Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

How not to strike up an English conversation with a foreigner

There’s been this Korean man eyeballing me at my gym for the past few weeks. Well, not so much eyeballing than staring. I kind of figured he was either xenophobic or maybe working up the courage to try out whatever English he had acquired.

Yesterday, he finally had the courage.

Now folks, if you are learning a foreign language and want to practice whatever language you’ve learned, a gym might be a good setting, but for the life of me, why does someone want to start practicing those skills in the locker room when you are naked?

And in the case of this young man, not really practicing any language skills judging from his confrontational and aggressive tone:

Where you are from?

How old are you?

That’s right. Just two questions. There was no excuse me, or even a hello. He just jumped right in with the Q and A. And his tone, was far from being friendly. His tone was more a long the lines of “what the hell are you doing here?”

The second question bothered me. In Korea, a young man would never ask a 52-year-old Korean man that kind of question and in that tone. It is not allowed and is not in the acme of good taste.

I was as gracious as I could be under the circumstances but refused to answer the second question. I would never walk up to a Korean, and certainly not one in the locker room of a gym and ask the person, “where are you from?” and “how old are you?”

I shared this gem with my students today and they laughed, except for two students who I feel might have also been guilty of this language faux pas. Might be a good time to review, “how to strike up a conversation with a foreigner” — and of course, make sure not to have said conversation in a locker room.


  1. I think the young man in question was a social nincompoop. (Not sure what my use of the word “nincompoop” will do for your students’ vocabulary, but it could be fun to find out.)

    Perhaps he will learn that it is best to ask as few questions as possible of a naked men. The answers always lack credibility. 😀


  2. Lol, sounds to me that he needs to take some charm course also. 🙂

  3. hahahahhahah this is so typical of Asian folks.. LMAO!! they love to stare at you and to them seems to be normal.

    I had few similar incidents back in Laos… Instead of speaking to me in native tongue, I had few folks tried to carry on conversation in English. I can’t help it but just smile and answer them back in lao. hahahahhaah

  4. Sounds rude to me….I would never start up a conversation with a naked stranger, no matter what country I was in, and not even a hello?

  5. Thank you Jeffrey for a good laugh. I enjoyed how you saw it coming and could almost feel all the feelings you described.

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