At the end of August, my husband, Chris, and I and made our annual trip to the Stuttgart area of Germany to visit his family. Winterbach to be exact. The town is not exactly a bustling metropolis, but of the 7,700 residents, it seems many are Chris’ relatives.
While there, we celebrated my nephew’s inaugural day of first grade. I knew it was a big deal, but it wasn’t until we walked up to the school and saw the swarms of relatives that I understood this was quite the occasion. Squeezed into the auditorium were the parents, grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles of the fifty-odd new students.
The ceremony, the “Einschulung,” began with the older children singing welcome songs to the incoming class. The principal then gave a speech and I didn’t understand any of it beyond the Northerners had some funny word for children. It takes me awhile to begin comprehending the Swabian dialect first thing in the morning.
Then a play began. A lion and an ape were hanging out in a jungle of plastic trees and paper vines. Suddenly, a little lioness appeared. Enraptured, the lion excitedly nudged the ape in the ribs. “What an enchanting lady! I wish to go over to her and kiss her at once!” The lion stood up and began making his way to the glazed-eye, crooked-eared lioness.
The ape, however, grabbed the lion and sat him back down on the log. “You can’t go around kissing girls without a proper introduction. First you must write to her and tell her you like her personality. Then, if she is impressed enough with your writing skills, she may permit you to kiss her.”
The Boy Lion threw up his paws. “But I don’t know how to read and write!”
The ape shrugged. “I do. I will write her a letter on your behalf.” The ape swirled his finger over a piece of cardboard and then read the letter out loud. “Dear beautiful lioness, would you care to join me for some delicious bananas? Would you like to swing through the jungle canopy together? The views are magnificent. Yours, the lion.”
The lion threw up his paws in frustration. “Ape, thank you for trying to help me, but this is not what I had in mind!”
A crocodile, played by another nephew, which makes me partial enough to say he was the best animal in the play, also added his effort to get the poor boy lion to first base. “Dear Girl Lion, let’s swim through the river, it will be grand.”
I continued to watch a parrot and a snake attempt to help the illiterate Boy Lion get his crush to snog him. Finally, as the lion was about to give up, the lioness bounded out and sat next to him.
Mustering the courage to look his object of desire in the eye, he admitted, “Oh, lioness, I so want to kiss you, but I can’t write you a letter and none of the other animals could help me.” Folding her legs underneath her – thank goodness her mother put tights on underneath that dress – the lioness declared, “’A’ is the first letter of the alphabet!”
The lion, fueled by wild, new hope, yelled “’A’!”
“’A’ is for ape!” answered the lioness. She drew the letter in the air. “See? This is how you write the letter, ‘A.’”
The lion excitedly copied her, demonstrating his mastery over a single letter. The lioness kissed him on the cheek. Success! Applause!
I thought this was hilarious, but sometimes due to translation glitches in my head, I think a conversation is about shoes when it’s really about tax reform. I turned to Chris’ aunt to ask if I had understood the play correctly. She was laughing so hard she was about to cry. Oh good, it was safe to giggle!
What the children learned is that if they don’t pay attention and learn reading, writing, and presumably arithmetic, they will never get laid.
And now I know why Germans are smart.