Lingua Franca

I’m back from Ulsan, where I spent my days studying at this spaceship of a public library:

In cultivating a resolution to learn Korean, I notice I’ve contracted an anxiety about being that American, the one who crosses the ocean only to socialize with other foreigners. The anxiety had me shun expat restaurants, abstain from the English section of the library, and direct my gaze sternly forward when passing tourists in the street.

I was overdoing it.

In Ulsan, I discovered an Indian halal restaurant hiding around the corner from my guesthouse. Intercultural metaphors abounded: the trilingual menu introduced samosas as deep-fried mandu; on the wall hung a pointillist treatment of Korea’s iconic autumn ginkgos. I asked the server if I should order in Korean or English or what. Korean, please, he said, and we chatted a little about how business was doing.

Lingua franca: an expression in Latin, meaning French, used most often to refer to English.

I originally studied Korean so I could communicate with, you know, Koreans. But I cherish the shared dysphasia that arises when speaking Korean as a bridge language. Each knows the other’s effort, knows that the conversation can only take place because we chose to make it possible.