Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Idioms and Name Games

This week in class we've been learning phrases like "to clean one's ears" "to pick one's nose" and "to pick gunk out of one's eyes." Suprisingly the verb for each of these is different. Also, we've been given a list of proverbs to memorize. I am somewhat less enthusiastic about these. When I studied Japanese, I remember we were given pages of colorful Japanese proverbs to learn. This seems to be a favorite topic in foreign language curriculae. I spent a lot of time learning such gems as "Even monkeys fall from trees" and "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." But I can probably count on one hand the number of times I ever actually heard one of these proverbs spoken by a Japanese person in regular conversation. People don't really use these sayings much anymore (though they do offer some cultural insight). I'll study them for the exam, but I'm not wasting long-term memory space on them.

Since I've come to Korea I've adopted the Korean name "Changmi" (Rose). I did this for two reasons: 1) I like nicknames and have given myself a new one every time I've moved to a new place; 2) Every Korean I ever met in the U.S. had adopted some Western name for him/herself, the most common ones being "Michael" "Eugene" and "Grace". Either that or they offered only their initials, as in "Hi, I'm H.Y. Kim." I think they do this because they think their names are too difficult for foreigners to pronounce. So I felt it was only right that I should reciprocate by giving myself a Korean-sounding name to use in Seoul.

Fast-forward 2 months. I have convinced most of my friends and class-mates to call me Changmi, but it is difficult to get Koreans to accept this as my name. When I introduce myself as "Changmi", nearly every time people immediately respond by asking what is my "real" name. If I explain that I chose "Changmi" because my middle name is "Rose," that person will simply call me "Rose" ever after. I've never gone by this name before, and it sort of defeats the purpose of choosing a Korean name. So I have to really insist upon "Changmi," though this often draws disappointed frowns from people expecting a Western name. I think it's funny, when they wouldn't think twice about changing their own name when abroad.

Similarly, when I was living in Japan I got in the habit of introducing myself and signing my name Japanese-style: surname first, given name last. I did this for years before I realized that most of my Japanese friends were under the impression that my surname was my given name. They had come to expect that all Westerners give their names in reverse order. When I explained my thinking to my friends, they were surprised but then acknowledged that if they were in the U.S., they would naturally give their own names in the Western order, as in "Hiromi Suzuki," etc.

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