Monday, January 19, 2009
A Ring of Inquiry
No matter how awkward it feels, though, I’m happy to have for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s round, and as such slides easily onto and off of my finger. The last model my mother-in-law bestowed was oval-shaped and fit so tightly that it required a committee meeting every time I needed it removed. This was fine before and after the family get-togethers in which my mother-in-law most desired I wear it, but I didn’t use it anywhere else since it would’ve been awkward when I needed to take it off at the gym.
I’m also glad to have because it should result in few questions of a certain type. The manner of question seems to be asked by nearly all Korean people after meeting someone, but is probably best expressed by Korean children, who don’t yet know that they’re supposed to conceal what they apparently think of a person in their late-20s who is unmarried.
The question is, “Are you married?” which the child will probably ask in just the same manner that their elders often do. The difference is that if the person is a foreigner and a late-twenty-something who answers says, “No, I’m not,” the child will ask more questions, of a more pointed variety.
“And you’re how old?” might be the next one. It might be followed by, “And you’re not married yet?”
Starting a few months ago, I was finally granted the privilege of being able to answer that question in the affirmative. Strangely enough, however, no one asks it anymore.
Instead, I have coworkers of mine asking questions that certainly seem unrelated at first, such as “Did you go to lunch yet?”
“No, my wife packed one for me,” I state, setting up another inquisitive reply.
Another type of question comes at other junctures, such as when I’m fumbling through my wallet, trying to find which of the numerous, yet entirely necessary credit/membership/identification cards is appropriate for that situation. During my rummaging, a picture of my significant other and I in the clear central fold stands out, obvious to those nearby. This prompts a single word, put into question form through an upward change in vocal pitch: “Girlfriend?”
“That’s my wife,” I reply.
(A very similar situation takes place sometimes when I turn on my computer at work, to reveal a picture of us on my desktop background. They say the same word in the same inquisitive form, even though I’m wearing a tuxedo in that picture and she’s wearing a white dress. I don’t tell onlookers what such garments ought to signify, though I imagine it is suggested in the downward pitch in my voice.)
Occasionally, I wonder aloud to friends and spouses as to why it now seems that the people I meet are assuming that I’m not married. They’ve suggested a few things, which I will address in ascending order of plausibility:
* “You look young.” – It’s highly flattering to think so, but didn’t I look that way before the wedding, when certain children with very little hope of a future in the diplomatic profession suggested that I ought to be married already?
* “Korean people enjoy asking questions and looking surprised by the answer.” – Granted, all who’ve suggested this are also foreigners like myself, but it makes some sense. Every time I have responded by telling them that the person in the picture is, in fact, a person who has legally committed herself to me for life, they have puckered their lips in the same manner and said “Ohhhhhh!” Even so, I still find it rather hard to believe that any nationality, especially one this educated, would enjoy the feeling of not being very perceptive.
* “You don’t wear a wedding ring.” – Now this makes the most sense: During the time in which the only accessory my ring finger was afforded was an oval-shaped instrument of torture designed to make me think fondly of amputation, I generally left it unadorned.
“A man should only wear jewelry if he has a comfortable wedding ring or has been a member of an organization that’s won the Super Bowl,” was my unofficial motto.
Now that I have one that fits with something that may one day be described as comfort, hopefully those questions will give way to another kind. Perhaps it will be, “How do you enjoy being married?” or “How is your wife?”
Then again, maybe it will be, “When are you going to have children that ask undiplomatic questions to people they don’t know very well?”
The answer, should they ask it, is “Probably very soon.”
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