오늘기분은 이떠신가요?

(Translation: How are you today?)

Week three of my quest to learn Korean started off with a bang. Just before we started the day’s lesson, and right after we covered the homework (translating the 9 phrases I’ve learned, which form two dialogues – one about introducing myself (week one) and the other about shopping (week two), as well as writing and saying the alphabet in order) I was stopped and asked the question I’ve heard so many times before:

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“Before we start I have to ask, who taught you how to write? Who taught you to write Korean?”

I’ve been collecting compliments concerning my penmenship since college. (I once met a girl in one of my Sociology classes who claimed to only come to class to watch me take notes. According to her, the teacher would say something, she’d start to write, look over and see that I not only had it all written down neatly, but was then drawing a picture of a dog next to it. I can still remember that dog picture. It was good.) But today was the first time I’ve heard that my penmenship is just as good in a different language. I’m not nearly as fast as I am in English (obviously), as each letter in Hangeul has a precise method of writing. (The general orders of operation in writing is such: left to right, top to bottom.)

That was the day’s second quizzical compliment, as I aced the tests. (Though I’d knock points off myself for screwing up the alphabet – I put ㅡ in for ㅇ; mistaking a vowel for a consonant! Can there be a greater crime? But on reflection, I caught that something was amiss as soon as I made it to ㅎ, and went back and fixed it. So I guess technically it’s still correct, since if this was a real class I would’ve fixed it before turning it in.)

This week our theme was General Greetings, a mistake on my part (I usually pick the themes I want to learn) since Koreans don’t use the same sort of small talk we use in English. There’s no general “How’s it going?,” instead they’ll ask “Have you eaten?” Which, upon reading, sounds strange until you factor in that Korea was a country of small, mountain villages for longer than anyone can remember. So there’s a strong sense of community here, which means making sure everyones doing okay. Hence the food inquiry.

Other than that, they’ll generally talk about the weather. A small talk convention that stretches across ALL cultures!

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