Diary of a foreign language class clown
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The following are the actual entries from a diary documenting Noah Pelletier’s struggle to learn German.
Packed a peanut butter sandwich and took the train to class. The teacher came in wearing the same black plaid scarf and matching skirt as last week. Today we talked about what we like to do. It’s a sporty bunch, and nearly half the students mentioned soccer. Everything I know or care about soccer could be written on a beer cap: The round thing has to go in the square thing.
A Chinese girl shook things up though when she admitted to enjoying “drinking and driving.” With her pencil case and beige turtleneck, she didn’t seem the rebellious type. Unsure if this was what she meant, the teacher crossed her eyes and mimed steering an out of control vehicle. The class laughed, and the Chinese girl blushed and stared down at her book. When it was my turn, I announced that I enjoyed eating pork knuckles in the old town and the teacher nodded her approval.
In our book, even the instructions are in German. Tried to make sense of the paragraph explaining the picture of a bald man sitting in a wood panel room, blindfolded, drinking a glass of water. Next we read about a overalls wearing blonde holding a tire iron. “She can in 27 seconds a tire change!” (Note to self: look up German word for bullshit.) Then came the story of a young man who shaved balloons with a disposable razor.
The teacher asked, “Do you have any questions?”
I didn’t know where to begin. As someone who’s both had a flat tire and seen a fair amount of NASCAR coverage, I understood the need to change a tire. Automobiles are universal, but I have no reason to shave a balloon. Nor do I foresee myself in any situation requiring the phrase Oh, shoot, how do I say ‘tighten my blindfold’ in German?
Today we celebrated Ukrainian Svetlana’s birthday. While we translated a story about a flying dog, the teacher left and bought a handful of sunflowers as a present. Svetlana is an alleged gymnast and a world champion pain in the ass. She’s always trying to show off with her long answers, and twice today she’s called out the answer when it was my turn. Damn Svetlana. But she did bring in these homemade croissant-like things with like spiced preserves in the middle. Could’ve eaten the entire plate. I asked her if the preserves were apple, and she just said “nein.” The teacher asked everyone to chip in a euro for the flowers.
Went to Amsterdam this weekend. The teacher was out last class, and today she came in with a black eye. (Note to self: look up German word for sucker punch.) Everyone had to go up to the board and draw a picture of what they did for a living. Chinese Xiau Hú drew a flaming wok. Armenian Albin sketched something that looked like a Ford Fiesta. Was mortified that they knew the German word for line cook and grease monkey. When it was my turn, I walked to the front and drew a man sitting cross-legged playing a pungi and a basket with a cobra rising out.
“I think,” the teacher said, “this is the job in your dreams?”
Didn’t have time to make a snack before leaving the house today. Threw the entire loaf of bread and peanut butter jar into my backpack. Discreetly tried to make a sandwich during break when Svetlana came over and started sniffing the jar like it was spoiled. The two Japanese women politely covered their mouths and laughed. “Did you bring that from home?” When I told them I did, they started laughing again. Damn Svetlana.
Today the teacher divided the class in two and made one group go into the hall. She closed the door and instructed us to take the students’ belongings.
“Hide them around the room,” she said. Albin took the Korean woman’s coffee and hid it behind the CD player. I took her phone and hid it on the window sill. The teacher took the Armenian girl’s textbook and dropped it in the waste basket. The Chinese girl had trouble understanding the game and moved the Spaniard’s pen to the next table. When we’d finished stashing everything, the teacher opened the door and the group returned to their seats.
“Missing something?” she said. They were. The teacher instructed them to find their items. “You must say what it is, and where it is before you can have it.”
We who hid the items said “warm” or “kalt” the closer or further away they got. Albin refused to give any hints. He couldn’t have been a bigger prick. The Korean woman found her coffee.
“Where is it?” the teacher said to her.
But she didn’t know how to say “behind a dusty CD player.” By the time she looked it up, her coffee was cold. Someone hid Spanish Nadia’s eraser so well that she gave up looking. The last item to be found was the Armenian girl’s book. She’d looked everywhere, and, after 10 minutes, was on the verge of tears.
The teacher helped her. “…warm.” She edged closer toward the front. “…warmer” When she reached the trash can the teacher yelled “Hot!!”
When the girl looked down, her shoulders deflated. “My book,” she said.
“Yes, but where is your book?”
“My book…is in the trash can.” She squatted down, got her book, and brushed the pencil shavings off the cover. All of this followed the joyousness of her pregnancy announcement.
Went to the grocery store after class today like always. Was checking the items on my list against the items in my shopping basket when someone approached me. I looked up and saw a lady holding three cans of white beans to her chest.
“Can you njkbptrm?” she said.
“Sorry?” I said. She repeated it, but I just didn’t get it. I know the German word for many food items now, as well as where they’re located. Sauerkraut is across from the pasta. Jars of wieners are next to the canned soup. They don’t number the aisles in the grocery stores here like they do in the States.
“Pay for your things,” the woman said in English.
“Um,” I said. She arranged the cans on her breasts so that they would not fall, and pointed. “Shopping basket?” I said. “Want you my shopping basket?”
She did. I told her to wait a minute and went back to my list. It was hard to believe that mine was the only basket in the store, so I decided to make her wait just a little bit longer, basically for spite. She waited, and then stood nearby as I placed my items on the conveyor belt.
“That is wonderful?” I said. “Have you will the only basket in all store.”
“Please!” she snapped.
Some people bring their own shopping baskets to the grocery store. I used to make fun of this. It seems like a very German thing to do. On the walk home, I replayed the incident in my head a few times, my garbled German, the desperate way she’d said “please.” I was putting the Gouda in the fridge when I realized something. I’d forgotten the butter.