Damned Canadians in Korea

The Marmot’s got a post up about yet another idiot Canadian in Korea.

You know, Americans have a bad rap internationally, and though I wish I could agree with my friend Jessie that Canadians aren’t really as internationally beloved as they like to think they are, I do find a lot of Koreans more positive about Canada and Canadians than they are about the USA and American citizens.

It’s sad, really. When I came over to Korea, I was surprised to find so many Canadians here. At first, I took shared nationality as a kind of sign that, well, I don’t know… I guess I just had a silly instinct that maybe Canadians were nicer than Americans, more culturally respectful and aware, more likely to be educated (since we actually subsidize education).

I was wrong. Time and time again I’ve found that I was wrong. The sad fact is that the majority of the most execrable people I’ve met here—the most ignorant, backwards, closed-minded, rude, intolerant, disrespectful, deceitful, and pernicious foreigners I’ve crossed paths with—have been Canadians.

Canadians stereotypically are worse at pronouncing Korean, as in many of them don’t even make an effort to get the accents on the right syllables or to get the damned vowels right. It’s embarrassing when you’re eating dinner and someone starts demanding “SAM JANG!” where the a is pronounced like it is in “hat”, because that vowel doesn’t even exist in Korean. The a should be pronounced like the vowel in “caught”, which is something that even many relatively nice Canadians seem not to grasp.

If linguistic orneriness were the sum of their faults, I could overlook them, as I do among my Korean friends. But unfortunately, there is much more to it than that. Many of the Canadians who end up here wind up being the eternal Fratboy. You know the type: working a relatively well-paying job, often while inebriated; breaking laws in public businessplaces (say, bringing liquor into unlicensed spaces, and then gambling… in a coffeeshop, during the afternoon no less, and then refusing to leave when asked politely) and then implying that the reason you were forced to leave was because of racism; and even just that endless incessant fratboy commentary on every Korean woman who walks past, like young boys on the eve of their paid-for sexual awakening. When I say Eternal Fratboy, I don’t mean that there’s an endless supply of them, but that they remain this way as long as they remain in the country, which it seems can be years and years.

Sure, there are American teachers who behave this way. Australians, too: an ex-girlfriend of mine was stalked by a mentally unstable Australian, in fact. I’ve met a few Kiwis I didn’t like, and even the odd Brit is unsavory. But is it sheer numbers that has provided me with so many unlikeable Canadians?

I don’t know. I do know that I have a number of American friends who are just as appalled as I am at my countrymen.

Sure, it’s a case-by-case basis. I’m doing that knee-jerk reaction that so often I complain about Koreans doing with regard to foreigners in general—seeing one dirty foreigner and thinking all foreigners are dirty people, for example—but I have to say that, if I don’t avoid Canadians here, neither do I have any special affection for them, not until they show themselves to be sane, stable, and interesting adults.

And yes, I know, my examples seem limited to Canadian men. I only know a few Canadian women here, like maybe three, so I don’t feel qualified to generalize at all.

8 thoughts on “Damned Canadians in Korea

  1. The a should be pronounced like the vowel in “caught”, which is something that even many relatively nice Canadians seem not to grasp.

    BTW, do you mean the sound of “caught” or “cot?” I know that many Canadians (and Americans) don’t distinguish the two, my (Southern US) dialect does.

  2. Um… since I don’t know which sound is what for you, John, I guess I’ll have to find another example. Uh…

    How about the “o” in “bomb”? Does it sound the same as the “a” in “balm”? That’s my guess for you. It’s a long A like then the doc asks you to stick out your tongue and go “aaaah,” if that’s any help.

    How does your pronunciation of “cot” and “caught” differ?

  3. “and even the odd Brit is unsavory”…

    occasionally, I am reminded of that expression: The Americans and British are two great peoples separated by a common language…

    The biggest threat to good relationships between Americans, Australians, British, Canadians, and others “of that ilk” are their political views. Let’s face it. There are no easy paths between the ABBA crowd and those who think they’re tools of International Socialism (or worse).

    *sigh* Why can’t we just be nice to each other…

    One answer is that we’re all so selfish that we put our own views forth as being more important than other people’s feelings… I’ve been trying to remember that lately…

  4. Unbelievable that this guy, drunk or not, could beat up two cops just because of his lack of brains…er…I mean lack of language. I’ve heard that Korea can be a catch basin for all sorts of undesirables. Painful for the decent foreigners.

  5. Mike55,

    It certainly is painful for the sane foreigners, the weirdoes that end up here. Hardest is the way that some locals tend to understand all foreigners as being of a kind (doubtless the influence of an education system that uses propaganda from a very young age to successfully convince too many locals that the locals are all of a kind), plus the lack of exposure to foreigners.

    What’s hardest about that is what to do when you feel someone who has put himself in a role that effectively represents foreigners to the community, is unwittingly or wittingly misrepresenting them. What to do, what to say.

    Yes, I could write a post about what happened to spawn that thought, but I’m not sure I will.

  6. I haven’t noticed any clear difference in behaviour between Canadian and American men in Korea. There are pricks, nice guys, weirdos in pretty much equal proportion has been my finding.

    The complaints about Canadians pronunciation, you realize how ridiculous and based on someone or two you personally know is, right? It would be amusing to hear an explanation offered as to why someone from Michigan and someone 100 km away in Ontario pronounce Korean differently.

    Gord, the story of my two drunken ex-coworkers who stood outside our neighbors house shouting “U! S! A! U! S! A!” comes suddenly to mind. And you know what it tells me about Americans? Precisely nothing. They were just two idiots. We all have dumb expat stories…

  7. Hugh,

    I might be inclined to agree with you, except for the following:

    In the areas where I have lived in Korea, most of the hakwon teachers I’ve met have been Canadians. And most of the dumbasses I’ve met, who reject the very idea of learning about Korean culture, let alone learn some of the language, have been Canadians.

    Not all. There have been dumbasses from other places. There have been people from other places who absolutely suck at the language or know none at all, regardless of how long they live here or even whether they marry Koreans — I ‘ve sadly met two people who’ve been here for ten years and know so little Korean they can’t even count out their paycheques in the language. (No, I’m not exaggerating, an embarrassing phone call comes to mind.)

    It could be that, well, people who work in a certain field aren’t a good representative cross-section of a nation. For example, most of the Canadians I’ve met have been fratboy types who gravitated to the hakwon work because it’s easy, transient, better money for less work than would be expected back home, and something to do to extend that student-life kind of setting a year or two, including plenty of girls who think that these rather plain, doofus-like guys look like superstars.

    Perhaps this factor alone decides my experience of most of the Canadians I’ve known here. I’ve certainly seen far fewer Canadian lifers here, compared to Americans. I’ve certainly seen far fewer Americans with absolutely no facility with the language.

    There are exceptions, and most of the time (but not always) I see them in University teachers, who tend to be older and a bit more experienced and interested in the work, or at least frustrated for worthwhile reasons — say, because the work is made difficult by problems in the setup, as opposed to not having enough hot chicks in their classes.

    The other thing I find among that segment of the population, the Canadians at the hakwons, is that they turn very nationalistic, and very jingoistic, rapidly after coming here. Not just one or two, but a lot of them. I think Americans don’t do this because the very moment they did, they’d get called on it by the rest of their staff. Americans I know, both in the hakwon and the Uni, tend to keep a lower profile. Seriously, I have seen and heard some crazy things on July 1st, whereas on July 4th I never hear about anything too crazy. People don’t wear American flags as skirts or American flags on every item of clothing, like some Canadians do… and I’ve heard many reports from non-Canadian friends about that, too.

    As for the question of Americans vs. Canadians speaking Korean well, Hugh, you see, I think there is a bigger difference in culture than you, even across those hundred kilometers between Detroit and Ontario.

    Canada has the idea of multiculturalism, which was crammed down everyone’s throats but never really explained, the net effect being once a year we wander the city “experiencing other cultures” by tastign weird food and seeing weird fashion shows with funny music and ethnic clothing.

    Canada has the idea of multilingualism, which when and where I was growing up ended up manifesting as utterly crappy French education in high school, maybe, if you were lucky. As I have French relatives, I made an effort to understand Quebec’s culture and politics in relation to the rest of Canada, but most people are just bewildered and annoyed by the separatist segment of their politics. Maybe something to do with that, or to do with rather shite language training early on makes more average-minded Canadians less likely to try learn Korean?

    I do know that the Canadians I know tend to settle less well here. I do know that the Americans I know tend to settle better than the “normal” Canadians I know.

    Does that mean all Americans try hard? Nope. I know several Americans whose ability to speak Korean is lower than I would aspire to have my level, were I to be in their position, say married to a Korean or living here eight or ten years; still, speaking in generalities it seems to me, if I average it out, I find Canadians try less, work at it less, and tend to leave more quickly.

    I’m not basing it on two people I know, by the way. I’m basing it on a few dozen people, which is still not much, but also I’m basing it on the comparison-of-notes I have conducted with a number of other foreign friends. Especially in the countryside, I find this tends to be true of Canadian foreigners. In my experience they’re more transient from the outset, they tend not to settle or learn the language much (or well, even when they have the opportunity), and they tend to have more drinking problems and adjustment problems.

    But it’s just my experience and the experience of a few of my trusted friends. It’s not statistical proof or anything.

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