On exporting filth around the world

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Last Friday I introduced myself to a new group that want twice-weekly English lessons inside their French pharmaceutical company.
Their departing teacher, an English girl named Hannah, had asked them what they wanted to study for their final class.
And so it conspired that I witnessed my first official swearing lesson.

The class had five lower intermediate-level students, all in their 30's or 40's, all shirts, ties and studious brows.
Upon entering the beige, high-ceilinged meeting room, they took out their pens, turned to the right page in their notebooks and made polite inter-office discussion with each other, waiting for the lesson to begin. They were here to learn.

Hannah had decided to model the art of swearing by handing out a scene transcript from satirical UK sitcom In the Loop, before playing the video clip to the class, and asking them to follow the script.
The swearwords came frequently, vehemently and creatively. Hannah watched the scene with a wry smile. The class observed quietly. The scene finished, and the room fell silent.

“What is a twat weasel?” asked Alberto.

Words were highlighted on the whiteboard, their meanings explained.

“Nob and dick mean penis”, tutored Hannah, helpfully drawing the male anatomy on the board. “So a dickhead is somebody who thinks with their dick”.
Deek is balls?”, asked Giselle, frowning from the back of the room.
“No, balls are huevos. Testiclos.
The lady studied her handout, confused. “But then what is fannyhead?”

“One of the most versatile English words is fuck”, Hannah explained. “It can be used as a noun, an adjective, an exclamation or a verb. Gabriel, can you use the word in a sentence for us?”
Gabriel, a portly and shy looking professional man, stayed silent, as he had been for most of the lesson.
“Do you know how we would use it as an exclamation?” Hannah prompted.
Gabriel merely leant back on his chair and pouted his lips in a non-committal way.
“Ok... you're not sure, then?”
“FUCK YOU!!”, he bellowed. The penny had dropped.

Words which the students had difficulty pronouncing were drilled, chorally and individually. The fifth student walked in halfway through the class, ready to explain that it had been a hectic day at the company, waiting for a break in the loud and monotonous repetition of the word “twat... twat... twat... twat”.
“Not twate, twat”.
“Not zwat, TWAT”
Usage and collocation were also covered.
“In England you would never say the word cunt... 'twat' is still a bad word but people say it more often.”
Hopefully the students were unleashed upon the world with the impression that, should one find oneself in polite, formal company, one should always opt for the infinitely more genteel term of twat during polite raconteurism.
They were also unleashed with an audible enthusiasm for swearing. As the teacher and I tidied up in the empty classroom, their voices could be heard fading away down the corridor, practicing their new vocabulary.
“Knockers... knockers... knockers... knockers...”.

On settling in a new city and rapers

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Flying back from Cordoba to Buenos Aires, 10 days ago, I had a I've made it! (jazzhands) moment.

I'd driven north with my second host (Javier), to sell his car and eat his mother's empanadas, and was just a few hundred metres from touching down in the capital.


Sunday, 9 May 2010


Hello, hope everything's alright at home.

Next time you go into the bank, would you be able to ask someone about my Visa Debit Card? Over the past 3 days I've gradually come to terms with the fact that it doesn't work in any banks or shops here, and I have 2 pesos (approx 33 pence) left in cash.

On drinking twigs and cocaine

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

You've been to Buenos Aires before, haven't you?
So I'm sure you noticed that the Argentines are noticeably more brooding and insular than the folk of other Latin nations.
The strained, airy notes of the Tango bandoneon carry a depth of melancholy that could empty a Brazilian Salsa club in seconds.
One way in which the Latin social flair appears to penetrate Buenos Aires, however, is through 'tomar mate' (drinking mat-eh).
My first afternoon in Buenos Aires was spent drinking Mate with Mauro, my first host, who demonstrated the entire ritualistic process to me.

First, one selects the Mate (spherical cup) which all present will be drinking out of.