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Photo by sunxez

If you really want to piss off a Korean, talk loud, disrespect your elders, and speak casually of the Japanese occupation.

ATTEMPTING TO CAUSE someone to lose control of his emotions in Asia is actually quite a feat. It’s not often you see a Japanese on the streets of Tokyo red in the face from anger. You’d have to look around quite a bit to find a Thai without a “cool heart.”

So when determining the best approach to really get under a South Korean’s skin, I had to add an important qualifier: leave alcohol out of it. Seriously. Because, let’s face it, almost any nationality can be easily provoked with the right blood alcohol level.

To those who’ve passed through Seoul, you might be thinking: piss off a Korean? That’s easy… I saw them fighting on the streets.

Maybe you did. But fights and provocation from a Korean perspective don’t even come close to what we see in Western cultures. There’s shouting, especially between friends, but it rarely escalates to more than that.

To truly make a Korean reach deep inside himself, ignore societal rules, and want to pummel you takes some knowledge of Korean culture and history.

Don’t use the proper respect

As is the case in many Asian cultures, using the proper language to address someone is not only polite, but is the social glue connecting families, coworkers, even strangers. Although foreigners aren’t expected to strictly adhere to these complex rules, a Korean intentionally speaking improperly to one of her fellow citizens is tantamount to a slap in the face.

There was a murder not too long ago, in which one heavily inebriated Korean man killed another (his friend/coworker) after the friend referred to him as an equal rather than a superior. Likewise, not showing the proper respect to one’s elders can result in a violent response. For information and videos related to lack of respect and the problems that can ensue in Korea, see this Gusts Of Popular Feeling post.

Talk on public transportation

Photo: m-louis

Korea takes a stand against that annoying person on his cell phone in the middle of the coach. Simply put, loud talking breaks the silence, and the societal norms. Whether you’re riding the rails or taking a bus across the peninsula, speaking loudly in person or over the phone is a major cultural taboo in Korea.

Once, after a fellow English teacher and I had enjoyed a bottle of soju in Samcheok and didn’t modulate our voices during the long ride home, the bus driver pulled over, speed walked to the back of the bus, and confronted and scolded us. We learned our lesson.

Older people may be the exception to this rule, but in general, Koreans keep the decibel level low on their commutes.

Criticize national icons

Repeat after me: Samsung is the greatest company in the world. The 1988 Olympics were the best of all time. Kimchi is a delicious dish that can be enjoyed with every meal. Korea is better than Japan in every way. K-Pop singers are awesome.

Koreans tend to be very nationalistic, and any criticism of things you might encounter in their country is almost a challenge to their own identity.

Fail to denounce the Japanese Occupation

Questioning the status quo political sentiment may be a greater offense than talking loudly, failing to respect your superiors/elders, and even criticizing the symbol’s of Korea’s greatness. Try one of these among friends and you’ll soon find your unflappable Korean acquaintances aren’t so unflappable. (You might find that they aren’t really your friends anymore, either.)

The Korean peninsula was effectively a part of Japan from 1910 to 1945, and no one born in South Korea dare forget the way their “hosts” tried to stamp out everything that made Korea unique: the image of the fearsome tiger changed to a docile bunny; removing entire temples from their foundations to be shipped, piece by piece, to Tokyo.

In the ancient capital Gyeongju, a site favored today by tourists, you can read inscriptions calling out the Japanese for stealing cultural artifacts.

Theft and other indignities marked the period, and Koreans will not tolerate people playing devil’s advocate, or hinting for even one second that the Japanese were justified in their actions or that something positive occurred as a result of the occupation. Failure to follow these rules will find you facing some flaring nostrils.

Challenge the names of Dokdo and the East Sea

Although this method of pissing off Koreans goes hand-in-hand with the Japanese Occupation, it merits a separate category.

Dokdo is an island under Korean control in the East Sea. In Japan, these are respectively referred to as Takeshima and the Sea of Japan. The island, a collection of rocks visited mainly by seagulls, serves as an example of everything Koreans believe the Japanese have taken from them (and would like back).

Photo by author

Korea “controls” the island by paying for two fishermen to live there, and the coast guard patrols the waters. There was even talk of establishing a military presence. But Dokdo is a source of nationalistic pride and there’s no end to the means they will use to convince the rest of the world that Dokdo belongs to Korea.

I’ve seen Dokdo brand water, a Dokdo Marathon, Dokdo cookies, Dokdo ad campaigns, even Dokdo billboards. I expect hate comments to be posted by Koreans within a matter of hours challenging my intelligence at even writing about Dokdo without positing unequivocally that it is part of Korea.

No issue is more polarizing in the Land of the Morning Calm.

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About The Author

Turner Wright

Turner Wright is a marathon runner first, an adventurer second, and a writer through it all. Apparently, he has a thing for island nations, having lived in Japan, and soon to be headed for New Zealand. Check out his adventures at Keeping Pace in Japan.

  • http://waegook-tom.com/ Waegook Tom

    Sorry but this is soooooooooo general….most of my Korean friends, just normal Koreans, don’t particularly like K-Pop. Sure, tell a 14 year old girl it’s bad, and you might get an angry response akin to somebody dissing Justin Bieber in the States. But saying it’s something that would provoke an angry reaction in an adult?! No…

    Most Koreans I know also strongly dislike Samsung because, like Hyundai, their products are often cheaper abroad than within Korea.

    This is all really how a Korean can piss off another Korean. Foreigners get a lot of lee-way for being just that – foreign. Koreans don’t get angry with foreigners for using the wrong language as they don’t expect you to even be able to speak it, let alone use it correctly. They understand if you don’t like kimchi.

    The only way I can imagine a Korean getting confrontational over the majority of these things is if the person who says them is being deliberately confrontational themselves!

    However, the issues of things like Dok-do, and keeping quiet on public transport – bang on there. Me and three friends got scolded by a middle aged man for talking on a train to Seoul once in the evening as the rest of the commuters were all passed out asleep at 8pm!

    • B Mckechnie

      Of course, yours and my English-speaking Korean friends don’t expect us to speak Korean. But Koreans in shops, restaurants and bars anywhere outside of Itaewon that speak to you in Korean shouldn’t be answered back in English. If you’re an English teacher in Korea and are unable to speak bar/restaurant/convenience store Korean then you’re being culturally insensitive and should learn a basic smattering of Korean. I’ve taught there for 2 years and have seen many a pissed-off Korean face, scowl or bad comment under the breath after a waygook friend speaks English to them. I can speak upper-beginner/intermediate Korean and understand what they’re saying when they don’t think we understand them. I’ve heard quite a few ‘white ghost’ comments. I’m not disagreeing with your comment, just adding my opinion in my experience.

      • http://waegook-tom.com/ Waegook Tom

        B – I think it’s only polite that if someone speaks to you in Korean, you should speak Korean back. Like you, I’m intermediate Korean (studying for the TOPIK test…damn it’s a lot of vocabulary…) and I get a little annoyed when people have made NO attempt to learn the language. I think knowing a few phrases and showing that you’re trying/saying them with a smile won’t annoy the average local – but, as with everywhere in the world, repeating in the same thing in English but just more L-O-U-D-L-Y will be enough to bug any Korean within earshot (hell, it’d grind on me, too!)

        But yes – I don’t think we’re expected to know ANY Korean AT ALL as foreigners in Korea. I’ve been cussed off in a pizza shop for being too dumb to understand Korean once with the owner laughing. I stared at the other customer so intensely that his kid noticed, whispered something in his dad’s ear, and then the conversation abrubtly stopped and the two dudes looked pretty embarrassed haha!Turner – sorry if my comment came off as a little harsh, re-reading it, it may have and it wasn’t intended that way. Something that would piss off a Korean to the same extent that it would piss of a foreigner…damn, this has really got me thinking. Let me get back to you on it haha!

        • Turner

          Not harsh. You raise a good point. I don’t think B gets my point about the language issue, though. True, it might have been a good idea to say “speaking English loudly” annoys Koreans, but I was going for using the properly respect people use to address superiors or elders. 

      • Boobles

        HAHA !! I though only Chinese referred to us as “ghosts”. So funny~

    • Turner

      Hey Tom,

      Yep, I tried to include ways to piss off a Korean that would apply to both foreigners and Koreans, but naturally, that’s impossible. Just had to add the appropriate qualifiers. I don’t a foreigner, even one who spoke fluently, would get chewed out for not using the proper language.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1249317341 Doug Walsh

    Spent some time in Japan, then a few months later in various parts of Korea (I’m no expert, in other words). My observations were that Korean subways and trains were much noisier than Japan’s. Many people talking, particularly in Seoul, and even music playing from cellphones. Japanese subways in comparison, were utterly silent.

    • Turner

      I thought they were both pretty quiet.

  • Roboseyo

    “no issue is more polarizing” -polarizing implies two extreme opposite positions exist, but with Dokdo, there are not two sides within Korea: it (and other political flash points related to the Japanese occupation) is the only area where pretty much every Korean agrees,to a person, on the issue.

    The only debate allowed in discussing Dokdo is not “yea or nea” but “is it definitely worth it to torpedo Korea /Japan relations over Dokdo… Or only PROBABLY worth it?”

    However I feel like it’s only fair to note that in recent years, Dokdo demagoguery has mostly been used by politicians who want to score some cheap, nationalistic, rabble-rousing political points.

  • Anne_Merritt

    Nice list, Turner! I would add a biggie: calling someone (or something) “crazy.” While we say it pretty casually in English (“that Sally throws crazy parties”), it’s pretty offensive in Korean, since it means that person is mentally deranged. I’ve made that blunder. Not pretty.

    • Turner

      You’re right, Anne! I forgot about that one.

    • Eveliens

      I taught in elementary and this was the kids’ favorite insult. It lost its sting when I had my Korean co-teacher explain it’s other uses and became an ‘in-joke.’ However, yes, crazy is a no-no in general situations. Although I was told it meant something like ‘irredeemably stupid and useless’ in Korean.

  • Alec

    I love the whole Dokdo/Takeshima thing.  I do that full well knowing it will Koreans off.  But then again, I have a bit of a troll in me.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeong.sunyoung Sunyoung Jeong

    Hi Turner, Nice article! 
    Being a Korean myself, I feel that I can give you a verdict on which of things that you have said can piss me off or not. Although I can’t represent the entire Koreans, I
    will do my best to answer as close as possible to what majority of young Koreans
    would think. My answers are based on the situations where these things are
    done by foreigners, as this website’s major readerships must be those from
    abroad. 

    Don’t use the proper respect–>No. Koreans understand that it’s not the Western customs. 

    Talk on public transport–>Probably Yes. Talking loudly in public  places  like a tube carriage is very annoying. People do pick up the call and talk on the bus or subway,
    but usually try to keep the conversation quiet or try to call back. If you’re being too loud, you might be told off by middle-aged men (Ajossi), whom I don’t really like but strangely miss when bunch of youngsters talk loudly and listen to the music from their mobile phone on London’s bus.  

    Criticize national icons–>Depending on what you criticise. In case of K-pop and Samsung,  it doesn’t surprise me or piss me off if foreigners criticise them.  I do think
    these are very typical examples of Korean way of being successful in a very
    short span of times. In other words, they lack in characters and souls.

    One thing to be said about Koreans is that we are very patriotic from a foreigner’s point of view. In my opinion, it mainly boils down to the fact that Korea is between the some of the most powerful countries in the world. If your neighbours are China, where world’s eyes are on now and Japan, where all these super cool things come from, you might feel bit neglected and become too protective about your country when people have negative comments.

    Fail to denounce the Japanese Occupation –>Conservative and old Koreans will be pissed off by this for sure. But sadly enough, majority of youngsters (those under 20) don’t really remember  or care about what kind of awful things Japan has done during the occupation. In terms of legacy from Japanese occupation, some Koreans admit that the modernisation of the country was largely due to the Japanese. However it’s a very hotly debated area whether the imperialist has made their colonies
    the better countries or not.

    Challenge the names of Dokdo and the East Sea–>Yes. It’ll piss of majority of Koreans. So no go area!

    Lastly, if I may allow to add my own thing that piss me off as a Korean is when a foreigner complains that there is no way non-Korean can integrate into Korean society without any effort. Once I remember bumping into a Canadian who has been living in Seoul for ten years. After a jolly conversation with him  at supermarket, he said that he feels that Koreans only want to stick to each other therefore he has no local friends, which rather surprised me given that Koreans are quite friendly people at least those I know. Then I asked ‘did you try to learn Korean? It will certainly help
    you to mingle with locals.’ His answer was ‘No’ with a bit of shrug. I could
    not believe that this guy was here for ten years and not to mention that he’s
    got a Korean wife!!

    • dhawk

      I studied in Seoul for a year and I agree with you that Koreans are among the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Yes, there are some rude individuals who insult foreigners that they think don’t understand, but that has been very rare in MT experience. And if you speak even a little Korean with a decent accent they are AMAZED. (Maybe too amazed, as I frequently had Koreans proceed to speak way above my level after I demonstrated some ability.)

      One example, I was looking for the hostel I had booked, and was in the subway terminal, looking at the neighborhood map, and clearly lost. I had a grandma come up to me and spent several minutes trying to help me figure out where to go. She eventually directed me to a realty office, whose manager found the place on the map, and even walked me there himself. It was amazing.

      I also made a lot of local friends at university very easily, and not through effort on my part. I’m naturally shy, but they went out of their way to make me feel welcome, and to invite me out to go drinking, go on ski trips, travel to their hometown, etc. Anyway, Korea has its faults, like any country, but the warmth of its people cannot be denied.

    • Colin Chau

      His wife probably wears the pants and he leans on her like a needy child.

    • http://twitter.com/amongthegoblins Katherine Traylor

      I agree that anyone who spends much time in another country should learn the language. But it’s also true that even foreigners who are married to Koreans and are planning on living in the country long-term are regularly asked “when they’re going home.” 

      • Nate

        Yeah. It’s just common sense. And I personally don’t think that I could stand living in a country where I don’t know what half the people are talking about. Not that I’m nosy and listen into people’s conversations or anything, but it would feel like a bunch of noise, or if everyone just started suddenly spouting gibberish.

    • bakatenko

      koreans friendly? lol.
      you’re the most aggressive asians i ever saw. girlfriends crying in the middle of the street hitting their boyfriends and throwing a scene, married couples arguing on the street like there’s no tomorrow, or anyone who’d get in traffic accident, just start arguing like hell instead of solving the difficult situation (whilst still blocking the street).
      the only way to get korean “friends” is to become “free english classes” to them, this is the only thing koreans are interested in foreigners. they are not interested to become friends, because, as many of them put it – foreigners come and go, and also, they are too lazy to work through the cultural differences. so they don’t even try to make friends with foreigners.
      i only know 2 people who really wanted to become friends foreigners. out of approximately 1500 i’ve had contact with and met personally. most of them didn’t speak korean, true. i did, and i stayed there for nearly 2 years, i went out almost daily, and have managed to make 2 friends. everyone else had their agendas, so they’re not “friends” really. i actually had lots of people who insisted on talking to me in english despite their english was SO.BAD that i actually had to ask them in korean what was it they meant, cause i couldn’t even guess what they had in mind, and still when i asked them to talk to me in korean, they refused, telling me they need to practice. i understand english classes are expensive, and that the pressure to be learning english (not learn. be learning. big difference. majority of koreans don’t go to these classes to speak english, but because they are forced to by their parents. and later they can’t speak. i had koreans almost run away from me muttering “i can’t englishee” despite me replying with “괜찮아요, 제가 한국어 말할 수 있는데요”.)
      not to mention koreans in work places. i never believed japanese or chinese people when they told me scary stories about korean companies, how they treat foreigners, or even their own people. silly me. my friend got fired after she reported that something might be wrong in her department (they were seriously overworked, but she didn’t want to indicate the specific reason directly) because 3 people committed suicide in the company in the then recent 2 months.
      for all i’ve witnessed, koreans even pretty much hate each other. this whole seonbae hubae culture is now bullshit – it stems from olden days where seonbae taught the related know-how to their hubae, and hubae in turn gave them their respect and run errands for them as a thank you for the knowledge and care passed on them by seonbae. yet, what i saw in the universities, was more like – if you’re even 1 day younger than me, it makes you my bitch. you will carry my bag, bring me coffee, make xerox copies for me, fetch stuff etc, and for that, i won’t do anything bad. seonbae rarely did anything for hubae, they just demanded stuff. they were not asking. they were demanding. it’s even worse in military, where it’s by far more violent – see “the unforgiven” or read any military related forum, but i think you know what i mean.
      you know nothing about life in korea as a foreigner, so please don’t speak of this subject. you can read about it on blogs of people who stayed there long, 5, 10 years maybe. i don’t agree with them for the most part, because if they don’t like it, why are they staying there for so long? that’s kind of stupid… their accounts are abundant, and overwhelmingly negative. even from people who previously loved korea (or they thought they did, apparently), after as little as 6 months in your country, they say they hate it. i know few people who are staying there and are satisfied (i can think of two), only one who said she’s happy, and everyone else who has been there for more than just 3 months in summer, they hate it without fail. and they never go back unless they are forced to, for business.

      • Joseph Chang

        Being a Korean living in America the “Land of freedom and prosperity”,
        is not so different from the perspectives of a foreigner living in
        Korea. It is the same here in the U.S. when we are discussing
        discrimination and racial slurs. Reading your rant about Living in Korea and dealing with annoying Koreans I can agree on some terms, but in a perspective of myself being a foreigner in the U.S., I can say there is not much difference. Yes people would express their emotions in a different way, but from where I live, I would say it is worse. Excluding my Caucasian friends, I found many other full grown men and women to be disrespectful. I can rant about how much they annoy me or how as a minority, I feel neglected, I will not because its my experience. Being able to understand the bigger picture of any culture would be a better vision for our society today because of everything else that’s going on besides loud Korean couples fighting in the streets. You can agree with me or not, but I would hope to get you to find the essence of Korean culture. This is why I still reside in the U.S. because I understand the culture and find the beauty of it.

        Respectfully,
        Joseph Chang

        • bakatenko

          you know caucasian = white?
          anyway, i assure you i get the bigger picture. korea is just not a country for me, but i studied it at length and in some aspects i know more than an average korean (not to brag – most things of course i do not know more or better). i still saw nothing beautiful about korean culture in korea being with koreans. 2 years of living there and 5 years of intensive studies didn’t help either. sorry, regarding the beauty of it i won’t know what you mean.
          it’s interesting what you said.. so in one of the most culturally inclusive countries in the world you feel repressed and discriminated? i’d like to see that actually, i find it hard to believe. i think we’re talking about two different things, or that you just mean that the culture shock is similarly great, which would of course be true, but that is not what i meant. any chance you might present some examples of what you meant?

          also, my rant was to this particular person. i don’t like people who generalise – my reaction is the same whether the generalisation is a praise or a rant, and to whatever nationality it is being directed – to people who blindly praise japan or korea, i tell them about the other side, so far all of them were oblivious of it (the more saturated the one sided opinion is, the less the knowledge and bigger the ignorance about the other side of the coin that person has), and analogically, to people who criticise them i tell them about the positives. the conversation gets the most interesting with people who are savants of the subject :) either way, i always encourage people to go see for themselves and NOT rely on opinions of others as they are always biased to some degree. i do present my own, but with strong underlining that it is my own opinion, and as long as korea is not the place for me for many reasons, i know people for whom it is a place to live, they moved there and they are happy. so the opinion that gets formed is by all means not objective, but subjective to the eyes of the beholder…

          also, pardon if i upset you or stepped on your toes even the slightest.

  • Mina

    I’m what they call, 1.5 generation Korean/American. I was born in Korea, but came to the States when I was 9 years old. So, fluent in Korean language and Korean culture. I have to say, Turner got it. No, it’s not comprehensive, and depending on who you talk to, you’ll get different feedback, but it’s on target. Samsung is known as the economic engine of South Korea. I’m not sure if they are liked or not, but they are respected. I have to say that I can talk sh!t about Korea, because it’s my country, but I would never allow or accept foreigners from talking anything but good things about my country. I do get embarrassed about things, but I get embarrassed about the US as well, my adopted country.  We are very proud people and with that comes the good and the bad. Please accept us for who we are.

  • http://www.warasadrumschool.com/ Ruth McDonald

    I used to teach in Cheongju, South Korea, and I can report that the children at least are capable of humour when it comes to Dokdo…I wrote a note above my whiteboard one week for all my students to see, in Hangul Korean letters, that said “Dokdo is Scotland’s Land!”.  It still makes me chuckle, along with my Taegukki emblazened t-shirt with the Dokdo song written on the back all about Dokdo belonging to Korea and the lovely octopus and squid that hang out there….good memories!

  • Sung-Hwan Joo

    Most of stories are
    true except two things.

     

    1.       Korean Government didn’t pay to fishermen to live in Dok-do. No
    citizen lives in Dok-do right now. There used to be. But, no more.

    2.       There is a Coast-Guards station with 50 policemen in Dok-do Not
    just water.

     

    I guess that I am just
    a little bit annoyed (I am a Korean) when somebody used incorrect information about Dok-do. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeong-Beom-Pyon/500794762 Jeong Beom Pyon

    I think Sunyoung Jeong wrote basically everything I had to write about your ‘article’.

    However, I do want to add something here. I have lived in 4 different continents (South America, North America, Asia, and Europe) pretty much evenly throughout my life (back and forth, from one place to another), and if I have to generalize Koreans, I would say that they are in fact, angry people. I remember in elementary school I was shocked on my first day of school because one kid started to beat up another with a chair… 9 year old kid beating up other kids with metal chair.
    Then I went back to Korea briefly during high school, and it was one of a prestigious school, but literally everyone was asleep in class and the teacher was talking to the wall. One day, the teacher woke up a student, and the student took his chair and smashed a window in the classroom and left. He never came back. 
    Oh yes, and I have served my term in the army. You think those Koreans studying in US aren’t angry at all? I was “fortunate” to be in a place full of students who studied abroad, but man, you would never imagine what kind of pissed off angry people most of those students are. Of course, when they’re done with their service, they return back to being just a “good guy” and life goes on as if the 2 years in the army never happened. I won’t write any example of the f.ed up thing that people do in the army to each other, but trust me, I thought some people had serious mental illness. Again, in society, everyone loves them. Now, to Korea’s defense, it shouldn’t be a surprise at all that Koreans are so angry. We had been in so many wars throughout our history, then colonized by our greatest rival, then split in half from civil war, and then even participated in Vietnam War (yes, this is how Korean economy actually shot up: being US’s greatest ally in the Vietnam War).How can you expect people who went through so much hell to raise their children and grandchildren in such a trigger happy way that you can in Europe and US? In fact, we should all be impressed by the progress Korea has made in terms of the culture and society (not just economy). Now, my final point I wanted to mention is what Koreans actually need to work on: racism. Koreans have forgotten who helped them during the difficult times. It wasn’t only US, European nations, Turkey… etc. Countries like Peru and even Suriname aided us during the difficult times. However, ask any Koreans what they think about Southeast Asians or Peruvians. You won’t hear so much good things about them.In fact, I have a Peruvian friend living in Korea right now. He’s obviously a European descendant and is basically ‘white’ with dark hair, and people are nice to him until he says “I’m Peruvian.” Their facial expression changes and they treat him like shit. And he’s been living there for a while and he experiences this far too often, and even makes me feel so angry about my people. Sorry for long post! Just wanted to get it out of my chest!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeong-Beom-Pyon/500794762 Jeong Beom Pyon

    Oh yeah, the point of that racism part was that you will be treated nicely if you’re white American or European, but they’ll treat you like shit if you’re Chinese, Southeast Asian, or South American. (Especially if you’re Chinese)

  • http://www.theirreverenttraveller.com/ Bula

    Hilarious! And so true! I taught at a Korean school for five years in Canada and lived in Seoul for a bit last year. Before coming to Korea, I never knew that you had to have a favourite refrigerator (LG, of course). And those ajoishis… they are relentless. It’s like having the Korean dad I never asked for.

  • John Cramerus

    My mothers Korean, and having a Korean mother means I automatically get entrance to some knowledge on the Korean mother Ko-alition, and I can tell you, little shit like talking on public transportation really does piss them off. However, basically, what pisses them off are mainly two things, besides from that. 

    A. Saying anything not good about Korea at all. They tend to be incredibly nationalistic with a heavy tendency to xenophobia and failure to assimilate into the local culture, not saying whether thats a good or bad thing…

    B. Anything ever said by anyone that implies their children are not Jesus fucking Christ.

  • http://www.jlist.com Peter Payne

    Fascinating post. (I’m an American who’s lived in Japan for 20 years and blogging for 15, who “lost” his Japanese wife to Korean dramas. She’s over there now in fact, shopping and eating.)

    I’m sure saying things like, “So, did your ancestors assist the Japanese during the occupation?” would get you killed. Which is silly since the vast majority of Koreans at the time saw the logic in becoming part of the machinery of the colonial government in order to flourish economically, no matter what people think now. Someone had to be helping them run the country.

    Or asking questions like, “Well, Great Britain colonized Ireland and Japan has a huge amount of respect for the country, so they naturally colonized the weak country to their West in imitation, so why don’t you blame Great Britain instead?” would get you knifed. 

    Or implying that kimchee came from Japan. (I’ve run into this…just mentioning to a Korean in the US that I live in Japan an Japanese people enjoy Korean kimchee every day got huge anger from him.) 

    Or saying that in Taiwan, they love Japan and are really thankful for all that the country did for them during the colonial period (wartime engineer Yoichi Hatta is a hero there, as he built the irrigation system that kept the country from starving in the aftermath of World War II), then asking if Japan did absolutely nothing positive for Korea in any way? Maybe building that nice train station in Seoul that looks just like Tokyo Station?Here’s a post I made on the Dokdo/Takeshima issue. My verdict, both sides made many slip-ups over several hundred years, referring to the land as territory belonging to the other side in official documents, but Korea wind by virtue of actually possessing the islands, and blah blah blah, they’re just stupid rocks. http://www.peterpayne.net/2008/08/dokdo-or-takeshima.html

  • http://twitter.com/mechanicalpope mechanicalpope

    “No issue is more polarizing in the Land of the Morning Calm.” Huh? It’s not polarizing at all if it’s the hegemonic ideology like you describe (and there’s no need for the gratuitous orientalizing “Land of the Morning Calm” mystification). There are far too many generalizations in this article, some downright unhelpful — a Korean liberal would be less than pleased if you doggedly praise corporations like Samsung…

  • Colin

    I’m a foreigner in Korea working as part of a diplomatic staff.  

    I can say that honestly, with the 95% of foreigner who are in Korea as foreigners, the main problem is that their minds are in vacation mode and they feel that they are complete submerged into a brand new novel world.  What you often hear foreigners talking about in public and on public transportation is their efforts to analyze Korean culture and girls, with one friend speaking rather authoritatively (confidently) about the matter to the other friend.  Many Korean have a good grasp of English, so you should be careful what you say as it’s quite possible there are people who understand you (i.e. me). I conduct my daily activities in Korean, and do not go out of my way and actually actively avoid meeting foreigners.  

    Cultural sensitivity is very important.  It’s one thing to not know not to speak loudly in public transportation (in other words, be obnoxious), and it’s another thing to have absolutely zero social skills and social tact in noticing that around you, people aren’t being as loud as you are.  Take a moment to look around and realize that even though you and your other English speaking friend are the only people in the world right now because both of you are the only ones the other person can understand, outside of that safety bubble you are in is a whole other world of people who are citizens of the country that is hosting you.  

    Lastly, if you find yourself in love with Korea for all the stereotypical reasons, start studying your history, politics, and economics books and understand the many challenges that Korea is facing now, has faced, and will face, and no that just like any other country in the world, it has nuances that are neat yes, but many of which also pose a challenge to its long term sustainability, which it is trying to tackle in a mature manner.

    I have lived and worked in about 9 different countries on five continents, so here is the advice I have to give to you, no matter where you live (FOR THE PURPOSE OF WORKING or STUDYING FOR A LONG TIME) in the future (though if you are an English teacher, the likelihood is that you are treating your stay as a vacation and have no future as a person working abroad on business)

    1. Be culturally sensitive.  You’re also in a different country under different laws.  respect it the same way you expect other visitors to your own country.

    2. Get rid of your superiority complex and humble yourself.

    3. Don’t complain about anything in your host country unless you have studied the matter and the different perspectives the same way one would do to complete their PhD Doctoral Thesis.  If you don’t, you have no right to comment on it.

    4. When you meet members of your host country, treat them like normal human beings, and treat yourself like a normal human being as well.  There’s no need to patronize each other for how cute, neat, or different the other culture is.  You’re in the country, live in it like it’s your own rather than be some wanderlust completely flabbergasted by everything.  Treat others like normal human beings and the same way you would treat meeting a new person in your own country.

    5. Get a fucking grip on the language.  I mean it.  I appreciate it when I see a foreigner making a concerted effort to learn the language by not being shy, practicing, 

    6. Stop hanging out with other foreigners and expats.  They are not your pillar and comfort bubble.  You are not helping them and they are not helping you.  Don’t want to feel isolated in Korea?  Start adapting.

    6. Listen to your superiors and respect seniors.  I know this is counter to the labour-union and right oriented culture of the west, but YOU made a choice to come to Korea.  Unless you have a very liberal boss, know to sit down and shut up when you know it’ll help you keep your job.  The job market is tough here, you are always replaceable.  

    7. Stop taking pictures of everything you see and eat.  You are embarrassing yourself as well as your friends.

    8.  Make an effort to speak full sentences, and don’t drop random Korean words.  You sound ridiculous.  If you’re not going to learn the language, at least work on your pronunciation.  I don’t think you came to Korea in order to sound like a donkey.   

    9. For the men - when you speak Korean, you don’t have to go back to sounding like you’re in the midst of hitting puberty.  But don’t be flat either.  

    10. Eat your food.  If it won’t kill you, just eat it, and stop making faces and comments.

    11. If you are unable to do at least 5 of the above, return to your place of origin.  You either do not want to adapt, have tried to but unfortunately were not able to adapt, completely failed to adapt, or simply the place is not for you.  Before your own dignity and self-esteem is completely demolished, recede back into your home of comfort, and do not go to another country for the purpose of a long-term stay again.  You were not made for it.

    • crow

      Thank you!

  • Thomacino

    OP, you seem
    biased and harbour intentions to aggravate and provoke Koreans. Whether
    intended or implied if the reader is feeling it is biased it most likely is. I
    am no academic, a uni student at most and won’t get into the nitty gritty of it
    all.

    Yes, I am indeed Korean.

    Having said that I came to Sydney in 1991, (born 1986) speak close to perfect
    English, and intermediate Korean. (shameful tsk tsk)

    My parents and my 2 older sisters appear to have their own ideas to Dok-Do
    island, I on the other hand unfortunately feel no particular emotion
    considering my departure from Korea at such a young age. (5) I consider
    Australia to be my home country despite my parent’s futile attempt at education regarding that matter.

     

    The reason
    behind this is not because I am not a patriot it is BECAUSE I have developed a
    brain and have made my own conclusions regarding the matter.

     

    If I recall, I
    don’t think your post states that you have spent ample time in Korea to make
    such a ‘generalised’ comment re: Koreans and don’t understand the nature of
    this post, clearly as mentioned above perhaps you harbour intentions to start a
    HTML world war. If I may, not a prudent decision, considering you are an
    academic (writer).

     

    Going back home, Australia in fact was not called ‘Australia’ (1901-I think it was
    colonised from England, testing history here) for better or worse it is done,
    and yes Australia has moved on only because they were not on the losing end.

     

    Ask any
    indigenous person (Aborigine) re: Australia’s colonisation and I can assure the
    wrath would match that of any compassionate Korean, directly affected re:
    colonisation of Korea (my grandfather had a Japanese maid-clearly an ego thing)

     

    Keeping this in
    mind I may not comprehend the full story about Korean history or culture
    however I can safely comment that the Aborigine received respect and compassion
    from its ‘host’ (monetary and emotional support, indigenous tribes receive
    handsome welfare packages and also, Kevin Rudd-former Australian Prime Minister
    made a public apology on behalf of Australia and is available in Canberra for
    display) a topic clearly not addressed by the Japanese government, and to add
    fuel to fire the Japanese government is in complete denial.

     

    I believe it is
    this last point that mainly triggers the ‘rage’ effect in Koreans.

     

    I can blab more
    on this topic and probably spend endless nights and write a thesis re this topic,
    and rather choose not to. As it won’t prove a point nor educate you.

     

     

    My advice to the
    OP, perhaps it is best to not make internet recommendations on ‘how to piss of
    a Korean’ and knowingly comparing Korea to be inferior , I am to presume no fights breakout in Japan or any other country for that matter?

     

    Evidently I can
    see you did not apply adequate time to make proper findings of your visit in
    Korea, perhaps you are too intent on seeking the negatives that you have failed
    to notice the postitive attributes that would have been far more beneficial.

     

    Whichever country you originate from I am
    adamant there would be a ‘sensitive’ topic regarding your country’s history and
    I am sure you would not appreciate me or any other internet post making a
    publicly biased, un-factual statement without addressing the sensitivity
    factor, a factor which has not been addressed here.

     

    Tom L

    • http://twitter.com/amongthegoblins Katherine Traylor

      Sweetheart, the title of the post is tongue-in-cheek. The intention (I’m fairly sure) is to help people NOT piss off Koreans.

  • Thomacino

    OP, you seem
    biased and harbour intentions to aggravate and provoke Koreans. Whether
    intended or implied if the reader is feeling it is biased it most likely is. I
    am no academic, a uni student at most and won’t get into the nitty gritty of it
    all.

    Yes, I am indeed Korean.

    Having said that I came to Sydney in 1991, (born 1986) speak close to perfect
    English, and intermediate Korean. (shameful tsk tsk)

    My parents and my 2 older sisters appear to have their own ideas to Dok-Do island,
    I on the other hand unfortunately feel no particular emotion considering my
    departure from Korea at such a young age. (5) I consider Australia to be my
    home country despite my parent’s futile attempt at education regarding that
    matter.

     

    The reason
    behind this is not because I am not a patriot it is BECAUSE I have developed a
    brain and have made my own conclusions regarding the matter.

     

    If I recall, I
    don’t think your post states that you have spent ample time in Korea to make
    such a ‘generalised’ comment re: Koreans and don’t understand the nature of
    this post, clearly as mentioned above perhaps you harbour intentions to start a
    HTML world war. If I may, not a prudent decision, considering you are an
    academic (writer).

     

    Going back home,
    Australia in fact was not called ‘Australia’ (1901-I think it was colonised
    from England, testing history here) for better or worse it is done, and yes
    Australia has moved on only because they were not on the losing end.

     

    Ask any
    indigenous person (Aborigine) re: Australia’s colonisation and I can assure the
    wrath would match that of any compassionate Korean, directly affected re:
    colonisation of Korea (my grandfather had a Japanese maid-clearly an ego thing)

     

    Keeping this in
    mind I may not comprehend the full story about Korean history or culture
    however I can safely comment that the Aborigine received respect and compassion
    from its ‘host’ (monetary and emotional support, indigenous tribes receive
    handsome welfare packages and also, Kevin Rudd-former Australian Prime Minister
    made a public apology on behalf of Australia and is available in Canberra for
    display) a topic clearly not addressed by the Japanese government, and to add
    fuel to fire the Japanese government is in complete denial.

     

    I believe it is
    this last point that mainly triggers the ‘rage’ effect in Koreans.

     

    I can blab more
    on this topic and probably spend endless nights and write a thesis re this
    topic, and rather choose not to. As it won’t prove a point nor educate you.

      

    My advice to the
    OP, perhaps it is best to not make internet recommendations on ‘how to piss of
    a Korean’ and knowingly comparing Korea to be inferior  , I am to presume no fights breakout in Japan or any other country
    for that matter?

     

    Evidently I can
    see you did not apply adequate time to make proper findings of your visit in
    Korea, perhaps you are too intent on seeking the negatives that you have failed
    to notice the postitive attributes that would have been far more beneficial.

     

    Whichever
    country you originate from I am adamant there would be a ‘sensitive’ topic
    regarding your country’s history and I am sure you would not appreciate me or
    any other internet post making a publicly biased, un-factual statement without
    addressing the sensitivity factor, a factor which has not been addressed here.

     

     

     

     

     

    Tom L

  • Wheee =D

    ….. Why would you purposely want to make someone angry anyway? Dude…. that’s just messed up.

  • Nicole Chung

    You actually had time to do all this? I wish I had your time… xD

  • Harald Stoll

    I don’t fully agree with your post, but I do see some valid points.
    Your note on ‘Talk on public transportation’ isn’t true in a sense that someone will do something about, considering the ‘loss of face’ issue, Koreans and foreigners do speak/scream loud to each other as well as on their phones or using their tv-phones. The issue is that everyone is clearly upset about it, but nobody does anything about it because they don’t want the other to lose face nor for themselves to stand out in the crowd.
    It’s usually me asking nicely in Korean if they would mind turning it down a little bit.

    Regarding the dokdo or japan, absolutely, if you want to enrage a rooted Korean go ahead and take a stand against them in these matters. As for Samsung, despite their eagerness for working for these conglomerates, they don’t particularly like or dislike the brand anymore then they do apple, intel, bmw, etc.

    • Bastian William Top

      You bored at work bro? btw I am coming over to Korea fom the 3th of August for a week! Soju?

    • Harald Stoll

      ey ma man, starting up in the morning involves some basic ranting and stalking on the internet ^_^ yeah, ill be around, hit me up when ya here ;)

  • Ian James

    Im working at a hotel and i want to get fired so i can go home. Any suggestions?

    • Sergio Brandao

      Just pack up and get the fuck out!!!!!

    • Sergio Brandao

      You know!!! After that, ‘consequences’….. Got balls?

    • Jc Stylles

      Get drunk on the gig.

    • Oscar Castro Jr.

      bem feito,kkkk

  • Andreas Bevan

    I cracked a “Yo mama” joke at a korean girl once. To my disbelief she actually started to cry.

    • Mathias Berlin

      Sykt random

    • Ali Tsang

      Those jokes are never funny to begin with.

    • Ali Tsang

      Those jokes are never funny to begin with.

    • Ali Tsang

      Those jokes are never funny to begin with.

    • Ali Tsang

      Those jokes are never funny to begin with.

    • Ali Tsang

      Those jokes are never funny to begin with.

    • Ali Tsang

      Those jokes are never funny to begin with.

    • Ali Tsang

      Those jokes are never funny to begin with.

    • Ali Tsang

      Those jokes are never funny to begin with.

    • Ali Tsang

      Those jokes are never funny to begin with.

    • Ali Tsang

      Those jokes are never funny to begin with.

    • Ali Tsang

      Those jokes are never funny to begin with.

  • Miri

    about the language. there are so many instances when koreans, thinking that foreigners (even if they speak some korean) dont understand the difference between polite and impolite forms in korean language, that they speak to foreigners in most impolite way. especially children do that a lot.
    also, cant imagine the nation more sensitive to even slightest criticism of their culture. ‘Korea is the best’, thats all they want to know.

  • Nate

    I wonder how people would react if I got on a bus or something and started talking as loud as I could on purpose.

  • Nate

    That billboard is funny if you read it like this: Back off JAPAN!!! Dokdo belongs to KOREA!

  • Unta Beranak Lapan

    But, I thought the island is called Takeshima?

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