Monday, July 25, 2005

Pulling Teeth

(Part of the series Very Very Sometimes. Click here to read the Intro.)

“Since when do they have mechanics working on Wall Street?” I wondered out loud.

“Maybe if something breaks. Like an elevator. Who’s going to fix it, certainly not the bloody CEO?”

“Bloody CEO. Crazy Irish. You kiss your students with that mouth?”

“Bloody’s not vulgar, it’s normal. And cultural.”

Tim and I were getting ready for our first week’s classes, and one of my new companies was filled with mechanics. I went to the great filing cabinet, which promised to have ready-made sheets for conversation classes with every type of student. Except for mechanics.

“What the hell do I do with mechanics?”

“I don’t know. Talk to them about machinery.”

“Right. My vocabulary is limited to the word machine. On. Off. Go. Push the button.” I thought of other possibilities. “Wheel? Axel?” Did those count? My idea of complex machinery was apparently limited to wagons. “Pulley? Catapult?” This was going to be a disaster.

I finally concluded that although these people were mechanics, that I was sure we would have other things to talk about. I would just go and rely on my natural ability to converse with people. I could chat it up with anybody for an hour.

My first hour as an English teacher scared me senseless. Pierre and Bernard limited themselves to yes or no answers. When I tried to push them, Pierre responded with, “What do you mean why? It is like this! It is all!”

“You mean you like science fiction films because it’s like this?”
“Not everyone likes them. You must have a reason.”

They stared at me.

“You know, this is your conversation class, so that you make progress with your language skills. My English is fine. I don’t need to practice.”

“You are English girl?”
“French girl?!”
“No. American.”

Nothing. They didn't even ask me if I liked Bush.

I waited for them to get uncomfortable and say something. They didn’t.

“Have you ever heard the expression, pulling teeth?”
“Great! Something I can teach you.”

I jumped up to the board and glanced at the clock. Over the next twenty minutes, I carefully taught them new and essential vocabulary for their jobs. I pointed at my teeth. I drew a little boy on the board.

“What happens when he grows up? His baby teeth must be replaced by permanent teeth.” I realized I knew some more vocabulary. I taught them the names of different teeth. Molars. Incisors. I drew a mad dentist on the board with some pliers. The verb to pull in big, bloated letters.

“Now,” I concluded with one minute left on the clock. “Is it easy to pull a tooth or is it hard to pull a tooth?”

“Ar.” God bless Bernard. No h and no d, but good enough for me.

“Good! So… when something is very very difficult, you say it’s like pulling teeth.”

They looked at me blankly.

“So...Conversation with you two is like pulling teeth!” I concluded, triumphant. It was as if I had solved the world's most complicated geometric proof.

"And that's the hour. Thanks for coming." I smiled a nice, big, toothy smile, shook their hands, and showed them to the door.


At 12:15 AM, Blogger The Michael said...

God, you're cruel,!

At 9:18 AM, Anonymous nathan said...

The best way to learn !

At 3:56 PM, Blogger Neha said...

:-)) this is a toothy smile 4!!!

At 9:13 PM, Blogger juliana said...

Yeah, that's brilliant. I guess I'll be going through the same things in the future.

At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Ursula said...

Nick sent me here- I taught English in Japan and had classes just like those. (And fell madly in love with every student who actually had an answer to a given question.)

At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Susan said...

Haaaaa I can totally picture you doing that.


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