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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Oh! You so handsome ^.^ !

Originally written for the Ulsan Pear by Eileen Keast

We’ve all had a similar experience: a woman carrying her groceries nearly falls over outside Homeplus when you take off your bike helmet; a small child stops in the street, points a finger at you and yells “waygookeen!” Or maybe some shop owner looks you over dubiously when you request to try on the medium size, and then helpfully steers you over to the “largee” sizes. It’s at these times that we ask ourselves, “What do they really think of us?” We’re almost all guilty of stereotyping Koreans – what are their stereotypes of us? Here are a few statements, made by foreigners that I ran by my Korean friends.

“They think we’re enormously endowed.”

Not surprisingly, this one came exclusively from waygook guys.  I couldn’t get a Korean to comment on this, but I did hear an odd counter-rumour, too bizarre to exclude from this article, that while Korean men agree that western men, in general, drive a bigger vehicle, Korean men compensate by delivering a larger load. I was a  bit lax in my research in this area, I’m afraid, but if anyone has any “hands on” experience in this area and can either confirm or deny, feel free to e-mail the Pear and let us know.

“They think we’re filthy.”

This one most Koreans I spoke to agreed with. This was the one assumption they didn’t even try to be polite about.

“Yes,” said one source, whom I shall only refer to as “J.” “You don’t take off your shoes in the house. I clean my house every day, but whenever I go to a foreigner’s house, I see dirt, old dishes, and empty beer bottles. It’s very dirty.”

Given that many foreign teachers came here directly from university, where we likely either lived in shared housing with lax housecleaning rules or with forgiving parents, it isn’t surprising that our housekeeping styles don’t impress Korean visitors. Granted, some of us do clean our apartments with military conscientiousness and consistency, but on the whole, you can’t really blame Koreans, whose apartments I have found to be spotless, for having a poor opinion of us in this area.

“They think we’re easy or at least morally lax when it comes to sex.”

This one prompted the most in-depth responses from Koreans, and exposed the sharp difference in perceptions of foreigners between the older, more xenophobic generation and younger, outward-looking Koreans. “Hmm…not easy,” said one of my sources, wrapping his arms around my shoulders in a friendly hug, just more…free. Korean women and foreign women have different ideas about sex. Maybe some people who only see foreign women on TV or in movies think yes, they always want to have sex. But I know many foreign women, and I think they are not easy. I think it is easier now to have one night stands with Korean women. Seven or eight years ago, this was not possible, but now, yes.”

Another aspect of this is Koreans’ perspectives on foreigners (mostly men) dating Koreans. Among older Koreans, there is strong disapproval.

“If their daughter has a child with a foreigner,” said one of my Korean co-workers, “they won’t acknowledge him as part of the family. They want their grandchildren to look like them. Here, some people are still not used to the idea of mixing blood. They think it’s bad.” Which confirmed the suspicion that I already had: to some Koreans, I don’t just look different, but am, in some fundamental way, an entirely different sort of species altogether. Which, given that the Korean word for foreigner, “waygookeen,” literally means “not Korean,” isn’t that surprising.

Even among younger Koreans who are used to hanging out with foreigners, there are negative perceptions of Korean girls who date foreign men. My coworker phrased it bluntly for me: “People think that she’s trading sex for free English lessons. They think all the foreign man wants is sex, and all she wants is to practice her English. It’s hard for people to think that they just like each other.”

A lot of the negative attitudes that Koreans hold towards foreigners, I discovered, have to do with resentment about the continuing American military presence on the peninsula. While most Koreans preface their statements about the Americans with professions of gratitude for their help, the overwhelming sentiment seems to be that it’s time for them to leave.

“It’s like you have a fight with your brother,” a friend explained to me, “and your neighbour comes to your house. He helps, he stops the fight, and you’re grateful to him. But then he stays, he has sex with your daughter, maybe he hits her. You’re still happy he helped, but now, you want him to leave. It’s time for him to go.”

Reprinted from the Ulsan Pear, September, 2004

Written five years ago, mindsets have changed somewhat among Koreans. It would be interesting to hear of your own experiences with myths. – Editor.