My madcap adventures in Germany during my year as a Fulbright Scholar.

20 October 2006

What's in a name?

My first week of classes is over. Well, almost. I do have class tomorrow, but it doesn't really count, since it only meets three Fridays and Saturdays throughout the semester.

I'm feeling completely overwhelmed, but, I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am a complete nerd and am actually very happy to be back in school. On Monday I have to go to three separate copy shops to get readers for my courses and find time to get caught up with my own research.

On the plus side, someone did ask me in class today if I was from England. Apparently British and American accents are pretty similar when you're speaking German. Who knew?

The first week has given me lots to think about, but most of all I've been thinking about names and hierarchy. In America we don't hesitate to use someone's first name. Our waiters, flight attendants and cashiers all wear nametags with their first names only. In Germany, they usually don't. If you need to call a stranger by their name, you say Herr or Frau LastName.

Germans are known for being formal, deferring to authority and having a thing about titles. I expected to face a shock when classes start. When speaking German in the US, I use the informal form of address almost exclusively. I call all my professors by their first names. Hell, I've been to most of their houses. So I expected to face a culture shock when I started at the University. I pictured myself tripping over my neglected Sie-form and all the "Frau Doktors" and "Herr Professors."

I suppose part of studying abroad is having all of your preconceived notions about a culture undermined and challenged.

Three of my four classes have had starkly different philosophies about the level of formality:

  • My first class was taught by two graduate students clearly influenced by feminist pedagogy. They introduced themselves with their first names, used the informal, du-form, had us go around the circle and introduce ourselves on the first day (name, major, year, why you're in the class, just like in the US). They didn't even bother with last names and actually had to send an email to the class, asking for a distinction between the two Marias

  • The second class I attended was taught in a traditional style. The professor used the formal, Sie-form the entire time and didn't even ask us our first names. He'll be Herr Professor (or, perhaps, Prof. or Dr. _______, but Herr Professor is considered more polite here), and I'll be "Frau Gallagher" the entire time.

  • The third class was taught by another graduate student. On the first day she said, "If it's all right with you, I'll use your first names. You can call me Frau _________ ... or, well, Sabine, but I think it's better if we use the Sie-form."

I'm curious what people think of this. Which would you use in your classroom? Which do you like least?

(My preferences actually surprised me.)



Anonymous Anonymous said...

My prison students call me Joe, which is good, since that is my name. i guess at some stage I told them that that was appropriate, but I don't remember since our students start every quarter, but only leave if they get released, transferred, or earn a diploma.

2:31 AM


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