Things Korea’s Made Me Do Unconsciously and Automatically

Landed in Oz and was blasted with 34C right off, at 8am. Glorious! The day started off comically disastrous, but it’s been one of the best days I’ve had in a while (years, perhaps?!). I’ll go into it later, but since I’ve been posting novels on this blog of late, I’ll keep this one short and sweet. Imma talk about all those things that Korea now makes me do before my brain can tell me, “No, you’re not in Asia right now.”

Of course I was anticipating a certain amount of influence from Korean culture, but it comes on so slow that it’s hard to notice when you’ve stopped trying to follow Korean tradition and when you just do it naturally. For the first month or two, I was extremely paranoid about insulting Koreans. As such, I took painstaking effort to follow their customs and be extremely considerate, unassuming, and basically self-effacing. Maybe it’s the fact that I can’t blend it that makes me want to sometimes disappear – avoiding stares, dumbed-down-waygook treatment (waygook means “foreigner” in Korean, just as a btw), and a general feeling of sticking out so obviously. Whatever the reason, though, it’s made me take on Korean blending traits swift as a coursing river (ahem, Mulan reference…this computer won’t let me add nifty pictures).

So here are some automatic things that I do now that probably look weird:

1. Saying “ne” when agreeing with people. “Ne” in Korean means yes and substitutes words like, “yeah”, “yup”, “right (on)”, “right away”, “okay”, “mhmm”, “mmk”, “uh huh”, “sure (thing)”, “definitely”, “of course”, “you got it”, “I understand”, and “sounds good”, among many others. You can imagine the confusion of saying “ne” in a situation wherein any of these other possibilities are expected.

2. Bowing when saying hello. Guess this one’s the most expected, but it also makes me look a little silly when a wave or a handshake is proper and I have no externally obvious connection to Asia that would make a bow-greeting normal.

3. Pouring everyone’s glass of water at the table. Guess this one’s nice and polite! Think it might weird people out though. But I can’t not do it and only serve myself now.

4. Talking loudly about personal affairs in public. C keeps chiding me for talking too openly but I can’t help it!! Living in a place where no one speaks your language (well…most of them understand pretty well so I guess I should be more careful) just makes it so that there’s no need for self-censorship. Quebec has also contributed to this, and Korea’s just emphasized my shameless discussions about anything and everything that pops into my head.

5. Automatically looking for chopsticks and a spoon. When confronted with a fork and knife, I hesitate for a moment, not knowing how to proceed. Crazy how fast your brain forgets, even if your muscle memory’s intact.

6. Bracing my arm when handing something to someone, especially money to a cashier. This one’s probably the strangest that I catch myself doing. What it is, essentially, is when you hand over cash in your right arm, you use your left hand to touch your right arm, usually just above or below the elbow. It’s considered polite to do either this or hand something over with two hands.

I think there may have been one or two other things, but I forget for the moment. I’ll leave it there for now and edit as I strangely act like the whitest Korean around!!

Anyway hope you guys have a good start to the week. Posting may be irregular for the next two weeks, but I’ll do my best. Photos also to come!

6 thoughts on “Things Korea’s Made Me Do Unconsciously and Automatically

  1. “Ne” . . . just keep writing these novels girls. the more the merrier. the longer the better. terribly amusing trivial things one does when abroad and adapts (or tries to) when immersing in a culture unlike one has grown up and memorized unconsciously. would love to be a fly on the wall when those moments in #4 occur. blame it on the 34C temp.
    C. might be your unconscious other-twin self. OR you may be feeling completely unfettered now that you’re in OZ.


  2. Hi Marta, how ’bout say loudly to everyone around as you fill water glasses that “it is the healthiest drink around”, haha. You’re always a delightful read.


  3. These of course are the kind of details that will make some stories or novels or whatever ring true. Maybe you should keep a list of cultural differences from your travels and adventures? Kinda like a box of knickknacks and doodads and spare parts, which sometimes you can look into and a story can pop out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s