I’ve run into two problems with the teaching, and there was an election this week:
I teach English to Czechs. Most of them are good enough to understand most of what I say, provided I speak slowly and cut down on the phrasal verbs, and respond in kind. But a funny thing has been happening to me lately. Over the last few weeks I’ve caught myself making fewer corrections when my students speak aloud. At first, I just assumed that this was due to my amazing skills as a language instructor, but then I came back down to Earth started thinking about it a bit more. I’m getting desensitized.
When I first got here, Czech was a very foreign language to me, and so Czech errors in English really stood out. I was not used to hearing these mistakes, so I could easily spot them. Skip ahead to the present, where I’ve spent a few months teaching and studying the Czech language. Simply being here, immersed in the language and the culture, I’ve gotten completely desensitized to Czechlish. It now sounds normal to me and I can’t spot errors as easily. It even works itself into my own personal dialogue at times. In short, actually being here has hindered my ability to do the job.
Follow me further – everyone I talk to has an accent. Sometimes I am exposed to an English accent, but that will be from a colleague at work and it’s nothing more than small talk about the weather. The woman that I live with has a very strong Finnish accent, and most of the other human beings that I speak with are all Czech students, so their accents are even more prominent. I speak to no Canadians and very few Americans. After several months of this routine, I find myself having to make a serious effort to recognize shitty English; it gets harder the longer I’m here.
I didn’t see that one coming.
I finally cemented this argument last Monday. I had met a former student of mine, a Czech, at a local pub for the quiz night, and at the end of the night we found ourselves at a table with an American tourist. I had no problems understanding the English of the Czech at our table. It wasn’t perfect, some grammar was off, but it was clear as day to me. The American guy, on the other hand, was lost. He couldn’t understand a sentence. Of course not, he wasn’t used to it. I was a lot like him 3 months ago.
Okay, so I have to work on being more objective in my listening. That’s problem number one. Problem number two? After a few months I’ve started to notice that everything I draw on the whiteboard looks phallic. It doesn’t matter what I’m trying to draw, it looks like a man’s gizmo. Trying to draw a guitar? Too bad it looks like a gizmo! Trying to draw a hockey stick….gizmo! Refrigerator? No, gizmo! Perhaps it’s my poor art skills, or perhaps it’s some Freudian thing projecting itself through the medium of my penis….I mean pen!….but it may be worthwhile to invest in some art classes this summer.
I woke up on Tuesday morning and didn’t expect to see what I saw on the CBC: Conservative majority. Ouch. I’m not sure if this was projected in the polls or expected overall, but it’s not what I thought would happen. I’m living far from Canada, and my exposure to the election coverage is distant at best. It’s not in my newspaper, it’s not on TV, so my information comes from the occasional article online that I feel inclined to read. Though, truth be told, there wasn’t a whole lot of fireworks in this election – nothing juicy to catch the attention and imagination of an expat. From what I gathered, it would likely be another Conservative minority, with Jack Layton having an outside shot at landing the PM position.
While I don’t agree with everything he says and does, the idea of an NDP minority government felt like it would make for an interesting experiment. As an observer abroad, it wouldn’t affect me very much; I could simply sit back and watch how it all unfolds. And, let’s face it, Canada has had a serious void in moustached leadership since Lanny McDonald retired. But, it wasn’t to be.
I’ve had fun over the last few weeks, giving my girlfriend the abridged version of Canadian politics in 2011. Partially due to the sheer insignificance of this information to non-Canadians, and partly due to the utter dullness of Canadian politics as a field, we didn’t get much further than: “This is who is in charge, this is his deal, and these are his opponents.” After a few days, we were holding conversations around the caricatures of: The moustache guy, The French guy, the guy who is in charge and is kind of a dick, and that other guy.
And now? All for nothing! The French guy is gone, the other guy has stepped down, and the moustache guy has no real power. I find the worst in the moustache guy is brought out when he has nothing to do except grouse and moan about the guy who is in charge. While I agree with some of moustache’s politics, and I do like the fact that he doesn’t make it a habit to act like a dick, when all there is for him to do is deliver fiery and hyperbolic statements, I begin to tune out – and even resent – moustache guy. He begins to lose me.
So, now there’s a Conservative majority. Once again voter turnout was ridiculously poor, 61%, and one can infer from this that the 18-25 turnout was even worse. It shouldn’t be a stretch to claim that more youths voting would have resulted in a greater challenge to the Conservative party, but Taylor Hall’s tweets were enough to make me doubt this.
For the second consecutive federal election, I didn’t vote. I went as far as contacting the embassy out here to get info on voting from abroad (which is more than I did in 2008), found out how much effort it would take on my part, and went out for a beer instead. Am I a part of the problem? Probably. Though in both elections the candidate I would’ve voted for was victorious in my riding, so I sleep just fine at night knowing that the Hammer is well represented.
One of my favorite things about an election is the fallout projected on Facebook for the rest of the week, and this week did not disappoint. I got to bask in the sheer and utter terror of Canadian friends and colleagues on my News Feed – proclaiming the end of days for our home and native land. The absolute and immediate backlash was monumental and excessive. Sure, it’s not what I wanted, but it’s an election, it’s not going to go your way every time. There are some tough years where you are repulsed by your elected officials. Not only does this happen, but it happens to every single country! Remember the US elections in 2004? It sucked, but the world didn’t end. This was the moment where I realized that, yes, while these things are important, it’s pissing in the wind to spend four years griping about it. This will happen many times before your time is up. Life goes on – even if your elected officials sit on the opposite end of the political spectrum. Pick your spots and keep things in perspective. Otherwise you end up like Code Pink.
Of course, this is extraordinarily easy for me to say. I didn’t vote and my taxes don’t go to Ottawa anymore, instead re-routed to some Czech man I have never seen a picture of and couldn’t name if my life depended on it. Though, I have always said (and even mentioned it in conversation this week) that the one thing I really enjoy about being Canadian is never having to fear turning on the television and becoming outraged at what your leadership has done in the name of your country. This could very easily change for the first time in my short lifetime.
Who knows, let’s see.