Monday, 9 February 2009
This Headline Reminds Me Of A Story
"Man Booked For Trying To Talk To Foreigners"
Funny headline... the story goes a few Scottish fellas were trying to have dinner when a drunk old man came up to learn English from them. He refused to leave them alone, even when the restaurant staff member intervened, and it led to an altercation between the old man and the restaurant worker.
Anyway, I've been approached for free English lessons, too. All of us have. Sometimes it's fine, sometimes it's wonderful: I don't mind if somebody practices their English with me if they're helping me to get un-lost in a new neighbourhood, for example, and used to tell my students to go down to Insa-dong and help people who looked lost for English practice. I also usually don't mind if the person looking for free lessons is funny, charming, interesting, or cute and female.
But there are also times, after a long day, or for the tenth time that day, when one wants to be left alone... and there are some places one does NOT want to be approached for free English practice.
For me, the worst ever was this:
It was two months after my mother had passed away, and my relationship with exgirlfriendoseyo was starting to come apart at the seams. Saunas were one of the few respites I had in my day, after managing a stressful new supervisor job, and having exgirlfriendoseyo not answer my calls, because she was studying for a test.
I went to a sauna, feeling like crap; frankly, close to tears. I sat in the cold pool, in the nude, of course, on my haunches, so that the water was brushing the bottom of my chin, and let the shocking cold clear my mind, when suddenly...
a very fat, very naked ajosshi (older gentleman) waddled into the pool as well, and stood directly in front of me, so that his big, fat gut, and his man-pieces completely filled my line of vision, put his hands on his hips, and rumbled, "Where are you from?"
I closed my eyes and tried to ignore him.
Not one to take hints, this ajosshi tried again. "Where are you from?"
I shook my head, which must be ajosshi sign language for "try to guess and I'll give you a free English lesson."
I still had my eyes shut (floating man-bits, remember?), and I put my forearms into the "X" formation that Koreans use to gesture, "NO," and kept them like that until he waddled away. He ruined my sauna -- ruined that entire (otherwise perfectly good) sauna for me, forever -- I've never been back there since -- and may have set back my entire grieving process for a half a month.
Later that evening, I asked a Korean friend to teach me how to say "I want to be alone" -- a phrase that has come in handy from time to time.
To any Koreans reading this: do NOT approach foreigners for English practice in...
1. a sauna, or any other place where the foreigner you want to approach is partly or mostly naked, or partly or mostly sweaty
2. if you have seen the person be approached once or twice already, at the coffee shop, gym, or restaurant where you see them
3. if they have an unhappy look on their face, or if they're reading, or doing anything else where they appear focused on their task -- if their face is up, looking around, interacting with the world, go ahead. If their nose is buried in a book, back off.
4. in a sex-toy shop. It's never happened to me, but I can just imagine...
5. on a Saturday morning, if they have bags under their eyes (hangover = bad conversation)
6. if the foreigner is the opposite sex, close to your age, and he/she is with someone who might be their significant other
7. if the foreigner has his/her eyes closed (in the sauna, on the subway), or headphones on (in the gym)
On the other hand, it IS OK, and cool, to approach foreigners who...
1. are standing in front of a neighbourhood map, or looking at a map, and appear to be lost
2. are looking around the room, making eye contact with the people around them, and appear to be in a good mood
3. look bored, or lonely
4. are smiling, and climbing a mountain
and it is always OK to invite a foreigner to sit with your group, if you buy them drinks, and if you leave them alone after asking twice.
In general: don't invite a foreigner to chat, sit, or walk with you more than twice. Foreigners will be much more open to chatting with you if you give them things: food and drinks are especially effective. Laughter will do, if you're funny.
Foreigners aren't stupid, and we can tell which people approaching us just want free lessons, and which people approaching us are really, generally friendly, outgoing people who like meeting new people. If you're interested in me as a person, and not just as a walking dictionary, I'll chat with you. I have a pretty good nose for smelling ulterior motives by now. So take a real interest in us, and be fun company, or you won't get far.
We can also tell which kids are coming up to us because they're outgoing, and want to meet us, and which kids are approaching us because their parents told them to. Don't send your kid over to talk to the foreigner if he/she doesn't want to.
Just so's ya know.