There’s one persistent risk with living in a foreign country: sounding like an idiot.
That’s essentially what my friend Stephanie told me when I told her I wanted to go live in China, back in 2002. “Living abroad,” she said to me, “is like going through adolescence all over again.” She’s right, and I kinda dig it. The major difference, now, is that I have the ability to laugh at myself.
Case in point:
I went to my local farmers’ market this afternoon for one of my regular grocery shopping trips. The market is my area of linguistic expertise: I know most of the products by their Korean names, and I can ask for prices and quantities without any problem. But once in a while, one of the vendors throws me a curveball.
Ah, I told myself, she wants to take me to her ramen shop. So I told her in Korean, “Sorry, I’m not hungry.” She gave me a blank stare, and turned away.
A few minutes later, I passed by the spot she was pointing at when I went to buy some eggs. Turns out she was taking me to a small table where people were selling ramen packs for incredibly cheap. I bought a pack of five for $2.50 USD, and it came with a $1.75 USD coupon,which I used to buy farm-fresh eggs. The ramen were a way to draw people’s attention to the booth, where they announced the market has a new smartphone app. Only in Korea.
The lady was asking me if I had a coupon from the ramen stall. And when she tried to show me where to get it, I told her “Sorry, I’m not hungry.”
What an idiot.
I tried to find her again to show her my ramen pack and tell her I understood now, but she was gone. Ah well; at least I got ramen now…