Yesterday after a day of packing, I asked Freshman to accompany me to the burger joint that I had watched come to life. There used to be a cafe in its place a few months ago that I vowed to try but Korea time runs faster than my Western clock and before I knew it three young men had gutted the place and established a hamburger restaurant. Well, the spirit’s the same?
The napkin holders were shaped like old Coke vending machines and the young man in front of the open kitchen pointed us to a table then came by a moment later.
“Here is our menu, and here is an English menu.” Freshman giggled and once he left she slid the English menu under the Korean one.
“You don’t need that one.”
She wished me luck once we had decided and I approached the register to order. I’m sure the guy didn’t expect me to order in Korean but he took it in stride, even when I realized I didn’t know Freshman’s drink order and had to shout across the restaurant to confirm. I can’t help being American sometimes.
The burgers were great and the young man didn’t blink twice when I asked for a side of mayonaisse. Koreans love mayo just as much as I do and Freshman was delighted by the dipping sauce for the fries. (Mayo is my condiment for chips, fries, hamburgers, hot dogs…)
Tables filled up with young men. Freshman commented that this seemed like a hot restaurant, and I said it must be a man restaurant. She laughed in shock and advised I don’t say that loudly since it sounds crude in Korean.
We finished our burgers and Dr. Pepper and as I stood up to leave, I made eye contact with one of the guys at the adjacent table. He had taken his mask off to start eating and had seen me earlier without my mask while eating. Wow, such intimacy!
I put on my jacket and then looked back, to find him making curious eye contact again. It’s not every day that a foreign woman and Korean college kid hang out and chat in Korean. Some recognition is nice, I suppose!
Especially since today, a new man joined our ranks. Is he weird? I don’t know, but the curse says probably.
House Owner’s father had his birthday today and at first I thought the distant male Korean voice was him. It wasn’t. The new American guy upstairs was apparently fluent enough in Korean that I mistook his distant echoes as a native speaker. I snuck partway out of my room to eavesdrop on House Owner telling the story of Korean Male Roommate (the one who kept feeding the corgi chocolate) in Korean and English to this new guy.
He answered her in casual language and I felt my skin crawl. The curse! I saw his face earlier and I don’t think he’s older than House Owner. However, his Korean level is high enough that he should know better.
It’s so rude.
Luckily, House Owner explained later that he had asked if he could speak casually to practice. I still think that’s a bit odd because if he’s planning to attend grad school here or work for a Korean engineering firm, as I heard from House Owner, then shouldn’t he instead be practicing polite and even deferential speech instead…?
Aside from a slightly questionable man, a new woman also joined our ranks. I think she’s German so she’s acceptably polite but not necessarily friendly. I heard her asking Freshman about towels and paying for the washing machine and listened carefully to Freshman speaking English.
After the encounter, Freshman retreated to her room exclaiming in Korean, “ugh, English, ahhhhhh”. I heard a knock a few minutes later and she came to report her English conversation and ask if it was right to say “Take your time” to the woman.
“Umm… no.” I don’t think I explained myself well but “take your time” is said to someone who is doing another a favor or working busily. It is not used in place of “goodbye”.
We as language learners tend to simply replace an accepted phrase with something equivalent in the other language, without recognizing that the social expectations and dialogues are different. I cannot emphasize enough that languages are not simply swappable entities with slightly different words.
For example, before eating with others, Koreans say a set phrase that means “I promise to eat well.” Outside of prayers, Americans don’t usually have any set phrase we know to say before eating.
However, Koreans are culturally primed to say something before eating and often find a similar meaning phrase to substitute in English. It’s why I often hear “please help yourself” when I sit down to eat with coworkers in the cafeteria. Help myself to what? The food already on my tray…?
“Okay next time I’ll just say bye-bye.” She said. I decided not to mention that bye is used when someone is leaving, not simply going upstairs, in favor of lecturing her in Korean: you say you want to study abroad so you need to practice English! No improvement without practice!
“I know~~~” She trounced away with the kind of lightness one feels after completing a great trial.
“You did well, though!” I called after her. A few moments later I heard another whisper-scream of “English”!
The other day I was thinking, speaking is really intimidating, especially in a classroom setting. At least one semester of immersion is the perfect way to break that fear, but when is the ideal time? If one could choose anytime to study language abroad, should that student go in as a beginner so all the fear is flushed out at once? Or after some study, but with the danger that fear may have crystallized and become insurmountable in students with brittle perfectionist tendencies?
I came to Korea with self study and a few months of Saturday church class under my belt. I laugh thinking I knew Korean at all back then.
Every day I have to speak Korean to be understood and to get by and my fear is essentially zero. I make mistakes all the time.
Just yesterday I couldn’t think of the word for “full moon” and instead just said “two halves moon” because two halves make a whole, right? Freshman thought it was funny. My dad humor wins again!
To celebrate my last night in Busan, House Owner, Freshman, and I went for pizza at an Abs Approved tap house. We found out after round 1 that curfew had been extended from 10pm to midnight and celebrated with another round.
The restaurant was busy even at 10pm so we had a third round and sipped each other’s beers. Surely whatever illness any of us had the rest will have soon.
Freshman commented excitedly that there were so many foreigners here. Out of twenty people there were maybe three non-Asian patrons.
“This is a lot to you?” I laughed. In her defense, I do see more foreigners here than I ever saw when I lived in east Seoul.
We spent several hours there then while walking home Freshman pulled us into a self photo studio. It’s not a photo booth but a whole shop.
We giggled and stared dead eyed into the camera. 3-2-1 and that was a wrap for my last night in Busan.