The first English class I taught in China was called “Audio Visual.” Interestingly, most of the time the room was without electricity which left the students (who had signed up for a movie course) to listen to (audio) and look at (visual) me. The poor dears.
Frank and Melly (their English names) always arrived early to class and sat on the front row. They were excellent students and paid very close attention to both my audios and my visuals. They were dating and my husband and I thought it would be fun to have a “double date” of sorts by inviting them to our house Friday night for dinner. Plans were made and everyone looked forward to it.
The night arrived and it went so well! Time flew by and was filled with easy conversation and lots of laughter. Somehow it came up that my husband has many interesting hobbies one of which is magic. The students wanted to see some tricks and he was very happy to oblige. I was happy to watch even though after a decade of marriage I still don’t have any idea how he does it.
He started with the easy stuff (pulling coins out of ears and making some objects disappear) and eventually progressed to a complicated trick that involved Frank imagining a card in his head. The object of the trick was that by asking Frank some questions, my husband would eliminate piles of face-down cards and somehow be left with the card in the Frank’s imagination.
This particular trick lasts several minutes and the intensity and excitement naturally rise as you wonder if that final card will be THE one. Somehow he did it! My husband picked Frank’s card and everyone was impressed. But that’s when things got weird.
No sooner had my husband announced the right card than Frank and Melly stood up, said the polite pre-closing remarks I had taught them in class (such good students) and left. Abrupt does not adequately describe their exit. The startling choice to leave was in such stark contrast to the rest of the evening that my husband and I just stood wide-eyed and stared at each other in amazement. Ah, life overseas. So much standing and wide-eyed staring.
Once we started talking again, we attempted to problem solve. We combed through a play-by-play of the conversation to see if we accidentally were offensive. We couldn’t come up with anything and then it hit me. Could they possibly think my husband is REALLY able to do magic? I mean, he had really nailed that last trick. Perhaps they thought he was some sort of wizard disguised as a college English teacher? It seemed completely outlandish but their exit was equally outlandish. Cross-cultural situations are weird more often than not so it seemed within the realm of possibility.
The weekend passed and I knew on Monday I would have to address the incident. How do I ask two twenty year olds if they think my husband is a sorcerer? I thought through my (hysterically awkward) situation while walking to class. I knew that to be culturally appropriate, I should approach the question indirectly and sort of tip-toe around the issue until they understand my meaning. The only problem with this method is that I am as utterly useless at delivering indirect messages as I am at decoding them.
When I walked into class I approached the front row, leaned in, swallowed hard and asked two adults a question I never thought I’d say. “Do you understand that my husband is not actually magical?” I still die laughing when I picture the moment. It is seared in my mind the way all traumatic events are.
They laughed (whew) and said, “We had such a great time! The syllabus you gave us on the first day of class (8 months ago) said not to call you after 9 pm and it was 9:04 so we needed to leave.” Oh for the love. Who reads a course syllabus AND retains the information? Frank and Melly. That’s who. Such good students.
So, as per usual, I just stood wide-eyed and stared in amazement. And then laughed until I cried.
This is the week we get to pull out our stories and share. Hit me with one!