Thursday, 25 March 2010

Wanna Chat with Foreign Beauties? How to Make Friends with a Foreigner: Equivocations

OK. I realize that the portrait that is slowly forming, by listing all the different ways these discussions go wrong, doesn't look good. Yes, these bits and pieces of awkward situations somehow collect together, and form a false image of some kind of "FrankenKorean" - a mix of all the worst parts of every Korean every expat has ever met. I've written before about how that kind of stereotyping and judgement is harmful, and it goes both ways, and it gets ugly.

So before the Keyboard warriors get going, hear me out. I want to be clear that these tips, held all together, creates a composite image of a Korean who does not exist. I know that. You know that. And now you know that I know that. These social blunders are not a description of my entire experience with Koreans, and nobody's socially clumsy enough to make every one of these mistakes in a single conversation. I've met many Koreans who are very socially adept (many more so than I am), and some, many, with manners that put me to shame.

However, in the course of meeting several hundred, maybe even a few thousand Koreans in the last seven years, I've seen a great variety of people, and while most of them are very socially adept, not all of them are. And while most of them don't commit these blunders, some have. In fact, enough have, and continue to do so, that these items were worth mentioning.

And the best thing is: most of these errors are easy to correct: a little awareness, and a little consideration of foreigners as fully functioning, feeling human beings, will take care of most of it. So before anybody gets in a snit, bear in mind what I'm trying to do here, and why I'm trying to do it, and as I said right at the beginning: if this stuff doesn't apply to you, ignore it!

Conversely, the same thing applies to we foreigners: so far, most of the advice I've heard directed towards foreigners boils down to being considerate. . . but why deliver a message in those two words, when I could deliver them in several thousand, eh? So, on with the series...

Back to the table of contents.


Jeremy AKA: Jay from the MInneapolis Clan said...

Thank you for your delightful series. As someone planning to come to Korea this coming summer to teach, I have found the info quite informative and well written. I am curious to find more information regarding Korean views of African Americans. I've read bits and pieces about Koreans being less accepting of blacks even more than other expats. I plan on coming regardless (I'm from the U.S. There isn't much I haven't experienced when it comes to overt/covert racism), but in your opinion, do you think this will negatively impact my experience in Korea overall? Would it negatively affect the relationship between myself and my students? Any input on this is welcome it is the main area of my pre-departure research.

Unknown said...

Be considerate is basically what most of the advice in both directions boils down to.
As for the foreigners- and this applies to any foreigners anywhere- be mindful that you are not in your home culture and if you can, pick up a custom that the locals are proud of.

Roboseyo said...

Jeremy: being a very WASP Canadian, I'm not really the right person to ask: Expat Jane says that white North Americans tend to blow the racism in Korea out of proportion because it's the first time we've experienced it, but I'd recommend reading the blogs of, and possibly contacting these well-known African-American, or part African-American bloggers instead:

In general, I'll say that for anyone, of any race, the best thing you can do while in Korea is take good care of your appearance - being well-groomed, clean-shaven and shirt-tucked-in might be the single factor that will improve Koreans' reaction toward you the most.

Michael: you're correct... but sometimes generalities like "be considerate" are unhelpful, because inconsiderate people generally don't REALIZE they're being inconsiderate until they have their inconsiderate behaviors described to them and go "oh. gee. I've done all those things." I've been guilty of this myself. Therefore, I shall keep on with the series, if you don't mind.

Alex said...

I love this series!

The Korea Culture Shock books that are available mainly seem to be oriented toward the casual tourist or international business person here on a trip. (Unless you know a better one that you'd like to recommend to me.) Even after being here for a year I still feel like I don't get all of the nuances of Korean etiquette.