A Story About Teaching a Russian Class

A colleague once asked me to substitute him in his Intermediate Russian class. I don’t teach Russian, and the fact that it’s my first language doesn’t qualify me to teach it. The colleague really needed somebody to substitute for him, though, so I felt like I had to help him out. My colleague was not a native speaker of Russian, so he announced me to this class as “a real Russian person who will answer all of your questions about the Russian culture.”

“So what would you like me to talk to you about?” I asked the class.

“Do you eat bottles after drinking vodka?” a student asked eagerly.

“Yes, can you show us how you do that?” another student suggested.

“That’s like totally the best thing about the Russians!” the rest of the students chimed in.

“I’m sorry, guys, what are you even talking about?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“Well, isn’t it a tradition in your country that after you finish a bottle of vodka you eat the glass bottle? We saw a video here in class where people did that. It was way cool.”

“Yes! It was the best!” all of the students agreed enthusiastically.

“No, we don’t have any such tradition,” I tried to explain, making a mental note to kill my colleague. “The video was probably humorous.”

“Oh, you just say it because you don’t want to show us how you do it,” the students responded. “Of course, it’s what Russian people do all the time.”

Who Oppresses the Child-Free People?

Child-free folks keep complaining about all those societal pressures they experience to have children. As a childless person, I have to ask, who oppresses me? Also, can I have somebody come oppress me societally for not having children? It sounds like that would be fun. I totally dig feeling oppressed, especially when there is nothing I need to do to feel it.

Seriously, though, aside from a few comments of the “And why don’t you have a baby?” variety, it’s ludicrous to talk of any societal pressure to have children. What I see instead is a huge societal pressure not to have any.

Imagine sharing during a job interview that you are planning to have a baby within the next year (or three children within the next ten years, or two within the next five). Is such a person more or less likely to get hired than the one who can state they will never have children? Right you are.

Maternity leaves in this country are ludicrously short or simply non-existent. Paternity leaves are simply not there, which is a barbarity of a major order. How many people can say their careers stalled because they didn’t have children? Exactly.

Most job contract specify that you will get between 12 and 15 vacation and sick days per year. If anything constitutes pressure not to have children, this is it.

Pregnant women get hounded with unwanted intrusive advice from the moment they announce they are pregnant. If they don’t feel like sharing the news very fast, they are persecuted with intrusive questions and insistent staring on their bellies. They are questioned and criticized for their choices of how, when and where to give birth. They are badgered right into the delivery room if their choice of delivery method is not the most fashionable one at the moment.

So-called “lactation specialists” hound women in maternity wards and do everything they can to bully them into breastfeeding the “right” way.

Stores and restaurants often turn people with children away. Colleagues raise their brows and emit frustrated sighs when a parent shares that their kid is sick and they won’t be able to make it to the next meeting.

There are no breast-pumping facilities at most places of employment. Daycare costs are ruinous. Diaper-changing stations (especially for fathers) are few and far between.

And have you ever tried dragging a pram into a bus? Have you ever shopped for maternity clothes? If there really existed any pressure to have children, wouldn’t stores be filled with beautiful, fashionable maternity clothing?

All of the things I listed – and many more – constitute true societal pressures not to have children.

Not having children is an absolutely valid life choice. It’s a choice that I have made so far. However, it’s a choice that doesn’t make you particularly brave or non-conformist. Deciding to have children, however, does require courage.

P.S. The next post in this series will contain a list of psychological reasons why people do and do not want to have children. Stay tuned!

Who Offers Health Breaks?

I really suck at analyzing texts, it seems. For a long time, I’ve been preparing for my philosophy conference. We only get funding to visit one conference during this protracted budget crisis, so conferences have to be picked carefully. I’ve been dying to branch out into philosophy for a while. The Spanish philosopher whose work I discuss in my presentation will be at the conference, and I really wanted to listen to him, ask questions, and make an impression.

The conference committee took forever to send us a program. So I only discovered the horrible truth about this conference today when I finally received the program.

There had been hints, though. I could have guessed if only I’d paid attention. I got a pre-registration e-mail a while ago, which said that the registration fees would cover the reception, the lunch buffet, and health breaks.

Got it? Health breaks. I should have known right then and there. Who the hell offers health breaks? English-speakers give you coffee breaks. Spanish-speakers offer cigarette breaks. Only the French-speakers, may God be kind to them and their Mamma, schedule health breaks instead.

So finally I get the program of the conference, and as you must have guessed by now, it is in French. The entire flapping conference is in French. Except the talks by yours truly and a scholar from British Columbia. The opening and closing remarks, all but two of the talks, the presentation by the philosopher himself – everything is in French. The philosopher will present a new edition of his most recent book. Translated into French. And during the five years I lived in Quebec, I lost my spoken French completely. I will not be able to understand a word spoken at that conference. Unless it is spoken by me and the fellow sufferer from British Columbia.

The most annoying thing is that the conference’s title is in English, the promotional materials and the call for papers were in English, the conference takes place in Ottawa, and the organizer’s name is Spanish. Of course, the call for papers did say, “Papers will be accepted in English, French, and Spanish.” But we are talking about Canada, so I thought that this was simply the question of both official languages making it to the list.

And now I will feel like a total idiot, sitting there, listening to talks that I can’t even understand. Imagine what will happen if somebody starts asking me questions in French. That is going to be embarrassing.

C├ólice de crisse de tabarnak d’ostie de ciboire du saint-sacement!! Tabarnak!!