Last Sunday I went hiking in Suwon. It was a great time and the weather couldn’t have been nicer. After my hike, with my body aching, I decided to sit by a lake and listen to some music. So there I am, sitting alone, listening to music, and texting a friend. Not exactly sending the most welcoming vibes. Clearly I was wrong.
As I’m sitting here, these parents bring their little girl, probably around 5 years old, to “practice her English”. She comes up to me, and just stares at me. At first I think it’s another curious Korean girl bewildered by my relatively massive frame or light-ish hair. Wrong. She’s staring and me, so I go “Annyong” (a very familiar way to say hello in Korean) to see what she wants, my Korean vocabulary is lower than a 5 year old, but we’re typically on the same language wavelength. I get nothing. The kid just looks up to her parents and they tell her what to say. She goes “Hello”. At this point I get wise to their game. The parents just want to get the kid to practice her English. Basically justify to themselves all teh money they’re spending on an English kindergarten. During the whole exchange, the kid ended up staring at me and then looking up to her parents, who invariably told her what to say next, she’s repeat it, I’d respond, and she’d look back up for her next line. I could have given the cold shoulder, I suppose, but it’s not her fault. I can only imagine the future ramifications being rude to a shy 5 year-old trying to speak English to a complete stranger would be.
Don’t get me wrong. I really like kids, but this was just uncalled for on the parent’s part. I don’t mind it when kids come to see me just to see what I’m about and ask me their little questions. Usually they end up speaking in Korean anyway, so it makes for a very interesting conversation. This was different. Could you imagine if something like that happened in Canada? It would never fly. I think it’s also ignorant on the parent’s part, teaching her kid that all foreigners are English. I’ve met a few French people in Seoul that don’t really speak well in English, or have strong accents that would not be understood by a Korean English speaker, let along a 5 year-old. Though I’ll admit that most foreigners can speak English. It doesn’t justify that behavior though.