Those of my readers who know me well will know that if there’s one thing in this world I tolerate badly (besides dairy) it’s tardiness. Nothing is more frustrating than when people are late. Although the Korean mentality is balli balli (quickly quickly), everybody in this country seems annoyingly unable to show up on time.
This week I had plans to meet my Korean friend Friday (today) at five. Yesterday he sends me a text apologizing for having to postpone our meeting, since one of his friends was in the hospital and he had to fill in for him at a coffee shop, where they both work part time. Okay, instead of meeting and studying together first, as originally planned, we’d just meet at Hongdae station at 6 and go out for dinner, no biggie. Then today after having sent several selfies over KakaoTalk during the day to prove that he was indeed working at the coffee shop, he then texts me at 5:15 that the guy who should take the next shift was running late so he had to stay longer, thereby postponing our meeting to 6:30.
At that time my patience is already running out, and I just reply curtly that there’s nothing to do about it, and I’ll see him then. Sensing the tone my friend sends me a lot of crying smilies begging me for my forgiveness. These are then followed by a new text at 6 saying “still at work” with yet another selfie demonstrating that yes, he was indeed still wearing the signature red apron of the aforementioned coffee shop. At that point I have a good mind to just cancel, and end up sending him an angry text (this time in English) “So you can’t make it to 6:30??” My temper and bloodpressure both reach new alarming heights when he just replies with a “Nope!” At this point I’m 1) hungry, 2) furious, 3) extremely offended at how rudely this guy, who usually holds doors and chairs for me, behaves all of a sudden. We then take the text fight a bit farther including way more exclamation points than really needed (fun fact: Exclamation point in Korean is 느낌표 – “feelings point” – how appropriate), until he silents for a while and then asks if I’m on my way. “The H… I am, when I don’t know when we’re meeting.” “But I said we’d meet at 6:3o!!!” I then hurry out the door to the subway station, only to realize that I just missed the train and the next one is coming in 15 minutes. There we have a very upset Sofie waiting among a huge crowd of people all heading to Hongdae. I finally end up arriving at Hongdae station at 6:55, finding my friend irritated over waiting for me on the crowded street for nearly half an hour, and myself being extremely upset since Koreans are evidently impossible to make arrangements with.
We then start walking down the streets of Hongdae, with me snapping at him in English for everything he says to me in Korean. Him: “What do you want to eat?” Me: “Don’t care, anything is fine”, Him: “So many people here” Me: “No shit, Sherlock. It’s Hongdae on a Friday”. He then suggests that we go eat sushi, and adds in an attempt to lighten the mood that if I’d like, we could also go for live octopus. At this time he finds himself on the receiving end of a look usually reserved for when my husband accidentally spills ketchup over a white leather couch.
He once more becomes silent and then guides me into a Japanese restaurant, where we both order a sushi combo with a side of miso soup, tempura and udon. The food is delicious, but as soon as I realize that one of my pieces is raw octopus I demonstratively pick it up with my chopsticks and place it on his plate. (Much to his delight.) After a while of eating in relative silence, he then confronts me about my mood, and I tell him how annoying and rude I thought he was, and how disappointed I am. He looks at me in disbelief, “Rude? How??” I tell him that when you cannot make it to an appointment on time, it’s common courtesy to at least give an indication of an ETA. “But I said meet at 6:30 – you were the one who was late!” “No, you said you couldn’t make it to 6:30!!”
Yes, dear readers, I’m sure you’re all faster than my friend and me combined. Here you have a textbook example of the Korean-English yes/no confusion. After two whole years of studying Korean intensively I had thought myself past this. Apparently not! What he was actually saying was “Nope, I can make it to 6:30!” Ouch! This confusion had ended up ruining the first 30 minutes of our Friday night out together. This time around, I’m the one apologizing, and we end up laughing at the matter. Luckily the rest of the evening went smoothly (probably because we switched to speaking only in Korean), and we both agreed that this yes/no confusion was now cleared up between us once and for all. After all, the best way to learn is through situations you are directly involved in, as they are so much harder to forget. I’m sure, we’ll both remember this lesson for quite some time to come. Happy Friday!