Thursday, July 19, 2012

Is this how I come off?

Came across this article at Three Wise Monkeys: Drunk and Stupid: How Debauched Foreigners Feed Korean Prejudices. (NB the original title was the much less sensational "A Korean Conservative's Perspective on MBC's Infamous Report." Great yellow journalism there, 3WM!)

Despite the author's call to action sounding incredibly similar to one I gave a while ago regarding men behaving badly, something about it doesn't have me nodding in agreement so much as wanting to punch him in the face. As the expression goes, 내 주먹이 운어요. ("My fists are crying.") (I just bought a book on Korean idiomatic expressions and I'm getting a kick out of using them whenever possible!)

Yeah, there are terrible foreigners here. I've complained about them before. The terrible ones need to grow up and realize that Korea isn't their playground. But despite how much I complain, I don't think most of us are terrible. Maybe it's because I have a self-selecting sort of group (I don't hang out with people who suck), but it seems to me most of us are pretty okay. I'd argue that most of us are pretty awesome, or at least tolerable.*

The other thing that bugs me is that it isn't only drunk and stupid foreigners feeding Korean prejudices. Even if it's dying out, there's a streak of racism feeding Korean prejudices as well. I'm not going to cry about being victimized by it, because that's a whole bunch of horseshit; rather I mean to say that there's a small-but-vocal minority that would gladly lob mud at white Anglophone foreigners even if every last weiguk saram was utterly blameless.

And never mind the hate and barbs slung at Filippinos and other Southeast Asians. If you're arguing that they also somehow perpetuate the stereotypes or bring the hate they get upon themselves, you're an asshole. Like every country ever, Korea still has race relations issues to work out. There's no way they're not a factor when it comes to Anglophone foreigner-Korean relations. Granted, white Anglophone foreigners definitely inhabit a certain level of privilege and advantage in Korea. It's a delicate line to toe when you're one of that privileged class pointing out that another, less-privileged class can be racist, but still. It's there.

Also, Mr. Smith, I don't know what kind of drinking culture in which your alcohol testicles descended, but mine was totally different from what you described:
In the revelrous corner of Western culture, if you can vomit over someone, have a fight, have a one-night stand, spend the night in a police cell, pick up an injury by doing something dangerous, offend a vulnerable minority, and/or lose control of your bowels or bladder, it has been a successful night and you will be rewarded for it with the fame and popularity your story of the evening will bring (though you may regret it later).
Fame? Popularity? Successful? That's a pretty nice way to spin "notoriety" and "public humiliation." Any time I've done something stupid while drunk (happily, nothing nearly as stupid as mentioned here), I don't think: "Hey, that was awesome!" I think: "Oh my God, I'm an idiot." I have to retire from the world for a day, receding into a cocoon of Star Trek and Mystery Science Theater 3000 to take the edge off.

Likewise for most people I drink with: blacking out and shitting your pants isn't a point of a pride, it's a point never to be talked about ever again. It's something to be avoided if at all possible; it's why I sometimes leave parties early because I can sense that things will get way too crazy way too quickly. In the same vein, I don't give my friends high-fives when they're drunk idiots. I don't encourage what I know they'll regret later. And after the fact, I never mention it because they're guaranteed to be absolutely mortified at their own behavior. They don't need reminding or reprimanding.

There's a great Swedish word, for which I don't know if there's a Korean equivalent: salongsberusad.  "Salong" is "salon," as in the intellectual Parisian kind. "Berusad" is drunk. (Though, not anything like "hammered" or "wasted." That would be full  in Swedish.) Salon-drunk, then, is the nice kind of more-than-tipsy, less-than-schmasted drunk you get with your friends. You don't want to paint the town red, you just want to take the edge off. That's my goal when I drink, though obviously I can't speak for anyone else but myself.

Coming from someone who's told other foreigners to shape up, quit whinging, and go eat a dick: get off your high horse, Mr. Smith.

*Except that most of the time, unless I'm out with someone on a short list of three people, out of all the foreigners sitting at the table I'm the one with the most passable Korean. This is a travesty. My Korean is terrible. I love you guys, but step up your game!


  1. This guy has fated himself to never win an argument again in his life!

    Guy: "I think your interpretation of the subtext of 'Hamlet' is sadly flawed."

    World: "Whatever. You think it's normal to poo in your pants while drunk. I'm not listening to you."

    1. If I ever meet him "for realsies" all I will want to talk about is: "So, how often have you dropped a deuce/gone to jail/punched a cop while you were drunk?"

      That foreign teachers here should learn to be better guests is a perfectly valid point. We all should and some of us really, really NEED to.


      Here comes the delayed thesis of my post: The differences in drinking culture is not at all why a certain percentage of foreign teachers are terrible guests. Maybe if South Korea were more like Utah, that argument would hold some water.

  2. I think it's totally fair game to come out and say look -- way too many ESL teachers here in lovely South Korea act like drunken buffoons. Perfectly valid claim that one could dispute ("Hey! I teach free English classes to Korean kids at the local YMCA!") or confirm ("Way too many bros acting like misogynistic frat boys around here.").

    There are reasons this is the case -- many hagwon will hire anyone with a four-year degree, regardless of their academic or professional backgrounds (or lack thereof), many hagwon straight-up lie about the credentials of their teachers to drum up business, and many hires are made based on looks and, frankly, caucasian-ness rather than teaching ability.

    But the reason the 3WM piece was crap was that it somewhat subtly but still directly said that drunken ass-holishness is an inherently Western thing, and not at all a part of special snowflake Korean traditional culture. (As someone in the comments pointed out, let's take a look at the Korean ajhossi sex-tourism trips to Vietnam and Thailand and then get back to me.)

    First, that's complete bs. Second, it's racism plain and simple. Once you start judging an entire people based on the actions of a few you've crossed a line.

    1. "But the reason the 3WM piece was crap"

      Also you could say that calling a 3WM article crap is redundant, ~zing~.