Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wanna Chat with Korean Buddies? How not to make an Ass of Yourself: Part 2

This is part two of the companion piece to Wanna Chat with Foreign Beauties? How to Make Friends with a Foreigner. While getting on my high horse and explaining how Koreans can be friends with me, I thought it appropriate to return the favor, by instructing foreigners in how to avoid being "that foreigner" to the Koreans around them. Last time, we mentioned being appreciative of the Koreans who are willing to help us out, and making the effort to learn about Korea, and pick up some Korean along the way.  Here's the table of contents for the series.

If you're a Korea-Korean (born and raised in Korea) who hangs out with a lot of foreigners, and you have something you'd like to add to this list, please let me know, and I'll add it. I'll write it up in my Roboseyo style, so don't worry about your English writing ability, but if there's something you want me to share, please let me know!

For one: Pay for stuff from time to time. That's right. Yeah, you've seen the highly ritualized arguments over who's going to pay, and some of us have happily put up a token fight, only to roll over and let the Korean half pay... time and time again. Make sure you take the chance to pay for things, even if you have to be sneaky about it: get your wallet ready before dinner's over, so you'll be quickest to the draw, or pretend you're going to the bathroom and pay on your way back. My correspondent says, "You can't be a guest here indefinitely" and that's true.

The tip this time, and it's a biggie, is: Be Inclusive.

Read what Gord Sellar has to say on this.

Truth be told, this is one where I've fallen epically on my face... in fact, I'm still waiting for an opportunity to make amends with one of my Korean friends. That full story is between me and my friend, but readers, a world of hurt has come out of it, and on the list of "things I'd change if I had a time machine," it's not far from the top.

One of the e-mails I got focuses on the exclusion from joking aspect: you know the feeling when you know your Korean friends are talking about you, and you can follow along with most of what's said, and then suddenly everybody laughs, and you ask "what's so funny?" and they say "It's hard to explain. Forget it."

That sucks, doesn't it?

Well, it sucks both ways, wouldn't you know? Take a moment to explain those kinds of jokes, and don't talk over the heads of people who are right there next to you. The reverse admonishment shall certainly be made on the Korean side, but let's make sure that we're not guilty of it ourselves, when we know how frustrating it is to have a few Koreans at the table talk around, above, or through us, because we can't follow their conversation.

At a deeper level, let's talk for a moment about the tendency I've seen for some foreigners to treat their foreign friends' Korean partners or friends basically like accessories: "Did you bring your Korean with you today?" "No. My Korean stayed home. How's your Korean?" "He started a new job!" I sharply remember a moment, early last year, when I bumped into another Canadian in my neighborhood; he was out walking around with his Korean significant other, and after a bit of light chatting, I asked what her name was, and what she did, and she actually thanked me for not ignoring her, like a lot of other foreigners do when they talk with her guy.

Are we really so bad at this, that her expectations had gotten so low, that the mere time of day was enough for her to express appreciation? Holy Pariahs, Batman! That's some low-down treatment! I know I've been guilty of this myself, and I've seen it happen and sometimes done too little, or nothing at all about it, but readers, you want to know why a lot of the Korean significant others seem not to enjoy joining the foreigner get-togethers? It's because they tire of being treated like furniture, yah?

being the outsider sucks. (image source)

Now, some of you are going to mention that when these big mixed groups happen at parties and such, the Koreans tend to clump together and form a "mini-tribe" in a corner of the room or something... but instead of shifting the blame to the other side, let's acknowledge that "Ignoring the Koreans because they clump together/Koreans clumping together because the foreigners ignore them" is a chicken/egg vicious cycle if I've ever seen one. We can agree about that, can't we? I hope so.

Some of you are also going to mention that, especially for those of us who spend all week repeating "See the car. The car is red. Do you like the car?" to seven-year-olds WANT to talk about complex topics, really fast, on the weekend, and in our sheer excitement over meeting another foreigner, we might skip over the social graces and niceties. I know how that goes, and I've done the same thing, even with fianceoseyo, and discussed humanities topics at length and speed with a friend, while she (highly trained in the sciences area) kind of got the eyes-glazed-over look... but fact is, my excitement aside, I don't want to make a person I care about, feel that way. Finally, to stretch the argument a bit farther, if we're treating the Koreans we meet like furniture, how dare we get outraged when the Korean media does the same to us, with crooked reports about unqualified teachers and the like?

This one is simply a matter of respect and politeness, in the end, but if we're not dividing our attention at least somewhat proportionally between the Koreans in the room, and the foreigners, how can we hold it against them to clump together, and how can we be surprised when they get a negative impression from us and our exclusivity?

So yeah, let's make a little more effort to include the Koreans at the party, to chat up the significant others and guests and plus one's, with the standard courtesies, so that they don't develop that aversion to meeting our other friends, and coming to our parties, and helping us enjoy our lives in Korea a little more.

Part 3 is here!

Table of contents for the series 


C.W. Bush said...

Some good points there. I know I've been guilty of breaking rule #3 in the past

Turner said...

Haven't finished reading the series, but your point about inclusiveness is key to respecting others and forming friendships.