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Girls Night Out and a Cross-Cultural Experience

Monday, May 16, 2011, 15:46 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve never been a big bar denizen, but lately I’ve been doing more than my usual share of hanging out in local watering holes. That’s because the Den Son and one of his musician friends have acquired a semi-regular gig every second or third Friday night at a restaurant/pub in the area. They typically play from 9:00 to midnight, and while midnight is a little late for me to be out (especially with the 40-minute drive home), I do try to be a supportive Mama and hang out for the first hour or so. I never fail to enjoy it. DS and his guitar partner are quite good.

The Den Mother and Ana CeliaLast Friday, I took my ESL student, Ana Celia, with me. We meet for one-on-one tutoring one evening a week for two hours at the downtown library, and we work very hard for those two hours. It seemed like high time that we had a little fun, and since she had already met my son, their gig seemed to be a logical place.

There’s nothing like a bar for the local cultural experience, and we enjoyed everything from eating and drinking to watching patrons turn in their Keno tickets to talking with other friends of the band and, of course, listening to the music. Watching a performance in a crowded bar isn’t like attending a concert—most people are there to eat, watch whatever game is on, and socialize—so we made sure to pay extra attention and were always the first to clap at the end of a song. I wondered if Ana Celia was getting all the lyrics to the songs, most of which were covers of folk, rock, and blues with some original material mixed in. I decided not to ask her, partly because it wasn’t important (music is universal even if the language of the words isn’t) and partly because the point of going out was to have a break from the learning/teaching thing. I did, however, introduce her to people as my English student, just as a subtle warning to them to keep in mind her possible limitations when talking and listening. I shouldn’t have worried; her conversational English skills are more than adequate, even if her grammar is a work in progress and her pronunciation leaves something to be desired. Hey, it’s hard to learn a new language at our age.

Being from Puerto Rico, my student isn’t in a totally alien culture. I suppose the bar experience is universal wherever you go, whether it’s an Italian bistro or a French cafe or a Japanese tea house. People are there not to scrutinize the rest of the clientele, but to relax and unwind. That’s what we did. Ana Celia seemed very comfortable, especially when the guys began a song with a Latin-like guitar riff, which probably cemented the familiarity of the experience.

As I often do while working on lesson plans or executing a lesson, I took a moment to imagine myself in a similar situation: a native New Englander in a restaurant/bar in, say, Arecibo, Puerto Rico, instead of Marlborough, Massachusetts, surrounded by a fairly homogeneous gathering of locals all speaking Spanish. I imagined that I might be slightly uncomfortable, especially if I were not confident in my language abilities. The music, I decided, would be a comfort, even if it weren’t the style of music on my own mp3 player. That’s when I knew I had made the right call.

To my surprise, on the ride home Ana Celia asked me about “that game where you roll the ball and knock down the white things.” It turns out she has seen bowling on television and wants to try it. We agreed that our next outing would be to a local bowling alley, but as the native I pulled rank and insisted it be candlepins. There won’t be any music. It will be a uniquely New England experience.

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