Notes from the TEFL Graveyard

Wistful reflections, petty glories.

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Location: The House of Usher, Brazil

I'm a flailing TEFL teacher who entered the profession over a decade ago to kill some time whilst I tried to find out what I really wanted to do. I like trying to write comedy (I once got to the semi-finals of a BBC Talent competition, ironically writing a sitcom based on TEFL), whilst trying to conquer genetically inherited procrastination... I am now based in Brazil, where I live with my wife and two chins.

Friday, 23 November 2007


"Schopenhauer, in his splendid essay called "On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual," points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that, when they occurred, had seemed accidental and of little moment, turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot."
The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers)

It is indeed a fascinating theory, though one not altogether backed up by my own floundering experience. When I look back on my life, I see less the consistent plot of a novel and more the outline of an episode of the BBC’s early-nineties soap opera fiasco, Eldorado. Most of my big life decisions have been made on a whim, guided by a desire to achieve the most pleasurable and pain-free result. Whilst my contemporaries were carefully choosing their higher education subjects based on future earnings potential, employability, and making Stalinist five-year plans for their lives, I resolved to read the largely useless Italian language at university whilst sipping a chilled lager outside a seafront café in Finale Ligure on a teenage Inter-railing jolly.

I have in a previous missive poked fun at my colleague E, who spent a year in Germany developing a profound and all-pervading loathing of everything Teutonic, for reasons unexplained, and yet my own experiences with gli italiani produced similar, if less rabidly frenzied, results. Before venturing to the tiny hillside city of Urbino for my Erasmus-sponsored sabbatical, I had infantile fantasies that I would be greeted in local bars as lo scrittore inglese, who, following in the footsteps of Hemingway and countless other hellraisers, would spent the entire time being drunk and fascinating. Indeed, in the first few weeks I found I did attract quite a bit of attention, as Italians, perhaps intrigued by my unique blend of cravats and corduroy, would approach me and strike up conversation. I would do my best to be as profound as possible with my rudimentary foreign language skills, before grabbing another beer from the canteen bar as a marker as to the extent to which I was spellbindingly bohemian. I was widely considered “strong” for my ability to down numerous cans of Peroni, and generally keep them down.

However, I soon discovered an ulterior motive for the captivation I held over the residents of Le Marche. Conversations inevitably followed the same, discernible pattern:

Italiano: So, where are you from?
Inglese: Britain. I say Britain because my father’s English, but my mother’s Wels
Italiano: I was in London once. Biggy Ben, wonderful clock.
Inglese: Indeed. Have you ever heard of the Bloomsbury Grou…?
Italiano: And this gorgeous blonde next to you. Is she your girlfriend?
Inglese: What? No, no. She’s from another university in England. I met her yesterday.
Italiano: Can you introduce me to her?

Thus I would be left tapping my new found friend on the shoulder to continue my explanation of the twentieth-century London literary scene whilst he stared deeply into the seducee’s soul and declared his undying love for her, just as he had to a steamed up German girl twenty minutes earlier whom he was now strategically leaving to “settle”.

If there’s one thing that irritates me it’s Italian men’s utter conviction that it’s always open season sniff-wise. They are trained from a young age to tell a woman, any woman, “you will always be in my heart” and such preposterous flannel. I once had a fifteen-year-old Italian in a class who, when asked to describe the characteristics of his countrymen, pronounced with a stupid, self-satisfied and utterly straight face, “We are-a the best-a Latin lowvers,” to which I blurted with genuine venom, “Oh shut up, you farcical tit!”, at least mentally. The one romantic tryst I became involved in with an American colleague during my year abroad was snow-ploughed into oblivion after a couple of weeks by a dewy-eyed Calabrian with impossibly healthy hair and a verbosity full of the maudlin promises of primavera. He probably did the mambo like-a crazy too – there was simply no competing with his dusky southern ways…

I’m over it now, though.

Has an Italian ever stolen your girlfriend, or boyfriend? Have you ever stolen an Italian's girlfriend or boyfriend? Did they cry? Do you know any farcical tits? The TEFL Graveyard is a place to share your experiences, and your stories about tits .



Blogger No Good Boyo said...

Travel broadens the mind, but understanding what the foreign rabble are actually saying makes you fill out that UKIP membership form as quickly as you can moisten the green crayon with your foam-flecked lips.

A couple of years in Russia turned me from your identikit lefty student into the gimlet-eyed Cold Warrior I've remained ever since.

Three years in Central Asia and Azerbaijan, on the other hand, convinced me that the Communists may have had a point.

Ukraine seemed to click with me, and I grow fonder of it all the time. Maybe there's a foreign country out there for us all, it's just a matter of letting it find you. And it's never the one you studied at college.

Then there's the ghastly opposite reaction, namely "going native": the Oxford Russian student with his samovar and fur hat, and almost all Arabists for some reason that may be linked to public-school practices.

I've always enjoyed my time in Italy, but then no one has dared try to put the moves on Mrs Boyo, not even me. Ive noticed that Italian language students seem to earn the contempt of all TEFL teachers, largely for their uniformity of dress, childishness, preening self-regard and shallowness. How the Romans ended up like that is enough to make Spengler weap.

24 November 2007 at 09:21  
Blogger No Good Boyo said...

That should be "weep". O tempora etc.

24 November 2007 at 09:22  
Blogger M C Ward said...

Fine commentary, Herr Doktor - I wholly identify with your conclusions. I remember seeing a haughty behatted Daily Mail reading old boiler at Milan airport sneering to her blonde blow-up doll of a daughter (who was draped around a swarthy Venetian at the time), "Well what do you expect? He's English", as if Italy remains the cradle of Western civilisation, with its wild gesticulations and exaggeratedly loud social communication. Bah humbug! How many languages/dialects do you speak, if it's not a rude question? I imagine it must be hard keeping count.

24 November 2007 at 13:37  
Blogger No Good Boyo said...

There is nonetheless something endearing about the Italians' eagerness to conform while thinking their great individuals. My favourite airport moment was at Bologna, where an obviously Italian chap ambled up to the coffee bar and asked for a macchiato - at three in the afternoon. This violation of the no-milk-after-eleven rule stunned the Gaggia gorgon, who asked him thrice with an ever-increasing tone of incredulity whether that's what he wanted. Yes, he said, a macchiato. She turned to one of her three lolling lolita assistants and muttered "give him an espresso".

As you ask, I speak English, Welsh and Russian well, Ukrainian, German and French tolerably, and I get by in Italian, Polish and Spanish. I can also read Biblical Hebrew, to the hilarity of the Israeli shop-assistants I've tried but it out on. I salute your grasp of Portuguese; I got nowhere with it on our holiday to the Algarve, unless taxi-drivers and medronho-sellers were deliberately scorning me. Always possible.

24 November 2007 at 15:21  
Blogger M C Ward said...

You make I laugh, you do. Nice one - I'd forgotten the unwritten rule on dairy-based refreshment - I haven't been to my Tuscan estate in years. Linguistically hablando, I remove my headgear to you, sir - you are a true Renaissance Man, whatever that means. In my time I've been polysyllablic in Italian, French and Spanish, then I married a national of the only S American country that speaks Portuguese and started climbing yet another mountain. My problem is managing to speak more than one foreign language at once - as soon as I start learning a new one, the others seem to evaporate. I think I have limited space.

24 November 2007 at 23:47  
Blogger Hypersonic said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog. I too teach EFL here drop me a line.

25 November 2007 at 15:36  
Anonymous sandy mac said...

I can remember, still, after all these years, being chatted up by a German bloke on Bonn station. He spoke no English, and I no German, but that didn't stop him trying to get his todger up my ring-piece. After a while he got the gist of my conversation - that I was waiting for my girlfriend to arrive. That was total crap, actually, as I was just hanging around the station doing nothing in particular at 3. AM, as you like to do when you think you might be the next Jack Kerouac.

But wasn't he a sausage-jockey too?

25 November 2007 at 17:15  
Blogger M C Ward said...

I believe he was something of a mummy's boy, but whether that is proof is a moot point.

25 November 2007 at 23:29  
Blogger M. le Prof d'Anglais said...

An Italian girl once told me that English men were so unromantic compared to Italian men. When I pointed out that there's nothing romantic about professing undying love just to get someone into bed (Actually, the words I used were "They only say that because they want to fuck you"), she pointedly refused to speak to me ever again. Latin women seem to react this way whenever you confront them with reality.

26 November 2007 at 17:56  
Blogger No Good Boyo said...

A colleague had a very pleasant Italian girlfriend, and often visited her parents in Venice. He showed me a photo of her standing on a canal wearing black trousers and brown shoes. "I'm surprised the Policia di Moda didn't round her up," quipped I. "Quip not," he replied ruefully. "I'd rushed her out of the palazzo that morning to do something, and she'd had to throw on whatever was at hand. After taking this photo I had to accompany her to a boutique and buy a ridiculous number of shoes." Probably in pairs too, if Mrs Boyo is anything to go by.

26 November 2007 at 18:42  
Blogger M C Ward said...

Trés bien, M. Le Prof - the truth is never wrong.

Brother Boyo - one of the commonest comments I've heard as to why Italians like England is, "You can wear what you want." Must be a reaction to living under Mussolini, just sixty years ago. An English girl I once met had an Italian boyfriend from a small seaside town in the Abruzzo region, and she was virtually chased off the beach when she went there in a bikini. Apparently, it's only considered acceptable after a certain date - otherwise it's black clothing and a headscarf.

26 November 2007 at 23:21  
Blogger El Gringo Vasco said...

Thousands in Rome protest violence against women
25 November 2007 | 00:34 | FOCUS News Agency

According to organisers, more than 14 million Italian women are victims of physical, sexual or psychological violence over the course of their lives -- often committed by a family member or partner -- and 94 percent of cases are never reported, AFP reported.

27 November 2007 at 17:08  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I havn't had any of the personal experiences with Italians as you noted. However, I understand the "machismo" can be very strong and prevalent in the latin american countries. Have met and heard of many latin american men who think they are gods gift to women. Explaining to his wife how lucky she is that he is still staying with her after he had an affair with another woman....?!!! Obviously not all latin american men are like this but such rubbish is quite common.
Free Huge Tits

18 March 2008 at 12:19  
Blogger Special Brew Man said...

Yep, I never woke up till recently to the fact that others plan their lives! Really, how dare they? By all accounts planning actually seems to work too! Although all that planning a good novel does not make.

I think I remember the day I decided to become a wandering English teacher (at least subconsciously) was careers’ day in 7th form (I think that is upper 6th in Britain). I went to a big law firm and observed that the most exiting thing about the place was the free morning tea. I sometimes wonder how my contemporaries felt on that visit, did they see something I didn’t?

While I was off acquainting myself with the diversions of the orient –my friends were looking for that career job, doing that extra year at university – planning the date of their OE to England in five years time. I used to think they were chumps when I was about 22, now I’m turning 30, single, broke and still teaching English, they have careers, partners and savings etc. Nah! wouldn’t have missed this for the world.

By the way, my mum is Welsh too.

18 April 2008 at 06:26  
Blogger M C Ward said...

It gets us all in the end, SBM! Teaching is fun and usually delightfully non-corporate, but there's a price to pay...

Interesting that your Ma's Welsh, I'm a rugby fanatic because of her side of the family. I used to play until I stopped growing.

18 April 2008 at 10:58  

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