Mind your mouth
What’s with all the public swearing in front of my kids? Karin Schimke asks for sanity.
‘Turn around please m’am so I can scan your ass.’

I’m in a shop that sells jeans and the pair I have on is too long. The saleslady is brandishing a scanning machine.
‘Excuse me,’ I say, really perplexed.

My 10-year old translates into South African English out: ‘Turn around, Mom. She wants to scan the tag on your arse.’

Oh. I see. She wants me to turn around so that she can scan the barcode on the cardboard sticking out of the back pocket of the jeans. Silly me.

My brother sends me a text from London: ‘Just saw an amusing sign in a coffee shop that says “Coffee first. Then your mundane bullshit.”’

I am perplexed by my non-reaction. I don’t think this is particularly funny.

At the supermarket the till lady scans something twice.

‘Shit!’ she exclaims and rings her ding-dong for the supervisor to come and do an override.

What’s with all the public swearing? It’s enough to make me say things like ‘golly’ and ‘gosh’ - forbidden words in my vocabulary. I love a tarty word or two in the right place. Especially when it is least expected.

Swearing is such a powerful tool and frankly, all this public cussing is taking the oomph out of my good-girl-with-the-potty-mouth routine, which works best in unexpectedly displayed in intelligent conversation.

Having come of age in newsrooms of the early 90s, neither Number One nor I are averse to swearing of the most outrageous kind. He swears more than I do, of course, but that’s because I think he’s vocab is falling out along with his hair.

As I age, I am – compared to my old self – a paragon of the virtuous use of shit and fuck. But we don’t do it much in front of the children, unless we’ve burnt our hands on the frying pan, or narrowly avoided being sideswiped by a man in a Merc.

Mother, may I curse?

The kids know swearing. They know we do it. The rule is they’re allowed to swear when they’re adults. It’s one of those special privileges that go along with a driver’s licence and shaving. What they get away with is mouthing a dirty word if it happens along in a clever joke. Or, like my son, ask permission. ‘Mother, dear, I have an enormous urge to spout venom. May I?’

‘Yes, dear, as long as you do it in your bedroom and wash out your mouth afterwards.’

‘Thank you Mother,’ after which he retreats to the bedroom to call me a damn fool for not allowing him to have a third helping of potatoes.

When my brother was a tender 4-year old and I a bullying  10-year old, I made him so cross he went red in the face and made little fists at his sides.

‘You, you, you...you bloody thing!’ he shouted at me, and burst into tears. I had driven him to swearing. Swearing in our parental house was not done. Unless you counted the number of times a day my father growled ‘Scheisse!’.

So back to the chick in the jeans shop.

After my perplexed pause and the slow dropping of the penny, I have a choice. I can say: ‘Young lady, that is not how one speaks to customers. Nor do you avail yourself of the rich patois of cussing in front of young children.’

Feeling both grumpy at her misuse of the beautiful language of swearing, and my own timid concession that public swearing is now, like, so 2010, I instead meekly present my ass for scanning.

My son winks at me dramatically. I’m not sure whether he’s delighted by her cheek, or at his own ability to translate American into Seffrican.

Should we swear in front of children? Should kids be allowed to curse in front of parents?

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