Thursday, May 03, 2007

Not So Small Talk

I once read that an occupational hazard of being a foreigner in Japan was the number of people who would come up to you on the street to practice their English. I thought Korea might be the same but In fact, it's only happened once since I came here. I did however had a couple of halting conversations with an employee of my bank when I first got here, but not since. So when he caught up with me today with a 'how are you these days?', it was time for a bizarre catchup of sorts.

Once I'd replied, I was able to spontaneously ask him the same question in return in Korean, delving into my 316 word vocabulary and much to my surprise, and quite possibly to his, actually putting together the correct sentence. Pleasantries done with, it was time to discover why I never seemed to be at my Hagwon. Do I have a job? Well, I suppose I do. What type of job? I work on the Internet. Am I a web designer? Not really, I work in the stockmarket. That's usually kills a conversation dead, but not this time - am I a daytrader? So now it was my turn to be surprised. Should I be worried that this term seems to have entered the Korean dictionary so readily?

On confirming I was at least a trader of some sort, I braced myself for the next question I saw him formulating. Would it be what did I think of the strength of the KOSPI, or the weakness of the dollar? No, it was what did I think of the Virginia Tech shootings?
Clearly, there's been considerable angst in Korea about the ethnicity of the perpetrator in the Virginia Tech shootings, and I suppose it says something that how this might have affected my view of Koreans is considered an important question. Doing my best to avoid a diplomatic incident, I skipped over the ethnicity and mental health questions in order to explain how guns were not allowed in Britain (except amongst certain groups where they're almost a mandatory fashion item these days) and we didn't understand Americans' love of them. Unfortunately 'gun' was evidently not an immediately recognisable word so I instinctively assisted by visually representing one with my hand. Let me tell you, from the looks this immediately drew from people nearby, waving your hand around like a gun is not something you want to be doing in a bank.

Fortunately, before they threw some money at me and I made it onto Korea's most wanted list, my wife rescued me and we made our getaway.

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