Perfect Day

coffee mugWe are at Letna park having a goodbye picnic thrown by one of our Master’s groups. I have known some of these students for five years and reflect that I will miss them in a teacherly way, a personification of “Boy those guys were much nicer than [insert course number of current pain in the ass group here).”

Anyway, we are having a lovely time.

The students have cooked and brought wine. The weather is nice but not so warm that I am sweating. There have already been pictures and a sneak peek reveals that I do not look like my typical photogenic persona of constipated Hobbit.

All is well.

Then one of the students hands me a box. Unless it explodes, it is a gift. I begin to unwrap it.

I never know what to do when students hand me a gift. If it’s before the exam, I usually make a joke about this being a pretty obvious bribe, everyone laughs and the awkwardness is slightly abated. If it’s after the exam, I stammer a bit, say a bunch of tidbits like ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have!’ open it, and thank them until profusely becomes pathological.

It’s not them, I just get awkward.

In my seven years at the university, I have received a few gifts, Some groups simply give a fond – or not so fond – farewell at the end of the year. Sometimes I meet students for the first time at the end of semester exam. The only gifts these students bring are excuses so far-fetched that I write about them on this blog. A genuine “thank you” from others is always appreciated. Other students simply leave my life forever, which they seem to inherently understand is the best gift they could ever hope to get me.

And some students give me a small gift. These gifts are often suited to my interests, and I’m always delighted that we have gotten to know each other a bit. There have been books, books in Czech, pens, gift certificates. Many very appreciated things.

Sometimes the gifts are a bit odd. One student gave me a bell. I mean, a handheld town-crier style bell. She said every teacher needs a bell. Another student got me a pack of dirty playing cards. I didn’t know what she was trying to tell me, but she handed them over with a wink and a crooked smile. A group once got me a Czech-English vulgarity dictionary, which was appropriate since this group made me stretch the limits of my own internal vulgar lexicon on a daily basis. Another student bought me a pair of sandals at a local Vietnamese shop. I didn’t have the nerve to ask him what that was all about, but I did wear them at home until the strap broke later that afternoon.

Sometimes these gifts are downright horrifying. One student invited me and a colleague to a one-man singer-songwriter concert he was putting on in a local pub. It should be mentioned that this student had a relationship with sanity that was the focus of the first True Detective series. He was intense, a bit scary, and used to conjure sexual imagery so clear and detailed that it was obvious that their conception took up a lot of his free time.

It was instantly clear that my colleague and I shouldn’t have attended. He sang songs in English so vulgar that we winced and exchanged truly disturbed looks. The Czechs who didn’t speak English were confused by our reactions right up until the moment he began singing in Czech. Then we were all horrified.

He featured my colleague and me in a song set to the tune of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day but unfortunately with (very, very) original lyrics. These lyrics recounted our adventures in the petting zoo at the park picking up young boys for an afternoon orgy. I said good night nonchalantly, so as not to arouse him or his suspicion, and possibly end up both on the news and in a dumpster the following day. I left, went to a pub and, though I had to work at 8 a.m. the following morning, drank until I forgot who Lou Reed was. Then I went home, took a shower to wash off the dirty, and cried myself to sleep.

I don’t know if these odd experiences are why I sometimes feel awkward opening a gift from students. Certainly, they help.

The group in Letna tonight has always been one of my favorites. They were conscientious and hard-working. As they were slightly older – master’s degree – many of them worked jobs and therefore seemed to appreciate school more. They wanted to take something from it. Also, they are a friendly, gregarious, and fun group of people who always made class more into a communicative discussion than the tooth-pulling approach to language acquisition that other classes could be. Plus they once brought me Chlebíčky.

But I suppose most of the awkward is that I sometimes want to keep that teacher-student relationship in my head. And once they give me a goodbye gift, that’s, well, goodbye. Despite the relief that comes with the end of the year, it’s always a little sad to say goodbye.

I finish opening the box – which is handmade, just as an added thoughtful touch – and find a coffee mug with my name built into a linguistic joke. I will use it every day. A coffee addict and language teacher couldn’t ask for more than this at a goodbye picnic. I say many genuine thank yous and quickly start eating again. It’s early, they is plenty of time for goodbyes.

But if I hear one note of Lou Reed I am out of here.

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