Thursday, 27 August 2015

Adventures from the classroom 24

I've had my feet up since returning from vacation as my summer course students are at their nursing practices until September. A few private classes and personal projects that have been keeping me sane if not busy, but my students are still managing to drive me up the wall in their absence!

The weekly Google Translated scruffy work they send in to fulfil their English course commitments is not amusing to this Mexican maestro but hey, at least they're learning something. Some of their hastily completed exercises have provided a bit of comedy gold:

According to some of these 'top level nurses':

A Consultant is . . . . a patient
A 'Ward Sister' is . . . . waiting to her brother
Measles are . . . a tratament
and an IV drip is . . . a disease

I can't wait to knock some sense into them in class!

Preaching to the converted:

Clockwise from bottom left: Edith, Skye, Kate, Dan,
Guy, Jose Alberto, Evan, Gaspar, Cuautémoc, Paula
Just before vacations we put on a workshop to a group of Mexican English teachers. They mostly worked at high schools around Oaxaca and came to learn what teaching techniques we use.

We got off to a great start on Monday as after a couple of introductions, a portly latecomer strolled into class and greeted everyone by simply saying:

"Good night!"

I couldn't help laughing, as I half expected him to wave, turn on his heels and walk out!

"Good Night Gaspar" turned out to be a real comedian. He was always cracking jokes and trying to give answers in a different or funny way.

"My weekend was . . . dangerous!" he would exclaim with a chuckle.

He certainly did like his food and drink and was forever talking about 'traditional beer' and his wife's tlayudas. He told us that he has lost a lot of weigh recently on his doctor's orders, but that didn't stop him ordering a second dinner of tacos and soda with us after seeing off a baguette, chips, two beers and a coffee.

"Hold the salad" he reminded the waiter in the taqueria, "I don't want any nasty vegetables".

The other teachers were good on the whole and keen to learn. We had a nice girl from the Istmo who taught at a university, a goody-goody high school teacher who copied everything down in her notebook (just like the students), and a rather confident ex-tourism operator from the coast who looked like Mr. Bean's cool nephew.

A couple of the teachers struggled to take the techniques on board because of their low level of English. We knew we were fighting a losing battle with Obdulia, who obstinately responded in Spanish and had to look the word 'word' up in the dictionary.

Témoc was a nice guy who worked in education administration, but had somehow wangled himself a spot on a teacher's course. His English wasn't top notch either.

"How are you Témoc?"
" . . . err . . . I am concentration!"

One highlights for me came when I tried to make them think in more of an abstract manner. After introducing the topic of food I said

"I want to be a tlayuda because I'm traditional. What food do you want to be and why?"

Jose replied that he wanted to be enfrijoladas because "I want to be in everyone's mouth"
. . . err . . . OK bro.

Then Gaspar piped up - "I want to be a magic mushroom because I want to get high"

Sometimes it was a little difficult to know if we were teaching English, or teaching language-learning techniques to the local teachers. Because our staff outnumbered those on the course it felt like we were giving workshops to our own department sometimes! Not a bad idea actually.

We went for a night out with all of them at the café and got something to eat afterwards. I think they appreciated socialising a little as most of them were from out of town and were stuck in Miahuatlán for the whole week.  

Luckily Good Night Gaspar is from here, and is now attending the TOEFL course and my conversation class, so hopefully we'll get some more classic quotes from the guy.

Spelling bee:

I'm no grammar Nazi, and not a great sticker for spelling. The students have far greater deficiencies than their continual usage of the word 'whit' (with).

Some of their errors are so sweet though. Here are a few examples:

  • biutifor - adjective, visually attractive.
    Mi mom is a biutifor person.
  • boifer - noun, a male romantic companion.
    I knowed my boifer since the high school.
  • tuwlk - verb, to communicate verbally through language
    We tuwlked about much thing in di night.
  • chicken - noun, the area of the house where food is cooked.
    My house have a big chicken very clean.
  • bery nait - adjective, exceedingly good.
    My dog is bery nait to playing with.
  • ticher - professional educator
  • Inglant - proper noun, the largest constituent part of the island nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
    Inglant is in London and London is in the American Europe.
  • homwook - noun, school task to be completed outside of class
    by email - 

Cat calls 2:

In a previous edition, I wrote about the shouts and 'cat calls' directed at me
Now it's my turn.

Here's some of my favourite responses and slogans from class:

(responding to Spanglish)
Is this English class or espanish class?

(Greeting late students by pretending to not know them.)

"Come in, welcome to English, level 2. I'm your teacher, Phil Charter. Your path to English greatness starts here."

(When a student goes to the bathroom) - 
"Remember to flush!"
"Have fun!"
"Don't do anything I wouldn't!"
"Say hi to student B" (also in the bathroom)

"You can't learn English in the bathroom"

(when I spot one of those blasted communication contraptions)
"Cellphones are not your amigos."

(responding to "teeeeeeaaaaaccccchhhheeeeerrrrrrrrrr!")
"Ayyyy ticherrrrrrrrrr"
"Ayyyyyyy eeeeessstttttuuuuudddeeeennnntttt!"

(translating Spanish demands into English)
"¿y las calificiones?"
"and the grades?"

(translating one word demands in English to Spanish)
"Movie teacher!"
"¡Pelicula alumna!"

I give as good as I get.

Kids course: 2 classes:

Last year I did some lessons on music for the children's summer course. This time I remembered to take some pictures.

Left-to-right: Angel, Luis, Rafael, Sara, Lupita, Emiliano, Aaron

I walked into my first class with them and one kid excitedly shouted 
"Hello, . . . hello . . . heeelllllloooooo!!!!!
What is your name? What is your NAME? what is YOUR NAME!?!?

I hadn't had a chance to greet them, or even put my bag down. Just, give me a minute!
I'll ask the questions thank you! - I thought. 

It goes to show that children react differently than older students and don't always play by the rules.

By the end of the class we were playing various running games and team quizzes to tire them out, and they certainly weren't playing by the rules. Pushing, shoving, jumping, screaming. I'm just glad there were no tears!

We focused on food as a topic, and I got them to name restaurants in the town.
GRINGO BURGER! - They all shouted almost in unison before erupting into laughter.

In the next class I had some help from Kate and Max, and we played more food games. They were whacking the vocab on the board (and each other) with fly swatters, playing a fruit based aggressive type of musical chairs, and looking in Max's box as a memory game.

We gave them some food at the end of the class with which they were not wholly impressed. "A pear?" one little chap said, looking like he'd never seen anything green before, "what about the cookies?"

I told them about Marmite, then offered some crackers around laden with the black gold. They didn't understand much of my talk and looked at me quizzically when the indescribable taste hit their little mouths. I got the thumbs down from all but one of them. I think adults can appreciate the fun of a food that people either love or hate. The kids just hated it!

One of the older boys tried really hard to ask questions in English and asked Kate if she liked living in Mexico. "Yes" she replied. "I love Mexico"

"Se pronuncia Me-he-co" (It's pronounced Me-hee-co) said the little smart-ass 'Luipita'.
"Debes aprender la idioma" (You should learn the language)

It's funny that Kate - the most proficient Spanish speaker among us teachers - got burned by an 8 year old.

As ever, we received needless certificates at a ceremony for just doing our jobs. I'm not sure what was funniest, seeing the nervous kids going up the wrong stairs and being scared of taking their document, or when the panel gives each other certificates!

Anyway, once a year for the children's course is enough for me.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

The ukulele

It's been a while since my last musical offering so I thought I would treat you all to some more tunes this time.

I bought myself a ukulele at Christmas while on vacation in the state of Michoacan. I had actually planned to buy a jarana jarocha (a ten stringed small Mexican instrument) but I saw a beauty of a 'uke' in the shop and got that instead. I figured that the ukulele was a little cheaper and easier to learn with all of the resources online. All of the instruments in this small town on lake Patzcuaro were hand made and full of character. I'm sure that technically, my instrument isn't top of the line, but it feels nice and looks like a cool mini-guitar because of the cutaway.

I also bought it to for my upcoming travels, it's much more transportable than a guitar. I realise that I run the risk of being seen as a travelling hipster-wanker by other hostel dwellers, but hey, it's fun to play.

I'm busily learning some popular tunes for requests (think Bob Marley / Beatles), and some favourite tunes of mine that translate well to the instrument . . . and yes, I can play "When I'm cleaning windows" by George Formby.

Please check out the videos, one of them is a new song I recently wrote. I hope you like them, and if you don't then you can have a good laugh at a big man playing a very small guitar.

Fly me to the moon - ukulele cover


El tiempo - Ukulele original


Boys don't cry - Ukulele cover


P.S. this is my 150th post - wow, that's a lot of time spent transcribing my babblings and warblings!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Top 10 examples of 'Mexican Logic'

1. Food logic:

Mexican LogicIt's a well known fact the Mexicans can't eat anything without chilli.

Chilli with breakfast? OK
Chilli on popcorn? err . .  'kay.
Chilli on fruit? . . . Wait, what?
Chilli in beer? No way José!!!

Another obvious thing Mexicans can't go without is tortillas. You can order a dish in a restaurant that comes with rice and potatoes and the Mexicans be like


. . . the tortillas finally arrive

(in chorus) "More tortillas please!"

People aren't great at describing things here either. A friend of mine told me about a question he asked a waiter:

"Why is dish x different to dish y?"
"It has different ingredients"
"What ingredients are different?"
"The ones that give it a different flavour"

2. Transport Logic:
Mexican donkey, mexican transport
I know it sounds like a bad Mexican joke, but it's kind of cool that people here go shopping on a horse or a donkey. Trying to save money due to rising petrol prices leads a lot of people to ride share. Another common sight is the pickup truck overloaded with family members and hop-ons.

One thing is for certain, nobody walks. As a person who likes to walk around town I often run into problems with directions (locals aren't very good at giving them), and am constantly beeped by passing taxis looking for business.

Why is he walking? they think.
He clearly has the money to pay for the taxi fair.

One of my favourite examples of transport logic is largely thanks to Ticho (pictured). Ticho stands at a busy junction wearing a mouldy old sweater and cut off jean shorts shouting and blowing his whistle repeatedly at passing cars. He became such a fixture there that he has a Facebook fan page with more 'likes' than the university I work at. Around one year ago the government installed traffic lights at the junction he 'polices'. It seems municipal traffic strategy and funding is indeed controlled by crazy people.

As if that wasn't enough, they now employ traffic cops to direct the vehicles too, even though the traffic lights work fine. Maybe Ticho will be presented with plaque or park bench from the government when he finally hangs up his whistle.

3. Minion Logic:

Every year there is a new craze to hit the streets. At first it was Angry Birds, then Dragon Ball Z and now Minions. I know Minions are popular everywhere, but the craze started way before the movie release this summer. It has to be seen to be believed. Kids, adults, boys and girls alike are sporting Minion T-shirts, have Minion backpacks, are eating Minion brand foods and are buying Minion garden ornaments.

Mexicans are not subtle when it comes to cheap knock-offs. Some of the couterfeit stuff you see here is comedy. Well, it's funnier than the animations anyway:

Minion fail, minion hateMinion fail, minion hateMinion fail, minion hate

There is plenty of ammunition for the growing crowd of Minion haters in Mexico. For the moment though, Minion merchandise looks to continue it's world domination.

4. Housing Logic:

Mexican house, mexican construction
Mexicans have their priorities when it comes to housing.

Aesthetics? No.
Energy efficiency? No
Personalisation? No

Cost, concrete, and cable TV.
Yes, yes, and hell yes.

So many houses are painted only on the front, half finished and appallingly designed. There is certainly no excuse for those with a little more money. Instead of employing an architect, designer or engineer, they just add more features. More gables, more ledges, more fountains, more unsafe balconies.

My landlords are a good example of this. With the extra money they receive from my rent, they build more apartments, more rooms and more extensions to their house. I admire the ambition, but the execution is always sub-standard, and they don't have any tenants to fill these rooms.

Rather than asking existing tenants what they like/want/need from rented accommodation, they 'advertise' by sticking a paper note on the front door. You can't see the apartments without seeing the tiny note. As a prospective tenant, you'd have to take the chance that the owners are in, and that the apartment is in any way suitable or affordable for you. Funnily enough, they don't have any takers 6 months after construction.

They'll moan to me about leaving a light on, or a guest using extra water (which costs all of 1 or 2 pesos per month), but think nothing of wasting thousands building white elephant apartments.

Well, I guess they have to save money from somewhere to pay for the satellite TV!

5. Pharmacy Logic:

Mexican drugs, mexican pharmacy
God I miss Boots and Superdrug. Any pharmacy where you can browse the available items and pick something yourself is like gold dust here. Pharmacies in Mexico stock everything behind the counter. Even if you just want some toothpaste you have to go through the rigmarole of "Colgate quadruple function fresh whitening fast action total protection spearmint please. No no, the one to the left. No, Colgate. No, the quadruple func . . . ah, OK, I'll just take Aquafresh then".

It's not much better if you have a prescription
either. Here's an example of the patented 7 step pharmacy system used in Miahuatlán.

1. Laugh at foreign customer
2. Take the prescription and ask why you need the drugs. "What illness are they for?"
3. Show the prescription to other customers in the store, you know - for a laugh.
4. Ignore the pharmacy computer system and search for the medication on Google Images.
5. Furrow brow and proclaim "I don't remember seeing it in the store"
6. Respond to the question of whether it can be ordered with " . . . No"
7. Instruct guy wearing a fat doctor mascot costume to high five the customer of the way out.

6. Timing Logic:

Mexican logic, mexican problemsEveryone gets paid at the same time (on the 15th and 30th of each month). That means:

  • Long lines for the cash machine.
  • Long lines in the supermarket. 
  • Businesses keeping prices high for pay day.
  • Events, sales and news schedules are all planned around this fifteen day cycle.

Even vacation periods are set at the same time, you can't choose when to take a holiday. This means:

  • Busy beaches
  • Traffic jams
  • Expensive prices and lack of availability
  • An atmosphere of furious spending and consumption due to peer pressure.

How about spreading the load a little Mexico?

7. Coffee Logic:

Mexican logic, mexican coffee
There is plenty of good coffee produced in Mexico, it's one of the world's biggest exporters. However, the most popular café is called the Italian Coffee Company and most Mexicans prefer hot corn gloop to a cup of Joe. In fact they normally only drink coffee at night. Go figure.

Café employees here are hardly 'barristas' either. Here's a couple of examples of their inflexibility.

" An Americano with milk please"
"No, Americanos don't come with milk. We have creamer."
"But you have milk, I can see four 1L cartons there. Can I have some of that?"
"No, Americano con leche is not on the menu, so no. Use the creamer!"

. . . another time

"One small Americano please"
"We don't have small, only medium or big"
"But small is on the menu"
"We don't have small cups"
"What about this one (point to the small cup)"
"That's the display cup"
"Yes, but you don't have smalls, so you don't need the display cup"
"Do you want a medium?"
"No I want a small"
"We don't have any small cups"


"OK I'll have a small coffee in a medium cup then"
"No problem, but I'll have to charge you for a medium"
"Because it is a medium cup"
"God damn it, I'll have nothing then!"

(employee turns to colleague)

"That was strange, I thought he wanted a coffee"

8. Customer Service Logic:

Mexican logic, mexican customer service
In Mexico the customer is always wrong. People aren't the best at putting themselves in the customer's shoes, so they're more than happy to waste your time. It makes no difference to them right?

My bank once called me to tell me they would close my account because they didn't have a scan of my ID card.

I took time out of my day to to present the document at the bank.

"Our scanner is broken. Come back tomorrow"

The next day, and the next week it was still broken. I tried to find a solution so I wouldn't have to keep coming back.

"Can I email you a scan?"
"Can you call I.T.?""No"
"Can you take a copy on the photocopier behind you"

The employee just kept trying to scan the document in, I mean like 50 times. She wasn't too bright as she had entered my country of birth as England, and then asked if it was part of the UK . . . like Argentina was. What???

The manager came over. He tried to scan the document in 50 times.
At one point there were four people trying.

"I have to go back to work now, it's nearly 3:30" I said
"We have to close your account then" replied the manager.
"I have been here for two hours. TWICE! If you close my account I am going to cause you all big problems"

My raised voice seemed to do the trick, as the employees cowered behind the desk, and the manager just looked bemused.

Why is he angry? We just to scan in his document, then he can go.

It's not just banks either. Returning items to store's isn't an easy task. You need to set aside a whole morning if you want to exercise your statutory consumer rights.

"What is wrong with the item"
"It's broken"
"Well you can't return it"
"Why not? I have the receipt and it's faulty"
"Because it's broken"

One shop worker called over another assistant and then a manager to help check the item I was returning was actually broken.

"I want to exchange it" I pleaded. "Why would I want a new item if this one is not broken!"

9. Taxi Logic:

Being a taxi driver here means that you drive a taxi, not that you know directions or addresses. Here's an example:

"Street X please"
"I don't know that street"
"It's in Barrio Y"
"I don't know that barrio"
"It's near to Famous Park Z in the centre"
"It's that, I only just arrived to the city and I don't know anywhere really"

And that was the second taxi I asked! I also had to bail on the next taxi I hailed because the driver couldn't shut his door. It was broken. "You'll have to get another taxi" he said.

10. Maths Logic:

Mexican logic, mexico fail
I would say that Mexicans are not known for their numeracy skills, but several youngsters recently won prizes at a World Mathematics Championships, so what do I know.

It's safe to say that Oaxaca locals aren't too handy at adding and subtracting anyway.

I remember the calls in Juchitán
"Tamales. Tamales! Two for 10, three for 20"

Funnily enough I was never hungry enough for a third.

Shop keepers never expect you to produce the correct change ready for a multiple item purchase. You put 48 pesos down on the counter while they are finishing the sum and they look at you in sheer disbelief.

"It is 48 pesos! What kind of sorcery is this?"

If you handed them a crisp 50 peso note, they'd be sure to punch in the transaction to their trusty calculator.

"That's two pesos change".

I can't complain too much as it often works in your favour and you end up getting your snack at a profit.

Don't be too mad Mexico.
I love you really . . . even if your reasoning is a little fuzzy sometimes.

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