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The Same Same Questions

I've been in Korea for five and half years now. That's right. I'm pushing six years on this overcrowded little peninsula, though it seems more like two. At this point I've become quite comfortable with the place. I have a grip on the language, I know all the crazy food, and I think I have a good understanding of a culture that is, at times, difficult for Westerners to wrap their heads around.

Despite this, I still get the same asinine questions from perfectly bright Korean people who know that I'm not fresh off the boat. It really amazes me.

For example, I was teaching an adult class last week and we were talking about Korean food, as we often do (I'm a big fan). They were quizzing me a bit on my knowledge of Korean cuisine, and I was describing my favorite dishes, such as nakji bokkum (small octopus friend in chili paste), goding-eo jorim (mackeral steamed in chili paste), and dwaeju guk bap (pork rice soup). After about ten minutes it became quite clear to them that not only do I appreciate Korean food, but that I actually know a great deal about it. Just then, one of the smartest students in the class - a dentist who speaks great English - looked at me in that earnest Korean way and asked:

"But... Do you know how to use chopsticks?"

I almost slapped her.

A similiar thing happened in another adult class last year. I often drink green tea while teaching. They have complementary bags of it in the office of the adult class building, which I like to take advantage of. So one day I walked into the classroom, sat down, and took a sip of my green tea.

"Uhng!!???!!" One of my students uttered this Korean sound of shock and disbelief. It's gutteral and really sounds like: "What the fuck am I seeing?"

"What?" I enquired.

"You... you... You can drink the green tea?"

"Sure," I said, taking another sip.

"But, but... but... I thought the foreigners could not drink the green tea."

"What do you mean?" I saw her forehead bunching up and her eyes working overtime, as if she was trying to solve an impossible calculus question.

I continued, "Many foreigners drink green tea."

"Really? It is not too bitter? I thought all the foreigners drink the coffee."

She looked at me with utter confusion, as if her synapses were sorting out something beyond her realm of comprehension, something alien. For a moment I thought I saw smoke coming out of her ears.


Six years. It's almost been six years and I still get:

"Have you ever tried kimchi?"

"Can you eat the spicy food? The Korean food is too spicy for most foreigners."

"Do you know that Korea has four distinct seasons."

"Do you know pajeon? It's Korean pizza."

"Wow! You can READ KOREAN???????????????"

Man oh man. I just don't get it.

Neither do they.



LoL I'm so sorry, but...

I find this post to be hilarious for some reason. I'm still giggling like a little girl..just goes to show you that it doesn't matter what your occupation is. we humans are inherently stupid. ha!

Re: LoL I'm so sorry, but...

Laugh away. That was part of the intent ;)
Try it after 10 years of the same inane stupid questions. And questions from FRIENDS that have known you that long! I had an ex, who had known me for 5 years, tell a waitress to bring me a KNIFE AND FORK, after we had had multiple meals out together and my chopstick skills were better than his!
Oh God.

The thing is is that Koreans are actually being really nice when they do this shit. They think that they're helping you to adapt to a culture that you can't possibly understand.



I know. That's the aggravating part. I always feels there's an element of racism underneath it, this assumption that we're too stupid to understand...whereas, I often find the opposite to be true...hehe
i think 'wanting to slap dentists' should be a more frequently-used tag

this is great! traveling in asia, we get these sort of freaking questions every day. i can only imagine what it's like to get them for 5 years straight. ug.
I find it funny that I was sipping green tea as I read this!


But tell me teacher. Do you find the stench of kimchi on my breath totally offensive?



It's funny that after nearly six years that the same questions are asked.
It's also funny that after nearly six years the same questions are written about.

It reminds me of Paul Theroux, who said he knew it was time to get out of Singapore and leave his university job and follow his dreams of becoming a full time writer, after watching a gecko for an abnormally long time crawling across the wall.

Maybe chopstick question pieces are the 21st Century version of the gecko.

Maybe you're right ;)


Hey, dude, been reading you for 6 years and decided to come to Korea to teach. Ive got some bongos and a faux Guatamalan poncho. Do you think I could jam with you and your supportive expat cheerleaders? No idea how to teach, but I can use chopsticks.

Ben, U.S.A.


i've been reading this blog for less than 6 weeks

and i'm hooked.
very good writing and pretty funny, too.
keep posting, dude!

Re: i've been reading this blog for less than 6 weeks

Thanks man!



Isn't it amazing that Korean's think of kimchi as too spicy for foreigners? Have they heard of Thai food. Or Mexican?