Friday, August 12, 2011

And now I proudly present to you another list.

It occurs to me that I should probably rename this blog “Making Lists in Korea”, except this one was made in the U.S.A., so I can’t. I mean, I would, as I accept, and even own, the fact that I am a compulsive list-maker. It helps me arrange my life and understanding into an (often artificial) sense of order. But that's not what this post is about.

I’ve been back in the States, for a much-needed break from Asian life, for a couple of weeks now. From what I’ve seen so far, the city of Washington, DC still exists (YAY!), as do Northeast Tennessee and the Eastern Shore of Maryland (only slightly smaller ‘Yay!’). America seems to be getting on just as I left it, with perhaps a somewhat more dire case of the Crazy Congress Critters. I’ve actually been rather surprised at how fluidly I’ve re-taken to Western life, but there are still certain snags that I’ve run into. Below, an accounting of the Korean habits that have apparently become deeply ingrained in my psyche, for better or for worse.

Things that are normal, acceptable or necessary in Korea but that get you nowhere (or get you strange looks) in the U.S. of A.:

Expressions and phrases:
  • “Let’s get some fish water from the chicken lady.”
  • “Turn on the floor.”
  • “I’m going outside to get some bean fish.”
  • “Put it in the food bucket.”
  • “Have you checked the Cheon Won store?”
  • “Take a rest.”
  • Also, using various non-American words or phrases. Living in an international hodgepodge of an expat community, I’ve picked up many of my friends’ linguistic habits and use them interchangeably with my own. I never know what’s going to come out when I open my mouth these days. Unfortunately, it sounds a bit pretentious here at home.
Gestures and customs:
  • Bowing to…well…anyone and everyone. The grocery store clerks, in particular, think I’m really weird when I bow as I leave.
  • Smiling and/or waving at every foreigner I see. This has many problematic angles. For instance, I can’t possibly wave or smile at every single non-Asian person that I see on the street. Should I switch things up and start smiling and waving at everyone who looks like they might be Korean?
  • Using two hands to do things that really only require one hand, such as exchanging money or pouring drinks. In Korea, it’s polite. Again, kind of pretentious and a bit odd in the U.S.
  • Sorting trash into five different receptacles. This is unnecessary in the States, and often impossible. Even the hippy-est of families usually only have three: recyclable, not recyclable, and compost. I often find myself over-thinking the disposal of my waste here.
  • Tooth brushing in public. Most Americans feel that this daily hygiene routine is best done in private, and usually only twice a day. However, it is done shamelessly and extremely frequently in Korea, to the point where Korean teachers will actually make a phone call with toothpaste and a toothbrush hanging out of their mouths, and children walk down the hall in little cliques, brushing away. Though I sometimes find myself beginning to walk out of the bathroom to go talk to someone mid-brushing, I am not unhappy to have a break from all the foamy mouths. Ick.
  • Making major decisions with a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. In Korea, this game unquestionably and inarguably solves all disputes and brings fair resolution to difficult decisions. If you can win a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, you are clearly a winner in other areas of life and deserve to be treated as such (until you get beaten out next time). In America, well, it gets less respect than a coin toss. Also, yelling “가위 바위 보!” instead of “Rock, paper, scissors” doesn’t go over so well.

Even when I do things the “normal” American way, I find myself just a little more conscious of what I’m doing than I used to be. Much of it is, “Ah yes, this is how we do things in America.” But sometimes it’s, “Oops, wrong country.” At times, I even press my palms together in greeting as if I were in Thailand (despite that fact that I was only there for 10 days and that was 6 months ago). I’m sure I’ll be all confused again when I get back to Korea. Perhaps that’s the plight of living abroad for a while – interchangeable cultural hangovers.