When we were in Year 8 at High School, the IT teacher suddenly announced one day that we were going to do a book project. She was quite enthusiastic about the subject, if I remember correctly.
“We are going to do a book project,” she said, smiling grandly. “And I think some of you will have heard of this book. It’s a very famous book. If I say the first two initials of the author’s name, you’ll be able to guess the rest. His name was J.R……”
There was a pregnant pause before we all called out, cheerfully enough: “Hartley!”
There was another pregnant pause then, when the teacher’s face ran the whole gamut of emotions you feel when faced with the living embodiment of everything which is wrong with our decaying society – taken-abackness turned into disbelief which in turn turned into scorn and then fear and then, in the end, pity.
“You – shouldn’t – get – all – your – information – from – adverts,” she said, listlessly, just like how Nicole Kidman talks to her children about their dad being dead in The Others. “Advertising should be just one source from which you get your information. But – it – shouldn’t – be – your – only – or – your – main – source.”
So, when I first arrived in Berlin, I used to work in a primary school in Wilmersdorf, as a classroom assistant. Every single kid in the class was called Kevin-‘Something’. There was a Kevin-Dennis, a Kevin-Bobby, a Kevin-Leon, a Kevin-James, and even, somewhat implausibly, a Kevin-Kevin. Kevin-Kevin was a little Turkish kid. I wasn’t really THAT fazed by this, I just thought, oh, Kevin’s a really popular name over here and the Turks are all assimilated.
The girls, however, were all called Tracey and Sharon or Vera and Ethel. I did think that was slightly on the weird side. But after I’d been working at the school for almost a year, I realized they’d all chosen “English names” for the duration of the English lesson, and were all really called Sebastian or Ahmed or something.
Kevin-Bobby was my favourite. He was gorgeous. He had spiky black hair, white skin and rosy-red cheeks. He looked like the slightly spiky version of Snow White. He was lovely. A Polish kid, the teacher said. Although, to be honest, he seemed German enough to me.
One day, the teacher taught them the word ‘have.’ She said, sensibly enough, that it meant ‘haben.’ She wrote the words “have=haben” on the board with chalk and underlined them. But Kevin-Bobby put his hand up politely.
“Actually, it means ‘nehmen,'” he said. He was being really polite about it and all. His voice was so courteous, he could’ve come straight out of a kids’ manners book from the 19th century. There was nothing cheeky or hostile about it whatsoever. But, he KNEW he was right. He was telling her.
The teacher looked at him, exasperated. “It means ‘haben,'” she said, her voice kind of icy and dead. They had a struggle for a few minutes, where Kevin-Bobby became consistently less and less and less and less like he could’ve come straight out of a kids’ manners book from the 19th century. In the end, the teacher, totally exasperated, snapped, looked at him coldly, and barked: “Sometimes the teacher is wrong, and the child is right. Sometimes. This isn’t one of those times. Get on with your work.”
It was an excellent put-down and Kevin-Bobby shrugged good-naturedly and did as he’d been told. He was a diligent little worker when it came to English class. But, afterwards, in the playground, he came up to me to show me a picture of the Queen picking her nose in the B.Z.
“Look,” he said. “It’s your queen, picking her nose.”
“Oh,” I said. “She must’ve had something really big up there. She’d never have done it otherwise. But Kevin-Bobby. Will you tell me something? Why were you so sure that ‘have’ meant ‘nehmen?'”
He grinned at me. “Oh, I know it does,” he said. “Because of the Kit Kat advert. You know what it says? Have a break, have a Kit Kat.”
I loved that kid for a moment there. I sniffed my approval. “Nimm eine Pause,” I said. “Nimm einen Kit Kat.”
“Yeah,” said Kevin-Bobby. “The people at Kit Kat wouldn’t make a mistake.”