Me no use chopstick…me want fork

It’s weird, lately I’ve been getting upset at the most random of things. Ironically enough Rachel told me, not just a week ago, that she admired how calm I usually am. Today she worried about how stressed I can get over stupid things. I suppose both are true.

But it was another event in what is becoming a recurring, unexplainable theme of the past month or so. Either I’m upset with Korea as a whole and really happy with Rachel, or I’m upset with Rachel and really happy with Korea. I guess you could call it a vicious cycle but I picture it more as one of those ol skool’ scales you used in science class, or that balance and weight thing that blindfolded women holds in courtrooms. I don’t know.

Has anybody ever coined the term “a vicious teeter-totter?”

I guess this is the part I say “moving on.” So…moving on.

I find it inexplicable some of things I do that surprise Koreans who are just meeting me. Here’s an exchange I had with a woman at dinner a week ago, this conversation is not an isolated event.

Woman – How long have you lived in Korea.

Me – About seven months now.

Woman – Wow, you use chopsticks really well. Where did you learn?

My typical response has been “well, I worked in a Chinese restaurant for a few years and I had to teach guests how to use them.” This is a true statement, and it made sense for the first few months I was here…but really, how long do they think it should take me to learn how to use chopsticks? She just barely asked how long I’ve lived here. I don’t think there’s any coincidence that the phrase “you use chopsticks really well,” is a sentence that is taught in the 5th grade. Sentences are taught…inference…not so much.

I think from here on out instead of telling them about my previous work experience I’ll just say something like – “well, there was that one time I lived in Korea for 7 months.”

To which I expect they will say “Oh really, when?”


Other meanial things I do that surprise Koreans:

Eating spicy food: First off, Korean food really isn’t that spicy. Indian food = much spicier. I once went to a Korean restaurant with some friends and an older Korean man. Even though we told our Korean friend we wanted to have something spicy he told the waitress to give us something bland. He was surprised when we complained at the lack of flavor.

Saying “Hello” in Korean: Usually when I say hello the initial response of my students is to say “OOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHH” in chorus, which never ceases to get old. The next response is to assume I speak fluent Korean.

Drink soju/ outdrink Koreans: Please, I’m from the midwest


A few others to round out the list:

Make friends

Show creativity

Use the subway

Walk in the rain

Sing the English chorus to Korean pop songs

Speak English (seems pretty silly, but you’d be surprised how surprised some of these people are when they hear me speak.



1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Narratives, The foreigner experience

One response to “Me no use chopstick…me want fork

  1. Heh heh. My favourite is when people are shocked I can read Korean characters after four flippin’ YEARS here. If I’m familiar enough with the person for some friendly teasing, I give them the old quote where King Sejong himself said something to the effect of, “Even an idiot can learn to read Hangeul in a couple of weeks,” and then ask them if they’re implying I’m worse than an idiot by showing surprise that I can read Korean after four entire years.

    To Koreans’ credit, I haven’t heard the “you use chopsticks well” line in two years or so, now.

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