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Is Korea really unkind hosts to foreigners?

I find the survey results reported in this piece in the KT (also noted by commenter cm here) interesting, especially when combined with this comment by thekorean praising Korean political elites for uniting behind multiculturalism. I say interesting because it seems to indicate that both of Korea’s biggest political parties are pushing a multicultural agenda very much at odds with public sentiment. With the foreign-born making up just 2% of the population, it’s probably not much to worry about now, but if this trend continues and grows, that gap between the governors and the governed might lead to the birth of so-called “far-right” parties in the future.

Like I said, if you want to go multi-culti—and it’s questionable whether the government really does want to go “multicultural”—you’d better get some sort of social consensus first.

But anyway, back to the survey results. According to the poll, only 36.2 percent of Koreans agreed to the coexistence of various cultures in one country. But does this make Koreans unkind hosts? I’m a foreigner living in Korea, and if a pollster asked me if I though bringing differing cultures together in one country was a good idea, I would have answered, “probably not.” I’ve been here 15 years, and I’ve found Koreans wonderful hosts who sometimes go out of their way to be helpful to foreigners, both at the personal and official levels. If you’re planning to stay, though, Koreans—and I’m sorry about generalizing—expect you to do things the Korean way. When in Rome and all. I don’t find this particularly unreasonable or unkind.

Particularly interesting—even if not surprising for me, having been raised in America—was this result:

The survey also showed, in general, people experiencing more education or events related to multiculturalism or those more frequently meeting foreigners were more open-minded. However, the openness rather fell among those having foreign residents as family members or those who “very often” meet and talk to foreigners.

Ignorance might be the root of hate, but contempt usually requires familiarity.

About the author: Just the administrator of this humble blog.

  • brier

    Interesting revelations about having to deal with family members in that survey. Most of immigration to Korea is through marriage. How many F2 visas and F5 are obtained without a marriage to a Korean national? I would say more than 99% of immigration to Korea is marriage dependant and that complicates the matter. I’m differentiating between a residency visa that allow you to work and a work visa that allows for temporary residency.

  • cm

    I have two points to make.

    That survey was done by the Korean government’s Ministry of gender equality and family affairs (여성가족부). They’ve always been a controversial figure in South Korea with allegations of radical methods to achieve their goals. They are also Korea’s version of feminists. I’m not saying for certain that their research is horseshit designed to further their agenda, it’s just that I want to see other researches done before I draw similar conclusions.

    Second point. South Korea really does not have a rational immigration policy at all. The only “immigrants” are the 3-D workers who are contracted for 3 to 5 years, in which after they must leave the country. The system is designed so that they will not stay and reproduce. The other immigrants are the mail order brides from other countries of Asia. Koreans who are seeing these types of foreigners (men who work in factories, and women who sell themselves to marry Korean farmers), are going to form negative stereotypes, with no chance of broad experience meeting and living with these people.

    If the Korean government is truly interested in furthering multiculturalism and increasing immigration, the first step for them is to actually come up with a coherent national immigration policy. But they don’t, because they themselves do not really want to open the flood gate.

  • Creo69

    “I have two points to make.”

    What exactly is your point? Seems like your second point kind of contradicts the point you are trying to make by discrediting the “Korean government’s Ministry of gender equality and family affairs (여성가족부)” in your first point.

  • Banana Stache

    I guess I don’t know what “multicultural” means in the sense that I’m not sure how Korean Culture is affected by the presence of immigrants and their respective cultures. I mean that in the small sense – the profound impact that the Japanese and US presence has had on Korea in the last century is probably not what is meant by “multiculturalism”, and this impact has been discussed, documented, demonstrated, etc. A definitive culture shift could be (and has been) demonstrated from pre- to post- Japanese colonial Korea, as well pre- and (well we haven’t quite made it to post-) US Occupied Korea.

    The definition of pre- and current “multicultural” Korea… is what? The presence of other cultures is not the same as the massive influence weilding presence of a “superpower”.

    What effect do Koreans “opposed” to multiculturalism think that it will have on their lives? Any?

  • eujin

    I’m just curious what is being referred to by “Koreans…expect you to do things the Korean way”. Have you got a few examples for me? There’s a number of things Romans do that I wouldn’t advise doing if I were in Rome. Wear a seatbelt, for example.

  • http://rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    Are you saying Romans excessively wear seatbelts?

  • eujin

    Are you saying Romans excessively wear seatbelts?

    :-) I’m tempted to reply “yes I am”, but since we should probably try to keep the discussion serious, no I’m not. I was referring to situations I’ve experienced where I’ve insisted on wearing a seatbelt as a passenger and offended Korean friends and colleagues. It’s one of the situations I can think of where doing one thing can be offensive to some, but not doing it can be offensive to others. I know a few non-Korean drivers who would be angry if their passengers refused to buckle up. Since you’ve lived in Korea longer than I have, you might have examples of other, situations. It’s always good to keep an avoid-list of ways one can inadvertently offend others.

    Probably Romans do wear seatbelts, but their traffic rules are somewhat different to many other places.

  • http://www.sperwerslog.com Sperwer

    If your “friends” get offended by your wearing a seatbelt, you need to some new (real) friends.

  • eujin

    “Avoid-list” is the wrong word in the above, because, as Sperwer points out, even if they insist on me doing it “the Korean way”, I’m still not going to do it. But then I suspect there are a number of Koreans who feel the same way, at least about wearing seatbelts.

    Actually one situation I can remember quite clearly was a professor friend, older than me, but a really nice guy and to be fair to him we weren’t going that far. The conversation went something along the lines of;
    “You don’t need to wear a seatbelt, I’m a safe driver”
    “But I’d prefer to anyway”
    “But you don’t need to”

  • SomeguyinKorea

    ” it’s probably not much to worry about now, but if this trend continues and grows, that gap between the governors and the governed might lead to the birth of so-called “far-right” parties in the future.”

    There have been far-right groups in South Korea in the past. They didn’t last. And in today’s South Korea, how long will it take for these parties to be painted as being a bit too “Japanese”? No, they would never garner much support.

  • cm

    “Unkind hosts to foreigners”?

    The title is so wrong.

    The title should have been “Koreans skeptical of multiculturalism”.

    Is it racist to not want immigration and multiculturalism in Korea?

    I don’t think so. But it looks like the author of the article has bought into that.

  • eujin

    Is it racist to not want immigration and multiculturalism in Korea?

    Perhaps not. But is it racist to think that white people shouldn’t live with black people and that both would be better off having their own separate countries? Apartheid South Africa was the only country to recognise the independence of the Bantustans. Israel partly recognised them. Clearly the apartheid system was racist, even before one gets into the issue of whether the whites had the better benches, bus stops, beaches etc.

  • cm

    Apples and oranges eujin.

    Whites and Blacks are already integrated in one country where they lived side by side for hundreds of years. Yes it would be racist, to expel blacks to a country especially made to house them.

    Different experience for Korea where the cross road has been reached, having to decide whether to allow in more foreign workers and immigrants, and then have all kinds of separate ethnic towns with their own communities.

  • eujin

    The thing about apples and oranges is, they’re both fruit.

    At its root the apartheid policy was based on the idea that it’s not beneficial to either the black community or the white community for them to be living together, intermingling and marrying. That they didn’t have the historical, legal or moral right to do what they did is a very important part of it. But the underlying idea that they shouldn’t be together was still racist.

    Would it be racist to allow immigration if they were marrying into Korean families, but not allow people to bring their families with them and live in ghettos? Because you’d still get the issues with multiculturalism, unless you were determined to eradicate any cultural heritage the spouses brought with them and tried to pass on to their kids.

  • cm

    Again, fruits and vegetables.

    Apartheid’s motive is race based policy, so it it racist.

    Korea’s case is much more complex. Although there will be few Koreans who subscribe to race based goals, it is not the prime driving reason for anti multiculturalism. It’s more to do with fear of economic chaos, increasing budgetary pressure to support mass immigration, and other the harmful side effects that come with multiculturalism. It’s no more racist as those people in the West who wants to slow or even stop immigration due to stress and burden on society. To integrate newcomers, huge amounts of money must be spent. American studies have also shown that the biggest users of welfare, by percentage, are the immigrants.

    If Korea wants to experiment with immigration, then it should learn from the mistakes made by America and Europe. Multiculturalism should be redefined as Assimilation of new immigrants. If they want to live in South Korea, then they must adopt Korean language, culture, and Korean ways, in return for fair and equal treatment of all ethnic and racial backgrounds.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    “American studies have also shown that the biggest users of welfare, by percentage, are the immigrants. ”

    There we have it…This is the average Korean’s opinion. It’s yours. Fact is, the average Korean doesn’t think about these things. He or she’s got bigger concerns.

    Once again, wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a discussion about Korean issues without hearing American biases?

  • http://askakorean.blogspot.com thekorean

    I’ve been here 15 years, and I’ve found Koreans wonderful hosts who sometimes go out of their way to be helpful to foreigners, both at the personal and official levels.

    Not to go all Metro on you, but that probably has a lot to do with the fact that you are white.

  • cm

    “There we have it…This is the average Korean’s opinion. It’s yours. Fact is, the average Korean doesn’t think about these things. He or she’s got bigger concerns. Once again, wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a discussion about Korean issues without hearing American biases?”

    SomeguyinKorea, the KT article mentioned, says over third of Koreans says otherwise. And that voice is going to get much louder as welfare expands, and more foreign workers enter and compete for jobs. Why isn’t it a Korean issue?

    And it doesn’t necessarily have to do with race, look at the responses after the Suwon woman’s murder by a Chinese Korean. Chinese Koreans are the same race and same genes, but their problems in South Korea comes from the fact they have a different culture, different political views, and even written language. They cluster around in cheaper areas for support, but this leads to South Korean resentment that they’re bringing poverty and slums.
    It’s more to do with economic prejudice/discrimination, as people don’t want poor people moving into Korean cities. Also this is an explaination for thekorean’s comment at #17. Whites are rich, Japanese are rich, other Asians are not. “We don’t mind the rich people, but we don’t want the poor”.

  • http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/ jefferyhodges

    Eujin (#9), next time with your professor friend as you’re buckling up:

    Prof: “You don’t need to wear a seatbelt — I’m a safe driver.”
    You: “But I’d prefer to anyway.”
    Prof: “But you don’t need to. I drive safely.”
    You: “Sure, but what about all those other crazy drivers?”
    Prof: “Good point.” (Buckles seat belt.)

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • http://globalasianculture.com Liz

    @17

    I don’t think that’s true. Just because you’re white in Korea doesn’t mean you’re let off the hook any easier than if you are brown, purple, or any shade in between.

    Also, having worked with @rjkoehler in an office setting in previous years, I know neither he nor any other Westerner is immune. Though he will never admit to it (or maybe he just doesn’t care), Robert does a fine job — in fact much better than most white expats in KR I know — of dealing with South Korean perception of his different-ness, and *not* grumbling about it.

    #LetterOfRecommendation

  • cm

    Yes, immigrants are treated so badly, that so many of them don’t want to leave.

    http://news.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2012/04/20/2012042000194.html?news_Head1

    Don’t they know they are treated very poorly in Korea? Yet more and more are coming and want to stay indefinitely. Someone should tell them and straighten them out.

    The policy of importing cheap labor to suppress worker salary will one day give rise to anti-immigrant right wing parties. The problem isn’t that Korea lacks workers, it’s that salaries for physical labor work is just too low for native Koreans to take.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    “SomeguyinKorea, the KT article mentioned, says over third of Koreans says otherwise. And that voice is going to get much louder as welfare expands, and more foreign workers enter and compete for jobs. ”

    Hyperbole, much? No, that is your conclusion. Nothing more, nothing less. As someone who uses surveys in his own research, I would like to see the questions of the survey. Some questions can be leading. Moreover, I would surmise that it creates the false impression that it is a strong concern. Does the questionnaire even tried to answer this? No, probably not. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people don’t give it much thought.

  • Mellow Fellow

    @20
    “Though he will never admit to it (or maybe he just doesn’t care), Robert does a fine job — in fact much better than most white expats in KR I know — of dealing with South Korean perception of his different-ness, and *not* grumbling about it.”

    Like most whites here, he stands to gain financially if he effectively deals with the “South Korean perception of his different-ness.” Successful whites in Korea are what the African American community would consider to be “house niggas.” :)

  • Granfalloon

    I think Mr. Koehler hit on something with his contrast of the terms “multiracial” and “multicultural.” Not sure if I can put in my two cents here without having a clearer understanding of what we’re talking about.

    As far as I can tell, the bulk of government programs involving immigrants are all aimed at helping them assimilate, I.e. become more Korean. I see language classes and workshops to teach Filipina housewives how to make kimchi. Aside from the occassional “international festival,” I have no idea what people are talking about when discussing how “multiculturalism” is being pushed on Koreans.

  • http://www.sperwerslog.com Sperwer

    @23

    “cigar store white man” is both a more polite and more accurate term. Although, it’s also not quite accurate, since whites weren’t the native inhabitants ( unless there wassome Ainu-like people in the peninsula whose existence is yet undiscovered/undisclosed.

  • http://www.sperwerslog.com Sperwer

    I have no idea what people are talking about when discussing how “multiculturalism” is being pushed on Koreans.

    talk about multiculturalism by represenatives of both the right and the left, to the extent that is positive, is just pandering to the korean ambition to be a modern, advanced country, as that notion is crudely understood, especially by policy wonks enamored of puerile “benchmark” thinking. It is a confusion/hypocrisy that will only complicate the underlying problems associated with effectively integrating ethnic minorities into korean society.

  • http://www.chiamattt.com chiamattt

    Offer work and education visa’s to any Korean family, and most of them would embrace “multiculturalism” over there in the “advanced” world where life isn’t so full of very narrow and rigid social standing check lists.

    If any of you are married to a Korean, you will def know about the invisible check-lists. They’re pretty annoying.

  • http://www.chiamattt.com chiamattt

    I also think the term “multicultural” isn’t being use properly. Perhaps the government should be promoting the idea of “tolerance” instead.

  • http://rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    Also, having worked with @rjkoehler in an office setting in previous years, I know neither he nor any other Westerner is immune. Though he will never admit to it (or maybe he just doesn’t care), Robert does a fine job — in fact much better than most white expats in KR I know — of dealing with South Korean perception of his different-ness, and *not* grumbling about it.

    First, thanks, Liz. You know what it is, though—frankly, I don’t expect to be welcomed as “part of the group,” so to speak. I speak with an accent, I’m still not entirely comfortable with Korean group dynamics, and I still behave in a way that may sometimes strike Koreans as unpredictable. I’m treated different because I am different. Sure, Korean society may be relatively “closed” compared to, say, societies with longer histories of ethnic and cultural pluralism, but I’m the one who made the decision to come and live here, and at the end of the day, it’s my responsibility to make the adjustments required.

  • yuna

    The seatbelt example is so stupid because it’s not that they are insisting you stop wearing a seatbelt, it’s just that *if* they are not used to seeing people put on seatbelt, or thinking it’s required, then they *think* they are doing you a favour by telling you that you do not need to, because to their minds, it’s like seeing someone come in and put out their cigarette where they know smoking is allowed.
    Same in Japan:
    http://www.stippy.com/japan-life/first-time-gaijin-dad-5/

    I have had this discussion with many Japanese taxi drivers but every time it has been in vain. I’d love some advice on this matter. How do you rebut the comeback “don’t worry I’ve never had an accident before” or better yet “but the customer looks so uncomfortable with that tight seatbelt on”.

  • yuna

    As for the overall topic of discussion, time and time again, the ‘welcoming’ factor depends on the initial reason/motivation behind the move to any new place. If I choose to move somewhere but my decision was mainly based on “need, i.e. job/marraige etc” rather than “want i.e. love for the (pop) culture, love for the people based on what I know, willingness to integrate and become part of” then of course one is going to have a harder time feeling welcomed and get the expat blues, no matter what.
    For places like Korea, this separates the immigrant/foreign resident groups quite cleanly into two parties, the old school and the new wave. Of course disillusionment can happen for the latter group too at some point.

  • yuna

    As for your “accent” Robert, I have the cure for that (and for anyone else, Foreigners speaking Korean, Koreans speaking Japanese, Japanese speaking Korean)
    It’s called using the correct Roman alphabet for the Korean consonants, and realizing that there is a difference between ㅋ, ㄱ, ㄲ is not just a simple 1-to-1 of k,g,gg, but where it falls in a word etc. and there is actually a (very slight) intonation difference which exists in the language.

  • cm

    Agreed with #31. Korea really should stop importing so much foreign labor, which it does no good to nation’s image abroad, taking in people who are forced and who really don’t want to be in Korea. Let the wages rise so that low wages doesn’t make Koreans shunning the low wage jobs, and then lay back and see the domestic economy come to life again, as Koreans spend the money earned in Korea, in Korea.

  • Q

    A definitive culture shift could be (and has been) demonstrated from pre- to post- Japanese colonial Korea, as well pre- and (well we haven’t quite made it to post-) US Occupied Korea.

    Sounds like NK and PRC historians’ view. As for Japan, everyone knows that her history would be demonstrated from pre-and post- Fukushima disaster, or pre- and post- admiral Matthew C. Perry or General McArthur. Chinese history could be views from the periods of being ruled by Northen Asians (Manchu, Khitan, Mongol, etc.) vs. fragments of periods of Han Chinese being in a dominant political status, like the current communist China.

  • keith

    As a white guy, I get treated well here. I behave well, I dress well, I’m paid more than the average Korean. I held the door open to let a young Korean family get their baby out the door in its pushchair. They thanked me in English, they didn’t have to, and I’d rather they thanked me in Korean to be honest. Who wouldn’t help some people out by spending a little time (a minuscule fraction of my day) to help? All I expect from Korea as a resident here is to be treated decently. I live by the ‘Golden Rule’.

    I respect people who deserve it, that’s just who I am. When I see some insane Korean women push past old people, mothers, disabled and give a cakling laugh when they ‘score a chair’ on the subway, I have about zero percent respect for those scum. If those bitches could run they could teach their sons to play Rugby properly.

    One day I’d think it would be interesting to do a ‘trading places’ type deal. Put on make-up and wear really shitty clothes and see how I get treated then?

    I know I have a privileged life here, sometimes I even feel a little guilty. But it doesn’t mean I take the piss, and I really feel for Koreans who are having a bad time.

    It’s nice to be nice, and it’s even better to ignore the race of someone, and just be a decent human being. Black, white or Asian? I don’t give a damn as long as you’re a decent human.

  • eujin

    Thanks for the advice Jeffery. If only it were that easy to persuade the locals to adopt my “immigrant ways”.

  • JG29A

    @yuna #32:

    That tripe again, huh?

  • Anonymous_Joe

    @Keith 35: How long have you been here? Have you been here long enough to get screwed on a contract? My first contract here, I opened their hagwon, packed in the students, led a blemish free life in a Gyeonggi-do town where I stuck out like a white guy in Korea, never missed a day, did a great job, and virtually everything they asked. You can guess how it ended.

    I’ve found that Koreans, that is the mothers and grandmothers who work in shops and restaurants, are kind and generous. On subways, it’s the mothers and grandmothers who want to give up their seats to me when I’m holding my baby. (I usually politely decline.) When my wife was pregnant, the young guys or the adjussis didn’t get up, even from the row of seats that were preferrenced for pregnant women.

    Generally, I’ve found that Koreans are ok so long as they don’t have some kind of power or advantage over you. If they’re your employer, they (widespread generalization alert) have no problem in or compunction about screwing you. If they are in a car and you are walking in a crosswalk, they have the power of a car, and law be damned.

  • yuna

    It’s a bit sad and skew-related but

    said he believed Japan and South Korea were ideal states, as they had “taken a stand against multiculturalism and Marxism in the 1970s”

    from
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17789206

  • cm

    Anonymous_Joe, those complaints about Korean bosses are same complaints made by Korean workers. Believe it or not, Korean workers also run into same problems with their unethical bosses. It has nothing to do with you being foreign or racism/xenophobia or anything like that, other then the fact that it’s easier for them to take advantage of you.

  • http://askakorean.blogspot.com thekorean

    Just because you’re white in Korea doesn’t mean you’re let off the hook any easier than if you are brown, purple, or any shade in between.

    Even as I have no doubt that Robert is a stand-up guy who has adjusted quite well to living in Korea, the statement above strikes me as clueless.

    It’s no more racist as those people in the West who wants to slow or even stop immigration due to stress and burden on society.

    In other words, it is completely racist.

    If they’re your employer, they (widespread generalization alert) have no problem in or compunction about screwing you.

    If you know enough to give an alert, it would be better not to make that generalization in the first place.

  • cm

    It’s “racist” to want to slow or stop immigration? hmmm….

  • http://pawikoreapics.blogspot.com/ pawikirogii 石鵝

    maybe joe thinks he’s special cuz he snow. could it be that?

  • eujin

    In other words, it is completely racist.

    Perhaps the simile with Europe wasn’t the most useful one. From his comments, cm seems to be suggesting that people might be anti-immigration for many of the same reasons that people are anti unification with the North. If those are indeed the real reasons, I think it would be very hard to argue that people are against unification because they’re racist.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    @41 theKorean

    If you know enough to give an alert, it would be better not to make that generalization in the first place.

    I disagree. People make generalizations all the time. In fact, the ability to recognize patters and trends (generalizations) is a sign of intelligence. Here’s another: (Generally) Women smelling of souvlaki shouldn’t walk naked through a Greek freighter that’s been at sea for more than six months.

    My American university education and upbringing compelled me to issue the statement to soften the blow. I’ll say it flat out: Koreans (in general) have horrible reputations in business despite their constitutional right to reputation. (See, I did it again.)

    And it’s not like theKoreans don’t make generalization alerts. For example, there’s a high probability that university educated foreign born teachers not of Korean ethnicity are AIDS infested child molesting drug users. The difference is that theKoreans codify them into law.

  • doctoroh

    ‘Just because you’re white in Korea doesn’t mean you’re let off the hook any easier than if you are brown, purple, or any shade in between.’

    #41 – Even as I have no doubt that Robert is a stand-up guy who has adjusted quite well to living in Korea, the statement above strikes me as clueless’

    Absolutely. If you are from a poorer country, non-white country, you will
    find yourself ‘on the hook’ quite a few more times. I’m an older white guy, and have made the observation numerous times.

  • Arghaeri

    It’s called using the correct Roman alphabet for the Korean consonants, and realizing that there

    Uhh, why on earth wouldn’t you just use hangul!!!!

  • Arghaeri

    , I think it would be very hard to argue that people are against unification because they’re racist.

    Why not, I’m sure they’d be more favourably disposed if it was Proposed to unify with Australia :-)