I usually try to avoid taking a taxi on my own, because inevitably I'll receive some form of lecture on how I need to learn Korean.
As soon as I open my mouth, the driver immediately knows that I'm not a native Korean. The first question is usually, "Are you Japanese?" When I reveal that no, I am from America, the ensuing conversation usually leads to fact that I'm ethnically Korean.
Of course, the driver will then ask me why my Korean is so awful. Then, in my limited Korean, I'll try to justify (to this complete stranger) my limited knowledge of the mother tongue. Ultimately, I leave shame-faced, with a stinging reminder that I must improve my Korean.
Though the tone of driver may range from well-intentioned to patronizing, I usually leave the cab feeling sheepish and disappointed in myself. :(
This is why I've decided to stop admitting that I'm Korean. I'm just going to speak completely in English. English will definitely squelch any possibility of dialogue (or in my experience, driver's monologue). I usually try to speak Korean for the driver's convenience, but I will do this no more. I will speak in long-winded sentences and make YOU feel uncomfortable and ignorant, Mr. Know-it-all Taxi Ajusshi!
Also, given the current hullabaloo over the importation of U.S. beef it's become imprudent to mention my nationality as well. Utter the words, "I am American" and it's likely that some irate taxi driver will launch into an impassioned lecture about the terrors of American beef.
That's what happened this weekend. Heng, Cyndi, and I caught a cab in Kangnam, and it was possibly one of the longest cab rides of my life. Before I go into the details, I should note that not all taxi drivers are like our driver. Korean taxi drivers can be very opinionated, but this man was particularly extreme. As Heng told me, "Ignore everything that man said. He is very uneducated." That's for sure.
When the driver heard Cyndi and I speaking in English, he immediately launched into red alert. When he learned that we are Korean, he immediately asked us why we weren't speaking in Korean. "You're in Korea. Why aren't you speaking in Korean?" he barked.
As I cowered silently in the backseat, Heng promptly responded, "They were born in America, so they speak in English." The man did not like this answer. He then launched into some rant about American pushing diseased beef on Korea, eventually concluding with the fact that America is violent and unsafe. (Yeah, much unlike the situation in the taxi).
I hate having this discrepancy between my speaking and listening skills. I understood the bulk of what the taxi driver was saying, but lacked the ability to respond. For example, when he asked us, isn't it true that there are protective barriers between the driver and passengers in most American taxis?", I wanted to respond, "Not in all cabs, but I sure wish we had one in this cab." Instead, I just directed some "stink eye" at the back of his head, while Cyndi politely answered his question.
Ignorant b.s. is universal. I'll find it at every point between the Motherland and the Homeland, but it's particularly frustrating when I'm defenseless and unable to respond to such hogwash. I would have loved to politely respond to his remarks, but my stock phrases of 괜찮아요 and 아니요 simply wouldn't have cut it this time.
Though these opinionated taxi drivers will forever be burned into my memory, I must note that I've also experienced a number of non-threatening drivers. These drivers should MYOB and drive in silence. Frankly, I rather have a driver who is distracted by the Korean drama streaming on his GPS system, than an attentive driver who tries to converse with me.
Though I am not a fan of their conversation skills, I will admit to one thing that I admire (and fear) about Korean taxi drivers. Foreigners are often worrying about getting swindled by a taxi driver who will take them on a roundabout route. I've never had to worry about a driver trying to extend the ride in an effort to raise the fare. In my experience, Korean drivers try to get to the final destination as quickly as possible. They run red lights, switch lanes like a maniac, and make crazy turns because they are VERY impatient. Their road rage may be frightening, but they can drive from Bundang to Kangnam in under fifteen minutes.