In making a conscious effort to stay as unhip as I can possibly bear, I was shocked upon starting my job last April to find that many of my pre-pubescent students frequently brought the topic of KY into discussions. Shocked because, in America, KY is a gel lubricant slathered onto elderly or homosexual orifices to allow for less viscous fornication. Yup. Okay, I’ll stop with the verbose rhetoric. Seriously.

Anyhoo, “Why in blazes are my children discussing sex jellah?!” I wondered, still shocked.

Well, it turned out that it’s become the hip thing to do to abbreviate entire expressions, sort of like how people obnoxiously say things like “TMI” in English. What KY stands for is “Kuuki ga yomenai”, which means, literally, “He can’t read the air,” or more relevantly, “He can’t take a hint”/”He can’t grasp the current mood.” Sometimes the “he” is a “she” or a “you”.

People who can’t read the proverbial air are ridiculed. “KY, KY!” they’re mocked. Now, granted we sometimes say “He can’t take a hint” in English, like when a guy keeps trying to sell you popcorn even after you’ve told him about your allergies to both it AND him. But what these children–most of whom are around the 10,11,12 and above age range–mean is that the targeted person can’t process what every other kid around him is doing and alter his own actions to match thusly. In other words, “KY” means “You can’t gel”. How frighteningly ironic.

When I myself was a kid, I was fiercely individualistic, or so I thought, in that I refused to take part in anything that everybody around me was doing if I perceived that thing to be something people were only doing because it was the “in” thing. Pogs would be the prime example. Dodgeball would be another. The one I’m still proudest of to this day would be when I refused to develop a hard-on for Joan Osborne and her hit single about Jesus. Man she sucked.

Well, I’ve since learned that I was probably a little misguided in my constant shunning of all of my peers and all of their stuff, but I do remain proud that I was at least trying to think for myself. And I suppose I’m also proud of my country for not being so ridiculously xenophobic and stuck up as to have a phrase so commonly used to mock people who go against the grain that it can be abbreviated to a two-letter code.

I was recently mortified to discover that the reason one of my favorite students never comes to class anymore is because he’s being bullied horribly at school. He’s a perfectly jovial, enthusiastic, funny kid. He’s also kind of a big kid. He’s a little on the chubby side, which in Japan means he’s fat, but beyond that, my other, hipper students explained to me one day, “He’s like totally KY.” I mulled this notion over for a minute. WAS he KY? Come to think of it, he was always completely on a different page than the rest of the class. He happens to be placed in one of my worst classes, which has three small-bodied little snot boys who think they’re the shit because they don’t try at all, they just make gay-ass kissy faces at each other while they’re talking about trading cards and other uncool bullshit, and then two girls who don’t try at all, one because she has absolutely no confidence even though she’s secretly the smartest person in class, the other because she’s more interested in Minnie Mouse stickers and other uncool bullshit. There’s also one girl who’s an amazing student that I love, but she also happens to be slightly chubby, i.e., fat, so people pick on her too. As much as she likes English, it’s obvious that she hates that goddamn class.

At any rate, on the rare occasion that my bullied student, Yuuki, does show up to class, it’s amazing. It’s like watching a bolt of lightning zipping around an otherwise pitch black abyss. It’s like watching a circus trample all over a funeral procession. While everyone else is busy being lazy and wasting their parents’ money by trying as hard as they can NOT to speak English (or even Japanese, for that matter), he’s constantly raising his hand, shouting out answers, trying to use English even when he doesn’t have to, and generally doing everything within his power to have fun AND make me his best friend, which by the way, I totally want to be even though he’s like ten.

So it goes without saying that when Yuuki shows up, I’m a happy man. He turns one of my shittiest classes into one of my most fun. What the kids mean when they say “He’s so KY” is “He’s not apathetic and worthless like the rest of us.” Granted he can be a little hyper and immature, but at least he’s making the most of his time. None of these kids even have aspirations. I ask them what they want to be when they grow up, and some of the kids actually say “A salaryman”, at which point I say “Please refrain from exciting the bile to the very brim of my throat, you miserable sack of emptiness.” They never understand that.

Anyway, it’s one thing to ostracize a kid because he’s different, but to complain that he can’t “read the air” is just idiotic. It implies that it’s an absolute given that if you see a group acting a certain way, you HAVE to act that way. Whereas in English we might just say “That kid is weird,” in Japanese, he “can’t read”. He isn’t aware of the state of things here. If he was, he would realize that we are boring, soulless robots, and would thus naturally become one himself. The notions of independent thought or unique courses of action never even enters these kids’ heads. It’s not that he “can’t read the air”. It’s that the air is fucking stale and he doesn’t like it.

Warning. Warning. Code KY Level 9 detected in rear quarters. Please eliminate. Activating Haze function. Haze function activated.

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