Back in England I was a teacher. An English literature teacher no less. I know: very original. Nothing quite got me going like marking 30 essays per night, and spending my free periods talking to parents whose child definitely-could-not-have-slapped-him-around-the-face-with-the-whiteboard-marker-because-he’s-just-an-angel-at-home. Ok ok, I hear ya now you’ve repeated yourself 18 times. No, I’m being too harsh. I loved being a teacher. I loved the hours I got to spend laughing and joking with the kids whilst simultaneously forcing them to read poetry they really weren’t into. I really did.
Since moving a few months ago, I’ve been volunteering in Dutch schools, to give my CV a boost and to have a nosey at what my future holds once I’ve finally mastered the language. I love it just as much as I loved it in England. But here’s the catch. I’m now a modern foreign language teacher instead of a literature teacher. Whaaaaaat. For now, unearthing the real desires of the author have been moved aside and my main task is to help the kids with fluency, pronunciation and the weird bits of English that nobody really understands.
Now, it’s been quite a big change, but it’s only one of the hurdles I’ve had to face. For one, I have to get used to everyone wearing whatever the hell they want at school. Forget your kids in cute blazers and ties and the teachers dressing like they run a failing business; the girls are in short shorts, the boys wear steel toe capped boots and the teachers are running around in dresses and flip flops. It’s ‘chill’ to say the least. I do still have at least two moments of panic in a morning when I roll up in my jeans and bright fuchsia Adidas and wonder if I’ll be mistaken for the weird exchange student again. These guys just don’t care though, and I respect it and even enjoy it now I’m used to it.
Again, this turns out not to be the greatest challenge to my soft, censored English ears. No. It’s the swearing. From everyone. Teachers and kids. They don’t give a shit. And they’re going to tell you about it whether you’re ready or not. I mean, I’m completely flabbergasted. The UK censors every hint of an impolite curse word on the radio… on tv… in school… in the work place. If someone swears on the street you sort of heave your disgustedly offended face up without even realising. If someone gives you the middle finger in a moment of severe road rage, you sob silently on your driveway the instant you arrive home. It’s the way we do it, right? So why do these kids tell each other to ‘go f*ck yourself’, or screech ‘that’s f*cking sh*t man’ when their poor exam grades are returned? Swearing here is such common practice that it sort of defeats the point of swearing. It’s not really hurled as an insult, but more of an exaggeration and a play with language. They enjoy it, and I’m totally here for that now. Don’t get me wrong, the first time the teacher decided to call her class a ‘bunch of little sh*ts’, my eyeballs nearly popped out of my head. The first time the girl behind me called her tardy friend a ‘f*cking b*tch’, my jaw hit the desk like I’d just been physically assaulted. But the offensive attitude isn’t there. It’s light and it’s humorous. And it’s everywhere. Radio stations play uncensored songs and live TV certainly has a no holds barred approach. Everybody swears here. Get used to it.
I’m not being funny, but I actually really like it. I swear a lot. At almost anything, so it’s nice to be able to do that openly (although I’ve still not let loose in the classroom just yet). And you know something? It’s lovely not having to give a kid detention when he tells me that my ‘sh*te assignment can f*ck off’.