It was I think Alberto Moravia (and if it wasn’t, it was someone else) who said ‘the Mediterranean woman has this terrible quality’. He did not mean British terrible - a suet-bummed, lycra-clad slattern with black roots and panda eyes. He meant rather that she is implacable, jealous, unforgiving of insult and merciless in exacting revenge for infidelity. Right. Well. This story doesn’t pack in quite that level of drama, so apologies for leading you on.
Maryam of Tunisia was asked by my colleague if she would like to form a group in class with two young men from Brazil. She refused, stating baldly in front of these two perfectly nice lads that she wanted absolutely nothing to do with them. She was not being procured for a threesome, you must understand, merely being asked to collaborate on the drafting of an essay. These two were foreign and male, though, and this was a combination Maryam could not endure. Admittedly Luis often wore a T-Shirt bearing the legend ‘Something for the Ladies’ with an arrow pointing to his groin, but still. My colleague did not force the issue, but noted that Maryam sat fuming for the remainder of his session and seemed especially affronted when he allowed the two Brazilians to crack a few jokes, none of them at Maryam’s expense. She simply disapproved of levity in class, especially from blokes.
The following day Maryam accosted me to complain about David’s lesson, which she said had not profited her as much as it might have. He had not eggzerblained well, she said, and this was bad, ferry bad.
‘Did you ask him to?’ I said.
‘No! Teacher should know! Teacher should know!’
I pointed out that teachers are not psychic, and that this is adult education and therefore a degree of responsibility must be assumed by the student for her own learning. This did not go down well.
‘I am honest berson!’ she said. ‘Alwayce I speak the true. This is bad, teacher must know if student is no understand!’ And here she did the whole bit with the defiantly flashing eyes and the arrogantly jutting chin, something I thought people only did in trashy books. I told her she was complaining to the wrong man, and observed to see if her eyes would become mere slits, but here she left the room, ‘swep’ out in a flurry o’ petticoats, she did’ as queens say, imperiously summoned a huff and went off in it.
Maryam took her custom to another school, and from its principal I heard that she had taken to complaining of headaches and lassitude, which she said were caused by her room mate, who injected her with poisons, potions and simples as she slept. Clever room mate. I suspect quite a few people had entertained thoughts of doing exactly that.
When a colleague e-mailed me the other day to say that one of our students, a lady from Libya, had thrown a tantrum and stalked out of the class when it was suggested she might benefit from going to a lower level, I remembered Maryam. Just what we need in Group Three, I thought; a Carmen, a Cleopatra, to stir things up a bit just when they were going too smoothly. However, the lady in question cooled down and returned, put aside her indignation and took instead to the most repellent obsequiousness, stroking my colleague’s face and telling her how lovely she was, in the hope that this would put out of her mind all thoughts of sending her to a lowlier group. All goes to show how wrong you can be. We’ll see how she frames, and by Friday we’ll decide whether she stays or goes.
Some cultures are so lacking in pragmatism when it comes to which level of class they are assigned, on the basis of a placement test. It is a complete waste of a student’s time and money to be in a class that is beyond her level, but so many need to be gently persuaded of that, often over quite a time. Why the hell can’t they just see it?
I told our Libyan Diva on Friday that come Monday, she should move to another group. I had prepared myself for some strop, but she acquiesced meekly. It is noticeable that these ladies tend to lay on the drama more with other women than they do with men. This may be the result of centuries of masculine indifference to their wishes, although I hope in this case it is the recognition that we are insisting on this entirely for her benefit.
One of our Saudi ladies actually wants to go down a level. She sent her husband to see the course director to apprise her of the fact. It did not occur to her that this is rather like deciding you need an eye test, then sending someone else to the optician’s.
That wasn’t a very long break from blogging, was it?