3.4 Winter 2021-2022

January 10, Moms

I went out to brunch with Helen and her mother, who had never met a foreigner before. I quickly realized why I never speak Korean to Helen despite speaking it to most everyone else.

“You said it wrong,” she crowed delightedly over her shrimp pizza, not for the first time since we tucked in. Her mother spoke quickly and with a strong regional accent which had me asking for repeats and answering the wrong questions.

I felt myself grow quiet like a kid who got lectured.

“You have to say future tense not past tense,” she said, repeating back exactly what I had said. Helen, this is why I don’t “practice” Korean with you, as you so often encourage.

Who knows, maybe this is how she prefers to learn English and projects it onto other learners around her.

“Don’t you want to practice Korean?” She asked, gesturing to her mom. After a long pause I nodded slowly, but with an air of contempt. I want to practice, but not around you!

Let’s hope Helen never becomes a Korean language teacher.

Luckily she eventually stopped criticizing my every sentence and I was free to stumble through the interaction with her mom on my own.

Her mother had never met a foreigner, or rather, a non-native Korean speaker before and as such, changed nothing about her language. I was tossed in a sea of fast words and heavy dialect but I managed, how I always manage, which is fifty percent language skill and fifty percent contextual guessing. We talked about trot singers and what dramas she’s watching now.

Halfway through coffee she patted my thigh and said, “sturdy”. She turned to Helen to add, “You’ve lost too much weight.” Helen grumbled petulantly and batted her mom’s other hand away. Her mom just patted my thigh again.

I’ve worked hard for my budding quadricpes these last few months as per doctor’s orders so I’m glad her mom noticed even if the ortho didn’t.

After the meal, she wanted a picture together to commemorate our time so we stood in the windy balcony, scenery smudged to soft grays and blues because of the blanket of pollution. Maybe she’ll show this picture to her neighborhood friends, like a postcard or vacation slide.

Helen texted me later so say how good it was for her mother and good friend to meet. And despite the earlier stumblings, I had to admit it was a pretty great day, too.

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