For those just joining us, this post is part of a series. I recommend that you skip this post for the moment, and check out the menu at the bottom of the post to start reading these in order.
Expat Social Fallacy #2: He/She Isn’t the Problem, Korea Is…
… and that’s why, for example, he/she bitches all the time.
This second Expat Social Fallacy isn’t restricted to bitching and complaining, of course. The “difficulty” of living in Korea becomes an excuse for all kinds of behaviours: illegal, stupid, antisocial, boring, and otherwise. But the case of bitching is a good example, so I’m going to go with it. Yes, I can see it now. People out there are about to tear through the archives of this blog and point out what a hypocrite I am.
Let me clarify, therefore. Yes, the bit of the blogosphere inhabited by Westerners living in Korea (which somewhat laughably calls itself the Korea[/n]-blogosphere, but mostly disconnected with the native Korean blogosphere) is full of bitching. That is neither here nor there, though I think it does grow out of (and embody) some of what I’m pointing at. More recent blogs I’ve seen, where Koreans are referred to (as a rule) in extremely racist, sexist, and otherwise ridiculous ways, suggest the social acceptability of ESF#2 may be growing, or at least that more people are being less careful and circumspect about it.
There are a number of expats whose lives in Korea seem to resemble, by their own accounts, utter and unremitting misery. They hate Korea. They hate Koreans. They hate Korean popular culture, and hate the traditional culture. They revile everything. Well, or they speak as if they do. They also speak as if they were trapped here, which they aren’t. If they are relentlessly victimized during their stay here, it is purely and simply by their own choice.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying, “If you don’t like it, leave!” This is a fallacy too, of course. I think expats have a right to express worries and misgivings, to discuss grievances as much as anyone, and Koreans love to discuss their grievances–among themselves, if not in front of us.
And I don’t care whether they love or hate Korea, or feel somewhere in the middle. ESF#2 isn’t about how they feel, but rather what they do about how they feel. And what a number of people seen to do is, they bitch. And bitch. And biiiiitch. I don’t mean complaining about being unable to join a website because the software hasn’t been updated. I don’t mean trying to dissect what one can of the local political situation.
What I’m talking about is an atmosphere that makes constant negativity into a joke, into something normal. I mean calling Koreans things like “fuckstick” or “slutbag” or “shithead bastard” or “permed chimpanzee bitch” as if those were the actual, legitimate English equivalents of Korean words like 아기, 아가시 (oops!) 아가씨, 아저씨, 아줌마 (kid, young lady, older man, older woman). It means using racist and sexist and outright hateful language as it were a socially acceptable way to refer to people. I means being unable to talk about Koreans as a people without constantly invoking the (yes, ridiculous) belief in Fan Death or (yes, unbelievable) claim that kimchi curing SARS… and doing so in order to “prove” that all Koreans are “dumb” without even considcering a critique of the media that promulgates such folk-beliefs (or noting that massive numbers of people in the West believe in ridiculous things too, like this crap or this silliness or even this stupidity). The purpose of this move is, of course, to discredit every positive or intelligent or even controversial thing any Korean ever says or does.
It can also manifest in gender-specific slurs; some Western women in Korea relentlessly denigrate Western men (whom they find aren’t dating them), or Korean women (whom the Western men are dating) or, of course, Korean men (with whom they have the most trouble romantically). Among foreign-born Koreans, it can manifest as a constant expression of disgust towards either group — Westerners or Koreans alike. Among Western men, it most often registers as disdain for any Korean outside of their potential dating pool — male Koreans of all ages, and any woman older enough to be beyond consideration.
Carriers of ESF#2 not only engage in this sort of thinking, but they believe that when others do it, it is normative. They suggest those who aren’t comfortable with it are “uptight” or “too serious.” And for this reason, carriers of ESF tend to group together, tend to congregate in places where they can self-medicate (using alcohol, mostly), and tend to be reviled by many of their non-carrier fellow expats.
What’s forgotten is that this is not a behaviour we see as normal in our homelands. People who do this in the West self-evidently are not healthy, even in the case where they are Woody Allen or a mainstream literary novelist. They usually don’t get invited to events, and eventually whatever friends they have left level with them about the need to deal with their underlying problems. (Or they end up alone.) But in Korea, the foreign country and society are a convenient scapegoat behind which
ESF#2 is therefore essentially a fallacy that acts as a cover for depression, addiction, or other mental/emotional disturbances, most likely often long-term cases that existed prior to the expat going abroad (although some studies I read years ago on immigration stress suggested that such stress could generate psychiatric problems on its own).
This fallacy also poisons discussions in the public sphere, in part because it makes many Koreans feel unwelcome (or encourages the most rabidly nationalistic among them to engage in their own social fallacy, whereby all criticism of Korea must be discredited and the speaker neutralized however possible).
Well, that’s it for Expat Social Fallacy #2. Join us tomorrow for the next Expat Social Fallacy…
13 thoughts on “Expat Social Fallacies, Part 2”
nice post. it’s good to get the attitude expressed that while it’s healthy to criticize some aspects of life in korea that make it, sometimes, hard for some people to live here, bitching isn’t healthy at all. it goes nice with you comment about how we generally aren’t aware of how many crazy people live amongst us ;)
yet — since you stated that western women bitch about western men, korean men, and korean girls, it would just be fair to say that western men also complain about the women IN their potential dating pool — that these korean women are bitches and dishonest and what not…
plus, male bloggers outnumber female bloggers (and expats in general, i would say), and male bloggers complain so much louder (at least it seems like that to me — point out one big/well-known female, bitchy blogger to me!).
but, to come back to your original point. sometimes, i wonder why the hell isn’t it possible to criticize korea? anytime you say something bad somebody will jump at your throat. maybe it’s because the public sphere as been poisened by all that groundless bitching.
Interesting. You’re probably right that men bitch about the women in their dating pool; I haven’t seen it much, but probably because I’m not much around younger single men here. (The most I’ve heard was a mild observation that one young man made about how none of the women he’d dated seemed to remain as interesting as they’d seemed at the start.)
Also, the more common meme seems to be kind of latter-day Gothic triangle (of literary fame) with Korean women in the standard victim role, Korean men in the “older villain” role, and young foreign men as the liberators. So a lot of foreign guys seem to prefer slamming “ajeoshis”… unsurprisingly, given the shift in powerr dynamics and the difficulties younger western and older Korean men sometimes have relating. (I think those difficulties are much more intense than the ones between young western men and young Korean women.)
You’re right that male bloggers are both more numerous and more likely to complain than female ones, but the latter may be a function of the former. In my experience, lots of women who like to complain here simply do it in person, and I wonder whether if gender balance were more equal, whether we wouldn’t see just as many complaint-laden blogs by women.
Or maybe not. Maybe the loss of social power men experience here is greater, though I have to wonder. (Who loses more inherent privilege here? The white man moves down a few pegs when he comes to Korea, being not-Korean, but is still privileged in some ways by his maleness. The white woman loses by being both non-Korean and female, given the social norms here, but then, she arguable had less to lose compared to men, depending on how “oppressive” she perceived her experience in the West. I’m not sure. And then when we start talking about expats from other racial backgrounds, it gets yet more complicated…
That said, what do you think of the idea that there’s a kind of opposite-and-equal reaction to the bitchers among some bloggers (of both sexes, mind) that causes blogs with an almost Pollyannaish take on Korea to be written?
As for the Korean reaction to criticism of Korea by outsiders, many of my students have argued it’s a specifically cultural phenomenon, specific to Korea and a byproduct of certain memes purposefully included in the educational curriculum. It’s not just a result of what non-Koreans say, in other words, but also a result of how many Koreans have been trained to (a) react to foreign criticism and (b) not confront people whom they think are being unreasonable (for example in their reaction to foreign criticism).
It’s complex, in other words.
There was a big online discussion about this issue a while back. My contribution (and links to others) are included in this series of posts. I mainly focus on why expats in Korea complain so much.
By the way, I should note that I have struggled with this ESF rather seriously myself. In this case, I am talking about myself as much as others I’ve known, though thank goodness not in the more extreme, stupid, outright racist form. (But presenting one’s bitching in intellectualized, politically-correct wrapping paper doesn’t make it not-bitching, of course.)
“…some Western women in Korea relentlessly denigrate Western men (whom they find aren’t dating them), or Korean women (whom the Western men are dating)”
I think this is an expat social fallacy in and of itself. Contrary to popular belief, most non-Korean women don’t sit around moaning that the Korean b—-es are stealing all our men.
I dont think I’ve ever had a conversation like that in ten years of being here.
On the surface of it, it may not appear that the veritable paradise of beautiful women throwing themselves at (or at least willing to talk to) ex-pat men is paralled for ex-pat women, but there are plenty of opportunities to date and meet people here.
Also, what’s your definition of social priviledge? I’ve found that I have had many more opportunities and advantages over the years because I am not Korean. Many more than I would have had in my home country.
Living in Korea gives me greater economic power and independence than I could have at home too, so I actually feel more free.
I think there are advantages to being an expat woman over being an expat man sometimes too, as we are seen as non-threatening.
That’s another expat fallacy, or a common fallacy that expats like to engage in – oversimplifying and overestimating Confucianism and using it as a cause and/or explanation for things.
Also, when you said “아가시”, you meant the tennis player, right?
Well, I know I have had such conversations in my 8 years like that. Definitely. Not all expat women I know engage in it, but I’ve known a couple who were relentless in it, and a few more who made it into a kind of hobby of occasionally cutting down Korean women in “clever” ways.
(But I certainly don’t mean to imply ALL foreign women do this… or even a majority. Just like, I hope, the majority of expats don’t sit about bitching in general.)
And when I was still occasionally going to expat bars, I’d sometimes stumble into such conversations, or find myself caught in one with a pissed-off Canadian or American woman.
I may have overstated the case, though, in terms of its frequency. Part of it may be that my formative years in Korea were spent far from Seoul, down in Jeollabuk-do, and while Jeonju isn’t as country as some suggest, neither is it as city as others like to imagine.
It’s interesting to hear a contrary view on social privilege. I’m curious to explore that more, would love to read an extended discussion about it. My experience doown in Jeolla-do was that foreign women experienced far fewer opportunities for dating. Most foreign men were actively dating, most foreign women I knew were not — and didn’t all seem to be doing so by choice.
(Though, also, for parts of that time, neither was I dating, and I think the “veritable paradise of women” thing is a bit overstated too.)
In the days when you first arrived, as when I did, Western women sometimes experienced things like random Korean men assuming they were “loose” (with no apparent recourse for such sexual harassment) and would sometimes get accosted on the street for smoking, and so on. That’s stuff I’ve heard from women who were here about a decade ago. Maybe some of my expectations and perceptions are dated.
The non-threatening thing is also quite interesting. I find also putting on that kind of non-threatening manner helps. Or speaking in Korean to someone. Or dressing a certain way. Leather jacket doesn’t help, glasses do, suit does, jeans don’t. Even the way one walks can affect whether one is perceived as threatening or not. Also, age: as I get older, fewer and fewer Korean strangers seem to perceive me as threatening. (Disturbingly enough.)
I hear you on the differences in economic power and independence.
Thanks for the spelling correction! As for the rest, I’ll think about whether to rework some of the above, or let the comments stand as an appendix!
I disagree with this view. I think “Leave” is the best advice for anyone finding themselves in a life situation they’re unhappy with. Especially one as nomadic as being an expat ESL teacher.
I think a lot of times people stick it out when they’re unhappy in Korea is because of one of the following;
1) They’re getting sex and/or money they’ve convinced themselves they can’t get elsewhere.
2) Stubborn, perhaps even arrogant, desire to show they can “beat” what they don’t like about Korea and thrive there.
3) Poor self-esteem keeping them from getting over it and leaving.
“If you don’t like it leave” is always used as a dismissal. I think people should start using it as a form of sensible advice. Life is too short to force yourself to stay miserable.
gord, you and the other commenters raised so many interesting points that i can’t respond to all in one comment.
i would like you to elaborate on: “So a lot of foreign guys seem to prefer slamming ‘ajeoshis’… unsurprisingly, given the shift in powerr dynamics and the difficulties younger western and older Korean men sometimes have relating.”
i always thought that western men mostly win when coming here, especially if they are tall, have a big nose and blond or blondish hair. (koreans don’t seem to notice when these people are actually assholes or dumb.)
datingwise: western men who were not exposed to anything that has to do with gender, that is western guys who are somewhat traditional, mostly win when dating korean women: they get submissiveness (maybe sprinkled with some whining, but still) and lose nothing (unless they actually WANT an equal partnership). these are just my thoughts, i don’t want to be the bitter western chick. i’m not. i’m in a foreign country, i also want to date locals, even if it was just to get a closer look at the culture, and to learn the language. except it doesn’t work so well for girls: western girls, on the contrary, lose big time when they date korean men. not only do they lose independence and freedom (lots of korean guys have problems, or say they do, when their girlfriend meets another male friend), conversations where their opinion is being taken seriously, but also tenderness and softness of touch and caring about the sexuality of the women (see http://www.yhchang.com/CUNNILINGUS_IN_NORTH_KOREA.swf). it might just be my experience, but the way koreans manifest affection into touch or other physical actions does not get me at all (not sure if that extends only to men, it seems the same with mothers to their children). this is where korean girls dating western men win: they get more physical attention, get more freedom, get more talk, ….
— again, i’m not sure if i was simply really unlucky!
outside dating, in terms of society, i have no real experiences, for i would have to go out and work. my experiences of being in a korean setting are constricted to university (where i am a regular student in a korean-speaking program), and there i do notice that some old professors don’t have as much respect for women as they do for men, or that women are almost conducting research on another level, with a different sincerity (at least until they finish ph.d. course work — when they become 아줌마 (age wise only, they don’t marry most of the time)… but i’m apart from all this because i’m a foreigner, and i also set myself apart deliberately. i look at myself as a researcher/scholar that has an opinion that matters, and so for i cannot report any unfair treatment where i felt it was because i was a woman. okay, the one western man seemed to have received a bigger welcome when he started — but how can you really tell if that was true?!
well, all in all women, in my view, definetely lose out more when they move from europe/north-america to korea. that’s why i’m leaving! why should i choose a country that is more behind than others in terms of equality between the sexes? unless my dream is to become as housewife and mother, i don’t.
when i blog, i am deliberately trying to interpret things i see in korea in a positive way. the negative view comes to my mind too easily, because the negative view is everywhere, it surrounds you and becomes part of yourself. i make an effort, at least i think i do, to understand why things in korea are a certain way. so, if some blogs do this to a degree that seem over the top, it’s certainly due to all this negative stuff out there.
sometimes i think, though, that understanding (“korea has transformed itself too fast… people didn’t have time to adjust, for this short time, what has been achieved is amazing”) isn’t patronizing or belitteling korea as a country. it’s treating korea like it was an immature child and not an adult. i don’t know if that’s right, either.
some people tell me i complain too much. i do it only to people who i think know korea well enough. i guess i hope that they show me the positive view? but sometimes, i just feel right about the stuff that annoys me (university, for example), and i don’t understand why i have to see everything positively. but maybe it’s just some korean-american who feels hurt that i say something negative about “his” country. ko/ams are a different kind of people, too. usually these people that i complain to defend korea. also, when someone complains about korea to me, or is mostly negative, i also defend korea! even though i might actually agree on some points.
why is it so difficult to have a normal relationship with this country? i always thought it’s just me and my being difficult, opinionated, and so on…
ok, i hope what i said was half-decent….
Oh, agreed. I think lots of people could stand to leave Korea, and ought to be advised to. I’m just objecting to the use of the statement as a way of defusing any discussion about a problem.
“X is really not cool…”
“Don’t like it? Go home!”
But yes, many people like should leave who for various reasons (including those you list) simply seem not to do so.
Wow. Okay, I need a minute to think all that over:
Oh, actually, that’s funny. My impression is you usually need to be tall, big-nosed, blond, and dumb, and under 30. I’m not bitter.
Seriously, though? In a place like, say, my hometown (Saskatoon, Canada) most white guys never even experience being a racial minority. So any little racial bigotry sets them off. Any at all. Anything that could be interpreted as such, even.
One of the things I always clash with academic feminists (as an academic-isms-are-blinding-and-counterproductive-ist) is that men aren’t monolithically privileged. (I realized it reading Othello one year in undergrad and it blew my mind. Then I read about what life was like for Irish immigrants, or Jewish immigrants, in 19th century America, for example, and wow… for “white guys” as we see them now, these people were totally marginalized too!)
But that said, Western popular culture, work culture, and so on all seem geared to lock-and-load with men, especially white men. Not so much, Korean culture. There’s something weirdly unheimliche (in the Freudian sense) about that for a white man in Korea. What’s this? I’m marginal? Peripheral? Things aren’t designed to my taste?
Well, the stories I’ve heard suggest that a commenter like hwarangi is more the unusual case. The minority case. I have one friend who’s insanely happily married to a Korean guy, and one coworker who seems mostly happy with her marriage to a Korean guy. But most of the foreign women I’ve known here find it hard dating with local men, for all kinds of reasons. (And local men also seem to lose, comparatively, given their enculturated expectations, though that is changing in the younger generation.)
Yeah, this is one of those things for me: my experience of Korea socially has grown more limited in some ways. Well, in some. I see more of what it’s like inside a faculty — and see more of the reasons why some systems that seem so easily fixed are actually nearly impossible to fix (two words: enrollment software!) — and see some Korean SF fans on a more social basis. But I’m hanging out with Koreans much less since I now am a Uni prof and it’s not normal to hang with students like it was in the old language center days.
So my experience of society here is pretty limited, something that I’m reminded of quite often.
Yes, a lot of weird subjective value-judgments come into play. It’s hard to quantify sexism in some environments, though I guess funding allocations might be a way of demonstrating it. I find a tendency to try balance prize-winners or whatever between males and females, even when there’s no question the top 3 participants were women.
Again, you seem to see things differently from hwarangji, and your view seems the more widespread one in my experience (though not the only one, obviously).
And in fact, I think hwarangji is perhaps overstating her case in the same way you describe you do when you hear someone criticize something in Korea.
Well, I’m currently studying American popular culture with my students. (I think normally some people would focus on contemporary stuff, but we’re looking at the pre-1950s for most of the class, and then a bit at the 1960-1990s.) We’re still mired in the era of blackface minstrel shows, and as they read more and begin to learn about the cultural context of this stuff, the more it becomes clear that America in 1820 was, as one of my friends’ grandmothers puts it, “a hot mess.” A chaotic, insane, weird, painful, offensive, fascinating jumble of things all slamming together. And one cannot help but be in turns enranged, engaged, fascinated, horrified, and surprised by it all. Societies in vast, rapid transition: that’s how they are, I think.
It was great, and I appreciated all your (throughtful) thoughts. I’ll email you back sometime soon
, but I’m swamped for today… like right now.
UPDATE: Ah, and g, you’re not alone in finding the dating scene here, well, uh… Oh, and yeah, I love Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries… have done so for a long time now. What I wouldn’t give to see what they’d do with the text I could write for them… :)
Don’t have time to read through all of this just at the moment, but safe to say I’ll be returning to it later. That having been said, I did want to make sure to post the accompanying link to the one of mine you’ve posted above, for the sake of balance:
Alright, I’m back to comment further (yeehaw?).
Expat Social Fallacies, Part 3: Expat men who engage in propogation of (at this point) mythical second-hand notions of female expat experiences, and the unhappy women who support them in this?
I think so.
I particularly resent being quoted in this context, given that it seems almost, *almost* as though the other half was intentionally left out, in order not to contradict the narrative you’ve established here already.
I don’t find what you’ve said here nearly as offensive as the miles and miles of threads, blog entries and personal encounters I’ve had/seen/found elsewhere, and I think, in general, you’ve made a great point here. However. I feel like you’ve left a huge chunk out, as a few of the women above have pointed out.
It seems to me that Western men, some intentionally and some almost subconsciously, are pretty good at overlooking the Western women (who exist in numbers that are literally multiplying by the day) who are happily engaged in relationships or dating experiences with Korean men. In my experience (and I haven’t had to look very far to have it), these far, far, far outnumber the ones who are miserable with their dating situation here in the ROK. Actually only one of which in my entire year of half I can recall, in fact. Amazing how different people’s experiences can vary, depending on what they’re on the lookout for, or what they are, themselves, the target of.
I also find it interesting that mention the overwhelming experience I’ve had as being a Western woman who is literally viewed as raining on the parade nearly every time I show up with a Western male or Korean female friend somewhere, where there are other Western men, just for being there, female and American, is completely absent in this post. Or how much “privilege” Western women have snatched out from under then in the ROK by Western men, who mill around in literal troops at times, blabbing on and on about the fat unfashionable opinionated feminist bitch nightmares they’re trying to leave behind. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed that. We’ve ALL noticed that. Or how about the reaction I get from the other male expats when I walk into the local with a young Korean man, where everyone feels free to openly comment about how they’re not fussed, and that’s fine if that’s “my thing”, but in their opinion, and they’re just saying, but he seems a bit gay don’t you think? I mean we’re not judging or anything — obviously your taste is just a bit *different*, but good for you for adjusting. Passive aggressive passive aggressive passive aggressive.
I’d like to re-emphasize that I don’t find this post or the points made within to be particularly offensive, especially compared to all what else is out there. In general, I think you’ve done a nice job of showing a relatively balanced perspective. Which is why I feel inclined to address this little bit of wobbliness I see, whereas if I thought you were one of these other raving lunatics, I’d just click the X and get the hell out before I even finished reading.
i think what is great to see in hwarangji’s and my different experiences is that there is no expat “community”. i am not teaching, i am not a native speaker of english either so the money i could make while teaching – a prerequisitve to feel “more free” – is significantly smaller. basically, i could probably never make as much money here as native speakers of english could relatively effortless. i’m not implying anything about hwarangji’s situation. i just never had a professional life in my home country to compare, i’m still a student wandering the planet.
that said, i also have completely different experiences with the expat “community”, for my friends are mostly european and mostly do something else than teaching.
i know not all men experience the same thing in korea, i’m not seeing them as a monolithic, homogeneous group (especially not in the historical perspective–i’m talking about today and here) –that’s why i mentioned the tall, blond, big-nosed. i usually my friends and i, we realize that there’s some positive racism going on, but since we’re the ones benefiting, there are hardly any second-thoughts about it. people from europe and north-america are conditioned about race it differently so the reactions are different. but i think people generally happily accept racial advantages, even with a bad consciousness. (also, when we talk about expat men and expat women, or when YOU talk about it, don’t you homogenize both groups for argument’s reason? why is it just me homogenizing the group of men? i am totally aware that my rather short, not so handsome male friend from germany has a totally different korea experience than the tall, blond haired, big-nosed american friend.)
@ i’m no picasso: i will go and read your entry. it is kind of weird to see all this commentary of the male expats about the female expats, you’re right. in the bloggosphere, females in korea have a very small voice… which brings me back to my original point that their bitching is not so loud as the male’s bitching. that there are more couples between them and k boys might indeed be due to the rising numbers of female westerners in korea in general… i’m not saying it’s impossible to be happy as a w girl with a k guy, but it’s no proof to use people in your environment to show that you’re right! it’s just coincidence. plus, i think stating that “they are happy” doesn’t convince me at all…
also, let me just point out that you’re reproducing exactly what you say you despise of so much. you complain about western guys bitching about western girls, but then all you do is bitch about western guys?! clearly, this blog post is miles off from bitching, and the fact that you chose to “honor” it with your comment is pretty pathetic.
i have one more thing to say. everything i say about dating in korea is based on my experience that has exclusively taken place in the korean language. i have almost never had a, what you north-american guys call a date and spoke english or another language. that totally changes the power relations. (i am not sure at all if korean courtship functions on a dating base… so if you go on “dates” in the american sense, that already means that the guy is coming your way).
Hi I’m No Picasso,
Ooops, I’m sorry, you know, it was late and clicked through to your site via a link, and just saw the post. I wasn’t aware that there was Part 2, and I am glad you linked it. I certainly didn’t mean to misrepresent your experience or ideas, so sorry about that!
(And, incidentally, I also think some of the points you listed in part 2 also apply to Western men dating Korean women. Such as getting a kick out of the non-native speech, such as the style, such as a different general attitude to “masculinity” in men, and so on.)
Exat Social Fallacies 1-5 are all booked up, but you can have dibs on #6. :)
I kind of have to wonder if there’s, to some degree, a generational difference here. I don’t mean in terms of age — mine and yours — but in terms of how Korean society has changed. People who’ve been here a long time certainly do say things change radically in short periods of time.
Some of what I’m saying may, therefore, be out of date by almost a decade, since I think a lot of my perceptions were formed in 2002, mostly among people who’d been in Korea since, approximately, the 1997 Financial crisis or, just before or after it.
I’m thinking about whether it’s possible things have changed that much in that span of time, or whether my having been in Iksan and Jeonju also may have something to do with it.
(Generally speaking, Iksan and Jeonju are a decade or more behind Seoul in a lot of ways, and just plain different in others. And having been there almost a decade ago, and formed many of my impressions then, I’m probably not poised with my finger on the pulse of expat life in Seoul today!)
I’m certainly limited to my experience and the observations offered my by women I’ve known over the years. Likewise, their attitudes and observations are, like mine, limited in terms of where and when they came here, and the luck of the draw when it comes to whom they meet.
So we’re stuck in a huge subjective mess of impressions, assumptions, beliefs, and opinions.
I am, however, of the impression that:
(a) couples involving a Western woman and a Korean man were, for various reasons, much less numerous in the past than the converse, and disproportionately rare. This seems to be changing, which is interesting. At least, my impression is that it is changing.
(b) far fewer women tend to stay in Korea long-term than men do. I know about four personally, from all my years here. Two of them are married to Koreans.
This may or may not mean something, since far more men come here, too. I don’t know if the numbers of women who stay are proportionate to the number of women who come, or whether Western woman-Korean man marriages are also proportionate to Western man/Korean woman marriages. I’d love to see some data. even then, though, they could be leaving for wholly other reasons. (I suspect men would be leaving if they had trouble with Korean women of the same kind that Western women described to me back in 2002-2005, out in the countryside, though.)
My suspicion is that they are not, but suspicions aren’t facts, are they?
As for the rest:
Wow. Well, actually, I haven’t seen or experienced it. I have been annoyed by particular people, some of them white women, but mostly because they were just annoying individuals. Maybe this is one reason I am so resistant to being part of this so-called “community.”
When you say “raining on the parade,” do you mean they seem annoyed by your presence just because you’re white and with a Korean friend? Comments? What? I haven’t really experienced this, I think basically because I’d avoid people who’d react in this way.
I’d like to hear more about it. Though you could post and link, if you’d rather make it a blog post, sometime.
Cf. Avoiding annoying idiots, ie. “the community,” above, and under Expat Social Fallacies #1. That said, I think that one could certainly note a pattern that fits well with tomorrow’s upcoming fallacy.
Yeah, again, my experience out in the countryside was different. The Korean guy I knew (then engaged, now married) to a white Canadian female friend was also my friend. We used to call him up and “go be ajeoshis together” ie. go and have kopjang jeongol together. Indeed, it seemed more like it was his Korean male friends, and indeed Korean strangers who had issues with his being with a white woman. The ajummas would talk shit about his girlfriend as he walked down the street, till one day he stopped and told them off for it.
(And we never implied he was gay or femmy because, really, we never thought he was.)
I am not saying what you describe doesn’t happen. I am saying my experience wasn’t really like that.
But what you describe doesn’t surprise me, and I can see where it would be a hole in my representation of things.
I think while even dumb white guys are enculturated so as to articulate it differently than dumb Korean guys, there’s a shared attitude between the dumb guys of both cultures in terms of their claim to collective ownership of women. Dumbass Korean male netizens who hate on Western men usually hate even more vehemently on the Korean women who “betray the race” and it seems only natural that a similar reaction, however subtly different in phrasing, would be common among intellectually inferior Western men towards women who date Korean men.
I actually touched on some of that in the (long! huge!) comments section of this post on Doing It Korean Style. I also noted something about the “evil hairy feminist bitch” meme, which I haven’t actually seen in person but have seen online a few times.
Short version of why I think the : since genders are equal, it follows that just as many men are going to express dumbass, racist, bigoted, sexist ideas about Korea in pseudo-intellectual language as dumbass women are going to express dumbass bigoted, racist, sexist ideas in pseudo-intellectual language. Fashions being what they are, dumbass men tend to abuse historicist or postmodernist terminology and concepts while dumbass women tend to abuse feminist terminology and concepts.
There is, indeed, an example of it that tactic right there in the linked discussion (the comments thread, not the post), where embedded in supposedly feminist critique is an apparent slam on the intellectual capacity of Korean women. It reminds me of my “feminist” friends back in the West complaining that “all men think with their dicks” and “men are so lazy about housework” and even saying things like “men are so stupid most of the time,” right in front of me, as if it wasn’t rude and sexist. Academese was the immediate refuge when I finally called them on it.
By the way, for someone who’s been in Korea a few years, a blog like Doing It Korean Style seems like it’s just part of the cultural landscape. And of course some Western women have been with Korean men for a long time, probably back as far as contact goes. But it seems to me that this kind of couple has slowly grown more common, more discussable, more visible, and more accepted on all sides in the last few years. (Perhaps even in the same timeframe as since Misuda first went on the air, actually.) Before that, white-woman-Korean-man couples seemed the vast exception to the rule. Any such change, if it is real, is of course positive.
So it seems — to me. Not to hwarangi, but I have to add I rarely have heard Western women in Korea express that opinion, and have more often heard them simply take g’s point of view as matter of fact.
(Which doesn’t mean they know everything either. Nobody does. Which makes it hard to really talk about any of this without hard evidence, numbers, stats, and so on. Which seem not to be forthcoming, more’s the pity.)
Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts, and I’ll have to think about how to balance out my representation of things in terms of gender.
(I also am discovering, as I think this over, other ways in which my representation is skewed racially: like white women in Korea, a black, South Asian, non-Anglophone-European, or foreign-born-Korean expat (of either sex) in Korea may repeatedly have experienced other fallacies among fellow expats that simply aren’t on my radar, and might want to discuss or feel deserve a category all their own — like, say, “all expats are white”, ahem, probably a particular strain of the “we’re all a community’ (ie. the same, with the same stakes and problems etc.) meme that, from my white male Anglophone perspective forms just a mere variation or sub-strain of ESF#1.)
I’m hoping a bigger list develops. I’m watching with interest. I’d consider setting up a wiki except, well, we all know what happens when you let a bunch of expats onto a website and it’s discussing things that should be approached with sensitivity. Wham: out come the racist jokes, generalizations, angry retaliations, and stupidity. Hmmm. Maybe the comments sections of these posts will serve enough as an exploration, if I don’t have the time or wits to create a many-fallacies-long list.
Anyway, I’m glad this is better than what we see on lots of sites like Dave’s etc. and that you saw it as worth commenting on. And I appreciate the long comment.
Actually, to everyone, thanks! I feel like I’m learning something by the comments on this series of posts, which makes having typed them up worth it to me.
(Your comment came after I posted mine!)
Ding! Cf. Expat Social Fallacy #1. :)
It also reminds me that when we speak of “expats” as we all are, we’re leaving out the biggest numbers of expatriates living in Korea: foreign non-Western women married to Korean men, and non-Western men and women employed as what Koreans call 노동자 — “foreign laborers,” ie. inherently non-white, non-Korean migrant laborers.
Even being in your 30s or 40s makes a significant difference, in my experience.
As for positive racism, yes. I’ve always thought it was interesting. And Korean students seem to be becoming aware enough of it for it to permeate their work these days. “Internalized racism” and “internalized sexism” are words I’ve supplied to students searching for how to say, “I’m sexist against women and I’m a woman” and “I’m racist and think whites are better than Koreans though I’m a Korean myself.” It’s very interesting to see them coming up with these ideas as we study internalized racism in 19th century American entertainment, and see them struggle for words in Korean and English alike.
Monolithic ideas of expat communities again come up, in that, yeah, as I’ve said, I haven’t noticed any of the weirdness of white woman-Korean-man couples in mainly white male expat groups. Maybe because I spend no time with those sorts of guys, especially the guys in their 20s, unless we have something else in common. (I have an SF writer friend in his 20s, he’s interesting. But I suspect at this point I may well have less in common with your average white guy in his 20s in Korea than that guy has in common with your average white woman in her 20s in Korea. To whatever degree anyone is ever “average” anyway!)
Ha, try being older and a bit overweight and intellectual of bent. :)
I’ll leave your comments to I’m No Picasso aside for her to reply to.
Also, what you say about “dating” culture in Korea. Very interesting, though I wonder if what you say squares with what my students have described. I’ve had a few female students who, in the course of public speaking courses, gave a speech describing what happened on this or that date. What they described sounded, well, not quite like what a “date” in the West would be — in ways that kind of follow what I’m No Picasso describes, in some cases — but it didn’t sound so different from my own experience of the world of dating. So I’d love if you could elaborate on what you mean…
To everyone (definitely not just g): I hope we can all remain civil with one another, however we feel about things. I’ve gritted my teeth and given some commenters the benefit of the doubt and, for my part, I feel I’m learning something even when I think they’re overstating their arguments.
To G: I wasn’t honoring anything at all. I was simply trying to give credit where credit is due, by pointing out that I’m not one of those people who ambles around the internet looking for something to contradict. If I thought this post was just completely off the mark and ridiculous, I wouldn’t bother engaging with it, because there’s way, way too much of that going on already. What I saw was an honest and insightful, well thought out and well intentioned post that had a bit of a hole, from my perspective, due to the writer’s perspective.
Which brings me to my next which is that I can only comment from my own experience, the same as he can. We’re obviously both going to be coming at things from a different place, and to have a different lexicon of knowledge and understanding. I wasn’t trying to say that he should know everything, but pointing out where I thought his experience was lacking. What I did ungraciously fail to note was that I also gained a lot from his perspective, which I didn’t contradict.
My experience of the foreigner community has been bizarrely divided. I have foreign female friends who only hang out with other foreign females, and foreign male friends who only hang out with other foreign males. So I sort of bounce back and forth, being the only foreign female who mixes in with the males I know out here. Which means I’ve got one group of Western girls who mostly date Korean men and, interestingly enough, other Western women and/or Korean women, and one group of foreign male friends who only date Korean women. Which means I have never seen Western women interacting with Western men who are dating Korean women. Other than myself, and I don’t have a problem or issue in the world with it. In fact, since I speak more Korean than almost all of the foreign men I know, and Korean women generally feel more comfortable being approached by another woman, I’ve become something of an infamously effective wingman. It was interesting for me to hear what gordsellar had to say about the other side of this interaction, which I haven’t had the chance to observe.
As for gordsellar, I’ve read and digested everything that you’ve written above, but it’s been so well stated that I don’t really feel that I should (or honestly could) add anything. You seem basically on target, in my opinion, all around and it’s obvious you’ve put a lot of thought into all of this. I apologize if something about my earlier post came across as too… well, too anything really. I tend to speak a bit too directly at times, where tone and facial expressions would help me come across a lot more clearly.
As one last clarfication, I’d just like to say that I do not, by any means, place all Western men into the category that I addressed. I have far too many male Western friends for that. They are a minority (thank God) albeit a ridiculously loud one.