I’ve been going through quite a few books lately and my most recent read is Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. It is a collection of random, quirky essays about events that have happened at some point in his lifetime. He conveys these stories in very comical ways and I’ve quickly become a fan of his writing.
Many of these aforementioned tales occur during the time he lived in France. The chapter entitled “Picka Pocketoni” recalls a summer afternoon that Sedaris and his boyfriend were on the Paris Metro. Upon entering the train, the author spotted an American couple hogging the support pole. Not having anything to hold on to, he wedged his hand between the Americans to get a hold of the pole. Immediately, the man removed one of his hands to cover his nose. “Peeeeew. Can you smell that? That is pure French, baby. This froggy is ripe,” he stated. His wife replied, “Golly Pete! Do they all smell this bad?” They continued to bad mouth their fellow American, making remarks about how he was most likely trying to rob them. Paris, in their eyes, was a city of thieves, always awaiting its next victim. As the stereotypically stupid Americans only added fuel to the fire, Sedaris thought of comebacks he might use. He ended up exiting the train without saying a word, only leaving the couple to believe their own close minded theories.
While it seems incredibly ignorant, it’s surprisingly easy to forget that English is not some mysterious, uncommon language only spoken in the Western World. When those surrounding you look different and have different lifestyles, it’s assumable that they don’t have a clue what you are saying. In addition to this, for some unknown reason, Westerners are particularly loud. I’ve noticed this especially when going out in larger groups. If only taking up the back row of the bus, we somehow manage to be louder than all other passengers combined. This usually elicits “the look” from nearby ajummas. Foreigners share stories, often containing too much information easily in large crowds; at home, they would not even whisper these said stories in semi-public areas.
I often feel uncomfortable when listening to or sharing gossip. These fears are realized when the girl to my left is taking a practice SAT test written completely in English. The two Asian guys across from me bid each other farewell in American accents. An old man reads an English novel. Yet, for some reason, I am still in awe whenever I hear a Korean speak English. I don’t know why, considering I teach English to Koreans.
Last week, a friend and I were walking through the insectarium at the zoo. Oddly, about 80% of the bugs were mating. I don’t know what was going on… is there such a thing as insect mating season or something? My friend made the comment, “It’s a beetle orgy!” There may or may not have been an f-word in that statement… I mean, she is a New Yorker. Needless to say, it was pretty hilarious in only the way mating dung beetles can be funny. Moments later, the kid next to me turns in our direction and yells just past us, “Hey, Mom, there’s ants over here!”
She and I jetted out of there and past a few exhibits. We hoped not to have to make eye contact with the undoubtedly enraged parents that trailed behind us.
For these reasons, it’s advisable to remember that just because one is in a foreign land, one is not immune to embarrassment or the “foot in mouth” disease. You don’t know who is actually a native, and of those that are, there’s a good chance they can understand you. I’m now even more careful to only say things that I would usually say in public and am prepared to have to cover any dirty mouths if need be.