News, features, and commentary from the biggest city in the Americas, Mexico City.
By Bailey Cook
Teaching English in Mexico City is a lot like being a prostitute. Not in the sense that you perform sexual acts in exchange for money, but in the sense that you are invited into the homes and workplaces of complete strangers and enter into an almost immediate intimacy with them that sometimes involves discussing the kinds of personal topics better left to a psychiatrist.
I find that while I strive to teach simple English grammar and usage, I learn so much more about the lives of a diverse group of strangers. I will be sharing some of those valuable lessons today. All names are abbreviated and companies omitted for the sake of anonymity.
J: Or, How To Become Rich And Successful
J is the director of an important engineering firm here in DF. We meet in his office on the top floor of a commercial building on Reforma, overlooking Colonia Cuauhtémoc. The view alternates between being scenic, and being covered completely in a thick layer of grimey smog.
He is a 60-year-old Spaniard with graying hair and suits that I am sure are very expensive. I am sure that they are very expensive, despite my complete lack of knowledge regarding fashion or brand names, because everything J does is very expensive, because he is a very rich man. In fact he is the richest person I have ever met (though it’s a possibility I have met people with richer parents).
He also has the worst English of all my students. We spend classes together carefully reviewing the basics of things like adjective order and the present perfect. Recently though, he has gotten more confident and more talkative.
Last class we covered a chapter in a book about restaurants and ordering food. He was excited to tell me about how Spain had the best restaurant and chef in the world, and that millions of people have reservations but only 8,000 of them can eat there each year.
My obvious response: “Have you ever eaten there?”
J: “Yes, of course. I ate in the special VIP room. My brother is the chef’s lawyer.”
Last month he went on a vacation to Turkey in a “little boat”. He showed me pictures of the giant yacht he rented with a full crew for his family vacation.
He talks about how much he loves his four-year-old daughter, so much so that he sends her to a private boarding school in Switzerland.
Obviously, I subtly try to find out just how he became so rich. Through hard work, family connections, business savvy? I specifically have him read experts about starting businesses and first jobs to try and elicit this information from him. All he gives me in return is an awkward glance at his irregular past tense verb chart.
However, I have been able to surmise a few things on my own. In order to be rich you have to care enough about money to spend 300 days of the year working in a foreign country you don’t like, only see your family during lavish vacations twice a year, and be in a continual state of stress and sleep deprivation. I think I will stick with my abject poverty until some day in the future when I just really need a high definition TV set.
S: Or, Sometimes A Dead Turtle Isn’t As Creepy As You Think It Is
A few weeks ago I was happy to get a new student whose apartment was only a 15-minute walk from my own. My happiness dwindled a little when I got there and saw a tank with what appeared to be a dead turtle. I kept glancing at the tank on the other side of the room, hoping for signs of life, but it didn’t budge. When my student got up to use the bathroom for a minute, I ran over to the tank and peered inside, only to see a rotten, burnt shell attached to what could only be described as a dead box turtle.
S seemed pretty interesting and nice from the conversation, and we ended up talking about very personal things, like the recent death of her mother and my father. She was so cool that I figured we might go on to be friends outside of class, but the dead turtle lingered on in my mind nonetheless.
I know it’s terrible, but I kept imagining that like Anthony Perkins in Psycho, she might be keeping her dead mother’s body in the next room, that maybe the turtle had been her pet in life and she wanted to keep them together in death … or that she was surely going to stab me a dozen times in the shower on my next visit to her house.
I came to our next class a little on edge, mentally preparing myself for a knife fight if need be. However, when I got there I was amazed to see her formerly dead turtle plopping himself in the water and swimming around. I asked if I could go look at him under the guise that I loved turtles, and she shamedly explained that her turtle had a bizarre shell eating virus and that most of the lower part of it’s shell had disappeared, but that it was only aesthetic and he was doing just fine.
That is the day I learned to never judge others on their apparent love of taxidermy.
R: Or, Sorry Mexico, Your Future President is Kind of a Jerk
R is a lawyer who works as a campaign consultant for the PRI (Mexico’s oldest political party, that ran the country for 70 years without interruption). According to him, he had basically been invited to get a Master’s at Harvard in International Business, because they thought he had a strong future in Mexican politics. However, there was a catch. He had to get at least a 95 on his TEFOL test, which after numerous attempts, he had failed to do.
I arrived outside his apartment on time for our first class. He took five minutes to let me in. I had obviously just woken him up and he had to hurry to put on sweatpants. I sat down at a table littered with books and garbage and he awkwardly started cleaning it, while explaining how embarrassed he was about the mess.
“I wasn’t embarrassed with Will (his former teacher). It’s just that you’re a woman. I didn’t expect a woman! I feel ashamed of this mess. I’m not a misogynist or anything. It’s just I can’t believe a women is seeing this mess!”
I find it is a good general rule in life that if someone has to explicitly state “I am not racist/sexist/homophobic/etc.” then they most assuredly are that thing. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt though, and started class.
I had prepared four different activities for the two-hour class we had together. He completely ignored all of them. Instead he spent the two hours checking his stocks on his iPad, talking into Siri on his iPhone while explaining that she was the best pronunciation teacher, and obsessively asking me where he could find an American girlfriend, in the most awkward and sexually agressive way possible.
At one point he demanded: “I want to review all of the tenses of English now.”
I told him it wasn’t really helpful to review them all at once without any corresponding activities or practice, but he insisted, so I did. After the fourth one he got bored and started asking about American girlfriends again.
One day I showed up to class five minutes late and he had already left for work, and then sent an angry e-mail to my boss complaining about it.
One day during class he spent an hour interviewing prospective roommates, and told me later that he didn’t want to live with them, because he really wanted an English speaking girl in the empty room instead.
One day while ignoring yet another activity he asked me whether he should continue taking classes or just find an American girlfriend instead. He then proceeded to calculate the cost of more English lessons, and to calculate the cost of having a girlfriend. He included things like nice dinners, movies, gifts of jewelry, and weekend trips.
In the end the girlfriend was about the same price of the English classes, but, he added “I can’t get sex from English classes!” accompanied by a glance that seemed to say “Or can I?” This was my last class with him, because he creeped me out too much to be able to spend two hours alone with him.
All in all he was one of the most unbearable, uncomfortable, insensitive people I have ever had the displeasure of dealing with. He is sure to succeed in his chosen career of politics.
He is so horrible in fact, that I believe he could some day be President.