A cultural awareness check.

June 12, 2010 at 10:13 AM Leave a comment


“You see that huge pile of onions over there? That is the reason why Koreans are where we are today. In less than 60 years we have become the only country in the world who once needed aid, to a country who now gives aid. Some countries out there, they needed aid 60 years ago, they still need aid today.”-spoken like a true Korean.

I’ve grown up with mostly a dual cultural background. There were/still are things that either side does that completely baffle me. But there are some things I’ve taken from both sides; things I find the other culture lacks. One thing I’ve been leaning more towards: the Korean tendency to be ridiculously efficient.

I’m not saying Americans are not efficient. It’s just, you come here, and you feel like such a big waster. Like you personally are at fault for contributing to our planet’s failing condition. Either a big waster of objects, or a big waster of time and effort.

Hmmmmm. Population density. In most parts of the US, you can have an average of less than 200 people per square mile. Here, it’s like 2,000+ per 1/2 mile. I suppose if you live out in the country any carbon footprints you leave behind are visibly nonexistent.

Koreans are so efficient it’s funny. I’ve made a compilation of my thoughts on this topic:

  • Trash bags. Here you buy trash collector regulated trash bags instead of paying for a trash collection fee. Each bag is relatively cheap, but each one is about the size of an adult t-shirt, size small. It’s pricey to keep buying bags, so what do you do? You make less trash. Problem solved. In the states, each house has one trash can. Here, one apartment complex has one trash can. Not recycling is considered a crime against humanity. Needless to say, we have learned to have miniscule amounts of trash.
  • In most restaurants, tables have trash cans near them to throw away napkins. No disposable plates or utensils. And separate places to throw food trash away and plastics, papers, etc. So food waste can be composted. Papers and plastics recycled. Plates and utensils washed. SO WHAT DO THEY ACTUALLY THROW AWAY?
  • Napkins in restaurants are the same size -and the same thickness- of Kleenex tissues.
  • Clothing dryers are nonexistent. Out of all the people we know in Korea, ONE FAMILY has a clothing dryer. ONE. Granted, we don’t know that many people, but we know enough to know dryers are not widely used. Most home stores don’t even carry clothing dryers. Why? Well, we asked around, and this was what we got. 1) Dryers take up too much space. We are living in a space 1.5 times the size of my parent’s closet. Yes, there is not enough space. 2) Electricity bills would be through the roof. I guess electricity is expensive here? Anyways, running a dryer takes A LOT. And if you live in a building with about 200 other families, it can add up. So everyone owns a drying rack. And sometimes they put it on their deck, or just in the street. I still haven’t gotten use to the stiff socks yet. But what is interesting is that our American clothing gets super stiff after air drying. But our Korean clothing stays really soft. I’m beginning to doubt American clothing integrity.
  • Everything is smaller. Food is smaller, clothing is smaller, people are smaller. I guess this has multiple pluses to it. 1) more people in less space. 2) Larger people are encouraged to become smaller to eliminate discomfort.
  • Free is taken seriously here. We went to Costco yesterday and had a snack at the food court. There seemed to be something that everyone but us was doing. Each table had their own pile of onions. And they were eating them with the mustard and ketchup. But not on their hotdogs. My mom’s friend who took us quickly explained. Onions are a health food. But onions are relatively pricey. So these Costco shoppers took advantage of the free onion toppings in the food court. We were literally the only table without onions. I’m not even kidding! EVERY TABLE WAS EATING ONIONS. Except us. It was hilarious. I don’t know how good onions with mustard and ketchup tastes, but they didn’t care. They were free. And they’re a health food. That’s all that matters.
  • And as we were leaving my sister saw some woman carrying 30 or so napkins back to her table. My mom’s friend concluded, “She’s probably taking them home.” HAHA. We didn’t see her cleaning up any major messes with those napkins.
  • The subway system. Enough said.
  • If you forget something. There are these people you can call and they’ll go to your house, retrieve your item, and bring it to you. I don’t know if that’s efficiency or just creepiness.
  • No tax. Everything is a…clean fee. No messing around with pennies, etc. usually in whole or half dollars (won). Makes it much easier to pay as you’re not fishing around for their penny equivalent all the time.
  • Entertainment is organized. For the most part. Makes it easier to follow.
  • Most mom-and-pop restaurants have a small menu. But not to fear, what they’re missing is probably offered next door. One restaurant may specialize in a certain type of soup, for example. But next door may be a noodle house. And next door to that will be a sushi place, etc. Since there’s not much to choose from, food comes out super quick. Usually in the time it would take you to order your food in the states, you would already be eating here.

But besides Korean efficiency, I’ve been learning a lot of different things. In my class, I’m the only person from the states. And I’m the only person who only knows one language fluently. Actually, I think I’m the only person who doesn’t know at least three languages. The average person knows English, their home countries language, another language or dilaect of something, and now they’re learning Korean. The girl sitting next to me knows English, Mandarin, a little of Cantonese, another Chinese dialect, and now she’s learning Korean. I know…English…yea…

I always knew the world was a big place.

Much, much bigger than anyone could imagine.

One thing I know for sure I will never adopt from the Korean culture: always being late.


Entry filed under: Everyday ramblings..

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