Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

My favorite language school story:

As you may or may not know, I learned to speak, read and write Russian at the hands of some pretty ruthless teachers hired by the military to make me learn it or die trying. Or maybe it’s not entirely fair to call them “ruthless.” My teachers were pretty wonderful. I still remember Mister and Missus Makarovski with a fondness so warm that it would melt the ice sheet covering Greenland. But they had just fifty-four weeks to teach us a language most of us had never seen before except maybe in comic strips, so they had to improvise some pretty drastic weeding techniques. After twenty weeks or so the size of our class was cut almost in half, but that was about par for every class. And all that is way too much explanation as to why I used the word “ruthless,” but I felt I had to. Okay, that’s done.

By the time we were settled in and learning how to actually read and write so that we understood it, we had a routine, and part of that routine was the weekly quiz. Thursday or Friday was quiz day, I can’t remember which. Probably Thursday, so we could get the results before the weekend left us hanging. So let’s say that every Monday we started a new chapter with forty or fifty new words to add to our vocabulary, Tuesday and Wednesday were the days that we practiced using the new words and grammar rules, Thursday was quiz day and Friday was our day to depressurize. Maybe I’ll tell some stories about depressurizing later, but I doubt it.

On the particular quiz day that my favorite language school story takes place, one of the questions was obviously supposed to make use of the words that translated as “member of government,” which in Russian would be – if memory serves – “chlen gosudarstva.” These quizzes were all fill-in-the-blanks, and on this particular quiz the first blank was very long and the second blank was very short, instead of a very short blank followed by a very long blank, if the answer was what I thought it ought to be. Odd.

We had practiced the phrase many times in class, so I knew it should be “chlen gosudarstva,” but it wasn’t unusual for them to do something unusual in a quiz to zing us, and I was feeling especially inventive that day, so instead I rendered the phrase as “gosudarstvenny chlen,” which I thought would be a perfectly acceptable way of saying, “governmental member.”

Which it most certainly was not. When Missus M returned the quizzes to us later that afternoon everybody got lots of kudos and good-on-yas – except me! She made a special point of stopping when she got to me, then glaring icily as she slapped my quiz on my desk. “Dayfit!” she snapped my name out in the Slavic manner I normally adored, “why do you write this on your quiz?”

I glanced down at the paper and saw that she had circled “gosudarstvenny chlen” several times in red pen.

I looked helplessly back up at her. “It’s not right?”

“Of course it’s not right! Why do you talk like this?” And then she stalked back to her desk huffily, not waiting for my answer. Nobody else knew exactly what was wrong, but they knew I was in truh-bull!

Later that day, Mister M came in for the hour or two when he taught a lesson we normally really liked because we usually learned a dirty word or joke or something like that. He wanted to go over the results of the test almost right away, and in particular the results of my test: “Mister O,” he began, “why do you write on your test the words ‘government prick?’”

I raised my eyebrows and shot back, “I beg your pardon?”

“‘Gosudarstvenny chlen’ means ‘government prick.’ You didn’t know?”

*sound of nickel dropping* Ah!

Dickishness | 7:50 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, story time, work
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