"Naughty America," said my student, grinning and wagging his finger. I smiled slightly. I had prepared some activities to practice asking and answering personal questions about name, age, family, address, phone number, likes, dislikes, etc. I wasn't prepared to respond to my favorite nine-year-old's comment about America, but I didn't want to ignore it either.
I paused for a moment and wondered how to go about having a child-friendly converesation about culture and politics with the limited English vocabulary that he knew.
"Where do you live?" I asked.
"In Russia," he told me confidently.
I nodded. "Do you like Russia?"
He rolled his eyes as if I had asked him a stupid question and then responded with an resounding "Yes!"
"Why?" I asked him.
He pressed his lips together and thought before telling me, "Because it's home."
"I like Russia too," I confided, "because it's beautiful and because I like my colleagues and my pupils."
"Do you like New York City?" I continued.
"Why do you like it?"
His eyes grew round as he told me, "Because it's got big skyscrapers, very big."
"And...?" I prompted.
"And it's nice," he added.
"You're Russian. Are Russian people good or bad?" I asked.
"Good," he quickly confirmed.
"That's right. And I'm American. Are American people good or bad?"
He shrugged. "Mmm, good."
"Am I Obama or a normal American?"
He laughed at the idea of me being Obama and said, "Normal American."
"Are Obama and Putin normal people or politicians?"
"Are politicians always good or sometimes good?"
"Are politicians sometimes bad?"
He paused and then responded, "Sometimes bad."
I sometimes have to remind myself of the message that I was trying to send to my student. Of course I have my own opinions about Obama, Putin, and their domestic and international policies, but I shouldn't let that color my impression of Russian culture. Patrick and I put together a list of the top ten things we like about Russian culture, and I'll be posting about those topics over the coming weeks. Stay tuned!