Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Koreans Aren't Friendly?

Okay so this is something that's been bothering me for a while so I figure I should finally sit down and write about it.  One of the most interesting things about going abroad are is of the opinions, tips and precautions people feel the need to share with you before you go, suddenly everyone you know becomes an expert on your next destination.   Before coming to Korea and over the past 7 months living here I've heard plenty of suggestions, warnings and comments about the people, food, driving, weather, you name it.  One common utterance I've heard, on multiple occasions is "Oh Korean's, they're not very friendly", this has come from people in the US, Taiwan, and even others living in Korea  (by both foreigners and Koreans, speaking of those from different provinces/cities). Well, after living here for 7 months I'm finally going to call BS.  Like many generalizations and stereotypes, this may have been true for some people, but so far, in my experience, it's been quite the opposite.  Even this morning during the last part of my run, the man riding on the back of the garbage truck turned to smile, wave and say hello - maybe he's the one that prompted this blog post.

I don't think I could even begin to write about all of the small, daily occurrences that bring a smile to my face or make me feel welcome where i'm living. I guess you could read more about my town and how much I love it, here, but to summarize - the people rock.  My students, co-workers, bank tellers, grocery store clerks, fruit guy, bus drivers, crossing guards, and now even the garbage men make me feel welcome.

At first I was thinking, okay maybe it's because I live in a smaller town and similar to the United States, the more rural areas seem to be friendlier or maybe just warmer towards each other. But it's not just in my town that I've encountered these friendly people. Take for example my first trip to Gyeongju  where Son and I first got a ride from his co-teacher and then were picked up on the side of the road by a friendly Korean couple, saving us from walking another hour or two. These people went out of their way to help us, having no plans to even visit the temple or grotto.  Or how about a few weeks ago when Sara, Charles and I visited Gwangju when people were repeatedly trying to help us; walking us to the motel, giving directions, restaurant recommendations and even taking time to draw us a map. And of course, the friendly hikers of Jirisan, but that could have also been the camaraderie of the mountain.

Okay so what's the deal? Why do Koreans get such a bad rap as the unfriendly, cold, and sometimes mean society.  Sara, Charles and I were discussing this after our great experience in Gwangju and came to the decision that A) It's likely on a case by case basis and B) This might be the perception of tourists only visiting Seoul.  As with most people if you're rude to them they'll be the same back to you, so the people that have expressed problems with Koreans probably did something to deserve it. Also, I have noticed that people in Seoul seem to be a bit more stand-offish than the rest of the country, but take any big city where everyone is stressed out, overworked and constantly in a hurry and you'll find this, hello New York. 

So before you dismiss a country based on what other people told you, please take a moment to consider that they might not know what the hell they are talking about.  Every experience is going to be completely dependent on you and what you make of it. If you go to visit a country with a bad attitude, no understanding of their culture, and slanted expectations, you probably won't have a good time.  I mean everyone says the french are rude people, but that doesn't mean i'm going to cross the Eifle tower, the Louvre, and Palace of Versailles off my list of places to visit.


  1. I have lived with a Korean family for 4 years and I can tell you that Koreans have NO friendliness. They don't believe in it. Want friends? Stay away from Koreans.

  2. Sad to say, South Koreans are not "user friendly" as we say in the United States. Three years ago I was on vacation at Niagara Falls and spent a couple days there. The Koreans were not pleasant to be around and complained about everything. I opened doors and helped them find their way and never got one thanks!