Saturday, October 3, 2009

Is there something written across my forehead that says "I speak Korean"?

Recently I've been having the strangest conversations with random Koreans I come across. I can't figure out if I'm giving off some body language that conveys the fact that I'm studying Korean, or maybe it's just that I understand things and respond when most people would just shrug their shoulders and say sorry "hangul, aniyo".

First there was the old Korean lady who had to try my guacamole. But this week I've had two random encounters as well. First I went with my friend to buy some onions from a street vendor, a little old lady who is always on our street in a little lean-to shack selling veggies. I just asked for "two onions please", nothing complicated... but the old veggie lady's friend who was sitting around chatting with her turned to me and asked me in Korean, "Oh, do you live in that officetel down there?" pointing to my building. That was a little creepy that she knew where I lived, but she probably sees me everyday, but I just never bothered to notice her. "Yes, I live there." I replied. "Oh! How much is your room per month?" I was sure I must have misunderstood her. Why would she possibly be asking how much my room is. I'm a foreigner. People don't ask me complicated questions like this. "Uh.. I don't know" I replied, not sure what to say. "You're room! Room! What do you pay a month!" Ok, there was no misunderstanding this time. "Uh... well... my hagwon pays for the apartment, so I'm not really sure..." "Ohh.. What hagwon do you work for?" I told her where I worked, but she just kind of nodded in that way that I could tell she had no idea, and that was the end of the conversation.

Then on Wednesday, I went to the bank. There's only ever one of two bank workers that deal with money transfers. One is a young guy who knows only banking words in English, and one is a older guy who knows only banking words in English. Actually, once I had a short conversation with the young guy in Korean, and he seemed quite nice, but usually he is too shy to make conversation in any language. On Wednesday I got the older guy. He always seemed very quiet and maybe even unfriendly, but maybe that was just his reluctance to speak English coming through. In fact, I think I had tried to speak to him in Korean before but he always would confirm everything in English, so I never really got to speak to him. I was sitting in silence waiting for the 15 minutes of typing, photocopying, signing, filling out forms and lots of waiting to be over for my bank transfer to go through, when all of a sudden he just blurted out in Korean "Have you eaten yet?" it was around lunch time. "Uh.. no, I haven't eaten.", and he just nodded his head and went back to work. About 5 minutes later he perked his head up again from his work and out of nowhere said "What kind of Korean food do you like the most?" "Oh, I like everything," I replied "I really like spicy food." He laughed and then continued on his work as if nothing had happened. He finished the transaction and I said good-bye and that was it.

I'm not complaining, but do other people learning Korean have these weird conversations, or is it just me???


  1. That makes me miss Japan. I had an entire conversation with a woman about how to properly care for my futon. Mind, I could order a beer, gin and tonic, and ask where the bathroom was...

  2. The second one with the bank teller is pretty good. I've had random people talk to me on the subway before. Most of the time when this has happened, though, it has been because the person's interest had been piqued by listening to me talk to a friend in Korean, who then got off the subway before me, this allowing the person to have a chance to talk to me.

  3. Asking if you have eaten is a kind of greeting here. They really don't want to know if you have eaten, just how you are. :-)