only 18 or 19 years old. This was a joke—an Abi-Scherz. The graduating 13th-graders had simply come up with a very creative way to delay the start of the school day.
Today is the last week of lessons for our Abiturienten—graduating 13th graders. After this they have several weeks to prepare for the Abitur. The Abitur is required for all students who attend a Gymnasium (college-preparatory school), and functions something like the American SAT: it’s a grueling multi-hour final exam that determines both whether the students qualify for a high school diploma and the right to attend university.
Traditionally, during the last week of school, the Abiturienten come up with creative ways to interrupt or delay lessons—hence the epidemic idea. Which I thought was great—it was certainly very creative, amused everyone (and hence put people in a good mood), and didn’t hurt anybody. To me, this seems like a custom that Americans might want to consider importing.
The Abi-Scherz idea strikes me as greatly preferable to the equivalent from my old high school. I attended Plymouth-Canton Educational Park, a multi-building school on steroids (when I was there, there were 4,700 students) located in the sprawling, faceless, and morbidly conformist unincorporated township of Canton, Michigan. Traditionally, on the last day of school graduating seniors would spray underclassmen with shaving cream, which hurts like a bitch if it gets in your eyes, ruins your clothes, and can eat the paint off your car. Some people also used whipped cream (not as damaging, though it does attract bees). One kid even brought in a spray bottle of Nair, a hair-removal product! Unimaginative and frankly, brutal. Even dangerous.
Where were the health inspectors???