the lady at customs inspection

One day, I had arrived back home from a flight.  Because one of my checked-in bags had been packed in a box, the airport customs inspectors wanted it to go through their scanner.

The only person ahead of me at the additional inspection area was a Korean lady, who looked to be in her 60s.  She had several boxes that the customs inspectors were beginning to cut open with their knives.

inspector:  “Do you speak English?”

lady:  “Only small.”

The lady looked up at him very sheepishly, and used her thumb and forefinger to show him how small.

The inspector looked down at her with a serious no-nonsense face, and asked her, “No big English?”

The lady smiled even more sheepishly, as she shrugged her shoulders, and shook her head, no.

After some minutes had passed, she looked relieved to see that they had moved past looking through her dried food packages.  Now, the inspector in front of her was opening up a dark plastic bag, and pulling out several cosmetic skincare bottles out of it.

inspector:  “What’s this?”

lady:  “Skin.”

inspector:  “Skin?”

The lady smiled real big as she nodded her head, and repeated to him, “Skin.”  She then showed him face-applying motions with her hands.

(Koreans refer to facial toners as “skin”, pronouncing the word as, “suh-kin”.)

With that, he and the other inspector put the many bags back into her boxes, and she was free to go.

Ever since that day, if ever I hear someone ask, “Do you speak English?”, I think of that lady.




10 thoughts on “the lady at customs inspection

  1. I can connect so well with your humorous story…
    13 years back in Zamaica me and my husband were not able to understand the word ‘girl’ from a Chinese neighbor… It took us so long to understand that she was trying to say “I also have a girl like you”. She tried all possible gestures to make us understand but it’s really difficult to understand her pronunciation of English.

  2. Ones never knows where they will see a fun story unfold and give them a great memory, thanks for the smile, I needed that today!

  3. As someone who’s never put enough effort into learning another language, I’m always fascinated by the contrasting ways of thinking moments like this reveal. Such a simple, direct way of explaining, both the ‘small english’ and ‘skin’. Great story.

shoot yo holla hea

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