Why Do Foreigners Behave That Way?

My Friends TJ and Nicole. TJ actually doesn’t drink. This is a pose.

A good person once said to me, “other people don’t react like you do”, in connection with my sometimes ill-mannered responses to invalidated or otherwise un-remedied cultural abrasion.

I respect this person enormously-for her intelligence, nature, philosophy, creativity, professionalism, and her sense of calm and public decorum. She is Korean, and as such has been raised in a far more formally codified culture than was I, and I know it is always easier to cope with one’s own culture, even if it looks hard to others.

For the most part, Korean society is known for over-arching etiquette, politeness, and an observance of harmonious behavior and service which makes it probably one of the most enjoyable countries to travel in.

On the other hand–especially from the point of view of visitors–as in every culture, there are habits, traditions, and bad behaviors in evidence and experienced here-recognized by good, honest, and cosmopolitan Koreans themselves- that we foreigners only experience in the lowest strata of our own native cultures.

Herein I wish NOT to criticize Korea or Koreans for this. All societies have their problems–including, of course, my own-and all societies develop at a rate commensurate with local awareness, need, and opportunity, so I understand-and love the Korean people no less than I love the rest of humanity.

However, I want to discuss how cultural abrasion affects foreigners and how their requisite behavior affects Koreans’ opinions of those reactions and of foreigners themselves. It is my firm belief from many years of intimate relations with Korea and her people–both here and abroad–that their generally poor opinion of foreigners is largely based on an inability to understand the pressures, stresses, and mental isolation we foreigners feel here.

For my dear friend-mentioned above-to test her mettle and see just how fair her assessment is, however- she’d have to go to a place that has cultural differences of a grating sort-in relation to the culture she is used to. Truth be told, all the foreigners I know have displayed eccentricities and extremes in their behavior here.

I have a gentleman friend who is in his sixties-who possesses one of the the most understanding and uncompromisingly fair states of mind. He teaches at a university he is sixty-two and mild-mannered, usually quiet, and a compassionate person. However, I’ve seen him speak out-loud in rhetorical fashion to local people who’s public behavior frustrates him. They don’t really hear him, and he doesn’t intend for them to. It’s a means of reducing stress.

He once got up and gently and playfully banged on the accordion wall of a restaurant and called through it, “Cancer! Cancer!” because the men on the other side were smoking-common, here, and ruining his meal. My friend is an epicure and a gourmet who enjoys the olfactory nature of his meals. He even carries his own wine glass and bottle of a favorite vintage. In Western countries and Japan, smoking (or “doing nicotine”, as I and a Korean-American friend call smoking) is sensibly illegal in all public places. Besides the airborne dispersal of nuclear radiation, carbon monoxide, arsenic and 3,998 other harmful chemicals spread about by smokers-my friend also doesn’t care for parents who put their children on cafe tables feet-first, obnoxiously loud conversationalists, and people who cough and sneeze without shielding others; people who cut in line, litter, push & shove, and drive rather recklessly. Who can blame him? These are ubiquitous behaviors in our beloved host-country-at least by a consistent percentage of people.

I can’t speak for all those concerened, but I know quite a few foreigners who-like myself-enjoy and appreciate Korea very much, but whose experience is made less enjoyable, even highly frustrating at times, by these and other deleterious habits. Having been raised Christian-and having studied Korea’s philosophically traditional religion-Zen Buddhism (or Seon, in Korean), I have two spiritual bulwarks that make me more compassionate than many foreigners I meet here-who complain. Unfortunately, my lovely friend mentioned above, hasn’t met these people.

More proof of foreigners reacting in less desirable fashion-to stresses in living here: A friend who has since emigrated to China was so distraught over culture differences with his Korean girlfriend once, that he took off all his clothes in the subway, in some effort of protest. In his spare time he was a philosophizer and enthusiast of mythology, world history, and psychology, an avid reader and, a very well-adjusted fellow with many friends while in Korea.

Another friend jumped in front of a motorcycler and yelled at the motorist for endangering pedestrians by riding on the sidewalk; another ubiquitous practice here. That friend was a graduate of a most prestigious school in New York, and something of a social genius with a quiet personality. He once slammed a taxi door in protest against a rude and controlling, un-accommodating and racist taxi driver. His Korean girlfriend at the time was very upset, but of course had no experience with the daily stresses her foreign boyfriend met in such situations, including other ubiquitous travesties such as racism and not being paid by employers for services rendered.

To Be Continued…

© Copyright 2012 Carl Atteniese Jr., All Rights Reserved. Peace, Love, Joy, & Imagination to you.

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Carl is a Tokyo-based Writer, Artist, Videographer and Voice Actor from New York interested in Japanese, Ukiyo-e, philosophy and aerospace. For more about him, see his About pages.

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