A few weeks ago, while my 4th grade after-school class were having a 5-minute break, my ears pricked up when I heard something that sounded suspiciously like an English swear word amongst all the murmured Korean chatter.
Surprised, I began to pay attention to what they were saying. They seemed to be discussing ordinary childhood things like computer games and movies, from what I could understand. And then, suddenly, there it was again: “Koreankoreankoreankorean – f___ you! –koreankoreankorean.”
These are very good, sweet, polite children, who have been brought up to have good manners and lots of respect. There’s no way they would be saying that word in front of a teacher if they really knew what it meant. I think they’ve heard it on TV or in a movie or something, and – going by the casual manner in which they used it – they seem to think it’s on the same level as saying “sit down!” or “be quiet!”. I don’t think they’d be at all shocked if I called for silence and then shouted “f___ you!”. So, what to do? Ask them to refrain from saying it, thus arousing their curiosity and making them obsessed with saying it every day? Or pretend not to hear, hoping they’ll just forget about it and move on? No prizes for guessing which one Ms. Let’s-not-make-a-scene chose. :)
Unfortunately, it seems to have become a favorite phrase in their vocabulary, as I discovered yesterday when we were sitting around in a group as usual, and I was gesturing to something. I have a band aid on my index finger, so I had it curled out of sight after a day of kindergarten (try pointing in front of a class of 5-year-olds when you’ve something on your finger. Their eyes simply lock on to it, and they never see what you’re actually pointing at. “Teacher, finger is sick? Hurt? Ouch, teacher? Finger is whaaaaaat?”). My students noticed that I was pointing with the wrong finger, and I detected some amusement in the ranks. What? I asked, stopping.
In the sweetest little voice, and with all sincerity and innocence, Jane stuck up her middle finger at me and explained earnestly “Teacher, this means f___ you!”.
I cannot even imagine the consequences of one of us having said that word in the presence of (never mind directly to) a teacher when I was at school. Not even the really bad children dared to do that. And even when we learned bad words in French, for example, we knew they were bad and that we shouldn’t actually mention them to the teacher or anything.
I looked uncertainly at Jane. “Err, yes… yes, it does, but I thought it was only with the right hand? I was using my left. And my palm was facing you, and my finger was pointing to the side, not sticking straight up.” There was some discussion over this, and then before I knew it they were all arguing over whether it still meant “f___ you” when they held their hands like this, or like that, or whatever. All I could hear was a babble of Korean interspersed with regular exclamations of “f___ you!” in varying tones of voice. This cannot be the sign of a successful elementary school English class. I began to get slightly concerned about what might happen to me if any of this got back to the parents.
“OK, stop saying that!! Let’s move on. And by the way, you shouldn’t really be saying that – ” (“f___ you?” clarified Jane, helpfully) “-yes, yes,” I plowed on with haste, ” it’s not very nice, and if you say it to someone you don’t know they might get very angry with you.”
They accepted this readily enough, and things were soon back under control.
I sat back down at my desk after class, and watched them gather up their belongings and leave the room, chatting. Jack was already engrossed in his handheld video game, and accidentally knocked into Daisy as he went out. “Hey! F___ you, Jack!” said sweet little Daisy. “No, like this, f___ you!” said cute little Jane, shoving her middle finger in their faces.