Monday, June 27, 2005


Early this evening, I lumbered over to the corner store to buy some milk so I could make my quasi-French, almost-coq-au-vin meal again for dinner. Inside the store were three old ladies: the proprietor, who knows me well, and her two wrinkly old friends, both of whom were plump, one of whom was toothless.

Toothless Grandma saw I was buying milk and immediately started in. "Don't buy milk! It'll only make you fatter! Buy watermelon instead!" I waited patiently while the store owner rang up my purchase, and nodded absently as Toothless G extolled the virtues of King Watermelon. (Being toothless, she probably recommends watermelon and other soft, easy-to-masticate fruits to everybody.)

It sucks to think up rejoinders only after you've left the scene of your humiliation. It sucks even more when your Korean isn't good enough to think of them fast enough, so you feel doubly humiliated because, effectively, you've proved to yourself that you're a fucking retard.

But considering the nasty nature of the comebacks I finally thought up, it was probably best for all concerned that I was-- am-- retarded. I'll have to think twice, now, about whether I want to purchase abuse along with my milk.

Don't get me wrong: I understand Toothless G's perspective. She's old. She's Old School. She thought she was being helpful, not abusive. She believes, as most Koreans do, that age confers rank, and Rank Has Its Privileges. Younger Koreans usually know better than to mouth off, but grannies can do whatever the hell they want. For me, as a youngish American, to give Toothless G a talking-to would have been a shocking, possibly humiliating experience for her, and it's doubtful I'd have been welcome back to that store, since she's the owner's friend.

I haven't mastered the Korean art of slipping in a barb with a smile, especially not in Korean. I can do it on occasion, but it feels as phony as it is. Young women here are far more talented at it than young American women, who tend to be blunt in an almost manly way. That changes, though, when young Korean women age into the "adjumma" phase of life. Once you're in your mid-40s, everything curdles. You begin practicing to become a mouthy, pushy old grandma. By the time you're a prune, as these two daughters of Yoda were, you're primed to insult anything that sloshes fatly through your door. A huge American amoeba must have been too hard a target to resist.

Oh, for a shotgun.


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