I always keep my family tours squeaky clean, but the swear word came from a very unexpected source.
Trigger warning: This blog post contains a strong swear word masked subtly with an asterisk.
My British Museum tours are popular with families as I keep them interactive and choose exciting objects with stories of buried treasure, circus strongmen and ancient board games. If the content contains any hint of an adult theme (death, unwrapped mummy images etc.) I usually have a quiet word with a parent for a green light.
(Once I forgot to clear this and mentioned a eunch on my Assyrian Gallery tour and sure enough a ten year old asked me, “what’s a eunch?’. I was stumped and replied, ‘ask your dad’. Luckily I can pass off any questions like that.)
Last week I was taking a family of two adults and three kids from Aachen through the Enlightenment Gallery as part of my British Museum for Grown-ups Acoompanied by Kids tour. Walked through this old Georgian gallery as I explained about the Enlightenment of the 1700s, that period when people were curious to find out about science and art and needed evidence to piece together new understanding. It was the new age of reason.
The gallery is filled with old objects arranged in themes which had people guessing when the objects first arrived. And without evidence people had wild guesses. For example, neolithic flints were thought to be arrow heads of elves. Dinosaur fossils were thought to be remains of dinosaurs.
I explained about some of the key people of the Enlightenment. The French, Descartes. Rousseau, Americans like Franklin and Germans like Von Humboldt.
Suddenly the 13 year old shouted, “C*NT!’
I was perplexed. And a little shocked. Such strength of feeling. Such a foul mouth, in front of parents too. Disgusting. I contemplating writing a strongly worded email to his school.
“Sorry,” I replied. I was REALLY hoping I had misheard.
The retort came back exactly the same.
The parents nodded. The sibling also nodded.
What was I missing here?
The whole family seemed to be okay with this.
Then the teenager searched for another word. Oh no, I wondered. It couldn’t really be worse.
“IMMANUEL KANT!” he clarified.
Just to clarify further, this was a German family. He was referring to the German philosopher, a central figure of the Enlightenment.
‘ Oh we pronounce Kant a little differently here.’
He got the joke and told his family in German and this time I think he really did use the swear word and we all had a good laugh.