Multnomah Falls, Oregon

Multnomah Falls, Oregon

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Silent Clerk

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).


  1. I had some woman in a check out not even greet me, and pointed her head and finger at the check out screen. It really annoys me that I can do check outs in Korean, but they dont even give me a shot. I'm not even asking them to speak English, so why is she embarassed/nervous to speak Korean to me? I ignored her finger waving, and asked in Korean, 'How much is it?' And she said: giggle giggle '3500 won' (in korean). It's just childish, and very tiring because it happens all the time.

    I dont know why youre so set on taking it in style. I'm pretty happy showing people I'm not stupid, I can understand some of what they say, I'm not their personal english teacher when I'm clearly listening to music on my iphone, and if they want some to chat to while I'm enjoying a book in a coffee house, my going rate is 50,000 per hour.

    Why is bad to stand up for yourself? Letting my fustration out means I can stay here longer. If I had to be nice to everybody that clearly tries to take advantage of me, I'd
    have already gone home by now.

  2. I've always found that people are reluctant to speak to me because they are shy and insecure about their English abilities. In a mono-ethnic society like Korea it is still uncommon to encounter a foreigner for a large part of the population, let alone one as pretty and blond as you! After all, you are the Korean ideal of a foreigner in many ways, and people can be awestruck at meeting you for the first time.
    Korea is also a Confucian based society wherein you do not exist to some of them until they have established your position in relation to them. Since she was new and maybe didn't expect to encounter you, she had no way to place you and respond appropriately.
    I would take her silence with understanding, then respond with a smile and speak Korean to her to completely blow her mind!

    As for the woman at the doctor's office, she was most likely embarrassed and by talking poorly about you trying to make herself feel better. A lot of Koreans know it is rude or low class to try and get free English lessons from a foreigner. They also know it is very rude to talk about a foreigner in Korean in front of them. Chances are the hospital staff just had to grin and bear it but if you are a regular patient I am sure they know you are a good person. After all,SJ is a reflection of you and he is a wonderful boy!
    I know it is hard at times but remember this country has a huge population in a small area, you may encounter the bad just as often as the good, but you get to make the choice as to how you react and what impression you leave!
    I guess I've been fortunate to have had more than my share of positive interactions here but I do also try and keep a positive and understanding attitude. It helps so much, but then most of my negative interaction comes while driving which is a whole different story! ^.~

  3. All I can say to this post is Amen. Our store downstairs either got a new clerk or has just added/changed hours, and she responded the exact same way the person you encountered did. The other clerk comes over and chats with me a bit (she's got our membership ID number memorized), and the new clerk just looks at her like, "SAVE MEEEEEEEE."

    I also don't believe in having the upper hand. I'm right there with you--I want to be seen as a person, not as an alien.