Overheard on the train

On the way to work this morning, I sat near a girl of about 11-12 and (presumably) her mother. The kid was reading out quiz questions from little cards. I was actually trying to sleep, but just before we arrived out our destination, I couldn’t help but overhear the following (the conversation was in German, but I’ve translated for you):

Daughter (reading from a card): Who did Mary Shelley create?

Mother: Mary Shelley?

Daughter: Yeah, I’ve never heard of her either. But here are the options: A) Frankenstein’s Monster B) (Something I don’t remember) C) Harry Potter

Mother: Wellll… I know it wasn’t Harry Potter…

The daughter then proceeded to read the answer and a brief explanation of who Mary Shelley was from the back of the card. I meanwhile, sat contemplating what exactly it is they teach in German schools. Fancy not knowing who Mary Shelley was! 😉

15 thoughts on “Overheard on the train

  1. They don’t really teach that in American schools either, unless you happen to be taking a course which discusses very specific genre fiction. I didn’t read Shelley in school; I learned it on my own.

  2. We read Frankenstein in my advanced English course in 9th grade, so I guess some schools in the States read it. I’ve had that same thought here re: Dickens, because Scrooge references always seem to need a bit of explaining. From what I’ve gathered, it’s all German authors, all the time, unless they’re taking a specific course in English lit. Oh, except for Tom Sawyer, that crosses over.

    1. When I was an English language assistant in Austria two of my classes were reading Brave New World and one read a Shakespeare play… Macbeth I think?, so they obviously did at least read some English books! We hardly read anything in German class, but we did learn of the existence of the “key” German authors (Goethe, Schiller, etc.).

      They don’t know Scrooge? I would have thought at least one of the films would have made it over!

  3. What are they teaching in German schools? I think the answer is pretty obvious…German literature. Which means a smaller selection of English-language lit is going to be selected. So yeah, you get Shakes and co, but not everything a native speaker might have been taught is classic. The whole idea of which books are classics and are allowed in the “canon” is a huge point of discussion among lit students anyway. So many influences converge to decide what goes on a syllabus. I’m surprised that you were surprised.

    1. I was actually more surprised that the mother didn’t know than the child. I imagine lots of 11-ish years olds don’t know who wrote Frankenstein. The card was in this German quiz game, though, so presumably the makers of the quiz expected it to be at least somewhat general knowledge.

      The post was meant to be more tongue-in-cheek than anything though. I don’t actually expect all Germans to know who wrote every classic English novel (and I bet plenty of people I went to school with have no idea who Mary Shelley was!).

  4. I highly recommend the novel Frankenstein! I first read it in college and remember being totally surprised by how much I liked it. Read it again as an adult and confirmed its place on my “recommended reading” list. I don’t recall reading any full novels in high school (Wisconsin, USA) – sad. Hopefully that’s just a lapse in my memory, but I think we only read short stories and parts of plays. I love the fact that this girl was quizzing herself rather than playing a game on her phone!

    1. Yes, it’s great that she had a real game rather than a phone app 🙂

      I own Frankenstein, but haven’t got round to reading it yet. I know people who read 1984 and Lord of the Flies in school (although I didn’t). My class read an extract from Great Expectations and a lot of Shakespeare. We also read Brother in the Land, but that’s a fairly short (children’s) novel.

  5. Well, I read it when I was at that age but not in school. Not even in English Leistungskurs. I don’t know if they read it in school by now but it looks like they don’t 🙂

  6. was stumped when I told some kids that I knew the follow-on to the “Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”. I was looked at suspiciously, then was told that the film hadn’t come out yet. hen I told them theCS Lewis was one of my heroes I got a blank stare. That’s when I gave up. It wasn’t worth suggesting that they read “The Lord of the Rings” – it kept me quiet as a kid for weeks.

      1. What? You mean some weird person holed up in a basement flat actually invented Harry Potter as a piece of literature BEFORE the film came out? AND got refused by loads of publishers before one decided it was a winner? Wowsers 😀 You’ll be telling me that Pride and Prejudice was a nineteenth century bedside classic by Jane Austen next 🙂

  7. A 16-year-old friend of mine in the States has a very small horse named Lily. The first time I met said horse, I said “Hello, Lilliputian.” And my friend said, “What’s a Lilliputian?” I was like WHAT DO THEY TEACH YOU KIDS IN SCHOOL NOWADAYS.

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