I contemplated publishing a post like this within my first couple weeks, for fear of making sweeping generalizations too soon. Ultimately, I decided it wasn’t; and unlike my somewhat sneering Paris post on this subject, my review of South Koreans is infinitely more flattering. A list of things I’ve noticed so far:
1) Koreans are extremely nice.
I noticed this as soon as we got to the airport, as Alex and I struggled to get all of our bags from one airport to another to get our connecting flight to Busan. Everyone helped with our bags, whether it was getting them in and out of the elevator or actually carrying them for us (me). One girl dragged one of my suitcases across the airport and showed us to our terminal. Another instance of this occurred last weekend when Alex and I were coming back from shopping on the subway. There were no seats so we had to stand. Without a word, the two people sitting in front of us took our bags and held them for the entire subway ride. I’ve been really blown away by how kind everyone is.
2) They want you to speak Korean!
Here’s a novel idea that France may want to try: they actually encourage you to speak their language here, even if you mangle it horribly! I have felt more welcome trying to speak the two words of Korean that I know (hello and thank you) than I ever did speaking conversational French in Paris. This one lady, from whom we get lunch a couple times a week, even wrote down the phonetic pronunciation for Alex when we first got here. When the language is so completely foreign and difficult, it’s nice to have one’s efforts rewarded for trying to speak it.
3) Gender roles are subtle but enforced.
I suppose this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but gender roles here are definitely still traditional (though I would say that South Korea is rather liberal compared to China or Japan). I say it’s subtle because it comes in the form of things you might not notice if you weren’t looking for it. For example, we get lunch with our co-workers every day. The guys always get a larger serving of rice than the women (because they are manly-men and need their carbs). In the airport, Alex was spoken to as the “head of the family,” despite the fact that we clearly had different last names and were each our own party. For me, this is one of the more frustrating things about living here.
4) Koreans don’t sweat.
I kind of knew this already, as foreigners are really the only ones who use deodorant and is one reason it’s so expensive (roughly $10-12 per stick). It really hit home, however, when I went to the gym for the first time earlier this week. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of working out with me, you know that I get extremely red-faced and sweat. A lot. It’s not my most attractive quality, but it is what it is. Well, talk about sticking out like a sore thumb. Who’s this very red, glistening girl rapping to Eminem on the treadmill? That’d be me.
I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list as time goes on, but it’s a start. Happy Friday, everyone! (Or almost Friday, for you folks back home aka everyone who reads this blog). I’ll try to take some more pictures this weekend, as I’ve been seriously lacking in the photographic-evidence-of-my-being-here department.