Just before Chuseok I met this guy on the subway; I was in a bad mood, because I’d wasted a bunch of time (because not one but two institutions were completely and utterly disorganized and inconsiderate). I was on the way home from that, and this guy introduced himself to me on the train. I did not want to talk to him at first, but he was nice, so I explained my situation.
Which was a rant I won’t inflict on you now, but involved the usual disorganization and short-sighted stupidity one comes to expect from the Kafkaesque bureaucracies so common here, but also the kinds of retarded policies that make it easier for, say, an unemployed Korean (with serious cash flow problems) a lower credit risk than a gainfully employed non-Korean — which, in other words, require we do everything through Koreans, as dependents, instead of in our own names.
(Both of which — the bureaucracies, and their retarded policies — I’ve had quite enough, thanks.)
The weird thing, though, was that this guy I was ranting to assumed that (a) I couldn’t read Hangeul, and (b) I had no understanding of Korean society.
He smiled proudly to himself and said, “Well, I’ve adapted. I’ve pretty much gotten used to Korean society now, I have a pretty good understanding of the culture.” He said this as if he were proud to contrast himself with me, a know-nothing Westerner who didn’t get it yet. To which I was so dumbfounded I didn’t quite know what to say.
Then he showed off his Chuseok presents to me, bragging that his boss had spent W150,000 on him, and told me of his deep-seated desire to please his Korean boss (at the private company where he was working), and “bring home the bacon” by forcing the boss’s unwilling employees to improve their English against their will and despite the fact they have little need of it. When he confessed anxieties about some students who didn’t seem to want to learn, and I mentioned, “No matter what, you’ll always have students who don’t truly want to learn, or have the capability, or even need it…” he just smiled and said something like, “Well, I’m just trying to bring home the bacon. I wanna do a good job and make my boss happy.”
Uh, okay. But maybe you’re the one who doesn’t get it yet, pal.
Honestly, he didn’t seem like a completely bad guy — not someone I’d want to have a beer with, necessarily, but he seemed just a little clueless and overly earnest, and of course a touch arrogant — but I have to ask: what is it about Westerners in Korea that makes them think that within a year or two, they know all there is to know?
(And yeah, I probably went through that too. I like to think I’m not still in that state.)