I have recently started working at a tea/coffee bar in Edinburgh. One of the regulars asked me how I had been finding my experience thus far and I would always shrug, smile, and say that there are certainly characters in Edinburgh.
The other day, one of the regulars came in to sit up at the bar with a pot of tea and we started talking about the use and perversion of the English language and lamenting the fact that YOLO was a defined word in the dictionary. That was when I was reminded of my many and varied experiences back in Vancouver working as an English conversation teacher. This particular incident I described to them is a favourite of mine and I have only really referred to it as the “BJ story”.
It was all those years ago when I was turning 19 and looking for a part time job to pay for my living expenses. A good friend of mine offered me a job working as an English teacher at a conversation club. This club catered towards international students coming in from Korea and Japan who wanted to learn English in another country. As I had no real prospects at that time and knew how to string a sentence together (Subject-verb-noun, etc.), I jumped at the opportunity.
It was quite early on in that summer when I first started working there that I had a class with two Korean guys. They were in their late twenties/early thirties and still quite buff and muscular despite having left mandatory military service a couple of years earlier. They had only recently arrived into Canada and were looking to improve and practice their speaking skills despite having lots of difficulty navigating around words. That was all fine and good; after all, that was what I was there for.
So there we sat, the three of us: tiny lil’ ole’ me as a young’un and two hulking muscular Korean guys, in a tiny room and crowded around an equally tiny table. As a nineteen year old me, I was getting extremely distracted by the view of crossed muscular arms over two equally muscular chests and did I mention that these guys were buff and dripping with muscles?
As I tried not to blush at the way they were looking at me intently (since I was technically their teacher…) or make a complete arse out of myself, I started the lesson:
Me: Hello. I’m Jordan. What are your names?
Student 1: I am (insert generic Korean guy’s name here).
Student 2: I am Byung-Joo (or something to that effect). ….But (he said smilingly) you can call me BJ.
I was probably quiet for only a few seconds but in my head, it felt like an incredibly pregnant pause.
Me: Er… (embarrassed laugh) I don’t think you should go around telling people to call you that.
Student 2: What? Why?
At this point, I wished I hadn’t mention anything about his name. Trying to remain mature and in control of the lesson (it’s only been 5 minutes in to a 1 1/2 hour lesson), I decided to take the practical approach to the question. Like a parent when their kids ask them where babies come from.
Me: Well… You shouldn’t tell people to call you that because “BJ” actually means “blow-job”.
The two students exchange looks and I can hear the gears in their head turning. I was sitting there hoping for something to click.
Student 1: What is “blow-job”?
Me: Er… (crap).
At this point, I was laughing awkwardly and trying not to hyperventilate. Right, I told myself, I have to be the mature one here. The two of them are after all, there to learn a language and the more slang they understood… then the better off they would be.
Me: Well… A “blow-job” is oral sex. It’s when someone sucks on a guy’s penis.
Student 1&2: … … …
Me: … … …
Student 2: What is “penis”?
And here I was, thinking that the term “penis” is a universally understood term. Showed what I knew about other languages and cultures when I was 19. There was a bit more waffling on my part and checking the clock (it had only been 7 minutes into the lesson, gods would this lesson ever end).
So I took a deep breath.
Me: Ah…. er…. a “penis” is…. well… …
Do you know how awkward it is to give the sex talk to two grown, ex-Korean-military men? Cause I do.
Me: You know how women have a vagina…
Student 1&2: (blank looks)
Me: And a man has a penis…
Student 1&2: (equally blank looks)
Me: (Shit) Okay… you know the difference between men and women… er… down there (gesturing to my crotch)…
Student 1&2: (now looking at my crotch with confused looks)
Me: (Freakin’ hell) Like… a man has a “penis” (using my fingers to pretend I have a hard-on).
Student 1&2: (slow looks of realisation)
Student 1&2: (Sudden look of mortification)
Student 2: OH! OH ok!
Me: Yeah… … So if you call yourself BJ… it means someone sucking on your penis….
Student 2: OH. Just Byung-Joo. Call me Byung-Joo. No BJ.
We laughed it off.
I don’t think I taught that class ever again after that.