[The last post, Anna started a story about things being lost in translation. The first paragraph is to refresh your memories, the rest is the continuation of the story.]
Before I close, I want to share a funny lost-in-translation story that I experienced on Sunday. Ever since the Koreans got here, they, the sisters and the elders, have told me that I am beautiful. Ok, so I knew that Asians think white skin is beautiful, no big deal, no reason to let that go to my head. On Sunday, during our temple walk, I was taking a picture with one of the elders and when he looked at the picture on his camera he said, “Oh, you have small head!” Ah, rude! So I told him maybe he just has a big head and he roared with laughter!! I found out that a small head is beautiful in Korean!
…So, In Korea, they think that a small head is beautiful. Later, someone was explaining this to me and I suddenly felt terrible because what if me telling the elder he had a big head was me saying he was ugly?! I’m not sure if I felt worse because I may have insulted him or because he was my favorite native elder and I didn’t want him thinking I was repulsed by him! That night, using a new Korean grammar form I’d just learned, I tried to apologize and tell him I didn’t understand, but he had no idea what I was saying. He just thought I was hilarious.
Because of this experience, I also learned that in Korea, you deny compliments five or six times before saying thank you because it shows humility. It’s bad enough that every time they (the native elders and sisters) would compliment me the first few days they were here I would have them repeat it until I picked out enough words to understand, but on top of that, I was rude by saying thank you! Fortunately, Koreans are too polite to tell you that you are rude; they just smile and bow.