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Monday, May 4, 2009

Hey San Franciscans -- Care To Protest Some *Real* Prudishness and Cultural Insensitivity?

Posted By on Mon, May 4, 2009 at 7:30 AM

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Is it ironic that the fable "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" has, itself, become so over-repeated that its moral of how over-repeating dubious claims leads to inactivity in the face of real problems has been lost? ("Ironic" is a difficult term to define. Please weigh in).

So, here in San Francisco -- where every last transgression against some group or another's self-proclaimed raison d'être results in charges of "prudishness" or "cultural insensitivity" -- can anyone be bothered to muster up a modicum of outrage when honest-to-God prudishness and cultural insensitivity rears its prudish and insensitive head? Can you do it if it involves leaving your computers? And can you do it if it happened a stone's throw from San Francisco city limits? I know, life stops and starts at the city and county line -- but can you humor us?

Some of you may have read stories last week how Jack Lieberman, an English as a Second Language teacher in Marin, was fired for instructing his class how to not inadvertently curse and explaining the meaning of salty American phrases they'd overheard -- a discussion initiated at the behest of his adult students.

Let's go over this slowly: Grown adults begin a conversation with their instructor on how to not curse in public -- and he gets canned.   

The prudish element here is a no-brainer; even in Marin it's conceivable that folks don't always use language of the sort in an English textbook -- and these adult students knew enough to ask about that. But what really grates is the nasty cultural insensitivity here. How can the administrators at the Tamalpais Adult School think it's useful to teach foreigners to say things like "I like to swim" and "Which way is the post office?" but not instruct them on how to avoid becoming objects of ridicule for mistakenly uttering "shit" or "bitch" in public?

As someone with a multitude of foreign-born friends and acquaintances, I can assure you that this is a downright common occurence. Latin Americans or Europeans have asked me to explain the pronounciation differences between the words "sheet" and "shit" or "bitch" and "beach." I slowly and exaggeratedly enunciate each word  -- and, more often than not, a number of them admit to me "I can't hear the difference." To a native English speaker this sounds ridiculous -- but, then, even a minor mispronounciation of the French for "Thank you very much" (Merci beaucoups) results in one uttering "Thank you, beautiful ass" (Merci, beau cul). These are the sorts of things they let you know in French classes; making a cul of yourself in public should be something language classes prevent us from doing.

It's astounding that questions asked by grown adults about how they could avoid making spectacles of themselves resulted in a teacher being summarily fired. Residents of San Francisco and its surrounding environs seem to have no problem beating their chests in indignation over feigned misdeeds. Anyone care to step up to the plate and take a cut at something real? Does anyone out there give a sheet? 


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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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