Thursday, January 22, 2015

Moving Chronicles: Seoul to Bristol: On Feeling Stupid

Morning practice on the River Avon in front of MsCaroline's (temporary) apartment.  

So, after 3 weeks of silence, MsCaroline has finally managed to find some time to do a little updating and let her readers know how she is adjusting to Life in the UK.

So far, so good.  The AsiaVus are comfortably ensconced in a small temporary accommodation on the River Avon (I know, aren't we lucky?) where they will stay until they move into their actual dwelling with all of their possessions (and the dog) sometime around the beginning of March. MrL is taking the train to work every day, trying to get up to speed at the new job, and remembering to spell words like, 'organise' and 'defence' correctly.   MsCaroline is lucky enough to have some other partners of MrLogical's co-workers here in Bristol as well, and they are all sharing the learning curve together.  #2 has hit the ground running.  He has organized an unpaid internship at a local art gallery for himself, applied for several barista jobs, and traveled twice to Cardiff (to visit a friend at Uni there.)

Obviously, the enormous language barrier that existed in Korea is not actually a problem here.  And really - all the 'separated by a common language' jokes notwithstanding - MsCaroline hasn't had any silly misunderstandings yet, like asking for 'pants' when she means 'trousers' (hearty laughs all round) or using the word 'fanny' (not part of MsC's standard lexicon in either English) to the consternation of all and sundry. (US readers who don't know what I'm talking about, click here.)

In some ways, MsC feels that it might actually have been easier to move to the UK directly from the US, instead of coming from Korea, because she is still adjusting to Not Being In Korea at the same time she is adjusting to Being in the UK, and that has been a bit of a surprise. A few observations:

  • Not looking different:  In Korea, one is immediately recognized as a foreigner;  everyone understands that you're Not From Here, and braces themselves for stupid behavior accordingly.  No one expects you to be able to speak the language, no one expects you to know the customs, no one expects you to know what you're doing - and (Koreans being Koreans) most of the time, people will leap to help you (even when you don't need it.)  Here in the UK, though,  MsCaroline does not look appreciably different from anyone else (except shorter, fatter, and less chic), and - until she opens her mouth - it is simple enough for everyone to assume that she is a local who Knows What She is Doing.  This also means that, when MsCaroline does dumb things, she just looks Stupid, instead of like an Exotic Foreigner Who Does Not Know English Ways.  For example:  upon entering a pub, one always places orders at the bar.  Even if the pub is huge and looks like a proper restaurant.  Even if there are wait staff walking around the tables delivering food, and even if there are menus on the table.  What one does not do in a pub is sit down at the table and wait expectantly for someone to take one's order, because it will never happen, no matter how long one sits there waiting.  Do not ask me how I know this.  
  • Not knowing the customs:  Let MsCaroline preface this comment by saying that, before she moved to Korea, she never traveled by bus.  Subway, yes, but bus, no.  In Korea, however, she took the bus all the time and found it to be fast and efficient.  When she got to Bristol and noted the extensive bus system, then, she was a confident bus rider and ready to take advantage of a cheap and convenient public transport system in which she had the advantage of being able to understand everything she read.  What she did not know(but should have realized, duh), however, was that buses in Bristol (she cannot speak for the rest of the UK) are somewhat different than buses in Korea, particularly with regards to stopping.  In Korea, if a bus is supposed to stop at, say, Bus Stop #2, it stops there. Whether or not anyone needs to get off, and whether or not there is a person waiting at the stop (granted, the 'stopping' might be more of a 'slowing' but a token attempt is made.)  And if a person is waiting at the stop, the bus always stops.  If it happens that several buses serve the same stop and the person is waiting for a different bus, well, no harm done.  The driver closes the door and drives on.  But  - and this is key -if a person is waiting at the bus stop, the bus stops.  This is not, however, the case in Bristol, which is how it came to pass that, on one particular day, MsCaroline stood at a bus stop in Bristol for approximately 20 minutes while no fewer than 10 buses whizzed right by her, not so much as even slowing down, while she became more and more embarrassed and confused.  She even went so far as to search the bus stop for some sort of button or light to activate.  But it never once occurred to her to stick her hand out and hail the bus as you would a taxi.  So, she walked, and it was a refreshing and lovely walk indeed.  And when she went home later on, she watched  this video, which she probably should have done in the first place.  And now she knows. 
  • Not Knowing the money:  Yes, yes, MsCaroline understands that it's pounds and pence here;  that's not the issue.  The issue is, the coins.  First of all, MsC did not realize that there is a pound coin.  This is not like a US silver dollar or Susan B. Anthony thing - sort of largeish and weighty, sending the message, "Hey! I am pretty valuable!"  The pound coin is heavy, but smallish - sort of the size of a US nickel - and really unassuming, except for its goldish color.  As a result, one fails to realize that it's worth a lot of money (comparatively.)  The first thing MsC bought was an umbrella (yes, MsC moved to the UK without one like an idiot, but in her defense, she was rushing at the end there) which cost £6.  She handed over £10, and was given a handful of coins, which her American mind immediately calculated to be the change left over from the cost of the umbrellas plus tax(which is already added in the UK, like in Korea and most of Europe, not tacked on extra like in the US, but she was not thinking clearly.)  She continued to wait stupidlyexpectantly for the bills to be handed over, which, of course, did not happen. Only when she looked at the coins in her hand, did she realize that she'd been given 4 £1 coins, which was, of course, the correct change.  She is still getting used to this.  It also does not help that the coins you would expect to be more valuable tend to be less valuable (have you ever seen a 2p coin? It's huge!) and vice versa.  It also doesn't help that MsCaroline's aging eyes cannot always see the (very faint) print on the coins telling her what they are worth  - especially since she is often in pubsdimly lit places when she's trying to deal with these coins. It's very humbling.  She has finally resorted to taking out her money at home, figuring out what it is worth, and memorizing its sizes and shapes (big silver polygon=50p; tiny silver polygon=20p;  multicolored large circle- £2, etc.) so as not to embarrass herself quite as often.  
  • Understanding the language, but not the customs:  MsC is still trying to figure out how to respond to, "Alright?" For my non-UK readers, "Alright?" is used as a sort of a greeting in the UK, but MsC (despite intense observation and careful listening) has not figured out how to respond properly to someone who says, "Alright, MsCaroline?" or just, "Alright?" Usually, she is paralyzed by indecision:  What do I say? "Yes, I'm alright?" or, "Fine, Bob, and you?" or should I use it back at them, like 'Hi':  "Alright, MsCaroline?" "Alright, Bob?" When MsC first arrived, she thought that she somehow appeared to be unwell, and people were concerned about her.  In the US, if MsC were to ask someone if they were 'alright' it would indicate that the other person looked ill or upset and MsC was inquiring about their state of being.  Here, though (and maybe this is a Bristol thing, MsC has no idea) 'Alright?' is clearly a greeting.  The problem is, MsC just has no idea as to what the correct response would be.  She has settled for a kind smile and nod combined with an unintelligible mumble, hoping that the other person will hear what they expect to hear and let her off the hook.  She would greatly appreciate direction from anyone who can tell her what she should be saying.  She is pleased to report, however, that she is doing better with, 'Cheers' or 'Cheers, mate' which is clearly a farewell and not a toast.