I expected that the boxed Narcissus bulbs would grow and thrive and smile back at me in hundreds of blossoms. The word “hundreds” is obviously an exaggeration, but twenty is a realistic number, which is exactly what the little dainty tag that comes with the box is claiming with its picture. However, after a little less than two weeks, only green stalks are visible. One single flower eventually emerges, but it looks like its stem is wilting and turning yellow. Well, expectations. The age old story.
I can’t help thinking about other incidences of mismatch between expectation and reality. Actually whenever there’s an expectation, there’s a varying degree of unmatched reality waiting for it.
I still remember when I was in primary school, I had a little secret crash on a boy living not far from me. We attended the same school. One day we were playing a game together–it’s a very simple game. We were divided into two teams. Big concentric circles were drawn on the ground–the largest circle being 10-15 meters (about 30-45 feet) depending on the age of the participants. One team were running in the center, while the other team threw a cotton sand bag about the size of a child’s palm at them. If it’s a heat, that person will be out of the game. During the game, I warned him “watch out” since he was about to be hit. When he was out of the game, he came to me, blaming me for distracting him and he was kind of angry. That’s totally not what I had expected. Although I had not dreamed of him reciprocating my love and admiration–I was never very confident about myself–I had thought he would be receptive to my affectionate bombardment. The possibility that he could be angry and be resenting me had never crossed my mind.
I have stories about expectation vs. reality when love is concerned, but I will weave them into stories in later posts. Now I want to talk about the expectation and reality of language learning. Whenever one is learning a language (as a non-native speaker), one often hears the message–find a native speaker and practice. This message is repeated so often that one usually expects that the message is describing the high point of one’s language learning process. So when I was a student in a college campus here, I thought I could certainly find Americans–the native speakers–to practice my English. You know, they were my classmates. However the reality was very different. First of all, the native speakers didn’t have the time to practice English with me–they often speak in slang and speak very quickly. It’s impossible to always ask people to slow down or to repeat themselves. Realizing that this was not working, I rationalized that it was because I didn’t find the right person. So I zeroed in on one girl, with whom I had to do a project with, only to find that the girl is an Amish and English is not her first language–she grew up in an Amish village and everybody there speak German. Then I went to join a church group–I forgot it’s an Episcopal or Methodist or Presbyterian. However people there tried to speak very simple English with me, but I wanted to practice more advanced English. More importantly, after several times, I felt so guilty about me being an agnostic that I couldn’t go anymore.
Finally in one of the university labs, I met the lab technician Bill, who was extremely patient and enjoyed talking. I thought I finally found a native speaker with whom I could practice. One day as we were talking, I deliberately used the word “laconic” just for practice purposes. He asked me, “what is laconic?” I replied, “it means simple. It’s in the English phrase book that I thought everybody has to memorize.” He said, “really? Phrase book? Memorization?” He looked at me puzzled as if to say he didn’t know what I was talking about. Later, when he said something–I forgot what he said–that is not grammatically correct, I asked him why he said something that’s not grammatically correct. He replied, “Grammar? English has one?” I stared at him, completely speechless. That put an end to my enthusiasm once for all.
Eventually I found non-native speakers as practice partners, who are more interested in discussing grammar rules and slang and word usage.