SmallMonkey said a rude word over dinner, and not for the first time over the last few weeks. This was all naughty enough but then he ignored my mild admonishment (I’ll react gently now, I thought, and pick it up later – but I never got the chance), and went and texted the word to a friend. Again, not for the first time. “Ping!” went my phone. Sadly for him he’d picked a mate whose mother bears no truck with this sort of thing – quite rightly – and as a result he now has one less pal on the block, at least until the curfew is off.
This is one of the tricky things about expat living. It’s not just Mandarin that we need to learn to speak out here, it’s all the social languages too, and each person you meet will have a different code and all those codes need to be filed away and then you can only hope that the kids remember all the social rules too and sometimes they do and sometimes, well…
All the lovely pals I’ve met out here only know me because I happen to be living in the same country as them at the same time. We didn’t meet in the playground and establish a long-lasting friendship. We didn’t get together at work and stay friends, or buddy up at the local NCT class, at the school gate. We only have current conversation to go by, and if that doesn’t work out then there’s not a lot left over; no history. You can’t get away with the same things that you got away with at home, and it’s the same no matter how old you are. SmallMonkey’s situation is not so far removed from a dodgy coffee morning or a not-so-good night out where I’ve not quite got my point across in the way I intended. At least I am old enough to tell myself off, and I don’t get my iTouch taken away for two weeks. Poor little s*d (whoops), as if he wasn’t already isolated enough just by being out here.
In the same way that I sometimes find myself having to dial down my ‘eccentric Londoner’ act when I sense people are finding it a bit too much, my son now has to learn that the new stuff he is bringing home from school is just as illegal in our Singapore kitchen as it is in our London home. Rude words are just as banned here – they are not just part of the excitement of going to a new school and giggling in a new corner with new friends and it’s not OK to then experiment with the new words on all your other new friends out here, because they will be just as insulted as your friends back home would have been. As will their mothers. Our eccentricities, his and mine, can cut short a coffee morning or a playdate if we are not too careful.
Whatever. There are many levels to what was essentially kind of a minor incident and I tackled the most obvious ones first, those being Internet safety and messaging protocol:
‘Those words you’re writing don’t just flutter about in the air,’ I said, ‘they go into someone’s house, and that person reads them, and that person’s mother reads them and then you are in trouble.’ (‘And then so are you,’ he added, to his credit.)
Learning about swear words might not be any better at home but I do wish, a little bit, that we hadn’t quite reached this stage yet, because not only is he dealing with a life away from the norm but if he was swotting for all those ‘Inappropriate Language’ exams back in the UK at least he’d be doing it amongst people who know him and have a bit of history to go on, who can make the distinction between the new kid with the foul mouth and the small child with the exemplary social record.
We both have our mouths shut for now but I do see this ‘communication’ theme as one that is bound to crop up again…