In the interest of balance, I need to remember down the line that Korea wasn’t all perfect! Though I know I’ll struggle to come up with ten things, I hope this will help me look back and remember the frustrations as well as those perfect moments.
1. Berlitz Working Hours – Start at 6.45am, finish at 9pm, pretty much every day. I mean really, no wonder the turn over’s so high. It’s just unacceptable by anyone’s standards, and I’m really not going to miss getting out of bed at 5.30am to teach some hung-over businessman. Berlitz Korea need to adjust their attitude to teachers quite substantially if they’re going to keep people for years the way they do in some other countries. At the end of the day, if we’re too tired to move then we’re not going to be good teachers. I’m going to need a good month of oversleeping before I even start to feel like I’m recovering!
2. The Unkindness of Strangers – Ok, perhaps this title is a little unfair, but Korean culture simply doesn’t allow for strangers to treat each other well. Forget queuing, people are going to walk straight in front of you while you wait to pay in the convenience store. If suited businessman barged you out of the way like that back home you’d think they were looking for a fight. As negative as people’s behavior is to strangers, however. It’s equally positive once you get to know them. Korean friends could not be more friendly. If only they could stop looking through you as strangers.
3. Ajummas – Aren’t people supposed to calm down when they get old? Ajumma’s make me mad. These vicious old women push in front of the frailer ones to get to the disabled seats in the train. They shoulder charge people out of their path rather than walk two feet round them. They have the fashion sense of somebody with a weird color clash fetish. They’re evil. Though locals seem to see them as the pillar of society, which confuses me no end…
4. Racism – I hate to say it about a country I love so much, but a lot of Koreans- especially older Koreans – are implicitly racist. Just try (this may only work for the guys) walking down the road quite innocently next to a Korean. The idea that you even might be a couple obviously offends a lot of the older generation. Then there’s the staring on the subway. It is almost exclusively the older generation, but racism is extremely abundant amongst them. It’s even institutionalized – take a look at the difference in laws for Korean blood and non-Korea blood foreigners coming to the country. Blatant racism.
5. Copy Cat/ status symbol Fashion – Ok, so I can hardly claim to care about fashion, but I will never understand why so many people spend so much money to wear ‘that’ brand. It looks stupid to be wearing the same as everyone else, and that horrible printed Louis Vuitton bag is ugly anyway. I wouldn’t buy it if it cost a fiver. But then neither would you, which is why it bothers me so much…
6. Other Status Symbols – Where do you live? What car do you drive? Which University did you go to? You know what? I don’t care. If you’ve got a lot of money, great, now go and do something exciting with it rather than buying a slightly better car! The average Korean women’s obsession with status symbols (an indication of how much money a man might have) is almost as annoying. You could just try being with someone you actually like!
7. ‘Follow the crowd’ media – I mean really, that beef protest was stupid, wasn’t it? If the media stopped scare mongering, maybe the locals would realize that in reality American beef was much less of a threat than bird flu – which was only a matter of miles from Seoul at one point – and stop holding ludicrously oversized protests over it. The same goes for a whole load of other stuff… Korean media likes to stir stuff up. They wouldn’t succeed if so many people didn’t listen too much!
8. Manchester United – I know it’s petty, but I hate them. Korean’s love them, largely because of Park Ji Sung. I would rather watch Wigan vs. Fulham then another Manchester United match. Sadly that’s not likely to change much in the future. Maybe I should move to Bulgaria, I hear Villa are huge there…
9. ‘Everything can be written in Hangul’ – Koreans love to say this. The Korean alphabet is an extremely clever, syllable-based system that (at least once you get to grips with it) is extremely easy to use. Koreans rightly have a very high opinion of it. It can’t, however, cover all pronunciation. For a start, it takes three syllables to write ‘ice’ in Hangul. Secondly, it is impossible to write ‘f’, ‘v’ or ‘s’ at the end of a word correctly. Thirdly, any word containing anything remotely similar to ‘sh’ sound ridiculous in Korean. See that ‘rushy and cashy’ advert. In other words, no matter what myths they spread in middle school, Hangul CANNOT be used for everything. Get over it!
10. ‘But it must be right, they taught me that in middle school’ – That may be the case, but you went to middle school 40 years ago, the text book was 20 years old then, and it was probably written by a Korean. We do not always tell each other that we feel ‘fine’. The last time somebody said anything was ‘so so’ was in the mid 19th century. In fact, your teacher in middle school had probably never spoken to a native speaker, so why would they know better than me?!
The pettiness of those final three probably give a good idea of how little I really don’t like about Korea. All in the interest of balance. Now go read the ‘positive’ section, Korea rocks!