Warning: the following features a Russian Scuba instructor using language that is much stronger than he realises, so if you are offended by Russian Scuba instructors using unintentionally strong language then stop reading now!
Now, I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before (probably dozens of times), but for the purposes of what follows I should remind/tell you that I teach English as a Foreign Language for (what I sometimes laughingly describe as) a living. This is the necessary backstory for the fact that a number of years ago I decided that the time was ripe for me to write a mockumentary-style dramedy about an English language school.
Education is one of this country’s biggest exports, and foreign students, as a result, such a big part of the life of our big cities. Yet these students largely live in a kind of parallel universe, invisible to mainstream Australia – they clean offices while we sleep, cook our food and wash our dishes when we eat out, work overnight security at our supermarkets. And even when our world does coincide with theirs, it is for just a moment as we go in to pay at the servo, or buy gum at the 7/11; interactions that leave most of us with a memory of nothing but generic young Asian-ness.
Which is criminal, because if we weren’t so ignorant about these students, then we would quickly realise that we could be exploiting them much more comprehensively than we are. Instead of just getting them to do menial jobs and using them as cash cows to keep our universities afloat, we could also put their lives onto the small screen for our viewing pleasure. You have no idea what rich seams of both drama and comedy are lying untouched in the school, workplaces and homes of our foreign students, waiting for a TV exec with eyes as sharp as Lang Hancock to come flying over and spot the pot of entertainment gold (I know I’m mangling my export industry metaphors here). To give you a sense of it, imagine ‘Mind Your Language’ meets ‘The Office’ meets ‘Today Tonight’, and you are only halfway there, my friend.
Anyway, I actually went so far as to write a little series synopsis, outlines for characters, and treatments for all the episodes. I even came up with a title, ICE (short for ‘The International College of English’) – a title which seemed perfect, given that my industry is awash with both acronyms and overly grandiose names. In the end, though, I kind of ran out of energy for the ‘project’. Come to think of it, this may have coincided with the night Tilly was born (I thought I should throw a small bone to those who thought they were reading a parenting blog).
So where am I going with all this, you ask? And where is the foul-mouthed, deep-sea Muscovite* you were promised? Well you see, I still think of this series, at times, and reconnect with how great it could be, and this most often happens when (as was the case just the other day) a student hands me, out of the blue, a piece of pure comedy gold.
Let me set the scene for the nugget in question. My class has just finished, and everyone is leaving, when the very lovely Victor* pulls me aside.
Victor: Teacher, can I ask question?
Me: Of course, Victor.
Victor: What is difference for using ‘me’ and ‘myself’?
Me: Ah well, generally we use ‘me’ when someone else is the subject of the verb – like ‘You love me’ or ‘He told me a joke’. But we use ‘myself’ when I am both the subject and the object of the verb. So when I do something to ‘myself’, that is when I use ‘myself’ – like (and here I use mime in an attempt to clarify) ‘I cut myself’ or ‘I saw myself in the mirror’. Does that make sense?
Victor: Yes, I think…. Teacher, other day, I hear man in street say to other man in street, ‘Go fuck yourself!’, and I wonder who is fuck who.
Me: Ah. Well, you see this is a good example of what I’m talking about, because in this situation the first man does not want to have sex with the second man. He wants the second man to have sex with himself.
At this point I once again try (and judging from Victor’s facial expression either fail or succeed to too great a degree) to mime the difference.
Victor: (Obviously somewhat shaken by what he has just seen) I think I maybe see.
Me: (As my boss enters the classroom behind me, I make one final, desperate attempt to help Victor through the careful teaming of words to illustrative action) So do you understand, Victor? You fuck me, and I fuck myself.
Victor: Ah, yes. Thank you, teacher.
He then exits quickly, and disappears up the hallway towards the lifts, and I turn to see my boss standing, with an unreadable look on her face, in the doorway.