One day in ESL 097, we were working on short answers with “Yes, I can” and “No, I can't”. I was going from student to student, asking questions that began with “Can you ...?” to elicit the appropriate answer: “Can you sew a button on a shirt?” “Can you change a tire?”, and so forth.
Now, in this class I had a Russian couple – a husband and wife from the former Soviet Union. They were living with their children and grandchildren here. They had both been doctors in the USSR, but were unable to practice here because of the language and because of the many difficulties in relicensure in health care for those from other countries. She didn't work; he swept up in a barber shop.
I asked Antonina her question, and she answered. Vladimir's question was, “Can you make a paper airplane?” “Yes, I can,” he replied.
I moved on to the next student, who pre-empted me with, “Can YOU make a paper airplane?”
“Yes, I can,” I said, and opened my mouth to ask him his question.
With an impish grin, he said, “Prove it!”
So I marched up to the front of the classroom, and Vladimir and I were off making our paper airplanes. We finished about the same time, and Vladimir launched his first. It had a high start, and then plopped nose first onto the floor.
Mine flew smoothly straight down the aisle, nearly to the end of the classroom, where it made a slight right turn and landed neatly.
In the middle of the ensuing applause, Antonina crowed gleefully, “Amyerican beats Russian!”
Of course, I did have a bit of an advantage in that contest. I learned my paper-airplane-making skills from my father, who had been a quality control inspector for Rockwell International, and before that, North American and Curtiss Wright. Daddy knew a bit about airplanes.