‘In your application’, she goes on, ‘you said that you are PC literate, but it turns out you can't touch-type, you can't tell the difference between pdf and power point, and my secretary had to show you how to send her an email. All you're able to do, basically, is open Word’.
Looking for confirmation, lest she might have misidentified my true colours, she cocks her head, and asks, ‘Right so?’
I’d been tickled pink when, having just graduated the previous autumn, Deutsche Telekom instantly offered me a full-time position in its translating department. But things hadn't quite panned out as planned. I was being called into the boss's office for my first – and, as I was soon to discover – only progress report. And I wasn't even half way through the probationary period. Frau Gürtelmann's damning appraisal of my practically non-existent PC skills was, alas, spot on. Humiliated and unable to return her gaze, I lower my eyes, bringing them to rest on a stain on the lacquered wood floorboards. Then, as if attempting to mitigate the charges being brought against me, I look up and whimper “Yes, but I also copy and paste”.
It's 1998, and – with the Internet of Things still very much in its infancy – I'd possibly taken "PC literate", buzzword of the time, rather too literally. I was, after all, literate and able to turn on a PC, was I not? A simplistic but nonetheless reasonable line of thought in the days when social networking meant little more than writing out a cheque each year for Friends Reunited and mobile phones came glued to a 15-inch antenna.
In my defense, I ought to point out that my ignorance of all things IT was not totally mea culpa. When it comes to computer skills I'm one of the so-called “lost generation”. The very year after I left school, IT classes were introduced to the National Curriculum. The idea of "catching up" and acquiring these essential life skills was never mooted, however. Right through university and well into my first full-time teaching job in Britain it was never once suggested that a basic grasp of PC knowhow might possibly enhance my career prospects. Not even when I took my Diploma of Translating shortly before the Millennium was there any talk of computer literacy being de rigeur for those wishing to progress in this IT-driven profession. As a mature student, I was easily ten years older than most of my fellow peers – every single one of them PC literate, of course.
Rewind further, back to the 1980s. In my final years of school I was obsessed with all things German. When classmates were kicking a ball around the playground, or as in later years, slouched on sofas in the sixth form centre, my ears would be glued to headphones in the language lab, following, almost religiously, the latest episode of BBC Schools' Deutsch für die Oberstufe, which Herr Lawson kindly recorded just for me – I seemed to be the only one interested – each week.
Just like today's younger generation sleep with their smartphones, lest they miss a lonesome late-night message or some sweetheart's status update, I would go to bed with my plastic-clad transistor radio, sending myself to sleep with Berichte von heute, North German Radio's roundup of the day's news. How much I was able to follow invariably depended on the strength of the crackly short-wave signal.
Each morning I would awaken to dulcet tones of Radio Luxembourg's Fröhlicher Wecker, aka Axel Fitzke. This slightly less cocky German version of the BBC's Chris Evans invited his Germany-based listeners, and probably his sole follower in the UK, to wallow in a glorious fuddle-muddle of Deutsche Schlager and Europop. The latter – chart toppers from Brittany to Bucharest – despite being sung in relatively comprehensible, albeit rather nonsensical English, never seemed to make the British hit parade, strangely enough. The line-up included stars with dubious-sounding names such as Gazebo, Secret Service and Joy. Not to be confused, of course, with the somewhat more sophisticated Police and Joy Division, which most of my peers were into at the time. But if Germans were unashamed fans of banal europop then I was up for it too.
Had you asked me back then, in those halcyon, pre-Brexit days, if I'd rather be German than British the answer would have been a resounding Jaaaa!