Friday, September 14, 2007

How to offend, in five words or less...

Some people around here seem to think that the proper English names for things like poop and butt are Sheet and Assophagus. I don't think anyone ever told them that those aren't the polite terms for either, and that in fact, scat and bum or rear or caboose will work just as nicely and will be much less abrasive to the native English speaker's ear. I don't think they're trying to be rude, but we'll be going along in polite conversation, "blah blah blah her assistant..." and it's so hard for me to hear the rest of what the person is saying because I can't believe they just said that to me! In front of old people or children! or AT CHURCH!
I was on the train the other day and some kids in the next seat heard me talking and thought I was British, and when I said, no, actually I'm from the United States they said, "Oh! cool! Are you from the Bronx? Do you know 50 Cent personally (they really said that! do you know him personally!)?" I said no, I live far from the Bronx, and I don't believe I've ever had the pleasure of making his acquaintance (50 Cent is a rapper, in case you don't know). And THEN, these kids busted out some song lyrics. Now, if you know much about rap, or anything about 50 Cent, you know these are not exactly Shakespeare sonnets or the kind of lyrics that people generally quote to a girl in public, much less one they just met. Use your imagination--50 Cent is about as impolite as you can be, and while I'm sure the kids know in their heads, "this is a bad word in English," I don't think they've thought about how it will cause English-speakers to respond to them if they use such crass language to them. I don't even think they were trying to be unfriendly, and I would have been happy to talk to them otherwise. I just really didn't have much else to say to them after they told me I should shake my assparagus for them. Kind of a little irritating, you know?
So, after all that, I'm feeling a bit sheepish, because when I was in school my floor knew one extremely offensive word in Japanese. We even knew what it meant--but the idea didn't carry the same offensive character that it apparently does in Japan. We were all sitting around a line of tables in uwajimaya Japanese restaurant in Beaverton with Yoshie, our Japanese floormate. Her roommate Brittney was sitting next to her, and she said, "hey, lets play telephone," and she whispered a word to the girl on her other side. We all whispered that Japanese word around until it got to Yoshie, who was SO mortified we thought she'd die on the spot. What if the Japanese waiters had overheard!!! She was ticked. We thought it was funny, but she was pretty upset. Ironically, the other time I saw her really mad, she expressed it by flipping off a teacher and the rest of us thought that was totally inappropriate and offensive...

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steph, I remember when we were in Japan there was a drink that was not the least bit tempting for me to try. It was a white drink and they called it Cow Piss. They thought it sounded good but to the English speaking person, it was not the least bit appealing. Keep up the stories of your adventures. Love, Sally