Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Beautiful sorrow; ugly American

Today, I had an awful moment of being an ugly American. (I'd say unwittingly ugly American, but I think Graham Greene's point was that the cluelessness of the naive guy from the US in his novel The Quiet American was just as ugly as any intentional malfefactor).

Here's my confession of cultural cluelessness. A student had missed some classes because her grandfather, her only family in the US, took ill and had to return to Korea. The last I heard was that he was home, in the care of the student's grandmother. Today, after a few weeks of missed classes, the student brought me a note, saying that she could only obtain one in Korean. Thinking it was the usual doctor's note, I exclaimed, "It's so beautiful." (It was). Then, I saw arabic numbers among the Korean letterforms. The second I asked what the numbers were, I realized, to my horror, that they were birth and death dates—and that I'd been a twit. Abashed and embarrassed, I murmured condolences before reviewing the student's late (but good) work.

1 comment:

Suzanne Dell'Orto said...

To be fair...what a strange thing to give a note in Korean as your "excused absence" note. That's one I haven't gotten yet!