While standing in line at the new Starbucks in town—why did I even go there? the green tea latte was $6!—and listening to Hanggai in my earbuds, I heard a woman behind me shouting, in Korean, “It’s a foreigner! It’s a foreigner!” I turned around and looked at this woman, who was shouting for the benefit of her toddler, then standing far beneath us. Rolling my eyes, I turned back to the front of the line, but the shouts of “It’s a foreigner!” continued unabated, and I thought, yes, this is it, finally, the moment I strike back, after almost four years of listening to people talk about me as if I can’t understand them, the end is here, this is the turn of the tide.
The earbuds come out.
“That’s really impolite,” I say in English, turning and facing the woman again. Then, after a moment of searching for the words in Korean, my eyes shifting back and forth, I utter them: “그것 예절 없는 말이요,” adding: “외국인 이해 할 수 있어요.” Foreigners can understand. The woman smiles and nods.
The earbuds go back in.
I return to standing in line, and the woman stops shouting that I’m a foreigner.
I’ve never commented on the manners of a complete stranger to that stranger’s face. You’ve got to be pretty goddamn barbaric to drive me to do so: and before someone comes in here whining about how this is a different culture which I should respect, remember that Koreans complain constantly about being racially singled out in America and, particularly, Australia. They know all about racism. It’s wrong to talk like this in my culture and it’s wrong to talk like this in their culture, but people do it anyway in both cultures.
The Korean grammar isn’t perfect, but my wife told me later that I probably got my point across.