I have an hour and a half commute from my home to work. I often entertain myself with fiction novels, studying, smartphone games, etc. And sometimes, my commute entertains me in return.
I’m on my way home from work- taking a local bus to the subway station. There are no seats left on the bus, so I stand. We pull up to a stop when an old man stands up and starts asking the person next to him: Is this Yonsei University? People hardly ever talk on the bus at rush hour now that there are smart phones and headphones, so it’s silent- this means I can understand him clearly even though he’s speaking Korean. In return, the person stares at him blankly. By this time, the bus has stopped and others are getting off. The old man begins to ask others around him. Is this Yonsei University? No one is answering, but people are beginning to stare. What is wrong with my fellow commuters? The old man is moving toward the door to get off, but the bus driver is about to close the door.
I’m standing right next to the door and I make my move. I touch him on the arm to stop his progress out the door. This isn’t Yonsei, I tell the man. In perfect Korean. Granted, this sentence structure is easy. He looks at me blankly at first and I’m afraid he sees only my blonde hair instead of hearing my words. But after a pause he repeats them. It’s not Yonsei? Yes, I say. Because in Korean you agree with negative statements that are true. Backward from English, but I’m nailing this public Korean conversation.
Now in the office, we often make plans for next week. What time is class next week? What day next week? What’s your plan next week? And because we say next week so often, we’ve fallen into the habit of saying it in Korean. 다음 주에 뭐할거예요? 다음 주, 다음 주, 다음 주. Next week next week next week.
So after the old man confirms that it’s not, in fact, Yonsei, and since I’m winning at this game so far, I continue. 다음… 다음 주에 연세 입니다. I didn’t even recognize my mistake. All I knew is that I had gotten through to him because he nodded, albeit with a little smile on his face. My first thought was my accent is off, or he’s finding it funny that the foreigner answered him after asking all his fellow Koreans for directions. The bus was hurrying on to it’s next stop, Yonsei University, where the man once again turned to me with that cute little smile, and said thank you before leaving.
It wasn’t until I was on the subway that I realized my mistake. Yonsei is next week. Next week is Yonsei. Yonsei is in next week. Yes, I stuttered on the word next, and that’s why my tongue went with what was comfortable. Next week. Instead of the next stop. But because I stuttered on the word next, I think that’s why he understood me.
Hey. At least I know he’s the only one laughing at my mistake, because no one else was listening. At least I stopped him getting off the bus at the wrong place.