I No English

The other day, I was grocery shopping and a man came up to me and asked if I was American.  Confused, I replied “yes, American”.  He just shrugged and said, “Chinese? I can’t tell”. After that, I was just annoyed.  What difference did it make if I was American or not while I was grocery shopping?

I found it to be insulting that he assumed I was Chinese, simply because I was Asian.  Excuse me, sir, not all Asians are Chinese.

In my experience, most people forego the ethnicity confirmation and go straight to asking a question. If the other person does not speak or understand, he or she would let you know.  Does that not seem more accepting than what I experienced at the grocery store? I would much rather have had that kind of encounter.

After discussing with my friends about what had happened, a friend joked that I should’ve just pretended not to speak English and started speaking Korean.  This had me thinking... how many people must pretend to not speak or understand a language to avoid unwanted conversations. I admit that I’m guilty of this because I’m discomforted when strangers ask me questions and I feel uncomfortable and slightly awkward when rejecting others (such as vendors and salespeople on the streets and in front of stores). I did this both in America and Korea and found the results hilarious as the person looked at me, puzzled, sure that I understood what they were saying.

One Korean friend admitted that sometimes when he was in Korea, he would speak English so that salespeople would leave him alone as he was looking for his friends. I thought “Aha, I’m not the only one who does it then”. But, he said since the world is becoming more international, Korean people have started to learn to speak English, Japanese, and Chinese, so when I revisit Korea, he suggested that I learn another language other than the above to speak if I want to avoid people.

Hmmm... instead of learning another language, how about this simple solution? Just politely let the other person know that you are either busy and on your way to an appointment or just a simple “No, thank you” should suffice. I’m not sure if it’s because of lack of communication skills or manners but just letting the other person know that you’re not interested would be better than having them feel dumbfounded, don’t you agree? I’ll have to think on this and practice my “No, thank you”s more haha.

Have you ever pretended to not understand the same language? Comment below! What language did you switch to and why?

-Andi