That’s so Korean… or is it?
Sometimes I get a little tired of the generalizations I hear foreigners make about Koreans. You know, those broad-sweeping stereotypes which are usually negative? Koreans are such bad drivers; Koreans are poor planners; Koreans have no sense of privacy. I understand where the stereotypes derive from, as I also have days that are sometimes filled with negative experiences, like this:
One regular weekday morning, I leave the apartment with my four-year old and walk to the bus stop. My daughter has a temper-tantrum about the wind in her face, rather than asking me nicely to help her put her hood up on facemask on. An ajumma walking past fusses over my daughter, making “aw, shame, what’s wrong?” noises and produces a candy from the depths of her handbag to placate my whining child. This annoys me, as she is basically rewarding my child for bad behaviour, but I just smile and say, “Kwenchanna-yo” (“that’s ok”) and we walk on.
Further down the road an ajoshi hawks a great big gob of phlegm up just in front of us, and then spits it out, oblivious to the howling wind and the fact his mucus would have landed on my leg if I hadn’t swerved out the way. We reach the bus stop and some more old ladies cooing over my blonde child, pat her on the head despite her dodging and diving and obvious discomfort at being touched.
The bus arrives and the bus driver scowls at how long it takes us to get on (the step on to the bus is a small mountain to a four year old), then pulls off impatiently before we’ve found a seat, the sudden forward motion almost knocking us off our feet.
After safely depositing my child at playschool, I walk into the office where there is an email from my boss saying I have an extra class that runs for 6 weeks starting tomorrow at 9am and please can I submit my lesson plans for it by 3pm today. “Thanks for the warning!” I think, as I head off to class, knowing that 90% of my students won’t have done their homework.
So yes, there are negative experiences to be had. However, I do not think that I can put this down to “Korean” behaviour, or being treated like such just because I’m a foreigner. If anything, foreigners get preferential treatment over Korean staff (you are more readily forgiven for not knowing the hierarchical workplace etiquettes).
As for the grumpy bus driver? That is luck of the draw. I could have just as bad an experience in London, or Johannesburg, or Sydney. And chances are that tomorrow the bus driver will give my little blonde angel a winning smile, and look carefully in his rear-view mirror to check that we are seated before pulling off, as well as that we are safely off the bus before closing the doors when we arrive at our destination.
So the next time you find yourself saying, “Koreans are so…” stop and think a minute, because it might just be a case of “Humans can be so…”