A Lesson in Manners

As we’ve all encountered here in Korea, there are many cultural differences between our culture and theirs. Often times there may be things we do that are offensive without our even realizing it, which happened on a number of instances during my field trip with school. I learned of this later at night when the teacher I was rooming with sat me down and explained all my mistakes and said she’d been laughing at me all day. Nice.

Blunder #1: During our first dinner in the cafeteria, I fill up my food tray with the normal dishes – rice, soup, kimchi, etc, etc. Normally I put the rice in the bottom left circle of the tray, but this time I put it in the bottom right. No big deal right? Wrong. Apparently they ALWAYS put the rice in the bottom left and only put it in the bottom right during funeral ceremonies. Really? Whatever.

Blunder #2: The first night of the trip, after dinner, all the teachers gathered in one of the hotel rooms to have a dessert of fruit, nuts, and dried squid (yum). Everyone was there, including the VP and the rest of the male administrators. We were all sitting on the floor, most everyone dressed in pajamas, and the VP and others told me repeatedly to make myself at home and enjoy. After sitting on the floor for an hour or so, it started getting uncomfortable, which it always does. I saw another male teacher sit with his legs straight out, so I thought there would be no harm in doing the same. Right? Wrong. Apparently that is extremely offensive, and when asked why it was ok if he did it, she said he was being rude as well.

Blunder #3: Then, after sitting on the floor for an extended period of time, my bad knee started hurting, as it usually does. Since it was also blazing hot in this room, I pushed my pant leg up and proceeded to mess with the scar on my knee to ease my pain. Apparently something I thought no one would notice, especially since I had been repeatedly told to relax, was an extremely suggestive and offensive act. Fantastic.

So after feeling thoroughly embarrassed, I apologized to my co-teacher and told her to please tell the other teachers sorry if I offended anyone. To which she said, no it’s ok, I don’t think anyone noticed. Great. Then I got to thinking, you know what? Koreans could use a lesson in manners also. Here’s what I would tell Koreans if only I could:

1. Laughing at struggling foreigners is not ok. Nor is obviously talking about them to their face and pointing and laughing hysterically, and then expecting you to have a response as if you had suddenly, miraculously learned Korean overnight.

2. Cutting in line, pushing, elbowing and being otherwise completely rude and disrespectful is not ok, no matter how old you are.

3. Hocking up snot in public is not only disgusting it is also unsanitary. For a country supposedly so concerned with health they wear face masks at the slightest cold, this doesn’t seem like a hard concept. Neither does the fact that you shouldn’t have a cigarette constantly hanging out of your mouth, especially from behind your face mask.

I have a feeling this may turn into a regular post topic, so stay tuned for more.

Oh yea, and ajimas, stop staring, haven’t you ever seen a waygukin before? Thanks roketship!

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2 Responses to “A Lesson in Manners”

  1. asianamiami Says:

    I completely agree! I am half korean living in Florida and whenever I go to Korea to visit, I am kind of disgusted! It’s funny how everyone (most) look so conservative, and you would think that manners would be obvious but it’s absolutely not! I was at a really nice salon in Seoul, and I was sitting at the table while my color was processing and this mother had a baby on her lap that was playing with/drooling and coughing on the public bowl of oranges. After the baby had done this for a good few minutes, the mother just pushed the bowl away. gross! good thing I saw it, so that I didnt partake! And, everyone (most, including my mother!—I’m still working on her!) chew with their mouths open (my biggest pet peeve) and suck their teeth! annoying….I’ll be there next year to teach…so much to look forward to!

  2. Yeah, Koreans can be quite rude, I agree! It’s those little discrepancies that seem to make a big difference, but that’s the tough thing about being a foreigner in a different country. I’m sure a lot of immigrants go through similar feelings all the time while in the US, and they probably don’t agree with a lot of things about American culture, but they adjust anyways because they know that’s how they will survive and adapt.

    You should just keep in mind that not all Koreans are like that! Usually, younger and more modern (and educated) Koreans don’t care about those sorts of things. It’s usually older, Korean people you have to watch out for! There are some people still alive there who were growing up before a democracy was set up, and they have very conservative ideas about how things should be.

    I hate how people hawk snot in their mouth and spit it out too, but you know, I’ve met Korean Americans from my generation (I’m 27) who even do those things (ewwwwwww, I don’t know what makes them think that’s so cool). But just so you know, there are many Koreans who hate that too (like my mom). I notice it’s usually older men who tend to do that. Older men who smoke!

    And you probably should just learn to ignore the staring (if you can). I bet if you went to Japan, you would get that everywhere you go as well, so it’s not just Korea!

    Just don’t try to take things too much to heart. After all, don’t Americans sometimes laugh at funny cultural mistakes immigrants make too? It’s not that they want to but it just happens because they do something Americans never thought about. At least your co-teacher was nice enough to inform you about your mistakes so you won’t make them again in the future (even though no one noticed this time around)…although, I have to say, that rice thing was pretty stupid. I asked my mom about that, and she told me even she didn’t know about that.

    And I feel for you about Koreans saying bad things in front of you. How do you know they’ve done that? I’ve had personal experience with that, but I knew they were saying bad things about me because I can actually understand Korean.

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