More language and thought

Thirty years false prophets and guides. Here fifteen years useless.

[Unintelligible gobbledygook] I don’t want be a dick.

Do you think I’m a mess?

These gems, as close to verbatim as I can recall, were among the helpful things that helped to procure us a lovely apartment in a funky-looking university area of Seoul. I’ve mused on the simple power of misunderstandings in translation before, as well as on the insight that an understanding of the roots of such misunderstandings can give a language teacher in order to help tackle the problem. I’ve also shared a good hard think about the insight that certain uses of language can give into the culture that framed that usage. Those musings were due to the fortunate experience of living in a culture not my own whose language I could understand very clearly, even if my attempts to speak it were somewhat haphazard.

I now find myself, for the first time in a number of years, in a country where, despite three months of relatively consistent study, I read the language like a two-year-old and speak it like a babe in arms – a collage of random sounds out of which an understandable syllable might arise, but probably not in a useful context. So, after having seen a number of disappointing places over a number of days with the English-speaking estate agents I had found or been directed to, I decided to take the Internet’s advice and strike out on my own.

“Go to the area you want to live in, walk into an agency and be clear what you want.” Ran that advice. So I did.

The first problem was locating a realtor. I hadn’t thought to look up ‘real estate’ in Korean as the expat-friendly area I had been looking around had this written everywhere in English. Heading to the other side of town the English disappeared. However, after some wandering around I finally found a likely looking corner and sure enough, there was a realtor.

Anyeonghaseyo,” I greeted the agents at their desks, receiving the same in response. That was about my limit. “Do you speak English?” I asked, hopefully. There were concerned looks.

“A little,” responded one of them, gingerly. Reassured, I plunged on, listing what I was looking for. The faces in front of me cycled through blankness and panic, finally rallying to cover this latter with a commendable effort, and rushing to the ubiquitous tool for all times of doubt, the phone. Two minutes and a lot of gesturing and smiling later, I was explaining my needs again to a very fluent woman on the other end of the line. The phone was passed back, energetic conversation ensued and a number of further phone calls were made. The next couple of hours were spent in a number of similar back-and-forth exchanges and a couple of viewings of the properties that eventually became our final two contenders after a number of further mostly pointless viewings of other places.

On our second inspection, this time pre-arranged and with Wonderboy in tow, we were all more ambitious in the communications department. Agent 1 had clearly prepared for our second appointment by downloading a handy speech-translator app to his phone. “Prepared Saturday your husband return,” was one of the first enigmatic snippets to emerge from it. We quickly deciphered this as, “We’re going back to see the places you saw the other day, this time with [the man I presume is] your husband,” and nodded our agreement. The following two hours continued with a great deal of similar deduction and confusion. I suspect our guide only began to realise what the problem might be when we attempted on a couple of occasions to use it in reverse, and saw the worried look flash across his face as he tried to work out what the nonsense on the phone might be trying to communicate.

The openers of this post turned out to mean that the first apartment we had looked at was thirty years old, and the one we were in was only built fifteen years ago, and therefore had been used for fifteen years less and may therefore be in better nick. The final sentence, I believe owed to the fact that pronouns are commonly dropped in Korean, and he was in fact asking if we thought the apartment was a mess as we had commented on some marks on the floor and walls. The middle comment I have little idea about, but had to avoid meeting Wonderboy’s eyes for several minutes after reading, blanking my face and nodding politely.

Anyhow, the upshot is that we’ve got a lovely little place with a spare room for visitors and one happy realtor!

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Steph Johnson
    Dec 07, 2013 @ 03:07:47

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA that was hilarious!!! I don’t think I could have kept a blank face. Congrats on your new place!! 🙂

    Like

    Reply

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