Language and Attitude


To people who have some knowledge of Asian language, the term “honorifics/formal” and “non-honorifics/casual/informality” would sound familiar.  In Korean language, the former is called “존댓말 (Jon dat mahl)” and later is “반말 (Bahn mahl)”.  Basically, if you are talking with your elder, senior, have never met before, and/or someone of higher position, you speak in honorifics.  If you are talking someone who is very close with you, you speak in non-honorifics.  Generally.  Sometimes you hint non-honorifics to enhance friendliness.  The honorifics have different nouns, endings and verbs – and this usually drives people of Latin language as their first language absolutely crazy when learning Asian language.

My parents value the good manners a lot – I mean a lot.  Consequently I am somewhat neurotic when it comes to the correct time and usage of honorifics and non-honorifics in Korean.  Therefore, for me, it was uncomfortable when HS started to speak in 반말 to pretty much everyone in the office within a month she joined the office.  Sure she is older than everyone.  I do understand she wants to be friendly as much as she can, under the new circumstance with new people to work with.  Maybe I am just too sensitive on good manners and etiquettes.  But it’s almost like my natural instinct/subconsciousness- it’s just disturbing.  For those of you who are not familiar with Asian language structure, think it this way: a person you just don’t know that well starts to call you as “dude, what up, man” and such, wrapping his/her arm around your shoulder.  I’d rather have a person leave me alone, and speak to me in correct language.

Being active, open and social certainly helps a lot.  However, thanks to human nature, a “newbie” who runs around yelling “Me! Me! Look at here! Let’s do this!” and cuts off someone else’s words (especially in the middle of talking) is not favored.

There was a weekly meeting.  Since this year has been a hectic one, some managers started to talk about a nice meal out and/or visiting a coworker who is on maternity leave.  As the talk progress, HS’s voice got louder and louder (not to mention 반말) and she even snatched the schedule table, writing things on it as if she is the ultimate decision maker, pointing others as she talks.  I do not know what others thought, but to me it was just unbelievable.  Pretty much same thing happened during the lunchtime, too – she kept pointing at a menu and repeatedly said “I’m for this, I’m for this!”  I don’t think she was high on sugar or caffeine.  Yes, we hear you so you don’t have to say it for three times.

After lunch, I, HS and EH happen to walk together – which was fortunate, because I like EH.  HS started to complain how her Uniqlo wool sweaters got messed up after washing it twice.  If it were only HS and I, I would just smile and answer “oh, too bad,” unwilling to continue the conversation.  But I did not want to cause awkwardness when EH was present.  So I decided to keep the conversation light (=meaningless, nothing important) just so not to cause the awkward silence.

I: There are lot of different kinds of woolen, and Uniqlo has variety of wool products.  Like they have their other wools and Merino w- *intervened*

HS: It’s all same wool! Right? I used the woolen detergent too! All the time! More than twice!

Lady, I am not finished, and I was speaking fairly slowly.  And it is not nice to cut off someone else’s words.  I was annoyed, and if I were in a worse mood, or away from EH, I would have given her an evil look or smirk.  I almost had the words out from my throat: I am not finished, 人の話を終わりまで聞けよ、馬鹿者Only because there were others around us, I gave her a nice advice on difference between wool categories and product information anyway.

Being friendly, active and cheerful is good.  Being young at heart – to some degree, immature – is a generally positive thing.  But there is a fine line – once you cross it, it annoys the heck out of others.  Language and using it well is such a sophisticated art.  Though a word means same thing, a small difference can cause a vastly different emotion and reaction.  Even if it has a positive meaning, using it in a wrong time can be a disaster.  Even if you did not mean such a thing, a slight misuse in language can build a Great Wall of prejudice in less than a minute.  Maybe that’s why the word in Japanese is called 言葉 (kotoba, literally meaning “leave of human sayings”) and ancient Japanese’ belief in 言霊 (kotodama, literally meaning “word spirit”).


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