I was ordering a green tea latte and they were commentators of my every move.
From the moment I appeared in their field of vision, I was the main topic of their conversation. Two young men seated by the cashier were not so sneaky about visually studying me, nor were they whispering.
Occasionally people assume I don’t understand them. Occasionally people assume I must also be blind to their body language as well.
One time I was in the subway. The girl next to me was taller- which is no hard feat. She was using her height to take a look at my finger’s activities on my iPhone. I was aware and had already pointedly looked at her. I was doing something highly uninteresting anyway, or so I thought. At that moment, I knew my data requirement was close to my limit for the month, so I was trying to log onto the ever-present public transportation wifi, but wasn’t having luck because of the amount of people.
My stalker turned to her friend and said, why does she need wifi? she must be an idiot foreign tourist with no cell phone plan. Stunned, I looked at her. I expected her to realize that I had understood what she said. My look was not neutral. But she returned my gaze with a neutral one as if she had been talking about what the Queen of England eats for breakfast. And she continued to return my gaze as if daring me.
Now my speaking skills are poor beyond small talk and I didn’t want to give her further cause for ridicule by opening my mouth in reply. So I found another place to stand and fumed about being called an idiot all the way home.
But these coffee shop guys- they were like commentators for my solo figure skating performance! I went upstairs to save a chair, even though the cafe wasn’t busy- force of habit. They wondered aloud, she came here alone?
I returned down to the first floor where the cashier is. They said, i wonder where she’s from? probably europe. do you see how long her hair is? (Uhhh?)
I went up to the counter after I’d decided. I confess I took a little longer to make up my mind. Their response? I think she has a boyfriend.
I ordered. I answered the question of what size I wanted. I followed the cashier’s directions to sign after handing over my card. And then I requested to be given a receipt. All in Korean. I wasn’t even showing off for their benefit. These are every day survival language skills.
I said thank you and turned around to take my own less than sneaky glance in their direction. They quickly looked away and did not say anything. At least they didn’t call me an idiot.