Wednesday 9th November 2005
Alright, I’m afraid I’ve had a hell of a day today, and I’m going to recount it for you lucky people in full, unedited detail.
But before I do, I need to add a bit of background to make sense of today’s events.
I usually say goodbye to everyone when I leave the office, like you do, but a few months ago I was on a rush to get to the supermarket before my Hapkido class, and I couldn’t find Jenny, the director. I had looked in her office, asked Olive if she’d seen her, checked the classrooms and the staff room, and then, as I was in a rush, I asked Olive to tell Jenny I had gone, and I left.
Twenty minutes later, I was madly dashing around the veg section of the supermarket when Jenny called my cell phone and said “Maya! Where are you?” I explained I was shopping, and she said “Oh, but you didn’t say goodbye to me.” I told her I had looked but couldn’t find her, and she said “But I was just in the bathroom. You shouldn’t leave without saying goodbye. It’s not polite. I might have wanted to talk to you.”
It was all a bit weird, especially as she didn’t actually have anything to talk to me about, and she subsequently explained the next day that it is very important that we say goodbye to her EVERY day. Fair enough, I thought, I’m learning all kinds of things about Korean customs, add that to the list etc.
However, recently I’ve been working late covering Cal’s classes (still no replacement by the way!), and phone teaching, and Jenny has been leaving early. A lot of the time she’s left while I’m still in a class, which is fair enough, but a couple of times I’ve been in the staff room phone teaching and she’s just walked out without saying goodbye. I was a bit confused, because she had made such a big deal out of us having to say goodbye EVERY day, and I was kind of like, well, am I supposed to call her up and say goodbye, or does it only go one way, i.e. employee has to say goodbye but the boss doesn’t have to?
Anyway, today Jenny called me into her office, because I’ve been a bit quiet lately (the Korean teachers don’t talk to me much in the staff room so I’m kinda on my own), and wanted to know if I was alright. I told her I was fine, just having a quiet day (hard to believe, but occasionally I do shut up and like to have five minutes to myself!). Anyway, I was fine, but I had wanted to ask her about the goodbye thing to clarify it. I asked her if it was a Korean custom, and if it was related to the office hierarchy at all, or just to be polite. She didn’t understand so I explained about me having to say goodbye, and her leaving without saying it. I was really pretty polite by the way, I mean I wasn’t trying to be difficult, I was just genuinely curious about the system here, and she got sooo mad!
She said she was shocked, and angry, and couldn’t believe I would ask her such a thing. I said I was sorry and that I was just trying to understand Korean culture because it’s not something we have to do at home (I mean sure you say goodbye when you leave, but you don’t have to actively seek out your boss every single day before leaving to formally say goodbye). She got even madder and said “How dare you talk about Korean culture! I’m not stupid, don’t insult me! It’s not some stupid Korean culture! You have to do that everywhere!! Why do you speak that way? Don’t say “I don’t understand” because that is insulting to me and rude!!”
I tried to apologise and explain that I hadn’t meant to offend her in any way, and I was just a curious person and I really wanted to know, so I had asked, and she said “You asked me very directly! That is very rude!! You shouldn’t speak to me that way! You know it is rude. I have travelled to America and there they know how to ask questions indirectly and be polite! It’s not culture difference, you are insulting me!!”
At this point it was five past four, and I was late for my class, so I tried to get up and suggest we finish the conversation later, but she just said “Sit down! We are not finished discussing this! I am really angry!”
So I tried again to apologise and insist I had meant no offense in asking, and I literally got twenty minutes of bollocking, interspersed with me begging for forgiveness, professing my undying love for her, the school and our professional and personal relationship. I kept saying I was so sorry, and I loved our close friendship, and that I would never deliberately jeapordise that by insulting her on purpose etc, and eventually she let me go and teach what was left of the class, but it was so strange!
I mean, Jenny and I have had spats before, and in those fights I was a bit rude to her, cos I was angry too, but she’s never been this upset with me! And I genuinely wasn’t trying to be rude or difficult at all!
I tried all day to be extra chatty and smiley, and at the end of the day I went to say goodbye to Jenny, and again apologised and asked if we were ok now. She sighed and said “I’m not sure”, and then started talking about a few weeks ago when apparently I had been looking for her and she wasn’t there, and I had asked the Korean teachers if any of them had seen her. She said when she came back all the Korean teachers had asked where she had been and told her I was looking for her, and she’d been cross because that was rude too (??), but she hadn’t said anything then, even though she was hurt because she had thought our friendship meant more than that.
It’s been a hell of a day!!
I can kind of understand that Koreans do find it rude to ask your boss a direct question of any kind, and unfortunately I was brought up to ask questions when I don’t understand something, so we are going to have the occasional misunderstanding. I am also well aware that I’m not always the most subtle person, and I quite frequently say the first thing that comes into my head without thinking, and I can also be fairly blunt and pig-headed when I want to be. However, that being said, in this case I really wasn’t being rude or using an offensive tone of voice or anything, and Jenny flew off the handle in such a bizarre way. I know she’s been under lots of stress lately too, what with the school being in financial trouble and our new teacher still nowhere in sight, but I just don’t know what to do about it. I’ve apologised as much as I know how, and I have no idea how long she’s going to hold this against me!
I feel like a puppy who’s peed on the carpet and been sent to the corner. I vaguely know what I did wrong, but I’ve already had my face rubbed in it, there’s nothing I can do to change it, and I have no idea how long I’m gonna be in the corner for!!
I had really hoped that my last month in Korea was going to be a fun, relaxing time so that I could come away with good memories and they could have some nice ones of me too, but tonight when I came home I was sorely tempted to just pack my bags and leave now! And of course it couldn’t have had worse timing because tomorrow is pay day and I’m hoping to get my bonus this time! I really don’t think Jenny would be childish enough to withhold it from me over a little fight, but then I’ve also never seen her so angry or irrational before!
Anyway, I’ll stop there cos this is an insanely long email, even for me!
hope you’re all well
(and whiny puppy-dog noises!)