Sometimes Ajeosshi’s don’t ruin everything
And I do instead.
Today I went out to Jak-dong big restaurant pavilion with my wife, her parents, her sister, brother-in-law and their son June Young. Basically it’s a place where you go in the spring or summer, wait for over an hour to eat in a huge restaurant that looks like a mess hall and only serves, like, two things. We had Kalguksu (knife-cut noodle soup) and mandu (dumplings).
Anyway, while we’re waiting on the shaded side of a mountain, there’s an ajeosshi walking around with a half a pineapple and a knife giving out slices and trying to sell a few. I see him give a slice to an unattended little girl off in the distance and think ‘Isn’t that nice, no chance of a sale but he’s still giving it away.’
After a while he comes over to our group and cuts a slice for June Young. ‘If you can tell me what this is I’ll give you a slice.’ he says.
Now June’s mom is kind of . . . persnickety, so she stops the man.
‘Don’t give him any pineapple.’
‘He’s got a skin condition on his face, they say it’s not good for him.’
The man is undeterred and ignores my sister-in-law, and hands the slice towards June. His mom says ‘Don’t eat it.’
I snap. Now I’m an American and I always will be, and in America you tread lightly around other people’s kids. You don’t go disobeying parents requests, especially when you’re a total stranger. I grabbed the pineapple slice, threw it into the bushes, looked the man straight in the eye and said ‘Go.’ (가세요).
The man looked at me and mustered the anger to respond. ‘Where do you get off throwing something that I’m giving out.’
‘When someone says ‘Don’t give that to my kid’ you’d better not give it to their kid.’
He looked at me and tried to figure out where he stood. ‘Let me tell you something, as a foreigner, you grab something out of my hand and throw it away when I’m only trying to give it to someone. Would you do that in your own country?’
What I should have said was ‘People don’t do what you just did in my country.’ but I could see that this exchange was threatening to ruin the festive spring mood among my family. ‘Alright, I’m sorry I threw that, but next time you’d better listen when someone tells you not to give pineapple to their kid.’
He went on trying to extract apologies and make me out to be the bad guy (as I’ve said before, never apologize when you don’t have to). I just responded ‘Look, I said I’m sorry. Ok, I get it. Look, I said I get it.’ (죄송하다고요. 알았어요. 알았다고요.’ He looked around to my family, hoping one of them would take his side and chastise me alongside him, but they all pretended they weren’t there. This was between me and the ajeosshi. Finally, he left. I apologized profusely to my family, who let the whole thing pass. Miyoung was kind of unhappy that I had done the whole thing in front of my nephew, but I think she was also kind of impressed at the sentiment behind the whole thing. ‘I just want you not to be rude.’ was all she said about it.
After eating our soup we went to the supermarket. While there my sister-in-law bought a lot of pineapple. ‘Wait, you’re pregnant and for some reason believe that pineapple causes miscarriages, who’s the pineapple for?’
‘Oh, June Young loves pineapple.’