2.2 Winter 2020-2021

January 25, What language do I speak?

Today marked the second in-class tutoring session with my new teacher. She’s from Seoul, so I won’t be picking up any Busan accent, and speaks a mile a minute. Her class is like a tidal wave of information and I love it.

Today she told me, “your intonation is really natural, I’m not trying to flatter you. Even advanced learners struggle with this.” I took a moment to be proud until she continued, “but you have a lot of holes in your vocabulary”. Yes, this too.

“How do you know the word for ‘refund’ but not ‘human’?” She has since started to smother me in vocabulary which is the best kind of smothering (after “sauce” and “love”).

As I was in the area of an ophthalmologist another expat had recommended, I rode up to the sixth floor to see an eye doctor about a painless, but unsightly, little bump on my waterline. I must have taken the service elevator and was surprised to fall into a beautiful and well manicured office after creaking through two windowless, metal doors.

Oh, we’re fancy, huh.

Maybe I imagined the English fear in the receptionist’s eyes but I powered on in a semi-practiced sentence before she could shrink away. Unfortunately, I lost the thread of what I was saying halfway through and gave up with “… can I see the doctor?” which doesn’t make sense in Korean (literally, can I look at the doctor) but the receptionist ignored my flailing and kindly handed me a card to fill out.

I stared at a poster for PRP and had brief flashbacks to my first job then was called by a short, gentle nurse back to the doctor.

“Hello,” he said in Korean.

“Hello,” I answered in English.

He started asking me questions in Korean and since I have no frame of reference for itchy/irritated/other medical words I had to keep answering, “I don’t know that word. Uh, I don’t know that either.” He asked me after the third or fourth time if I speak English.

“Oh. Yes, I do.” I answered, figuring since he initiated it he wouldn’t get angry at me.

I’m two for two for stressing doctors out in Seoul by speaking English (or not understanding Korean well) and had war flashbacks to the ENT I saw in Seoul asking me to bring in a Korean next time so he wouldn’t have to speak English (his English was fluent).

This nice Busan doctor then proceeded to gently explain what the problem was and what he needed to do. One pinprick and two minutes later, the nurse deposited me back in the waiting room and told me in English to sit down and wait.

I stared at the PRP poster for not thirty seconds before she suddenly reappeared, crouched down close to me, and asked urgently, where are you from? My mind first supplied 미국 but I answered USA in English. She disappeared down the softly-lit marbled hall to communicate this pressing information to the doctor. First I assumed it was for insurance reasons but when she reappeared only to calmly call forth another patient, I had to conclude the doctor was just curious.

There was no other urgent questioning by the time I was called up to the counter and my curiosity for the final bill superseded any thoughts about the language mismatch.

My total came out to 9,700 won or $8.80.

When I think about it, I can only conclude this: there are a lot of white Russians (not the drink) in Busan so the assumption must be “Foreigner may (not) speak English, proceed with caution”.

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