Thursday, September 6, 2007

English buddies!

So there really aren't many foreigners in our part of Seoul. Certainly few enough that two white kids walking down the street can turn some heads. So some of the neighbors have started to recognize us, which is nice--a more-sincere-than-usual anyunghasseyo, an extra smile and nod here or there. But a few of our neighbors have really gone over the top!

For instance: Nana and I were riding home on the bus the other night with a bus driver we'd seen several times before. (I've seen a grand total of about five different drivers on our route.) The bus can be a bit awkward sometimes--a lot of Korean spoken, and always the fear that we'll do something wrong and be left completely unable to understand the driver's directions. We're mostly just satisfied if we can get home without breaking our spines (these guys take those speed bumps hard!).

Anyway, the stop before ours, the bus empties. We're the last souls destined for Save Zone tonight. Then, at the last stoplight before our stop, the bus driver looks in his mirror and starts speaking--in English! Very good English, too. The exchange goes something like this.

Driver: mumble mumble
Justin: I'm sorry? (apologetic shrug I use when hangukoleur molumnida just won't come out>
Driver: You are getting off at Save Zone?
Nana: Yes, this is our stop.
Driver: Do you speak any Korean?
Justin: Not much!
Driver: Can you say "ahn-yung-hah-say-yo?"
Nana and Justin: "Anyunghasseyo!"
Justin: Yes, and "konggibap"! (bowl of rice)
Nana: "Dongaas!" (pork cutlet)
Driver: Ah! You can speak Korean!

And then! Not five minutes after we get off the bus, Nana and I are in the bakery downstairs, buying breakfasty things (which are surprisingly hard to come by at breakfast-time, oddly enough). And the manager, who definitely recognizes us by now, busts out in--you guessed it--excellent English! Good enough to ask us if we're English teachers (I had to specify that we're not ESL teachers--in Korea, that's an entirely different breed--but I can explain that later), and even persuade us to sign up for a point card. (We go to the bakery a lot.)

So, anyway, long story short, I ran this by Paul, our resident expert on being-whitey-in-Korea, and apparently this isn't uncommon. Many, many Koreans speak pretty good English, especially around Seoul . . . but they're terrified of using English in front of other Koreans. (If your English is bad, you look stupid, and if your English is good, you look like a smarty-pants.) But the second you get a Korean alone with English-speakers, out come the z's and the f's! (No z or f in Korean.)

And: we're helping the bakery guy with his English vocab. He now knows that "miles card" is only for airline rewards!

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