Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Little Girls' Earrings and the Foreigner Rule

Dear Korean,

My family and I are moving to South Korea within the next month to teach English. Someone told me that they do not pierce the ears of young children and that my 2-year-old daughter's earrings would be offensive or, at best, looked down upon. Do you have any insight into this matter? If they are offensive, we will remove them. Otherwise, they are staying put.


Dear Brandy,

It is definitely true that in Korea, ear piercing for girls does not happen for young children; it usually happens around middle school and high school, and sometimes as late as college age. Earring is like makeup in Korea -- if you put them on a little too early in a girl's life, it's considered trashy.

But that's not your question. Your question is -- will Koreans look down on your daughter's earrings? And that question implicates an important, general point that all non-Koreans who are interested in Korea must know.

You just won't find this in Korea.

In general, Koreans do not expect foreigners to follow Korean custom. In fact, Koreans don't even expect that foreigners know anything about Korean custom. If a non-Korean displays even a tiny bit of knowledge about Korea and Korean custom, Koreans generally find it surprising. Call this "the Foreigner Rule" -- i.e. Korean customs do not apply to foreigners. Hence, Koreans are not likely to look down on your daughter's earring. They would just think, "Those crazy foreigners, they will do what they do," and move on.

Of course, this is just a general rule and there are always exceptions. If you are more integrated into Korean society (e.g. being married to a Korean spouse and living in Korea,) you would be expected to follow more and more Korean rules. As Korea is becoming more prominent around the world, fewer Koreans find it totally surprising to find that non-Koreans know a great deal about Korea. So if you are trying to make Korea your long term home and live in Korea like a Korean would, the earrings would have to go. But regardless, the Foreigner Rule is still very much alive in Korea.

This means that if you are a non-Korean, you don't have to worry so much about offending the locals. Of course, you have to use your common sense -- if you are drunk in broad daylight and pick fights with anyone who passes by, that will still be pretty damn offensive. But you don't have to worry much about unknowingly violating small obscure rules. Koreans know you don't know those rules, and they will let it go.

But one demographic presents a tricky problem -- Korean Americans, especially second generation and beyond, or adoptees. How do Koreans react to people who look like Koreans, but know little about Korea's manners? That will be a topic for another post.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


  1. This woman can also try putting in small, clear studs into her daughter's ears. That way, the earrings won't be very noticeable, but the holes will remain open for when the girl grows up or when they visit the States.

  2. To answer the question about 2nd generation, Koreans would naturally act offensively to those who look like Korean with no knowledge of Korean custom, based on what my friends and I have done to them.
    It's very against their identity where they generically come from, when Korean American say they are "born" in USA so don't need to know about being Korean. This is exactly that they deny who they are. How stupid answer is that? One might say Korean American haven't had a chance to learn about being Korean. The answer is that they have always had their own Korean parents around them since born. Nowdays, Most Korean American have just ignored to look at their face to face the importance of being who they are, embarrasing the entire Korean Community. I'm embarrased by those who say they have been americanized so don't need to act like Korean in Korea. Stupid, just stupid.

  3. Brandy - please realize that no matter what the Korean Way is going to be Ass Backwards to you! When you think something is so common they will be DUMBfounded by it!

    You will probably try to walk with your child 1. holding her hand 2. on the right side, and maybe 3. with her on the inside not close to cars going by! This all seems to have missed Koreans!

    I would not worry - you will find friends that accept the things you do and try to learn why you think and act the way you do, and you will learn many things from them as well.

    The Korean makes a statement about being drunk and picking fights (this is many Koreans' thought process - all foreigners drink and pick fights in public - However I have been at Seoul station watching Koreans at religious meetings drunk and fighting, But I am sure that is offensive too.)

    I have actually seen some full Korean children boys and girls with piercings - I think it all is a matter of preference, cause younger Korean people are realizing that some of the stupid social restraints are just that - stupid!)

    You will look at Koreans and say those Crazy Koreans they will do what they will do!

  4. JS - I don't understand your English. Are you telling me that an American Korean has no American identity, just because their parents were born in Korea?

  5. About 25 years ago, my cousin & family moved to a South American country...where they had their daughters. In the hospital both girls had their ears pierced, which was the custom of that country.
    The husband was VP of a large Korean company so he must've known Korean ways...yet when his time was over in that country, they left the earrings in. (girls were pre-schoolers)
    Having been brought up here, I never thought much about it. Guess they were more daring than I thought?

  6. @only1bigg

    Tk wasn't implying that only foreigners get into drunken fights nor was he saying that Koreans don't. He simply said that if you do something as provocative and outrageous as "get drunk in broad daylight and pick fights with anyone who passes by" then people will take offense. But she shouldn't be worried about something as insignificant as earrings on a child. In other words don't sweat the small stuff as most Koreans will expect foreigners to be ignorant about Korean customs anyways.

  7. I think the question Brandy asks about the "looked down upon" aspect is a valid concern tho. Yeah Koreans will let the ear piercings go, but will she be looked down upon vs. a foreign child that does not have their ears pierced? I think so. It is subtle, but it's there. I don't think there will be overt offense taken, but I think the overall perception will be that both the parents and child are lower class people. If not taking offense is your threshold for being able to keep the earrings then by all means keep them in, but if you want to to be seen in the best possible light by Korean people it wouldn't hurt as Wanda suggests put clear studs in to make it less obvious... this is of course just IMHO.

  8. Just wondering: is there a word for foreigners in Japan? Kinda like Gaijin in Japan or Farang in Thailand?

  9. When an American learns about some random Korean custom (and you know, I think it's kinda tacky for really young girls to have ear piercings myself... I guess I am more in tune with Korean culture than I realized :P), they assume they will have to follow it because on some level they know that us Americans expect every foreigner here to know and follow all of our customs and norms, because we don't think they are cultural at all, we think they are normal. Actually, you've talked about this phenomenon so I'm sorta surprised you didn't include it as an explanation! I guess this was one of those to-the-point posts.

  10. Wow. Some gems in the comments not even related to the post at all. Good grief.

    Just wanted to say: hear, hear. My coworkers would bug out if another Korean teacher (especially female) walked into the school with tattoos. Me? After two months of going to great lengths to hide them, when they discovered that I had them, they were puzzled as to why I had bothered. I explained that I knew tattoos were generally pretty taboo, and they all said the same thing: "But you're a foreigner! It's fine..." They know it doesn't mean the same thing in my culture, and don't hold me to those standards.

    That having been said, my making the effort to respect their culture in their country went a long way toward me having the ability to now wear short sleeves without rubbing any of them the wrong way. I made the effort and that was what mattered.

  11. @bnz

    The word is 'waegook'.

  12. Not sure if this is still the case, but when I was attending middle school in Korea all students weren't allowed to have pierced ears. So we had to either take off the earrings during school time, or just wait till we got to university. (Of course regulations differed from school to school.) I think earrings were generally regarded as a sign that a person was not very studious and more into fashion/superficiality. Which is very amusing, considering how plastic surgery is quite common in Korea.

  13. Expectations of foreigners aside, I think that pierced ears on a child will be seen as rather low class in a country where appearance and social standing are very important.

    I showed the picture in this post to a couple of coworkers to get their gut reactions. The women asked what kind of mother would do that to her child. (The usual reaction to baby photos is "Oh, cute!") The guys asked what kind of husband would allow his wife to do that to his child.

  14. To outright dismiss the custom of another country as "ass backwards" without understanding the reasoning behind it is culturally ignorant and culturalist as the Korean would say. To expect the norms of your own country to be standard worldwide is arrogant and culturally insensitive. I know of some foreign individuals who will take the tiniest thing about Korea and blow it out of proportion. That really shows a lack of understanding and respect for the culture, ironically, the same kind that those foreigners demand of Koreans. I just think it's really immature and low of anyone to trash a country just because it does things that they do not agree with.

    Anyways, the term for foreigners in Korea is 'waegookin' or 'waegookbune' if you want to be more formal. 'Waegook' means 'foreign'.

  15. Your last comment about Korean Americans is something that I very much look forward to reading about in the future. As a 20-something adoptee who is just now beginning to explore his roots and embrace the culture, I find that while in some ways my appearance makes it easier to get around, the expectations are very different from those of a white American foreigner. Despite the uphill challenge of re-adopting Korean culture though, I feel a more intimate connection when things finally do begin to click.

    @JS To comment on JS as well, TK makes this point time and time again that when you get down to it we're all humans first. National identity is definitely significant, but to place such an importance on it is what leads to gross generalizations based on race. To turn your situation around, I was very timid to embrace Korean culture at first, because I would catch a lot of negative remarks about, "You're American, isn't that good enough?" or, "You're never going to be fully accepted as Korean." It wasn't until I grew older and became more comfortable with myself that I decided that I am as Korean as I want to say that I am, and I'm as American as I want to say that I am, and no one can change that.

  16. And yet I have kindergarteners with pierced ears (I teach in a hagwon) and a preschooler that put on bright colored lip gloss the other day. (I cringed at both - kids really don't need to start having/wearing make-up, or even have pierced earrings, at that young of an age)
    There are exceptions to every rule. Most things I was told before I came have proven false again and again during the 4 years I've lived and taught here.

  17. Koreans who grew up in America have Korean parents, but they do not have the same cultural influences from going to a Korean school, seeing their relatives (in Korea), watching/listening to Korean music/movies/tv, reading Korean books, and just living in Korea. So you cannot expect them to have the same language skills and cultural understanding as those who actually grew up in Korea. Having Korean parents does help with language, but to say that growing up in one Korean household will give you all the understanding you need to navigate Korean society and culture is a bit much. Yes, it is important for overseas Koreans to respect and honor their heritage and identity. At the same time, they did not get the same cultural reinforcements that native Koreans have, so you can't have the same expectations. Understanding comes both ways. I know that I grew up watching Korean dramas and having Korean parents, but I cannot generalize from that to understand everything about Korean culture. There are specific things that one must live and experience in order to learn and your comment negates that reality. Plus, Korean parents don't necessarily share everything about Korean culture/society. I know of some Koreans who grew up only speaking English because their parents were afraid that they would not learn it well otherwise. Everyone is different.

  18. I don't think Americans think that "foreigners" are wrong when they do things differently! Especially where I am from! I know Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Hispanics, all races and creeds - and they do their own thing! The problem is that Koreans think that when you come here that is the end of it! It is not - yes Korea is moving up in the world BUT their mindset is still decades behind! Yes it is great that the customs are upheld - but when people are stressed to the point of socially medicated depression (soju) there is a problem! I mean in every circle alcohol consumption is okay - and I am sorry Alcohol consumption is a right and is fine for adults, but not to the degree that they do it! I mean there are laws prohibiting bosses from making employees do love shots! That actually has to be a law?

    But let me get back on track - The fact that someone would say - yes you and your child will be looked at as if something is wrong with you because your daughter has earrings seems so asinine to me! I know that to Koreans that fact that the girl has the earrings is asinine too! But the thing is unless someone actually asked an American their opinion - they would never know there was a problem. But in Korea you get this look of disgust when you just feed homeless people at Seoul station and gave the blind man some money when 75% of the people on the train looked at his pamphlet like it had a disease if they even acknowledged it being there and all they see is that little girl's earrings! That is what gets me!

    Brandy I say - get the cutest little earrings and let your daughter wear them proudly and make sure to build her confidence, cause if she is the slightest bit cuter than the Korean girls walking with their mothers she will get the looks! They are gonna say she is cute and people you think want to compliment her are gonna slip the one thing in their when they can Especially if like I said she is cuter than their daughter or grand-daughter - or if they find out she is learning things quicker than their kids...

  19. @Carl Walker - I think Americans have the right to expect things that are NORMAL because we have taken good parts from all different cultures. I don't think America is the best because we are original. I think it is the best because we are able to see something we like here and there and we are not afraid to copy what others do!

    In Seoul I have noticed signs telling people to walk on the right especially in subway stations! This is normal - if you drive on the right you should walk on the right (it is not really taking here, but it is a move to something that everyone recognizes as "normal") This has been a pet peeve of mine since I have been here in Korea - now is it bad Americanism that I would like everyone to walk in the same direction - I know there are those that just won't do it and I don't want people to be drones, just think about it...

    Give me an example - where Americans expect foreigners to line up with our way of thinking... Maybe I have just been here in Korea too long...

  20. This is one of the big differences between life in Korea and life in Japan. Many, probably, most, Koreans really don't expect foreigners to know anything at all about Korea or even to learn much after living there. It's really hard to overstate the degree to which this is true. Very modest displays of knowledge of Korean culture, history, and language are frequently met with genuine astonishment and hyperbolic but sincere praise. So much so that it is easy to misinterpret this reaction as condescension.

    Japanese people, however, 100 percent DO expect that foreigners in Japan will follow Japanese culture and learn to speak Japanese. Several times I was coached in detail on how to do things such as receive visitors, and people on the street would stop and ask me for directions. That's almost unimaginable in Korea right now.

  21. Nathan S., The Korean heartily agrees. Japan is a lot like America that way -- if you don't understand Japanese, the Japanese folks just speak the language LOUDER AND SLOWER. Koreans would at least try some broken English.

    Imagine being an East Asian in Japan who didn't speak the language. At Sapporo, even the people at the airport (!) didn't speak English.

  22. @itissaid I never said that the Korean way was ass backwards - just that it would seem that way to Brandy.
    I won't let my daughter have earrings till she was in High school either, that is the custom of my family - but I will never judge someone if their child has earrings - that would never come into consideration when judging their character!

    Oh she is a good person but her 2 year old has earrings - "She must be of lower class - ARE YOU SERIOUS??? Why not stand outside booking rooms, love motels, and DVD rooms and let those people know how you feel about their choices too.

    That brings up another pet peeve - Koreans inconsistency! I mean if earrings make a person of low class then what about the other crap people do - I know you are going to say they think it is low class too - BUT THEY DO NOT GO OUT OF THEIR WAY TO GIVE THOSE PEOPLE THE LOOK!

    It is probably just me
    I am honestly sorry if I offend anyone!

  23. only1bigg,

    It would be much better if you think first, then write.

  24. @ JS. I am sorry I "embarrass the entire Korean Community" b/c I haven't learned everything about Korean culture since I was BORN in the US. I'm sorry both my Korean parents worked full-time white-collar jobs and spoke fairly fluent English so they understood everything I said to them in English while growing up. I'm sorry I didn't have a Korean grandmother that lived with me so that I may have had someone to speak Korean to me all day long and help me keep my Korean language skills on par. I'm sorry that the majority of my town wasn't Korean so that I couldn't keep up my Korean language skills with them. I'm sorry that my English skills got so good that I nearly did better on my English than my Math on my SAT's. I'm sorry that I ignored my Korean face in the mirror everyday while growing up so I forgot the importance of who I truly am.....wait.... HOLD UP!

    How could I ignore my Korean face when I got called racist names all the time? When every day growing up, someone would remind me that I am oriental or chink or slanty-eyed. When even till this day, I get asked how my English could be so good? (uh, cuz I was born here and that's what I learned). When even till this day I get asked why I am speaking in English to my other Asian friends? (uh, cuz they're Taiwanese, and we both don't speak "Chinese"). When I get weird looks when I'm with a bunch of non-Asians and I walk into a Waspy Steakhouse.

    How could I ignore the beautiful Korean culture? Maybe b/c Korean-Koreans like you make us feel so bad that we aren't "born" with all this knowledge so we can't openly ask you about things for fear of being scolded like you just did on your post.

    I am embarrassed of Koreans and Korean-Americans who think like you.

    Plus I have 3 tattoos! yikes!

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

  26. Foreigners who are integrating with the Korean society very actively?

  27. only1bigg could take from Linda's second paragraph. Greatly.

    How long *have* you been here? And how much time did you spend around foreigners in the US? Because it seems to me that if you're willing to come to a foreign country and criticize everyone left and right for doing things differently from the American way when they aren't even American or living in the US, there's little to no chance that you didn't do it to foreigners back in the States.

  28. To Linda, I totally understand your excuses that you would always come up with when I say this and that about your low enthusiasm to learn about being Korean. I'm sorry that you haven't realized that it's so important to being who you genetically are, because your comment just describes the way you've lived with your parents who speak in English fluently. I'm sorry you are one of them who make excuse and say they haven't enough environments to become Korean. How about to say you now know this is time to try to become Korean. Huh? I have few Koreans who have perfectly been acting just like FOB out of Twinkies. When I went to Korea for the first time in my life last summer with them, I saw Korean American who smiles real fine, talking trash about Korea culture, instead of trying to learn. Who is loser? The one who realize something is important but procrastinate to do like now you don't want to become who you are even when you know the issue of the importance of learning Korean.

  29. JS,

    The loser is a commenter who adds nothing relevant to the points discussed in the post. If you have something relevant to say about the post, say it. Otherwise, wait for the post that does discuss Korean Americans in Korea.

  30. only1bigg,

    If you have to ask, you will never understand.

  31. Looking forward to that next post! Love your blog, keep it up.

  32. Brandy

    I am an ajossi in Korea. I grew up in Korea and never have lived in the US.

    This question really aroused my curiousity, so I asked same question to my co-workers.

    Here are responses.
    Co-worker #1
    No response at first. Then he responded "아무렇지도 않은데요" meaning fine by me. After pause, he said korean parents circumcise their boys during elementary school years and compared to this, ear piercing is nothing.

    Co-worker #2
    He gave me a so-what-look for short while. He said there is no reason to be looked down upon. He jokingly said that the one who told Brandy such worry must be from 안동 Andong where men strongly abide by traditional(Confucious) Korean teachings.

    Co-worker #3
    He responded that 2-year-old is too young for ear piercing.
    I did not ask him to cross-think with circumcising culture prevailing in Korea.

    In conclusion, at least three(out of four) people including me does not feel offended at all. One felt somewhat awkward, but not any near to offensive level.

  33. Something is wrong with blogger. You may want to move your blog to another service.

  34. only1bigg,

    I never said that the Korean way was ass backwards - just that it would seem that way to Brandy.

    You did say,"Brandy - please realize that no matter what the Korean Way is going to be Ass Backwards to you! When you think something is so common they will be DUMBfounded by it!" You are making a value judgment about the "Korean Way".

    You are assuming that American perspectives are the standard worldview. Yes, American culture does take influences from others due to immigration, etc., but not everything in America has a foreign source and a lot of American culture derives from the UK specifically. Superficially, America looks like a very multicultural place, but it's not. Yes, there are many different restaurants and ethnic groups in America. On the surface, it is very "multicultural". But for the most part, ethnic communities live in a vacuum separate from the larger society and each other. Everyone is expected to follow the "American way", which basically means the norms of white America, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant America specifically. There are countries in the world that are truly multicultural, embracing various traditions from different cultures. Singapore would be one example with its blend of Chinese, Malay, British, and Indian customs.

    As far as your other comments, you just need to take the time to understand Korea before you can make any judgment or statement about it. That is your responsibility as a guest/resident. I think many of the expats who complain are really just giving themselves a hard time in Korea. Maybe if they tried to understand why Koreans did things a certain way and went with the flow of things, they would be happier. I'm not saying that they should abandon their values/identity, but they can just be open to seeing the value of things. Instead, many choose to just whine and complain, prolonging their own misery. When you are away from Koreans and excessively focusing on things that you don't like, that is your problem.

    To TheKorean,

    You might want to consider moving your blog to another host as blogger has constant comment submission errors.

  35. @ TK - my apologies, as my comment is veering off-topic, but I must respond to JS. He's not representing Koreans or Korean-Americans in a good light, just like only1bigg is not representing non-Koreans in a good light.

    @ JS - why do you assume I have "low enthusiasm" to learn about Korean culture? Did you know that I actually know how to read/write/speak Korean. But besides that it only gets me as far as ordering Korean food at a Korean restaurant, My "excuse" is that it is challenging to keep my Korean language skills up to YOUR level since I don't have many opportunities in my life in the US where I am engaged in Korean conversation. Maybe it's because a lot of "FOBS" as you call it, don't hang out w/ people like me b/c I am not Korean enough for them? You assume that I don't know anything about Korean culture. (and you know what happens when you assume. if you don't get that joke, then you do not know enough about American culture and I suggest you learn more) I do know some things about Korean culture. I have even been to Korea a few times. How do you suggest I learn more? (besides reading TK's great blog).

    Yes, I am "generically" and "genetically" Korean, as you put it. Unfortunately, my genetic code must have been defective b/c I don't know enough about Korean culture straight from the womb. And how exactly do I "become Korean" as you say. Can a non-Korean become Korean? Since according to your theory, I am Korean, but not Korean. What makes someone "Korean"?

    and I have NEVER trash-talked anything about Korea or it's culture. And if you use your single example of over-hearing some Korean-American do so, then shame on you for thinking that represents all Korean-Americans. But what's the use of debating with JS who can't seem to articulate his argument well at all and seems to be trapped in a very parochial way of thinking.

  36. This comment has been removed by the author.

  37. To Linda, I made my comment to be read not only by you but by others ppl who actually don't want to put themselves into being who they are, Korean. Now, as you explain the environment you are surrounded, I basically know what you're talking about and how your life has been. One thing cut up to me is that you think FOBs don't hang out because FOBs and Twinkies have own background and don't tend to hang out with strangers (meaning who can less be understood). Actually there are some Twinkies who hang out with FOBS as FOBs try to get to know more about US custom. In other words, Twinkies can be friendly to FOBS to get to know them. I guess reading more book in Korean would help you improve your skills to use Korean. I'm sorry I was being FOB enough, because I typed one word wrong by one letter and thanks to you bring it up. To bring it up once more to help you understand, I was born and raised in US just like you like I went to Korea last summer for the first time in my life. I'm always first to approach FOBs not because I'm willing to get to know them, but because I don't segregate them from Twinkies, striving not to have prejudice that FOBs always don't want to hang out with Twinkies just because Twinkies don't know Korean enough. This little enthusiasm to approach them is what you might want to do for the future, if it's "ok" with you.

  38. Alright, both of you got your shots in. Now cut it out, or bans will follow.

  39. Don't expect Koreans to want to learn anything about your culture either. Mine have shown absolutely no interest in my culture despite the fact that I have learned how to speak Korean semi-fluently and show a great interest in getting to know theirs. I do not expect this effort to be reciprocated any time soon.
    To them I merely exist as the 외국선생님. 난 영어 가르치는 기게에요. This was perhaps best demonstrated at this week's graduation ceremony where all the teachers were called by name and the two foreigner teachers/외국선생닙들 were not called by name. The longer you live in this country, the more you will understand that you are "outside the box" so to speak. You are a foreigner, almost a 왜개인. Get used to it. "Global Korea" is still a long way off. They'll get there eventually though I believe.

  40. I'm sorry. Because people who are looking to come over to Korea are going to be reading these comments and taking them as valid experiences, without wanting to negate what others have said they have seen, I do think it's only fair to represent the other side.

    When foreigners talk about Koreans not caring about their culture and locking them outside of society, I just don't really understand what's going on. Did I feel locked out when I first arrived? Yeah. I didn't speak the language, didn't know squat about the culture... I *was* outside of society. But every day has been an improvement, and this has not been just because I'm so awesome at integrating myself. My Korean still sucks. I still have my hangups about understanding or appreciating the culture. But I belong here. My coworkers are not "my Koreans", but my coworkers, my friends and even in some cases my family. They accept me. They treat me like a human being. And they go out of their way to understand my culture. Dead curious, in fact. And my culture doesn't even have anything to do with them, except in relation to me personally.

    So. That's the other side.

  41. I agree with what I'mnopicasso says and I'd add that working in Korea as an ESL teacher is like playing the lottery. You might wind up at a great school where you are treated fairly, paid on time and have a positive experience. I've worked for great schools and to put it kindly, not so great. On the other hand you might not be so lucky and have to endure poor treatment as a foreigner. You might get fired for getting a tan as one coworker of minedid -- parents complained he was scaring the kid with his dark skin, or you might lose your job instantly for shaving your head in the heat of the summer. Your employer might call immigration and claim that you came drunk to work in a lie to get you fired or a coworker might invent a sexual harassment charge. In these cases immigration generally sides with the Korean employer, who at any moment can make one phone call and essentially cancel your visa. Unfortunately the Koreans E2 visa system is the quintesential ball and chain, by which I mean it is not easy for foreigners to leave their job (that should be a blog all of it's own)
    Oh, and most importantly, the foreigner rule does not apply to things such as sick days (you don't get any). You will be expected to work as Koreans do and work even when you're sick. I came in with a fever of 102 and collapsed on the floor once. Good times. I loved those cooworkers, but they did have some silly ideas!

  42. 외국여자,

    Oh, and most importantly, the foreigner rule does not apply to things such as sick days (you don't get any).

    Should it?

  43. Wow, JS and Linda, I have never seen such a heated exchange about "FOB"s and "Twinkies" before. There appear to be some deep rooted mis-perceptions between the 2 of you and what seems to me manifestations of frustration between both groups. In general I really hate using designations like FOB and Twinkie, because they denote their attitudes can or will never change. It's bunk. In my experience, many so-called FOB's learn to become more "Americanized" and integrated and many so-called Twinkies do want to learn and become more well versed in Korean culture/language. Blaming and finger pointing on either side gets us nowhere. We cannot help how our circumstances of our birth or youth initially shaped our "Korean"ness or integration with the US, all we can do in our mature adulthood is to try and appreciate both cultures and try to understand each other better.

  44. Itissaid:
    When it's clearly stated in your contract that you are entitled to a certain number of sick days but when you go to use one and are chastised and threatened to have your pay docked for the day you were absent (despite showing the contract) i would say yes, foreigners have every legal right to demand "special treatment". Contracts are loosely honored in this country and some koreans feel their foreign employees should accept this part of together business culture. Thus I've accepted conditions such as being paid a month late -because everyone else is being paid late too, etc. Somewhere you have to draw the line. It's a tricky thing because while maintaining a harmonious relationship with your boss and coworkers is key you shouldn't necessarily always settle for less either.

  45. So I read my comment and @itissaid YOU are right! @thekorean 알라! I do need to think before I type, I just get so emotional on your blog. The Korean way is NOT ass backwards, I am sorry that I said it like that! What I mean is that Americans - Brandy in this case - will not understand because our common is not the common over here - one common is not better than the other (blame it on angry sleepy responding) Sorry!

    I do not think the American way is the standard, nor do I think the American way is perfect. I do however think Americans are more forgiving of differences! Yes SOME (actually all) Koreans understand differences BUT some are so stanch about them that they are off putting! I know they don't care about me but don't make comments - I know the words to listen for - about me or my family when you don't know us!

    Can someone really explain the reasoning behind the earring mindset? It is so hard for me to wrap my head around how something so small can cause people to say - I am of lower quality/class? How can earrings on a child - ahhhh I can't understand it!!!!

  46. To only1bigg,

    I am not entitled to answer your question because I did not know such earring was huge problem.

    Faintly I remember from my childhood I was worried about infection from my ear holed which might be superstitious.

    Schoolgirls are not allowed to have fancy wearing because many think it affects their studying. This mentality will not applied to babies.

    So my first guess about the baby earrings is about infection.

    Again, however, is the earring thingy really a big deal?

  47. To only1bigg: Many Americans are averse to the idea of children wearing makeup. Many aren't. Some of those who are against it feel that it's okay for adult women but not for young girls, on the assumption that makeup is an adult thing and kids who try to look like adults end up looking skanky, and skanky is low class.

    Now if you replace 'Americans' with 'Koreans' and 'makeup' with 'earrings' in the above statement, it really isn't so odd to think that some people feel this way, is it? Perhaps earrings signify adulthood amongst Koreans in a similar way that makeup does in America. And just as not all Americans are against makeup on children, not all Koreans are against earrings on 2-year-olds, as has been mentioned here.

    (Just for the record, I have nothing against anyone of any age wearing earrings or makeup as long as it's their own choice. Child beauty pageants, though, are another matter.)

  48. I have been working in Korea for a 6 months, and in my limited experience, I find that Koreans are very kind to foreigners. However, after growing up in a multicultural society it is very difficult at times to live in a country as monocultural as Korea. I think they do make exceptions for non-Koreans but I also feel that because they are not used to diversity they do not always realise that their way of doing things is not "the norm". For me, I try balance accepting the "Korean way" of doings things while maintaining my own core personal values. Sometimes, Koreans can be very conservative and I do not always agree with following their customs, even though I'm working here.

  49. 외국 (外國)way-gook: this doesn't mean foreign, or foreigner, but rather 'foreign country'; not actually 'foreign', but rather 'on the outside, exterior, or face of (something).
    외국인 (外國人) way-gook-een (een is pronounced like 'een' in between. The important difference here is the 人 (een)인. This represents 'person' in languages like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. that use 漢字 (한자) Chinese characters.
    The ethnocentric ideology of Korea is so strongly indoctrinated in the people that neither in the term, nor the dictionary definition is there a mention of what the 'outside person'is on the outside of: it's merely implied and presupposed that the person is from the outside of Korea. The dictionary definition translates roughly as, "a person from another country". Pretty vague, eh? Unless you know the context is that you're reading the definition from a Korean dictionary written in Korean. Then you begin to understand what you're facing in terms of the hugely xenophobic, ethnocentric, and racist cultural disposition of South Korea. These points may not seem coherent with the theme of this blog 'pierced earrings' on a toddler, but my point and this blog's theme are indeed related: many Koreans living in South Korea first look at the toddler, "Ah, an 'outsider baby'". Then, "Ah, an 'outsider baby' that has earrings, something that is not very common in South Korea (not knowing anything about tendencies within other cultures). This somewhat of an anomaly, though, looked at through the extreme prejudice that South Korea generally has regarding things from 'the outside', actually will, for the observer, represent the entire 'outside'. "Ah, all U.S.A. babies, (all non-Asian looking babies must be from the U.S., the observer will probably assume erroneously the baby is a U.S. baby because most Koreans really don't know much about anything from the outside, other than what the U.S.conveys through the fallacious mainstream media) have their ears pierced as toddlers. What a shame." Funny enough you do have plenty Korean toddlers with pierced ears, but you don't 'see' them as a Korean, cuz they stick out about as much as one red hair in the midst of 10 million black hairs. The process is like this: first most Koreans look with the xenophobic eye: "oh, oh! I'm so scared and disgusted by what is from 'the outside'", then judges with the ethnocentric brain, "first and foremost that toddler is from the outside. We're from the inside, and we're better, and gotta represent!", and then with the racist brain judges, "ah those shuckity 'outsiders' (U.S.A. outsiders; they all do that stuff, and they're wrong, bad, and different." As this is dragging on too long, the main point is concisely this: Koreans and all other nations are extremely racist. This is not okay, and needs to change. But there is ever so much blocking the convalescence process.

  50. I certainly agree that working conditions for English teachers leave much to be desired.

    That being said Americans tend to focus on what is legally entitled to them. I used to not be able to understand it when Koreans would come to work when they are visibly not in top working condition. You have sick days, use them! But this is really a difference in cultural values.

    To the Korean, not coming in to do the work that is required of him or her even when they are entitled not to come in is negligence of duty to them.
    A culturally translatable example may be as follows: A businessman in a meeting with an important client. The clock strikes 5pm. The businessman gets up all of a sudden and says he's sorry but he's off the clock now and leaves.

    That might be an extreme example but more similarly would be if you had an important presentation in front of the board of investors and you suddenly caught a cold. Believe me, your company would be upset if you decided not to come in.

    But that and giving a class are of different levels of importance? Not to the Korean who would even do his best to be bright and receptive running the register at a McDonald's.

    I'm certain a boss may be more receptive to taking sick day in either the event that: 1. You were actually incapacitated and could not come into work because perhaps you were hospitalized or 2. You had no class that day and no work to do it is just one of those days that you have to come to be a body at work since you are being paid to be at work (That being said many foreign teachers don't have these because they wouldn't come into work to do nothing). That's really what these sick days are for and that's what the expectation of the Korean boss is. Perhaps they shouldn't even put these sick days into the contract if that's what they expect out of them but they're there because other Korean employees have them in their contracts as well.

    Should Korean employers take special consideration for foreign employees that may have a different cultural view of employment? Perhaps, but let me qualify that. On one hand, they are filling a position for a foreign instructor so perhaps they should pay attention to the needs of their labor pool. This would be the focus in a specialized job market where companies may be faced with competition to attract qualified workers. In a commoditized job market, workers can be replaced so they need to make and effort to adjust to the working culture.

  51. doctor boludo said...

    "외국 (外國)way-gook: this doesn't mean foreign, or foreigner, but rather 'foreign country'; not actually 'foreign', but rather 'on the outside, exterior, or face of (something).
    외국인 (外國人) way-gook-een (een is pronounced like 'een' in between. The important difference here is the 人 (een)인. This represents 'person' in languages like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. that use 漢字 (한자) Chinese characters."


    Wow. Disguised as sound rhetoric is a viewpoint so harshly prejudiced that even the dictionary seems to be telling stories against you.

    There is nothing magical about the term 외국인 its a classification like foreigner.

    외 means roughly "other than". 국 means "nation". 인 is "person". Put them together and the rough definition is "a person from a nation other than this one". Now is that divisive? Perhaps. but lets look at the flip side

    "Not actually 'foreign'"...maybe its best to check what foreign actually means:

    for·eign (from Merriam Webster's dictionary)

    1: situated outside a place or country; especially : situated outside one's own country
    2: born in, belonging to, or characteristic of some place or country other than the one under consideration
    3: of, relating to, or proceeding from some other person or material thing than the one under consideration
    4: alien in character : not connected or pertinent
    5: related to or dealing with other nations
    6a : occurring in an abnormal situation in the living body and often introduced from outside b : not recognized by the immune system as part of the self

    Comparing the Korean and the English term, the English term definitely has more gray area and particularly more suggestive. So to say that this terminology is racist is like saying that America's use of "foreign policy" means that America thinks that Canada is a disease.

    I don't understand how you could look even at the characterization of the language and draw such a conclusion.

    Korean-Foreigner has nothing to do with what people would think of the baby with earrings. The example about putting make-up on the baby is more accurate. The bottom line is that it was a cosmetic choice that was taken on behalf of the baby (since the baby cannot voice her opinion). At most it might be seen as cruel to pierce a baby's ear but I think people from the Western world would have more qualms than a Korean would but there are likely to be dissenters in both camps. Another similar more extreme example would be thinking of how the Chinese used to bind a girl's feet to keep them small. But piercing ears is much less severe and accordingly the social backlash would be likewise. A Korean that would object to a foreign baby with earrings would also object to a Korean baby with earrings.

  52. @what what?:

    First, hypocritically your own rhetorical, red herring argument uses the English definition of 'foreign' which I never alluded to for my purposes in my comment: I focused more on the word '외국인', 'foreigner', not 'foreign'. So, first get that straight before you go slinging the big 'prejudice' 'rhetoric' terms around. I don't know your understanding of Korean or 한문자들's implications, but I definitely don't think you have experienced the racism/ethnocentrism/xenophobia/nationalism associated with the use of such a term for anyone who looks non-Asian (safety disclaimer: by many South Koreans)in South Korea. Perhaps you're a 교포 who speaks Korean, but because of how you look you never experienced the '우리'vs. '외국인' dichotomy in South Korea? Or perhaps just someone who is using a Korean/English dictionary, using your own fallacious, prejudiced rhetoric to disprove my valid point: check the 바깥외 한자 meaning again before you arbitrarily choose which denotation best fits your motives: http://hanja.naver.com/hanja?q=%E5%A4%96 바깥외 (外)And here are the denotations, too: These are the most relevant ones in order of significance: ①바깥(the outside, the open, exterior 밖 ( the outside, the open, exterior; funny; same implication)
    ②겉,( the outside, exterior (표면) surface 표면(surface): Anyway, my point is, that no matter how long you've been on the inside speaking Korean and following (some of) the customs, hanging out with Koreans, you're still on the outside! Just because you look different and come from a different place. And here, to be slightly more specific than my first comment: the definition of 외국인 from, arbitarily, lazily chosen naver-- the Korean section: 외국인'definition: 다른 나라 사람. 'Different country person' Different from what?? (the ellipted, implied, and contextually obvious South Korea)And #2, this really takes the ethnocentric/nationalistic/racist cake:
    우리나라의 국적을 갖지 않은 사람. 'Our country's nationality not carrying person': (Wanted emphasis on the 'our' country, because again, no matter how long you live in South Korea, it still, by dictionary definition, is not yours just because you have different blood, look different, and have a different nationality. This is extreme ethnocentric nationalistic logic. And, well, let's compare google's (as Naver's definition is incomplete)denotations for 'foreigner'1. : A person born in or coming from a country other than one's own
    2. A person not belonging to a particular place or group; a stranger or outsider:

  53. con't (@ what what?):

    The major difference I'd like to point out, if where I'm going is not obvious, is that while in Korean it's implied, and presupposed that a foreigner is anyone from outside South Korea, which shows a deeply ingrained ethnocentric understanding, at least the google definition of foreigner in English includes, without ellipsis, the grounding factor that a foreigner is someone from outside of a 'particular place or group' or 'from a country other than one's own' Anyway, this is getting ridiculous with the semantic subtleties: again my point is that my experience as a honkey cracka (not even a black person, 아이고!) in racist/ethnocentric (disclaimer: many South Koreans)South Korea has greatly made me paranoid and gun shy as not being as good as someone who looks like, and especially someone who speaks 원어민 한국어. (And I would be typing in Korean, yet I don't think it would be allowed on this blog site, English-coaxed.)again, the main point is that because of my negative experiences with racial discrimination in South Korea, I focus on South Korea's big racist problem, but, again to conclude with my same remark from my last comment: 'Koreans and all other nations are extremely racist.' But especially due to South Korea's crazy homogenized 'Korean' population, it's especially obvious when you're from the outside of that country. Again, one time, please try to honestly compare the two phrases, if you have real, extensive experience in an English culture, and the South Korean culture: 'our country' vs. '우리나라' when spoken to a 'foreigner'. Which one is used more typically? I strongly fell it's the Korean one; used to keep the outsider on the outside linguistically. I think it would be (although I could be biased being a honky from the U.S.)more like 'this country' in the U.S. Anyway, all this racism in the world is hurtful and needs to be wiped out. And again, be independent and get your toddler's ears pierced if that's what he/she wants: don't fall into the major South Korean tendency of homogenized appropriate outward appearance. Fortunately most Koreans are quite peaceful, and though some may discriminate against you, most are kind and pacific deep down.

  54. @the blog: sorry for going off on the big racist/ethnocentric/xenophobic South Korean tendency diatribe: but what what? really pissed me off. Yes, I'm pretty sure what what? is an ethnic Korean who learned a lot of English in the U.S.Maybe not, but it is relevant because if what what? has Korean blood, he or she will not experience the common crazy public experience of being a 'foreigner' in South Korea, even in the huge 'cosmopolitan' capital, Seoul. If what what?'s Korean language skills are lacking, then he or she will often experience plenty of 'outsider treatment', but still not like someone who doesn't look Asian. This is relevant to the earrings discussion because when what? says: 'Korean-Foreigner has nothing to do with what people would think of the baby with earrings.', he or she uses strong modality to convey what is normally, just look at the heated discussion on this blog)an open, debatable subject: from my previous comments, you will infer that I think the baby's outward appearance as a foreigner will greatly affect many Koreans' reaction to simultaneously having pierced ears: if it's not 'strange' enough to merely have pierced 'foreign' ears, being an outsider 외국인, and having pierced ears could cause double the turmoil. But, the earrings most likely won't matter: you're already different enough just looking like a non-Korean. The earrings will most likely not rock the boat to a much further extent: analogy: A Great White eats a scuba diver, and then an endangered Leatherback: the sea turtle ain't gonna make as many front pages, well, rarely,rarely, as the scuba diver! 부야! "워?워?" (reaction to that deafening Che Boludisimo rhetoric.)

  55. At you realize you were getting off topic. People got their shots in. Now cut it out.

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  58. "How do Koreans react to people who look like Koreans, but know little about Korea's manners? That will be a topic for another post."

    They will probably think them as Chinese. ^_-
    Joke. But it applies somethimes. Anyway.

    That will be an interesting story. I heard about it a lot at school. I'm thinking of a half-Korean and half-Japanese girl who came in Korea and was studying Korean just like me. Somebody asked her in a rude way "You're Korean, so why can't you speak Korean?". She said in Japan she was considered as Korean and in Korea as Japanese. She had a hard time, she said.

    But I believe not all people take it that hard, it depends on the character of each person and how they were educated.

    Looking forward for this story.

  59. Ups! It was an older article.... ^,^"

  60. What about Asian foreigners that may look Korean?


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