The Clerk

Clerk: Name?

Customer: Linda Parker.

Clerk: Age?

Customer: 29.

Clerk: Date of birth?

Customer: 19th of August, 1984.

Clerk: 19, 0…

Customer: 8.

Clerk: Pardon?

Customer: 19.08.1984.

Clerk: Oh… Thanks…

Customer: No problem.

Clerk: Sex?

Customer: What! Isn’t it obvious?

Clerk: What d’you mean?

Customer: Isn’t it obvious what my sex is?

Clerk: You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Customer: Nor a woman by her boobs?

Clerk: I beg your pardon?

Customer: Oh, nothing… What was the question?

Clerk: Never mind! (he ticks a box on the form) Married?

Customer: Yes.

Clerk: Children? If ‘yes’, how many? If ‘no’, why not?

Customer: No. Technical problems with the ‘plumbing’… Excuse me, are there more such questions?

Clerk: Hmm… about 12 more. Why?Image

Customer: I can’t see their relevance…

Clerk: Look! Do you want to renew your Nectar Card or not?

Note: Nectar Card – a well-known shopping fidelity card in the UK


Watch out!

Watch out for spam e-mails!

I keep receiving e-mails from some of my good friends who seem to be in trouble. Obviously, this is spam, but I thought I should write a post about it to warn everyone. My feeling is that there are people out there who might believe the content of such e-mails is true and, willing to help a friend, they might get ripped off.

Here’s the content of the mail.

Sorry i did not inform you about my urgent trip to Istanbul, Turkey. Unfortunately for me, the hotel i lodged was burnt down by fire. All my valuables including cash,and cell phone were destroyed during the inferno but luckily for me i still have my life and passport with me. I have contacted the police but they are not responding to the matter effectively, they only asked me to write a statement about the incident and referred me to the Embassy. Please, i really need you to loan me  €2,240 Euros so i can go over to the Embassy to make complains and make arrangement for a new traveling ticket and also relocate to another hotel pending the time all will be sorted out. You can have the money wired on my name via Western Union money transfer. Here are the details you need below:

Name: (friend’s full name)
Address :Cubulu Caddesi No26,
34812 Bosphorus,

As soon as it is done, please email me back with the transfer details (MTCN) or a scanned copy of the receipt.
Waiting for your mail

(friend’s first name)”

I tried to locate the address above with Google maps. The response was: “We were not able to locate the address: Cubulu Caddesi No26, 34812 Bosphorus, Istanbul, Turkey“. The closest match to this address is Cubuklu Caddessi No27, with the exact street code, and… it is the address of a hotel.

Not that this really matters… When sending money via Western Union, someone can get their hands on that money wherever they find a Western Union agency – and there are thousands in every country, because Western Union authorises almost any shop to make transactions under their name. There are four things someone needs in order to receive money: i) the sum that was sent to them, ii) the name of the sender, iii) some form of ID and iv) the MTCN – the specific number given to that transaction, a number which is generated automatically when sending the money, and which is then used as sort of password.

Now let’s imagine we believed the content of the e-mail to be true and sent the money. Then we’d send the e-mail containing the MTCN. The only thing the spammer would be missing is a form of ID, a detail which, I am sure, can be easily overcome if he/she bribes the Western Union payer with one or two hundred Euros/Pounds. Or, we could make things a lot easier for the spammer and e-mail them a scanned copy of the receipt we got when sending the money…

Other e-mails in the same category? Winning a lottery you never participated in, money you inherited abroad (from some relative you never knew existed), sharing millions with some accountant working for a bank where he discovered an account which nobody has claimed for several years and, last but not least, your share of several millions if you accept to have them transferred to your account because the money is not safe in its country of origin any longer… What they have in common? They ask for personal details, including a bank account, they make it sound like it is a big secret (so they ask for complete discretion) and they hope to find people who might jump at the opportunity they offer.

Are there still people who would fall for such humbug? Yes… There are. There are people who genuinely believe such e-mails, do not smell the fraud and comply to the confidentiality request, so they don’t show the e-mail to anyone or ask for advice.  There are also people who are greedy enough to overlook the minimum safety measures they could take against being ripped off their money.

My main concern is: how do the spammers send the e-mail as if coming from a certain friend’s address? How do they detect who my closest friends are, the ones I might feel tempted to help? How daft do they assume I am? And… why would a Romanian friend write to me in English?

So… what do I do with these e-mails? I generally ignore and delete them without even reading them. If I worry for a friend, I’ll contact them on their phone or their friend’s/spouse’s phone and find out if anything happened. If I am curious, I read the e-mail and then Google any names appearing in it. One thing I never do is NEVER ANSWER these e-mails, for any reason in the world. Not even to politely ask them to stop sending you junk mail. Once you answer, they have a proof that the address is valid and they’ll sell it to other spammers. Trust me, I know what I’m saying… I’ve learned it the hard way… It took me one second to open an attachment and a whole week to have the computer formatted (losing all data stored in it, ’cause everything got infected with viruses ans worms and trojans)…

There was a time when curiosity used to kill the cat. Nowadays it kills our laptops, makes us lose valuable work we didn’t back up and ruins our lives.

Macbeth in Polish

Shakespeare’s Globe is home to the Globe to Globe festival “bringing together artists from all over the globe, to enjoy speaking these plays in their own language, in our Globe, within the architecture Shakespeare wrote for. The artists will play the Globe way – telling stories through the word and the actor, complemented by costumes, music and dance – and will complete each play within two-and-a-quarter hours (we hope).” Visit the link provided and you will discover all there is to know about the festival, the plays, the dates and the booking process.

Faced with the difficult choice of which of the 37 plays in 37 languages to see and given that our budget was rather limited, my daughter and I decided to pick the plays I know so well that I wouldn’t need to understand what’s being said on the stage – yes, I am the problem… she knows some 30 out of 37 plays almost by heart… Never mind.

One such choice was Macbeth in Polish, so one rainy Wednesday night we took our seats in Shakespeare’s Globe and waited quietly for the play to begin.

I must confess I had certain expectations, probably stemming from other versions of the play I had seen either on stage or in films, but, at the same time, considering the warning given by the organisers: “This production contains extremely adult content“, I was prepared to be surprised. Or so I thought…

The action is set in modern times. Macbeth, Banquo, Macduff are all members of the mob, led by the powerful Duncan. The banquets are modern parties with colourful and drunken people, cocaine sniffs and fights over who’s tougher. The council to decide upon the next king is a meeting by the pool, all men in swimming suits, drinks and cigars in hands, cocaine sniffing now and then and… fighting again like school boys over who’s dad is toughest. Murders are arranged and carried out mob style. After having Banquo killed, Macbeth joins the banquet accompanied by a 6 or 7 months pregnant Lady Macbeth who, by the end of the play, becomes un-pregnant again, takes some pills to kill herself and dies on stage. In the last scene, Macbeth is killed by the English soldiers, not by Macduff. No trace of the famous:


I bear a charmed life, which must not yield,
To one of woman born.


             Despair thy charm;
             And let the angel whom thou still hast served
             Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother’s womb
             Untimely ripp’d.

Four witches instead of the original three, one of which is a woman and the other three are transvestites, are present all over the play, in scenes where Shakespeare did not include them like the banquet preceding Duncan’s murder or the scene of Macbeth’s death. The text is cut and moved and shortened, allowing for more acting, modern music – sometimes surprising as a choice, as in the case of I will survive and… witches.

As for the extremely adult content, Banquo has gay-ish moments when kissing and enjoying a lap dance by a transvestite/witch, Macbeth, gay-ish as well, indulges in a fellatio done by another of the witches, Lady Macduff is first raped and then killed by Ross, with Seyton witnessing the rape and playing with himself… Where did that come from? May Ross fancy his cousin? Why not? It was not uncommon to have marriages between cousins, a tradition in royal families which lasted until the 20th century. But rape? On the other hand, it is customary for Shakespeare’s characters to call each other “cousin” without really implying a family relationship, in which case Ross’ fancying Lady Macduff would make a lot more sense, but it still wouldn’t justify the rape.

The fellatio moment had several people suddenly stand up and ostentatiously leave the theatre (thus missing the rape scene), which proved to me that I am not the only one who thinks that the interpretation of Shakespeare’s texts should not go beyond common sense limits. When did we come up with the idea that if Shakespeare didn’t explicitly put something in the text, it means he didn’t explicitly exclude that possibility either? Or is it more like these young directors who feel all’s been said and done brilliantly before (and more than once), so all they can do is try something shocking, jaw-dropping, flabbergasting! As long as they stir a reaction, everything seems to work fine…

Oh, well… The Polish version didn’t rise to the height of the previous interpretations, but it surely managed to surprise.

Quoting my daughter, “not life-altering, but a lovely night out…

Across the Thames from Shakespeare’s Globe

Please, mind the gap…

Let’s assume you now have got the National Insurance Number and the Qualified Teacher Status and you’ve received NARIC’s letter stating that the qualifications you obtained in your country are comparable to qualifications obtainable in the UK, that is your university diploma is equivalent to a full BA, and you can teach in secondary schools in England and Wales.

(We need to insist a bit on this because, in many cases, although you may have a university diploma, based on the number of university years, the subjects you studied and the transcript, NARIC may not grant its equivalence to a full BA, which might mean you won’t be allowed to teach in secondary schools.

A special little note here for the Romanians: the ‘degrees’ we work so hard to obtain are translated as ‘grades’ here and are not comparable to any UK qualification, so basically they don’t count. Yet, the Definitive Grade can be taken into account as proof of the Induction any teacher here must go through.)

Back to our main track: so you have the above-mentioned documents and you can now work. In theory. In practice, you still have a long way to go…

The first step is to Google for jobs. As I said before, this search returns millions of results, so be prepared to spend long hours in front of the computer, checking the sites of recruitment agencies and the ads, registering on these sites with your CV and a covering letter and applying for specific jobs. Irrespective of how impressive your CV might be, only if you’re really lucky will you get a call from an agency and be invited for an interview. If you’re convincing enough, they’ll photocopy your documents, ask you to do a CRB check (Criminal Record Bureau check stating you can work with children) and, in the next four to six weeks, they’ll take up your references.

95% of the ads you will find on the internet are posted by recruitment agencies and sound pretty much the same. Here’s an example (sic):

** January 2012 start
** 1050 Students
** Based in…
** Key Stage 3 and 4
** Potential to teach to A level

We are looking to appoint an innovative and enthusiastic teacher of English who has a proven and successful experience of teaching A level as well as GCSE. The school is an 11-19 day high school with a growing sixth form. It has a maximum annual intake of 215 boys and girls and is over-subscribed. Courses of study are provided according to individual needs for GCSE or BTEC and at GCE A Level, A/S Level and BTEC leading to admission to universities or specialist professional training. (I will leave you the pleasure to discover what all the capital letters mean…)

The ideal candidate will have strong classroom presence (meaning you should be well accustomed to dealing with students with a… ‘challenging behaviour’) and excellent classroom teaching. They will be supportive of their colleagues and be prepared to make a contribution to the success of the department. 

We are looking for someone who is fully qualified to teach in the UK, has QTS, at least 2 years of solid experience of teaching in a UK classroom and good, up-to-date knowledge of the current UK national curriculum.

If you would like to be considered for this position then please contact…

You can start ticking boxes:

  • “fully qualified” – checked
  • “QTS” – checked
  • “2 years of solid experience in a UK classroom” – ummm… nope, nobody hires you because you don’t have previous experience in teaching in the UK. That’s a Catch 22.
  • but… “solid” is essential, ’cause it means you’ve dealt with really naughty and rude students (oops, sorry, they’re referred to as ‘challenging’ here) – hmmm… nope
  • “good, up-to-date knowledge of the current UK national curriculum” – well, yeah… you’ve read all about it on the internet, does that count?

So, with two pros, two cons and one ‘pending’, you take a deep breath and ask yourself: “To apply or not to apply?

P.S. How does this relate to the motto? Come on, you’ve figured it out already, I don’t need to explain this any more, do I?

Please, mind the gap between… you know…

If you’ve ever dreamed of teaching English in the UK and you’ve been curious to check if there’s a need for English teachers in the UK, a simple Google search returns millions of responses, raising everyone’s hopes to unprecedented heights. Yes, there’s a huge need for English teachers all over the UK, London included. Yaaaay! You have already built a career in teaching, you are confident that you could start your UK career tomorrow but…

If you got your teaching qualifications anywhere else but in the UK, you will need to have these qualifications compared by NARIC.

Register on their site – it’s free, complete the form about which documents you want compared, pay the fee for the service (around £50) and then send them a letter containing photocopies of the original documents (diplomas, certificates etc – don’t forget to include the school/uni/course transcript) and, to make their task easier and your costs lower, include photocopies of translations of your documents. You will get their response in at least 15 days.  The agency compares qualifications obtained in about 180 countries and you can send them your photocopies from your home country, you don’t need to be in the UK.

Another document you’ll need to have is the QTS – Qualified Teacher Status, a certificate which used to be awarded by the General Teaching Council for England and Wales. Nowadays this GTC is in the process of merging with other national educational bodies and agencies, but basic information about obtaining the QTS can be found here. Already being a qualified teacher in your home country, it is advisable to include photocopies of all the qualifications, diplomas or certificates you have obtained so far – transcripts included. Thoroughly read the information on their site and decide what applies to your specific case. Then make photocopies of the documents and write explanations as to what each document means in your country. It usually takes them four months to answer and you need to be in the UK when applying for this certificate. It also helps a lot to already have the NINo – National Insurance Number, but it doesn’t guarantee in any way that you will obtain the QTS.

You will need the National Insurance Number if you’re going to work in the UK. To apply for it, you’ll need to be in the UK and go to a Job Centre Plus. There will be people there to help you with information on what steps you must take but, just to make an idea, let me ‘unveil’ some of this to you.

The process of obtaining the NINo consists of two phases: an interview over the phone and an in-person interview at one of the centres. At the end of the phone interview, the operator will tell you the booking ID number assigned to you and when and where the next interview will take place. They will send you a letter with all this information (so be prepared to give them a valid address), as well as a list of original documents you need to have with you on that day. At the second interview, they will make photocopies of your original documents and you will be asked a number of predefined questions. Your answers will be written down on a form. At the end, after reading all the information contained in that form, you will sign it and… that’s it. In up to six weeks you will receive a letter informing you if you have been assigned a NINo or not.

If you are lucky enough to obtain all of the above in the first 5 months after arriving in the UK, you are three steps closer to start teaching, but you’re not there yet.

There’s more to follow…

P.S. In case you’re wondering how all this relates to the motto, let me be a bit more specific: you may have  a lot of experience in teaching in your country, you may have been a teacher trainer, you may have obtained the highest grades (yes, they’re called grades, not degrees) possible in your country, but if you decide to go to the UK and pursue a teaching career there, be prepared to find yourself at the bottom of the ladder again… And that’s a gap that’s very difficult to deal with.

Please, mind the gap between the train and the platform!

The things we’ve learned and turned into what we call ‘habit’, like the three quarters of the world driving on the right side of the road, can be dramatically shattered in the UK, where driving is on the left. Everything about driving in the UK is flipped over horizontally: the steering wheel is on the right, gears are changed with the left hand, rear view mirrors are repositioned, the dead angle is not on the right side of your car but on the left now… And then the driving itself… for a while it feels like you’re in the wrong lane, only this time everyone else is as well, unlike in this old joke:

An Essex girl is driving down the A13 when her mobile phone rings. It’s her father warning her, “Alice – I just heard on the news that there’s a car going the wrong way on the A13 – Please be careful!”. “It’s not just one car!”, replies the Essex girl, “There’s hundreds of them!”.

Every problem must have at least one solution, so what are the options in this situation? Well, the way I see it, it is always a matter of personal choice, as we can i) learn the new routine and adapt to the new conditions, ii) give driving up for as long as we live in the UK or iii) bring our left-side-steering-wheel car to the UK.

While options i) and ii) are pretty blunt but crystal clear, in sort of ‘take it or leave it’ way, option iii) sounds like a compromise: you will keep driving the car the way you used to and you will only adapt to driving in the other lane. Oh, and don’t forget to adapt the rear view mirrors as well… And the direction of the headlights… And watch out for the huge number of people on bicycles and motorbikes… And the traffic lights… What with the roundabouts… Left! Left! OMG…

Or… here’s another possibility:

Two elderly women were out driving in a large car, both could barely see over the dashboard. As they cruised along they came up to a crossroads.The light was red but they just carried on. The woman in the passenger seat thought to herself, “I swear we just went through a red light”. 
Soon they came to another crossroads and the light was red again,and again they carried on. This time the woman in the passenger seat was almost sure that the traffic light had been red. She was now nervous and decided to pay close attention to the road and the next set of lights.
At the next crossroads,sure enough,the light was definitely red and they went right on through. She finally reacted, “Abigail! We just ran three red lights in a row! You could have killed us!”
Abigail turned to her and said, “Oh, am I driving?”

But why worry anyway? There’s always option ii)… and public transport. But that’s going to be described in another post.

Please, mind the gap between the train and the platform!

Right… Because there is always a gap there… And we wouldn’t want anyone to trip, fall and then blame it on the underground system, so we’d better warn them.

But then, it just crossed my mind that, for the world outside the UK, there is no warning about the gap between what we think we know about this country, its inhabitants and its language and what surprises the reality has in store for us. And suddenly, mind the gap acquired a different, deeper meaning, applying to so many aspects of being a foreigner in London. Well, I hear you say, how difficult can it be when you speak English?

Speaking English definitely helps. A lot. (What a surprise!) We’d be tempted to think that, being teachers of English, non-NEST, true, but teachers of English nevertheless, our English is pretty good, not native-like level but pretty close, “super-advanced”, like the last textbook in the Prospects series (Macmillan). Over the years, it comes only natural to look in the mirror and feel proud of ourselves and our achievements in this language because we have worked so hard, learned it and we’re teaching it or teaching teachers to teach it… The last thing we’d expect is a gap. And yet, the gap is there, but nobody warned us. The gap between the English spoken by NESTs and that spoken by non-NESTs may not seem too big, but the gap between the English spoken by any other natives and that spoken by non-NESTs is huge! Last but not least, there’s also the English spoken by English students in English schools and that’s where we, non-NESTs, are likely to be completely lost…

No listening material can prepare someone for the real English spoken in the UK… London is such a cosmopolitan city, welcoming people from all over the world to live and work here. What does that mean? Besides the Scottish, Northern, Irish, Welsh, East End or whatever other accents of the native British, tens of other accents and pronunciations (or mispronunciations, if you asked us, teachers of English).

Feel inclined to ask ourselves why we never had problems understanding or communicating in English when we met at conferences, in forums or communicated via Twitter, Facebook or e-mail? The answer might be less spectacular than we thought it would: in our case, the interaction is always T – T… The standard of this communication is very high, we’re all teachers, well educated, so the non-NESTs do their best while the NESTs… behave.

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