This happened yesterday, and I'm over it now (or maybe not, since I'm blogging about it). The supermarket at my apt. complex has a new clerk. God, I hate dealing with new clerks at my regular haunts (cuz it's my territory). I always get the shocked, deer-in-headlights look when they seem me. They're like, "OMG, it's a foreigner- what do I dooooo?!" This is incredibly alienating. I used to be embarrassed, and sorry that they had to deal with me (even though I, and everyone else I know, can conduct a simple money transaction in Korean... Well, actually, it's not so simple, because they ask 10 million other questions, like, "Do you have a discount card?", "Do you need a bag?", or, "Do you want your iced latte hot or iced?" But, I digress).
Well, I'm not sorry anymore. My general attitude these days is distant- I guess I try to have out-of-body experiences during these awkward encounters. But if I'm not in the mood, which is often these days, it's frustrating and very irritating. Anyway, everyone has encountered the silent clerk, I'm sure. First, you get a shocked, tentative look out of the corner of newbie's eye, and you ignore the look. You ask for a bag (in Korean). Noob hands it over wordlessly. Then they ring up the sale, and gesture to the signature pad (or they hand you the calculator). You ignore the gesture and say, "Ne?" just cuz you're feeling cunty. The clerk laughs (grrrr), and tells you to sign it. Finally, he/she silently hands you the receipt. And they think they're through with you-ugh, what a relief for the xenophobic! Frankly, I don't like to be ignored after I just spent a chunk of change at a store I spend over $500/month in. So I raise my eyebrows and ask in English, "Cat got your tongue?" And then I vow that from here on out, I will deliberately go through her line, because she obviously requires some repeat therapy to help her overcome her phobia.^~
My husband tells me I should use English only because people are insecure about their lack-of English, and it gives me the upper-hand. But I don't want the upper-hand. My (pipe) dream is to be treated with the same amount of respect afforded other Koreans (alas, one can hope...). JS also told me that he has many Korean friends who go to Japan and can speak adequate Japanese. But he says they don't use it. They use English because it gives them authority, whereas if they use Japanese, they will be treated on the same level if not a lower level. I prefer not to use English because it eliminates potential misunderstandings, but I do use it in Itaewon because I have noticed that what my husband says is true. Generally people are more polite if you use English (although there are always exceptions, and I have examples, but that's for another post).