No That's Not Correct, Wait, Maybe It Is

One nice thing about being a conversational English teacher is the lack of grading.  School started at the beginning of September, and I'm currently grading my first writing assignment.  My students have grammar classes where they write more than enough, so I rarely make them grab their pens. 

Writing assignments are a good punishment method.  I don't think I'm allowed to take them on a field trip to a castle torture chamber - it crossed my mind, there's one about five miles away.  However, the threat of writing usually gets the kids in line.  They're smart.

My most advanced class, however, has a difficult English exam to prepare for.  It's a state administered exam here in Hungary, and it seems to be their way of making up for torture chambers being just museums in the modern day.  I saw a sample of the test, and I had trouble with it.  This class is being given writing assignments by another teacher, but they give them to me to grade (one of the negative parts of having English as my mother-tongue).  It strikes me as a sort of good-cop, bad-cop situation.

This assignment is about writing letters of advice to people.  They're short and easy to grade, except they're written in a different language:


That pesky island continues to make my life difficult.  I have to be very careful letting the ink out of my red pen, because it may not be a mistake.  The true exam will be graded by Hungarians - seems logical, they're experts on English - who will be looking for British spellings and phrases.

Theatre?  Correct.
Have you got...?  Correct.
Saying a sentence in 35 words that could be said in five?  Correct.

God bless America for shortening and simplifying everything except for the word elevator.  How did the English call dibs on "lift"?

I'm counting the hours until I grade some of my other student's papers, I'll simply write "payback time".  However, this particular class is full of hard-working students who always behave.  "Be strict," I was told, but that's easier said than done.

Perhaps my comments at the bottom of the assignment will read something like this:

"Well done!  Sorry I crossed out 90% of your words - twice.  I changed my mind because they could be correct in British English.  This assignment would be much easier if you were in America, because you would only use 1/3 of the words, and they would be easier to spell.  Tough break that England's closer.  If I were you, I'd try to write about elevators  next time."

On the plus side, I can put a big, fat "F" at the bottom of every paper.  The grading system isn't the letters A - F like in the United States.  Instead, they get "marks," and they're the numbers 1 - 5.

They'll ask, "Why do all of our assingments have an F written at the bottom?  Also, where is my mark?"

"It stands for funny," I'll answer, "funny because you didn't get upset when you saw it.  And who's this Mark that everyone keeps talking about?"

Hungarian word of the day:  Lift (pronounced Leaf - t) - take a guess what it means, even the Hungarians beat me on this one.  The only consolation is "taking the elevator to the fourth floor" is probably something like  problémamegoldóLIFTképessége.  But now I'm just making guesses.

I'm An Alien, I'm A Legal Alien, I'm An American In Hungary

Today marks the end of my criminal life.  I'm no longer accidentally breaking the law.  Instead, I have a shiny new Residence Permit stamped in my passport.  Hungary decided I'm cool enough to stay here until July.
(Behind on the story?  Click here to read yesterday's post.)

Let me tell you how it happened.

This morning was the first day I left on a trip in the dark of night.  I was surprised how many people were out and about at the freezing hour of 5:30 A.M.  The Hungarian trains have heat, but the particular one I rode decided it didn't want to use it.  That made for a nice ride.  I stared out the window at the orange moon and wondered if it was warmer there.

An unknown Szeged building for your viewing pleasure.
 The sun was up by the time I arrived in Szeged, but it was still cold.  My school's picking up the tab for this little journey, and they instructed me to take a cab when I got there.  I'm very, very glad they did.

Yesterday, I learned that you sit next to a cab driver in Hungary, not in the back seat.  This is a great idea, because it makes conversation much easier.  I showed the driver the address of where I wanted to go.  It was a good thing I did, because his English was limited to three phrases (that he used a lot):
1. "Oh, Mama!" - Everytime he saw a girl, attractive or not.
2. "One, two.  One, two, three, four."  - Used to prove that he did, in fact, speak English.
3. "Don't panic." - Speaks for itself.  He said this 47 times during a five minute cab ride.

He took me right where I needed to go, plus he taught me Hungarian and German along the way.  It was money well spent.  I'll hunt this man down everytime I'm in Szeged.

Just like every government office, everyone had to take a number and wait.  Everyone, that is, except for me.  I skipped the line and went right in to see a woman who was expecting me.  Hungarians are very smart people, they know an important person when they see one.

I filled out some forms (in Hungarian), signed some forms (in Hungarian), gave her some forms (in Hungarian), and finally signed something with an English translation.  The translation had a grammatical error, and being a teacher, I almost crossed it out and corrected it.  Don't worry, I caught myself.  That could lead to translating and correcting every government document in the nation.  I'd need a much longer expiration date on my Permit.

A cool church.  Please tell me if you know the name!
While the lady went and made the actual sticker for my passport, I sat in the waiting room and waited.  It didn't take very long, but long enough to sell my soul again.  I had watched a guy march in the room with a bunch of papers, come out 30 seconds later to take a number (that he didn't even look at), and then march back in.  Clearly he's been here before - not a good sign.

A few minutes later, the same guy came out and said, "Does anybody speak English."  Sure, why not.  He was doing the same thing as me, but needed another witness on his form to verify where he lived.  The form was in, you guessed it, Hungarian.  After joking that it was a contract in which I would give him all my possessions, he explained what it really said (and said I could verify it with the people that worked there).

This situation made me create a new life rule.  Always help someone who's capable of making a joke after multiple trips to a government office.  Write that rule down.  Besides, what's one more Hungarian document to blindly sign?  Been there, done that.

We had a short discussion while I was doing it.  The usual - where are you from and why are you here?  He was a German studying at the University there.  He didn't have an opinion on the town, because he just arrived and hasn't had time to do anything. I figured it was the first and last time I'd ever see him.

When I was back in the room, the lady was putting the finishing touches on my Permit.  Suddenly, the German guy popped up behind me.  He handed me a piece of paper with his phone number and e-mail address and said, "Give me a call if you want to go get a beer sometime."  Apparently he also has a life rule:  Get a beer with anyone who will sign a document they can't read for a stranger in a Hungarian immigration office.  Write that one down too.

The immigration lady laughed and said, "making friends at the immigration office?"  Maybe that's not normal here.  Oh well, I'm a resident.  That mean's I can make it normal.

Hungarian word of the day:  Tessék (pronounced Tesh (rymes with mesh) and ache (like a pain)).  Remember this one, it means a lot.  Here you go, what did you say, Hello (when answering the phone), what would you like (at a store or restaurant), and many more.