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Translation (T)Error

Not all cross-cultural encounters are friendly ones, and not all students enjoy being in a classroom. When these factors are combined in a classroom where the teacher is foreign and doesn't speak the students' native tongue, tensions can run high.

I've just been handed a student's completed work. A postcard, written in English, to be addressed to the student's favorite person. Except on the address line, this one says "Osama Bin Laden." In the corner, where there should be a drawing of a stamp, there is a drawing of a hand giving the middle finger.

A little part of my faith in international goodwill dies. This kid hates Americans, or at the very least resents being forced to learn English. His postcard is meant to offend me.  I hand it back to him.

"No. You can't write this. Do you know Osama Bin Laden?"

"Yes, teacher! Many American kill!"

"That's right. He's a very bad person. You can't write your postcard to him."

The kid grins at me. He thinks his insolence is funny.

"No, teacher. It's ok, because I say FUCK YOU!"

I'm thunderstruck. This is the first time a student has cursed at me. I don't even know how to respond.

The student points to the middle finger drawing in the stamp box. "It's ok, teacher," he repeats. "I say FUCK YOU Osama Bin Laden!" He's still grinning.

The gears in my head finally resume turning. This is not at all what I thought. Rather than expressing hatred toward me and my foreign culture, he is actually bidding to earn my favor with clumsy and moderately offensive show of solidarity against Osama Bin Laden. Still, profanity in the classroom is a discipline problem. I have to be stern. I have to educate him that it's not polite to say FUCK YOU in English.

By the time the teacher assistant picks up the group at the end of the class period, I still haven't stopped laughing.


( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 18th, 2014 03:12 am (UTC)
Of course he'd need extra postage to get that mailing to Osama now!

Still, this was quite unexpected and amusing.

Mar. 20th, 2014 06:37 pm (UTC)
I shudder to think of the cost of mailing a postcard to the afterlife. Just sending to a different country is bad enough!
Mar. 18th, 2014 01:01 pm (UTC)
I like how this one ended up! :)
Mar. 20th, 2014 06:38 pm (UTC)
I liked it too, once I realized what was actually going on. :-)
Mar. 18th, 2014 01:56 pm (UTC)
Now there's a special memory! Please tell me it was real! Bahahahaha!
Mar. 20th, 2014 06:38 pm (UTC)
Yes, this is indeed a story of one of my many adventures teaching at an English camp in Korea.
Mar. 18th, 2014 03:14 pm (UTC)
Lol. Great job.
Mar. 20th, 2014 06:38 pm (UTC)
Mar. 18th, 2014 04:04 pm (UTC)
ehehehe. A fuck you postcard to Bin Laden. That's amusing XD
Mar. 20th, 2014 06:40 pm (UTC)
The best thing was the complete unashamed GLEE with which he said it.
Nice profile pic, btw!
(no subject) - majesticzaichik - Mar. 20th, 2014 07:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 19th, 2014 02:23 am (UTC)

I love how this turned out to be not what you expected.
Mar. 20th, 2014 06:40 pm (UTC)
It was quite a relief!
Mar. 19th, 2014 02:55 am (UTC)
You sucked me in with this one - nice!
Mar. 20th, 2014 06:41 pm (UTC)
It is good to know that I possess the power of a Hoover.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 20th, 2014 06:41 pm (UTC)
Mar. 19th, 2014 03:12 pm (UTC)
lol That was unexpected! ;)
Mar. 19th, 2014 11:32 pm (UTC)
Aw! Lol, poor kid.
Mar. 20th, 2014 06:41 pm (UTC)
He turned out to really be a sweetheart, even if his clowning did cause a distraction or five in the classroom.
Mar. 20th, 2014 01:39 am (UTC)
Poor kid- I'm not sure he knew WHAT to say!
Mar. 20th, 2014 06:43 pm (UTC)
I think he might have been scared there for a minute, but he KNEW he was funny.
Mar. 20th, 2014 06:12 am (UTC)
Haha..liked your heading..it's sure a terror talking to kids now as days!! they say the darndest things..;)
Mar. 20th, 2014 06:44 pm (UTC)
And then you add in a language barrier, and you're no longer even sure what they're saying!
(no subject) - eternal_ot - Mar. 21st, 2014 04:43 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 20th, 2014 01:18 pm (UTC)
*slow clap*

nicely played. I am glad the kid wasn't sticking it to his new country!
Mar. 20th, 2014 06:46 pm (UTC)
Well, to clarify, it took place in HIS home country. I was in Korea. We did get kids who seemed to resent having foreigners in their country trying to teach them a language that as far as they were concerned was of no use to them. But then we got kids like this one and it was quite refreshing.

By the way...I was once a treehouse. I lived in a cake.
Mar. 20th, 2014 08:47 pm (UTC)
Neat story. You paint mental pictures nicely.
Mar. 25th, 2014 01:43 am (UTC)
Thank you!
Mar. 21st, 2014 12:44 am (UTC)
This is a great story. I never know how to react when my students drop the F bomb, so I think you handled it very well.
Mar. 25th, 2014 01:44 am (UTC)
I never did really figure out what to do about it when they aimed nasty language directly at me, but this case was definitely a different story. There wasn't any malice intended so I really couldn't be mad at him.
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )