Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Aha! Saboteur!

"Quick Korean learn do" is the direct translation of what I need to do (Bbali hangookmal paewo heh... this is not the official romanized version of the Korean a la the 2000 debut). My landlady told me this when we were mucking through a conversation about setting up internet, and I felt this through and through when I sat at lunch with a table of only-Korean-speaking teachers at lunch (I usually sit with the English department) with all the desire to have a conversation but nothing to follow through with. Later I asked one of my co-teachers how I could have said, "how are you?" or "how is your day going?", and she said that those are particularly English questions, and if I want to start a conversation I should ask about food. This struck me as funny-- "if you want to talk to someone, don't ask them about their thoughts or feelings; ask them about lunch." She continued by saying that in Korea the three meals of the day are really important, so people mentally organize their day around them. I should ask a lead-in question like "have you eaten lunch yet?" at any point pre-lunch. I haven't come to terms with this quite yet-- the idea of replacing 'how're you' with 'how bout that next meal'... and besides I already know when all the teachers are scheduled to eat lunch, so asking seems silly. I wonder if she's pulling my leg and really there's an easy 'what's up' equivalent and she's just setting me up to be the weird foreigner obsessed with talking about food... Aha! Saboteur! I'm on to her.

Last week was my first attempt at clothes shopping. Aaaand the Chubby Giant struck out. We went to a Migliore, which is a kind of truce between a department store and a flea market: vendors have their own sections crammed against each other in a six-story building organized floor by floor, and you're allowed to haggle. I was overwhelmed and intimidated. There were so many clothes and people flagging you down, and the aisles were so narrow, and the clothes were for the most part just TINY (what is this- a center for ants? -Zoolander). And I had witnessed my friend being turned down to try on anything, which we figured was a form of discrimination against clumsy foreigners, so I was timid. But apparently a lot of places won't let customers try on anything for fear of damaging the merchandise in some way, so it's common to buy without trying, an idea which seems to Un-Korean-proportioned Me to be one with a low probability for success. Thus, I just browsed. I'm sure I'll try again soon; with a proper pep talk and the right phrases handy, I will prevail! The day I buy pants here I will hold the receipt above my head in victory.


  1. Try going to Itaewon for more foreigner friendly places. There are places you can get stuff custom-made. Dongdaemun and Myeong-dong has some great shopping.

  2. Similar things happened to me in Taiwan:
    They say "have you eaten breakfast yet" for "how are you" in the morning because when times were tight if you'd eaten you were having a good day.
    At the night markets everything is one size fits all and you can't try on anything.