19 March 2008

Note to my Lil' Sis

I am excited that you're coming to visit, but before you do, and knowing you as well as I do, I wanted to give you a heads up on some of the cultural differences that you might find strange and perhaps disconcerting.

1) You will want to wear high heels.
If you are a young woman in Seoul between the age of 20-35 (American age) you must wear high heels. It is not yet an official mandate, but I'm sure that they're working on it. Back home, I often wore slippers or my Converse sneakers because I accept the fact that I'm short. In Korea, on the other hand, I've managed to beat my feet into submission and now wear heels regularly. I know. Say what? Here's the deal. Firstly, it's currently too cold to wear slippers. Secondly, if I wear sneakers people will continue to mistake me for a high school student. In addition to over-sized t-shirts, clunky eyeglasses, and unflattering hair cuts, Converse sneakers seem to be de rigueur for all teens in Seoul. Side note: the contrast between teen girls and young Korean women is quite stark. It's as if immediately after graduation, young tomboyish Korean girls with bad skin and bad hair, magically transform into well groomed swans. They perm their hair. They start pampering their face with "essence" and "BB Cream." They fix their "deviated septums." And, last, but certainly not least, they slip on a pair of heels. The transformations are impressive, yet disturbing.

2) A lady should always carry a little tissue in her purse.
It's always a good idea to carry around a little tissue (unscented) in your purse. Many public restrooms do not contain toilet paper in the stalls. Sometimes there will be a central dispenser near the sinks. In any case, you should always ensure that you have tissue before proceeding with your biznass. Also, most restrooms offer bar soap (if they offer any soap at all). I prefer liquid soap, but I figure bar soap is better than no soap at all.

3) Don't rush the flush.
In what is ostensibly an effort to conserve water resources, public restrooms all have signs that ask patrons to throw used toilet paper in the trash can rather than flushing it down the toilet. I try my hardest to comply with this courtesy rule because I don't want to be the ignorant foreigner who's clogging up the pipes, but... it's really hard! I'm accustomed to flushing the toilet paper down the toilet. Also, the trash cans are overflowing with *blech* used tissues. If I add my tissue, the whole mess will just topple to the floor. Generally, when I encounter an overstuffed trash bin, I'll try to push the trash down and reduce the overflow, BUT I'm not about to do that with a bin of used tissues... in a woman's bathroom...The restroom attendants probably prefer open bins to cans with a lid because they're easier to empty, but honestly, I'd rather take the extra step of opening a lid over sweeping used tissues off the ground.

4) One more thing...
Okay, I know that this is starting to turn into a rant about public restrooms, but here's one more obnoxious observation about El baño. Women are always surreptitiously smoking in (poorly ventilated) bathroom stalls, because it is apparently unseemly for a young woman to smoke in public. Frankly, if you need to hide the fact that you smoke, perhaps you shouldn't be smoking in the first place...

5) Don't let the door hit you on the way in.
Perhaps wistfulness clouds my memory, but I seem to remember that back home, people would usually hold the door open for the person immediately behind them. I'm not talking about gallant gestures. I'm talking about holding the door just long enough so that it doesn't smack the next person in the face. In Korea, I find that this gesture is not so customary. Whether you're young or old, male or female, people go through doors without concern for whoever may or may not be behind them. I've lost track of the number of times that a swinging glass door has nearly plowed me over. I'm trying to resist the system by holding doors open for people, but most people just look at me strangely or ignore me as if I were a part of the door fixture.

6) Public trash cans are rare.
I'm not sure why, but it's hard to find a public trash can in Seoul. Consequently, due to the lack of trash cans, people just throw their trash on the street, creating mini piles of rubbish. At first, I thought the lack of trash cans was to save on garbage disposal labor, but all of these piles of rubbish on the street disappear overnight, so someone is cleaning up the trash anyways. Wouldn't a trash can make it easier?

7) Look all ways before you cross.
Our parents taught us to look both ways before we cross a street. In Korea, you need to look both ways before and while crossing the street. From what I've observed traffic signals seem to be optional. Never assume that a red light means "stop." I've seen enough cars running red lights that I now always cross the street as if I were in a game of Frogger. Unless you want to die at the wheels of a Hyundai, be cautious when crossing a busy intersection.

8) People will shove. Do not shove back.
This one may be hard for you to get used to, but shoving is a natural part of life in a big Asian city. People here have places to be and people to see. It's their prerogative to run down or push past anyone or thing that may be in their way. All the shoving wouldn't be so bad if someone gave an apologetic nod, but I've quickly learned that things are different in this pond. You just gotta keep swimming.

I know that my comments may sound judgmental. This was not my intention at all. I don't mean to disparage the Motherland. In fact, I think it's a remarkable country, and you're sure to have a fabulous time.

I was just thinking back to my first time in the Motherland, and these were the cultural differences that first struck me.

See ya in a few.

- Annalog


Piggypiggy said...

da note is also for Ian oppa.
^^ keke

someone said...

Anna, public restrooms seem to be your pet 'pee've lol
be sure to put in lots of pictures of Stacy's visit. Haven't seen her in a long while. Pictures would have helped this post. Did u have a mild winter in Korea this year?
p.s. I now have a nephew, his name is Alex!!! :)

anna said...

Congrats, Uncle!
I think that it's technically spring, but it still feels like winter to me. Winter was not as cold as I imagined, so I'm going to guess that it was a pretty mild winter.

I will post pics of my sister... if she ever sends it to me.