12 March 2007

The Opposite of Pleasant

I should have known that it was a trap. And I, even with all my street smarts and book-learning, walked right into it. I was late to Arabic class because of the snow. Well, actually I had been sitting at my desk willing the school to close so that I could go home and drink cocoa while wearing soft pants, and I lost track of time while reading a wikipedia entry about Whitney Houston's drug problem. That's why I was late. I'm trying to be more truthful during Lent.

I walked into the classroom about ten minutes late and there was a great seat available, to my great surprise. Good board view, plenty of bag room, no extraneous spills or trash to be wary of: all in all the perfect seat. So I sat. And then my seat mate turned to me and I realized the folly of my ways, dear reader. I had sat next to the non-traditional student.

When I was in university, I defined non-traditional students very broadly. Basically, were you old? Did you have responsibilities that extended beyond fake IDs and next week's mid-term? Then you were a non-traditional student. I realize, as I get older, I must redefine non-traditional students. Much like babyboomers desperately grabbing hold to The Who in an effort to not fall into the "Old People" demographic, I, too, must shamelessly shift. Basically, my new criteria is only two simple questions: "Could you be my Mom/Dad? and "Can you use a debit card?". When the answer is yes followed by no, trouble ensues.

I mean really, it is just this one lady, but talk about crazy pants. I had no more than sat down when she started giggling and asking me if I always misspell "Hello" in Arabic. Let me take a second here to explain one of my pet peeves: laughing at people who are learning. Having learned more languages than this bored housewife has had orgasms, I know that you make lots of mistakes when learning. That's how you learn. Boat loads of mistakes. Wastelands of aborted conversations, subject-verb disagreements, illogical causative cases and accidentally adding vowels where they don't belong strewn about like so much flotsam and jetsam: that, Madam, is how one learns a language. But I digress.

I looked at what she was pointing at. "Yeah, I guess I did misspell it."

She replied: "It's such an easy word! See! There should be another line right here!"
I: "I think we learned this on the first day of class. I didn't know how to write in Arabic at all the first day of class. Did you know how the first day?" I was speaking in that tone of voice I reserve for people who are pissing me off but are too stupid to know better. It's the same tone of voice I reserve for use with telemarketers; it says "I am struggling to not verbally destroy you, you stupid clod of dirt, but I was raised in the Midwest so I am going to speak with clipped politeness spoken a half-octave above my normal voice, you complete waste of space".
She giggled.

I decided to ignore her, even though she is one of those people that constantly is begging for attention. As soon as I pulled out my sheet of vocabulary words she piped up.

"You know what a great way to learn vocabulary words is?"
"Uhhhh, I usually just make flashcards."
"Well I labeled everything in my house so I can remember! Isn't that great!"

I looked down at my vocabulary sheet. I can't really imagine how she had labeled objects in her house such as "sad", "tired", or my personal favorite "uneasy". Did she make different tags and follow her husband around, placing the labels on his shirt as his mood changed? If she did, I can imagine she quickly cycled to "Enraged". If we had learned more vocab the previous week, I am sure she could have used "Ready for a divorce."

Shortly after, we were paired as practice partners, and I patiently listened as she told me that this girl had a notebook but that guy had a pencil. I tried to not fall into a coma. It wasn't her fault. No one knows anything interesting when you just start a language. It would be easier if one could start with "So, do you come here often? Great arms. I love your shirt. I bet it would look great on my bedroom floor. Can I buy you a Kebab?" But alas, not possible. We don't know how to say that people don't have things so all of our conversations are very positive. "Yes! She has a bag!" When it was my turn, I said that he had a bicycle but she had a car. Non-Traditional Crazypants immediately jumped on that! "You used the plural of cars! He has two cars?"

That's when Dick Cheney shot her in the face.

Ok, not really, but magical realism is my favorite genre right now.


ASL Master said...

Why bother with learning sentences? I prefer to just learn nouns. The rest can be communicated through facial expressions alone. Then you can spend your time learning such important words as sandwich, llama and airplane. Oh, and poop.

Coach said...

As you're practicing, you should occasionaly slip an insult in another langauge!