There’s a trope in American entertainment that involves a caveman/alien/other foreigner sitting down to watch a couple of episodes of Sesame Street and ending up as a speaker of polished, perfect English. This might be possible if said caveman/alien/other foreigner is a lot smarter than me, but even with more than 30 dramas under my belt, I still have a Korean vocabulary of about five words. On the other hand, I keep finding that weird little Koreanisms are involuntarily bleeding into my real life.
The first red flag was what’s now called “Korean drama face” around my office. Before last summer, I never would have guessed that facial expressions were culturally specific. But watching a block of four or five recent Kdramas proved otherwise: the side-eyed lip-curl of disgust is a thing of beauty that Americans sadly lack. On the other hand, this may not be true for long, as the expression has proven to be highly contagious. It may have felt bizarre the first time I tried it out—as if I’d discovered a whole passel of muscles I’d never used before—but now I can’t seem to stop doing it, no matter how slight the prompting annoyance. I didn’t realize the full extent of my problem, though, until I noticed that the expression was starting to rub off on the people around me. When I saw my boss do it in the middle of a meeting the other day, I found myself suspecting that there might be trouble ahead.
|The “Korean drama face” in its natural habitat|
I’m also helpless in the face of the close wave. In the West, waves are generally reserved for long-distance situations, e.g., the queen riding by in a parade. When people do wave in everyday life, it tends to be a casual, low-key gesture to acknowledge someone’s presence when they’re too far away to speak to. The Korean drama wave, on the other hand, is energetic and enthusiastic enough to cause wrist sprain, and often done by two people in such close proximity that their waving hands practically bump. I’m now doing the close wave all the time—when I run into somebody I know at the supermarket, when I’m entering a room full of talking people, when I need to get a salesclerk’s attention at a store.
But the ultimate example of Korean drama’s siren song happened last Friday. I’ve been putting off getting a haircut for ages, both because I’m lazy and because the salon I normally go to was pretty much wiped off the planet during tropical storm Irene last summer. But I finally got tired of hair that was either wet all day if I tried to air-dry it, or puffed up into a giant halo of frizz if I approached it with a blow dryer. So off I went. And can you guess whose picture I took with me as a guide? Why yes, that would be Park Shin Hye, with her modern bob from Heartstrings. Although the stylist didn’t bat an eyelash, it’s hard to imagine that this wasn’t the first time a thirty-something white woman came into her rural salon asking to be made into a teeny-bop actress from Korea. (Alas, while it is possible for me to have Park Shin Hye’s haircut, it is not possible for me to have Park Shin Hye’s hair. Instead of falling in cooperative, glossy waves, my hair has decided to emulate Little Orphan Annie’s rats’ nest of sloppy curls.)
|I wanted to look like this...|
|...but ended up looking more like this.|
As if to add insult to injury, I stopped by the bank after my haircut to drop off a sheaf of papers about refinancing my mortgage. It didn’t even occur to me until I was walking out the door that I had presented to papers to the teller using both hands, with what could only be considered a small bow.
Clearly, I need to find a new obsession before I turn into a complete foreigner in my own country.