I teach English to overseas students in a small university department. A colleague e-mailed me the other day to say that one of our students, a lady from Libya, had thrown a tantrum and stalked out of the class when it was suggested she might benefit from going to a lower level. Just what we need in Group Three, I thought: a Carmen, a Cleopatra, to stir things up a bit just when they were going too smoothly. However, the lady in question cooled down and returned, put aside her indignation and took instead to the most repellent obsequiousness, stroking my colleague’s face and telling her how lovely she was, in the hope that this would put out of her mind all thoughts of sending her to a lowlier group - which all goes to show how wrong you can be.

It fell to me to tell our Libyan Diva on the Friday that she should move to another group the following Monday. I had braced myself for some strop, but she acquiesced meekly. It is noticeable that these ladies tend to lay on the drama more with other women than they do with men. This may be the result of centuries of masculine indifference to their wishes, although I hoped in this case it was the recognition that we were insisting on this entirely for her benefit. One of our Saudi ladies actually wants to go down a level, and she sent her husband to see the course director to apprise her of the fact. It did not occur to her that this is rather like deciding you need an eye test, then sending someone else to the optician’s on your behalf.

Our Libyan Diva nabbed me in the corridor last week to plead with me to allow her back to the higher group. She had spent one day in the lower group, and it appears the demotion had caused her great mental and spiritual anguish.

‘Oh, yesterday, I go my house, and I very cry!’ she wailed.

It was tempting to say ‘no, listen, yesterday I went home, and I cried a lot’, but I have always told trainee teachers to react first to what students say and not how they say it. If a student says ‘sorry for late, my husband is have one accident of car’ the humane instructor delays pointing out that the Present Perfect is not formed with ‘to be’ as its auxiliary. So, on hearing that The Diva went her house and very cried, I offered sympathetic noises, which she drowned out with more pleading and promises to try harder.

‘All my friend, it’s be this class!’

Well, yeah, it’s a sort of ladies’ social occasion at the moment, with loads of Arabic chit-chat and a little English chucked in when anyone can be bothered. I wonder they don't bring their jewellery to polish. This is going to get stamped on big time, darling, believe you me.

‘I came back, I make very try! This down class, it's very sad to me!’

Her manner recalled that of the beggars I used to see in Greece who would climb aboard the intercity buses just before departure and spiel tales of heartbreaking privation, disease and bereavement before passing the hat round. It was not what you expect from an adult at a university - well, not my idea of appropriate adult behaviour at a university, but I'm beginning to see I'm a bit old-fashioned.

Just as I was running out of kind noises and reasoned arguments against her suit, the course director came by, and La Lybienne began to work on her as well. Now, colleagues of mine have had their knuckles rapped for expressing impatience to students who give them the sort of asinine prattle I had just been fed: ‘they are paying customers, you know!’ but the director just said ‘your level is lower intermediate, you need to be in a lower intermediate group, I don’t want to hear any more about it.’ There. No messing. I should have said that ten minutes before, but would probably have got bollocked for it.

Now look again at these:

‘Oh, yesterday, I go my house, and I very cry!
‘All my friend, it’s be this class!’
‘I came back, I make very try!’

This lady, back in her home country is – wait for it – a teacher of English. I am still puzzling over a phrase in an essay she wrote the other week: ‘My husband is blow away, but I very love he.’ If anyone can make sense of that, answers on a post-card, please. I have already considered, and dismissed, the possibilities that he had a violent outburst of temper, that he was a victim of a terrorist outrage, or that he farted in bed.

From here, originally.

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