Friday, January 27, 2017

Awake Again

Hello Readers.

I’ve decided that it’s way past time for me to revive my blog again. I’m afraid many things have distracted me in the last four years from writing this blog. Things like staying out far too late with friends drinking wine and other drinks that sometimes turned out to be a bad choice, a bad choice that would somehow get repeated the next weekend anyway. Sometimes things were difficult times or long periods of too much work.

So, time to see if I can breathe a bit of life back into this. At first I thought I would just jump over the last four years and start again with now, but truth is that would be a real shame. I’ve been a lot of places, seen a lot of interesting things, met a lot of interesting people, eaten a lot of interesting things, breathed some interesting air, taught some interesting and boring things.

So, I’m going to write about key moments and events that stand out from these four years, some vignettes, to speak very poetically. I’ll punctuate my entries with photos I’ve taken, drawings and paintings I’ve done, and also pages from my real life paper diary, minus some of the overly emotional things and graphic descriptions of my love life. As entertaining as those might be I don’t think I or my partners want that publicly available on the web.

So, stay tuned. My first step will be to jump back in time to pre-Christmas 2012 in Vic.

Friday, October 12, 2012


The trip to Barcelona was delayed by a week due to lack of funds and extreme amounts of rain. However, last Saturday the sun was shining and we had all been paid so Charlotte and I along with our friend Ginger - a teacher from another school - went off to the big city.



Friday, September 28, 2012


Dear Fellow Americans,

If you find yourself abroad the following phrases will sometimes make even a grown man giggle:

"What's up?"

"There you go." (used in the context of "now you understand")

"Knock it off."

"I don't give a rat's ass."

Howard called and asked me to bring something to work. When I asked what was up he promptly burst out laughing and had to calm down before making his request.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

English & Company

Time for a little information about where I'm working.

The school itself is fairly small and has been open for 6 - 7 years now. The school consists of four people really: Maria and Howard are the directors/teachers, and then there's me and Charlotte. Maria and Howard are wonderful and clearly love what they are doing; their advice for me starting out teaching kids for the first time has been unbelievably helpful. The school is on two floors of a building on the Rambla del Passeig. Each of us has a classroom: mine is the "orange room" and has some really awesome windows which are constantly distracting the students, especially the kids.

The students vary in age going from around eight years old up to whatever the oldest adult is. We all teach a variety of age groups although the adult classes aren't starting until next week.

I love the fact that it's a small school and that the directors are teaching alongside us. That was something I liked about Kaplan in Cambridge as well.

I've found a place to live as well. For my first two weeks or so I was staying with Maria and she was able to help me do house-hunting and all other sorts of paperwork involved in staying here since she speaks Catalan. I'm now living with a couple who are in their last year at university. They speak some English but not enough to hold a very detailed conversation.

I will hopefully be making a trip to Barcelona this weekend, so more soon. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

America: the exotic country across the sea

The other evening Charlotte, one of the other teachers at my school, was explaining English and American pronunciation differences to her class and commented that the school had a new American teacher and this is how I would say something. The class got excited and asked if they could meet me. Charlotte said no, not during class. If they wanted to meet me they could introduce themselves when the class was finished. 

I was at the front desk as this was happening, talking to Howard (one of the two directors and also one of the teachers) about something. One of the adult students who will be starting in October was standing nearby and started staring at me before blurting out "I love your accent!"

I never thought that being American was all that interesting. Why would I? I've lived in America most of my life and from my point of view it's a very big country where we all have boring accents and have some really stupid television shows. I'm starting to understand some of my dad's experience of being an Englishman living in America: lots of comments on the intriguing accent and eager questions. "What area are you from?" "Why did you leave?" "How long have you been here?" "Are you going back?" Etc. Etc. I even get asked to say things so they can hear my accent or see if they can get me to say some Americanisms.

Interestingly enough I've been told by some people both in America and England that my accent doesn't sound entirely American: I say a fair amount of vowels with an English sound, but things like my "r" "t" and "d" sounds are distinctly American. My brother is the same way: people laugh sometimes when they hear us talking to each other and we bring out the English sounds from one another. This is almost certainly a result of hearing our dad's accent growing up.

Something I find myself explaining often  is American restaurant portions. I have been teased on many an occasion while eating out about the large amounts of food you get in American restaurants, followed by amazed looks when I say "Well of course they don't usually expect you to eat it all. One of the best parts of going out to eat is being able to take part of it home and have it again later." Strangely most people on this side of the pond assumed that Americans either eat it all at once or just throw away lots of food a la ancient Rome style wasting. Boxing your food to take it home is simply not done in many countries here, or if it is they will give you a surprised and strange look. So when I tell them that I worked for several months waiting tables before I left America and one of the most common questions I would ask customers at the end of their meal was whether or not they wanted a box, they are somewhat incredulous. 

It should be noted that posh restaurants in the States generally have much smaller portions and one does not generally ask to take food home from those places.

Seriously, one of the best things in university would be if a relative offered to take you out to dinner or lunch. Food! Enough food for more than one meal! I find it really difficult over here to see any restaurant food go uneaten. After all, it's food that was paid for and if it doesn't get eaten it will go to waste!

Before I left America my friends had fun looking at my British passport. We all had a good chuckle over the warning that "This passport remains the property of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and may be withdrawn at any time," as it gave us a mental image of the queen seated on her throne with a pile of confiscated passports behind her.

Over here people are fascinated by my U.S. passport. A couple of people have pretended to steal it because they want very badly to move to America. When I got my British passport I was delighted with the fact that I could now travel freely around Europe. It's only now that I'm starting to fully appreciate just how much of the world is open to me.

While opening my Spanish bank account Howard and I had a long wait and he had a lot of fun flipping through my passport and looking at all the pictures and reading all the little patriot tidbits that are printed in it. The preamble was especially interesting to him. I rolled my eyes and commented that we're forced to memorize and recite it in primary school which I hated. 

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. 


 I have this song sung at me with some surprising frequency:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

One Year Recap

I have been abroad for a year now! I got on a plane in Boston on September 21, 2011 and arrived in a very dazed and jetlagged state in London on September 22, 2011

I think this calls for a recap!

-Left New England right at the beginning of autumn so I saw some of the bright colours of Vermont before I left.

-Left Logan International Airport, had a six hour flight followed by a ten hour layover in Reykjavik and then a two or three hour flight to London.

-Entered Old England

-Brief Stay in London before going north to Yorkshire to the Reids and spending some time looking at some really amazing abbey ruins and eating amazing cheeses. Also saw my aunt get her certificate as a lay reader in Yorkminster.

Yorkshire Moors
Fountains Abbey by floodlight
Whitby Abbey: Interior
Whitby Abbey

-A couple of months in Nottingham with Tam where I fell in love with Bromley House Library, did some family history stuff including reading some of my grandfather's diaries, and taking side trips to places like Oxford and Cambridge.

Bromley House Library
Chatsworth House
-Back to Yorkshire again where I learned about Christmas pudding.

-Christmas, New Year's, then Prague.

-Prague: earned my TEFL certificate, stupidly fell for a scam and lost money. Drank lots of beer and made lots of art but not a lot of money.

Prague: Main Square in winter
Prague: Main Square at Easter
-England again: this time spending the summer in Cambridge working at a TEFL summer school with very long hours which meant I was nearly working constantly for the 2.5 months while there. However, did go punting and took a side trip to Ely.

King's College Cambridge
Ely: Exterior
Ely: Interior

-Next job search as the summer school was winding down which meant doing skype interviews with schools in China, Russia, Spain, Italy, and Turkey. Turned down by the schools in Italy, but offered a job in Vic.

-Flew to Vic really really soon after being given the job offer.

That brings us to the present moment. Here I am in Vic and will hopefully have settled on a place to live by tomorrow.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Welcome to Vic! A small university city in the provincial area of Barcelona. It has its own Roman temple. It also has me until at least the end of June 2013, if not longer.

Friday, September 7, 2012

We now interrupt this previously scheduled silence....

Hello World,

I would like to pause my lack of updates to let it be known that I have my next job now: I am off to Barcelona next week!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Improper English

I am long overdue for another blog entry. My only excuse is that the school has kept me extraordinarily busy to the point where when I get home in the evenings all I want is a cup of tea, some food, and my bed. My real life diary that I keep has been very neglected as well.

For the moment I'm just going to do a short entry, but I wanted to share the following clips from Good Morning Vietnam. I saw it for the first time in many years the other day and the English lessons had me in stitches, because they're very true to life as a language teacher.

Many of students, once they find out I'm American, get excited and start asking me about pop culture stuff from America and asking how to really curse or insult somebody. The teachers are strictly not allowed to curse in front of the students so such lessons have to be done secretly outside of class, but many of them want to learn that much more than grammatically correct proper English.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

To Cambridge

I have just two more days left in Prague before I return to England to start my job working at a summer program in Cambridge. In honor of that, here is a cartoon followed by some amusing England vs. America humor.

10 Things Brits Do That Drive Americans Nuts

1. Over cooking your vegetables
The authentic British way to prepare edible plants is to immerse them in boiling water for a fortnight. Americans think this is weird and unpleasant, to which I say: “Until you’ve had a carrot disintegrate on your tongue, you haven’t lived.”
2. Being standoffish
When strangers in shops and people I pass on the street make eye contact, nod or say “Hi!” I like to reply with an icy stare or low growl. Lately, I’ve come to understand that this is not the done thing, but I can’t help it because I’m British. I was raised in a land where a sneer is worth a thousand smiles.
3. Thinking all Americans are flag-wielding fatties with firearms
Oh you crazy Yanks with your big guns and trousers that could fit three normal people in each of the legs! However inaccurate, we Brits love to believe this is the blueprint for every American. Understandably, they’re not amused.
4. Not tipping
Most Brits would rather undergo weekly colonoscopies than leave a fat stack of bills for their poorly paid waitress. You might think you can get away with leaving skimpy tips but the locals have noticed and now we have a reputation.
5. Your reluctance to “share”
The British stiff upper lip is considered a disadvantage over here. By all means, Americans, breakdown and cry – tell us something deep and dark – but do not expect us to reciprocate. But Brits be warned: your silence will only buy you pitying looks and unsolicited therapist referrals.
6. Believing that Americans have no sense of irony
This myth persists amongst Brits to the irritation of many an irony-literate American. What you will notice is that, on occasion, your new countrymen won’t pick up on our brand of sarcasm. That’s because to the untrained ear, a British person being serious sounds almost exactly the same as one in mocking, sardonic mode.
7. Having terrible teeth and neglected nails
As any American will tell you, the British suffer from a severe case of hand, foot and mouth. If your teeth look like chipped, moldering tombstones and your fingers are topped with jagged, dirty claws, don’t expect to get many party invites.
8. Not being able to tell a fifty from a five
To us, all dollar bills look alike: greenish oblongs with a dead bloke on one side and a spooky pyramid on the other. Poorly manicured hand on heart, that’s the reason I keep putting down ones instead of twenties at the supermarket.
9. Moaning about missing curry and Marks and Spencer.
Wherever you are in the U.S., there’s wonderful food just waiting to be snaffled, but I guarantee it won’t be a fragrant chicken dansak or a dreamy M&S steak and ale pie. My US friends are sick of hearing about the curry and pie-shaped hole in my life and stomach.
10. Your lack of interest in health
Doctors are for wimps. Much better to ignore that pulsating lump in your abdomen and go to the pub. This is not the American way. Here, if you’re not having regular swabs, scans or biopsies, you’re doing something wrong, and your American friends won’t hesitate to stick a pin in your bravado.

10 Things Americans Do That Drive Brits Nuts

1. Saying “I love your accent!”
Before I moved here, I never imagined that my dreary London burr made me sound smart or lovable. At first the compliments were nice, but then a New York tiger mom asked me to talk to her snoozing two-year-old in the hope that it would rub off. A bit much, I thought.
2. Putting last names first
The fashion for inflicting quirky monikers on babies started with American parents giving their kids surnames as first names. Remember Sex and the City’s Smith? Absurd. Then last week at the launderette I got chatting to “Anderson.” Could not take him seriously.
3. They take your plate away too soon
Americans love to please, and nowhere is this more evident than in restaurants. If I want a side of pickled kitten lungs or a splash of spaniel milk in my coffee, then by God they’ll make it happen. On the flip side, over-eager waiters will whip away an individual diner’s plate the second it’s empty. In my case, that’s long before anyone else at the table has finished. And people are like, “Seriously, did you even chew?” No. No I did not.
4. The relentlessly sincere cheer
If I’m having a bad day, or a good day – make that any kind of day – I do not want people in shops whom I’ve never met to swaddle me with their sticky, earnest, exaggerated niceness. In America, actual humans say things like “Ma’am, you have been an awesome customer today,” just because I bought a box of tampons from their store.
5. Their over-zealous patriotism
We get it, you’re proud to be an American. It’s not like Brits are immune to nationalism, but perhaps we’re better able to separate feeling glad (I was lucky enough to be born in a country with democracy and Kit Kats!) from feeling proud. Shouldn’t the second one be reserved for my actual achievements? Oh, and to your average Brit, hanging a giant flag from your house is a tiny bit creepy.
6. They treat their pets like people
Recently, at a flea market, I saw a woman pushing a buggy. Nothing strange about that, until I looked inside and noticed that her baby was a dog. One of those petulant micro-yappy types who thinks just because it’s short you should love it. I’ve also seen twin pugs out for a winter walk dressed in a full-body knitted suits and ties. And a friend of a friend’s cat is on Prozac.
7. Insisting that turkey is tasty
There’s a good reason why Brits only eat this galumphing fowl once a year, then bitch about it behind its carcass. No matter how many saltwater baths you give your bird, turkey meat is dry, insipid and stringy. Yet Americans put the powdery poultry in everything – from burgers and chili to meatballs and lasagna – and make it the culinary centerpiece of not one but two celebrations.
8. Spelling words the wrong way
I might as well pry the letter “u” from my keyboard for all the good it does me in over here. (But you know which letter made it big in America? “Z”! Only, they pronounce it wrong.) My point? Remembering to remove ‘u’s from words like “colour” and replace “s”s with a more abrasive “z” is a headache and I resent it. So there.
9. Pretentious pronunciation.
Americans, please note: saying “erb” instead of “herb” and pronouncing “fillet” without the “t” is not clever or sophisticated. You are not French. Make an actual socialist your president and then we’ll talk.
10. Saying “panties,” “fanny” and “bangs”
We’re all aware from watching Americans onscreen that these are the words for knickers, a bottom and a fringe. But when you live here, occasionally you’re forced to deploy these abominations in real life sentences. Only the other day, I said, “Can you trim my bangs, please?” I felt dirty afterwards. But “panties” is much worse, somehow infantilizing and over-sexualizing ladies’ unmentionables. No word should do both these things.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Teaching in Prague

I've been in Prague nearly six months now teaching English, so it's probably high time I posted a written entry on my blog.

I've been teaching mostly adults thus far which has its benefits. Many of my classes are one on one sessions or two students which makes it easy to taper my lessons towards whatever their goal is. There are six levels for defining how advanced a student is: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2. A1 is the very beginning entry level, and A2 is a step up from that. B1 is pre-intermediate which means the student can form pretty clear sentences but tend to still be a little shaky with various tenses and are still building up their vocabulary. B2 is intermediate/upper-intermediate which is the point where the students start to get a little more confident with what they say and understand readings quicker and can carry on some good basic conversations. This is also the level where if they're teenagers they like to argue about meanings. C1 is conversation level, a level at which my students like to focus on pronunciation and fine-tuning their grammar, especially when it comes to tenses, and always adding more vocabulary words. C2 is the last level and the point where they're more or less fluent. Students I've had in this area mostly just want to practice their English so that they're not rusty. They also often want a specialized area, usually business English, and want practice with how to speak in certain situations and not to sound like they don't have a good grasp of the language.

When we were in the training course our students were at B1 and B2 levels: we were divided into two groups and would teach one level for two weeks then traded places so we experienced both levels.
Teaching on my own I've mostly had students in the range of B2 – C2. The conversation level classes are my favorite without a doubt because they tend to be very interesting. I've learned a great deal about Czech culture and life under communism just from conversing with my students. It's very hard to get one student in particular to remember that it's “communism” when referring to the idea and system “communist” when referring to a person or a time. 

My students have a particularly hard time with the various verb tenses. In Czech there are only three: past, present, and future. English has twelve: present simple, present continuous, present perfect, present perfect continuous, past simple, past continuous, past perfect, past perfect continuous, future simple, future continuous, future perfect, and future perfect continuous. The perfect continuous are especially difficult for them, and I'm not surprised. If I didn't know English grammar by instinct I would find some of the descriptions of when to use the different verb tenses very confusing. Apparently being American gives me one small leg up regarding knowing the mechanics of English grammar: we actually learn some of the rules and structures when in school. The English, I've been told, don't do this; they learn it by hearing it and by instinct.

I definitely know more about the English language now than I did when I got on the plane to Prague.

I think the hardest that I've laughed during a class was when one of my conversation students and I were discussing economics, working world, and cost of living in various places. One of the food items we discussed was beer. I marveled over the fact that beer is just about the cheapest thing you can buy in a restaurant or pub: even cheaper than water or soda. I explained that ordering a beer out in the US tends to cost between $5 - $8 depending on where you go and the quality of the beer. $5 is roughly the equivalent of 100 crowns.
My student stared at me with horrified pity and said “If beer started to cost 100 crowns here we would be forced to have another revolution.”

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cemetery Photos

What can I say, I love an overgrown old cemetery: