Is that a challenge?!?June 16, 2007
In the midst of editing deadlines and trying to keep up with Korean homework (90 minute private lessons last a painful eternity if not sufficiently prepared!), I’m taking a break to embark upon a formidable challenge presented to me by Matty last week. While I am truly having a wonderful time here in Korea, there are a good many, many, maaaany things about Korean culture that drive me absolutely batty.
Many of these are admittedly pet peeves; that is, things that normally shouldn’t bother me as much as they do, but that for various personal reasons, I can’t seem to get past (a lifetime of psychoanalysis would hardly begin to unravel my tortured relationship with this country, one that got off on a very bad foot during my first, traumatic visit in 1989). To give just one example, the Korean language has culturally appropriated an unbelievable number of English words and expressions. Because Hangul is a phonetic alphabet, the linguistic transformation that occurs is often quite dramatic, not to mention ridiculous. For example, a “rear-view mirror” is called a “back mirror” in Korea, but is written in Hangul and therefore pronounced as “back meter.” “back meter??” It is also not unusual for couples here to wear the same accessories (watches, shoes, etc.) or even to be outfitted head to toe in identical attire. This phenomenon is called “cuplook,” an abbreviated form of “couple look.” Engagement rings are often referred to as “cup link” (couple ring)? The prize goes to something we discovered for sale the other week, a “cupful.” anyone? anyone? This would be a “couple waffle”… a waffle treat for two. Okay, I realize how petty it is for me to be annoyed by this at all, but I think I would be less bothered if, as a language teacher, I hadn’t known so many Koreans for whom this linguistic quirk didn’t make learning French infinitely more difficult (e.g., “bonjour” is spelled/pronounced “bongjour”), or maybe if Koreans didn’t sometimes look at native English speakers like they were clueless for not understanding what is meant by “back meter” or “cuplook”… after all, it’s English, right? Again, wholly superficial and irrational, I realize. (It must be said, though, that many Koreans express horror when they find out how badly some words and expressions have been Konglish-ified.)
The greatest difficulties I have living here, however, are more legitimate, and are mainly related to gender restrictions and expectations. I feel it each and every time I leave the apartment, and to such a suffocating degree that not a day goes by that I don’t silently and sincerely thank my parents for acting on their belief that life for their daughter would in so many ways be better in the US. One of these days, I will try to devote a long post to (my perceptions of) gender roles in Korea, but for now, I’ll just say that it’s pretty tiring to live in a society where women out running frequently get stared at as if they have three heads, where I’m surrounded by young adult women who wear dresses and high heels to go hiking and who refer to their lovers in whiny, undulating girlish voices as “ooppaaaaaaaaa” (big brother), and where one of the first items listed in a friend’s employee manual indicated that it was considered socially offensive for a female employee not to wear make-up in the workplace.
So what’s the challenge? Despite my many issues with Korean culture, few things would make me happier than to somehow make peace with this country. Matty knows this better than anyone else, and to help me accomplish this goal, he has challenged me to find at least one thing I truly love about Korea for each critique I have about it. Therefore, as time permits over the next 6 weeks, I will try to write short posts about things I love about living in Korea. These will likely be more culture-specific in nature (e.g., eating & drinking culture, public bathhouses, customer service, etc.) since it should certainly go without saying how deeply I appreciate more universal things like spending time with friends and family. We’ve actually already blogged about a number of things I really love here: temple stays, Cocaine (our local request bar), running on the Han River… now, what else? 😕