Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hello / What's Up-haseo?

Pronounced - on-young-ha-say-yo
when speaking to children it is simply 안녕 (on-young).
Translation, from Google Translate: Hi
More literally, it means ‘does it go peacefully with you?’ It’s a question with a yes or no answer.  Which is why, when you say hello to a Korean, or ask ‘how are you?’ they will often answer with “yes.”  
“How are you?”  ”Yes.”
I’m serious. 
It’s simple, right?  If you think about it, you probably know how to say “hello” in 5+ languages.  I’m guessing most of my readers could say hello in English, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Hawaiian, German, and perhaps even Mandarin.
Just off the top of your head.  
Yet, for some reason, when saying hello, in Korean, to a Korean, in Korea the response a foreigner often receives is not the expected ‘hello.’  
What else might one say in response to hello?  
Here’s how it usually goes for me.  
Korean Person: 안녕하세요? (hello)
Me: 네 (nay=yes). 안녕하세요? (hello)
Korean Person (translated): Wow!  You speak Korean really well!
Americans are known for being ignorant.  By and large, we are ethnocentric and egocentric.  However, in my experience with Americans and immigrants or foreigners, when we say ‘hello’ to a person, we are not surprised when they say ‘hello’ back.  Perhaps it’s our arrogance, or perhaps it’s because we live in a multi-cultural society, but we expect everyone (even those who don’t speak English) to know how to say ‘hello.’ I’ve never even seen the hillbilliest of hillbillies engage in conversation like this:
Hillbilly: Hello!
Foreigner: Hello.
Hillbilly: Wow! You speak English real good!
Now, I’m not at all saying, that Koreans are ignorant.  On the contrary, they are a bright, colorful and intelligent people.  Perhaps they are being a bit condescending or patronizing, but that may only be so from my point of view.  In truth, they are probably being very gracious.  Historically, Koreans have been xenophobic.  They didn’t care to deal with foreign nations.  They preferred to stay to themselves, wished others would do the same, and some even became afraid of people, culture and influence from outsiders.  This is not so much the case today.  They are still a proud people, and humbly brag about the purity of the Korean people group.  Intermarriage is generally frowned upon, but still they welcome communication and commerce with other nations.  Thus, the reason I can have such a good job on this small peninsula.
However, all of this inter-relating is still fairly new to the society. So understandably, they don’t really expect foreigners to speak their language. Actually, perhaps it’s partially because of our reputation for ignorance, as westerners, that they expect us to be incapable of speaking Korean…
Maybe we deserve it.  Maybe we don’t.  
It’s still weird and a little offensive to be praised as though you just delivered an eloquent speech in a foreign language, when you’ve only said ‘hello.’

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