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Saturday, October 6, 2012

12 Things About Korea That Make Me Smile…Now…(But Not Before)

By:  Brittany S

I can’t really say I had “culture shock” when I arrived in Korea, but I will say there were several things about Korean society that I didn’t really care.  But it’s funny how things work out; now I like them!  I guess all I needed was time.  Here’s a short list of a few of my new likes.  (NB: When reading this article, be sure to click on the highlighted texts so you can see the associated images and video clips)

1                    K-Dramas:  In my opinion, soap operas in general are over-the-top and not the highest quality of acting (just overly emotional, beautiful faces).  But Korean Dramas are even more extreme.  Someone is ALWAYS angry, crying, sad, and/or dying.  They are SO CHEESY!  But, I will say, on any given day, one might be playing in a restaurant or on a bus and it is VERY entertaining to “dub” them with a friend.  You should hear what we come up with.

I have no idea what this one is about but I can make up one heck of a story about it.

2                    Commercials:  If you watch the commercials here, ½ the time you have no idea what they are advertising (what does a talking radish have to do with a phone plan?) or you have no idea WHY they are advertising that (and in that way).  When I got over the futility of the commercials to me, I found them to be quite comical.

 (Top: Yea, you were thinking it...especially on the slow-mo's. O.o
  Bottom:  We definitely don't advertise ice cream like THIS back home.)


3                     Cafés:  I am not really an avid coffee drinker and if I was Stateside, you probably wouldn’t find me in a Starbucks (or anything similar) for service or hanging out.  But here it is possible to stand on the corner of a street and see four different chains at one intersection.  Eventually, you make time for the cafés and it becomes a bit of your social norm.

4                    Dogs: I LOVE dogs…but not “purse dogs;” you know, the dogs that never walk, but just get carried.  Those are pointless to me.  But here, usually only foreigners have bigger dogs (a bulldog is considered big here).  I was slightly annoyed with people carrying dogs, but when you see all the little cute doggie clothing they dress them in (and occasionally they dye their fur some neon colors), you can’t help but say “Awww…”

TOP: Even dogs get to wear "hanboks"--traditional Korean clothing (As seen on weddinggraphics.xanga.com) BOTTOM: Not uncommon to see a dog that looks like it's been playing with a hi-lighter.  The owner usually looks really reserved, too.

5        Konglish:  Korean-English can frustrate a native speaker:
BUT, there are times where it is REALLY funny.  I often search for Konglish and/or English translation merchandise just so I can get a quick laugh.

I don't want any "butt cheese" at all!  I don't care if it's American! (As seen on: "Quilly in Kowea")
Could you tell this was about "Dirty Dancing"?

6                    The Staring:  Sometimes it is innocent and you can see the curiosity in their eyes, but other times it is condescending and flat out RUDE.  Originally I was quite offended, but now I just imagine all of Korea is a catwalk.  If I catch you staring, get ready for the show.  I’m about to think I’m Naomi, and I might even wink/blow you a kiss.  Now who’s uncomfy? ;-)

7                    “Can you…?”: Although their intentions are good, I absolutely HATE when Koreans ask:
“Can you eat spicy food?” (No, if I eat it, it will cause my body to combust.  -_-)
“Can you use chopsticks?” (Not at all, not even to style my hair. I don’t understand these mystical sticks.” -_-)
So now I reply to them with:
“Can you eat a hamburger?” or
“Can you use a fork?”
When they think my question is absurd, my point has been made and life goes on. :-)

8                    “Where are you from…Africa?”:  Now don’t me wrong, I don’t see my skin color’s association with the Motherland as an insult.  I embrace it.  (But, as a Black American, if you say I’m African, where exactly am I from?  In reality, if you say I’m an African-American, does that mean I’m like Obama with 1 African parent, or Charlize Theron, a S. African native?)  The reason Koreans think I am African is for no other reason than that I am not White.  Whoaaaa…since when is America monochromatic?  Then whenever Koreans put anything about Africa in their media, it is usually derogatory in some way.  So in some cases, a person calling me African might mean it as a slight.  No need in getting mad anymore.  I just ask them “Are you from Japan?”** and that usually settles it.

9                    Korean hierarchy: This Confusionist culture is admirable.  I wish Americans respected and looked out for each other more like Koreans do, especially in when it comes to education.  You should see the complete authority that a Korean co-teacher demonstrates in our classes.  With that being said, there are times that as a foreign English teacher, nobody tells you anything and it all pertains to you!   Then if you do find out, they only tell you ½ truths, and at the last minute, all the while not including your input.  Fortunately, as time goes on you learn how to beat the system and to navigate “the Korean way.”

10                Walking Everywhere:  There have been times that because of #9, I ended up going on long hikes in sandals.  Honestly, if I had tennis shoes, I’m not sure how much better off I would have been.  It’s a little shameful how out of breath I was getting.  But now I am used to it and I feel healthier.  Plus my legs look amazing! ;-)

11                Being Told To Go To The Hospital:  In America, especially for someone who can’t afford to take off work and/or does not have insurance, we only go to the hospital if it’s an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY.  The first few times someone forced me to go to the hospital here, I thought there would be major problems because of the language barrier, and that it would cost me an arm and a leg.  In both cases I have been wrong.  Most doctors speak quite a bit of English, no matter the city.  Also, I have been to the ER, gotten a prescription, and had an ultrasound done and had a follow-up visit when my lymph nodes were swollen and all of that cost a little over $100 (without insurance).  Plus it only took about 30minutes!  So now if I even THINK I’m getting sick, it’s off to the hospital I go! Why not?

Koreans often LEAVE the hospital and go around town just like this. (As seen on: lauraeff.tumblr.com)

12                Shopping Difficulties:  Back home, you can try on almost anything before you buy it.  Here?  NO.  In fact, many places sell “Free Size” clothing so you can either fit that one, or none at all.  Considering I’m not built like the average Korean woman, this would irritate me and I would often end up buying something that had I been able to try on, I would have put back.  But now I shop like a pro.  I walk in, check the price, hold it up to my body, then buy it.  I also have become less materialistic.  Some things I can’t even buy here (like shoes for instance) and I am ok with only using what I have over and over, after all, see #6.
I mastered the art of shopping and shopping as art. ;-)

**If you don’t know the history between Japan and Korea, please research it.  In short, to associate them with anything Japanese is a bad idea and vice versa.

***Many of the links used in this post are from two of my favorite comical sites about expat life in Korea.  One is called "Dear Korea:  a random comic made by a random expat" and the other is "#kikinitinkorea"  Please support these two!  They are good laughs and VERY accurate.

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