Existing Member?

Vagabonding There is no shortcut to anywhere worth going.

Language Barries: For Better or For Worse?

SOUTH KOREA | Monday, 12 April 2010 | Views [970] | Comments [3]

So it is now twice that I have encountered some individualized racism here in Tong Yeong.  It is rural city and has very traditional roots compared to the larger cities but I suppose this happens there too.   It is a tough thing to process in one’s mind.  I would like to learn the language so I can keep myself out of trouble and show the Korean culture and people a little respect.  But at the same time when I learn the language I will be able to understand the insults and prejudices that are spoken against me, not only because I am a foreigner but also because I am an independent woman.


Today I was in the market by my house to purchase some strawberries.  I figured today was the day for me to pick my vegetable and fruit stand.  My understanding is that if you always use the same one, the people will recognize you and begin to build a relationship with you.  Meaning… bargaining will become easier and they will sometimes gift you the basket with the riper or more abundant pick.  So I walk up to the stand and there are three men sitting together and I greet them with a solid Annyong Haseyo and slight bow they greet me back.  One man comes to the front of the stand where some of the smaller strawberries are labeled 5000 won and some larger ones are labeled 6000 won but I wanted the even bigger ones.  I have them at school sometimes and they are so delicious that I usually can’t stop! It takes two perfect bites to finish them and both bites are equally delicious.   I had already decided I would pay 10000 won for them since that is how much they usually are labeled other places, and oh you bet I have been scouting them out. 


So I point to the ones I want and say how much 5000-I point to the sign I point to the basket I want and he nods his head.  I was surprised and knew he wasn’t selling these to me for 5000 but I get out my 5000 won bill and hand it to him.  He looks at me and shakes his head and I point to the sign and I point to my strawberries.  He points at the smaller strawberries and does 5 with his hand and then he points to the larger strawberries and does ten with his hand.  I am like ok that’s fine, I point to my strawberries I do ten with my hand and I think we have come to an agreement or an understanding but no.  I hand him my 10000 won bill.  He doesn’t hand me back my 5000 won bill.  I point to it and I say give this back to me.  And he goes ten with his hand.  I say ne (yes in korea) then I say I paid 15 and I do ten and then another handful of fingers and I point at his hand.  He shakes his head and points at my basket of strawberries.  Another one of the men points from his seat at my strawberries and does ten and I look at the man and I look back at the other one who is not giving my money back and I know that this man is trying to do this to me.  And now I notice how many people are watching.   He goes to bag up my strawberries and I say no.  I don’t want them.  I cross my hands in front of my body like no deal and I shake my head and I point at my money in his hands say give me back.  I do get to take it back from him. 


He was angry and I was angrier.  He was done with me and I was not done yet.  I came to buy some damn strawberries and I knew if I walk off just then it would have reflected poorly.  I didn’t want the language barrier to turn into a monster of a thing that tears down respect as well.  I also wanted this man to know I was reasonable and he had given up on me and already chucked me into the ignorant foreigner category.  I pointed at a different basket of the smaller strawberries and I said five with my hands.  He nodded yes.   I went up to the next row of strawberries and said five with my hands and he shook his head no.  He said 6 with his hands.  I said out loud.  6?  He said back 6.  I handed him 6000 won.  He bagged up my strawberries.  I said “Komsamnida” to him and his friends and walked home.  My walk home felt more lonely and misunderstood than it has yet. 


But then I dove into my basket of strawberries, made a vow to overlook a few rotten spots, and got on with it.       

Tags: bargaining, language barrier, racisim, rural south korea, south korea, tong yeong, tongyeong, woman traveler



Thats intense, who knows if the bigger ones were actually going for more or not? Once you know how to chat with people around you the world will be a ton better.

  Broski Apr 13, 2010 6:18 AM


A wonderful strawberry story. A wonderful story of resilience. A good lesson, and a better ending.

  Rachel Apr 13, 2010 10:24 AM


I think you handled the whole situation really well - everyone saved face and you got the strawberries in the end! You're pretty cool for an American living abroad! lol

  Mom Apr 15, 2010 12:45 AM



Travel Answers about South Korea

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.