Truth > Fiction

There's no mathematical equivalent to "stranger than," as far as I know, but I would argue that "greater than" is just as true.  Here's another fun classroom activity I heard about at the conference, based on the children's book "If You're Not from the Prairie:"'

If you're not from the prairie, you don't know the sun, you can't know the sun.


Diamonds that bounce off crisp winter snow, warm waters in dugouts and lakes that we know.


The sun is our friend from when we are young, a child of the prairie is part of the sun.


If you're not from the prairie, you don't know the sun.



Students then brainstorm a list of things about themselves that they think would be difficult for an "outsider" to understand.  When we did this as a group, I came up with Byzantine chanting, having a stay-at-home mom, going to a tiny private school and living in Manhattan.  Then they choose the one with which they identify most closely (I just went with the first choice) and list both positive attributes (haunting, otherworldly melodies; a deep spiritual connection) and negative ones (a scale that's difficult for Westerners to conquer; the ugly attitude of people who don't like the sound.)  This is transformed into a memoir-type piece:

If you've never sung Byzantine chant, you don't know what it's like to fight with a scale the way an angry two-year-old fights with his older brother.  The notes slip in where you don't expect them and squeal with shrill indignation when you tread on their toes.  You've never sung your way into a corner and then had to back sheepishly out of it, not sure where you took a wrong turn.  You don't know what it's like to have your accomplishments dismissed airily by people who say it sounds "ugly" and "weird."


But, if you've never sung Byzantine chant, you also don't know what it's like to be physically shaken by a melody, right to the very tips of your tingling fingers.  You've never sung a sound you swear didn't come from inside your own lungs, but from some celestial puppetmaster with a generous heart.  You don't know what it's like to luxuriate in the paradox of deeply loving something you still don't fully understand.



I've done a similar activity using the section from "A Year in Provence" where Peter Mayle describes a Provencal greeting:

The instrument of warning and argument is the index finger, in one of its three operational positions. Thrust up, rigid and unmoving, beneath your conversational partner's nose, it signals caution—watch out, attention, all is not what it seems. Held just below face level and shaken rapidly from side to side like an agitated metronome, it indicates that the other person is woe­fully ill informed and totally wrong in what he has just said. The correct opinion is then delivered, and the finger changes from its sideways motion into a series of jabs and prods, either tapping the chest if the unenlightened one is a man or remaining a few discreet centimeters from the bosom in the case of a woman.



I have the students practice this with each other until they're collapsing with laughter (it doesn't take long!)  Then I have them think of a similarly strange ritual, something that would look very odd to an outsider, and describe it in very specific terms.  One girl, a swimmer, told me how to do a "deck change," where she changes clothes in full view of others without exposing anything.  Another wrote about the ritual of Girl Greeting from a male's point of view: it was one of the funniest things I've ever read, from the initial screaming and hugging to the final moments of the conversation, when they accompany each other to the restroom and leave their poor dates staring after them.

Hoping you'll share some of the "foreign" elements of your life!