1. Happy Dogs Being Walked
It is nice to see loads of happy dogs enjoying their time with their owners and stretching their legs. Such a sight is not a common one in Korea, despite great access to all the little mountain trails. Even though it was wet and muddy for the whole of my trip back, dog owners would still put their animals in the back of their car and bathed them when they got home so they could curl up beside the fireplace later on and not sit outside in the freezing cold (no selfish and counter-productive worries about making the house dirty and unhygienic). Generally, Korea is not one of the happier places on earth to be a dog.
2. Fat People
The difference in the size of waist-lines in the UK and Korea is simply startling. Yes, Koreans are becoming more obese as a nation, but they have some way to catch up with us Brits. It is noticeable that there were lots of news stories about obesity and lots of TV programs about fighting the flab as well, while I was home. Attitudes to food, health and exercise appear to be much better in Korea (as I have alluded to before) and it amazes me just how ignorant many Brits are about diet and exercise.
3. Cheap Looking Women
It had been nearly three years since I had returned home and I had a diet of a relatively more conservative culture in Korea for all of that time, so seeing British women on a night out again was a bit of a shock. Korean women will typically not be too shy about showing-off their assets, i.e. their legs, but most of the rest of their body tends to be covered. But despite it being the middle of winter in Britain, I was treated to an exceptional show of flesh on a night out with friends. Breasts, legs, shoulders, and bellies were all out there, regardless of whether these women had nice figures or not.
Now, I am a red-blooded man, just like any other and I know some of you will be wondering where the problem lies in all of this. There isn't a problem, of course, women can dress as they please (obviously, but just thought I'd throw this line in to protect myself from the feminists). Maybe I am becoming a bit of a grumbling old miser, but there was something horrible about it all - perhaps that something is that the vast majority of them were not especially attractive and had an air of desperation about them. Hate to say it, but the Korean women I see come across as generally much classier, have a nicer style, and are more attractive. Perhaps at least some level of modesty in dress has something to do with this. I suppose it could also have something to do with the amount of time they spend preening themselves in the mirror and forking-out half their yearly salary (at least) on beauty products and accessories.
4. Arrogance/Confidence of the Young
While I was back in England, I spent a fair amount of time at my local squash club trying to recapture my old form, so I got to interact with a lot of youngsters and especially teenagers. As a high school teacher in Korea, I can compare 16-18 year olds especially well and it is quite noticeable how different British teenagers are to Korean teenagers. A staggering amount of confidence oozes out of many Brits at this age (much of it misplaced), so much so that it does lurk into the realm of cocky arrogance in some. I am sure a lot of this has to do with insecurity and bravado and it is not as genuine as some would have us believe, but still it is a striking difference. A dose of British-style teenage confidence would be really beneficial to some of my students sometimes and a dose of modesty would also help some of those cheeky British teenagers. Why oh why can't we find a compromise somewhere in the middle of the two extremes?
5. The Size of the Young and People Generally
I while ago, I got hammered for what I thought was a fairly uncontroversial statement, in my Asian couples post, by saying that Western men tend to be taller and bigger than Asian men. It turns out that this is factually correct, but if you use your eyes at all and visit different countries and areas of the world, words fail me to describe just how obvious this statement also appears to be. The size of young people was a real eye-opener, not just the height but the width of them. I had coached a number of young squash players a few years ago and three years later they had become absolute monsters, I barely recognised them.
Its not just the young though, as I stood-up having a drink with friends one night I looked around and discovered I was one of the smallest guys in the room, even some of the women made me feel small. I have never felt this way in Korea.
6. Interesting and Moronic People
People having to conform to social norms exists everywhere, but in the UK it is easier to be different and sometimes people are admired for being so. Leeway is therefore given to people who don't quite fit in. I have always thought less leeway is given to Korean people, there are tighter controls on their personalities created by society. I think this is the source of a greater variation of characters in somewhere like England. This is both good and bad; I find this variation to create more interesting people, but at the same time more moronic people who can also be a right pain in the backside. I know this sounds like a bit of a stereotype of East Asians, but I think it is true that they have a more rigid social structure which causes rather predictable patterns of behaviour and even appearance. I find I am surprised more often by people in the UK.
7. Interactions Between Young and Old
It was really fascinating, and rather shocking, to witness how much more natural young people are when interacting with their elders in England. There were many times that I felt that not enough respect was being given to elders - this feeling was strangely strong, no doubt caused by such a long time spent in another culture - but overall the relationships between young and old felt much better, more friendly and both parties seemed to get a whole lot more out of interacting with each other compared to what I see in Korea. It is also nice for me (as a getting on for middle-aged man now) to be able to act so normally - and this be reciprocated - with 18 year olds and those slightly older and younger. They can even be friends, this would be almost impossible in Korea, which is something I have always thought of as a great shame for both the older person and the younger person.
8. The Ease of Eating Badly
The temptations to eat badly are far more present in the UK. Supermarket aisles are filled with more unhealthy food (with the bakery particularly tempting), desserts are served more often, and treats generally are sweeter, more fattening, less healthy, and occur in larger amounts. Brits have some really bad habits when it comes to food, Koreans - especially in the older generations - tend to have much better habits when it comes to eating and preparing food.
Brits appear to get offended by almost everything; bad driving, skipping queues, not putting the divider down at the supermarket, subtle physical nudges, etc. Slights such as these are regularly taken in Korean people's stride. They seem not to have such high expectations of the behaviour of people they don't know and mistakes or examples of bad manners are taken like water off a duck's back most of the time.
10. Running and Walking
Perhaps this is down to the terrain of South Eastern England (my neck of the woods) and South Korea, but in Korea people are always walking and in England a lot more people can be seen running. One of my students did inform me - upon seeing me running the streets of my city of residence in Korea - that Koreans don't usually do this. They usually run in a park or in the gym, not on the streets. He did so in a bit of a 'so you should not be doing it' tone, I don't really know why though.
11. Not Getting Bumped and Cut-Off
It really is extraordinary how often people are generally in the way in Korea. I thought it might have been a view I had caused by Korea fatigue, but sure enough it was confirmed when I went home. People in England generally have so much more awareness of their surroundings and other people, and therefore their manners in this regard are so much better. It was so refreshing to be able to walk along, and in tight situations, have someone let me go through or at least make some space. The same goes for the driving; people stopping at zebra crossings, they made kind and considerate manoeuvres, and (gasp) waited for each other! However, as I said in No. 10, woe betide anyone who is not considerate to others because they will receive an earful in the UK. Koreans seem much more tolerant of such misdemeanors.