There is a seven-year-old girl in one of my classes who walks up to me while I am teaching and pinches my butt or, if I’m sitting on the floor, my cheeks and shouts in a giggly laugh “JERRY”. She smiles inches away from my face and stares at me as if I am to be delighted by her gesture. In fact, it always cracks me up, to me it seems like a dated Seinfeld joke. I imagine a doting New York grandmother pinching Jerry Seinfeld’s cheek and treating him like a child. How could this little girl, born after the Seinfeld Era and thousands of miles away from the brisk streets of NYC know such a deeply American joke?
Does she think my name is Jerry? Do I look like Jerry Seinfeld? Does she know another Jerry? Is it my nose? These questions mash in my mind and all I can do is laugh. My laughter only encourages her to continue. A few minutes later she is at it again pinching away at my cheeks. I have come to enjoy the taunting. Stockholm Syndrome.
This little girl isn’t the only student to give me a nickname; the other students call me Tengu. A Tengu is a Japanese spirit that is infamous for trickery and having along nose. The seemingly gargantuan length of my nose seems to be a popular topic among the children. At work it is divinely mandated that I deny any ability to speak Japanese. This façade forces the children to speak in English. Although it is helpful to the children, it is hilarious for me to maintain false ignorance. The children often talk about me to each other in Japanese, “ He has a HUGE NOSE” or “ He is so Weird” or “ what does he want from me ?”. I always understand what they are saying, but I do my best to pretend I don’t.
Once when a student was calling me “BIG NOSE” I started to laugh. The student was shocked and turned to the other kids and said in Japanese, “ crap! he understood”. Then without foresight I said in English to the class, “ Don’t worry kids I don’t understand you”. Despite this sentence being a dead give away of my comprehension, the children were fortunately too low level to understand what I said and they continued to banter among each other about my silly face and humongous nose.
I really have enjoyed all my students. Sadly, however I realized that “Jerry” was a Japanization of the word “Jelly” and in fact the girl was merely calling my face and rump cheeks doughy……Darn