I’m writing this from a cafe where I had another Korean-English misunderstanding.
“Do you want me to put on pipping cream?” The barista asked, more than once.
When in doubt, I simply say “yes”. A few moments later I realized he asked if I wanted whipped cream. I confirmed with him then told him I couldn’t hear well so my bad.
I’ve had the same hearing problem with other Korean English words at a cafe like “cinnamon” and I can’t be mad at either of us.
In class today, my teacher reviewed five grammar points that all translate to “look like” in English. I’ve learned some of these albeit extremely quickly and without much detail in my university course.
“Do you mind if I brag a little?” She asked.
Please do, I gestured.
“You know that I work near the other university on odd days. I have many students who attend that university’s Korean language program but come to me for help. Once I explain it, then they understand. Those teachers don’t have much time or patience for explanations.”
That’s certainly how I felt at my old Korean hagwon back in Seoul. As you know, I annoyed the teacher a few times and then didn’t sign up for the next month.
“So I love it when you ask questions. Whenever you have a question, please go right ahead.” As a teacher myself I deeply vibe with this sentiment.
She asked me if I knew about blood types. It’s similar to zodiac signs in the US. They are explained as such:
- A blood types are introverted and meticulous.
- B blood types are creative and independent.
- O blood types are social and outgoing.
- AB blood types are calm and adaptable.
“Let me guess. You are a… B.”
That is actually my real blood type so I was surprised. B types are also apparently “4D”: we live in our own world. That fact hit a little too close to home.
“Can you guess mine? Use our grammar.” I wanted to say B but guessed O.
“Wrong. The opposite.” Well, it must be A then.
“Wrong. I’m a B, too! So I can recognize other Bs.” Apparently she has been right about all her students and asked me to guess why.
“Uh, because there are only four options?”
“Then why am I always right?”
I was stumped, unless she moonlights as a phlebotomist and has access to all our records. She challenged me to use the “looks like/seems like” grammar to describe her.
“Hmm. Teacher, it seems like there was someone you loved a lot in the past.”
The particular but brief look in her eyes told me I was right, and she herself confirmed a moment later. She seems very positive about marriage even though she herself hasn’t mentioned a husband and is predicting that I too will settle down with a Korean man since I know the language and culture well. My own family culture is also similar to Korean culture so I suppose my social errors would be slightly less.
But I couldn’t help but think that her prediction sounded more like a curse.
When I was a kid I loved Belle from Beauty and the Beast— her spunk and independence, her unapologetic love of reading, her rejection of Gaston. She ran to the fields and sang “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere” and then at the end moved in with the prince down the street.
As a kid I always found that to be disappointing in a way I couldn’t articulate.
Adventure in the great wide somewhere is vastly different than settling down in the great wide somewhere. It’s simply home twice removed.
But of course, never say never.
I took another guess about her life using the learned grammar. “As for your mom, I think you really…” She started to shake her head in disagreement until I finished, “take care of her well.”
“Ah, I think my sister does a better job of that.”
She has always remained professional and keeps me talking and pokes my brain with Korean sparklers so I really don’t know much about her. It doesn’t stop me from being curious: what brought her to Busan, why she doesn’t get along with her mother, who is this long lost love…
People really are filled with secrets and peeling back the layers is both an art and a fundamental challenge of the human experience.