Ken Wilson – English Teaching Theatre, Mister Monday songs – has been sharing his story of how his career started. (If you haven’t read it yet, forget about this and get over there now).
Ken has a delightful account of trainees screwing up in ‘teaching practice’ sessions and a great memory for details. By contrast, my memories of my teaching practice are a blur now – as they no doubt were to my students at the time. However I do remember my first lesson very vividly.
1. I managed to get through 16 units of ‘First things First’ by Louis Alexander in a 45 minute lesson. (Pacing has never been my strong point)
2. A student came up at the end of the class to say ‘hi’ and welcome me, and he made me blush.
Mustaffa was a lawyer and he seemed like a very pleasant, well-mannered kind of guy. Our conversation went something like:
Welcome to Algeria.
Thank you very much.
Is this your first visit?
Yes, I’ve never been here before.
So how long are you staying?
6 months. I’m looking forward to it
Are your parents here too?
No, they’re in England. In Buckinghamshire.
So are you married?
No, I’m single.
Ah, so you’re a virgin.
<pause> I think I misunderstood. Did you say ‘virgin’?
Yes, virgin – like the virgin Mary
<pause> You’re sure? Virgin like in the virgin Mary?
Yes, you’re a virgin
It was my first lesson in cross-cultural awareness and it took me a several months to work it out. In fact I’m still not sure whether I’ve worked it out, but here’s my take on it:
I was a young female and I had made it clear that I was travelling alone to Algeria – sans parents, sans husband. We came from different worlds. What might be viewed as healthy adventurousness in one culture could be seen as unhealthy wantonness in another. Mustaffa was a well-educated guy who wanted to reassure me that he could reconcile the concept of being ‘well-brought-up’ with a woman travelling on her own . He knew the right thing to say in his native tongue to allay any concerns I might have and translated. Meanwhile I was blissfully unaware that I should have any concerns.
So Mustaffa, if you ever read this blog, I’d like to apologise for not telling you how dumbfounded I was at the time. If you haven’t twigged by now, please drop the ‘So you’re a virgin’ line. It gets lost in translation. And also – thank you for introducing me to the wonderful adventure of cross cultural miscommunication.
So several questions here: Do you think I’m interpreting this correctly? And has anyone had similar experiences? And how did it all start for you?