The other day, I was doing a pronunciation exercise with one of my classes. As a lot of foreigners struggle with the various sounds in the English language, the kind folks at New English File have come up with a great, and supposedly foolproof, system. The idea is that the students will remember the phonetic symbols more easily through ‘sound pictures’ which show an example word for each sound. So there we were, working our way through some vowel sounds.
Good stuff. Next.
Me: Come on, what is it?
Janis: Uh, a cup?
Gunita: Uh, a glass?
Me: Are you mad? What do you put into it?
Gunta: Uh, wine?
In an effort to keep from tearing my own hair out, I started stabbing at the board with my marker, ending up with something vaguely resembling a triangular egg sitting in a warped egg cup. Triumphantly, I turned around and waited for the ‘aha’ moment from my students. Nothing.
Me: WHAT IS IT?
Students: We don’t know the word.
Me: It’s an egg! An EGG! The egg goes in the egg cup!
Students: We don’t use egg cups in Latvia.
How could this be? What do Latvian people do? Chase the egg around the plate while thwacking it with a spoon whenever it rolls in the right direction? Was this some new form of madness?
The students explained to me (in a ‘humour the foolish Westerner’ sort of way) that Latvians like their eggs hard-boiled. This didn’t answer my questions. Just because it’s hard-boiled doesn’t mean it won’t submit to a pummelling from stainless steel. This however, is not the Latvian way. They pick the egg up in their hands, peel the shell off and eat it that way. Doesn’t it matter that the egg is very, very hot, I wondered? Literally boiling? Another ‘puny Westerner’ look.
Thinking that they might still be messing with me, I decided to ask another group the next morning. One student, (amazingly) called Janis, told me that his mother actually used to give him his egg in an egg cup with a funny face on it when he was a child. Thinking that the egg cup was merely for decoration, he’d take the egg out and eat it with one hand while playing games with the egg cup with the other. Sigh.
I feel that I have moved one step closer to the mystery of why Latvians always look so miserable though. If you burned the tops off your fingers every morning, wouldn’t you?