Typecasting

A student I did not know entered the office today.

“Hello,” I said, briefly looking up from my computer.

“Hello,” she responded, looking like she wished she could talk to Bill.

“What can I do for you?” I prompted. It turns out, she wanted me to be in her project. A student movie for class – I would play the part of the hiring manager for a hotel company. I’m intrigued – why would she want me to be in her project? Did she see my work in “A Klingon Christmas Carol?” It’s a rhetorical question.  The obvious answer, which I gloss over a lot here at my job, is that if you can snag the American you get bonus points. I agree to be in the project – will I need a costume? No. Does she have a script? Yes – she hands me a single piece of paper. I smile at her, and assure her I will have it memorized by tomorrow at lunch when she’s filming. She thanks me, but there’s no real happiness in her. More like relief. Bill told me she had asked him to ask me, and he said she had to do it herself.

I look over the script. Basically, a young woman goes to a hotel corporation with her resume and asks for a job. The hiring manager asks five questions, and says the company will tell the girl in two days if she has a job or not. And I thought I romanticized things….

It’s a high school video project, I chide myself. Not everyone translates parodies of Eminem into French (I was a driven nerd in high school. I still am).

But here is my conundrum – do I correct the problems with the English? This girl is not my student, and I have no influence over her or her project. I am just playing a part. On the other hand, I am an English teacher, and a grammarian. If I allow some of these sentences to be said aloud, the project remains weak. But is it my place to improve them – does that give her an unfair advantage over the other students? They don’t have a native speaker in their projects.

Here are two brief samples:

A:What job would you like to apply for?

B: Any job that has something to do with hotel management.

****

A: Why do you want to work in our company?

B: Because it’s a leading company in the field of hotel.

 

For the level of English I work with, the whole thing is pretty good. There are proper tenses and question variety. But is should really be “for our company” and “field of hotel” is weak. On a larger scale, asking for “any job” at an interview would make a candidate look weak as well. I can’t imagine even getting an interview based solely on “I don’t have a real idea of what I want to do, but you guys are cool and I want to work for you.” Maybe a tech start up, but not an established company. The whole conversation reads very stunted – there is no depth, and as a job interview practice script it falls woefully short of what happens in the real world of hiring.

I guess that last thought is an assumption on my part – maybe that’s how hiring works in China. I should ask someone.

It’s not my place to correct here, but it’s my job to teach proper English.  I don’t mind doing it gently outside of school, when people ask for advice. I think my hesitance is that this would be treading on another teacher’s toes. Someone taught her this, and my corrections might be construed as presumptuous or arrogant.

The overarching idea of “playing a part” repeats in my mind.  As the trophy Westerner at this school, I am the star to have in a video which needs a managerial sort asking the tough job questions. It’s pure typecasting – like making Christopher Walken the off-balance guy, or Tommy Flanagan the second-tier badass who dies. It made me uncomfortable at first, but I’ve gotten used to being trotted out to visitors.  But I am also wanting to play my actual part – that of a teacher. We all must play our parts I tell myself. Which part should I choose?

 

Final aside: I don’t actually get trotted out. They bring groups into the space while I’m working. My office has this big glass window, and they all stare at me like I’m one of the goldfish we occasionally have. I used to go out and say hello, but they’d back away from me or ignore me or use my getting up as a reason to leave. It is uncannily like how people react when animals are not in their cages – now I understand both celebrity status and what it’s like to be an exhibit.

So much learning.

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