FAQ: Standard Questions In Korea

Note: these answers are very dated: this FAQ is from 2005.


What’s a faq?

FAQ means:

Frequently means “often”. So a FAQ is a list of common questions and answers.

Sometimes foreigners hear the same question many times in Korea. This FAQ answers these kinds of questions.

Koreans can learn all their idle wonderings about me, while people who’ve never lived in Korea can get a sense of the kinds of questions I get asked all the time by total strangers. They’re also the kinds of answers that, in large part, I cannot give in a classroom, since the EFL classroom is supposed to be a supportive, safe, friendly kind of place, and all that.

Do you like kimchi?

If I say anything other than an absolute, categorical “Yes!”, will I be allowed to continue residing here? 

Some places have really good kimchi and other places have pretty bad kimchi. It’s like anything.

And no, it’s not “too spicy.” Westerners eat way spicier food than you have in Korea. (Your beliefs are fifty years out of date.)

Do you like Korea?

If I say anything other than an absolute, categorical “Yes!”, will I be allowed to continue residing here?

Some things frustrate the hell out of me—and I’m usually pretty vocal about that on my blog. Some things are really great here. Sometimes being a foreigner in Korea is complicated, but I like Korea at least enough to continue living here after almost four years.

You must be lonely in Korea. Do you have a girlfriend?

Koreans tend to not like to be alone. This strikes North Americans as weird. We like to be alone sometimes. It’s a great way to read, think, or get things done. Company is nice too, but we do way more things alone than most Koreans seem to think is “normal.” We even have a positive word for it: solitude. That good kind of aloneness.

As for whether I am lonely: isn’t every human being lonely sometimes? And… I’m a human being, right?  There are people I miss who are in other, distant places. But that doesn’t mean I’m all “lonely.” Most of my friends don’t live where I lived when I knew them anyway. People move. Things change. Life goes on.

As for my love life: mind your own beeswax.

What is your favorite Korean food?

It depends on my mood. Like you, right? I don’t know, this “favorite” thing is sort of kiddie to me. I don’t have a favorite color either, or a favorite musician. There’s what I am into right now–콜국수, 냉면, 비빔만두, 닭도리탕, 김치찌개–but that’s always changing.

Also, I also tend to eat lots of foreign foods, because I like variety. No, not hamburgers. That’s not variety, that’s crap. I mean Thai, Indian, and (very Americanized) Tex-Mex. And believe it or not, a lot of that is even spicier than most Korean food.

No, really. Korean food is not the spiciest food on earth. Get over it, and let’s move on.

How old are you?

Well, how old do you think I am? Go on, guess. And also: why do you care so much? Stop caring so much. People in the Joseon Dynasty weren’t constantly walking around asking, “How old are you?”

Where are you from?

I am from Canada. My home town is Saskatoon, in the province called Saskatchewan. I also lived in Edmonton and Montreal for a while. I was born in Malawi. By the way, that’s not in South Africa. Different country, totally. Beside Zimbabwe and Zambia. Not South Africa. At all. Got it?

How do you say your hometown’s name? One more time, please.

Sas-ka-toon. Saskatoon is in Sas-kat-che-wan. They are Cree (Native Canadian) names. The name of Saskatoon is apparently taken from a kind of delicious berry that grows there.

You have an earring in your left ear. Are you gay?

Frankly, that’s a really stupid question.

I know that teachers sometimes say that there’s no such thing as dumb questions. There are. That is one. It’s not stupid because I think gayness is bad, by the way: I don’t think badly of gay people at all. It’s stupid because you actually imagine that wearing an earring is some secret coded signal of homosexuality. Do all Koreans wear a certain kind of jewelry? Do all Canadians? Why would all gay people do it?

I suppose I also think it’s stupid because this was the kind of thing that North American kids believed in middle school when I was a kid. Once we got to high school, we outgrew such silly ideas. So it’s strange for adults in your society to ask me this. It feels like I’m talking to ignorant children when people ask me this. Ignorance I can understand in children. In adults, it should be embarrassing. Educate yourself!

Also, if I were gay, would I actually tell you? In Korea in 2005, while working at a Christian school? Be realistic.

Are you married?

Why, are you looking for a potential husband or something?

What is your favorite sport?

What’s your favorite formal verse structure? Your favorite kind of atonal music?

(Not everyone has a favorite sport, or even cares about sports at all.)

I do cycle and swim. But I would never sit around watching people play a sport on television. There’s a million things I’d rather do.

What is your favorite music?

Remember what I said about favorites? But, that said: I like jazz music, as well as all kinds of other music. But it’s 99% likely you’ve not heard of it because it tends to be music by people who died before you were born, or stuff most people would dismiss as “weird” or “difficult.” I happen to like a challenge, and know enough about music that more challenging material is more enjoyable to me.

Okay, but do you listen to any Korean music?

Sure. It’s kind of hard to avoid, given that it blasts out of every shopfront I walk past.

So then who is your favorite Korean musician?

Mostly old traditional Korean music (pansori, haegum, kayageum) and indie rock bands. I like 3rd Line Butterfly, Kim Kwang Seok, PiPi Band, Han Yeong Ae, and especially Hwang Sin Hae Band and the Uh Uh Boo Project Band. Yes, Uh Uh Boo. I realize most Koreans under 35 have never heard of most of these musicians. That’s a shame. Then again, I heard of them mostly because I was in an indie rock band.

I’m much more interested in jazz music, but I  haven’t managed to find any Korean jazz I really like. Maybe someday. You have a very small jazz scene in Korea, unfortunately, and I’m not sure why that is. Maybe too much mass-produced Kpop gets in the way…

Your nose looks bent. Why?

I am very very bad at catching baseballs.

Sometimes when you look at me I can’t tell whether it’s me or the person next to me. Why?

I have something called lazy eye. Basically my left eye is almost blind. It’s not a problem except that this is the reason I don’t drive.

You lost a lot of weight during your first year in Korea. What’s your secret?

Food poisoning. A lot of cases of food poisoning, all in a row. Don’t eat near campus. It’s dangerous. Also, living in Iksan and Jeonju, I get more exercises. People walk more. You also get much smaller servings in Korean restaurants, which helps.

You eat Korean food often? Can you cook it?

Do you eat bread? Is that compatible with Korean genetics?

Come on, I live in Korea. Of course I eat Korean food. You’d have to be insane to live somewhere and never eat the local food. Especially as a Westerner: we eat foods from different cultures all the time. That’s normal and expected in Canada.

Oh, and I suppose your brain will explode if I note that I also cook Korean food at home sometimes, right? Come on.

What is your religion?

What’s your Japanese uncle’s name?

(Not everybody has a religion.)

Okay, okay. Do you have a religion?

That’s a much more polite and appropriate question. But it’s still a nosy question, and none of your business. Though, fine: no, I don’t. And no thank you, I’m not interested in yours either.

If you don’t go to church, that means you can drink alcohol, right?

Hey, you. Yeah, you. Tell me, what was the first miracle performed by Jesus?

That’s right, he MADE WINE FROM WATER. Now, try explain to me how drinking alcohol is incompatible with Christianity.

When will you go back to the USA?

I don’t know. When will you go back to Vietnam?

(Um… I’m Canadian.)

Do you know any other languages besides English?

I learned to speak French in Montreal. When I left Canada, I could speak in French about the same level as most advanced level English-Education students in our school. I worked with French people and spoke French a lot.

But I am forgetting my French; when I try to speak French, a mixture of French and Korean words and grammar comes out of my mouth. 여즈음 je ne 프랑스어  pas 잘 parle 못한다.

Are you studying Korean?

Yes, I am. I used to have a Korean blog online. People seemed to enjoy it. The posts are still around, somewhere, but they’re garbled. I moved servers and something happened to them.

Why are you studying Korean?

Have you ever tried to conduct a normal life in a country where only a tiny minority of people speak your native tongue in any comprehensible fashion? Maybe, try connect with the people around you?

What do you think of Korean women?

What do you think of tall people? Or short people? Or people with long fingers? Big feet?

(This category “Korean” seems to matter way more to you than it does to me. )

Who do you prefer to teach, adults or children?

I like teaching people who want to learn. Those people come in kid-sized and adult-sized versions. (So do the other kinds of students.)

But the toughest students are middle school students. They’re just becoming aware of the fact that their society has them in a vise-grip, and are angry, but aren’t equipped to do anything about it except be annoying. I sympathize, but a lot of middle schools are just plain no fun to be around.

Can I have your cell phone number?

For what? As Nora Ephron once wrote, “You can’t be friends with people who call after 11 p.m.” I’ve had enough bad experiences to realize lots of other people (especially, but not only, in Korea) don’t seem to realize this, or understand why I would value my sleep enough not to want it interrupted. So now.

You can email me, though. I never mind getting email, as long as it isn’t spam.

Can you edit this English document for me?

If I know your face, I might consider it. Will you translate this document for me?

Wait, it’s your friend’s 100 page thesis? And he doesn’t want to pay an editor? Ha… no.

Are you this Gord, or this one?

Nope. There are a few Gords in Korea. I’m only one of them. But I’m possibly the only one who plays saxophone.

Can I ask you a question?

Please do! Unless the question is ridiculously inappropriate or ridiculously difficult, I will attempt to answer it when I get a free moment. Just submit it as a comment to this page. Thanks!

2 thoughts on “FAQ: Standard Questions In Korea

  1. Nedlless to say, you like writing a lot. wow I am pretty impressed by your FAQ. First the length of your telling then how detail and brave to express yourself. Without thinking you are my teacher, I respect you in terms of your writing.
    I hope I can tell my story like you someday.
    I think writing can reflect their writer. So my writing is a kind of facade to conceal my truth.
    My realness is always covered by my persona.

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