Friday, December 05, 2008

I'm not a minor celebrity in my neighbourhood in the way of my blonde co-worker, but I'm definitely easy to remember as the one who's neither white nor Korean. True story: she once dropped some money at the grocery store, and the entire store tried to tell her about it when she came back. Still, I do attract a little bit of attention wherever I go, and what I lack in interesting or attractive looks, I make up for with amusing Korean. A foreigner who speaks Korean ranks very high on the amusement scale, and I don't need to say anything more than "what is this? Is it egg? Is it fish?" to make someone laugh.

A few days ago, some drunken men cornered me at the corner store down the street. "Where from?" asked one. "Kaynada," I replied. "Ahhhhh!" he replied, giving me a thumbs up. "Have you been?" I asked. He stared back at me. I asked him again in Korean. "Calgary. Olympics," he said. "Oh, wow, really? Was it cold?" He just grinned back. I asked him again in Korean, though I actually asked if it was hot. He smiled back at me. His friends had been watching this, and he told them I was from Canada. One of them got right up in my face and asked, "Quebec?" I smiled said "yes, yes, Quebec..." The first one got closer to me and grabbed me. "Handsome," he said, pointing to my face. Worrying that I'd managed to attract the unwanted attention of the only gay guys in Korea, I smiled and moved around the corner.

Everywhere I go, everyone wants to know where I'm from once they establish that I can talk to them a little bit. Somehow, I look American to most people, even if I'm not with any other foreigners. I don't know why that is, except for at the grocery store, where I purchase coffee, donuts, potato chips and Coke, like any red-white-and-blue-blooded American. There's a woman at the grocery store who sells baked goods. She's been pushing me on the cream donuts and when I told her in Korean that I didn't like the cream-filled ones, she thought it was adorable, like a small child who had just used a really big word.

Fortunately for me, she doesn't speak a word of English. Those are my favourite Koreans. At many places, they happen to speak English and they're both eager to practice and eager to serve me in my language. However, I really like to practice my Korean, even in situations when all I have at my disposal are pronouns and gestures ("this, that?"). I spent two weeks learning how to say "how long will it take" when I went to the dry cleaner's, and I didn't appreciate being preempted by a man who could tell me to come back on "Tuesday". With the donut lady, however, I can ask her to give me three donuts, explain that I don't like the ones with cream, and tell her that it's very cold today.

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