They Call it “Dumb” for a Reason

Language barriers.

Nothing else makes you feel quite so much like an oafish, bespangled dancing bear with Downs syndrome.

Excuse me sir, where is the train station?

This, of course, is my own fault. The language is the ONE thing a traveler can absolutely prepare for before they arrive at their destination. Did I prepare? No I did not. (Unless you count watching episodes of Arrested Development. Kudos if you know what I’m talking about.) I was busy saying my goodbyes to Chicago and pooh-poohing the “KOREAN IS HAAAARD” articles online. Error. Oh friends, error.

Since landing in Korea, I’ve picked up a few valid words/phrases to get from place to place, and I’ve had numerous people try to teach me all the different words for all the different seafood we’re eating (“fish” is to Korean, as “snow” is to Eskimo), but maybe it’s the vowel sounds that don’t exist in English, or maybe it’s the consonants that fall somewhere between Gs and Ks and Js and Chs, but it’s absolutely terrifying to repeat Korean to a native speaker. A few attempts with store clerks and cab drivers have only led to much wide-eyedness and gesturing and overall confusion. This is the whitest girl I’ve ever seen…Probably the whitest girl in the entire world…is she choking on something? the panic beneath their calm demeanor suggests. Sometimes it’s just easier to not say anything at all.

So I’m a mute most of the time. I carry notes. These notes live in my wallet. These notes are scribbled addresses of my home, my schools, the Office of Education, etc.  I carry around my own “If lost, please return to…” tag, like a library book or maybe, again, like that dancing bear that’s been hit too many times on the head. Sigh.

This typical American says, “study your foreign languages, kids!”

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