Someone on Facebook recently asked the question: “In which ways have you been Koreanised?”.

After a bit of thought (and some inspiration from the replies he got), I came up with these Koreanisations – things that are now natural to me but which I know might seem strange if I were to continue with them when in my own country…

  • The bowing. I bow a lot – I do it to say hello, goodbye, thank you, and sorry. Sometimes I catch myself bowing to the children, even though I’m not actually supposed to do that.
  • I give and receive objects using two hands, and money with my left hand on my right elbow. Not only that, but I actually see it as disrespectful if a child accepts something from me using only one hand, and I will even go as far as reminding them that they need to use both.
  • A grunt is now an acceptable form of communication to me, and I often respond with one instead of speaking.
  • I cross my two index fingers in an “X” when saying “no”.
  • I cross my arms in a huge “X” when saying “NO!”.
  • I drink soju instead of vodka.
  • Automatically removing my shoes at the door of an apartment, school, a restaurant… and actually noticing when characters in Western TV shows and movies fail to do this, and thinking it weird and unnatural.
  • I don’t quite know what to do with a fork any more, and on the rare occasion when I am given one, go on about how clumsy and awkward it is.
  • On that note, I can successfully dissect and consume a fish of any shape or size with chopsticks.
  • I answer negative questions in the opposite way from how I used to, saying yes when I mean no and no when I mean yes. (e.g. “Don’t you like it?” – instead of saying “no” (no, indeed I don’t), I nod and say “yes” (that’s correct, I don’t!). I now know that saying “no” would be interpreted as “no, you’re wrong, I do like it!”.)
  • I notice when someone at the table has an empty glass, and immediately refill it for them. I also hold out my glass when someone makes eye contact with me and raises the bottle. There is never any spoken communication over this process, and conversations are uninterrupted.
  • I don’t notice when people are openly staring at me.
  • I put verbs at the end of the sentence, rarely use articles, say things like “change-ee” and “size-uh”, use extremely basic vocabulary, speak in the present tense regardless of whether I’m talking about the past, present or future, and often forget words. This is all in English, by the way!
  • I make the ‘v’ peace sign in photos. I can’t help it. I detest it, and yet I just can’t stop. I would only have done this back home if I was purposely trying to be corny or a bit dopey-looking.

  • I speak in a strange dialect with my friends:  English(ee) with bits of Konglish and several recurring Korean words thrown in.
  • I don’t consider it a meal if there’s no kimchi with it. I will demand kimchi if it’s missing at my table in a restaurant, and I eat it with my meals at home.
  • I have an oversized decorative phone charm.
  • I’ll comfortably yell “yawgio!” to get the attention of a waiter. “Yawgio!” basically means “Here, you!” or “C’mere!”, and seemed outrageously rude to me when I first got here.
  • I find it appropriate to settle all disputes and make all decisions using rock-paper-scissors, chanting the Korean “gawi-bawi-bo” at the start – even with my foreigner friends.
  • I carry a tissue in my bag at all times in case I need to go to a public toilet.
  • I freeze in horror if I’m writing someone’s name and realise I’m using a red pen.
  • I mime everything.
  • When walking along pathless roads, I nimbly skip out of the way of scooters and casually dodge cars without having to stop talking to the person I’m with in order to concentrate on not being hit.
  • I don’t get offended very easily any more, and am much more direct and blunt with others, too.
  • After a night out, I go to a 24-hour Korean restaurant and eat a good, hearty, healthy bowl of kimchi jjiggae and rice instead of going to McDonalds or a hotdog stand.
  • I expect free stuff with all my purchases.
  • I am unsurprised when I have to leap out of the way of a speeding motorbike (or even a car) on a footpath.
  • I leave my handbag unattended and have stopped being on guard against pickpockets in busy public places.
  • I find myself covering my mouth when I laugh.

I’m sure there are many more, and I’ve only been here for 8 months! It’s quite strange to think of how natural some of these things are to me now, and how difficult it will be to stop doing them when I’m not in Korea. Just shows you how quickly your perception of what is “normal” can change…


8 thoughts on “Koreanisation

  1. K8 says:

    I love this list!! I so wish us Westernerz would pick up some of these habits, they’re beautiful :)

    I was watching a cookery show about Korean food lately and loved the idea that you should never take a bite from something then place the rest back on the plate, you must ALWAYS shove the whole lot in your mouth to avoid being rude… the interviewer had a great time trying to conduct a conversation with a gobful!

    Why can’t you write someone’s name in red pen?

  2. I have trouble with that one, because sometimes it just seems like too much food to put in my mouth at once! But I get around it by taking a bite and holding the remainder very close to my mouth while I chew it, until I’ve swallowed the bite and have room for the rest. :)

    It’s considered bad luck, almost a scary omen, to write someone’s name in red. During Japanese colonisation, a “family census register” was introduced, in which the names of dead people were crossed out in red. From that, names in red became associated with death. A person’s name will be written in red on the anniversary of their death, for example. And writing the name of a living person in red is a major social taboo. I’m not the only foreign teacher to have experienced the sudden hush and general look of fear in the classroom after writing a child’s name on the board in red without knowing this! It’s feared that it doesn’t bode well for the person in question… or at the very least, it’s a huge insult of the “I wish you were dead” variety.

    I find it almost impossible to remember what it was like to have no issues with writing names in red. It’s weird how deeply your subconscious can get sucked into these things!

  3. A girl I went to school with refused to cross the road if a red car was coming, even if it was stopped at a traffic light and the man was green! Apparantly it’s not only Koreans that have a problem with red…

  4. Hehe, great list! I moved to Daejeon a week ago and I’ve found myself doing a lot of these things already – especially adding “ee” to the end of words!

    • Hey, weren’t you one of my readers from aaaaaages ago, from Northern Ireland?! And you’ve followed me to a small city in Korea… stalker, stalker!!! ;) Seriously, what brings you here – teacher or student? Welcome! No doubt we’ll run into each other at some point – the Daejeon foreigner crowd isn’t all that huge! :)

      • Yes, that’s me! I re-found your blog from a Google search! Small world, eh? I’m just here for 10 weeks doing some research at one of the institutes in Daedoek, near KAIST. Now that I think about it, I think there were some Irish girls in Santa Claus the other night… they put on The Pogues. Wasn’t you was it?!

  5. Ha, it has been me on past occasions! :) But not this one… although I’m pretty sure I know all the Irish Daejeonites, so it was almost certainly someone I know!

    Our crowd mostly spend the weekends in Dunsan dong (Sponge(ee), bonbon, sitting outside convenience stores…!). Say hi if you see me around!

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