I blogged before about how some things that would be considered rude in our culture are not considered to be so in Korean culture. Asking personal questions, being just a little too honest, eating with your mouth open…
But while I’ve quickly adapted to this and am no longer startled by such behaviour, one thing continues to trouble and disgust me – and I don’t see myself changing my mind about it.
Have you ever been walking along the street behind someone – and I don’t mean to sound sexist when I say that (in my experience, at least) it is always, always a man – and witnessed them clearing their throat in a very loud and obvious manner? If you’re eating something now and easily put off your food, you should probably stop reading, by the way.
Americans call it “hocking up a loogy”. I’m actually not entirely sure what we Northern Irish call it. All I know is that when someone makes that loud sound in the back of their throat and then proceeds to spit the resulting mucus on to the ground, it makes me want to throw up and punch them. Probably in that order. It is absolutely disgusting. And in Northern Ireland, that’s the general opinion. If someone does this in public, there will almost certainly be at least one person who shoots them a poisonous, disgusted glare, or who turns away with a sick expression on their face and mutters to a friend.
I have always hated this behaviour. If you must do it, go somewhere private so that the rest of us don’t have to be repulsed by the noise and sight of your sinus contents being expelled. To me, it is rude, stomach-churning, and utterly anti-social behaviour.
Unfortunately, I now live in a country where it’s apparently not frowned upon at all. In NI, people certainly did it, but it was widely considered to be lout-like behaviour. Those who did it would always be on the receiving end of a revolted stare. But in Korea? It’s no different from blowing your nose, sneezing, or scratching your head. And it’s everywhere. In the halls of my apartment building, I hear the sound of hocking echoing day in and day out. In the streets outside, the sound drifts up and enters through my window. As I walk around, I see and hear men clearing their sinuses as often as I see them talking on the phone or crossing the road.
At first, I was horrified. It wasn’t just the odd one here and there, it was constant. It is constant. I’m not exactly surprised that Korean men have so much unnecessary gunk in their throats, since chain-smoking is all the rage here, but I continue to be bewildered by how no one else can find this method of getting rid of it as disgusting as I do. I try to refrain from shooting them the repulsed glare that I habitually direct at anyone who does this at home, since it’s clearly socially acceptable behaviour here, but inside, I am still every bit as eager to give them a piece of my mind. And yet no one else bats an eyelid. Men walk along with their girlfriends, perform their loud throat/nose exercises mid-conversation, and then continue talking – and the girls don’t flinch.
What’s your opinion? Am I wrong to find this so disgusting? I mean, when you think about it, it’s not much different from blowing your nose in public, and we don’t condemn that. And yet I find this to be very, very different. Why should the two provoke such different reactions? And is this a cultural difference that I should be as keen to accept as I try to be with all the others? Why is it that I (and all the other foreigners I know here) find it sickening, and yet natives don’t seem bothered by it? Why should it produce a different physical and mental response in us just because we’re from different countries? If it’s just a natural action that should cause no offence, then why do men here do it so openly and so often, and yet women never do? And lastly, would it be wrong of me to use my newly-learned Korean swearwords to swear at someone for doing it just as I’m taking my first bite of my galbi in a restaurant?
These are the questions that weigh on my mind.