The second day of orientation, we went to a class in which we learned all about Korean culture. Our instructor taught us that there are few huge differences in western and eastern culture and tons of small differences that may catch us off guard.
The instructor explained that PDA (Public Display of Affection) and loud talking in public were taboo. He also showed us how to bow correctly and how to give and receive money properly. I wasn’t surprised by any of these lessons. The lesson that did surprise me a bit was when he listed some things that are taboo to westerners and normal to Koreans. He said that talking about using the bathroom is totally normal here. The instructor said not to be surprised when someone is late for class and announces, in front of everyone, that he or she had diarrhea.
The very next day we got a first-hand look at this particular cultural difference. The following conversation took place in front of an orientation class of about fifty people. I changed the names to protect the embarrassed.
Ms. Woo: (walks into the classroom holding a plunger) Who asked for the plunger?
Ms. Woo: Someone came to the office this morning after breakfast and asked for a plunger. Who was it?
Ms. Woo: Maybe I have the wrong class. No, I’m sure somebody here ask for a plunger because they stopped up their toilet.
Ms. Woo: (looks around the room one last time) Betty, weren’t you the one who asked for the plunger? I brought it for you.
Betty: Can we please talk about this later?
Ms. Woo: I thought your toilet was stopped up and you needed the plunger immediately.
Betty: Later, please!
Ms. Woo: ….ok.
This type of situation worries me because I am easily embarrassed. The Koreans can’t understand why this would be embarrassing, so most won’t twice before announcing to a group that someone needed the plunger. I have a feeling that lots of foreign teachers will find themselves in similar situations by the end of the year. If it happens to me, I’ll have to pack up and leave (just kidding….kinda).
Until next time.