An American in Paris, Again, Part I

The last time I visited Paris was in 2009 after a six-week stint in Cork, Ireland, for the video game company I was working for in Seattle. There, I came across a young Polish man who was studying at the university and we had a brief love affair in which I was torn between adventure and the guy I had been seeing for several months already in Seattle, Charlie, whom I would date, and love, for the next two years. Charlie and I had an explosive relationship – in that it happened much like a fireworks display, all sound and fury and bursts of colors that sizzled and sparkled to start but then fizzled and faded and eventually drifted away in clouds of smoke, or, more accurately, when I left him for Provincetown. But that’s another story. I was in Paris.

I had flown first to Milan to meet Marco whom I had known in Caen in 2006 while I was studying abroad junior year of college. We drove together from Milan to Marseille and explored the city together before parting ways in Avignon. I took a late train to Paris and met my Brazilian friends who had also studied with me in the small capital of Normandy. My third night there in the city of lights, myself and some other friends from my studies abroad were having dinner on the terrace of a sushi restaurant. On the other side of the entrance, alone at a small table, was a young American, failing adorably to order a glass of white wine in French from the Japanese waiter. I leaned over and ordered for him, striking up a conversation. He turned out to be a doctor from California, returning from medical service in the war in Iraq. I recall my friends raising their eyebrows at the interaction. In Caen, I was notoriously friendly, especially with the other gay students. It’s where I realized my penchant for American guys. And where I learned the power of flirtation.

To make a long story short, I spent the next three nights with the young American doctor in his hotel room in the Marais and he joined me as I explored Paris with my friends. Meanwhile, some several thousand miles away, poor Charlie was pining. He would say some time later that he had a feeling I was exploring romantically during my travels. He was right and, despite my guilt, I’m afraid it can’t be helped. My adventures have always been as much concerned with the heart and the libido as they have with culture and cuisine. I’ve always possessed a great thirst for life. A thirst I’ve quenched many times at many fountains and yet the fires of desire burn eternal.

TEFL: Italian Style

Teaching English to Italians is much different from what I expected. First off, I’m teaching in a private school with mostly adult students, so my schedule isn’t 9-to-5 but usually 9-to-noon and then 3-to-8. Often, though, I will teach during the 3 hour lunch pause which everyone in Italy takes. Really, three hours for lunch. I usually make pasta. So does everyone else here and their mothers.

Most Italians come to private English classes for one of two reasons: they just have to “have conversation” in order to workout whatever level of English they already possess; or, they are preparing for whatever level of a Cambridge approved exam. In Trentino Alto-Adige, it is now a requirement that students be trilingual in Italian, German and English before graduating from high school. They are also raising the standards for public school teachers – all of them have to possess at least a B2 in English or German – which means we have seen an influx of teachers looking to correct the rusted English they’ve been teaching young Italians for a decade… which is actually why Italians tend to repeat the same mistakes across the board.

For example, Italians never say the -s at the end of the third person singular verb (e.g. He eats – is usually – He eat). A strange phenomemon considering in Italian every single letter is pronounced individually. Another problem is the use of the present perfect, which approximates to Italian’s “passato prossimo” (near past) – yet in Trentino, the near past is also the more distant past, whereas in the rest of Italy, the “passato remoto” is used.

The verb “fare” in Italian also causes a lot of trouble. Generally, language learners start off by translating from their native tongue into the target language. But a verb like “fare” (to make/do) is like our verb “to get” – it has a wide range of uses that often don’t follow a grammatical rule. So usually I have to lay out the different translations based on context; We MAKE something from different ingredients, but when we DO something, we’re changing it superficially.

Most of my students, being working adults, are very bad at doing their homework. It’s amusing. Usually, I end up just having a conversation for an hour. I like preparing students for exams, though, because there is a ready-made structure to the lessons and because when they pass the exam, there is satisfaction and gratitude.

And there’s one thing I will note and chalk up to culture: Italian women don’t leave the house in sweatpants. And the men wear belts. Che chic! The emphasis on image in Italian is parallel to that in the USA, however I’d say that Italians do style better than Americans, though this is off the topic of TEFL.

American Dreams

When I give the sum of five hundred dollars every month to three different banks for four years of my life that ended seven years ago, I question my sanity, my math skills, and every decision I’ve made since I was eighteen and this year I’ll be thirty and I still make less than twenty-five-thousand annually. One day, a long time ago, when I made even less and was less adult-like, I had a real conversation with the bursar and the registrar of my former alma mater about giving back my degree in exchange for my financial liberty… After a serious consideration and inquiry on their part, it was deemed that what I actually gained from the experience isn’t tangible enough to be returned… Not that I would trade the last decade for another one, although the last five years were questionably rough on the spirit, I still think I should have been a barber. At least I would have good hair, full tattoo sleeves, no debt and could live somewhere hip. That, I think, is the new American dream.

On the flip side, thanks to having a degree in comparative literature with a minor in French, I’ve lived in four countries, on two coasts, can speak three languages, and somehow manage to eat enough to have to go to the gym three times a week. Somehow, that, too, is some fulfillment of some dream that I actually never had. I had always dreamed to be a designer or sing on Broadway or be a fashion photographer or write novels, then the dream was to teach literature, then it was journalism, then it was just to get the hell out of Pennsylvania and experience life beyond the known. Now, at this end of the known, which is no end, really, but in media res (English major vocab, thanks college!), I can see how complicated it was, how simple it could have been, and how perfect it all is nonetheless. So, I may be more than fifty grand in the hole, but I’m thankful…?