Twice a year we have to go through the same ordeal because it's twice a year we have to visit my son's school for his half-year school reports. This is where you can experience Italian disorder at its very best. I hate the thought of going but there's something more than interest in my son's education that keeps me going back. It's the whole wonder of the thing, the whole social interaction that you just wouldn't find in England or America, and that would earn you 5 years in prison in Switzerland.
The parents are subjected to listening to their kid's teachers ripping them to shreds because little Giovanni is distracted and unruly. His gramatica is poor and he's not interested in history. And to make the slap much more stinging the teacher is 22 years old and earns €650 a month. She hates the job, feels under paid and under appreciated so she gives you both barrels. All she has to salvage any dignity is that she's a teacher so you have to call her 'Professore'.
But that's the easy bit, the hard bit is knowing where you're supposed to go. ALL the schools are badly lacking in maintenance. The paint is flaking, the damp is rising, there are no signs whatsoever and the people working there know nothing of any use. There's usually one lady with the title of Bidella (I call her bidet..). She's kind of the school witch and can even abuse the teachers if she feels like it. What her exact role is, I don't know. She dresses like a cleaner and acts like a Nazi.. She doesn't know where we're supposed to go either.
The only way to find your way is ask another parent. The system works by the first parent to arrive there being told something and she passes that on to the others and the information gets passed down the line (I'm guessing this as I can't see any other way). You also have to know beforehand who all your kid's teachers are otherwise you're stuffed and may as well go home and watch the telly.
So, you've found the parent that knows something (somehow!) and you head for the room that has one of your kid's teachers. Each classroom will have at least two teachers at different desks with parents speaking so loudly you can't hear what the teacher is saying so you guess it's something like 'little Giovanni's grammar is poor, he's distracted and unruly and he doesn't like history'. It's at this point I get really distracted by all the stuff on the walls - the artwork and warnings cellotaped up in A4 punched plastic files.
But before you get to this point (it takes 1-2 hours) you have to experience the most intriguing part of Italian mentality, the Queue. If you lookup 'Queue' in the dictionary, it will say something like this: 'a line or sequence of people or vehicles awaiting their turn to be attended to or to proceed'. OK, you have an image in mind, a line of people waiting to get into somewhere, like the cinema. Well, Italians don't do 'lines'. They don't always do 'awaiting their turn' either. The Italian word for queue is 'coda' and maybe a definition of a coda could be: a crowd of desperate people squashed together in a doorway hoping the person next to them will die of asphyxiation so that he or she can get to where they are going sooner'.
But there is another element to this, that the foreign cynic can easily miss, because it's much more social than that. You've found the room you're supposed to be at and confirmed it with one or two of the parents who are always happy to give information as that's how they got there 2 hours ago to join that coda. You then have to ask who is the last in the coda. It then leads to a conversation about little Giovanni and that the reason he hates history is that his teacher constantly moans about being underpaid and under appreciated by society and the only way she can get even is by making the lessons really boring. (In my son's previous school the math teacher was so bad we had to pay for private tuition. The state teacher got €4 an hour, we paid the private tutor €10 an hour..).
Now compare that to any other country. Who would you interact with? You would arrive at the designated time, get sent to the right room, listen to the politically correct teacher telling you that Johnny's lack of interest in history and his bad grammar is a sign of genius, then leave and go home to watch the telly. Isn't that… boring?
This week was the end of winter term report. We already knew our son's scores and they were ok. We arrived at his school, the first time we had to go to collect the Pagiella, school report. There was a information board in the entrance way so we followed it and found ourselves in the wrong place. A kindly parent sent us back down a floor with instructions of what to do. On the way we found a lady stationed in the hallway with a desk and a huge photocopier. She consulted reams of paper and confirmed what the parent had said. We were on the right track!
We needed room 35 but there was a 34 and a 37 with 35 and 36 strangely missing. Why is it always the one YOU want that is missing? We eventually found 35 (there was no sign and next to it was 37.. glad we didn't need 36) and joined the crowd squashed into the doorway.
Parents constantly moan about other parents taking too long to talk to the teacher. Then it's their turn and they take an age. You can't hear want they're saying but you see the parent's lips moving and not the teacher's. What they're saying, I cannot even guess. Then there's the constant stress and fear that someone is trying to sneak in the scrum and jump the coda. The rule is simple, the bravest gets there first. There's always one, the one with the excuse 'Gentile signore, I'm in a rush, my mother is at home about to die and I just need one minute with the teacher to invite her to the funeral, could I go first?' You've been called kind and gentle so you have no choice and although you know the story is nonsense you condescend because others in the coda might think badly of you. He/she goes in and chats for 25 minutes then thanks you when he/she eventually leaves. 'Grazie! Molto gentile!' Molto stupido more like..
We finally got our turn in the scrum and got to the teacher. She was very nice and didn't have a lot to say. My son said she's a very distracted person, she teaches history and Italian.. As my wife did all the talking and the teacher leaned back in her chair I tried my best to look interested, intelligent and like I was a serious parent whilst looking at the stuff cellotaped to the walls. Behind her was a black board with sentences in English chalked onto it. Great! Something to read! One sentence, number 4, was really wrong. I guessed it was deliberate, that the task of the pupils was to correct it. But the other sentences were correct.. ummh.. Do I say anything? The right thing was to say nothing and just understand that saying of an Italian journalist that 10% of italians can speak English and 90% think they speak English (and I guess this statistic includes teachers of English). As we got up to leave I pointed at the board and blurted in Italian 'number four is wrong'. My wife looked at me in the same way as when I ran the car over the dog. I liked to think she was thinking 'it would have been better you didn't do it but it needed to be said'. But the reality was she was thinking 'you moron, I can't take you anywhere!' It was the mistake of the other teacher in the room, not my son's, so his teacher felt a little better and all the parents squashed in doorway fell around laughing as I went to the board, uninvited, and made the crucial correction.
The teacher was humbled (or humiliated) and accepted the correction and explanation. It is my language after all and she would have done the same in England in an Italian class.. maybe.
After this we were supposed to go to see the other teachers but who could be bothered? In all the other subjects he's done well so we ran for the door. Next time I might stay home and watch the telly. My wife's idea.
The teachers? They are great. They are paid a pittance and very under appreciated by the state. How is it footballers, uneducated morons, can get paid €100,000 a week for posing around and a teacher, that makes a difference, gets €160? It's a disgrace and a sign of how sick society really is.
O, the sentence.. it read - Ten years go I couldn't do the skiing. Now tell me you wouldn't have corrected it as well!