Posts Tagged ‘humor’

Feeding Coke to Toys

I’ve started up a Proficient 6 class (the same students as my pulling-teeth-awful Proficient 5 class from last term) and initially, I was wincing. Same kids, again: it’s going to be awful.

Except it’s not. The chapters for this level are actually kind of fun, and if anything, they get me acting like a stand-up comedian, which gets everyone involved and talking: “Oh, let’s make fun of the teacher!” Anyhow, they’re doing much better — and if anything, they’re engaged with the texts.

It’s also nice to have seen the test: I can now teach to it. I had students stop me from last term’s classes and ask why they had gotten such an awful grade on the test when I said they had made such excellent progress. And truth be told, they had; it’s just that the test didn’t test such things. So, if anything, I think that this will help confidence, which is about two-thirds of language teaching — just getting their confidence up enough to speak.

So, we’re talking about pets. After distinguishing the characteristics of what is and what is not a pet, I ask for examples. Dog. Okay; I write it on the board. Cat. Good. Bird. Okay, what else? Toys.

Nourhan, a toy is not a pet.

No, it is!

No, Nourhan, a toy is not a pet.


Because it’s not alive, Nourhan. It doesn’t breathe. It doesn’t eat.

Yes it does!


They do! I feed my toys Coca and they eat catfood! From my hands. Wallahi (By God, I swear!)

::puzzled expression passes over my face::
Nourhan, you’re telling me that you give Coke and catfood to your toys?

Yes, don’t you? What do you feed your toys?

(I mime chugging a bottle) Like, to drink?


(I mime eating) To eat?

Yes, of course.

Nourhan, you are a crazy person.

(Whole class laughs) No! I’m not! I swear.

(I double check) Toys?





No, no no! T-O-R-T-O-I-S-E! Toys!


Apparently, we need to work on Nourhan’s pronunciation of the letter r.

It’s shaping up to be a good term.


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This past week, I’ve been privately tutoring a student from Libya, who has at times surprised me by his insight beyond the everyday, but more often then not confirms his own high-schoolishness and sometimes insurmountable immaturity. Yesterday’s discussion centered on humor– our English discussion was focused on different genres of films (he is an enormous fan of Spiderman and Transformers)– which was a good jumping off point for getting him to talk. He managed to take hold of he conversation (in English) for forty minutes, albeit haltingly. His English is better than he thinks, though he suffers from the habit of most native Arabic speakers of dropping the verb to be in the middle of most sentences: e.g., “Megan Fox so beautiful.”

He paused as if to reflect on the koan of wisdom he just uttered. “Megan Fox…ah, is…ah…so beautiful.”

Just as it seems difficult for Arabic native-speakers to use the word is on a regular basis, it seems that they also compensate by using so for very; everything is so beautiful or so ugly– the English are so cold and they don’t like humor so much. On that point I paused and pointed out that there are cultural differences in humor.

My Libyan student wasn’t buying. He was insisting on Humor– capital H, large overarching, multicultural concept that every breathing Son of Adam might laugh at– and that if you try to kid around with the Engliiz, they don’t like it. Says he:

You kid around with your friends, you know? It’s ordinary. You slap them on the back and horse around and hit each other and crack jokes about each others’ families and friends and how stupid they are and say back, ‘What, I’m stupid? What about my mom? I’m going to kill you for that!’ You know, stupid, silly things. [pause] But you can’t do that with the British. They call the police!

Maybe they just don’t like the way you kid around, kid.

I’m reminded of Markous pulling the ladder out from under me last year and nearly breaking my neck– “I’m just kidding!”– and the ridiculous scenes in most Adl Imam movies; Egyptian comedies seem to revolve around the slapstick and bawdy. Tom tells me of an Egyptian parody of James Bond; it’s comedy stems from pushing people into pools and getting stuck in elevators. It’s no wonder that Juno wasn’t quite received as a comedy as it was in the states.

I’m also struck by the broad strokes of the stereotypes. I must have spent a good twenty minutes trying to explain it (and maybe my Arabic wasn’t doing quite so well yesterday) about humor being a sensitive subject that few have mastered, and cultural differences in it. He wasn’t buying.

Sometimes, I feel Orientalized. But more on that later.

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