Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Are Koreans Afraid of Foreigners? Videoclip plus Facepalm

CJ Entertainment put this video out, to show how scared Koreans are of foreigners.

The only problem is, I don't think it shows Koreans are scared of foreigners.

I'm not surprised at all, given the fact so many Koreans' main experience with English is connected with Very Important Tests, or Evaluations That Could Bugger Your Upward Mobility Forever (even if you never need English in your work), that many are nervous about speaking English. If you could measure English Speaking Anxiety, I don't doubt Koreans would be near the top of the international rankings. But I'd say this video proves Koreans are afraid of speaking English, not of foreigners. Most Koreans I've met are pretty curious about foreigners, if they're brave enough to start talking.

I took issue with EBS's racism video earlier, basically for editing video to tell the narrative they wanted it to (that time, that Koreans like whitey more than South Asians)... and it's interesting to contrast these two videos, to demonstrate that yeah, the white guy also has trouble finding useful help, and some people walk by the white guy, too.

Another angle: if a Korean were walking around on the streets of Toronto or Baltimore, they'd probably have just as much trouble finding help, or being passed by. Because they're not speaking the language of the land. Not even trying.

As a traveller like this guy is dressed up to be, and especially as someone living here, not knowing the basics of the local language kind of inexcusable. It's not THAT hard to learn a couple of phrases, to learn to count, to learn left, right, straight, and "over there," and it'll help you find what you're looking for, and get along with the natives. If you can't be arsed to learn that, while staying here longer than a month, you should only travel to countries that speak your language, or stay well on the beaten track for tourists, where odds are higher you'll eventually bump into someone who can speak with you.

While we're in Korea, and while it's sweet that CJ cares so much about how anglo tourists fare in Korea (did they make similar videos for tourists speaking Vietnamese, Cantonese, Thai, Mandarin, Mongolian and Tagalog?), let's remember that Koreans in Korea are under no obligation to learn the languages of the people who visit Korea, and if they do learn, and if they speak it with you, they've doing you a favor, to which you are not entitled. Let's be clear about that.

And this doesn't prove Koreans are afraid of foreigners. That is all.


Andyroo said...

They did make a reference to "English Sickness" before they talked about foreigner phobia. It's not just a scared of foreigners issue.

I don't think this video is evidence but I have seen plenty of incidents where Korean's are wary of foreigners. Even more where they are extra friendly so it's hard to give a definitive yes or no answer on that one.

There is also no controlled example, do Koreans like giving directions to strangers even if they are Korean? 
It's hard to explain where things are to someone who doesn't know the land marks as Korean style maps with there total disregard for scale aren't very helpful.

roboseyo said...

LOL. You are right that the maps on the backs of business cards and on pamphlets, etc. are TOTALLY useless -- failing to mark turnoffs before the turn I have to make, making Y-shaped intersections look like X-shaped, and so forth.

BlueSae said...

 I completely agree with what you wrote here. Many Koreans on teenage forums, when they look at the videos such as this and esp the EBS video you mentioned, said that it really depends on the situation, but they generally would not like to speak to foreigners because of their perceived ability of not being able to speak English. (plus many would like foreigners to at least try speaking in Korean first before speaking ENglish)
It is also because many people are just there for the day or aren't there often and they aren't even able to tell directions to other Koreans on the street had they tried (with the lack of street address and the constant changes in local buildings etc)
And I also agree with you on the language aspect. Try their language first, no matter how much you suck at it. If all fails, you can still speak ENglish anyways

DSW said...

I think that - as you said - it shows Koreans are maybe afraid of speaking English, rather than speaking to foreigners. The first two clips definitely show a level of discomfort that probably relates more to the person than the language, but the later ones definitely show the locals trying to be helpful. You can't fault them for not speaking English. 

(And yes, I agree that it's monumentally foolish to go to another country without knowing the basics of getting around. People can be so arrogant.) The video is a bit silly. Maybe well-intentioned, but doesn't show anything other than these people are a mixed bunch, trying to help, being afraid or embarrassed... It's not really serving any great purpose. I think if they wanted to make a show that helped foreigners, they'd show how Korean people often point, shout, whisper, and mock foreigners in the street. That's rude as hell. There's nothing wrong with being embarrassed about speaking a foreign language... but maybe this show could help by actually correcting a genuine problem, instead of an imagined one. 

Seoul stories said...

I so agree about the map part... Korean roads are quite messy because Seoul wasn't really planned out when it was being industrialized. It's very hard to find addresses in Korea if you don't know the system. It's not simple like in New York...