Monday, October 22, 2007

Same sky: Donkey bridges and daylight saving

“My very elderly mother just sat up near Pluto*” is a sentence I’ve taught many a student. If you’re not in the know, it’s a mnemonic to remember the order of the planets from the sun (just take the first letters from each word, M for Mercury, V for Venus, and so on). I remember my Slovak students being astounded: “Why remember this complicated sentence? We just remember the names of the planets!” My German students couldn’t understand why we describe it with such an unfriendly word as “mnemonic”, the kind of word only an English teacher remembers. So I’ve adopted instead an abstraction from the German phrase, eine Eselsbrücke, a donkey bridge.

This weekend daylight saving returns to Perth, for the second trial stint after decades without it. This lack of experience gets me confused about which way the clocks change. I remember in Germany one of my students proudly explained a new donkey bridge to help remember the system. The hint: “When we bring the garden furniture back inside, we put the clocks back”. “Ah, perfect,” murmured this student’s colleagues. “Useless in Australia,” I commented to them. It took them a while to realise that the Aussie climate doesn’t require the winter storage of garden furniture, and they set about trying to develop an alternative.

So language barriers are one thing, but cultural and climatic barriers can really add to the confusion. It’ll take more than a few donkeys over the bridge to get us all speaking the same language, but in the meantime I'm contorting my brain to try to figure out if my deadlines for the work I do for editors in the US will become later or earlier. And whether or not the donkey cares about that.

*And before you tell me, I'm aware that since my school days Pluto has been taken off the list of planets.

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