like this silly little elevator conversation I just had, that make my life in Korea so fun.
The scene: 10 minutes ago, just around midnight. I had returned to my apartment from the gym and came upon two folks (no relation) in their 60s waiting for the elevator.
Old lady, before I made eye contact: Hello.
Me: Oh, hi. You think we can all fit in? (Motion to my bike)
(Elevator comes. Dude and lady go in.)
Lady: Yeah, come on in. What floor?
Me: 13 please.
Lady: Ah, you live on the 13th floor.
Lady: Were you drinking before you came? (Not accusingly, actually in a pretty friendly manner)
Me: Huh? No I was ..uh..ex...ex...exercising. (Stuttering because of the oddness of the question, but also worried that the stuttering would make it look like I had been drinking)
Lady: Hrm. Smells like booze.
Man: Oh. I guess that's me. Cracks a smile. (I smell the booze now.) Chuckle chuckle.
Lady: Ah, so the old man has been out drinking.
(The elevator stops and the man leaves. Then the woman on the next floor).
Lady: (Some weird dialect I can't understand)
Despite the banality of the conversation, there are two things that made me feel like it was a sort of special event. First is a little twinge of success - it still hasn't worn off - that arises after a conversation with a stranger in a foreign languages goes off smoothly. More importantly, though, was the good-naturedness that pervaded the whole thing. I think, in another time and place, I would have been likely to take her comment as a sort of affront, an intrusion into my little private realm. But Koreans have different ideas about personal space, and I've found that they're less likely to worry about bothering others or being bothered by them. If you don't know Korean, it's obviously easy to get really defensive about this, and I bet most foreigners don't appreciate it. But, if you give yourself a chance to get acclimated to it, it's actually really pleasant. Plus, the old dude had such a wily grin on his face. What an awesome guy.
Another example comes to mind. Just a few nights ago, I was returning home from somewhere, at I can't quite recall what time of night, and a middle-aged couple walked up to me. The conversation started with them saying "wow, that's a big lock you have on your bike," and ended with them inviting me over to their house to meet their 20-something daughter and have dinner together. If they hadn't broached the religion topic in between, and if they hadn't invited me to their church, and if I had more than 3 weekends left to spend with my friends, then I might have actually taken them up on it.