Teachable Moments on the Bus

Mark and I were riding the bus to the mall the other day around 2:00 PM, which is basically prime time for school children going home. We happened to get on a bus that was absolutely packed with kids, and while standing near the teacher, I did a little bit of “educational eavesdropping,” i.e. trying to see if I could understand of what she was saying to them.

She was addressing, in particular, a group of boys who were sitting in the front seats which are intended, when needed, for the elderly or people who can’t stand or easily get to the back of the bus.

“Why do I have to stand up for people?” one boy asked her.

“You are a healthy young boy,” she explained. “Of course you should give your seat to an older woman who can’t stand very well.”

So the boy then comes over to Mark and I and says, in Icelandic, “Would you like to sit down?”

(I’ll admit that there was a bit of chatting in between the boy being told to cede his chair to the elderly and then coming over and offering me his seat, but isn’t it funnier this way?)

We were about to get off the bus at the next stop, but I didn’t want to impede her lesson in courtesy, so I said thank you and we sat down. As I was doing so, I heard a man who was escorting the class tell the boy that he could talk to me in English.

“That’s okay,” I said (in Icelandic). “I’m learning and need to practice.”

“Yeah,” the boy told the man, “like you.”

The man shrugged, but the teacher jumped right on this exchange and asked me where I was from. (This is all in Icelandic, btw.) I told her we were from the US. She asked where I was studying Icelandic. The university. In the three year program? Yes. Why are you studying the language? Because I want to be a translator and translate Icelandic books into English, I said. She nodded, sagely.

We had arrived at our stop, where apparently, the class was also getting out. As we got off the bus and the teacher started herding everyone out, I heard her say, “Did you hear that, boys? She came all the way to Iceland just to study the language.”

So my conversational practice was someone else’s teachable moment. Win-win.

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