Pic 1, Pic 2
One belief that I’ve come to adopt after Korea is this: Life is the same everywhere. People are the same everywhere you go.
The biggest misconception about Korea, in my opinion, is that it’s completely different from the West: People are polite there, willing to help out elders, they’re soft-spoken, humility is rewarded, and arrogance is chastised. In terms of appearances, everyone is thin and beautiful and has perfect skin. Plastic beauties are prolific and so are ulzzang. Korean street fashion consists of pastel-colored chiffon…The list goes on and on. Ultimately, Korea is portrayed to be so unimaginably opposite from the West. They teach you all these rules—DON’T blow your nose, DON'T do this, DO do that—as if Korea is some game, some mystical world that you must learn the rules for.
What I’ve come to believe is that that’s all bogus. Korea is not that different from America.
In terms of basic survival, countless foreigners get by just fine without speaking Korean. Why? Well, reading body language is part of it, but more than that, it’s simply looking for clues (in words or gestures) to verify whether or not what you assume the person is saying is correct or not. And more often than not, your assumptions are correct! This is because the routine of setting up a bank account, ordering at a restaurant, or checking out at the supermarket is the same wherever you go. (Do you have a membership card? Would you like a bag? Can I see your ID? What can I get you?) Daily interactions are no different in Korea than they are in America.
And in terms of manners, kindness extends to every country and culture. A kind, considerate, helpful gesture in America will be a kind, considerate, and helpful gesture in Korea as well. Conversely, ill manners also extend past the borders of culture and country. While there are indeed minor differences in mannerisms, it’s nothing that overrules basic judgment. In terms of character, what constitutes a selfish, rude person is the same in both America and Korea. The definition of a shy, weird, or obnoxious person also doesn't change drastically between these two countries. People are more or less the same everywhere.
On a related topic, I was one of those people that thought Koreans were all very polite, at the very least when dealing with strangers. After living there for a little while, though, I learned that condescension still finds a way to seep through their honorific speech endings. Then there's people who are just straight-up abominable. Not everyone is polite, even to customers. Classless bitches and arrogant assholes are aplenty in Korea, too. (I think we also sometimes forget that not everyone in America is rude!)
I think these misconceptions are born from exaggerations. These exaggerations are perpetuated by news articles, websites, and Youtube channels. I think a big part of this is because it’s what people want to see. People want to believe that Asia is so different, so weird, so out-of-this-world. And though I can’t speak for everyone, I think for many of us, it’s refreshing. It gives us something to yearn for. As young women interested in “weird” fashions like lolita, gyaru, or living dolls, we want to believe that there’s a place in the world for us. We feel like we don’t fit in in our home countries, and we look to Korea or Japan as our refuge. And through this demand, we end up encouraging that very sort of content. (Not that I blame those content-producers; there’s nothing wrong with keeping things lighthearted.)
But the point is, I think Korea is terribly misrepresented. Through inaccurate fashion snapshots, poorly researched news articles, and websites that ultimately seek to satisfy the interest of its readers, we are led to believe that life in Korea is vastly different from life in other countries. And this is something which I no longer agree with. Now, I won’t deny there are indeed differences between Korea and America. After all, I did want to go to Asia for a reason! The streets look different, the stores are different, mannerisms and fashion are different...everything just feels different.
But unless you plan on marveling at these small details for the rest of your life, at some point you will integrate enough that even those small differences will become routine for you (i.e. when you surpass the honeymoon phase.) When that time comes, those small differences may not be enough to continue fueling your love for Korea. And unless you plan on working as an English teacher for the rest of your life, you’ll still have to find a permanent career, settle down, and plunge into the very same stresses of adulthood that you would face in any country—retirement, taxes, marriage, buying property, raising kids, etc. Are Korean idols and Korean fashion still going to be your incentive then?
Do I also fuel the misleading representations of Korea? Perhaps I do; perhaps I make Korea look like a wonderland of pretty storefronts, cafes, and polite handsome guys. I sure hope not. But if I have, I’ll explain why now.
It’s the effect of two things: Subconsciously, I naturally pay more attention to cute and pretty things. Consciously, it’s how I’ve chosen to remember Korea. Anyone who knows me knows me a little more than from my blog knows that I’ve had more bad experiences than good in Korea. And if I already know the truth about Korea, it only feels unnecessarily painful to recall those incidents and eternalize them on my blog. I know I said in the past that I wanted to divulge my honest experiences, and I still do. It’s a lie to pretend they never happened. But the truth is, I’m hardly ever in the mood to dwell on sad experiences, much less walk on eggshells to minimize side-attacks.
When it comes down to it, I believe that life will be more or less the same wherever you go. You’ll meet good people and bad people, people that like you, people that don’t, good jobs, bad jobs …the routine of life is generally the same. Going to Asia may seem like a quick fix, but it's not. At least not for me.
Thank you for reading, ya didn't hafta~ P.S., also check out my latest review on this fancy shmanshy Missha toner~