Saturday, August 18, 2012

What do Koreans Find Mysterious About Westerners?

Following on from last week's blog post in which I revealed some things that I find mysterious about Korean people and culture, I thought it would be interesting to ask my wife to have a discussion with her co-workers at the hospital and find out just what they find mysterious about Westerners.  My wife was more than happy to oblige, so here are her findings, some of which I already knew about and can be viewed on a previous blog post on Asian stereotypes,, as an example of stereotypes some Asians have of Westerners.  The only thing is that this is a purely Korean female perspective, which brought up some interesting connotations.

I will leave some of the old chestnuts to last, but some of the more interesting ones, first:

1. Why do Western women show off their breasts all the time?

Before I get started I must reiterate that while this is my blog and my writing, I am merely a messenger on this one, so please don't shoot me.  Her work colleagues thought that Western women were always putting themselves on display in this way, whether it be wearing bikinis at beaches, festivals, and river valleys, or just walking down the street showing a bit of cleavage.  They considered it a little slutty and were also critical of those people with less than perfect bodies who did it, especially older women, who they felt should be covering up.

In response, to me the reason for bikini and cleavage culture is obvious, 'If you've got it, flaunt it'.  Generally speaking, Korean women are less well-endowed in that department but, in my humble opinion, do tend to have rather nice legs.  It is no surprise, therefore, that this is what they show off, much to the disgust of some Western women who might very well be shouting 'Hussy!' right back at them.  I, myself, am rather happy with it all and often wish we could combine the two cultures for a better future.

2. Body mysteries - eye colour, hair colour, men's er... size, and circumcision??!!

Not so much hair colour but eye colour is something they appear to be very curious and amazed about.  They think it is mysterious how we have come to have coloured eyes and, in fact, the actual reason is something of a mystery as there is no scientific consensus on the matter.  It is thought to have no evolutionary advantage, although must be related to white people having less of a pigment called melanin in their skin and eyes (there is an evolutionary advantage to less melanin in the skin, enabling increased vitamin D production from sunlight).  It could be that it was just a random mutation that females liked and selected for, an example of sexual selection much the same as what happens in peacocks or birds of paradise with the exception that the trait is passed on to both sexes..

I am reliably informed that the size of men, well... down there, is a very common topic in conversation as it seems most of the nurses have never seen one from a foreigner in the flesh to confirm the rumours they have heard and, from what I hear, the pictures they have seen.  I will certainly not be offering my services to relieve their curiousity.  Again, (scout's honour) I am only relaying information.

It also seems that most Korean men are cut.  They say that it makes everything cleaner and they wonder why Westerners don't all get it done.  So why haven't we all done it, fellas?

The thing that I have found most enlightening of all is learning that women (at least this sample of sweet and innocent looking Korean nurses) seem as fascinated with men's naughty bits as we men are with theirs.  I never knew.

I dread to think of the conversations they have about me, they probably have some rather sensitive information. 

3. Do Western men really think Korean women are easy?

They didn't really know about this one, but they had obviously heard a rumour about it from somewhere and my wife said they would really like to know the truth as they themselves couldn't believe it.  I have to admit, I am with them on this one as, where I live at least, they appear to be anything but easy.  I have had a few friends in the past who have constantly cursed how difficult it is, not to get a date, but to get any further than that.  They are often curious enough to go on a dates but I think are too shy or frightened to go any further.  What their families would think is also a key element to this.  Easy Korean girls could be a Seoul or a big city phenomenon.  Having never lived in Seoul, however, (and rarely visited) I cannot comment.

4. Do we only think of ourselves?

Their curiosity of a common Korean stereotype about Western people was further perked by a couple of stories my wife told them about me.  One happened when my wife and I left Korea to live in England for a year and in the bus station about 5 minutes before leaving I, rather selfishly, went to get some snacks and drinks for the bus journey to Seoul and came back only with stuff for myself and not for my wife.  My in-laws were not amused and were immediately worried about how I was going to treat their daughter in England.  The other story was about a time my wife called me and told me to get a bottle of beer for her on the way home.  When I turned up with the beer, she was not a happy bunny as I had taken what she said literally and only got her one beer.  Apparently, a Korean man would have come back with a six-pack of beers, some fried chicken, and some ice cream.

Although I was shocked at being considered an ungenerous man, the nurses saw this as further evidence that all Western people think only of themselves and not of others.  My wife was quick to interject, however, with a comment about how Western people tend to have more individual thought processes but this doesn't necessarily mean selfishness as Koreans can be selfish but in different ways.  She said they looked sceptical about this.

5.  Why do we live for the moment and not save for the future?

They had the impression that Westerners mainly live for the moment, spending money on themselves in the present and not saving money for their family in the future.  They saw this as being linked with selfishness as they thought Westerners did not think of their children, saving for their education, particularly.  They were especially critical of the money we spend on travel, overseas and within the countries where we are living (think of weekends away).

Of course, there are plenty of people who save money for their children's education in the West and there are plenty that put away something for a rainy day, but it is perhaps true that we live more in the moment and consider present happiness more important than they do in Korea.  I actually think this is mostly a good thing, however, as in my experience when I have lived too much for tomorrow I tend to suffer too much in the present (tomorrow never comes, after all).  An example of this is my wife's tendency to not want to travel while she is in Korea to save for when we go back to England and have a family.  My take on things, though, is that once we have a family that will cutail some of the travelling we can do and once in England I don't think I am going to be going to places like Japan, China, or Taiwan.  We have the chance to travel to these places right now, while we are still young, so why not take it?

6. Why are we always cheating on our brother's and sister's wives and husbands and our best friend's partners?  And even more shocking, why are Westerners always getting divorced?

It seems that Western people's personal affairs come under a fair bit of scrutiny from the nurses.  For the first part of this, their wonder at how immoral and licentious we are in relationships could be derived from their sources.  Two aspects of popular Western culture are very popular in Korea and perhaps all round the world; US movies and TV dramas, and English Premiership football.  In the case of scandalous affairs, it is obvious that they will be more prevalent in dramas and movies, and English soccer players are hardly examples of the best role models when it comes to behaviour, morals, and intelligence.  As one of my students said to me the other day, 'Giggs, great player but why did he sex with his brother's wife?  He is crazy man.  His mind is trash.'  Maybe if we could throw some statistics into the mix, it could show that Westerners are a touch more individual and impulsive leaving the door open for more illicit affairs.  However, our movies, dramas, and soccer players can't be helping the situation.

Rather perversely, when it comes to divorce there could be a case of, 'The pot calling the kettle black', going on, as I was surprised to see Korea very high up on the list of divorce rates around the world, with some websites claiming they were tenth.  However, other websites didn't even have Korea in the top 40 in divorces per 1000 people, so it is a little tricky as I couldn't really find a reliable source.  The last word on most little debates though, wikipedia, show Korea to be higher than my country (the UK) back in 2004, so maybe they are right up there.  It at least appears to prove that their accusation that we are always having divorces is, if not wrong, a tad hypocritical.

7. Why do we love car chases in movies so much (Americans at least)?

I have come across this one before.  Some Koreans have told me that there is at least one car chase in every US movie, sometimes at the cost of the storyline, obviously referring to an excess of movies that are loaded heavily with special effects and action.  It is my experience, though, that most Western movies fit this stereotype because that is exactly what they like to import from us (mainly the US).  I am constantly frustrated by the lack of anything but the top US special effects blockbusters showing in the cinema.  But I guess they are not catering for the minority of foreigners.

The Old Chesnuts

I felt like the following probably didn't need that much explaining as we have all heard them before and they speak for themselves, but I thought they would be useful to list anyway:

Why do we eat such terrible and unhealthy food?
Why are most Westerners fat and eat pizza and hamburgers all the time (linked to above)?
Why are we so much less polite and without manners (highly ironic)?
Why do we have a 'Western smell' of body odour?
Why are we so open minded to sex and drugs?
Why do we not respect old people?


  1. i want to know a thing or two
    i am an indian
    alot of things that koreans think about foreigners, indians think about them too.
    is this a east west thing?
    having seeen the dramas and variety shows i get a feeling that what they show is not true korea its just a wisely thought and edited part of life in korea isn't it?
    i love the korea i have read about in history books not the dramas because that at a practical level looks artificial.
    i want to know what korea thinks about india, indians.
    you have lived there so does an average person in korea think of india as the country potrayed in slumdog millionare?
    the only thing i see on youtube is how racism is a big thing against foreigners in korea.
    so would an indian with good job and well to do family background be considered inferior just because he/she is dark skinned?

    1. Yes they will consider you inferior, and unattractive, and they will move away if you sit down next to them on the bus.etc. Not everyone but the majority will react this way. Try not to take it personally, they have not yet adjusted to the influx of foreigners and therefore do not have the knowledge that what they're doing is rude and hurtful. The younger generations will probably treat you better and be curious about you. Also they will ask why you eat with your hands in India. This is what I've experienced as an Indian girl in Seoul.