I have one friend in a city of millions - and she's Korean. Her English is acually quite good for someone who moved to the United States only a few months ago, but conversation is sometimes a struggle, and there have been some humorous moments. I've become a sort of resource for her for the kind of English one doesn't learn in the classes she attends. For instance, in her idioms class, J. learned the phrases "gung ho" and "when pigs fly." Seeing as how my friend is not 83 years old, I've taught her the much more valuable expression "it's hot as balls outside," along with its understandably confusing counterpart, "it's cold as balls outside."
Here are some other incidents I've been itching to share with people:
Me: Put your nose to the grindtone.
J: I'm going to pick my nose on the grindstone
Me: Take it in stride.
J: To take one in strider.
And then there was the time I taught her how to spot a hipster (nothing like indoctrinating someone to some good old fashioned American bigotry). This was perhaps my proudest moment as a teacher. A day after I explained to her what, exactly, the word hipster implies, we found ourselves walking past a herd of skinny jeaned smokers in Washington Square Park. J. leaned in as we walked past and whispered with a grin, "hipsters!!." Indeed, young Skywalker.
I should probably learn to practice some restraint, but there's something fulfilling about being someone's primary go to for the finer things about this country's culture. Like dirty words. She needs to know them, right? They sure as hell aren't teaching her anything that valuable at this school she's been going to. And bless her, she went right for the jugular. She immediately wanted to know about the absolute worst swear word we have. "I hear motherfucker is the worst," she said naively. Two hours later I had to quiet her down in a Barnes and Noble after she gleefully blurted out "CUNT!" two feet away from a throng of middle-aged women sipping cappucinos. At least she remembers. That word especially.
-All movies and tv shows are "dramas." She likes to watch the drama Sex and the City every night, apparently. It is a good drama.
-Border's books is a total novelty. As is Times Square. Of all the neat neighborhoods in New York, this is where she spends most of her time. Meanwhile that place makes me want to hang myself.
-The events on Jerry Springer are 100% real, and, along with the Maury show, represent an accurate depiction of American culture.
Of course, my friend is very bright and l respect the courage it took to leave her life as an accountant in Korea, knowing very little English, to try and make it as a writer in New York. Eventually, I'm sure that she'll not only be fluent but will pick up on some of the basic cultural allusions that elude her now. We went to a recital of Howl today in the park, and I found myself explaining not only the significance of the poem, but also telling her who Allen Ginsberg was, who the Beat poets were, why Bob Dylan was important, what the Chelsea Hotel is, who the Sex Pistols were, etc., etc. The other day we went to see the Halloween remake and she actually complained that there was no story, just killing. We of course take that as a given. I think what is most shocking is not that she doesn't know these things, but that I arrogantly assumed that she should. For my part, I've been trying to learn as much about Korea as I can, but she's less interested in playing the role of instructor than she is in learning. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to playing with the badass "Hwatu" cards she bought me in a Korean market here after I saw them in a movie. I know that Kimchi is delicious. I learned that Koreans say "one shot!" when you take a shot, and that there are frequently very aggressive drinkers around who will get angry with you if you don't finish your shot in one gulp. And I think I can now pronounce my friend's real name without sounding like a total idiot.
Perhaps the most telling misunderstanding so far was not a misunderstanding at all. As I walked 4 avenues to meet her, yet again, at 42nd street, I sent her a text saying it would be awhile. Because of her accent, we'd had some miscommunication in the past about meeting spots, causing me to be late, and she replied "It start again~ k just be thar." To which I texted back "I'm on my way, punk."
"What is 'punk?'" was the inevitable first question from her when I finally found her walking around Border's. I tried to explain that it was a light hearted jab, and in this sense the word did not mean Johnny Rotten. Met with a blank stare, I then told her a synonymn might be "jerk."
I got home late that night and to a final text from her:
"Make it home safe, jerk~?"