Sunday, April 01, 2007


I am digressing from the Sicilian scene today and present you with the record of a conversation I had one Easter with a Chinese student whom I shall call Yu and to whom I taught English on a one-to-one basis. Yu was a pleasant, enthusiastic young man and he wanted to know everything about Britain and British life. I have three excuses for including the conversation in this blog: [1] I always think back to it at Easter and smile, [2] it is time to post something lighter and [3] it does say something about language learning and about cultural assumptions when you move to another country. As a teacher, I have always believed that when a student asks you a question you should answer it honestly and to the best of your ability but, as will become clear, the more I tried to give Yu the information he craved the deeper became the theological pit into which I dug myself!

Yu: "I want you explain me some British festivals, please."
So we start with Christmas and I say that we think it was the time of Christ's birth.
Yu: "Why, when people surprised, they say 'Jesus Christ'?"
Me: "It's just an expression but it upsets some people. Look up 'blasphemy' in your electronic dictionary."
Yu: "Oh."
We get through the Christmas explanation fairly smoothly up to this point and it turns out that Yu does know of Santa Claus.
Yu: "I know man in red and white with white beard."
When we come to Easter, I explain about eggs being a symbol of fertility and about the chocolate tradition and then we come to the religious part. I say that Good Friday is a sad day for Christians because it is the day Christ died.
Yu: "Why it called good Friday if it day Jesus die?"
Me [never having considered this before]: "I don't know. Maybe because he was a good man."
I go on to say that Easter Sunday is a happy day because it is the day Christ came back to life.
Yu: "He only dead 2 days?!"
Me: "Well, we think so."
Yu: " So he die on Good Friday, he only dead 2 days and then he come back to life?"
Me: "Err - yes."
Next is Whitsun, so I say that we do have a spring bank holiday but it is no longer on a day that coincides with Whitsun. I say that this is the time when Christ went back to heaven.
Yu: "So he die on Good Friday, he only dead 2 days, he come back to life, then after 2 months he go back heaven?"
Me: "That's about right."
Yu: "Busy guy!"
Yu: "What is difference between Catholic person and Protestant person?"
I tell him about the Pope, Henry Vlll and the Archbishop of Canterbury. I add that one of the main differences is that Catholics pray to [I didn't complicate it with "through"] Mary.
Yu: "Mary Jesus mother?"
Me: "Yes."
Yu: "So she Mother Christmas?"
Me: "No, she is Mary, the mother of Jesus but she is not Mother Christmas because Christmas is the festival, not a person."
Yu: "But I see picture of Jesus baby with man and woman. This not Mother Christmas and Father Christmas?"
Me: "No, Father Christmas is the same as Santa Claus."
Yu: "Oh. Anybody pray to Jesus father?"
Me [deciding not to go into the fact that Catholics pray to or through some saints and that Joseph is one of them]: "Well, Christians believe that Jesus's father is God."
Yu: "Man in picture not Jesus father?" [I can see where this is leading.]
Me: "Mary was married to Joseph but she didn't sleep with him before she gave birth to Jesus because Jesus is the son of God."
Yu: "How they do that?"
Me [thinking, "If I knew, I'd be the Pope"]: "Look up 'miracle' in your electronic dictionary."


Janejill said...

I'm not surprised it didn't make sense to him; I wonder if the story evolved a bit like the "chinese whispers"? "Send reinforcements, we are going to advance" transposed into "send three and fourpence (oops - pre-decimal again) we are going to a dance"..This always tickled me - but only when I was very very young.. What patience as well as learning to be a teacher.

Anonymous said...

This is funny. Speaking of eggs, I posted a few pictures I took today. You invited to have a look.

jmb said...

Lovely story, WCLC. I was laughing more and more as I went along.
Do you still teach English to private students in Sicily?

Anonymous said...

Utterly fascinating WL. It's hard enough to explain the Virgin birth, Trinity, Roman Catholic v Protestant debates, and how festivals fit in, to someone of the same language, let alone a man from the Orient. Wonder if he ever met the Three Wise Men on their journey homeward...

Lee said...

LOL....I can imagine what was going on in your mind, Welsh! ;) I bet you were glad when that conversation was at an end! lol

Whispering Walls said...

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood-
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

Anonymous said...

"I add that one of the main differences is that Catholics pray to [I didn't complicate it with "through"] Mary."

And we wonder why there is so much mis-representation of religious beliefs !!!

I notice that Martin Luther didn't get a name check in there either..

Anonymous said...

I think the explanation that we call it 'Good Friday' because Jesus was 'good' rather facile - most of us poor sinners are 'good'. If that was the standard, I suspect 'Good Friday' may not have been required..

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, janejill. Yes, not surprising really. Hi, Steve, I've been over there. Nice pics. Hi, jmb. Yes, I do, but they're not the most reliable students I've ever had! Hello, Shirl. Maybe he did! Lee, I sure was. WW - quite. Anon: I was trying to explain simply to a man with limited English, in a very short time and it's not as if I had been able to prepare for it. I'm a languages teacher not a theology one and I did my best. The student knew that. I looked up the reason why it is called "good" Friday not long afterwards and it seems I was not far off the mark.

James Higham said...

"Mary was married to Joseph but she didn't sleep with him before she gave birth to Jesus because Jesus is the son of God."

Well, Welshcakes, she might have cuddled up to him a little. They were cold evenings at the time.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Oh, James, I hope she did!

Liz Hinds said...

Who is this anonymous? Is it the same anonymous who seems to crop up here and there? Why not be named?

I think it was a great explanation on the spur of the moment! And so many questions coming at you, from different angles! Very entertaining. I bet you were/are a much-appreciated teacher.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I don't know, Liz! Got the "no anonymous comments" thing on now, not because of anything he /she has said, but because I don't know how many "anons" there are and it was starting to make me feel uncomfortable. Thank you for your empathy.
As a teacher, I just did my best.

Ballpoint Wren said...

Ha ha ha!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Glad it made you laugh, Bonnie.


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