Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Does that come in a bag?

One crisp and sunshiney tuesday morning I was asked by a teacher to contribute part of the day's lesson, as I had observed one of her lessions the previous day. The previous day's content had been quite heavily grammar based, so I was grateful that I wasn't the going to be the one to inflict the stodgy rules of the present perfect continuous onto the poor, unsuspecting 8 o'clock class.

The content I had been given was fairly simple to the point that I was struggling to find an interesting way of presenting it. The topic was "in the kitchen" (be still my beating heart) and my job was to teach the various types of containers that one would find in the 'average' kitchen cupboard. If there's one thing that this particular lesson taught me, it's that the idea of an 'average kitchen cupboard' is a highly relative one.

Since I hadn't had the forsight to bring with me the various containers to make the lesson a nice, kinaesthetic experience, I resolved to simply sketch said containers on the board, and allow the students to draw on their own common sense. Again, a sense of what is common: highly relative. And so I drew: a can, a tin, a bottle, a box, a jar, a packet and a bag.

The book we were using was British based and gave some strict(ish) guidelines as to how to explain and justify what sort of food was kept in each e.g. liquid in a can and solid food in a tin (something I had never really noticed but interesting when you think about it. Well... relatively at least). After sketching (a dubious semblance of) said containers onto the whiteboard, I handed the board markers out to the students and asked them to come up to the board and list all the things that could be stored in them next to the appropriate drawing. 

I wasn't really sure how to react when all of the students unanimously decided that every possible type of food and drink was sold in a bag. With the exception of wine and beer, my little sketch of a bag of walkers crisps found itself surrounded by the names of every food and drink you could imagine. Milk, jam, dog food, oil, orange juice, cream, mayonnaise, fruit, honey, you name it, my students thought it came in a bag. At first I thought they may have misinterpreted my drawing, but upon eliciting more information from them they too seemed confused as to the purpose of this excercise. "But you can buy it all in a bag?" one student said, with polite but poignant undertones of "what is the point of this, you foreign teacher who obviously doesn't go out shopping very much?". I was confused.

I put it down to 50% misunderstanding 50% possible cultural packaging differences, and on my way home I stopped at a little supermarket to investigate the omnipotence of the bag as a Chilean packaging solution. To me, honey is a fiendish substance to manage even with the most sophisticated of pots and spoons, so you can well understand my surprise at finding, yes indeedy, bag upon bag of honey, milk, jam, cream, oil, orange juice and, wait for it, even wine.. It would seem that my students were right, the mandates of the book I had been using did not hold water here. (I was later told that the last item was the worst and cheapest form of alcohol available. If you think drinking wine from a box is tasteless, imagine wine from a bag)

The lesson to be drawn from this is that although there must be structure and content in our teaching and our perception of the world, (see my description Re: the fiendishness of honey), everything is always and ultimately extremely relative, varying from person to person and from place to place; and in Chile, apparently sold in a bag.

1 comment:

  1. I would like to think that Chileans are masters of recycling, and have found the optimum packaging that is light, compact, and waves two fingers at Western perceptions of presentation. Think about how much we complain about tiny items surrounded by volumes of plastic...