A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Brother, can you spare a climb?

In a long list of misjudged first impressions, the most unassuming always becomes clear months after the fact.

On my first day working at the school, I was swarmed by a small pack of feral five-year-olds who hugged at my legs and scrambled to climb me like I was a mountain, and I was just there.

It was very sweet.

While I stood encircled, the kids were shouting "obba! obba!" With the 'b' and 'p' sounds interchangeable, to my ears it sounded like they were saying "uppa!" which I assumed any little kid might yell if they wanted to be picked up.

Such was not the case, and they seemed confused and slightly nervous when I grabbed one under the arms and hoisted her up to eye level. "Maybe I was being too forward?" I thought at the time.

I only found out this weekend— talking to Shane who had a similar miscommunication, but a better understanding of Korean honorifics— that obba is the personal pronoun used by younger children to address someone of my age. It literally means "older brother."

Just one of those funny lost in translation moments...

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