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Expat Social Fallacies, Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Five Expat Social Fallacies

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…

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