Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wanna Chat with Foreign Beauties? How to Make Friends with a Foreigner Part 6

This post is part of a series providing tips for expats in Korea who are interested in becoming friends with Koreans, and tips for Koreans who are interested in becoming friends with Westerners. Read. Yes, I know these are sweeping generalizations. Deal with it.

Tip 15
Be calm: if you find yourself wanting to "correct" my opinion, or if you find yourself wanting to say something like "You should learn more about Korea before you criticize," it's time to do one of two things: 1. do a quick emotion-check - breathe deeply, count to ten, and continue as coolly and rationally as possible, with delicate, tactful language, in a calm voice, or 2. if you don't feel like doing that, or if you're afraid your emotions will make it hard to do that, just change the subject.

Honestly, this is a bad habit many foreigners have: it's natural to have complaints about life -- nobody's ever 100% happy -- but sometimes we choose the wrong time or place to say them, or we take our normal, natural complaints about life, and make them sound like we're complaining generally about Korea, not specifically about a situation. If it seems like the conversation is about to turn into a bunch of complaining, it might be time to change the subject.

If you don't want to have conversations like this, see also tip 11: don't ask questions that could be taken as an invitation to complain.

Tip 15.1 Please allow me to have bad days. Some days, my boss was a jerk, or the crowded subway was annoying, or some of my students' mothers complained about my teaching. If I complain about those things, please listen to me, and don't think that my complaining is a final judgement on your country, or your culture. I need friends to help me deal with my bad days, not Korea defenders to tell me I shouldn't feel that way!

Complaints are emotional, especially if I just had a bad day, and when I'm emotional, I don't always choose my words carefully. That's normal human behavior; please remember that before getting defensive.

Tip 16 Be ready for a different kind of friendship than you have with your Korean friends. I don't feel comfortable explaining in detail exactly how, because "foreigners" is a pretty diverse group, as are Koreans, and the specifics vary for every two different people... but the ways and reasons Koreans form and maintain friendships are sometimes different than the ways and reasons foreigners form and maintain friendships, so there will be times when things are different, strange, maybe even uncomfortable for both of us. In those cases, if you really want to have a good foreign friend, it'll be important for you to talk with me about what's happening, and how or why things are different than you'd each expect from your friends of the same culture. If you can both keep open minds and negotiate those challenges, then you'll be on the way to having a truly rewarding friendship. But especially if you haven't lived outside of Korea, and your friend hasn't spent time in other cultures growing up, both sides will need to work on being flexible. If we can both be flexible, it's totally worth it.

And remember: "It's a cultural difference" is NOT the end of a conversation.  It's the BEGINNING of a conversation.  After saying "It's a cultural difference," it's important to articulate that difference, and how my expectations are different than your expectations, so that we can be understanding and flexible towards each other in the future.

Now, following these tips won’t automatically guarantee that you’ll become great friends with every foreigner you meet: friendship depends on more than avoiding faux-pas - but by avoiding these turn-off behaviors, you’ll hopefully have the tools to make the kind of good impression that leads to good friendships. Have fun!

Back to the Table of Contents for the series.


Unknown said...

Hi, I read all of your series as my foreign friend recommended to me. (I'm korean) Every series was interesting and I think it will be really helpful for me to meet foreign people. Especially I liked this phrase. "'It's a cultural difference' is NOT the end of a conversation. It's the BEGINNING of a conversation." :)

Turner said...

I enjoyed reading this. Spot on.