Teaching English in Germany Fails: Funny Experiences

The time I thought a student had asked me for a condom

(Image Source: Flicker, Creative Commons License – Jaysin Trevino)

When I first started teaching English in Germany, I didn’t know anything about British English. I was never really exposed to it (unless you count movies and/or books like Harry Potter).  Furthermore, there were a few things that confused me. I often wondered why students would ask me Have you got a sheet of a paper (British English)? compared to Do you have a sheet of paper (American English)?  Or the occasional words like torch for flashlight, plaster for bandaid, and rubber for eraser.  Let me repeat that last one, in British English rubber means eraser.

I’m sure my American readers can quickly see the problem with this.

Rubber in American English is slang for condom.  Students occasionally ask me for a rubber. When I first heard this, I was extremely confused. I thought: “How in the hell could an advanced student make this kind of a mistake!?” After asking him what he had meant and doing a quick Google search on my phone, I realized then that rubber means eraser in British English.  I should also note that they teach British English in Germany.


I still cringe – four years later – whenever a student asks me for a rubber.


The time a student expressed interest in “jailbait”

Every now and then I integrate games into my lessons. One of the games that I play is as a version of “Scategories”. This game involves writing down words that begin with a certain letter for various categories. During one of my lessons a few years ago, I played this very game. While in the middle of the game, a student had written something very funny. Now, I can’t remember what the exact category was, but a student had written “jail bait”.

I politely explained to him that I think he made a mistake as the word “jail bait” wouldn’t be appropriate for the category. Given that we often joked around in this class, I asked the student where he had heard the word. He replied saying that he had heard it on a crime show but wasn’t a 100% sure what it meant. I told him to be careful using words that he learns from TV dramas/crime shows because they use often use slang. I suggested that he should go home and google the meaning because I didn’t want to explain what jail bait meant in our lesson.

For some of my German readers who don’t know what jail bait means: Jailbait or jail bait is slang for a person who is younger than the legal age of consent for sexual activity, with the implication that a person above the age of consent might find them sexually attractive.

The time I parked in the CEO’s private parking space

(Image Source: Flickr, Creative Common License – Frank Lindecke

This was extremely embarrassing for me. During my first lesson at a company that I taught at, I had asked the students where I should park. They told me that there were spaces behind their building on the right-hand side.  Fast forward one week to my next lesson. I drove around looking for a place to park.  It was outside normal office hours and there was only one space free. I noticed a sign on the parking place that read “Geschäftsführung”.  I wasn’t sure what it meant, but thought that maybe if it was a reserved parking place, it wouldn’t that big of a deal because was after normal work hours anyway. No harm done, right?

WRONG. Let me start out by translating “Geschäftsführung”. This means reserved for a manager/CEO. Well, turns out I parked into the CEO’s park place.  I also want to mention that the parking space was really small and it had actually taken me two or three times to get my car into the spot. While trying to park my car, I had noticed that there was another car to the side of me. I thought it was kind of weird how they were just watching me, but I didn’t think much of it as I was embarrassing myself trying to park anyway. After I parked my car, I got out and started getting my things for my class.

At the same time, the guy in the car got out… and long story short he wasn’t happy with me because he was the CEO and I had parked in his parking place.

Here’s a tip for anyone who is new to Germany. Park ONLY in spots that don’t have a sign or says the word “BESUCHER” which means visitor. When in doubt, park somewhere else. Learn from my mistake.


The horny car

The German language has a lot of words that sound funny when translating to English. Well, in all honesty, I think some of them just sound funny in general. But anyway, there are a few that no one can deny sound hilarious in English. A few words and phrases include: “I break together” which means I’m having (some sort of mental) breakdown, “You bake pipe!” which is an insult, and horny which is slang for cool.

Anyway, I was at a party where I had talked to a guy a few years younger than me (in English). We both had had a few drinks at the party and he wanted to tell me all about his horny car (again – speaking IN ENGLISH). I had only lived in Germany for a few months at this point, so I didn’t know about the slang word. He preceded to tell me that he wanted to buy some new car and that the car was totally horny.  He went on to say that it was in fact, the horniest car that he had ever seen and was so horny that it made him drool from the mouth.

I loved how he not only used the word horny to describe a car, but gave me a new superlative to use as well. The horniest car.

Perhaps Volkswagen should consider a new marketing campaign targeting the younger crowd:

Old: Volkswagen. Das Auto.

New: Volkswagen. The Horniest Car

The time my car battery died at a company

When I first moved to Germany, I had bought a very cheap car. (It was definitely not horny.) It cost about 1,000 euro and was from the year 1999. Surprisingly, it lasted me a good year before I decided to go into car leasing. Anyway, I had a class that was in Essen (a good 30-minute drive from my house) and had arrived 20 minutes early. After arriving early, I sat in my car and played on my phone for a bit before the class started. I didn’t realize it, but while playing on my phone, I had accidentally left my lights on. When I went back to my car after my class was finished, my car wouldn’t start. I panicked. At this point, I had only lived in Germany for about four months and had literally no idea what to do. Luckily, I was pretty close to my students and texted one of them for help. The student was extremely nice and got someone to help me who had a special machine for charging dead car batteries. While I’m so thankful for the student who had helped me, I’m still a bit embarrassed to this day.

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