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Living Abroad And Stuff

Over at Green Boogers Laura writes about the linguistic challenges of living in a foreign country. I have to admit I was a little jealous. Look:

– Hi, can I have a donut, please.
Med sukker eller med chokolat?
– Er, with sugar, please. Can you put it for a hundred kr?a?
Blah blah blah blah blah.
– I’m sorry?
Blah blah blah blah blah.
– I’m sorry, I don’t understand you.
[sighs, speaks perfect English] I can only put it for hundred over.
– OK, that’s fine, thanks.
[hands over the money without a word]

No giggling as if a shaven monkey is standing before the counter? No embarrassed summoning of a co-worker who also cannot speak English, but feels less nervous confronted with a foreigner? Words so recognizable that they obviously have the same etymological roots as English? And people who can switch to perfect English when necessary? Sounds totally enviable to me.

But it’s recognizable enough, this experiece, and funny. Me, I like the challenge. What bugs me is when people are shocked I can speak a little Korean. Or that I can eat Korean food. I’m thinking of buying iron-on transparencies and printing a few curt slogans in Korean on them, such as, “No, your food is NOT too spicy for me,” or, “Foreign =/= American,” or “Please speak slowly, I’m still learning Korean”. I thought of a few funnier ones, like, “Please donate kimchi! (My Mom doesn’t make me any.),” or “My girlfriend’s name is ‘So Ju Jan’.” (So Ju Jan means whiskey glass, and it’s an old joke from my hakwon days).

I thought about something a little more stern, like, “You think foreigners keep the sex trade here alive? 10,000 foreigners in Korea. 300,000 prostitutes. You do the math.” But maybe something more like “Don’t be naive,” would be more to the point and less offensive… and less likely to get me beaten up. Anyway, seeing all the messed up English on T-shirts all the time here makes me want to do the same in Korean. In fact, I think this country’s ripe for a “funny/snide” T-shirt industry start-up, with slogans and comments in Korean, but I’ll just start with making a few myself and see how it goes.

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