Everyone I knew from Yokohama left at varying times of the year, and each time it felt tragic. Parties were held, and we all tried to make the effort to see each other off at the airport. Those who left each left their mark, but among all the students at Gumyoji it was Summer that everyone would undoubtedly agree was the sweetest (by that I mean she was seemingly devoid of sinister thought or ill intent). But eventually it was her time too, (this isn’t euthanasia, I assure you) to return to Korea. We gathered together in one of the dorm rooms (egg boxes) for the farewell party, and I crouched the corner with just enough breathing room to adjust my direction by a couple of degrees. The entire dormitory had seemed to have squeezed inside somehow and I had a lovely evening listening the the din in one ear while the other pressed into the wall as though I were trying to eavesdrop on the world outside. That peaceful, spacious world.
I had work that needed finishing for the following day and I wasn’t much company to most anyway given the geography (although I got on very well with the corner. It jokingly edged me in the back a few times but we got on well mostly). So I gingerly got up and tip toed through the throng of bodies toward the door, making sure to avoid stepping on people as well as picking out Summer. I wanted to at least give her a proper goodbye rather than just sneaking off in the middle of the party, so she kindly got up and followed me out so we could talk.
“It was so lovely to have met you Summer” I said, briefly hugging her outside in the corridor. “Come back to Japan soon so we can all see you again”.
“Thank you so much. And if you ever go to Korea, come visit me!”
“Your plane leaves early tomorrow morning right? I hope you have a safe flight home”
“Oh, it’s only one hour, so no worries”.
No worries? This made me laugh and its very important you understand why (because if you don’t, you’ll think I’m a monster later. I’m not by the way, if that wasn’t clear). Here’s the clear logic. Considering how any flight has the unlikely potential to end in a dive of raging flames, it doesn’t matter if there flight is one hour or ten hours long. You always want it to be safe. So I answered sarcastically and in jest (remember those two words. Sarcasm and jest. I call myself Sarcastic Poncho for God’s sake, this shouldn’t be such an issue damn it). I replied.
“Well, if it’s ‘only’ one hour, it doesn’t really matter if the plane crashes then”.
The result was not quite what I expected. I assumed there’d be a small chuckle perhaps or a polite smile to acknowledge the joke. I would have even accepted a light scoff. Instead her mouth gaped wide open.
And she burst into floods of tears. Wailing, terrible tears.
I had forgotten that in East Asia sarcasm isn’t used or even understood (this blog would go down brilliantly over there). So naturally I tried to explain what I meant as quickly as possible and break through the waterfall to let her know that I did not in fact, wish her to die in a burning wreck. All in vain however, as I was unable to get my message across through the sobs and din from the party. Elodie and Adele who were closest to the door, rushed out to hug and comfort her, desperately asking why she was so upset. When they got their answer, they both looked up at me and I received two of the fiercest glares I have ever seen (they were the ‘you won’t know how or when. But we will make you suffer for this’ kind of glares).
Before they reached for the kitchen knives I explained myself once again with even greater fervour (not wanting to be stabbed is one of those great inspirational motivators that most of you will never have the joy of knowing). I made it clear that it was sarcasm and they gently explained the misunderstanding to Summer.
“It’s ok” Adele started, “he doesn’t want you to die. It’s just sarcasm. A joke”.
Elodie was quick to add in.
“Yeah. He’s not mean. He’s just British”.
Once again, I have led newfound stereotypes about the British people into international light. I’d be proud if I wasn’t so horrified. Within this short anecdote however are two main lessons that we ought to remember. One, don’t use sarcasm in East Asia. They really don’t understand it. Two, don’t provoke proud French women, regardless of their height. They will hurt you.
As for Summer, as soon as she understood the misunderstanding she laughed it off and my name was scratched off the hit-list. Unless it wasn’t clear before, I didn’t want to upset anybody and I almost never do. It’s not that I have bad luck, a dark sense of humour or lack certain social skills. I’m just British.