Class Discussion

photo by weaving major
I teach ESL to adults in St. Paul, MN. I love my job and my students pretty effing hard and on a pretty regular basis they bring me to tears of a) laughter b) tenderness c) both. But then we all know that I’m a weeper.

Past discussions I’ve had with students:

  • The first time a student’s husband “loved” her
  • How delicious snake and monkey are
  • If they will get a body like mine from drinking Pepsi
  • Why I have boobies but their Chinese teacher doesn’t
  • If ghosts live exclusively in the ocean
  • Why I have hair like a lion
Equally hilarious is trying to explain any sort of western holiday or celebration. I tried to teach my students about Independence Day with wee, England and America shaped puppets, and a ridiculous story about how England was the mother and America was the unruly child. This was obviously met with blank stares and “Teacher, no.”

So, when I read David Sedaris’s “Jesus Shaves” story I thought “David Sedaris! What are you doing in my classroom!? Get out of there, you!” It is, of course, hilarious and chronicles what happens when David begins taking french classes (in France) and his class tries to explain the concept of Easter to a Moraccan classmate.

Here just a bit of an excerpt.

The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. “It is,” said one, “a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and . . . oh, shit.”
She faltered, and her fellow countryman came to her aid.
“He call his self Jesus, and then he be die one day on two . . . morsels of . . . lumber.”
The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.
“He die one day, and then he go above of my head to live with your father.”
“He weared the long hair, and after he died, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples.”
“He nice, the Jesus.”
“He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today.”
Part of the problem had to do with grammar. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as “To give of yourself your only begotten son.” Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.
“Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb,” the Italian nanny explained. “One, too, may eat of the chocolate.”
“And who brings the chocolate?” the teacher asked.
I knew the word, and so I raised my hand, saying, “The Rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate.”
My classmates reacted as though I’d attributed the delivery to the Antichrist. They were mortified.



Oh, girl. This is my all-time favorite Sedaris story. Have you read all of “Me Talk Pretty One Day”? There are a few others about his struggles to learn French that are similarly hilarious.

Morsels of lumber. Could it BE more perfect?


I’m pretty sure I’ve horrified my aged Mexican matriarch on plenty of occasions with blunders such as these. Usually when she bites her lips and closes her eyes to gather her thoughts (or hold in the laughter), I’m certain it’s because of some inadvertent faux pas on my part.

Sarah Von Bargen

I actually have the “Me Talk Pretty One Day” on cd and listen to on the bus all. the. time. I’m constantly alienating my fellow commuters by snickering at the window.


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