One of the things I like about Switzerland is the sheen of relative innocence. I see it in the way it's safe for kids to walk to school, and in the way I see shade umbrellas at cafes touting the logo for wholesome Ovomaltine (a.k.a. Ovaltine) rather than, say, sexy Campari or a boozy beer brand.
Yet, in Switzerland, I have overheard cute little kids yelling the equivalent of "sh*t" outside or at after-school care, and the locals do not look taken aback. At risk of coming off as prudish, I admit it still seems odd to me.
This has been a frequent cause of surprise for me in expat life - hearing words considered really, really rude in my native language spring forth (usually in German) from the lips of little kids, teachers, neighborhood mommies and daddies. It's not about a slip of the tongue in a harried moment. It just seems like no big deal at all. Even the wonderful children's choir is singing a song containing the word schyssdraegg, which is Swiss German for something I don't think Americans would hear in a kids' choir.
Elsewhere, in the German-language production of Grease, the character nicknamed "Rump" in the original English version (because of his hobby of mooning people) was nicknamed "Arschi" in German. This might be very(!) loosely translated as "*ss Guy." You wouldn't find characters so nicknamed in a musical in the U.S., would you? Fun for the whole family! And in the 1990s, there was a popular song on the radio called (roughly translated from German), "I Think You're Sh*tty."
It's not a Swiss thing, actually, but German. Mark Twain observed a precursor of this phenomenon when he travelled in Germany, noting that you might hear the primmest old ladies uttering phrases that would shock their American counterparts; for example, "Verdammt!" and "Mein Gott!" In the 21st century, the U.S. is a known exporter of crude, rude, violent, profane pop culture (movies, TVs, computer games, music), yet there are still certain expressions considered inappropriate in even moderately polite company, let alone a school setting.
At least it used to be that way... right? Maybe I've been away from the U.S. too long, and all the babies crawl around cussing nowadays. Or, if I had to do a quick analysis (and risk making annoying generalizations), I might chalk it up to the stereotypical traits of openness or bluntness in German and superficiality or keeping up appearances in the U.S. It would be equivalent to the habit, more often observed stateside, of acting warm and friendly towards strangers even if people don't really mean it. (Clearly this doesn't happen all the time, but it seems more common in the States than here!) Americans might be doing more of their swearing privately and putting on a show of good manners. We all know what's being said when Jon Stewart or a rap sing get bleeped, but people must still need that bleeping and somehow feel like the material is okay if it's bleeped and otherwise not okay.
I wonder if this is a German vs. English thing, and if so, does it apply only to American English? Have you noticed the phenomenon? What do you notice in other cultures? Would people find it normal in the U.S. to hear a younger kid shouting a curse word? Are you teaching your kids that swearing is no big deal, or are you strict about it? I'd %#(*ing love to hear all your opinions, dear readers!