A preview of things to come?

I've already spotted out next semester's problem customer. It's always the fresh-faced, timid looking ones. They're the same kind of women who drive me up the wall back home, as well. They're just so.... shocked. About everything, all the time. I mean, props to their fathers or whoever it is who has managed to bring them to the age of 30 while seemingly entirely denying them any working knowledge whatsoever of the outside world. I don't know. They drive me up the wall, because I'm a foreigner, so me just kind of going about business as usual tends to automatically clash with some of their holy sacred ideas about life. And I don't really have any patience for that.

Anyway, I've mostly steered clear of her so far. We don't teach together until after summer. Maybe she's very nice. In fact, I'm sure that she is very nice. I'm also sure that she's very uptight. But we'll see. Today, there was no one else in the lunch room, and it would've been a little obvious if I had purposely gone out of my way to sit at another table.

First question, after the usual pleasantries..... ready for this one?

"Isn't it difficult for you to teach?"

I mean. I don't really get the premise of that question to start. Why would it be difficult for me to teach? Is it difficult for you to teach? Are you trying to tell me that you're having a hard time? I don't see why else someone would look at me and, out of nowhere, ask me if it's difficult for me to do my job, which is actually the same job they are doing. But whatever.

No. It's not difficult for me to teach. I've been doing it for nearly three years now, well over three years if you count my university experience. Next question?

"Is your boyfriend a student?"

Nice. I can see the little path we're carving out for our relationship here already. No. I'm 27 years old (Korean age). My boyfriend is not a student. Is your husband a student? What? Is that an odd question? Why? We're only two years apart in age..... if my boyfriend could be a student, why couldn't your husband be a student? Is that ridiculous, for some reason?

That's the thing with this type. Every time you simply make an innocent face and turn their questions right back around on them, they give you this kind of strained smile, like somehow you are being rude and don't know it. But they can endure it so as not to embarrass you. All the while completely failing to realize that all you are doing is repeating their questions back to them.

She really didn't mean any offense, though. And you'll see why in a minute. See, this one still catches me off guard. I still don't always see this one coming. But there's a reason I specifically didn't see it coming this time.

"Oh.... what does he do?"

"He works at a company."

"Oh..... a Korean company?"

Did you crack on yet? No? Hang on.

"Yes. A Korean company."

"Oh...... did you meet him in Korea?"

At this point, you have a choice to make. You can either let them continue to ask completely off-base questions and pretend like you don't realize they are not considering the possibility that your boyfriend is Korean, and risk them having a really embarrassing and shocked "Aha!" moment, or you can just point it out up front, which also tends to lead to a bit of embarrassment for some reason. Why the subject always seems to end up embarrassing for some reason is beyond me. But those are your choices. I usually go with the first one.

The thing is, the last time I met with this woman, she sat through a thirty minute conversation amongst my co-teachers about my boyfriend and how I make terrible typos in Korean sending messages to him sometimes, and how I would do well marrying a Korean because I've adpated well to the culture, and raising bilingual kids. And all the other kind of nonsense that your older coworkers tend to carry on about when they decide to gang up on you about marriage and kids over coffee, outside of the office. So I'm not really sure why we're back to square one on this one, wondering how my American boyfriend got a job at a Korean company, but it's fine. She'll figure it out eventually. And hopefully she'll adjust when she does. Because I don't know if I can handle Head Teacher the Human Bulldozer and Pollyanna the Overly Polite Xenophobe at the same time.


Mr. Spock said...

I guess it's tough to be a woman in an office full of women as the foreign teacher. I am really lucky that as a man, they almost never try to strike up a conversation, and when they ask about my dating life I just lie and pretend I'm celibate and they're satisfied with that. My social interaction at work pretty much begins with smiles and ends with small talk -- and that's as far as it goes. I lie about my dating life because I think that the idea of a man with a fully-formed libido teaching children makes some people uncomfortable.

As a woman among women though, they try to treat you like one of the gang and you have to put up with a lot of silliness and foolish notions -- not to mention awkward conversation. The trade-off is that some of your co-workers are really awesome and are even friends to you. We must take the bad with the good, I suppose.

I'm no Picasso said...

The thing is, I wouldn't trade it. And if she spends enough time with me around the other teachers, she'll figure it out. They set a good example. I don't mind their older sister/aunt meddling antics -- I'm pretty used to that by now. Just now they all ganged up on me and demanded to have dinner with my boyfriend before things go any further, and then really embarrassed me by saying they're not asking any questions, but they're just saying... I should form a *strong* *intimate* relationship with him before marriage. Just to be sure I want *strong* *intimate* relationship with him. Elbow elbow.


But yeah. It's the Pollyannas of the world I have trouble with, but only one on one. They tend to just turn into wallpaper when the older women are around, though.

쏘냐 said...

I wonder a bit if I'm missing out on this because the majority of workers at my company and people we deal with at other companies are middle-aged/old men. So when it comes to talking about my boyfriend or other aspects of my personal life, it's always an immediate blunt "do you have a boyfriend? is he Korean? Wow that is GREAT. What does he do? oh he must be HANDSOME. Good for you. Korean men are great right?" And then they get bored of hearing about me and go back to talking about company things. It's like clockwork.

It definitely never ventures anywhere near to discussing anything about "strong intimate relationships". That is freakin hilarious. Your older coworkers are awesome.

...Unless our CEO means something else when he says "한국 남자 좋지??" in which case my entire life is now really awkward

3gyupsal said...

It isn't abnormal for Korean men to be well into their thirties and still be college students. You have the army to consider, graduate school, and a lot of them like to travel for a year or so after they get back from the army. I meet a lot of students that I taught back in 2005 who still haven't graduated yet.

Anonymity said...

Hahaha. My Korean coworkers rarely talk to me outside of class-related things. I suspect this is due to the odd set-up of my school. It's owned by a Korean man and his American wife, who happens to be one of my best friends. I suspect they figure having informal chats with me would be similar to having an informal chat with their boss...

Skeptigirl said...

May I ask what "한국 남자 좋지??" means. I google translated it and got confused mostly because it is translated slightly differently into Finnish and English. In English it is like "poor guy korea" in Finnish it is the slightly more grammatical "bad friend in Korea" but still all confused.

I really enjoy the blog but not from a living in Korea point of view as you can see since my Korean language skills do not go beyond counting to five and other things I learned in taekwondo class as a teenager.

Rocco said...

"한국 남자 좋지?" in 쏘냐's context roughly translates to "Korean men are good, right?" It's rhetorical - asserts that Korean men are good, and expects no answers.

It can also be a close-ended question that asks whether you like men, but the context makes this very unlikely.

I'm no Picasso said...

3gyupsal -- I think the thing that bothered me was 1. it was right on the heels of that other question, was still bizarre and 2. she didn't just ask, like any normal person would, what does your boyfriend do? In the same way that the first question wasn't, "Is teaching difficult?", but, "Isn't teaching difficult for you?" Which you could chalk up to crappy English if you wanted to be really generous, but even in the case of a direct translation, the Korean has the same implication.

Sonia -- No, my male coworkers are the same way. They were the ones who busted me in the first place. The conversation went like this (in their simplified for the idiot Korean): "You have a boyfriend now right?"/"Uh...."/"You do have a boyfriend now."/"Uh...."/"Korean?"/*nods*/*all nod*

Which I find to be preferable, actually.

Skeptigirl -- What Rocco said.

Rachael said...

Skeptigirl - Strange. I also use google translate and you caused me to come across one of the nitpicks google translate has. I included the question marks and got what Rocco wrote. So I tried it without the question mark and got your translation. Seems like punctuation really makes a difference for the translation of Korean into English (and perhaps other) languages. Cool.

3gyupsal said...

I understand. I've had my share of strange conversations with coworkers too. My favorite was a co-teacher asking me if American women took showers after they gave birth. I still don't know the answer to that one.

I'm no Picasso said...

Ajummas are a little bit obsessed with the differences between the birthing process in Korea and the rest of the world, if you ask me. Some of the most bizarre things I've ever heard otherwise completely rational women say have centered around that subject. I don't really like talking about giving birth in general, and have never done it, so I mostly just try to smile while I listen to how Korean women's bodies are completely different from every other kind of female body.

3gyupsal said...

At the time, I had no experience with the matter either, and it wasn't a comfortable conversation to have. In all fairness, I think that she broached the subject because the lunch menu was miyeok gook. I think she was under the impression that American women plop babies out and then hop into the shower.

matt said...

The shower after birth question was likely due to the traditional belief (throughout Asia, apparently)that women shouldn't bathe for a month after giving birth. One imagines this came from the days when there were no warm baths (and when, well, people didn't really bathe to begin with).

3gyupsal said...

I've also heard a lot of, "Don't take a shower after you get a vaccination." as well.