Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A common experience for foreign English teachers in Korea: I love it when a Korean gets the keys to my apartment and comes in without my permission!

Today is Julianne's birthday. We woke up around 7am, and I said "Happy Birthday!" to her. It was a very nice morning.

Julianne left to go to her school, and I puttered around the apartment for about an hour watching TV. I then decided it was time to get my butt in gear and get ready to go to my office and do some work.

But I was still in slow mode . . .

I get in the shower, and I'm relaxing, feeling safe, and feeling secure inside my locked apartment--and then I hear "Annyeong Haseyo?" from what sounds like INSIDE THE APARTMENT!

My heart rate skyrockets, and I tell myself, "There's no fucking way that came from inside the apartment. Relax. It's someone yelling outside the apartment door."

"Annyeong haseyo???" Comes a man's voice.

This time I'm sure it's coming from inside my apartment. I curse under my breath, "FUCKING HELL!" and grab a towel and wrap it around my waist.

I open the bathroom door and look around the corner towards the main door of the apartment.

Sure enough, TWO Korean guys are standing there. One of them sees me, and I say,

"WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!"

He doesn't say sorry, or the Korean equivalents of "Chesong hamnida" or "Mieneyo"--nothing. He does have the slightest grace to look a little bashful for coming into my apartment without me answering the door, but that's it.

By this point my blood is boiling and I'm furious. I realize that these two jokers must be the washing machine repair guys that Julianne's middle school administration office had booked to come to our apartment YESTERDAY (they never showed up). Nobody called and nobody set up a new time for them to come--or did they? I imagine that a new time must have been set up but of course why would you let the occupants of the apartment know about this?

Another reason I was furious was that when Julianne set up the repair appointment she had explicitly told her Korean co-teacher to translate and explain to the administration office manager that we did not want anyone coming into our apartment without one of us present. She also said that they should tell us when they make appointments for anyone that needs to come into the apartment.

Simply put, Julianne explicitly told the co-teacher to translate this simple rule: nobody goes into our apartment without our permission, and without one of us present. The co-teacher failed to translate this and/or the administration office manager ignored the rule and decided he knew better . . . or something . . . argh!

I put on some clothes, and go to the door--my glasses still covered in water droplets. The two guys come into the apartment and begin looking around. They see my new bike (more on that later) and one of them says, "Wow! Good!"

At this point I'm thinking that both of them must have Forrest Gump DNA to be oblivious to the fury that I'm trying hard to hide but am sure must be very obvious (I have a really hard time hiding it when I'm angry) . . . though I also know that Koreans will usually try to ignore when someone is angry if it's possible because open confrontations are usually avoided at all costs here.

I call Julianne and tell her what is going on. She's not happy either--so much for a nice birthday.

To add a ludicrous degree of lunacy to the whole situation Julianne's home school, the middle school that she teaches at most of the week, has a major field trip on for its students. This means that none of the Korean teachers who can speak English are there. Simply put, nobody is around that can help Julianne translate a message to the middle school administration office manager to call the two repair guys and tell them to return the apartment keys to the office, and wait for them to make an actual appointment time for them to return when Julianne or I can be present while they do the repair.

(Thinking about this now--I'm kicking myself for not demanding they give me the damn keys. I should have taken the keys away from them, and then sent them away.)

Still on the phone I suggest to Julianne that she ask one of the Korean teachers she's with at the elementary school she teaches at on Wednesdays to call the middle school admin office and sort things out. This seems to work . . .

As of right now (3pm) I'm wondering if the message was relayed on time to the repair guys. The two guys looked at the washing machine, and then left the apartment gesturing and saying something in Korean that I took to mean they had to go and buy a hose to do the repair job. I finished getting dressed, and left for work.

I kind of half-expect to find that they still returned to the apartment after I left this morning with the hose and that they finished the job without Julianne or I there. I expect to hear that somehow the administration office told them not to go back--but that they did anyhow.

I also expect to hear that I should "understand that a miscommunication happened" somewhere along the line from one of Julianne's co-teachers if I see them and this comes up . . .

I'm tired of hearing "miscommunication" used as an excuse for not translating very specific simple English instructions about a task. If I ever am asked to design an orientation for Korean co-teachers I'm going to spend a good amount of time on rules for cross-cultural translation!!!

If I hear someone from Julianne's school say that I should understand that there was a miscommunication I'm going to tell them that I have a power point that I use to explain how to be polite in English. That in this power point there are a series of cultural rules about when, why, and how you should apologize in English culture. I'm then going to suggest that until they've learned the cultural rules for this topic that they not give me advice about what to say and do when a Korean makes a major mistake . . .

To add a nice subtext to this entire situation--this is the SECOND TIME THIS HAS HAPPENED TO ME IN KOREA!

I don't know if I'll be able to attempt some degree of civility if it happens to me a third time . . .

Argh.
J

11 comments:

Joe in Korea said...

This is why it is better sometimes not to take the housing that is provided by the employer.

ROK Hound said...

Nothing wrong with taking school-provided housing. Change the lock the day you move in. Problem solved.

Brian said...

Yep, I got a new lock---not by choice, I locked myself out one day---and no one has a spare key but me. Nobody gets in uninvited, and it will stay that way.

David said...

I bought a new lock for my door as soon as I moved in too. There's simply no reason for anyone other than myself or my girlfriend to enter my place without an invitation.

Sorry to hear about your story man.

Jason said...

Hi Joe,

If you can afford the key (deposit) money I agree with you. Though when you go the route of getting your own place you also take the risk of not getting your key money back. I have friends who were screwed by the building/apt owner and never got the key money back, and one in particular who only got some of it back . . . there are pros and cons for both choices, of course, but for those of us with big student loans/debt the only option is taking housing provided with the contract . . . .

Oh well--I guess the primary thing here for me is to be proactive about taking entry access away from the admin people . . .

J

Jason said...

I still fall into the trap of thinking that if I, or Julianne, tell the admin office people explicitly that no one is to enter the apt without permission and one of us present that they won't do it. The university admin people where I work get it, and I've never had a problem with them--it's the public school admin people that seem to be the instigators of this bullshit with their foreign teachers in Korea.

I guess this is something that needs to be added to orientation materials for newbies, and apparently for some expats like me who still cling to the naive belief that if you're polite, professional, and communicate clearly that this kind of thing won't happen--which is soooo not true, argh.

I wonder, though, how the Korean supervisors that run orientations would react if the presenter started telling the newbies that they should change their locks or risk uninvited Koreans coming into their homes. I suspect that a lot of denial and protestations of that doesn't happen in Korea would be forthcoming .. . .

By PhoenixStorm said...

This is why you should always walk around your house naked. You were half way there. Also be sure to throw marbles on the floor before you leave for the day or maybe some other kind of whacky boobie trap.

Anonymous said...

This is also why I have a pet in Korea, no one will come into my house without me being present.

Christopher said...

I forgot to tell you. When I was living in Gang hwa, about 3 weeks in and after the air conditioner had been installed, I had an incident. I was taking a shower when someone who had a key came in and turned off the air conditioner. It was not from the school as they were about a 45 minute commute away, including a ferry ride. I told my coteacher about it and what I was going to do; every day since then I have showered with the bathroom door open for all to see my glory. It never happened again.

Jason said...

Hi Chris,

Did you see them? Talk to them? What happened?

Did you ever find out WHO it was that had the copy of your apt key?

Karl said...

My apartment had a nub, almost like a gun's safety. If pressed in, it prevent someone outside from gaining access even if they had a key.