I now have a default move that has led me to abandon the Korean language. Explanation:
I approach the stadium. I don’t have a ticket. I have a Samsung Lions lanyard. The lanyard means nothing; it is available for purchase at any team store. At the main entrance I meet the first stadium attendant. She is here to check tickets and approve general admittance. I walk erect–in posture–and I hold my lanyard forward like it is an all access pass to meet the band. I flash it to the attendant, confident, and I smile and bow (default move). I walk past and she assumes I’m an overseas shareholder. A hundred(ish) meters later, I’m in the lower stadium concourse. I spot two seats directly behind home plate. Others sitting there have cameras and computers. They are important media and/or team personnel. I descend towards this restricted section. There is another attendant who monitors credentials. When the game starts he also brings food and drink. As I approach my shirt is tucked in and again, my posture is regal. I’m smiling. I flash the lanyard, bow, disregard his verbal (Korean) objection and sit down. He is confused. I smile and then give him the Ebert and Roeper (two thumbs up). He smiles back. Then I take a media guide from one of the reporters already seated–smile, left hand wave. Three innings later the previously mentioned attendant brings me lo mein and beer. I sit on my wallet and flash the lanyard. He smiles and leaves.
I’m not sure if I’m abusing Korean hospitality or if I’m simply utilizing non-verbal language. Either way, this is why I’ve temporarily paused my pursuit of the Korean language. As the above interaction is reflective of a typical baseball experience for me, I’ve employed similar technique elsewhere. I’ve been successful. There are three components that have enabled me to survive–and thrive–in Korea without the use of language.
- I’m upbeat and friendly. This cultural oversight wouldn’t work if I was rude or gloomy. People don’t tolerate shenanigans from people who are unfriendly or people who are ugly. I am neither of those.
- Confidence. I act like I belong and I act like I should be here. This is true in Korea as it is true everywhere else. People rarely question someone who looks comfortable and sure of themselves.
- The beard plays. I have been growing a beard for the last five months. It is thick, manicured, and it is now dark brown (dyed it–red beards create panic). Facial hair is something most Korean men can’t grow. So, during the beginning parts of my interactions, when they are beard-struck, I seize the moment, smile, and advance.
I’m not sure if I feel bad about this. Typically I do at first, but then I realize I’m just being genuine. This is who I am. I like interacting with people and I like cutting corners. Body language is how I do both in Korea.
Below are a few more examples. I want you get a full picture of this non-verbal communication and I also want to update any friends or family members reading this as to some of the fun I’m having.
- The apartment complex where I live has a nice gym. Until recently, I didn’t know a gym membership, predicated by payment, was required. I kind of assumed it was, but I’m poor. So, for the first few weeks, it went down like this: knock on door until someone opens it. “Gamsamnida/thank-you” when door opens. Walk past front desk. Smile, bow, “annyeonghaseyo/hello”. They return a smile and then pilfer through a binder/ledger that I’m assuming outlines member dues or initiation fees. I don’t know because by the time they’ve sorted through said binder they look up to see me with head phones on and half a kilometer into a treadmill run.
- At the movie theatre last week I was having trouble purchasing a ticket for Fast and Furious 18. I had been successful in my past two attempts–Beauty and the Beast–but this time was posing trouble. The ticket usher was eager to help but we couldn’t find common terminology to move us forward. I took to miming (body language). I placed my hands on an imaginary steering wheel. They were placed at a ten and two configuration, because that is safe. In rapid movement I took my right hand from the steering wheel and shifted a figurative gear. The clutch stuck, so I shifted again. I mouthed an accelerating sound (Doppler effect), pressed the horn, and returned my hands to the wheel. The usher smiled, gave a thumbs up and then printed my ticket.
- Splitting a bill isn’t as difficult as you would think. If you make clear, visual actions, it is easy. We take the bill and we distinctly point to it. Then, holding the bill, we offer and point to two different credit cards. I make a final gesture from the receipt to each card, and then I bring my arms together and make a violent, samurai-like chopping motion; “splitting” the bill in half… Koreans are smart and intuitive and they understand this. I tell my friend Anthony they don’t, though, so he pays.
- Ordering food is not difficult either. Most establishments have menus with pictures. If you can put aside personal ego and get on board with the point-to-thumbs-up affirmation, you will be fine.
- Conveying gratitude and friendliness is most important to me. I doubt my form is correct, but I bow and wave with vigor. Koreans here appreciate that. They also laugh at it. It is the good kind of laugh, though, where they are laughing with you.
Some simple, basic communicative gestures:
- Food was good, thank you: Point at empty plate, smile, rub belly.
- No, I don’t speak Korean: Smile, make “x” with index fingers, say, “No, I don’t speak Korean.”
- Can I help carry your groceries: Point to grocery bag, bi-cep curl.
- Can I meet your daughter: Lower grocery bag, point to daughter, thumbs up.
- I think you’re pretty: Smile, point to girl, rub belly.
- I’m new to the building: When elevator moves, jump.
- Americano, iced: Say “Americano” grab elbows, shiver.
- Americano, hot: Say “Americano”, wink.
- Hailing a cab (sober): Stand next to street, raise arm, yell “taxi”.
- Hailing a cab (drunk): Stand in street, waive shirt, yell “taxi”.
- Hailing a cab (hammered): Steal bicycle.
***Yes, I know about Google Translate. For the first 5 weeks we did not possess a mobile hotspot. Phones have been placed on airplane mode. Now, after securing mobile wifi, we are able to employ Google Translate for basic communication. It isn’t as helpful as you think, though… Also, respect the “Doppler Effect” reference. That is high brow physics you didn’t anticipate.