So, I had this argument with Frank, and let us set aside for the moment that I always have had arguments with Frank, and that I should solve this arguing by severing contact. It's been noted. I'll take it under consideration.
Last night he was helping his niece with her homework, grammar and algebra. He enjoyed it, "a blast from the past". He said it was interesting to talk to someone whose understanding was so different. Well, absent really, since she is struggling with the concept of variables.He also mentioned some grammatical terms, some kinds of verbs, some other kinds of verbs, some different kinds of nouns. It's all Greek to me. I cannot classify words beyond verbs, nouns, adverbs and adjectives, and I am kind of fuzzy even on that stuff, and I made some comment to that effect.
We got into how I was taught English, and how there was absolutely nothing wrong with the way I'd been taught - I'd answered, listen, memorize, repeat - but that Frank favored a strictly technical approach. He went on to say that my English is pretty good for a non-native speaker.
I felt things go wrong right after I said I didn't know the grammatical terminology. It appeared that we were in agreement that my grammar sucks, that I was pretty much on the same level as the niece, that my non technical approach was, well not wrong exactly, but clearly rather unsophisticated. He told me he'd learned German in just six months; as if somehow a classroom setting is comparable to living in Germany.
So, I did that thing you do when you feel insulted by something implicit, I went monosyllabic on his ass. Which seemed lame given my recent promise to be honest. When I made that decision though, I'd conveniently forgotten that when I get mad I have a hard time defining why, and meaningful honesty requires preciseness. Preferably it's also succinct. It's hard to be precise and succinct when someone pokes you in the eye with a stick, especially when the stick is invisible.
Then started a lengthy why am I upset, and how all the things I am upset about are unreasonable and/or irrational, and how one can't be expected to filter every little thing, and how I work in a job that requires English and I can make myself understood and what else did I want?
I tried to explain that by putting himself in a position of authority, one in which he can judge my English skill (or lack thereof) is triggering to me. I resent it; sort of how you always tend to resent people who act by self appointment. Outraged "who are you to blah blah" tends to follow.
I didn't put it like that, I said I felt inferior, that there was nothing I could contribute to the discussion, that, in fact, it wasn't a discussion at all but a lecture "I want to talk to a peer not an authority," I said. He didn't understand any of this, inferior to whom, etc.
I got stuck here. This is where I always get stuck. My explanations and analogies seem like hyperbole, to me, to him surely. Why this huge reaction over some random comment? I want to frame it in the bigger picture, our confrontations about truth. about insecurity, the need to be right, the fear of being wrong, how seemingly insignificant but repeated references (to my non native English (and how crappy it is)) add up.
But I didn't say that, instead I got sadder and felt more hopeless for each iteration of trying to explain how patronizing and limiting it is to never be expected to be able to perform past a certain level. You know, like telling a girl it's OK she can't do math because she's a girl, and how in an insidious twist of reality this kind of excuse-ism lead to teachers underestimating the math skill of their female students.
Honesty, it costs too much.