I read an article recently discussing Korean sensitivity and explaining why Koreans are ‘hyper sensitive to criticisms from non-Koreans’. Before I even started reading, I felt that the answer was pretty obvious: surely Koreans don’t like it because the people complaining aren’t Korean themselves. In my eyes, it’s understandable why, as a native, you’d get annoyed by foreigners coming into your country, only to moan about the way the country is run.
Let’s be honest, every country has faults and things to complain about. Whether it be hating the entire Government, the ‘youths of today’, or simply the weather, you can always find things to moan about. And this is fine- in fact, it’s human nature. In England, I hate losing the majority of a pay cheque on taxes, bills, and my student loan. In Korea, I hate feeling unsafe whenever I’m on the roads. Yet while I would feel comfortable grumbling about England to English people, I wouldn’t be as comfortable doing the same about Korea to Koreans. Why? Because I’m a foreigner in Korea. It’s my choice to live here, to be in a different culture which I might not always understand or enjoy.
Sure, some things in Korea seem illogical, and there are flaws to the system (as you’d find in any country). And while I might moan to my nearest and dearest about these things, I’d never assume that it’s my place to criticise the country openly and publicly to Koreans. Firstly because it’s disrespectful. And secondly, because I know I’d get defensive if a foreigner berated England in front of me (and yes, even if I agreed with what they were saying).
What are some things which expats complain about in Korea? Xenophobia and driving. What do expats mock Koreans for loving? K Pop and Kimchi. I’m not going to lie and say that I never get angry about things in Korea, and I also don’t think Kimchi is the best food in the world, nor K Pop the best music. But that doesn’t mean I spend my time bitching to Koreans about their country, or laughing at their taste in food/music.
Imagine if someone came into your country, and slated something your nation is proud of. What if a foreigner came into the UK and ranted about how stupid British people are for loving tea, or how the BBC is a load of rubbish. I know it would get my back up. Or what if they complained about all the stupid drivers who are way over the speed limit, or the drunken violence and debauchery that takes place every weekend. I’d feel like it wasn’t their place to say. In fact, the most common phrase I hear people in England saying when they hear foreigners complaining is: ‘If you don’t like it, go back to your own country.’
I am aware that I’ve spoken negatively about the Korean education system before, but my feelings towards that come from sympathy towards my students, who I see suffering and stressed every day. And at the same time, I did acknowledge the merits of the system, which produces continually high grades. I wouldn’t voice my opinions so loudly about the other things in Korea which I am not so positive about.
So I feel the reason why Koreans don’t respond well to criticism from non-Koreans is quite straightforward: 99% of people feel loyalty for their country. Why would they enjoy seeing expats laughing at them and ridiculing them, hating on everything and everyone. While they might also dislike things about Korea, it is still their country and they will defend it to outsiders. And I know that I would defend my country in the same way.