It’s been two weeks since I collected the signatures I needed to declare my master’s thesis (which makes it just three short months since the first time I considered declaring…shh, don’t tell). Of course, this is Germany, so Frau M, who is responsible for officially approving my proposal, only sees students for 4 hours a week. Today was the first day that I was free during those windows. You can imagine the lines that sometimes form outside her door–after all, she is the one and only point person not only for my program, but also for…

  • Film studies (PhD)
  • Galician (B.A.)
  • Italian philology (B.A. and M.A.)
  • Catalan (B.A.)
  • Latin American Studies (M.A., PhD)
  • Eastern Europe Studies (M.A.)
  • Philosophy (B.A., M.A., Magister*, PhD)
  • Portugal-BrasilStudies/Portuguese (B.A., M.A.)
  • Romance Literature Studies (M.A.)
  • Spanish Philology (B.A., Magister)
  • Dance studies (PhD)
  • Theater Studies (PhD)

So I showed up early with my book and, lo and behold, was the first in line! A short listen at the door confirmed that she was talking to a colleague, who left about 5 minutes before office hours start. I waited another few minutes. At 9:59 I knocked.

…No answer.

Now, the annoying habits of German bureaucrats are numerous and varied. But one of the worst is that they leave the office door closed all the time, so you never know without eavesdropping whether they’re accepting visitors. If you knock and they want to see you, they will tell you to come in, but they will not raise their voice, and it’s likely that you won’t hear. If you knock and don’t get a response, the following possibilities may apply:

  • they replied and are waiting for you, but you didn’t hear. Soon they will be annoyed with you for wasting their time.
  • they are already meeting with someone. If you knock again or crack the door, they will be annoyed with you for wasting their time and invading their privacy.
  • they are not meeting with anyone, and they like it that way. If you knock again or crack the door, they will be annoyed with you for wasting their time and invading their privacy.
  • they didn’t hear you knock. If you knock again, this process will repeat; if you open the door, they will be annoyed with you for wasting their time and invading their privacy.

So I knocked again. No answer. The girl behind me in line said “Well, then just knock and go in,” which I did.

Frau M raised an eyebrow in my direction.

“The office hours begin at 10:00,” she snapped, not even lifting her pen from the page. I glanced at the clock.


Ohkaaaaaay. I closed the door, pulled out my phone, watched it for 30 seconds until the magic hour struck, and then re-knocked (which really felt like overkill). This time, she answered.


Unfortunately, my thesis is still not declared, because, as Frau M informed me, I have to submit a written request to write my thesis in a language other than German. She then has to approve it, which is interesting, because she doesn’t have to read my thesis; Professors Pulvermüller and Hüning do, and they don’t give a flying flip what language it’s in. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they got through the whole thing without even noticing that it wasn’t in German. Anyway, I still have to write this request. So I go to the computer lab and try to explain the obvious in an unambiguous and respectful way.

“I want to write my thesis in English because it’s dumb not to and there’s no reason I shouldn’t.” backspacebackspacebackspacebackspace.

“English is the lingua franca of the scientific community, and as such…” backspacebackspacebackspacebackspace.

“Fourscore and seven years ago, scholars at leading American and British universities brought forth a subfield…” backspacebackspacebackspacebackspace.

“I hereby request permission to write my master’s thesis in English because all of the research in social neurolinguistics is published in English or in English-language journals. As such, the jargon of the field is in English. Furthermore, as I hope that by writing this work, I will gain the skills needed to engage with experts in the field, it is important to be able to do so in the language used in conferences and presentations. It would be senseless to write the work in German, as doing so would require me to invent entirely new terminology or borrow it from English, which would negatively impact its readability.” Most importantly, writing in German is hard, and writing in English is easy. backspacebackspacebackspacebackspace.

Good enough. Unfortunately, this means my declaration date is pushed back another week, as Frau M won’t have office hours again until Tuesday. Because otherwise, it would be too convenient.