Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Culture tip for Koreans: Small Talk Taboos

I'm not finished my "How to Chat with Foreign Beauties" series, though it got delayed by some other stuff. However, I wanted to show this clip, because Park Chan-ho demonstrates something that a number of my students have done as well, and it's on Colleghumor.com's front page right now.



This interview was posted on "Collegehumor.com" - a comedy website that puts up funny videos and articles. The reason it's posted is because, well, they think it's really funny. Listen to his teammates laughing in the background. The reason it's funny to them is because in North America it's really culturally strange to talk openly about bowel problems like diarrhea or constipation. Chan-ho has demonstrated an "overshare" - giving more information than I really wanted. As far as I can tell, it's OK to talk about bowel problems in Korean small talk (at least for some groups - particularly older folks - most of my younger students avoid this topic), but it's really strange to North Americans (and I'm pretty sure people from other English speaking nations would agree).

I had a student in a class once, a very cute old lady who'd be a wonderful grandmother, who came in every morning, and when I said "How are you?" she'd give a list of complaints: "My elbow is sore and I was constipated this morning." She'd even look up words to give me the whole grisly story. "I went to the gynecologist yesterday." I tried and tried to get her to just stay with "fine thanks," or "some aches and pains,' but she really seemed to want to give me all the gross details. My coworkers have frequently shared similar stories of students describing the condition of their bowels in more detail than we wanted to hear.

So here's the culture tip: when you talk about your bowel condition to a westerner, it's similar to when we talk openly about sex to you: that is, it might be fine, it might even be good for a laugh, but watch your partner carefully for signs of discomfort; sometimes it makes people feel awkward and embarrassed. When in doubt, say "I had stomach problems." That's enough detail for most of us to be satisfied, without learning too much about your poop. (This is also a good way to get revenge if your foreign friend is talking about sex a lot and embarrassing you: just interrupt their sex story with a gross poop story. My best friend in Canada used to tell diaper stories about her kids when I started talking too much about my favorite music, a topic that was totally uninteresting to her. Led to some interesting conversations.)

Park Chan-ho's an impressive dude: he's stuck around in the MLB for a long time, and been very successful, and you can take comfort in the fact that, after more than a decade living most of his life in North America, he's still making little social blunders: nobody's perfect, but everybody can remember little details like this to fit in a little better. (On the other hand: he uses "off-day" correctly - many of my students say "Off -day" as if it means "one day of vacation." That's incorrect: "off-day" means "a bad day, or a day when I try to do things, and they don't go right.")

Culture Tip Summary:
Poop is cute in Korea. Not really in North America. Talk about it with your doctor, but not during small talk with somebody you don't know very well.

9 comments:

조안나 said...

I agree, 100%.

I'm no Picasso said...

Oh god that's just painful to watch. Poor guy. Anyway, thanks for saying it. Somebody needed to.

John from Daejeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John from Daejeon said...

Both you and your students are right. In baseball, an off-day means exactly that. A day the player is not in the rotation (like the current vacation Kobe Bryant is getting from his last two regular season games to rest before the playoffs) and also a day when something isn't going quite right. So, either he had an off-day playing-time wise, or he attributed his off-day to the slight malfunctioning of his digestive track.

After watching the video, I still really don't know if he had the "day off" the previous day or if his off-day was due to the frequency of his bowel movements. Either way, he is correct.

Valerie said...

The video was funny!
My kids in Korea (9-13) loved to talk about poop in class. They always draw a picture too. They would even tell me if they had to go "ddong" in the bathroom. I didn't need to know that much. When someone was gone for a while after going to the bathroom they would ask them "ddong?". Hilarious.

The Korean said...

Definitely one of the things I learned the hard way when I moved to America. Ah, memories of awkward looks around me...

Another interesting Chan Ho Park story: In the beginning days when Park was really killing it, the Dodgers pitching coach told him, "You have control your emotions better." Later that day, the coach found Park in the practice ground throwing really slowly, over and over again. The coach asked Park what he was doing. Park told him, "You told me I had to control my (pitching) motions better."

ricowhaz said...

I don't see anything wrong with what he was saying, diarrhoea is just the same as talking about having the flu, a medical condition. At home in Ireland it is fine to mention that you had diarrhoea, there is no need to go into detail but it is acceptable.

The reporter who is laughing in the clip is acting like a 4 year old child and just being downright rude. Everyone should be picking up on the lack of professionalism on display and not the guy explaining why he missed a day.

Roboseyo said...

Mabye North Americans are more prudish about body functions... I would always have stopped at saying "Stomach trouble" and if I mentioned diarrhea at all, I certainly wouldn't have come back to it and mentioned it a couple of more times. I might also have used a euphemism like "the runs" before I used the (funny sounding) word diarrhea. Maybe it's just me.

Rich said...

The same thing happened with one of my adult students last week. An extremely pretty 26 year old girl decided to share her digestive issues with the class in some detail. While I was quite mortified, the other class members (all men) nodded sagely. I then taught them the phrases 'overshare' and 'TMI'.

My colleague has that beat hands down, though. Upon asking his class how they were doing, one lady in her late 30s said (and I quote verbatim): "I'm going to read this, and please don't laugh. [reads] Usually my periods are not painful. But as I get older, I find they are becoming more and more painful." All the other students (ajumma class) crack up.