27 December 2006

Voyage en Écosse

Back from Scotland (and Normandy as well) with this message to report:

Every stereotype that you hold about the Scottish is true.

Seriously, it's pretty much just as you would have imagined it. If you have ever heard Sean Connery speak, seen the movie Braveheart, or even Fat Bastard from Austin Powers, you have a pretty good idea of what Scotland is like. I'll break it down into a few key points.

1. There are sheep everywhere.
The same way that you may see cattle herds next to the highway when driving through the rural United States, you see herds of sheep everywhere in Scotland. And not just a few sheep picking at the grass next to a barn, but thousands of sheep spread out over green hills.

2. They eat haggis.
I didn't eat haggis, but I saw it not only on restaurant menus but in cans at the supermarket as well. Who doesn't want to come home after a long day's work, pull out the can opener, and microwave some sheep offal packed into the same sheep's stomach. It helps to keep the chill of those cold, Scottish nights out.

3. They don't speak English.
Not only is it not English, but they are proud to say that it isn't English. Even the most exaggerated accents of some of the more outrageous, fictional Scottish characters (again, Fat Bastard comes to mind) can capture just how thick the accent is. At times I was really at a loss for what a person was telling me. It's not just a matter of accent though, either, as there is a whole set of specific vocabulary as well. Suffice it to say that I question the wisdom of taking a group of French high school students to Scotland so that they can improve their English.

4. They wear kilts.
Not everyday when they are out and about, but for formal occasions most people have kilts. Furthermore, it is an extremely expensive thing to buy, with the full price sometimes running upwards of $2,000. The best kilts are completely hand made, to the point that the seams are hand stitched without the aid of a sewing machine.

In all seriousness though, I had a really good time in Scotland. The students were generally well behaved, the worst we had to deal with were a people being late to a rendezvous on occasion. The landscape was at times breathtakingly beautiful. The color palette was something of super-saturated greens, blackish-browns, and cool gray skies. It was great to get out of the crowded smogginess of Paris for a few days into some clean air and impressive landscapes.

Highlights for me included the trip to the whiskey distillery (I can't stand the taste of the drink, rather, I am always curious to know the way things are made), walking through the ancient streets of Edinburgh, and looking out onto the placid, steely gray of the one loch we visited. In all it was a great trip though I am happy to be back with Esther and now Pete in Paris.

As always, follow this link to some pictures of my adventure:

23 December 2006

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles...

Please excuse the deficit of posts here recently, I was in Scotland last week with my students and am now leaving with Esther for Normandy. Many posts and many more pictures to come!

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and a Pleasant Eid ul-Adha to all! (Zac: Do Yoists have a winter festival of sorts? If so, have a good one!)

13 December 2006

Pete's Coming!

Kurt was feeling a little homesick but couldn't rationalize going home for Christmas. "It was too far, it was expensive, I have the opportunity to travel a bit in Europe, I would be coming back from a week in Scotland and then heading right back out the door, etc..." Esther was able to solve this problem when she proposed, "Maybe if you can't go home to see your family, perhaps someone from your family can come here. Like Pete, for example." Kurt said, "Brilliant!" just like the guys in the Guinness commercial. Kurt called Pete and the parents and by the time that he woke up the next morning to find an email announcing Pete's travel plans, leaving just after Christmas and returning about a week after New Year's. "Wonderful!" Kurt thought.

Then Kurt got to thinking what would be fun things for the two brothers to do while in Paris and wherever else they might go. The list stands as follows:

  • Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, etc...
  • Eat ridiculous quantities of baked goods including, but not limited to; croissants, pain au chocolat, chausson aux pommes, tartelette de framboise, and pain au raisin.
  • Laugh at small things including, but not limited to; people, cars, and the bench seats in the Metro.
  • Look at the dead fish at the weekly market. There is weird stuff that I've never seen before.
Certainly this list is not exhaustive and, in fact, I am hoping that the "power or the internet" can help it to expand. If you have some good ideas, please leave them as a comment to this post.

09 December 2006

The Trials and Pimpulations of Teaching

I'm finding that nothing creates such an appreciation for teachers as being a teacher yourself. As a student, the teacher is just a figure, a concept made real that serves as a repository for whatever feelings you may have toward adults, authority, knowledge, etc... If you want to rebel, this is the perfect person to rebel against. If you are intellectually curious, this is the ideal person to whom you can pose your most challenging questions. Perhaps because of the subject I teach and the inherent communication barrier between myself and my students I haven't had too many difficult questions. Until this exchange following a class on Thursday...

"What does 'pimpass' mean?"

"I'm sorry, what does what mean?"

"'Pimpass,' what does it mean?"

With understanding came laughter. This didn't seem to offer much explanation to the student. "What? Is it funny?" she asked. "No, no, it's not funny," I said, trying to think about how I could explain it. "Well, to begin with, it's an adjective, a positive adjective, it means that something is cool. Like 'awesome' or 'great.' But not really... Do you know what a pimp is?"

As soon as I asked this question I realized that I had just opened up a much bigger can of worms than I wanted to. Of course the response came, "No."

So I began, "Well, you remember when we studied the song by NaS, 'I Can'? Remember when I explained what is a 'ho' as in 'ganstas and hoes'? Remember, it was a prostitute, right? Prostituée in French. Well, the pimp is the guy who takes the money from the prostitutes. He is a bad man but he has a lot of money. So when something is 'pimp' it means that it's cool. And, well, 'ass,' you know what that is right? Right, that. So you have the two words, you put them together and you have 'pimpass.' Do you understand?"

Obviously there was little hope for their understanding. When they looked at me more confused than before I quickly realized that I wasn't going to be able to explain this one too easily. I just repeated that it was an adjective, it meant that something was good or cool and wished them a good day.

Who thought teaching would be this hard?

Note: After some internet research and from what I overheard from the girls asking the question, they had heard a song by Damian Marley (son of Bob) which they thought was called "Pimpass Paradise." In fact, I've found that it is actually "Pimpa's Paradise." So, rather than an adjective, it is a possessive noun. This means that even my most basic explanation will only leave them more confused in the context of the song.

To quote Brandt, "That's marvelous."