#9 - Stop staring at me!
In the states, you can get yourself into a lot of trouble by looking at someone the wrong way. Actually you can get yourself into a lot of trouble by just looking at someone. We consider it rude and offensive, and often times (usually between males), a simple stare can result in very unnecessary acts of violence that usually erupts over one person saying something really awesome like, “Why don’t you just take a picture, it’ll last longer!” And then the recipient of that cheeky comment get’s all bothered, bad words are exchanged and before you know it, fists are flying and chairs are breaking. And to think, why? All because of a simple little stare?
I suppose that my upbringing has kind of hard wired the fact that if somebody is staring at me, then that person has a problem and they are a threat that must be crushed. But when I came to Korea, I noticed very quickly that everybody was staring at me and it made me really uncomfortable. Now, I am not a violent person at all. I got into one fight when I was in the 3rd grade and that conflict didn’t even involve punching. Ever since that little incident, I have never had a reason to fight. I’m just not a very confrontational kind of person and I view fighting as, well… stupid. It is. Come on people, more love… less fight. If that makes me less of a man, well then that’s just fine with me. I’m less of a man. Darn.
But the staring that occurs in this country can be overly offensive. Like a ridiculous kind of stare. It’s like a shameless “Yes, I’m staring at you. What’s the big deal?” kind of stare. Very awkward. It’s not like when you feel someone’s eyes burning a hole in your face and when you turn to investigate the starer diverts his/her attention to something else.
This is more like you feel someone burning a hole in your face, so you turn to investigate but the starer just keeps staring at you as if you’re the Mona Lisa personified. A perfectly preserved museum object on display that is shopping for apples at the grocery store or reading a book on the bus ride home. That’s you. And you will be stared at, dammit.
So how do you respond to someone staring at you that is usually much older and presumably does not speak your language?
Well, at first I would just stare back; a sort of animal like defense to a possible threat. But then I realized that staring back does nothing… in fact, it just makes me feel more uncomfortable because now I am participating in this weird kind of eye contact with a 75 year old Korean woman who is unfazed by the entire thing. So that’s awkward. The stare back method got put on the shelf very quickly.
Then I thought that I’ll just ignore them and look the other way. But that is also hard because nobody likes to feel that uncomfortable feeling of being stared at. It’s just strange! Ugh! Stop staring at me!
So then I started doing something else which has worked pretty well so far and has kind of turned the attention from me to them in a sort of humiliating way. I stare back for about 2 seconds and then I let out a very enthusiastic “Anyeong-haseyo!” complete with a bow. Anyeong-haseyo means hello in Korean and most Koreans almost have a heart attack when they learn that a foreigner can speak one of their words. I figured that bowing was a nice add-on to give to a complete stranger. When I started saying anyeong haseyo it was if I was stunning my starer out of his/her stare while simultaneously making them acknowledge that I am in fact, a human being and regardless of how strange I may appear with my European appearance, I am not a freak show white man that belongs in The Leuvre. The bow seems to make them think “My god! who are these people?!” And they either laugh at me or get scared and turn away. It’s been a pretty solid method to date.
I asked one of my co-teachers about the whole staring thing one time and she responded by first having a good laugh and then saying “Gavin, they stare because they think you look like celebrity!”
"Oh!" I replied, "Which one, exactly?"