Subject Material

Exercise 12 - Understanding the Text

Published: 20.05.2010, Updated: 30.03.2011

Read the text below and answer the questions at the end.

The huge American bank Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in 2008 and a large number of people were laid off.

Robbed by the Bank

Early in the morning a year ago today I received an e-mail message at home from Lehman Brothers announcing its plans to file for bankruptcy. But the message said that Lehman would still be “open for business”.

So I headed for the office at 745 7th Avenue. The television crews were already there. I stopped to get my coffee from my favourite street vendor who asked how I was doing. I started to cry and told him to keep the change from my $20 bill because I knew that if Lehman went down, he would suffer as well. On my way in a young woman I’d never seen before said: “Another Lehmanite.”

We had all seen it coming, but still could not comprehend how the company that everybody envied for its good culture could let this happen. Yes, the last months had been a wild ride. It was almost a joke when another email message came around announcing that still another member on the permanent staff had left to “pursue other interests” or “to spend more time with his family”.

I also learnt that my severance package had been cancelled because of the bankruptcy filing, and, for the first time in my life, I suddenly envisaged unpaid bills piling up on my kitchen table. I know that the public at large doesn’t have much sympathy for Wall Street employees, but did I really deserve to be robbed because of the mistakes of others?

Anyway, we spent the rest of the day packing our boxes and finally, in the late afternoon I walked out and headed for the local bar to drown my sorrows and ponder my future.  Around West 51 Street, a homeless man approached me with his cup, gesturing for a contribution. He looked at my bag with the Lehman Brothers logo and mumbled apologetically, “Never mind, I’m sorry.”

Adapted from two texts in The New York Times, Sept. 15, 2009.


  1. Explain the meaning of ‘my favourite street vendor’. (second paragraph)
  2. Why doesn’t the following alternative work in paragraph two: I stopped getting my coffee from my favourite street vendor‘?
  3. Explain the meaning of ‘another Lehmanite’. (second paragraph)
  4. Find a more common word for comprehend. (third paragraph)
  5. Why does pursue other interests and to spend more time with his family appear with inverted commas? (third paragraph)
  6. Explain the meaning of my severance package (paragraph four).
  7. What word class does apologetically belong to?
  8. Give the meaning of mumbled apologetically in another way. (fifth paragraph)
  9. Why is the heading Robbed by the Bank ironic?
  10. Write a five-line summary of this text.


Suggested key

  1. My favourite street vendor = my favourite street salesman/ somebody who peddles his wares from carts on the street.
  2. I stopped getting… = I did not get my coffee from that street vendor any more.
    I stopped to get…  = I stopped in order to get my coffee from that street vendor.
  3. another Lehmanite= another employee at Lehman Brothers.
  4. comprehend = understand
  5. The expressions appear within inverted commas because the writer wants to signal that he/she does not believe that what they literally say is true. They are used ironically.
  6. My severance package = the compensation I was paid when I was laid off  - ‘sluttpakke’.
  7. Apologetically is an adverb(ial) here.
  8.  …mumbled apologetically = mumbled his apologies/ he apologized in a mumbling way.
  9. The irony is that banks do not rob people; it’s rather the opposite, people/robbers rob banks.
  10. This is just one possible summary.

    A year ago the much-respected company I worked for went bankrupt and I was out of work. However, I did go in on the day the information was announced to pack my boxes. I was told that my severance pay had been cancelled and, for the first time, I saw myself unable to pay my bills. I finished my packing and headed for the nearest bar to drown my sorrows and think about my future. On my way, I passed a homeless beggar with his cup. When he saw my bag with the Lehman Brothers logo, he said: “Never mind, I’m sorry”.