Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Things Koreans Don't Like

1. The Cold
In any form, the sensation of cold (or even a slight chill) seems to be unbearable for your typical Korean, to the extent that the toilet seats at work are heated. Not that I'm complaining.

2. Losing Face
Kibun, translated as "face," is a very vague, hazy concept, but it's key to all Korean social interactions (or at least between Korean adults—it's too complicated to apply to interactions between us foreign teachers and the Korean students). Saying "no" means losing face, losing your temper means losing face, and I think being refused also means losing face. One doesn't really "get to the point" in a conversation, especially if the conversation is about something unpleasant (eg reprimanding someone, making an unpleasant request, etc). Things are approached in a roundabout manner that one could call "passive-aggressive" back home and Koreans typically play their feelings close to the vest, as it were.

3. Waiting
You'd think, with words like the above "kibun" in the language, the people would generally be passive and patient all around. Not so. If they'll take three days to discuss a business decision, God help you if you delay them on the way to the actual meeting. Koreans drive like assholes. People from New Jersey have an excuse because their highways are goofy and the signage is poor; Koreans just straight-up drive like complete jerks. Pedestrians never seem to have right of way, traffic lights are less orders than they are suggestions, and failing that, driving on the sidewalk is a perfectly legal means of recourse, in terms of rules of the road. Living here will either cure me of my abnormal fear of crossing the street/getting hit by a car, or reinforce it beyond any possible hope of unlearning it. I can't even count the times where, at a crosswalk "walk" signal, I've nearly been bit by a car or a scooter. Scooters are the worst. They're like speedy little harbingers of DEATH.

4. Natural Light
Just kidding. Kind of. All of the windows at Sherlock academy are covered with banners advertising the school or some kind of canvas something, or they're otherwise really small and narrow. We slave away under the harsh, environmentally-friendly glare of CFLs instead. My other coworkers liken it to a cave; it occurs to me to point out that at least they don't need to take flashlights with them to class but in the interest of not having to explain myself, I just stay quiet. Admittedly the temperature feels about spot on.

5. Foreigners
Again, kidding. Kind of. Obviously no one's spitting on me or trying to kick me out of the country, and really this one only ever applies to white men with Korean girlfriends, as far as I can think of it. They seem to think we Americans are all right, just a bit dense because obviously if we were smart we'd speak Korean, but the sight of a white guy with a Korean girl on his arm might occasionally raise the ire of a crotchety old drunk or two. This does not come out of nowhere; you tend to see histories of violence and rape following soldiers around, and there's been a U.S. military presence in Korea for half a century at least. This is also coupled with Korean Comfort Women abducted by the Japanese during WWII to "service" their soldiers; women applies only in the loosest sense because a lot of them were really young girls, some only 13. Nasty stuff that's still a bone of contention between ROK and Japan. So seeing their women with foreign men, Koreans have a historical basis for worry. Though at the same time they do not seem all that fond of their women, so.

6. Public Displays of Affection
But really, who does like those? Again, tied to saving face. A suitable alternative to PDAs is, instead, coordinated outfits.

1 comment: