“Your students sound bored,” Heléna’s son Róbert told me after I’d reluctantly phoned him, the only teenager I knew, for advice. “They’re only waiting around until they get into university. They’re not really serious about becoming tour guides.
“Then how can I capture their interest three hours a week?”
I heard the sound of Róbert’s fingers flying over his computer keyboard. After a few moments of silence, he said: “American Pie.”
“You mean the song?” I hummed a few bars from the golden oldie by Don McLean.
Róbert shushed me. “No, granny! American Pie, the movie. You do have access to a TV and video player at the school, don’t you?”
“Then I recommend watching that with them. It’s certain to break the ice.”
“How do you mean?”
“Trust me. It’s an American classic.”
I remembered having seen ads for American Pie 2 around the city but knew nothing about the original. Right before Thursday’s class at St. László, I found a copy of American Pie in the school’s video collection. Although the description of the movie was in Hungarian, the four-star reviews led me to believe it was a classic of sorts. I took the cassette over to the librarian, who pointed to the words “Uncut Version” and flashed me a stern look. “This film is so…so…American,” she said.
“Exactly. I want to share a bit about my culture.”
When class started, I told the students that for the next few weeks, we would be viewing American films. “After last week’s challenging visit to Gödöllő, when some of you used me as a target for snowball practice, I thought we could all use a break. For starters, today we’ll view American Pie.”
Luca raised his eyebrows and let out a howl; Dániel snickered and covered his mouth. A few girls cheered that it was their favorite movie. The words “király” and “sirály”—slang for “cool”––littered the room.
“I’ll be taking notes on the more difficult expressions during the movie,” I told them. “Please listen closely so you’ll know what they mean when I quiz you at the end of class.” They glanced at one another sideways and winked; I was relieved to have chosen a subject of interest.
A few minutes into the film, I squirmed in my seat. Was American Pie about a bunch of nerds losing their virginity? The incessant toilet humor was horrifying enough, but when one of the lead characters began eyeing the apple pie on the kitchen table, I knew it was time for a break. I excused myself, breezed out into the hallway, and dialed Róbert.
“How could you?” I yelled into the phone. “The movie is totally disgusting. All the fart jokes, the wanking off, the diarrhea scene—”
“That one’s my favorite!” Róbert belted out.
“I can’t believe you recommended this. What are they going to think of me?”
“Probably that you’re one hot teacher.”
“Cheer up, Miss America, it can’t be all that bad. The movie’s only R-rated.” Oops. The version I’d taken out was uncut. I told Róbert.
“Sirály! Király!” he yelled into the phone, sounding as if he had scored a date with Britney Spears.
After hanging up, I slipped inconspicuously back into the classroom and plopped onto a stool in the corner, where I pretended to take notes. There was no way I could eke a lesson out of the movie’s featured vocabulary: “virginity,” “body fluids,” “jerking off.”
As the credits finally rolled, the students clapped. “Great class!” they cried in unison, high-fiving one another as they paraded out of the room. I stayed behind in the dimmed light, my feet floating atop an imaginary puddle; perhaps Róbert had been right—the ice was finally melting.