This is part 1 of a series on forming friendships between Koreans and expats. It sure isn't the final word on the subject, but maybe it's a start. The table of contents is here.
In some kind of search for balance, because I can only represent the expat's side of the equation, I asked a few of my "Korean Korean" readers to contribute some advice and insights from the other side. Those posts will alternate with these ones, in an effort to redress the imbalance.
Hello to my (imaginary?) Korean readers. Nice to meet you. I'd like to give you some advice today. Maybe it fits your situation. Maybe it doesn’t. If my advice doesn't apply to you, don't get upset: be proud of yourself, and kindly ignore me.
For the rest of you: many Koreans I know want to have more foreign friends. That's great! But when some of you meet foreigners, the friendships you hoped for never develop. This can be frustrating for you, and meetings like this can be frustrating for us foreigners, too. This series will talk about some common mistakes which might be stopping you from making a good impression, and making a friend, when you talk to foreigners. Most people don't make ALL these mistakes at the same time, but if you want to become friends with foreigners, you must learn to avoid these common turn-off behaviors. I very carefully chose the word tips for this advice, because it's softer than rules: none of these tips are inflexible laws, because every conversation between two people is different. Think of them instead as suggestions, and things to remember
First things first:
Tip 1. Be Connected. Before you start talking to foreigners, get ready to connect in the ways foreigners connect. Most foreigners you meet won't know much about Korean networking websites like Cyworld. All the Korean on those sites is too much for most of us. However, almost every English-speaking foreigner in Korea under age 40 is on Facebook. If you're not on Facebook, you're missing a great way to make first connections, or to strengthen connections you've already made.
So get on facebook. Then, search Korea-based facebook groups for meetings and events related to your interests: these are the best places to meet foreigners, because if you went to the same event, you must share an interest. Later, you can connect with the people you met at those events on facebook, and plan to meet again at the next similar event. Looking in your areas of interest really increases your chance of making a better connection - it's way better than the subway, bars, or the street.
(Also: once you're on facebook, actually use it. Signing up for it, but never using it, won't help you.)
Tip 2: Be helpful, or generous. Give a little. I'll be friendlier if you buy me a drink, or a snack, or offer to help me when I'm lost, or something. More than that, if you're willing to use your Korean ability to help me buy a phone, call a repair person, or plan a weekend trip, or teach me some useful Korean phrases (not too many at one time, though) you might just become my favorite Korean in the world!
Tip 3: Be sensitive: Some days, I'm in an outgoing mood, and I'd love to talk with a stranger. Other days, I'm unhappy, sick, or tired, and I really DON'T want to. Before you approach me, look at my body language, and figure out if it's saying "approach me!" or "leave me alone." This will save us both from an uncomfortable situation.
Please leave me alone...
...Any time I'm not dressed: the gym changeroom, the sauna or jimjilbang, the bathroom.
...When I have headphones on.
...When I'm focused on a book, a conversation, a journal, a drink, etc..
...When it looks like I might be on a date.
...When I'm walking quickly.
Feel free to approach me:
...If I seem lost.
...If I'm looking around, and making eye contact with people.
...If I'm climbing a mountain.
...If we’re both in line, or commuting, and I look bored.
...If I'm reading a book or doing an activity that is also a hobby or interest of yours. "I see you're reading a book about pancake art. That is a hobby of mine," is the best way to start... if it's true.
...If your kids don't want to talk to me, don't make them.
...Don't shout "hello!" at me from a distance, or out your car window as you drive by
...Don't say "Hello nice to meet you" every time you see a white face, and especially don't say it and then run back to your group of friends.
...Don't greet me if you don't even have the English ability for a simple conversation.
These things make me feel like an animal in a zoo.