Sometimes, my teaching arrangement stresses me out. I teach at four schools. But this isn’t the issue. The issue is the distance that lies between point A (my house) and point B (the school of the day). More importantly, it’s the conversion of that distance, congruent with the rate of travel, into sequential minutes. Creeping, crawling, somewhat non-progressing minutes.
All of my schools are found in the country. Each one farther than the last. Due to my circumstance, I am often granted rides with any number of teachers, nurses, chefs, and what-have-yous going to and from. While thoughtful, indeed, sometimes this presents an obstacle.
In my culture, silence is awkward. Depending, of course, upon how well you’ve come to know someone. From a young age, I was schooled in the delicate art of yawn-inducing small talk. Example A:
“How was your day?”
“Fine, thanks. And yours?”
“Mine was good. Just went to school. A normal Monday, you know?”
“I hate Mondays.”
“Did you have to work today?”
“When did you have to go to work?”
“Was it busy?”
“Kind of. Not too bad.”
“That’s good. Where’s your office?”
“Near the post office?”
At about this point I’ll need reminding. Am I trying hard to form a friendship, or am I freelancing for the CIA? Do I really care about any of these answers? Absolutely not. It’s just one of those things, engrained in us as polite. We try our damndest to avoid the dreaded, dreaded lull.
To live in Korea (or abroad for that matter) is to develop a tolerance for the awkward. Sure, it might make our skin crawl, but we have no choice. Take it as fuel for a language course, but inevitably, language is acquired only after paying our dues in substantial awkward hours.
Interactions enter the second stage when we frantically inquire about the weather in May and whether or not our counterpart cares for licorice. These questions surface in a panic, in fear we’ve been discovered. They know that we know that this is awkward. At this point, it’s best to just pipe down. Twenty questions only hits the matter home.
Do we just call it a draw? Put our best tidbits back in our pocket and embrace the quiet? Distractions come in handy here. Smartphone, you’re the best investment I’ve ever made. Breathe deeply, relax, and you can always become enthralled in the bug that just hit the windshield.
If you make it this far, I commend you. Everything is going to be alright. The interaction will end, you may even exchange a sentence before it does! A for effort, you just had to show you tried. Your initial thoughtful exchange should have done the trick.
I’m going to do a little legwork for those of you not yet into stage three. For your next inevitable silence, here are a few fun facts to break the ice.
“Last night, I made sugar like snow in my blender!”
Put your skis back in storage. “Snow” is simply a comparison. “Powdered” is a little advanced to ensure comprehension. But, regardless, it’s true. I. kid. you. not. If you throw granulated sugar in your blender, within seconds you can have powdered at your disposal! I didn’t believe it myself. And then it worked. Amaze and astound!
“In Korea, I make Mexican food! Yes, yes! I use yogurt!”
Seeing as sour cream is readily unavailable, plain yogurt makes a great substitute. Works great in just about any application.
“In the USA – tomato juice – not sweet! Here I make! Tomato paste and water, together! Delicious!”
Helpful when you need to explain the unsightly cringe post-swig of the sweet juice you’ve just been offered. Also helpful when stricken with the urge for day drinking. This is all you need to know to achieve Bloody Mary bliss while living in Korea. Just mix one part paste with four parts water.
“You know Kahlua? I make Kahlua soju!!”
Tread carefully with this one. It could unintentionally lead to your arch nemesis: a string of awkward soju dates. Check it out here. If you’re looking for an extra allotment of quiet minutes, contingent on your demonstrated effort, present companion with their very own take-home bottle.
And there you have it. I wish you luck, friend. If all else fails, you could always just develop a case of narcolepsy. One especially triggered by long rides in the car.