Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Korean Lesson: 멘붕

In the two years since I've come to Korea, my Korean has improved dramatically. I don't have many foreign friends here, so I hang out with only native Koreans. 

Yes, I use English at work quite a bit, but it's still only about 10 - 20% of my workday (unless I'm on set or a business trip, of course). Because I work with mostly Koreans, I use Korean much more than English even at the office. 

While I will never fully grasp the Korean language (there's too many Chinese characters still used, I don't have the historical cultural context, etc.), I'm getting pretty good. It helps that my parents always made us speak in Korean at home, knowing full well that we'd be educated solely in English (thanks, parents!) except for those three years of French classes (my French is awful).

So I thought, since I've been a bad blogger lately, that a quick and easy thing to blog about would be Korean. I'll jot down some Korean phrases, words, etc. that I think are fun or useful or whatever. I'll try it out and see if it works, anyhow. 

Let me preface this by saying that Korean pronunciation and American English pronunciation are WORLDS apart. It is not easy for an American to learn to speak Korean, and vice versa. I am very lucky that I spoke Korean at home from babyhood, because it means that my American accent is pretty much nonexistent when I'm speaking in Korean. 

So the pronunciations that I'm going to use are what my American ears hear when people say these Korean words. They won't look anything like what a Korean-English dictionary would say, because I am not a romanization scholar or expert. First lesson!

멘붕 pronounced mehn-boohng, is a contraction (Koreans love shortening words and phrases) of:

멘탈붕괴 (mehn-tahl boohng-gweh)

멘탈 is a transliteration of the English "mental," as in mental state.
붕괴 is a Korean word that means "collapse" or "disintegration" or "ruin." 

These words combined portray a state of mental shock or mental collapse. For instance:

Amy: What's wrong with Colin?
          Colin 왜저래?
Ben: His girlfriend just broke up with him ... via text message.
          여자친구가 금방 문자 보냈데 헤어지자고.
Amy: Oh, man, he must be [in a state of] 멘붕.
          아이고, 멘붕이겠네.

Koreans will say that a person is 멘붕, 멘붕 is about to come upon someone, and on and on. This is a word to be used in casual settings (not in a meeting with CEOs and VPs, for instance) and among friends. It's slang, so some older people will not understand it. It's very widely used among people in their 30's and younger, and perhaps by 40-somethings, as well.

Korean is a fascinating language, as I'm sure all languages are. If I had the time and means, I would try to learn more languages-- language and food seem to contain all cultural aspects of any given society. For now, I'm going to cram as much Korean into my brain as I can while trying not to lose any of the English in there!


Friday, July 19, 2013

Korean-Style Dating

I have been in Korea for just about two years. Where does the time go?! It's been a whirlwind that has, at times, caught me by surprise and left me wounded, but has exhilarated and excited me at other times.

I'm still in Korea ... and honestly, I don't know when I'll be moving away (which my mother hates to hear me say). I like it here, and, more importantly, I've adjusted to the point where I'm very comfortable here. It's different from the comfort I have in LA; neither is better or worse, just different.

Anyway. The point of this post was to talk about the hilarity of Korean dating. Not me dating Koreans, that would be a different kind of hilarity altogether; this is about two Koreans that I know that are dating.

The girl, a good friend of mine, is a few years younger than me and worked under me during our last film. The boy (the man) was our superior during said project, and is fifteen years older than her.

Now, fifteen years is a big difference, I think, even by lax American standards. It's quite a shocker in Korea, let me tell you. What makes it an even bigger issue is that, though they have both left the company (before admitting to us all that they are dating), he was pretty much at the top of the food chain while she was near the very bottom. It would be like the CEO dating an intern, in America.

What charmed me completely was something I've heard all my life but never really given all that much thought to: titles based on relationships.

While in English, we say brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Koreans have specific titles for specific relationships. For instance, if I were married, my husband would call my younger sister 처제 (cheo-jae) but he would call my older sister 처형 (cheo-hyung). There are, as you can imagine, a plethora of titles. It gets very confusing, but it is fun.

Because I'm better friends with the girl in this couple, I would be called "older sister-in-law" by her boyfriend (they're not married, but they're getting there), even though he's much older than me. Likewise, though his guy friends (and ex-co-workers) are older than her and have teased her and called her by her name for years, they would call her "older sister-in-law"- and actually have started to do that already, albeit in a gently mocking way.

It's such a little thing, really, but it makes me realize that it's these little things that give me a better sense of culture and history. These titles aren't absolutely necessary anymore; they're a holdover from ye olden days and that's what tickles my fancy.

I need to do more research before I can even begin to know all the different titles, but for now, I know what I need to call my friend's boyfriend (제부, jae-bu or jae-boo) and what he needs to call me (처형).

Korea, for now, you charm me.

(This will only last until monsoon season begins in earnest, at which point Korea will be dead to me.)