Wednesday, June 9, 2010

잔소리 (jansori): Scolding, Nagging, Grumbling

This morning the girls in my first class were more interested in applying make-up and chatting than they were in forming their assigned groups and beginning work. They simply ignored me for the first five minutes of class. They looked at me while chatting, or with one eye still in a mirror. The disobedience was supposed to be a cute challenge to my authority. We had a lot of work to accomplish today, so I was not pleased. I returned their challenge with some rare anger.

Something about the way the girls ignore the teachers is much more of a power play than the way the boys do it. In fact, the boys aren't necessarily ignoring their teachers. They are playing and are always ready for their teacher to join the fun. It's hard to get them to settle down. In my opinion, scolding is useless in these situations. I'm not talking about a sexist "boys will be boys" moment. The girls can be energetic and playful, too, but there is something in the Korean high school classroom that the girls do to invite a particular kind of interjection into their social scene that the boys do not require.

This morning, the girls were evaluating how far they could go without getting in trouble in a way the boys wouldn't experiment with me. In fact, the boys expect to be scolded. (One reason I don't do it when they misbehave: not scolding them confuses them.) The girls will misbehave until they are scolded and then return the scold with practiced contempt. I say practiced in the sense of rehearsed: several minutes after I scold while they regard me with contempt, we are back to full cooperation and an active, well-functioning classroom. If I was to do this with the boys, they'd quit and be silently sad that their teacher is actually mad at them. Maybe it's a maturity thing? I haven't quite figured it out.

Today, I scolded the girls for five minutes. I've been practicing. A good scolding has to have a good pace and consistent tone. There should be well-placed pauses that last from a few seconds to a minute and a half. It can be slightly insulting but never rude. It must put the listener in his or her place yet requires an attempt to illustrate Care. It must require a response, even if only a nod or affected sob or sigh. Some teachers scold students and it sounds rehearsed and fake; good scoldings are sincere and represent a style unique to the scolder.

At school: when I interject, the girls always respond. Today's response: scowls, frowns, open-mouthed disbelief, sighs, slumped shoulders. Some girls nodded their heads, which was a sign that they understood I acted appropriately and at the right time. They were participating in it. Therefore, I can tell you they were scolded. I didn't nag them. I didn't grumble.

Jansori was the first thing I noticed after my arrival in Seoul. I had never heard of the word nor encountered discussion about Korean rhetoric. I got off the plane at Incheon Int'l on a Monday morning and was driven to my school. I was teaching less than two hours after arriving. And though I understood nothing, I was asking about jansori on my second day.

I didn't know the word for it; I didn't know what was being said. I had no context. All I had was a sense that there was some sort of rhetoric being used by the teachers and students that was different than regular discussion. I really did have to ask, What is that?

Jansori is a complex rhetorical system that often gets oversimplified by bloggers, tourists and expats. They (and Koreans) have a stock English language answer. Jansori is nagging. What's worse is the responsibility for the transmission of jansori is given to older Korean women with the ridiculous Konglish phrase, "mother's nag". Jansori is nagging, but it's so much more. And though mothers famously implement it, everybody in Korea participates.

The following are my notes on jansori (so far and minus some notes on scolding because I discuss it above):
Scolding is not nagging. Nagging is not grumbling. Although nagging and grumbling are useful when scolding. Jansori is scolding, nagging, and grumbling.

Nagging is both intentional and unintentional, and it may not serve a purpose other than to relieve anxiety. Scolding has a purpose, a direction; scolding is precise and accurate. Though nagging may be inaccurate and imprecise, it must have a subject and an object. Scolding can be desired and necessary, and so the right to scold can be abused. Nagging tends to be passive-aggressive. Nagging is always abuse.

There is grumbling, too. Grumbling need not be specific and needs neither subject nor object. Somebody might be grumbling near you at a bus stop. Grumbling is grumbled around and about not always at, to or for. Grumbling is small-talk jansori. It can be cute. It's often funny. However, it can be incredibly sad to see somebody alone and grumbling. Especially if you can understand the grumble. Grumbling may endear you to an older friend, stranger or colleague. Grumbling needs no language. A person can grumble with his eyes, eyebrows; her lips curled into a half-grin or quarter-scowl. Grumblers click their tongues, sometimes rudely spit. Grumbling has direction whether or not it's comprehensive or easily received. Grumblers displace and project. In other words, the grumbling might be directed at you even though you did nothing to receive it. This further distinguishes grumbling from nagging.

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Pree-oz said...

RATZ! My very long comment didn't go through, so this one will be an abridged version.

Basically, I laud your noonchi on the issue. Jansori is a beast to define and I think you did it well.

If I could add... I think jansori has a purpose, as you pointed out, and the purpose is to make a person that you care about into a person that is most similar to whom you are or whom you wish you were.

For example, my grandmother does not jansori you when she sees you. But she jansoris me about how to present food or fold clothes, so that I could be the most efficient housewife. Like she is.

Anyway, I think your commentary about student motivation is interesting, and I wish I were in a high school classroom in Korea so I could discuss.

Kelley said...

i dunno. sounds like dating behavior to me. heh

dooflow said...

Ok 2 things.

1. Jansori is a good band name. or Art Collective or DJ name.

2. Your notes on Jansori are pretty great and make a nice prose thing.