“Condoms, please,” he whispered. What the hell are condoms, I thought.
The line was long and people were waiting to pay for their merchandise, while I stood behind the register, trying to get through the midday rush.
“What?” I asked him.
“Umm… condoms,” he repeated. I could see the other customers sniggering and trying to hold in their laughter. His face turned red, but I still had no idea what he wanted.
It was my first week on the job and the only thing that was going through my head was Is he asking for cigarettes? After all, this was Canada and unlike Korea, there were many different brands and sizes for cigarettes. That’s right, he’s probably asking for a pack of smokes!
And so I asked him with my broken English, “Mmm… Haoou BIG ij eet?”
Everyone in the line broke out laughing, and the guy asking for condoms suddenly flushed red all over. I didn’t understand. Why are they laughing? I was just asking what size cigarettes he wanted.
“Well, uhhh… it’s not too big, but it’s uhhh… not too small,” he replied.
“Cooud you pleaj explain the product?” I asked him, still confused.
I didn’t think his face could get any redder, but it did.
“It’s uhh… used umm… when… uhhh a boy and a girl… uhh… share… a bed…” he stammered. Ah, I finally understood what he wanted.
“OH! Okay! You want COHN DOME! Okay, you cohn dome okay,” I answered relieved in comprehending his request. I handed him the condoms and he briskly paid and left the store in a hurry, while everyone else laughed merrily.
That was one experience my friend MJ encountered during his year abroad. I’m sure there are many other stories for non-native English speakers who were caught in funny situations because of their trouble with the English language.
We often hear of many situations when English speaking foreigners go to a non-English speaking country and run into difficult situations revolved around language. However, the opposite is true for non-English travelers as well.
Here are some things to know about Koreans staying abroad in English speaking countries.
Traveling is important. Going out to see the world helps people to find a story they have never read before. Everyone should go abroad and experience new encounters. However, sometimes language can be a big barrier in enjoying the world out there. Just as you hope you will be accepted and treated with respect, do the same for foreign travelers and dwellers in your native country.
Hey there, I’m an aspiring journalist who is in the prime of his life. I’ve lived in America most of my life, but because I can adapt to anything, I’ve integrated quite well in Korean society. I hope to see the world and write about and share what I see. I like places with large bodies of water (especially the ocean), and one day, I will have a kickass beach house where I’ll spend my time writing and sipping mojitos.
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