Thursday, October 28, 2010

The frustrating experience of not knowing enough of the language to make yourself understood in an efficient way.

For some reason, this week has been abnormally busy, and I have been abnormally hungry. Perhaps it is the preparations for Halloween. Perhaps it is the way the week began. Perhaps it’s the weather which has suddenly turned colder. Whatever the case, I have not been able to or made the effort to prepare my dinner before work like usual.

Not having dinner made has meant I have been eating sandwiches from the local bread shop. Koreans do not consider a sandwich a real or healthy meal because it does not involve rice or kimchi and Russians considered sandwiches junk food because they don’t take much time to prepare. These perspectives seem a bit perplexing to me even though I know them because in Idaho, a sandwich, homemade or otherwise is viewed as a much better choice than some of the other options out there for a quick meal on the go. But, this is perhaps the crux of the issue. Americans want quick food on the go, and in both Russia and Korea, each meal is viewed as a time to sit and relax, not just stuff your face with food.

A couple days I have been chilled to the bone and decided a “cold lunch” consisting of a sandwich was not going to cut it.

One of these days I had instant noodles, which I consider junk food – most contain 89% of your daily value of sodium, which is honestly ridiculous.

The other day, I grabbed Korean fast food across the street from the school. When I walked into the restaurant, all the women looked up and stood up and rushed to help me, or so it seemed. I started saying the word for the soup I wanted, and the woman helping me interrupted and finished the word for me. Seriously, the best way to shut down a language beginner is to jump in too quickly. I nodded in agreement with what she said, and then tried to express that I needed it to go. I had no idea how to do this, so I motioned toward the school. The woman then told me I needed to order two servings for this. Then asked, "Where?"

I was confused.

She wanted to know the name of my hagwon (academy), and I realized that she thought I wanted it delivered.

I was hungry, had been shut down in my attempt to ask for the food, and a bit frustrated. I needed the food quickly. I only have half an hour for dinner, and I was starving. I tried not to show my frustration, but anyone who knows me will know that for some reason I have never been able to succeed in the endeavor to hide emotions.

While I told the woman the name of my hagwon, after I realized the situation, I gave up on Korean and said, “No, no … I will take it.” Motioning to myself and motioning that I would take it. After I repeated this in as many different ways as my starving brain could muster and was about to give up, the woman finally said, “Oooh, take out?” Ha! Figures. Koreans use the English phrase, and I hadn’t even thought to try it. In fact, those words hadn’t even crossed my mind. I nodded in agreement, lit back up, and jumped back to what Korean I know, saying, “Neeeey.” Which means, “Yes.”

As I was sitting and waiting for my food, one of the women talked about me in Korean. She wondered if I knew Korean. You would think by the ridiculous performance that had just occurred, she would understand that if I knew any Korean, it definitely wasn’t enough to help me get by yet. Then she asked in English, “Do you know Korean?” I replied, “No. Well … a little, chogum.

These women talked to me and about me a bit more, were pleased when I told them I wanted kimchi, adeptly wrapped my food in plastic wrap, and smilingly said “Bye-bye” as I walked out the door.

While the experience was frustrating at first, their efforts and attitudes make me want to go back and explore fumbling around with Korean some more and maybe even try some new foods.

1 comment:

  1. Here in Germany it's always funny when I go into the shop or cafe and ask for something in a confident voice (I am rather good at simple phrases), but when I get the answer, that would be enough for me, the people normally start talking to me in German really fast, which is extremly hard to stop and to explain that I don't understand any of what they've just said - cause that was too fast for me...Normally me and shopkeeper both end up being very confused...And just say goodbye to each other in whatever language comes to our mind...