I planned and made lists and went on three different shopping trips for my 3rd Annual American Thanksgiving party (the first two were in Moscow), and yet I still managed to forget something. When I was finishing up the mac and cheese, and started thinking about how someone needed to go pick up the chicken that was taking the place of the turkey, it dawned on me. I had paper cups, plastic plates, napkins, and dishes galore, but nothing to eat the food with. There were no utensils. Now, I could have just ignored the situation and let people figure it out, but when you have mashed potatoes, ice cream, and other things that are not very easy to eat with your hands, utensils are nice, to say the least.
So, about 15 minutes before I was hoping to let people eat more than chips and salsa, crackers and cheese, and other snacky stuff, I snuck out the door and walked to the supermarket. It felt strange leaving the warmth and noise of my apartment for the cold and silence of the street …
When I got to the store, I looked for about five seconds on my own, then I took out my phone for a quick translation. (Yes, there is a quick translator function on every phone.)
Ok, fork = poker … plastic = plastic.
“This should be easy,” I thought.
“The words are close enough that if I try and say them with a Korean accent (which I’m not so hot at) the ladies at the store should be able to put two and two together.”
But that’s not how it panned out. I went to the first lady who didn’t even make half an effort to understand me. She just looked bewildered that some white girl was talking to her and hustled me over to a second lady, who promptly avoided eye contact with me and turned to a younger lady who “spoke English.” All of this time, I was making my best effort to make “plastic” sound Korean and say “poker” in a way that they could understand. I was also gesturing like I was eating, which actually may have confused them. Regardless, they didn’t understand, but I couldn’t give up. I had a potential food crisis waiting for me at home.
Finally, the younger woman pulled out a piece of paper and a pen and had me write. As soon as I was halfway done writing plastic in English on the paper, she stopped me.
“OOOHhh, plasatic pokel.”
Two women then led me hurriedly to another section of the store with children’s utensil sets. One “plasatic sapoon” and one “pokel” in a packet. Strike one.
I then tried to communicate that I needed many, many. Luckily this word is very similar in English and Korean, but I used hand gestures anyway. The two women who were helping me understood, repeated, then looked at each other and said, “Opssayo.” They didn’t have any. Strike two.
I must have looked pretty let down, so they didn’t leave it at that. Rather they said, “Sapoon, plasatic sapoon, many, issayo.” They had many plastic spoons.
“Of course,” I thought to myself. “I’m in Korea. Why the heck was I asking for forks?!”
“Odie?” I asked where, and they rushed me to the section of the store with plastic dinner sets. Hundreds of wooden chopsticks in one bag, but only ten spoons in a pack, of course.
I almost got caught in my time wasting vortex of comparing prices and looking for alternatives, but suddenly, the thought reoccurred to me. People were at my house, without me, and hoping to eat soon.
So I said, “Gamsa-nida (Thank you),” to the woman who was watching me navigate the plastic and wooden cutlery. Then I hurriedly grabbed spoons, chopsticks, and some extra plates. She made some funny comment when I grabbed the chopsticks, but I have no idea what it was, so I just thanked her again and went over and grabbed the chicken that I needed. I checked out without incident and walked home with a smirk on my face at how ridiculous a trip for something as seemingly simple as plastic forks can turn into.
Here’s to a Thanksgiving dinner eaten with chopsticks and sapoons.