#14 - Nuances
To say that the culture here can strike one as rigid would be a bit of an understatement. It’s no secret that Korea can be hard to adjust to. I frequently think about the differences between the culture here and the culture back home; the little nuances that go by unnoticed here but would probably cause an outburst of rage back home.
I guess the adjustment that must be made and the realization that your world is not the one and only superior world is a big part of living abroad. Travel and the first-hand experience of those differences will always open ones eyes to something new. Whether that is exciting or not is up to the individual. But being here is more than travel. Travel usually lasts a couple of weeks, if your lucky; and providing your boss is generous enough. Being away for what is now ten months is something more than travel… it’s moving, it’s a temporary home, like being in the Army. Sort of.
When I arrived here, someone told me that one day I would enter my “dark period”; a time when I would hate everything and everyone around me. I would look at a Korean and squirm with anger and annoyance. I don’t think that I have necessarily entered a “dark period”… that’s a bit harsh, but I have definitely experienced days and moments of frustration, for lack of a better word.
The frustrations, although difficult to endure, eventually lead to something that is much more important and valuable; very sharp reminders that this is NOT home and I need to change my ideals.
As an American, I have unconsciously created social expectations that sometimes aren’t met in Korea. It’s not good or bad… it’s just the way it is, it’s the way I am. Anyone who has ever traveled has undoubtedly had the same experience of seeing something unusual and quickly passing judgement.
Examples of previous judgements include but are not limited to the following:
I believe that when passing another person, it is polite to say “excuse me” as opposed to just pushing the person in front of you out of the way. When a subway approaches the platform, I am inclined to let the passengers off before I board, as opposed to just pushing my way through the crowd. In New York, you can get killed for doing that.
I’m not all that comfortable with clearing the deepest, most flemmy part of my throat while standing next to a perfect stranger, but here, not a problem.
I believe whole-heartedly in the personal bubble. I dig my bubble. This is my space and that is yours. The personal bubble extends about 12 inches in all directions from my body. Kindly respect my bubble. There is no bubble in Korea! It’s all open space, free for everyone to get involved in.
When I cough or sneeze, I cover my mouth to prevent the spread of germs and when there is a community dish at the dining table, we are supposed to use the serving utensils to serve a small portion onto our own plates… as opposed to everyone diving in with their own spoon or chopsticks.
As an American or British person (whatever I am), I observe these things and think to myself “Gross!” or “Well, excuuuuuse me!” or “Seriously? You need to stand that close to me?”
It really is hard at times to not get offended by little nuances.
I always wonder what foreigners think when they visit America; what kinds of observations do they have about our culture that might cause them to say to their loved one “Honey, did you see that?!”
Maybe it’s our volume… Americans are the apparently the loudest people (we are, by the way - I was on a train the other day and these Americans would NOT. SHUT. UP… they were so loud. I was embarrassed). Maybe they are appalled by the violence. Maybe foreigners come to America and are just revolted by how obese some of us are. Or maybe they just can’t understand why we absolutely have to give the server 15%-20% in addition to the total of the restaurant bill.
I’ve come to accept the little nuances as just that… nuances. They are nothing to get too bent out of shape over… well maybe the shoving, I still can’t wrap my head around that one. Just say “excuse me!” But all in all, it’s not personal, it’s just the way things are done here. It’s normal. And who am I to say what is right or wrong in another country? So I keep my mouth shut and try not to let the little things bother me. But hear this, foreigners, if you come to America and start double dipping that tortilla chip, then we have a serious problem.