Ada Abroad: Living and Working in Germany

An online journal recording two years spent as a Fulbright/Pedagogical Exchange Service Teaching Assistant at secondary schools in Germany. (2003-2004 I was in a village near Bautzen; 2004-2005 I will be in Nordrhein-Westfalen.)

Location: Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

I'm an American living in Germany, working as a foreign language assistant at a secondary school. Future plans: getting my Ph.D. (probably in Germanic Linguistics), becoming a professor, living an ethical and meaningful life.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Perils of Intercultural Communication

The other day at work I noticed a basket of holiday goodies on the table-- cookies, tangerines, and chocolate coins.

'Oh, neat!' I exclaimed (in English) to a fellow English teacher, pointing at the coins. 'We have these in the US, too, but for Chanukah. We call them 'Chanukah gelt.'

'For Chanukah?' said the other teacher, eying me skeptically.

I figured that maybe she'd never had any contact with Jewish people before and wasn't familiar with our holiday customs.

'Well, sure. There's a game you play with a dreydl-- a kind of spinning top, see-- and the top has letters on it. It's like a gambling game, but with chocolate coins. If you get a certain letter, you take all the coins in the pot, and another letter means you take half, and then there's a letter where you have to give up your coins...'

As I continued to spell out the rules, she began to look more and more confused.

'And who does this?'

'Jewish people. Well, kids, mostly. It's a children's game. Chanukah's a fun holiday. I'm going to have a Chanukah party later in December. With latkes-- potato pancakes. You can come if you like.'

Now appearing horrified, the teacher asked. 'So, Jewish people in the US have a holiday for CHANUKAH?!?!?'

'Sure. It's the Festival of Lights. I mean, what's the big deal?'

Then she started laughing. 'Oh! Oh, Chanukah!' She used the German pronunciation-- khah-NOO-kah.* 'God! I thought you meant HONECKER.' As in Erich Honecker, former dictator of the German Democratic Republic.

A festival for Erich Honecker, complete with chocolate coins and a children's gambling game. Now, wouldn't that be something?

*in English it's HAH-nuh-kuh, or if you can manage the Hebrew, KHAH-noo-kah. Stress on the first syllable!


Blogger Prairie Girl said...

Only "real" life can be this funny! A great story Ada!

Made even funnier by the fact that I just watched a special on TV over the DDR and Honecker :-)

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


international miscommunications are sooo funny! A Honecker festival, that would be something.

Would you like to participate in our German-American Blog carnival?

For example with your insightful and funny "Best of Both Worlds" piece or ANYTHING else you would like to see highlighted.

1:49 PM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

do any of the people in your school in germany have a problem with you being jewish>

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