Our Lonely Planet on relationships in Korea: “If you haven’t been properly introduced, there is no obligation to be polite, let alone acknowledge the other person’s existence. This worldview explains, in part, why people jump the queue, push their way through the subway door, or drive vehicles with reckless abandon.”
Response: With a non-Korean face you are constantly having your existance acknowledged wherever you go. “Hello, Nice to meet you!” However, this does not mean that you are going to have 15 or even one Korean friend right away. It took us a while to make any Korean friends. Koreans are brave to speak English on the streets but beyond the regular pleasantries most seem very embarrassed to have a conversation. Also, expect to have to fight for your place in line and look both ways when you cross the street. Korea is the first place I have ever stuck my elbow in front of an old woman so she wouldn’t work her way to the front of the line. But this shouldn’t define Koreans for you. Everyday on the way home, my baker and I never fail to wave and say hello to each other. Her smile(and other’s) completely kills the theory that Koreans aren’t friendly or polite.
Health: “Koreans are also fanatical about health.”
Response: True that. Almost everything they eat is good for you. I think I have accidentally lost weight here and I eat as aggressively as I did at home. But everytime we eat Korean food we are eating lots of vegetables, meats, soups and rice. The only time I eat anything processed is when we have ramen or an American breakfast. Otherwise we are eating natural foods. Also Koreans take to the sidewalks and mountain trails by the hundreds. The only time I have had the trails to myself have been during extremely cold days or during days of high pollution.
Character: “Another aspect of the Korean character is generosity. Fighting to pay the bill is a common phenomenon.”
Response: I think when a group of Westerners goes out and divides up the bill at the cashier, it looks weird. It is pretty common for one person in the party to pick up the tab. Lindsay and I ate out with one our of co-workers one night and she wouldn’t hear of us paying for our meal. The couple of times we have eaten out for someone’s birthday, the person with the birthday pays the tab. Another time, our friend’s mom drove across town to drop kimchi off for me because she heard how much I liked it. Koreans can flat out be the most giving people you will ever meet. I don’t know of any other time I have gotten more free stuff than here.
Response: It has to be said that Korean women are probably the most beautiful women of the East. China, Thailand and Japan have nothing on these women. They are all stylish and 8 times out of 10 they are stunningly beautiful. (I still prefer my women of the Tennessee variety) They laugh with their hands over their mouth, flirt and often do both at the sight of a westerner. But if you are looking to date you better be ready to commit. They don’t date, they marry….then immediately have children. I have heard the following story from more than one western man….”Well, I was planning to stay one year, but then after three months here, I met my wife….” But many of our girl Korean friends are getting away from this. They want to not only pick their mate(sometimes their parents do that for them), but take their time doing it.
A lot of foreigners get down on Korean culture while living here. This is only because it is so different from home, and it is reflex to think that the way you have always done it is the only way. (Funny side note, Lindsay confessed that she thinks she likes squatty potties better than their western counterparts.) While there are some things I think Koreans need to get on board with (women’s rights, gay rights, adoption rights) this has not taken away for my appreciation for them. They have gone down a different path. They will face these important issues eventually, and many already are. Either way I am loving the experience, and loving the friendly face of the Korean baker waiting to say hello to me every afternoon. She makes me feel like I am coming home in Korea.