What Koreans Won't Tell You to Your Face

What do Koreans really think but will not reveal in front of foreigners?

What do Koreans think of themselves and others?
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Koreans tend to not say what's really on their minds in front of foreigners. To be honest, neither do foreigners. I suppose they tiptoe around Koreans so some middle-aged Korean ajusshi won't get mad and throw kimchi at them. (In case you are wondering, Koreans don't really throw kimchi at people.) So let's find out what Koreans actually think inside by well, overgeneralizing everything.

"Korea is the best!"

Okay. The first part is no secret. If you just came to South Korea, you won't have a hard time meeting people who will tell you all the great things about Korea. One of the first things they will tell you is that Korea is great because it has four distinct seasons (it's not true). They will ask if you have heard of Yuna Kim, Psy, Ji-sung Park and Wonder Girls. They will proudly show you how fast the Internet is in South Korea. It will seem as if Korean people couldn't be happier with their country.

"Korea is the worse!"

But then, a massive load of criticism and negativism kick in when there are no foreigners around. Koreans tell each other that the economy in Korea is dead. (It isn't.) South Korea just had a record-breaking year for exports and trade surplus. But that's not really good news because that means the Korean government is actually doing a pretty good job. And that is not a possibility for Koreans no matter which Korean political party is in power.

"Korea is still a poor country on the rise."

Surprisingly, most Koreans do not think South Korea is a developed nation. According to them, the gap between Korea and a developed country like Japan or the U.S. is so humongous that they would feel so much better putting South Korea as one of the "second-world" countries. Korean news anchors constantly speak of what needs to be done for Korea to become a seonjinguk, developed nation, one day.

"All white people (black people) are the same."

It seems as if many Koreans believe that there is a "white culture" or "black culture" out there with no variations. They simply assume that all white men and women share everything in common like Koreans do. Also, it will be a shock if a black man can't dance or sing like the ones on TV. But I guess it's only fair since all Asians get straight A's, know martial arts, and can play the violin, right?

"White people look down on Asians."

No, I don't mean white people look down on Asians because white people are taller. Many Koreans believe that white people generally view Asians as inferior to them because most "white countries" have better economies than Asian countries do. I guess Koreans still believe that race is a very big factor in determining the economic growth of a country. Although it really doesn't explain why there is such a difference between North Korea and South Korea even though the race is exactly the same.

"Foreigners can't speak Korean."

How can foreigners staying in Korea speak fluent Korean when it is one of the most difficult languages to learn? Maybe because it is not. Many more Koreans seem to have problems with learning English and not the other way around. Most foreigners learn to speak some Korean after living in South Korea for a few years, if not for a few months. But many Koreans still try their best to speak English to foreigners as an unnecessary favor.

"Why do foreigners listen to K-pop?"

Okay, Psy's Gangnam Style was popular for a while because the music video was hilarious. That's not so hard to understand. After all, humor is a universal language. But what about Girls' Generation, Big Bang, EXO, 2PM, Big Bang, IU, VIXX, SHINee and about two dozen other groups? Why are they so big in other countries? Even Koreans are baffled by it. The only possible explanation is, "it's probably just a phase."

"Only Koreans have empathy."

Koreans take pride in that seats on the bus and subway are given to the elderly in Korea by younger generations. Random acts of kindness are common in Korea because Korean people have what is known as jeong, a concept that is not even possible to be explained in any other language. The only problem is that it is not uncommon for young people in other countries to give up their seats for someone else. By the way, why did so many Korean orphans have to go elsewhere like the U.S. and Europe to find parents if Koreans have so much jeong? Why couldn't they have adopted those children themselves? I guess it really is a difficult concept to comprehend.

"Koreans get heavily criticized in other countries for eating dogs."

There are some Koreans who are embarrassed or even ashamed that there are still people in Korea who consume dog meat. In reality, Koreans rarely eat dogs. It is getting harder and harder to find dog-meat restaurants especially around big cities.

"Koreans smell because of kimchi, garlic, and doenjang."

Many Koreans are afraid that their international friends (or associates) may think they stink. Some Korean food items have very strong odors which are rather unique. So it is no surprise that some Koreans hold on to this view, which could be true in some situations. Of course, whether Koreans have more of body odor compared to other people is up for debate.

"It's okay for foreigners to say something bad about Korea."

This is what some Koreans honestly believe, that they can actually take criticism from foreigners without losing their temper. It is like a woman trying to get her boyfriend to talk. She will use phrases like "it's okay," "I won't get mad," and "it's no big deal." Unfortunately, some guys take those words verbatim and disclose too much information. (Tsk tsk tsk.) I am a firm believer that a healthy dose of criticism will be good for everybody. Just do not be surprised if Koreans do not call you, ever again.


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