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Expat Social Fallacy #3: Everyone’s Got Standards
Not to be confused with the Korean Social Fallacy of the “Good Expat” versus the “Low Quality Expat” (one that has also started to creep into expat discussions and thinking, mind you), this is the social fallacy wherein certain expatriates see the role of the expatriate in Korea, at least, as sharply delinated in terms of duties, obligations, and moral codes, particularly those which the carrier himself or herself safely can claim to fulfill.
Some of these include:
- learning (or not learning) Korean to a specified level depending on the length of one’s stay in Korea
- acquiring and conspicuously displaying (or publicly repudiating) picked-and-chosen elements of Korean etiquette
- always (or never) conforming to the specific moral standard set by the expatriate himself or herself, even when it’s much higher (or lower) than the moral double-standard one finds among some Koreans, let alone the moral standards of expatriates in general
As the negations in the list above suggests, this can manifest in radically different ways. For example:
- The “lifer” who has lived in Korea long enough to have acquired a lot of Korean. He or she tsk-tsks you grimly for having acquired less than he has, offers to teach you to read Hangeul. He lectures you on the dating scene and the importance of respecting Korean culture, even when it seems wrong. (For example, the way drunk women are sometimes beaten up by their drunk apparent boyfriends on the street, or the widespread nature of the sex trade in Korea.) He also, on the sly, implies that he or she knows all there is to know about Korea, more than the average Korean knows, and insists that when you drink together, nobody pours his or her own drink, according to the Korean custom.
- The “new arrival” who has fallen in with a crowd that has demonstrated for him that the rules simply do not apply to foreigners. If he walks into a coffee shop with a bottle of beer in one hand and a pack of cards in the other, and begins to drink and gamble — in an unlicensed coffee shop — and is kicked out, this is unfair racism and the place should be boycotted. Foreigners who speak a lot of Korean, pay attention to Korean etiquette at all, or socialize with Koreans will never be called Uncle Toms (because these lads mostly don’t know the term), but anyone who hangs out with Korean men for any reason other than sports or sex — or Korean women for any reason other than sex — will often eyed by members of this group with more than a little suspicion. Members of this group mispronounce the few Korean words they know almost willfully, when they bother to at all, and tend to make the same kinds of assumptions about Koreans that too many Koreans make about expats: that they don’t understand what’s being said.
Both groups (or individuals from each group) have a set of behavioral standards that most normal people find onerous and off-putting. But do they get criticized by those who are put off? Mostly not: theres a weird sort of behind-enemy-lines mentality some have that prevents critique, and for those who have been around to see this stuff before, mostly, they tend to just avoid these people. So the critique never really comes out in the open.
Which, of course, means that these dolts tend to persist in their off-putting behaviour for as long as possible, until they find that they, too, don’t fit in here, and start in on the bitching…
Well, that’s it for Expat Social Fallacy #3. More tomorrow…