Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Samesame.... but different.

Here are the top 8 situations where foreigners and Koreans most misunderstand each other. None are specifically good or bad: just different (in no specific order):

1. We don't greet our bosses daily.
In Korea, it is common to go say hello to the bosses when you arrive at work. In schools, this means the Principal, Vice Principal, and sometimes even the Head Teacher.

2. We eat what we like.
Bringing lunch is a foreign concept in Korea(n schools). If we've tried it and don't like it, we generally avoid it. If its "good for well-being" Korean (adults) will eat things they don't necessarily like.

3. That question is way too personal!
We get asked a lot of really personal questions and sometimes locals don't understand why we give funny looks when they aske questions like "are you married?" or "are you on a diet?"

4. Needing personal space.
Space bubbles are invaded a lot. I frequently have old ladies touching me or children hanging from every limb.

5. Queueing.
Why are you waiting silly foreigner? Don't you know that you need the push and elbow your way to the front?? But seriously, its just the norm here.

6. The word "maybe."
In Korean, the words "maybe" and "probably" are colloquially the same-- 아마도 (ah-mah-doh). Once foreigners realize this, we instantly become about 27% more annoying to our co-workers. They use the English word "maybe" in the same way they use the Korean word, which is technically not the way it should be. Foreigners start asking a lot of questions to figure out which form their Korean friend/co-worker is actually trying to convey and sometimes we come off as being pushy, disrespectful, or overly inquisitive. 

"Katie, maybe we will have a teachers dinner this week."

  • What I heard: "There is a chance that we might have a teachers dinner this week."

  • What they could mean: "There might be a teachers dinner this week." (there is a rumor of a possible dinner) OR "We will probably have a teachers dinner this week." (there is a dinner in the works, so I believe I'm giving you a heads up about an imminent event).
This is a big point of frustration for both sides, and its a perfect example of how strange some language barriers can be!

(I'm quite lucky that my co-teachers don't get offended when I have to ask a ton of questions to clarify things like that!)

7. Customer service.
This is a place where Korea excels (usually). I think that if a Korean person went shopping in the US, they might be a little turned off.

In Korea, in smaller shops workers usually follow you pretty closely. Its very obviously NOT out of suspicion, because when they see you pick up an item, they immediately jump over to you and tell you why its so great or help you try it on.

Korea is big on "service-uh" which is basically just Konglish for free stuff (service-uh is just the phonetic English for the Korean word). For example, I'm in the same mart near my house about 3 days each week. One day last week I had an unusually large order, and as I was leaving, the man (who is also the owner, I believe) put a package of paper towels in my bag and said "service."

Another stellar example is the shop where I have gotten all of my phones in Korea. I've used the same store, and I'm actually going to go back to the same store to get another new phone this week! They always give me a SUPER big discount on the price of the phone, which may have something to do with me bringing newbies to that shop. However, even with the first phone I got-- they had a much better price than any other store in the area (like $40 vs $120!!)

8. Things are the way they are.
Americano = espresso and water. Hot or iced. Sometimes with sugar. If I ask for a tiny bit of milk, the world stops for a second. Its not a language thing, its a cultural thing. If I go into a coffee shop I must order off the menu. There is no option for a "medium hot french vanilla with 2% and Splenda." I've successfully asked for things to be left out (like lattes without sugar), but add-ins are super difficult. There is a Dunkin Donuts that has an English-speaking owner, and shes pretty great about letting people make little adjustments. I think she knows that Dunkin at home allows a million different combo options, plus shes just generally really nice.

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