Negativity, Sensitivity, And Defending Your Country

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.

9 thoughts on “Negativity, Sensitivity, And Defending Your Country

  1. I have to disagree. I think if a Korean doesn’t like something about their country, and a foreigner said they don’t like the same thing, why wouldn’t the Korean be ok with that? They both agree on the same thing. It shouldn’t matter what country you’re from. I’ve talked with many Koreans about things I don’t like here such as the driving, the bus drivers drive, and the impoliteness. And Koreans agree with me. They don’t try to defend their country. Wrong is wrong, and it doesn’t matter what country you’re from. Just my thoughts.


  2. I understand what you mean about talking to and discussing things with Koreans, I would also do the same with my Korean friends.
    I mean more the public moaning and complaining to Koreans in general e.g. on Facebook groups. In which case as a Korean, I’d get annoyed if I saw a group of foreigners all moaning about the country.


  3. Interesting article, and it’s kind of cool that something The Korean and I wrote five years ago is still getting treatments.

    That said, I think you’re writing this from the position of a person who isn’t planning to make Korea their permanent home, and who therefore has a smaller stake in what happens here. This is not true of every expat — just like back in your home country, you’d probably respond differently to complaints from “foreigners” who were there as a tourist, in the middle of a multi-year exchange program, or a landed immigrant who was a beginner in the local language, or one who was fluent, and also a regular newspaper reader well versed in the culture and social conditions. And those complaints would deserve different levels of attention, and defensiveness would be more or less appropriate a reaction accordingly.

    Some of us complaining expats have families here, and complain about education because our kids are going to go though the system/meat grinder.

    In the end, all I ask is that the defensiveness ends once someone demonstrates that they know what they’re talking about, and aren’t just an interloper on a drive-by whining. I’d say that’s usually the case, especially once one develops a good sense of tact, and is able to show extensive local knowledge of the conditions, and at best a working ability in the language. But not always.

    That’s all I ask… but if I foist my moans with full force on new people, the first time I meet them, I’m being a thoughtless jerk, and setting myself up for an awkward reaction, aren’t I?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the comment! Your article was really interesting, hence my post.
      I agree that long-term expats/ people with families etc have the right to complain, especially about things which directly effect you. I’ve been here 2 years and obviously do complain about things, what I disagree with is groups of people complaining about everything/ mocking (the way people slate K Pop etc, which if you don’t like is fine, but it doesn’t hurt anyone!) And the way in which people complain.
      As you said, it’s the kind of full-on moaning without any kind of consideration that I disagree with/ ceaseless hating on every little thing about Korea.


      1. Though it won’t make your Korean friends who’ve been victim of a complaining expat yawp feel better, I just remind myself that the people slagging Kpop are the same tools who would be boring people in their home countries by running down One Direction and Justin Bieber and Vanessa Hudgens if they were in their own countries.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Though what you said is true that people tend to get defensive when outsiders criticize their culture/country/government, etc., and it is certainly understandable, wouldn’t it better to do our part in chipping away at this form of tribalism? I see no good coming from tribalism or any other form of collectivism.


  5. Most of the people who I hear moaning about Korea are actually Koreans.

    Amazing how many rich Koreans decided to have their children born overseas so their children won’t have to bare the shame of having Korean nationality.


  6. Hi
    I would share my view of KOREA and Koreans. Of course every person like their own country and culture but not necessary. Every country and culture has their merits and demerits. But when you come to argue about a country or culture you must be a global citizen. One must understand the country and culture have suffered a lot in each generation lives. Also all the countries invaded by many other countries that influence their stability. We are living now and criticizing the country people. We must understand how the country was in earlier generation. We must thank them now because they have given a wonderful place to live and we must give this wonderful place to our future generation.

    Right now here am writing in English, it is a gift from the British who conquered my nature. Now I can give my criticism about British, in the way the Indians working as a slave all over the world. At the same time, I must thank and respect them for their effort to make people live in a right way. After a half century, still no other development for people to live without suffering.
    So here am in Korea, I cannot criticize the Korean and Korea. It’s far better than our lives in INDIA. Its depends on the person they came from. It’s not necessary for me to like my own country. I hate to live there and love to LIVE here….. But that’s entirely not possible to live my whole life here…. I must go back to India and leave my remains for our future generation…. Let’s LIVE TOGETHER…..

    Liked by 1 person

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