Sheila Wright is a Canadian Journeywoman who taught English to teenage boys in a school in Sorrento, Italy. All they ever wanted to learn was 'how to get foreign women to talk to them.' Sheila tried her best to understand Italian culture and to teach her students how to be gentlemen. In the process she met her Italian husband. Sheila writes...
A classroom of young men...
"I'm an annoying Italian
man, please just ignore me," were the words I planned to
teach my English language class made up solely of young
men from the Naples area. Since the day I had arrived, I
had seen such men in action. "Where are you from?" "Where
are you going?" "Do you need some company?" were the phrases
they recited by heart as they followed foreign women through
In the classroom, they
were attentive, polite students, eager to learn. "Why do
you feel English is important?" I asked. Receiving a unanimous
response involving the seduction of foreign women, I realized
that English wasn't the only thing they needed to learn;
they needed to be brought up to date on the workings of
the female mind.
interested in chasing women...
four years of language study at university and two years
of TESL training, I felt ready to do some serious teaching.
At a small private school in Sorrento, forty kilometers
south of Naples, I planned to put my expertise to the test.
The key to successful language teaching is using topics
of interest to your students. My students were only interested
in chasing women. (Great. The possibilities for field trips
(or fortunately), I wasn't able to delve into this subject
in the classroom since the school's method of teaching didn't
allow for much conversation or creative interaction. The
thirty-five year old system involved asking questions from
a yellowed book with a broken spine in order to elicit grammatically
correct answers from the students. Bo-r-r-ring!
all a big game...
the classroom, I inquired informally about the hard sell
pick-up method. I explained that, in North America, a woman
who is followed relentlessly and badgered by incessant questions
(grammatically correct or not) is unlikely to warm to the
perpetrator. I was told that, although a southern Italian
expects an initial negative response, he believes that persistence
is the key. And the fact that he rarely gives up easily
must be an indication of some rate of success.
there is an Italian comedy sketch where a man approaches
a woman alone on a beach and asks if she would like some
company. When she answers "yes," he doesn't know what to
do. It's all a big game.
a woman who wants to be alone on a beach in southern Italy,
you can forget it. You may find a few initial moments of
peace, but then you will sense a presence just behind you.
It will move in to your left or right and sit down at a
distance that says, "I'm in your space--you have to notice
me." After a period of anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes,
he will speak--whether eye contact has been made or not.
I became adept at judging the situation and would either
chat (if his language was good and I could learn some Italian),
or move away and hope not to be followed.
finds love and learning...
good news is, not all Italian men are annoying. I met my
Neapolitan boyfriend at the beach, but it was only through
mutual friends that we dared to speak to each other. He
wouldn't have approached me, for fear that I would walk
away, and my conservative North American background combined
with a good dose of solo female traveller defensiveness
would never have allowed me to approach him. (Don't cultural
differences just make a relationship fascinating?)
I taught English in Sorrento for five months, it was I who
really did the learning. The male-female relationship is
only one of the many intriguing aspects of a cross-cultural
experience. There's also the role of the family, the woman/mother,
politics and economics, to name a few. But those are other
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