Look. I mighta done wrong. I don't really know. All I know is, I done what I done.

Last week. Lunch time. I get my tray. I have a seat. I mind my own business and eat my food. Not two bites in, and one of the school counselors leans over and very loudly shouts in my face, "T SHIRT SIZE? T SHIRT SIZE?"

Now. Look. I get it. I know that just a few short years ago, I was grateful for the people who spoke to me in whatever English they had, because I needed it. But all I'm saying is 1. English does not need to be ten times louder than Korean and 2. I have spoken to you in Korean for over a year now. You have been in a teachers' class with me and watched me watch you all have very long, very native conversations in Korean and understand it. Instead of randomly screaming "T SHIRT SIZE?" in my face, would it not possibly be a better option to just explain whatever it is you want in Korean? Possibly?

I looked around the table to see six or seven other female teachers, none of whom I know well or particularly like leaning in. And I knew where the conversation was going. And I knew answering that question was more or less setting myself up for yet another unpleasant, unsolicited encounter with rude people while all I'm trying to do is eat my food as quickly as possible and get out.

So I just simply pretended not to understand. Not very plausible, I realize, but what were they going to do about it? I blinked. I shook my head. I shrugged. I went back to eating my food.

Toward the end of my meal, I started to feel bad. And... never again for the remaining three months of my contract will I doubt my instincts like this, but as I stood up and picked up my tray, I thought, I'm leaving now. They can't make a scene and whatever goes down, I can just walk away from it. So I pushed my chair in, leaned over the counselor and said, "I'm sorry. One more time?" In Korean.

Her face lit up and she did the t shirt size shout one more time. But before I could answer, she grabbed me by my collar and hauled out the size tag from the t shirt I had on, which just so happened to be both American and unisex. And so it was a small, because that's what size I wear when we're talking American unisex sizes. She pulled away and looked confused, sized me up, sized up the fit of the shirt, and leaned in to check one more time. Still small.

I explained that American sizes generally run bigger than Korean sizes, so in American sizes, unisex I'm a small. In American women's t shirts, I'm medium. But since she was asking about Korean t shirts, in that case I'm sometimes a medium, sometimes a large, depending on what we're talking about.

Immediately, the other teachers who had been leaning in again to listen pounced. One who I have never spoken to before in my life started shouting, "NO! NO! X LARGE! X LARGE!"

I blinked. I finished pushing in my chair. I picked up my tray and walked away, as the discussion about what size I actually was raged on behind me.

Today, an extra large t shirt with the school emblem was plunked onto my desk. It was much bigger than I would ever wear. I probably would have done fine with a medium.

Now, I want to make something clear, here. I'm not offended that someone would suggest I'm an extra large. I've been an extra large before, and I wasn't ashamed of it then, and I wouldn't be ashamed of it now. It's not about some fingernail biting omg I look fat! kind of emotion. This is about the fact that I answered a question that was asked to me by a fellow adult, and my answer was ignored in favor of the answer of a complete stranger who knows nothing about me, or my dress size.

The fact that she felt the need to shout over me in the first place, when she's never managed to have any other kind of conversation with me before, is rude enough. And yes, calling someone out loudly in front of all of their coworkers for being a larger size than they say they are is fucking rude. But it's about the assumption that because.... I'm a foreigner? I don't speak Korean well? I don't know why? For whatever reason, I don't know how to figure out what size t shirt I wear. And to then take the answer that I gave, and take the answer that a completely nobody not involved in the situation gave, and determine that the nobody probably has the opinion that should be trusted. So what do I end up with? A t shirt that I'm swimming in. Thanks for the consideration. Thanks, but no thanks.

So I took the t shirt down to the counseling office after work, dropped it off at the front desk with one of the counselors, and said, plainly, "This t shirt is the wrong size. It's too big for me. Thank you, but I can't wear it." And bowed and walked away, as the counselors nervously laughed and turned red.

I could have just taken it and said nothing, but the thing is that I've realized over the past year or so that I've entered another awkward growing phase in my life in Korea, and what this one is all about is renegotiating how I respond to these situations. Sometimes I'm going to under-react, and sometimes I'm going to overreact. And I'm honestly not sure, objectively, which this one was. But it's not really about being objective, right now. It's about figuring out where I feel most comfortable, and what makes my life here speaking shitty Korean and having people constantly assume I don't understand what's going on the easiest for me. Later on, I'll get back to perspective and what's "right" and all of that. Or maybe I won't.

Do I feel a bit guilty about embarrassing them? Yes. I do. Because they don't have bad intentions, and I think they realized instantly what the situation was and why I was a bit upset, just a little bit too late. And if they had realized, if they had taken the time to think about it, I know they never would have done it. But that's not the way it went down, and after having left work so many times over the past few months feeling frustrated and bottled up and thinking about what I would have liked to have done, I left feeling liberated of the entire situation. It wasn't my problem anymore.

And for now, I feel like that's what's important.

On a related side note, today I went into the cafeteria to find two of my closest coworkers sitting at the table with empty trays, chins in hand, looking a bit glum. When I sat down, I asked them why they looked so serious. They had just been discussing how rude the majority of our coworkers are, and how the atmosphere in the school is just really terrible now -- how nobody shows anybody else any respect, and how they feel like they're always giving other people respect but never receiving any in return, and how they've come to the conclusion that after this year, it's time for them both to move on to a different school.

I concur, my friends. Good luck making it to February. I'm out in October. So I don't really need a school t shirt anyway.


kawaii_candie said...

wow... reading stuff like this really makes me never wanna go teach in korea... i mean, i get that it might not be the norm, and maybe you just had bad luck, falling on a shit school like that, but man, some of your stories... i would have blown a fuse a loooong time ago!

yay for leaving! lol.

Cracked Eggs said...

Korea sounds damn awful. I taught in public schools in China and in Taiwan, and I never ever encountered such terrible co-workers.

After what I've read on blogs and forums about teaching in Korea, I think I'll give that place a miss.

Sorry to hear about your troubles, and believe me, there are much better places (from the sound of things) in Asia to teach in.

I would not tolerate such rudeness myself, your co-workers definitely do NOT respect you at all, so good luck and get out of that there!

Esti said...

Also had a similar t-shirt size experience.
I've been here 2.5 years- co-worker asks me my size. I said- you're probably a small, right? She said yes, so I said, I'll take a M.
Male co-worker (Head-teacher) chimes in from the back, making that sucking in air sound and says- no you should take a large. Then goes on to explain "Korean sizes are different to Western sizes." I said, err... been here 2.5 years I know Korean sizes. I think: I've bought clothes, I think as an adult woman I can make these decisions for myself? He then goes on to mansplain that 'for yoga (we are gonna do yoga this friday), that it's better to wear 'loose' clothing.
Errrr.. when I wear loose t-shirts and do yoga, everything hangs out as you bend or do poses- it's better to wear fitted clothing.

I wonder what he would have done if I questioned what size he was wearing? Or tried to tell him how to wear clothes for specific events. *sigh*

I'm no Picasso said...

Kawaii and Cracked -- It's not really a Korea issue. It's a shitty coworker issue. I worked here for three years without having a single experience like this, and then as the teachers with a barnyard animal mentality started to rotate in, things got worse and worse.

I used to work at a place back in the US where the manager would corner me in an empty back room while I was tinkering with some of the machinery. He would lean in and give me a good sniff, and then tell me I smelled good. After that, I worked in a place where people continually showed up two or three hours late to work and spend half their appointments with clients half-listening while they put on their makeup.

Shitty coworkers are shitty coworkers. But I admit that being a foreigner can make you an easy and reliable target for their shitty outbursts.

Esti.... I don't know what to say. Apparently we are all supposed to be wearing the t shirts tomorrow per the principal's order, and I can't wait until he asks me why I'm not. I'm sure everyone else will be asking as well. I plan to tell the truth. To everyone.

Cracked Eggs said...

Hmm, I don't know. It seems that on forums and blogs about Korea people are constantly complaining about their co-workers, very different to blogs and forums about teaching in Taiwan or China.

Maybe I've been reading too many Korea-related blogs lately and I'm wrong, but the culture does not sound nice at all in general. I'm too much of a feminist to live in such a male-dominated society I think, I'd be untrue to myself and my beliefs if I chose to move to Korea.

Butterfly 7* said...

@ cracked eggs
I suspect Korean feminists all across S. Korea just got angry and don't know why. Every country has it's problem and every country (including Korea) as smart, strong, angry women fighting for their rights.

Unknown said...

Your past year at that school has become my favorite serial drama. Week by week, I tune in to see what new farce has transpired--it would all be hilarious if it wasn't true; if it wasn't your life.

By the way, it's been a week. I'm (im)patiently waiting to see what has transpired. Your fans want to know.

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