Weeks ago when Brandon and I were headed back to Chungju from a Buddhist temple, I did something rude.
I ran a red light on my bike.
I know this isn’t the end of the world, I’m not a horrible person for it (perhaps for other things). But what was surprising to me was nothing happened. Here we are at a busy intersection Brandon across the street waiting for me on his bike, me noticing the light change, but deciding I have enough time to make it across and running (cycling?) the red light. No cars honked, no person yelled, no traffic swerved. It seemed everyone just stopped.
Once the waygukin was out of the way, all the cars, trucks and scooters went about their day. I told Brandon how strange it was to do something so obviously rude and not have anyone say anything.
“Maybe they were thinking, “that waygukin just doesn’t know any better,” he said.
“Maybe.” I answered. “You know, James told me once that Koreans hold Westerners in high regard so it’s easy to become arrogant. I wonder if this is a result of that.”
The idea of arrogance came up again when Mina told me, “Koreans, we have an inferiority complex when it comes to Westerners. We’ll never be as smart, pretty or good–that’s what we think.”
So when I act like an asshole, and I know it, people will sometimes excuse my behavior because they may think for whatever fucked up reason I’m better than them because I’m from America?! That’s craziness.
But James is right, it’s easy to be arrogant. People around you think you’re awesome just because you’re tall and white, it’s pretty easy to believe you are. I catch myself thinking “well if this is too far outside the norm someone will tell me,” but now I’m left second guessing myself when I take pictures of temples and people. Would they really tell me if I was being rude?
Not to mention, how easy it is for me and other foreigners to dismiss some Korean beliefs and behaviors, not as different. But often making a judgment call and proclaiming them “wrong.”
I’ve been really frustrated by how the banking system works here. It seems to do anything I have to go to the bank. Online banking does not exist. I even have to go to the bank to pay my bills. I thought this was a b-ass-ackwards way to do things. I was pissed this was how things were. Why make me do something so time-consuming just to pay a few thousand won for electricity? But once I finally dragged myself to the bank, it took all of two seconds with a swipe from my bank book and a simple scan of the receipts. It was so easy I’m starting to wonder why we don’t pick up the system in the US. Sure you have to go to the bank, but for someone like my mom, who’s afraid of the internet it makes sense. And its way more secure than writing a check.
Ask the Expat calls this Korean Derangement Syndrome. And he’s right. Because Koreans have come to belief Westerners are better than them, they let us get away with far too much. It’s not just running red lights, it’s treating the people around us like they are inferior to us.
There are a hundred million things I don’t understand about Korea, not the least of which is the language. But now when I learn more about Korean culture I’m going to try my best to understand it before making a judgment call.