Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The little things

Sometimes the littlest things in Korea will make you smile or laugh, when you least expect it. It could be a random comment from a student (well-meant in his/her practice of English but not 100% right in context), a artfully done cup of coffee from the local cafe, or a freebie from a restaurant or store owner just for being a faithful customer. Whatever it is, it is nice to enjoy the little things as much as possible.

Yesterday I was privy to two little things that made me smile. The first was at Paris Baguette (which, despite the name, is not Parisian at all). I was waiting for my friend to finish ringing up her purchases when a mom and her little 2 year-old-boy came in. In Korea, parents don't watch their children as closely as I remember my mom keeping an eye on my brother and I. American parents always tend to keep their young children pretty close to them when out shopping and such, for fear they run off and get hurt or taken by creepy people. But, cultures have their differences!

This adorable little boy was at the stage where he could walk on his own, so he was trying out his new-found independence by walking around the bakery and looking at all the goodies out on display. He found one particular pastry (a cream puff cone) that looked good, so he decided to taste it by sticking a little finger in the end and getting some cream. He looked astonished at first that he had gotten away with it, but then he overcame that in the interest of deliciousness. As he was licking the cream from his chubby little finger, his mother remembered that he was there and turned to look at him. The look on her face said, "Where did you get that?!" And in Korean she asked him the same. She looked up at me and I pointed towards the exact cream puff cone her son had fingered, where the outline of his fingerprint still remained. At that point, her face got so red with probably both embarrassment and anger. (In Korea, Koreans don't like to admit fallacy or error; rather, they try to save face as much as possible.) She spoke rapidly to her son, admonishing him for being selfish while at the same time picking up the cream puff to add to her tray. She hadn't wanted to buy it in the first place, but now she had to since the foreigner saw everything! To try and diffuse the situation, I bent down the boy's eye level and asked 맛있어요? (Delicious?) He looked at me and smiled. Cuteness abound!

Secondly, I was waiting in line at Daiso, the upscale Korean Dollar Store. Behind me, a woman and her daughter kept looking at me and whispering quickly. I'm used to staring and comments by now, but I did wonder what was going on with me that was so interesting this time. I tuned into their conversation and discovered they were going on and on about how beautiful my eyes are. I'd never had someone, let alone two someones, discuss in great detail about my eyes. Back home in the States, they are rarely noticed. But here, because of their larger-than-other-foreigners-size and their unique color (green, gold, and sometimes a bit blue), Koreans will stop in their tracks to exclaim "와! 예뿌다!" (Wow! Pretty!) When I deciphered their whispered conversation, I turned to thank them in Korean, which elicited big smiles and giggles--the standard response to a lot of things I say in Korean. Apparently foreigners speaking Korean is very strange to their ears so they find it humorous. They don't mean it as offensive, but darn do I try my hardest to not laugh at some of the silly things my students say!

The little things sometimes...

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