Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Just Call me Miss Mystery...

Being a substitute teacher in Alaska taught me a lot of things, perhaps the most valuable being that I most definitely don't want to do that job again. I learned things about how evil 7 year olds can be, how smiling at people can prompt them to be even more evil, and that not everyone has a desire to be good. In truth, some of them find any opportunity to be bad positively delightful. Okay, so basically I learned that being a substitute teacher is most assuredly NOT my dream job.
All the same, the year provided plenty of fodder for blogs and future classroom anecdotes. I mean how many jobs in your life provide being punched in the face by a 13 year old boy twice your size, trying to prevent 2nd graders from drop kicking their classmate, or standing outside in the freezing cold for hours while a slew of Kindergartners slip around on little red shovels.
Yes, there is a point to this walk down memory lane. I learned fairly early on in my year that one of the best ways to maintain at least some semblance of control in the classroom was to have a secret. It allowed me to have the upper hand, and that somehow kept their attention. The easiest thing to keep a secret was, of course, my first name. Of all random things. But it worked. They seemed rather horrified by the fact that they didn't know exactly who I was. Students would beg and plead for even the smallest clue, but in the whole year there were only two girls who actually guessed it correctly, and they were happy to keep it as a secret, granting themselves a little power over their classmates in the bargain as well.
One Fourth Grade class, being so frustrated by my tight lipped control, dubbed me Ms. Mystery. Rather liked that title myself. When a Second Grade class in the same school was whining about their lack of knowledge in the lunch room, I pointed them to these Fourth Grade girls who promptly assured them they would never find out and that I really was "Ms. Mystery."
I hadn't thought about that incident for a long time, but today I decided to adopt the persona once again. Since moving to the Czech Republic nearly 3 years ago, I've often found myself outside normal lines of communication. While I've "studied" Czech (yes I use that term very loosely) I'm still FAAAAAAAARRRRR from mastering this ridiculously difficult language. All the same, in my little town of Cheb, I generally didn't feel at a loss. Being a member of a community of native English speakers, there were generally 6 to 8 of us living in town, I was a curiosity, but not exactly an anomaly. I frequented the same places over and over to the point that I was well known. I was often irritated when clerks would speak to me in German, rather than Czech, since they obviously weren't going to speak in English, and I was trying to speak to them in Czech to begin with. The point is, I wasn't exactly anonymous there. I was recognizable, a known entity in the town.
Flash forward to the present.
I now live in Marianske Lazne.
While there are potentially a few of my former students floating around town, I really don't know, and am not known by, anyone here except for Mark and his parents. And while there might occasionally be other English speaking visitors in the area, I don't know of any other Americans actually living here. There might be some, but I'm not a part of their group, and am therefore on my own. Except for a few restaurants that Mark and I have been to together quite a number of times throughout the year, I'm an Enigma in this town.
The weather, as I mentioned in a previous post, has really warmed up around here. Due to that fact, Mark is happiest when he can avoid being out in the full heat. He has plenty of work to do on his music, and therefore, he spends his days hard at work, and I, who love the sun, wander about on my own. I've taken to spending several hours walking through the myriad parks, sitting in a small cafe with an ice coffee or somewhere in the center with a large bottle of water, writing in my journal or reading a book. This allows me time to really embrace the sun, while Mark can get some serious work done with no distractions.
Yesterday on my regular outing I had a most frustrating experience. Some ridiculously stupid clerk decided not to break my 200KC note for my 20KC bottle of water. Keep in mind, 200KC is about $10. Not exactly an enormous bill. For those of you who aren't quick on the math uptake, 20KC would therefore be about $1. She'd already opened her till, and I saw there rows of bills of various quantities ready to make change. And yet, for what ever idiotic reason, she refused to take my money, wanting something smaller. I showed her that I REALLY didn't have anything smaller, but she still wouldn't take it. I. WAS. ANGRY. All I wanted was a bottle of water. Seriously. And it's not like I was trying to pay her with a 1,000KC. Then I would have understood, but I've NEVER known anyone to refuse a 200. It's not big! So finally I shook my head and put my money back in my wallet. She seemed pleased with herself for having not sold me the bottle, and I spat out a very loud "Whatever!" as I made my way toward the door.
It's the "Whatever!" that is key. That one word set me on a different plane than the other people passing by her all day every day. It was spoken in a perfectly flawless American accent. We're talking Native English Speaker here. And I'm sure she had no clue what I'd just thrown at her in my rage. No expletive, just utter disgust.
It was then that I really felt a power in my anonymity.
I really am a mystery here.
I'm not expected.
I'm not a tourist.
I'm not Czech.
I'm not German.
I've decided, rather than being annoyed that they speak German to me, to be amused instead. They have no idea how to deal with me. I'm not on their general radar. I don't fit in with the standard modes.
Sunday when I went to meet Karina and her friend I was amused by a couple at the station speaking English. They were trying to figure out where they needed to be to catch the train. They weren't in any sort of trouble, and had plenty of time to figure it out correctly, but they were completely in the dark about my knowledge. I could fully understand every word they were saying. They were completely in the dark. Had they experienced some true difficulty, I would have stepped forward Good Samaritan like as was the case of the lost American women in Cheb square that I rescued when Julie was visiting. But it was fun to stand there in the know, fully anonymous.
It's easy for me to become frustrated that I have no one to talk to when I'm out and about. I like to talk. I like to communicate, to be with friends. But currently this is not the time or place for me to speak. It's a time to watch. A time to observe and to write. So for the time being I'm once again embracing the title of Miss Mystery. I'm enjoying the fact that they all have no ideas about who I am or where I'm from. I'm living the anonymity and doing my best to enjoy it.

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