Was sind Sie von Beruf?

This week, I have been learning a lot in my integration course. Math, spelling, countries, a few verbs. We’re basically in Kindergarten, occasionally venturing into 1st or 2nd grade.

But one very interesting thing that we learned was about the Beruf.

This was a complicated question for some of us. For some it was simple: I’m a lawyer: I’m a hair dresser; I’m a teacher.

But not so for others. If you look up Beruf in the dictionary, it says “occupation, profession, trade.” Was sind Sie von Beruf? is translated as “What do you do for a living?” But that is not what a Beruf is. The Italian sitting next to me is not a Pizzafahrer (a pizza delivery person, which is so much easier to say in German). Even though that is his job, what he is doing for a living right now.

I don’t know about our other classmates, but it took a long exchange between the Italian man and the teacher for the two of us to realize what a Beruf really is.

See, in Germany, many people go to a trade school. And if you go to university, you actually end up working in the field you studied. It is not like in America, where you get a liberal arts degree and do very little with it. Where you major in Latin for fun and because you can. No, even at university, you leave with a Beruf printed on your diploma.

So the Italian man is not a Pizzafahrer. He is a political scientist, as that was his major. I am a biologist, despite having never worked in a lab, and not having a Masters or PhD in the subject.

It says a lot more about the differences between the German and American education systems than about whether I wasted my education or not. In Germany, you are actually trained for a job. In America, you learn things and then may or may not do something related at all. Unless you actually go to a trade school, and trade schools are dying out. I mean, that’s why we came to Germany, isn’t it? Because there is no trade school in America for William to go to for his Beruf.

All of this explains what happened a couple of weeks ago. I went to pick William up from school, and I met some of his friends. One asked me, “Was sind Sie von Beruf?” (or she might have used du, I don’t remember) I always assumed that was asking what my job is. That’s what we ask in America – we don’t ask what your major was upon meeting you.

So I responded, “Deutsch lernen.” Growing up, my mom always told me that school was my job. It should be my focus, and I should not worry about getting a paying job when half my classes were AP and the other half were Honors. So it seemed natural to respond that learning German was my job. It is what I am doing now, as I tell everyone that asks after figuring out why an American would want to come to Germany. I am not worried about finding a job while I focus on this (although I will start working on my blog again once the big computer is up). Our staying in Germany relies heavily on my ability to support us. And this is much more likely to happen if I know German. Learning German is my job right now.

But this response confused the girl who asked me. We had a bit of an exchange, and I figured my German just wasn’t clear enough. Eventually she caught what I was trying to say and I forgot about it, until I encountered this Beruf confusion again. You can’t go to school for a degree in learning German, so it is a completely senseless answer for Was sind Sie von Beruf. Even if it is what I am doing for a living right now.

This new understanding makes me uncomfortable. I feel like I have no Beruf. I can’t call myself a Biologin, even if my Kursleiterin thinks I am one. I am not a biologist just because I took a AP course and 7 college classes on the subject. When have I ever done anything with biology out of the classroom? But what would my Beruf be then? Not an Arbeiterin, the word for someone who is not trained in a specific field. University graduates are not Arbeiter/Arbeiterinnen. So I don’t know. I guess my time in Germany can help me figure that out.

It’s easy for William. He’s been ein Goldschmied since he was 19.


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