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Cultural Differences

What is that Teacher's Name?
by Ruth; March 9, 2008


It happened in my first English class after I immigrated to Canada. Before the class, I was recognized as a new student by the teacher. He immediately began to introduce himself: “My name is L.”

I couldn’t believe my ears, and asked a classmate beside me, “What’s the teacher’s name?” The classmate pronounced “L” with a strong accent while she wrote down the letter “L” on the paper.

“How could ‘L’ be a teacher’s name?” I said to myself, “No, I can’t call him L! I have to call him teacher with his last name as I did in China!” I thought.

Then, I asked the classmate again, “How do you call the teacher?”

“L,” she answered.

“What’s his last name?” I asked.

The classmate shrugged her shoulders and looked at me strangely, “I don’t know. We just call him L!”

During the ten-minute recess, I heard another classmate ask loudly, “L, can I ask you a question?” The teacher answered kindly with a smile, “Sure,” and approached that student. I was surprised by the teacher's attitude. In China, students never dare address teachers by name, even in the conversation about them. If a teacher hears a student call her by name, she would degrade that student’s mark because it's a disrespectful and rebellious behaviour.

Soon, I had a question to ask the teacher, so I called him hesitantly: “Hi, teacher!” “Yes? My name is L. What’s the question about?” he responded. I felt uneasy as if I had done something wrong when I heard "L." I told myself, "Next time, I should remember to call him teacher L, not L only!"

Again, I had another question. I went to him, and called him still hesitantly: “Teacher L, I…” “You can call me L,” he corrected me with a smile and continued, “Yes, please!”

After that, I really experienced some awkward moments. I eventually got used to calling him “L!”

Today, I can call my teacher by name freely and comfortably. I can enjoy the close relationship with teachers instead of being fearful of their annoyance and keeping a respectful distance as I did in China.