There must be something in the water


It’s early summer, the rainy season is upon us and the mosquitoes are out. And this week love is in the air. Or something like that.

Once a week, I attend a cooking class. I’m not a totally awful cook, but I could certainly use the practice. The teacher speaks a little English, but mostly I use the lessons as a chance to chat in Japanese. The other students are all women, which makes conversation easier – men in rural Japan are terrible mumblers. And they’re chatty, even if most of the time I don’t understand.

There’s a few older women who are friendly, if a little wary of me. There are some high-schoolers who talk to me about Johnny Depp and Harry Potter. And there are half a dozen twenty-somethings, who like me treat the class as mostly a social event. We aren’t very good cooks, but we can follow instructions. Well, the others can, and I copy them. We giggle a lot. Young adults are a minority in a town where most young people leave as soon as they can, even if it’s just to the slightly-larger city an hour away.

This week, it seems some of my previously-singly friends have acquired boyfriends. In fact, since last week, most of them have. Much giggling ensues, amid a collective attempt to explain the details to me. It seemed two of my friends have new boyfriends, one has gotten back together with an ex, and one – well, something has happened.

She is – ‘half-hearted’ is the first attempt at a translation, but that doesn’t sound right. A diagram is hastily scribbled on the back of a recipe. Ah, it seems one of the women has fallen for a boy – but he remains oblivious. What is the English word for this, they ask.

It turns out ‘unrequited’ is not a word that Japanese speakers find easy to pronounce. Something about the letter ‘q’ ties them in knots. After several events, I try to write it down in katakana, the phonetic syllables used for rendering foreign words. But katakana is mostly limited to sounds in the Japanese language, which is notoriously limited.

Eventually we settle on “one-way” as being an acceptable substitute. Ah, one of the other women comments – like roads! Yes, I said. Like roads. More giggling ensues.

My friends enjoy giggling over things like that. Though I doubt they’d like the comparison, this week they’re much like the teenagers I teach.

Maintaining discipline isn’t part of my job, and to be honest I prefer a slightly boisterous class to a silent one. And if they go to the effort of being disruptive in English, I usually let it slide. I only see the class once a fortnight, and if they’re not making life difficult for the other pupils, they can use as much English as they like.

In one third grade junior high class, there are two boys who stand out. Pretty Boy tends not to pay attention in lessons, but he can answer most questions, and his English is good in comparison to most of his classmates. He attends an English juku, a cram school, and the low-level English class doesn’t exactly tax him. Pretty Boy is also the school crush. Third grade girls flirt outrageously with him. First grade girls write his name on their desks, adorned with hearts and teddy bear faces.

Crazy Boy actually chose that name for himself, and introduces himself that way, at least in English. He’s quite bright, and he’s very loud. He’s the ringleader of the campaign to make me laugh, and I can only assume he spends the time he should be doing his English homework looking up things to ask me. Last year it was mostly variants on “money, please!” with an appealing look. I started bringing in pennies as prizes for games. He was thrilled. This year, his vocabulary has expanded. His grammar is appalling, but he gets his point across every time.

This week’s grammar point is “Have you ever…?” I had concocted an ‘interview game’ (the teacher I work with likes them), but it involved making up some questions of their own. “Have you ever been to [place]?” was a favourite theme, as was “Have you ever eaten [food, drink, or unusual substance]?”

Crazy Boy, of course, has to go one better. As I patrol the room, checking spellings and occasionally prodding pupils to convert Japanese to English, he calls out “Haveyouever (pause) made love?”

Things like that usually get a raised eyebrow – by now he knows that means grammar point right, subject matter questionable. He grinned, and points at Pretty Boy. “He has made love!”

These boys are 15. Teenage sex (or inflated stories thereof) isn’t quite the taboo here that it is in some other countries, but it’s still not exactly a good topic of classroom conversation. And I really don’t want to know about the sex lives of teenage boys, let alone ones I teach. But no, it seems I can’t escape from this one.

“He is dangerousboy!”

This one makes me laugh, a bit. Right now Pretty Boy is staring out of the window in a dreamy fashion. He looks not so much like a danger to society as a character from a particularly dire teenage drama. Actually, that’s probably the idea. Perhaps he’s trying to give the impression that class is a triviality compared to the more important things in life. I suppose this explains why he’s even more the focus of attention this week. Dreamy or not dreamy, you can bet his mates think he’s a star.

I smile, and move on. But Crazy Boy has one final parting shot to yell across the classroom.

“He is … playboy!”

And this one does make me laugh. That certainly isn’t a word in the textbook.


3 Responses to “There must be something in the water”

  1. 1 ieatmypigeon

    Hi, Laura! I think what’s in your water is in our water as well. During a Q and A session the other week, an 11 year old girl asked me to tell her about my first kiss. (Next!). Other teachers I work with have cited incidents of male students saying things very similar to Crazy Boy. Sometimes I wonder if these kids are really this kooky or if they’re acting out for our benefit because they think they can get away with it.

    I had another student who liked to waltz into class saying, “Hello, yes, it is me! I am a genius!” And another girl who wanted to know if I had a boyfriend.

    “Why?” I said. “Do you?”


    “Why not?”

    “No money; no honey.”

    “Megumi, where did you learn that?”


    It really is a trip! And, of course, what they’re saying in Japanese must be even better.

  2. 2 Laura

    Hi! *waves*

    I know some of the kids act up just when I’m around – they’re apparently much quieter during English lessons when I’m not there. The teachers I work with find it odd, but most don’t mind having an occasional boisterous lesson.

    But I’d much rather have kids who use their initiative to come up with interesting words and phrases, even if the topics are questionable. I have another class (at the same school) who have no enthusiasm for English at all, and it’s draining just doing 50 minutes a fortnight with them.

  3. 3 Liv

    Ugh! I had one of those last year – they trudged into class looking stricken and barely said a word for the entire hour. It was like pulling teeth to get them to even repeat vocabulary … it’s a mixed bag. The silly ones crack me up, too – I know I ought to be punishing them for talking over me and distracting the others but they’re just too funny.

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