In Korea there is a sound that is a combination of "l" and "r". The front of the tongue is pointed like the "l" sound but made further back in the mouth like our "r" sound and the back of the tongue is cupped also like the "r" sound. This sound is difficult for foreigners (like myself) to make, and it is also why so many Asians have difficulty with phrases like "shrimp fried rice" or "a loyal royal follower". It can in fact lead to some serious misunderstandings as I found out this weekend.
It's always good to meet with old friends, seasoned friends if you will, and hang out. My dear friend Ray and I have seen each other several times in both Peru and here in Korea. We have taught together and separately. He is quite a charming fellow – smart, funny, interesting. He has what he calls the FOR club – Friends Of Ray. One must be an eccentric, quirky person to make it to the club. Yes, I am in the club.
We had dinner at a wonderful vegetarian place – squash with hot cinnamon sauce yum! – and then walked about, past a palace, a museum, art galleries, and so on. We meandered with no direction in mind.
Looking up, I see an exhibit that I wanted to go to. The sign says this is the gallery, and so we decide to go to it. Serendipity! We are stopped by a well-dressed man in a dark coat and asked, "Where are you from?" This is not an uncommon occurrence. People are always asking that of foreigners. No "Hi, how are you?" Instead they say "Where from?" Fishwives to businessmen, the question is always the same. "The USA," I tell him, and he asks where we are going. I tell him the gallery over there. He says, "You go to Brew House?" A brew house?! It's four o'clock in the afternoon! This guy is sending us to a bar?! Harrumph. I shoo him away and continue on our walk toward the gallery. I was offended.
Ray and I talk a bit about the rules in Korea, jaywalking and such (don't do it), and I mention I'm irritated that this guy is trying to get business for a bar. I hate that. Why does he want us to go to a pub so early? Seems odd to me. Evidently it was odd to him as well because Ray stops in his tracks and starts laughing. "Is that why you shooed him?" Yes of course it is! Ray proceeds to tell me that the "brew house" is the BLUE house and is the President's (as in President of Korea) residence. It is the Korean version of the White House. "That's it right up there," he tells me. It's half a block away, there are police all over. "You shooed the Secret Service." Blink. Oh. Dear.
We are doubled over with laughter at my misunderstanding. *How was I supposed to know?* And at how rude I must look to them. *I'm so sorry!* And how only I could shoo a Presidential detail (with aplomb, I might add). Hell.
Thankfully, I have not created an international incident. But I have redoubled my intention to teach my students the difference between "l" and "r".
And by the way, the exhibit was quite fun – Renaissance paintings reworked into cartoon caricatures by a Japanese artist. You know, the combining of two cultures. *Sigh* Seems like just the right exhibit to see after my brew shoo incident.
*photo is off the internet