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: