Wednesday, January 29, 2014

People Watching - Some Obvious and Superficial Differences Between the UK and Korea

For the last month, I have been back at home in England.  The differences between my home and Korea is something that has always fascinated me, so it has been interesting to wonder around in my hometown and do all the things I used to do and just people watch, whilst at the same time have a strange feeling that I now have a rather Korean perspective about it all.  Here are some really obvious things I noticed this month:

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.

9. Offence

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.


  1. Chris, do you look at your "factually correct" evidence before you post them? The very map that you cite to prove that Koreans are shorter actually shows that Koreans are about the same height as the people in the UK. Most of the Korean men I know are over 5'10" and some of the younger kids are well over 6' tall and getting taller. I want to hang out in your neighborhood so I could feel taller, too. Racist much?

    1. If you look at that map, the statement I made, "Western men tend to be taller [than Asian men]" is entirely supported. If you look at the other link about average weight, my statement "and bigger than Asian men", is entirely supported.

      When it comes to specifically Koreans, in my experience the White Westerners I see back home are usually taller and bigger. I quite clearly differentiated in my language from using the overall statistics for patterns of tallness in Asians generally and then drew on my experience when I specifically spoke about Koreans. But obviously your experience is different, I am simply writing what I have observed.

      Your tone is similar to a few anon comments I have had recently, trying to catch me out with things. If you are the same person, you are doing a fine job of misreading and misrepresenting my arguments, well done. Just as well you post as anonymous so you can't take credit for it! Keep trying, it is fun knocking you down.

    2. Chris, this is the first time I came across your blog and I'm not trying to "catch you out with things"; I actually agree with most of what you posted.

      But you cited a map that shows the Chinese and perhaps the Japanese as shorter than the Brits to support your claims, sorry, "experiences" in Korea. But why should that matter? All Asians are the same anyway.

    3. Well, if that isn't you, I apologise. However, you will grind my gears a little when you insinuate racism against me, sorry.

      I don't know whether you are being deliberately evasive, but people who live in the continent of Asia, would be called Asians wouldn't they? White Westerners mainly reside in North America, Oceania, and Europe. So compare the continent of Asia with those areas. Who tend to be taller? I am not saying all Asians are the same, merely that those people we could term Asians, i.e. those that live in Asia, tend to be shorter. This is undoubtedly correct according to that map. And again look at the language i used when I used these links: "that Western men tend to be taller and bigger than Asian men", didn't use Britain in it did I? Then I used my experiences to talk about Koreans compared to British. Reading more carefully will alleviate your confusion.

      What would be interesting to see is the figures for only White men in Western countries. Because seeing as Western countries are heavily multicultural, this can skew the figures. I find it interesting that Spain, which is so close to Africa and has a history of Muslim ownership and therefore interbreeding are shorter than the rest of Europe. The countries where one would expect there to be a higher proportion of White people, i.e. Scandanavia and its surrounds have the tallest populations. Canada scores lower too and guess where Canadas' native population originated from?

      I think you should also take into account that TheKorean himself (where the original post came as a reply to him) never denied a size difference between Asians generally and White people, but I recall him talking about diet playing a role in why Westerners were usually taller and bigger. When it comes to experiences, you are certainly in the minority of people I know, Koreans and non-Koreans, who believe there is no height difference between Korean (and Asians generally) and White Western men. Yours is a fairly desperate argument and the insinuation of racism towards me, is why I suspected you of being an old troll friend of mine on this blog and the reason I dealt with you rather tersely, but again, I'm sorry about that, perhaps I shouldn't have leapt to such conclusions.

    4. More info here, a little more specific to countries. Seems the data supports my experiences:

      If you take a gentle little look down all those countries you will see that South Korean male's average height comes out lower than every single European country, North American country, and also shorter than New Zealand and Australia.

      Actually, I have read a few sites and figures vary slightly (Spain for instance comes out slightly different on this one), however, they all have one thing in common and that is Asia as a continent is quite significantly shorter on average and while Korean men are tall among Asians they are still mostly shorter than the those from Western countries on average.

      Actually, I thank you for the comment because it has made me look into things in greater depth, perhaps the map I linked wasn't the best source as the colours covered a fairly broad range. And I apologise once again if I was a little terse with you and the assumption that you were my little anti-fan, haha.

    5. No offense taken - I'd concede that my responses have been somewhat terse as well. Broadly speaking, I'm more concerned about blogger-cum-empiricists that cherry-pick data to justify preconceived ideas. History has shown that this can be quite dangerous.

      To wit: In your post about why Korean women marry white men, you cited a study that ranks Korea 108th among 136 countries in gender equality. Although I believe that Korea still has quite a long road ahead to match some of the Scandinavian countries, it certainly isn't 108th. In fact, a UN sanctioned study places Korea 11th among 187 countries.

      But therein lies the rub; citing empirical data "legitimizes" one's opinions. And to an outsider that hasn't been to Korea, it is quite tempting to believe that Asian-white marriage skew is justified.

      Please don't think that I'm a Korea apologist; I believe that Korea has serious societal issues. But I think one needs to think of a society as more of a flow than a snapshot. One can take snapshots of various parts of London or Seoul to get a cursory notion. The difference is that while those snapshots in London can be taken during a stroll, those in Seoul are being taken on a bullet train.

      Korea went from pre-industrialized to post-modern in a couple of generations, a feat that took most countries a couple of centuries. Can you imagine the UK going from Victorian to Post-Thatcher in a few decades? But that's the issue with Korea. Within those blurred snapshots are vestiges of feudal and agrarian society that are being reconciled to a light-speed tech-driven society.

    6. So, most of those idiosyncrasies of Korea are basically debris left over from cultural clashes - clashes that are happening within the same society. Before you cite an empirical study or data, please imagine that there are readers who do not know Korea as well as you do.

      P.S. I never said that there are no height differences between Korean and White Western men. I was merely pointing out that your OWN evidence states that there isn't significant height difference.

      P.P.S. As you know most Koreans don't stand around bars and drink. The closest comparable I could think of is a Gangnam nightclub. I always feel like I'm standing around trees, and I'm about 6' tall.

    7. Yeah, you'll have to forgive me for my original response; I got a lot of garbage and abuse for that Asian/White couples post and I think I overreacted to what you wrote a little.

      I understand what you are saying about the links to evidence and I think you are right and that I need to be more thorough and take greater care with them. Constructive criticism, thank you and I will apply it in future posts.

      However, the Asian/White marriage difference in gender is real (perhaps I should have specifically said 'East Asian' [althought TK didn't in his original post] but that pattern is true all over the continent I believe) and I still think I was justified in speculating as to its cause, especially as there is no definitive answer to it and that the post was in response to TheKorean's post that put the difference solely down to Western prejudices. I found it slightly amusing that when I used some Korean cultural reasons to speculate why there might be a difference that I was accused of stereotyping, racism, or at least culturalism, yet no one at all questioned whether TK was doing the same by saying it was solely down to Western prejudice; a stereotype (which may be true but a stereotype just the same) and a cultural explanation just the same.

      I completely understand why Korea has some of their societal issues and I have used what you are saying many times in previous posts, I agree.

      I gratefully accept the criticism of my source in this post, but I have always found the difference in height and size of Koreans to Westerners so obvious that, I'll be honest am dumbfounded as to how anyone can argue against it. Sure, I guess one should look at the evidence first with an open mind, instead of thinking you know from experience and then finding the evidence for it (which I surely did), but the fact is that even walking the street, I am a big guy here in Korea, I am not in England and I think the vast majority of foreigners feel this way in Korea. But I realise the evidence should come first, of course.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. I am curious how tall are we (Russians)?

    I tried to find our height ..and it lists as low as 5'7" and high as 5'10".
    I guess we shorter than Europeans
    I bookmarked your blog .its very informative..

    Have a good one ..cheers !!!

  3. The last one is amusingly true, patiently wait for somebody to move aside and let you through. If they dont and carry on being in your way, you go from nice brit to horrible brit in seconds and they soon know how irritated you are that they cant even let you get by. Tsk.