Last week I finished teaching a basic level English course to adults.
We had been doing 3-hour evening lessons twice a week since late October.
The students ranged in age from 20 to 65+. There were 10 men and 3 women. Amongst them were electricians, office workers, bartenders, a vet, an architect, a primary school teacher and a middle manager. It was noted that we could almost have built a house together.
They were very happy with my course and they told me so. I don’t get a bonus for customer satisfaction but most of them have signed up for the next level (Basic English II) which is sort of the next-best-thing to a bonus I suppose in the language teaching profession.
They were happy with my course they said because I was very strict about correction, I didn’t go too fast and I didn’t stick maniacally to the program as some other teachers do. (There was no need to stick maniacally to the program as there was no external exam at the end.)
As tradition dictates, we had a pizza together after the last lesson.
The venue was a local pizzeria where we all ordered one pizza and ONE drink each. The drinks ordered were: water, coca-cola and beer.
This is Italy, not Australia, so the beer-drinkers did not gulp down their beers in a lyrically fluid (sorry) movement. There were no raised elbows.
All the same, the beer had a socially lubricating effect and our conversation was more lively as a result.
So what did we speak about? What do English-learning Italian electricians, vets, office workers and architects have to say for themselves?
The vet told us of his package holiday to the USA (before the course) where he and his friends had proudly or obstinately (I’m not sure which) managed to avoid speaking English for most of the trip. “Why?” I asked. “Because we are Italian!” he replied with a shrug and a smile, knowing that he conforms all too perfectly to a certain stereotypical Italian abroad.
This led to the subject of food, as almost all conversations with Italians do : )
In my students’ collective opinion, Americans have poor eating habits and they eat predominantly “schifezza” and “porcheria”: in other words “junk”.
The group unanimously agreed that Italians, in contrast, have model eating habits: they stop for lunch and dinner and they generally eat fresh, seasonal, locally produced foodstuffs as opposed to fast food (pizza being an exception, naturally).
Inevitably, comment was passed on the size of the average American.
This was followed by airport security anecdotes and then another classic Italian conversation topic emerged: that of the bidet. The bidet, as a conversation topic, is virtually inseparable from Italian travel stories abroad.
The architect observed that even the most opulent American homes rarely have a bidet in the bathroom. He went on to describe how he had once had to draw a bidet and illustrate graphically (how graphically he didn’t say) its intended function for the enlightenment of some American colleagues. Our group found this amusing and there was a lot of nodding. Fortunately many things remained unsaid!!!
The conversation veered off in a different direction after that and onto the ills that plague the Italian republic.
In summary, my students complained about:
- the conflicts of interest that exist between politics and business;
- the absurd quantity of red tape involved in getting things done in this country (running a business, signing a short-term contract, renting a flat, dying, etc.);
- the well-entrenched practice of doctors, medical specialists, dentists, mechanics, and so on, giving patients/customers a discount if they pay in cash and don’t ask for an invoice;
- the short and long-term ramifications of the above for ordinary tax-paying citizens.
The electrician then told us an all too familiar-sounding bank story where he had to close his bank account because the bank’s fees and charges exceeded the interest he was earning on his account.
I told him that many Australians have had similar experiences with Australian banks.
Next there were tales of local pizzeria operators and such who had packed up, sold out and moved to New York City or London and set up shop there. (It’s always an English-speaking country that they abscond to).
Throughout the evening I was asked the usual questions about Australia: How long does the flight take? How much does the flight cost? What does kangaroo meat taste like? What’s the population of Melbourne? What’s the average temperature in winter? How would I rate the quality of Australian pizza? and so on.
All of this was conducted in the Italian language, of course. If I had forced them to speak in English it would have been a very quiet night out indeed, and not half as entertaining.