WARNING: this post contains explicit language, parental guidance recommended
I have to remind myself that it is not just the language that separates me from Spanish society, it is also a difference of culture. Today, I was not as successful in remembering that.
I was working with a class that I meet with every week but this time I was the only teacher in the room because the usual teacher was sick. I started class with some English language practice and then as per my instructions, I started a video about the human brain. But, there was a problem with the projector and I had to figure out what was wrong. Just as I solved the issue, I heard a student loudly exclaim to another student "fuck...". In the midst of my frustration I yelled at the student for cursing and further I explained that my Spanish is terrible, if he wanted to curse at a classmate why would he do so in English! This was the beginning of a cultural education for both of us!
I commonly see students flip each other off and I hear them say "fuck", "shit", "mother fucker", and even on several occasions "I am the mother fucking shit"!! Seeing a student raise his middle finger and extend his arm in the direction of a fellow student was a bit shocking the first time I saw it. In the states I would at the very least reprimand the student, but here it happens often and right in front of the teachers. I realized that this gesture which is generally reserved for people who cut us off on the road but we would usually not say in a professional setting, is basically like "shut up" here and maybe less drastic than that.
There is a difference though when it comes to cursing in another language. The teacher who had the class after me found me at lunch and explained that the Spanish language version of "fuck" is said commonly and isn't at all offensive. In my mind that made it analogous to "screwed" as in "I have work in the morning and this project isn't done, I'm so screwed"! I don't think most Americans would find this offensive. And at this moment I understood why I hear so much cursing in front of teachers from students that are in general very respectful of authority. These students have learned these words from music and media, maybe even their teachers but they generally are not in the presence of someone from an English speaking culture. To them, the words are analogous to Spanish words that aren't usually considered offensive and because they only speak them with other Spaniards, they don't realize how offensive it might be to shout in class, "fuck".
I decided it was my job to explain to them that even though they know these words and even though they might seem harmless in Spanish, they don't know how or when to use them. Saying "hey mother fucker, can I use your pencil" might better be replaced by "hey man, can I use your pencil". Exclaiming to another student during class "you are the mother fucking shit" might better be replaced by "you rock" or "you're awsome". Likewise, shouting "fuck" because something bad happened, while it might be socially acceptable in front of your friends, would better be replaced by "dang it" or the like when you are at school.
It was both the strangest and the most fun lesson I have had during this whole exchange! I'd like to think that I just saved them from a socially awkward/offensive situation when they next encounter a native English speaker from the states. Either way though, I got to say all of the words we typically would never say in class. The eight year old in me was giggling the whole time!