The last few days I’ve been somewhat nostalgic about my expat life. It’s so weird to think that two years ago I was walking around in Portland, Oregon not even having the slightest clue I may be spending a good portion of my life abroad. We have been given so many blessings and opportunities here…life is crazy awesome.
I also have days where I freak out. I’m living in a foreign country where I haven’t the slightest idea how to understand the language. In fact…if someone were to tell me to run due to some crazy rabid dog, I’d most likely stand there stupidly…due to the fact that I ignore most everything nowdays. It’s hard not to. My husband and I live in our own little bubble…floating around in Asia-land trying to act ‘normal’ when everything around us is very abnormal.
I also have to recognize the fact that living here 1.7 years has to change a person. The only thing is…I haven’t had anyone that knew who I was before from back home come visit (or anyone come visit for that matter). Derik and I have yet to make a trip back to the States (yay January 2014!), so our ability to judge our lifestyle, mannerism, and languages have been impossible.
I’m terrified of the fact that when I go home I might talk slowly (thinking the person I’m talking to doesn’t understand), use over exaggerated gestures, and grunt. Yes grunt. You see…here everyone grunts. It’s a form of ‘yes.’ Trust me it was the strangest thing to experience when I first got here. After all, we’re not animals! God gave us a tongue on purpose. But then, the long we’ve been here the more I’ve realized it’s actually easier to communicate with grunting!
Ok, now I can see the wheels in your head turning as you’re picturing little cave men dancing around and grunting like monkeys Um no. Sigh. It’s hard to explain, just come visit me ok? You’ll get first hand experience on what I’m talking about.
One thing I’m fairly confident about is that my skill level in the game of charades has changed from below average to expert. Yes, I’m cocky enough to say expert. I’ve spent the last year and a half using this game of gestures on a daily basis…and for the strangest of things! (I also rock at Catch Phrase…just saying. I change complicated words to simpler, smaller words on a daily basis!) The only way I feel like you can track with me here is if I give you some real life examples. These are taken directly out of my life in Korea and wrapped in a pretty bow for you to laugh at and enjoy.
Alright, so here you go. The nine weirdest things I’ve had to use charades for:
1. Crutches: It would have been so much easier if I had my dear hubby for this one. Unfortunately he was home with a severely sprained ankle, and it was my job to run around town looking for a place to borrow or buy crutches. I’ll never forget walking into our big, busy, and bustling HomePlus and asking the pharmacist where I could find crutches. He didn’t understand, so I first tried hopping around on one leg. That didn’t do the trick, just raised a few eyebrows. I then tucked my umbrella (because it was raining outside) under my arm and proceeded to use it as a ‘fake’ air crutch. That got the message across not only to him but 20 spectators. Glad I could be the entertainment for the night. And no, he didn’t have any. Thankfully after an x-ray, consultation, custom splint, and $100 dollars later, Derik got his crutches.
2. A power transformer: When we first got here, one of the most important items we could buy was a power transformer. This little brick-of-a-box would step the power down from 220V to 110V so I could use my ‘American’ products such as the hairdryer, curling iron, and straightener. Vain, I know. Derik wanted one for his xbox anyway. We walked into a hardware store our first week in Korea. I was blown away by how much stuff was literally everywhere! Take the level of disorganization in a flea market and multiply that by 25, and you’ve got a Korean hardware store. We knew the guy had to have the transformer around somewhere…but the only way we could communicate what we needed to him was if Derik and I worked together. Between our buzzing noises, high and low hand gestures, and acting out how to plug something in, he got it.
3. Cold medicine: The year of 2012 was plagued with cold after cold. The first time I went into a pharmacy I had absolutely no idea what and how to ask for anything. I desperately needed something to stop up my nose and keep it from running. I used my hand to show him that my nose was running by moving my fingers from my nostrils down to my chin. Nope that didn’t work. I pretended to blow my nose about ten times, coughed a few times, and finally held my throat before he realized, “Oh! Cold-uh.” Yes…..cold-uh.
4. Birth control: Now if you think cold medicine was tough enough, give birth control a try. Yes I just went there. I can’t believe how incredibly nervous and embarrassed I was to walk up to the counter to some guy I didn’t know or understand and ask him for birth control. When he didn’t get the words ‘birth control,’ I had to do the inevitable. Walk around like I was pregnant, then rock a baby in my hands, and then quickly throw my hands up in a big ‘x’ exclaiming, “No. Baby No.” It seemed as if he got it and went out from behind his counter to grab something sitting on the shelf. The shelf! I could have grabbed it myself. We paid for the so-called birth control and left. I’ll never forget Derik’s nervous laugh as he went on to say, “Well, I hope it’s not fertility medicine.” Seven months later? I think we got the right stuff.
5. Hand Sanitizer: Geez. I really didn’t think this one was going to be tough, until I realized the universal ‘rubbing the hands together’ symbol for soap and hand sanitizer are in fact… the same thing. Shoot. I really needed some good ol’ fashioned sanitizer to get some sap out of an article of clothing (trust me it works). Besides acting like a giant germ and crawling on the ground, and then dying at the exposure of hand sanitizer…how are you supposed to signify you want the stuff? After ten minutes I gave up. I later found some at the local craft store. They didn’t have any at the pharmacy, but they did at the craft store. Logical.
6. Boneless chicken: If you have a great way to act out the word ‘bone’ please tell it to me right now. I have yet to figure out how to ask for boneless chicken. Every time I do, or Derik tries to, we get confused looks. Pointing at your arm and saying ‘no’ doesn’t work. Neither does grabbing your husbands arm and pretending to break it. Trust me. Looking back at this situation now I can understand why the poor waitress was confused. Sorry lady.
7. A jumper cable: Ugg. Yes even in Korea the average car dies from time to time. Mostly due to user error (ehem…lights getting left on. I’m looking at D right now…). Jumper cables. Half the people back home don’t even know what they are. How were we to expect Koreans would? I have yet to see a car stuck on the side of the road or in a parking lot with it’s hood up. It just doesn’t happen here. The first time we had to ask for cables thankfully we were in a semi-popular area. Yet again the buzzing ‘electricity’ noises came in to play (yes in this game of charades, noises are perfectly acceptable), and so did the use of the ‘talking hands’ hand position. Only this time? Not for talking, but for imitating jumper cable clamps.
8. Buying my pet rabbit: One of the most exciting times in my life was also very challenging. When I bought my rabbit Jazz. For some reason pet keepers don’t automatically assume you mean ‘take home’ when you fake picking up the rabbit of choice, putting it into your ‘pretend’ cage and carrying it off. I don’t know how many times I played that scenario over and over until she finally got the fact I would like to buy one and take it home.
9. The swimsuit section of a store: Talk about awkward. I was in need of a swimsuit the next day. Derik and I went to the previously mentioned, busy Home Plus to find one. I had Mudfest over the weekend and wanted to get one that I could possibly ruin instead of ruining one of my nice ones. I should have realized it was going to be difficult right of the bat. You see, most ladies here take extra caution not to expose their skin to the sun. I’m talking about sun umbrellas, weird shirtless arm sleeves and huge sun-visors. Why I would think that finding a bikini a day before the event would be easy? I don’t know. We milled around for a bit, and after not finding anything we signaled over to a store assistant to help us. Between the swimming motions, the tracing of the alleged swimsuit on my body, and saying ‘swim-suit-ah’, you think we would have gotten somewhere. Nope. She ended up walking off, shaking her head. Don’t worry, we found the swimsuit area four floors up.
Sometimes I miss the easy communication in America. Actually, I miss it a lot. However, living here has taught me an important life skill: the ‘real life’ game of charades. Although it can be frustrating at times, looking back on each of these stories, I can’t help chuckling to myself.
Thank you for the fun times Korea. I hope we have many more!