If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that I’m a Good Student. I’m always done first. I always do my homework. I always get the answer right, or look appropriately interested in the teacher’s correction if I don’t. I sit up straight in my chair, show up on time, take notes, follow instructions to the letter. I always get A’s.
In my Spanish class, now two days deep, I realize my native Spanish teacher sees me as a a strange blend of New Yorker and Good Student. Yesterday, we learned vocabulary for character traits, and she started us off with a little game. “Tear a sheet of paper into six pieces,” she said. (She said it in Spanish; it’s all in Spanish; but she also demonstrates her meaning with broad gestures and miming, so I understood what was required.) Dutifully, I tore a sheet from my notebook and, after careful, exact folding, tore it into six perfect squares. I tidied them into a small pile in front of me. I was done first, of course.
To my surprise, once the lesson began, the teacher revealed that this had been a “psychological test.” She then pointed to my small stack of squares and began mocking my speed and tidiness. “Margo es rapida, si?” she said. “Margo es efectiva. Margo es ordinada.” She mimed again my speed and neatness. I realized that, after almost five years out of a classroom, I’d automatically returned to my Good Student role, set apart from the others in the class, who were “tranquila” and “indecisa.”
Later, as we practiced number words, the teacher stopped me on my pronunciation of “treinta,” thirty. I couldn’t quite get the “tr” sound right. She said something that I roughly translated as “You sound like a New Yorker trying to speak Spanish.” Si. Si. Claro. The fun of language lessons has truly begun.