I’m used to blending in. Whether it be in the U.S., in Japan, or Taiwan. I’m just one of them—one of everyone. And it gives me a sense of satisfaction, knowing that people in Taiwan or Japan cannot tell that I’m actually *gasp* a foreigner. In Korea, however, that is not the case—at least not yet. The level of my Korean is far from native.
In my first month here, I was struggling to buy a food ticket from a cafeteria vending machine. The girls behind me tried to help by telling me that I could just buy a ticket from the staff member instead. The staff member said, “It’s OK. She’s a foreigner.” DAMN IT, I thought. I had asked her a question earlier and she must have been able to tell. Even worse, when I handed her my meal ticket, she said, “Enjoy your meal,” to me. in English. Smiling. Thanks, but no thanks.
Luckily, I have become better at blending in. Last month, I stayed out late and caught the last train home, only to find that it only stopped halfway. Confused, I approached a middle-aged man to ask what was going on. We ended up sharing a cab, since we were heading in the same direction. He also happened to have attended Korea University, so we had something to bond over. When I explained to him that I was actually just a student at the language center, he gasped and said,“You’re a foreigner?!?!?!” (Then he paid for my taxi ride. Yay. But I digress.)
Rather than pretending I’m Korean all the time, I’ve come to embrace my foreign-ness even when I don’t need to. Today, on the Line 2 train back home, I swallowed my pride and asked the woman sitting next to me if the color of the forest green floor was 푸른색 or 초록색 (two kinds of blue-green. Korean is one of the many languages that originally did not distinguish between blue and green.) After staring at me as if I were stupid, she told me 푸른색 and quickly turned away. I swallowed my pride again to ask, so what’s 초록색?? As if finally realizing that I was a foreigner, she softened her expression and told me that 초록색 was a lighter green like the color of 새싹 or “sprouts.” I didn’t know that word at the time, so I stared at her blankly, and she kindly pointed to a sign in that color. That was faster than me googling these colors.
I’m so used to asking people stupid questions in all other aspects of life. Why have I not done this earlier?? Maybe I’ll make some friends this way too!