Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Incident

Many of you may be aware of my love for dogs. And many of you may know how much of an understatement 'love' is in this instance. Some of you may even have used a word like 'obsession' or 'mania'. So if I told you that there is a pet store with puppies in the window on my way home you may be surprised to hear today was the first day I went in to pet them. I managed to restrain myself a full week and a half. While I was petting these little puppies - who are completely ignored by the owner of the store (I have never seen so much as pat one on the head) - I happen to look up and see, through the window of the shop, another American watching me as she walks by. We shared this moment like, 'what better way to end the day than petting puppies?' And she smiled and shook her head as she walked on.

It seemed to be the day for me and random strangers because on the way home a Korean woman insisted I share her umbrella (it was sleeting) for about a block. This is very unusual because normally Koreans aren't too into people they don't know. In fact, Koreans are supposed to be famous for their coldness towards strangers. But its like when people say that the residence of New York are rude. I happen to know a lot of New Yorkers and not one of them would I call rude, its just a matter of different culture. There are so many people in NYC that without standing up for yourself your voice will never be heard. People ignore you on subways because its really the only way they can give you any privacy due to lack of space. If you are jammed all up in someone's armpit the least they can do it pretend they aren't listening to your phone call (yes, the one you are making from their armpit).

In Korea its kind of the same thing. There are so many people that pretending not to notice someone is a way to give them privacy. Otherwise you would feel as though you were being observed 24/7. But once you are introduced to someone properly you ignore them at your peril. If you don't say hi to someone you are supposed to know they will be offended. I learned this from a fellow teacher, Will, who said that you should treat your employers like parents (because buisnesses are viewed as families in Korea and family is very important) and always greet them when you see them. He also said that this is why Sean and Jonathan, or colleagues, often get the cold shoulder from our bosses, Mr. and Mrs. Kim. They never say hello.

Since then I have made a point to always greet them if the opportunity arose and they pretty much are good to me. Mrs. Kim is always worrying that I'm too cold and today went out of her way to give me some sort of dried fruit at lunch. But I may have shot myself in the foot later today because when I was in a hurry between classes I accidentally cut in front of her to get in the door. Korea is a pretty hierarchical society and jumping in front of you superior is a big no no. The second I did it I knew it was a bad idea. Hopefully, one day she will forgive me.

Also, if you are bored you may want to try this. It's a color name survey. Not only is it intriguing and addicting, it also has anthropological significance and we all know the world needs more of that.

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