English


I don’t have a lot of time for blogging at the moment – the weather is superb for walking and photography but unfortunately that means it is also ideal for some much needed ‘tender loving care’ for Lofty, our beloved VW camper. However, having just cooked and eaten the obligatory full English breakfast I thought I’d use the 15 min ‘digestion’ pause to get this off.

The Romanians are almost uniquely able to have a joke on themselves and, being far better generally educated than the majority of people coming out of UK schools, are able to do it with a wit and substance sadly lacking in much of what we see from British commentators. I just love the poster campaign launched by the Romanian paper Gandul (‘The Thought?) in response to that from the Guardian. The posters are in English so English speakers can understand them even if the accompanying text is in Romanian.

http://www.gandul.info/news/why-don-t-you-come-over-raspunsul-gandul-la-campania-britanica-nu-veniti-in-anglia-update-10528548

So here are some of the Romanian poster words, each of which has a postscript “Why don’t you come over. We may not like Britain but you’ll love Romania”. There are many more gems.

Your weekly rent covers a month here – pub nights included

Our Tube was not designed with sardines in mind – sorry sardines

Our newspapers are hacking celebrities’ privacy, not people’s phones

Our air traffic controllers have seen snow before. They were unimpressed

We don’t have a congestion charge here. We believe congestions are punishment enough.

Our draft beer is less expensive than your bottled water.

And my favourite – almost absolutely true:

Half our women look like Kate. The other half, like her sister.

Most of my followers will know I have a serious love affair with Romania and Romanians and the majority of Romanians coming here so far are very well educated, hard-working and an enormous benefit to our society. But this doesn’t mean my eyes are closed to the problems: corruption is endemic (but worse in Bulgaria) and certainly a large number of Romanians coming here have come to commit crime and will do so in the future (the Romanians would say that they are not Romanians, but gypsies, and while I cannot support this racist statement there is an underlying truth).

So, much as I love Romanians and their country, the concern about freely opening the door to them is well-founded.

But it will be great for Britain to have a boost to the population of people who can actually speak English!

“What’s with the ‘mafia’ in that factory?”, I asked my companion. Or, rather, what I actually said was “Ce este cu ‘mafia’ la fabrica asta?”, necessarily exercising my newly-acquired broken Romanian in my first few months as a volunteer in Romania. This was May 1993.

My companion in the train compartment was my landlady, who had kindly accompanied me on a train journey from Siret, in the far north of Romania, to Focsani, 300 kilometres south, to what I had been told was “The best factory for BCA building blocks in Romania”. We were now on the return journey.

Raluca, Alina and Ramona, l to r, with Ancuta behind. Four of the 'Bunnies', my delightful special needs class from School no.11, Suceava, in 1994. They are wearing T-shirts from a special needs school in Pensacola, Florida, with which the Bunnies did an email project (despite the headmaster's attitude which was that I was wasting my time trying to do such a thing with them. He had to eat his words, but more of that in a future post about the delights of teaching English in Romania.

Raluca, Alina and Ramona, l to r, with Ancuta behind. Four of the ‘Bunnies’, my delightful special needs class from School no.11, Suceava, in 1994. They are wearing dandelion coronets we made on the day, and T-shirts from a special needs school in Pensacola, Florida, with which the Bunnies did an email project (despite the headmaster’s attitude which was that I was wasting my time trying to do such a thing with them. He had to eat his words, but more of that in a future post about the delights of teaching English in Romania).

She didn’t speak English but, as a book-keeper and someone I already felt I could trust after living two or three months with the family, she was an invaluable companion on an expedition to purchase building blocks for a new ‘half-way house’ to be built by the charity I was working with as a volunteer in Siret, for teenagers coming out of the then infamous institution – the camin/spital (hostel/hospital) – in Siret.

A big bag full of bank notes

Purchasing building materials in Romania in 1993 was not a case of picking up the phone, placing an order, waiting for delivery and an invoice to be subsequently paid, as I was used to in the UK. It was necessary to go to the producer, select the product, see it loaded on a freight train back to where it was required, and pay in cash on the spot. The necessary cash, in the ‘old’ Romanian currency – lei (lions) – was not a few bank notes in my pocket; it was a very large sports bag full of notes of the maximum denomination. I cannot now remember the actual amount, but it was millions and millions of lei in a heavy, zipped, padlocked bag (carried by a very nervous tyke).

“Everyone knows about the mafia”, was the response in perfect English, not from my companion but from a tall, slim, elegantly attired lady sitting opposite. The smile was friendly, but there was also a hint of some joke I had not seen and an overlay of amusement in her eyes.

It wasn’t unusual to meet an English speaker on a train then – there were a lot of British, American, Canadian and other English-speaking volunteers in Romania in the early 90s – but to come across a Romanian speaking near-perfect English was very unusual; the usual second language for well-educated Romanians was French (ignoring the Russian which they had been obliged to learn). Opening up Western tv programmes to the population changed that and then internet came and every child I ever met wanted to learn English. What a wonderful situation for a teacher of English – pupils desperate to learn.

You don’t have to be a teacher

Back to my new acquaintance – Felicia: she turned out to be the Inspector for English for the ‘county’ (judet) where I was living – Suceava. Eventually she pleaded with me to come to ‘teach’ English in what she described as the top high school – Liceul ‘Stefan cel Mare’ (‘Stephen the Great’ High School) – in the ‘county town’ of Suceava. “I’m not an English teacher”, I said, though I had taught English, for short times, to immigrant children in south London and to adult Spaniards at the Berlitz school in Madrid. “It doesn’t matter”, she countered. “We have excellent teachers but have not and never have had a native English speaker”. She was very persuasive and we finished the journey with me having agreed to extend my 6 month stay in Romania and go to ‘teach’ in Suceava. How things went from there is another chapter, sometime; suffice it to say for years more I taught English all over Romania and ended up married – to a Romanian history teacher

The Mafia

Oh, I’d almost forgotten the mafia. “The word you were hearing, was ‘marfa’ not mafia”, Felicia chided me. “They were talking about the product you wanted – ‘marfa’ is Romanian for ‘produce’.

“Mind you, you almost certainly encountered a mafia”, she added with another wry smile.

***

This addition to my ‘About’ was prompted not by something from Romania, but from another tyke (Yorkshireman for any of my readers who – unlikely – don’t yet know this dialect tag which we proudly bear) who has gone ‘self-sufficient’, building a strawbale house, in Poland (despite the post title, it’s in English):

http://winkos.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/przepraszam-nie-mowie-po-polsku/

I just love where blogging takes me and I was surprised to learn that Eddy’s story has so many things in common with mine, including being lured into teaching English. My own wanderings into strawbale building will have to wait for a future post.

From time to time I’ll do a bio post like this, in no chronological order, and eventually add it to the pages under ‘About’ above.

I wonder if this post might unearth some former students of mine:

Aliya, Kazakhstan; Daily, Estonia; Diana, Belarus; Jozef, Slovakia; Kaisa, Estonia; Pavlina, Czech Republic; Ruslan, Ukraine

More about the poster below.

Poster for English course, Ecumenical Institute, Iasi, 2004

I found this proof of a poster while visiting Romania in August this year, sorting through papers I had left in store there. I made the poster to promote an English course I was teaching at the Ecumenical Institute in Iasi (no copies of the poster itself; just this proof showing some corrections to be made before printing). Not particularly interesting, but I used pictures of and quotes from my students at the end of a course at the Institute the previous year (2003) and that made me wonder what they are doing now. We had such a wonderful time together, especially as the course wasn’t limited to the classroom and we made trips, including to the wonderful Bucovina, together.

The course was for the World Council of Churches and students from various former communist bloc countries were chosen on the basis of their likely use of better English in ecumenical activities. For every one of them it was the first time they had been out of their own country. Perhaps not all the students are on the poster and I cannot remember for sure the names and countries (Kyrgyzstan?) of any others, but they will be in the picture on a commemorative mug made for each of them to take home. The archbishop Daniel, also in the picture, took a keen interest in the course; he became Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox church in 2007.

World Council of Churches English course, 2003, Iasi, Romania, commemorative mug

I thought I’d see whether posting it on my blog might get through to at least one of the students. By the end of the course they were pretty good friends so may well have kept in touch with each other.

So, Aliya from Kazakhstan, Daily from Estonia, Diana from Belarus, Jozef from Slovakia, Kaisa from Estonia, Pavlina from the Czech Republic, and Ruslan from the Ukraine, or any other student who is on the picture on the mug, I’d love to hear from you and to know how your English is now!

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