Teaching In Socks


baby steps/blame Canada
February 19, 2009, 4:30 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Let me begin by explaining that the default personnel set up for my English school is this: one native English speaking teacher (me), one Japanese English speaking teacher, and one manager–to work on recruiting new students, and renewing students contracts and making sure the school is profitable.

Managers are always Japanese, and apparently it is rare that they stay at a particular school for very long. If they are successful, they get moved to bigger schools, and if they aren’t well…  When I first arrived, the default personnel scenario was in place. But within two months the manager was asked to move to another school (not because she was successful) and never heard from again. Sans manager, the other teacher and I were forced to pick up some slack– and in terms of dealing with students this meant the other teacher had to pick up more slack because out of the two of us she was the only one who spoke Japanese. Then in December, we got another Manager, who was capable and successful.

Unfortunately, after two months, the powers that be, recognized her talents and transferred her to another school three days a week.  Also, those same three days a week, the moved the other teacher to another school because she didn’t ave many students here. Thus creating a new, reformed  power hierarchy at my school that consists of just me, alone, by myself.  This essentially means that I am running someone else’s business in a country where I don’t speak the language.

As you can imagine, on occasion, this is ripe for farce.

Thus, in between faxing some forms (usually the manager’s job) and frantically trying to prepare for my class (my job), I was greeted by a visitor from the city office (I was stoked I could understand that much!). He was a wonderfully nice gentleman, who, happened to be friends with one of my students. He also knew less English then I knew Japanese.

He came armed with a series of pamphlets written Japanese, He explained each one, in Japanese pointing pictures of old people cooking and young Australian and Japanese children making arts and crafts together. It became apparent to me that he was in charge of some cultural exchange program, but beyond that I understood little of what he said.

This was a bit depressing; I have now been living in Japan for seven months, and have been taking private Japanese lessons. I study hard and try to speak when I can, but progress is slow, frustratingly slow.  Every Japanese person I try to speak with is always patient and really understanding, and I try to be patient with myself as well, but I’ve encountered few things as difficult as trying to have a productive conversation with someone when we don’t understand each other”s language. It’s like playing the worst game Pictionary or Charades every three seconds, except you don’t even resort to such games because you end up drawing an entire stick-figure conversation or imitating Riverdance.

As soon as he moved away from the explanation of the pamphlets and into free form conversation the structural integrity of our conversation collapsed.  The thick blanket of the linguistic impasse swiftly covered the room. I could see drops of sweat forming on his forehead as I tried to faun understanding to make him less nervous as he tried sentences in both quick Japanese and bits of broken English.

We got to a final sentence with only two words I understood, “Canada”  and “food”. I asked him to repeat the sentence, but I was still to grasp those two words. Realizing we had hit the cul de sac of this conversation I panicked and I did what I usually do in these situations and said “yes”.

Now I  know from a specific Seinfeld episode that this is a bad habit to have, but in situations of international exchange, I have the propensity to panic (I would make a terrible diplomat).

After I said, “hai”, he shot me a look that I briefly interpreted as meaning he understood that I did understand, or that I had just agreed to something.

Did he want me to tell him some Canadian foods? Were they going to make some Canadian foods and did he want me to come? Did he want ME to teach people how to make Canadian food and more importantly did he think I was Canadian?

After he repeated the question again for my benefit, I sucked in my pride and told him that the manager would be back on Friday and she could help translate. We exchanged formalities, he unnecessarily apologized for stopping in unannounced and he promised to come back on Friday. Afterwards, I thought about Canadian foods my list consist of this: Canadian Bacon, Poutine (gross) and some form of Canadian Syrup, also, maybe Ketchup flavored chips (does that count?).

Later my student, the who was an acquaintance of his, came to class and I asked him what his friend had requested. My student clarified everything, saying he wanted me to to either give a speech about Canada or teach peopel how to cook some Canadian foods. I replied to my student, who is very fluent in English, that I would be happy to do that, but I’m not Canadian. He blinked a few times, tilted his head–much in the way a canine does when it’s confused and said, “really?”.

depressing things: 2, Ted: 0 (maybe I get a half point for sucking in my pride instead of insisting that I would agree to teach a Canadian cooking class).

Also, I’ll find out tomorrow if the offer still stand to teach a ethnic American cooking class. If so what should I cook for the class, tacos or pizza?

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6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I sympathize with your position, trapped in a conversation where no one speaks the same language but trying desperately not to embarrass one another or become embarrassed yourself… Particularly as I’ll be placing myself in this very situation in a bout a month…

However, slagging poutine is a crime… How can anything acquired from a roadside shack which consists of french dries, cheese and gravy, and is served in a sopping wet brown paper sack with a fork (if it’s a classy place)be even remotely described as gross? Seriously, I loved the shit when I drove through eastern Canada and would seek it out again except I gave up meat and I suspect their gravy is not vegetarian– probably not the fries either…

Comment by blaark

where are you heading off to?

also, in regards to poutine:
1. The name poutine is silly
2. I my opinion, it’s just really soggy fries–without the excuse of cheese, which is the only justification that permit cheese-fries to be delicious.
3. I will conceded that the poutine I had in Vancouver was probably not from a reputable source as I do not recall my batch containing cheese or a brown paper bag (which even makes beer taste better) so I’ll have to give it another go provided Canada ever lets me back in.

Comment by treilly3298

Cheesebahga, cheesebahga, cheesebahga. No chips, fries!! Please, what’s wrong with you? Lean pockets???? I like mine with lettuce and tomatoes, Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes; big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer; Good God Almighty, which way do I steer…..Where’s my parrot shirt? Where are the defib paddles?

Comment by Greyfox

You’re not Canadian?

Comment by Chris Good

south canadian.

Comment by treilly3298

Yeah, you can’t get poutine in western Canada and expect it to be any good. It’s a French Canadian delicacy which really must be procured from roadside shacks off the highways of Quebec. This involves a lot of interacting with people who almost speak French but I found the experience worthwhile. Of course now I don’t eat meat so I wouldn’t go near poutine with Bea Arthur’s mouth…

And yeah, the name is stupid and slightly vulgar. Later on in that same trip we tried to pronounce pasties in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan without upsetting any little old ladies.

Comment by blaark




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