There was a time, during my early years in Korea, when the simple ‘How are you doing these days?’ immediately inspired reservation and doubt on my part, and I would carefully think of how to answer that seemingly unbiased question.
The question was often asked by people I hadn’t heard from for some time, or people I had not been close enough to start with. This specific group of people would contact me out of the blues and ask to have coffee, lunch or dinner some time. They would then eagerly set up an appointment, making clear they weren’t just ‘saying empty words’, and the naive girl that I was used to think I had somehow made an impact I didn’t even know about on this person, hence his/her enthusiasm to buy me a meal just because he/she felt like it. Our encounter did NOT have a happy ending, as you may have, correctly, guessed. It didn’t take them long to reveal to me the true purpose of their faked eagerness, they usually wanted a favor, and usually, it involved something to do with English. I have never felt as used and exploited like then. Here I was, seeing us hand in hand walking down the bright and shiny path of a new lifelong friendship, and there he/she was, shattering my dream and exposing me to the dark and ugly truth that I hadn’t been the one to have made an impact, but rather my English skills. And just as swiftly as they came, they left, with empty promises that they would keep in touch and would be grateful for as long as they can remember. Just in case you’re wondering about a last-minute miracle, that did not happen, that was it.
It wasn’t about whether the ‘favor’ they were asking me was a huge one that would take so much of my time I wouldn’t be able to do my own work. It wasn’t about whether I indeed wanted them to remain grateful for the rest of their life and put down rose petals everywhere I set foot. It wasn’t even about me wanting them to actually keep in touch.
I was simply repulsed by the idea that they would find it so easy to contact me and pretend to be my friend, well-knowing they would forget me the moment they had their precious wish fulfilled. I was disappointed to realize that all I amounted to them was an ‘English-speaking/writing machine’ as opposed to a human being who could be interesting enough to get to know better.
With time and experience, I learned to be more careful whenever a non-friend would suddenly text me or call me with a higher pitch than normal. At least then, even if I did end up doing them the favor, I wouldn’t start off the day with hopes of a new beautiful friendship. I would still be aghast, but I could at least say ‘Ah well, of course, it figures…’, brush it off, and forget them as easily as they forgot about me.
With time, I think I also got more and more people speaking English around me, so I didn’t have to provide my oh-so-useful-and-unique service anymore. And eventually, I forgot all about this nasty experience, sticking to the people I knew well.
That is, until this week.
Let me set the record straight. I’m not against doing favors for friends. I think I’m a pretty decent friend and if my friend asks for my help, I won’t complain and will gladly do what I can do to help (okay, to be completely honest, I may complain a tiny bit, on my own, depending on the favor). I wouldn’t even consider it as a favor. It would be as simple as saying hi and bye. So far, my friends have been decent enough as well as not to ask for my help to bury a body or hide evidence of a crime. Since I’m not petty to keep record of all the times I’ve mildly facilitated them in some way, I wouldn’t be able to list what I’ve done, but you get the idea.
Even if you’re not my close friend, I am capable of helping you out within my limits, and my boundaries can be pretty extensive. But the least you can do is let me know in advance you’re contacting me and want to buy me dinner because you have a favor to ask. Don’t lead me on making me believe I left a pretty good impression on you the few times we’ve actually hung out, and that is the only reason you’re absolutely set on ‘catching up’. Let me prepare in advance my answer to your casual ‘How are you doing these days?’, like say I’m extremely busy and have tons of things to do. And most of all, if it’s taken you a long time to consider asking me this favor, like you said, and if you find it hard to sum up the courage to do so, then please do know that it’s equally hard for me to turn it down. No matter how sarcastic and bitter I may sound through my writing, I find it very hard to say ‘no’ to someone needing my help (except to people on the streets who need me to believe in their Jesus). So ‘not saying yes’ is my way of saying no. And if I’ve clearly not been saying yes for two straight hours, during which you constantly brought up the subject, please get the hint.
The worst part this time was that it wasn’t even about English, it wasn’t even outside of my limits, and from a logical and objective point of view, there was nothing stopping me from helping. It wouldn’t take much of my time, and I would even get some money from it. But I just didn’t want to. Simple as that. Unfortunately, there’s no logic or reasoning powerful enough to convince me against that. But how do you tell ‘your friend’ you can’t help just because you don’t want to?
On the other hand, if I am not saying yes during dinner AND coffee, but not really saying no either, shouldn’t you figure out I have a problem with saying no and just back out? Was it really necessary to badger me with your sympathetic smile for two hours?
I don’t hate you, I really don’t want to hate you, because I do know it must have been hard to ask me the favor, and apparently we ended the evening deciding I would indeed be of some help, in some weird limited way.
So please don’t hate me either, if you ever come across this.
You see, you weren’t just asking me a favor, you were unraveling the hurt, disappointment and frustration I thought I had left behind.