Bad language

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…

9 thoughts on “Bad language

  1. Yes, with me, you knew exactly the rude words I’d teach your child, possibly with a steaming plate of lamb curry. 🙂
    But perhaps it’s an exercise in discretion for him too?

  2. We had a very similar conversation (Ollie & I) yesterday when at bath time the children were talking in ‘eggy peggy’ and Mads said ‘tanky wanky’ and then Bella pointed out that in there somewhere was a swearword. Which Ollie was very keen to uncover and of course following the tanky route wondering how on earth that could be a swear word. We had a little chat where I felt obliged to tell which word was the naughty one that you are allowed to think but not say out loud! He then took me to one side and said everso dicsreetly that it would terribly helpful if I could furnish him with a list of swear words that 6 years olds shouldn’t know so they he would be absolutely clear what he shouldn’t say out loud. Needless to say I declined and he was pretty understanding but asssured me that he would continue in his quest to uncover all those words that should not be said out loud. *sigh*

      • OMGosh, just catching up. That Ollie is one clever boy. I can just imagine that same logic with the ladies later in life…”could I just have a quick peek so I can be certain I’ve got the details of my fantasy just right…”.

  3. Coming at this from the perspective of 45 years of being an expat (my parents moved when I was 3; I had NO SAY in that first one what-so-ever!), you highlighted what I knew but didn’t know. When you come into a new community, you can’t go out in your old slobby clothes, either physically or mentally, for quite a while. The only thing that people have to judge you, apart from pre-existing prejudices against xxxxx (brown/Dutch/blonde, whatever…), is your current behaviour. And that is both exhilarating and exhausting. They don’t know about all the stupid things you did when you were younger, or previous partners, or the job you wish you’d never taken. But they also don’t know when you were amazing. You have to be amazing all over again for them to get it.
    Some of this went through my head immediately when I read the post. The bit that my brain has only just linked back to actually concerns my mother. I have always said that I admire my mother for the fact that in all the places we lived, she never had bad neighbours. I now realise this means that she proved to all of them, from scratch, that she’s amazing.

    • I *love* this Tanneke, truly love it. This is precisely and exactly it. It’s not a bad thing or a wrong thing it’s just a thing thing and worth pointing out for anyone considering expat living. Bravo to your Ma. Oddly, I have also been thinking about the year we spent in America when I was seven, which I battled through and my sister adored. My folks made long-lasting companions in those 12 months. Samesame. Bravo OurFolks 🙂

  4. Mo, I loved this and wish I could have been a fly on the wall while you explained the ramifications of swearing to the little monkey. I find that even as adults, I often let a good one slip when in unfamiliar company and feel embarrassed by my lack of filtering. Last week, a huge group of parents were huddled in small groups, waiting in a parking lot for our 5th graders (yr 6) to return home from a weeklong school trip. The buses were nearly two hours late and the school was providing less than adequate information about the delay. I declared the situation to be a total “clusterf**k” thinking this was a rather accurate description of what was happening. There were several chins that scraped the pavement and a rather long silence following my comment. After agonizing all day about my poor choice of words, I decided that their stunned reactions reflected their total lack of humor, not my poor choice of words. I’m guessing they’ll never want to see how “amazing” I can be and that’s just fine with me.

    • Hilarious! Oh dear oh dear. I can just hear the social tumbleweeds blowing past, sound of a nearby swing creaking, far-off siren, as people studied their toes for a shocked pause. Oh dear 🙂 Of course I blame the parents (I do, actually – my mum had a pottymouth. Ah well, she taught me lots of socially acceptable stuff as well) xx PS Y6! How did that happen?

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