I should have known better but after a hard day’s work, feeling clammy and tired, my brain wasn’t functioning. I ‘d stopped to take a photo of one of the school’s mini buses which was parked on the sidewalk, doors wide open to vent the heat before being crammed full of students. I’d no sooner got my camera out of my bag when a waygukin came around the corner. Being caught with your camera out, a sure sign you are a white belt waygukin, is embarrassing and the equivalent to being caught tossing or picking your nose. Like most of the boring western tossers in Korea, there was an avoidance of eye contact and a reticence to acknowledge another foreigner lest it taint their air of being a waygukin who thinks they’re either Korean or the only westerner in Korea.. I’d passed another two in exactly the same spot earlier in the day – one I’d nodded at but behind his dark glasses he totally ignored me. The other was walking into his school wearing a pair of Bermuda shorts that made him look like a tosser and then there were the flip-flops. I find it a form of racism for waygukins to go and work in a school dressed like they’ve just sauntered up from the beach as it demonstrates a complete lack of any understanding of or sensitivity to Korean culture and short of working for Mediterranean Beach Club 18-22, you wouldn’t dress as such back home.
The minibus I am photographing belongs to Toss English Academy and ‘toss’ is a British-English slang term for ‘masturbate’ or ‘crap.’ The school has been in situ for well over 10 years and I often smile when I see one of their buses passing. You’d really think companies, especially the big ones and ones which teach English, would ask a native speaker to check their English so as to avoid making such gaffes! Other alternatives conveying the same sense of meaning and range of nuances would be: ‘Wank English Academy,’ Masturbate English Academy,’ and ‘Shit English Academy.’ And for some examples:
Going for a toss – to have a wank, to toss off
tosser – a wanker or masturbator
to call something ‘toss’ – to state it is ‘rubbish,’ ‘shit,’ or ‘crap.’
a tosspot – a stupid person, an arsehole or a boozer.
As I’m taking the photo the driver comes up and asks me why I want a photo. I’m sensitive enough to gauge how appropriate it is to tell him what ‘toss’ means and even assume he might find it amusing and as he’s approximately the same age as I am, I go ahead and explain. My pronunciation of ‘wank’ is impeccable as I’d heard it so often in my last school, a boys’ high school as whenever you asked a student any question about what they did, are doing, or might do, someone would mutter, ‘wank.’ Now, initially I assumed the driver understood me because with a little look of surprise on his face, he reiterates the word, ‘wank?’ I repeat myself and point to the word but suddenly he is looking a little annoyed and walks back to the little group of drivers from which he had initially emerged.
Poor guy has probably been driving one of those mini-buses for ten years and then discovered from a stupid waygukin that ‘toss’ means ‘wank.’ That’s a mighty kick to a Korean ‘kibun.’ I should have kept my mouth shut! I explain my faux pas to a friend who sees nothing wrong or offensive in my comments and the context they were made in but suggests he may have been worried about ‘company’ image. However, as I replay the event through my mind I am beginning to wonder if he understood what I meant by ‘wank’ but misunderstood the rest of my Korean. If such were the case then they guy probably thinks I’m a weirdo. Maybe he thought I was after a ‘wank’ in his bus or maybe he thought I was suggesting I ‘wank’ him. Now I’m going to have to avoid that stretch of road to by-pass the Toss Buses and their drivers.
©努江虎-노강호 2010 Creative Commons Licence.
Toss English went bankrupt in 2012.