Recently, I had the chance to go to Korea for a weeks to meet a new client. I know.. u must think, “Spoilt kid.. Damn you!” It’s a wonderful country, but before I get into that (in another post), let me describe the strangest problem I experienced for a while…
Normally when I go travelling in Western countries, or even most part of Asia, it’s kind of obvious that I cannot speak their local language because I don’t look like one of them. Locals that know how to speak English will start a conversation with me in English, or greet/smile in their native language. Even though I cannot communicate with them in native language, it is clear-cut and I can always find someone else that can speak English.
In Korea, unfortunately I have a problem. Every single soul that meets me for the first time, thinks that I am one of them. So, they will naturally greet and speak to me in Korean. From airport security, to old men asking me for directions, salespeople at a busy shopping mall and even my work colleagues thought I was Korean. This kind of worked against me, because it’s rather frustrating that I cannot communicate with them at all!! They give me a surprised look, and will refuse to speak to me from then on, even though they might have understood what I said!
For example, at a busy electronics mall, every single salesperson would approach me, wanting me to buy their products. It usually goes like this:
<salesperson>: Annyeonhaseyo (Hello in Korean)………(something in Korean)….
<me>: err.. sorry.. I don’t speak Korean. Do you speak English?
<salesperson>: (surprised! And then shake his head and hand, to mean no)
<salesperson>: …. (silence).. (look away like he/she never saw me)
From here, it kind of turns awkward, and I have to walk away as if the above never happened! I was far better off just pretending that I’m not interested in their products and just walk past them all. Of course, it means I miss out on buying anything, because I don’t know which one of these guys know how to speak English, without embarrassing any one of them!
My boss who was with me during part of the trip here, found that amusing and commented, “You really need to do something about your face”. Haha.. I need to make myself look LESS Korean next time I come here! Either that, or I am going to have to learn the language!