Good points..being offended by stereotypical characterizations directed at foreigners by Koreans and also calling out fellow foreigners for their misbehavior are not mutually exclusive.
Drunk and Stupid: How Debauched Foreigners Feed Koreans’ Prejudices
Editor’s note: The author of this piece submitted it with the title “A Korean Conservative’s Perspective on MBC’s Infamous Report.” 3WM changed the head.
By Christopher Smith
Like many of the foreign community living in Korea I was appalled to watch MBC’s pathetic excuse for journalism that spread like wildfire through social networking sites in late May. I myself am an Englishman happily married for two years to a Korean woman. The news episode certainly did not represent me and many of my friends living in Korea past and present.
It is all too easy to see where the paranoia comes from about Western men with Korean women, especially in conservative Korean men. Their insecurities are heavily based in history and culture and also stem from the fact that traditional values in Korean culture favor the men; it is they who are in the more comfortable ground in a relationship, while women take on the roles of submissive and old-culture duties of cooking, cleaning, and generally taking care of the family. Men don’t want this to change and women do want this to change, so immediately the attraction of Western men for Korean women becomes apparent.
It is possible that Western women may be a little intimidating for Korean men as well; they do not and in most cases will not submit to the classic roles that many Korean men and their families would expect of them. Let us also not forget that Western men are just different and dangerous looking to many Korean women. We all know of women’s penchant for the bad, the mysterious, and the risky, and Western men fit this part well for Korean women.
Can any sympathy be given for MBC’s program and its producers? Some might say that there is no smoke without fire. Are Westerners blameless and merely the victims of Korea’s insecurities about foreigners? After all, they do use the same word for “alien,” “외국,” as they do for “foreigner.”
A few weeks ago there was a foreigner beach party on Wando beach, Jeollanamdo, which every teacher currently working in public schools in that province will have heard about. The party-goers caused quite a number of complaints to come from locals that included too much noise, rubbish on the beach, topless women, and, worst of the lot, the vandalism of a closed public toilet, which was broken into and although without any plumbing (the reason for the closure), was utilized anyway causing what I would imagine to be a particularly unpleasant sight and smell.
The regional coordinator of public school teachers was quite rightly furious and sent a strongly worded e-mail to all teachers warning against any future misconduct and declaring the price that would be paid if the perpetrators are identified.
But this was all a one-off, right? I mean people from any country and any culture can have a bad day, and there are plenty of expats living in Korea who would turn their noses up at such behavior. While this last statement is obviously true, perhaps it is time that those of us coming from Western English-speaking cultures admitted that we have a growing problem with our moral behavior and reputation in other countries and especially with regard to Asian countries.
Many people in the West are quite rightly concerned about Islamic cultures and the threat they provide to us. Although in many cases hamstrung by political correctness, many of us realize that there is a problem with this culture’s attitudes towards many moral issues, such as homosexuality, law, and women’s rights. We recognize that not all Muslims behave or think this way, but also that this is a cultural phenomenon. In the same way, we must recognize that the perception of Western behavior in the Far East is a cultural phenomenon embedded in our culture, and there is a problem with it.
Most native teachers working in Korea are labeled by their students and many around them as handsome, kind, beautiful, and fun. We take these compliments with an embarrassed smile–even though we realize that many of us do not fit this persona–but also with an air of thinking that it might be true in our case (I know I do). It is our actions when drunk, however, that upset a lot of people. It is when drunk that our kindness, appropriateness, and general awareness of ourselves go completely out of the window. Many act with a carelessness and arrogance, which is seen as a complete disregard and lack of respect for the culture that they find themselves in.
This is a less severe problem in countries like Korea, whose population of foreign visitors is mostly made up of workers, but is a major problem in more popular tourist areas such as Thailand. Full moon beach parties are infamous in Thailand, as foreign revelers wreck most of a small island in one night with drunken behavior and drug taking, leaving the locals to clean up the mess afterwards.
This, all too familiar, scene can be witnessed on Friday and Saturday nights in almost any town and city across my country of birth, the UK, and I suspect can also be seen in many towns and cities of other English-speaking countries. It is no surprise that Koreans notice this in their own cities too and are justifiably connecting it to our culture and questioning our morals.
The reason for the proliferation of acting stupidly and irresponsibly when drunk is entirely cultural. In Korea, if a person acts in a socially unacceptable way when drunk, they will feel shame for it because of the attitude of others towards them. In the revelrous corner of Western culture, if you can vomit over someone, have a fight, have a one-night stand, spend the night in a police cell, pick up an injury by doing something dangerous, offend a vulnerable minority, and/or lose control of your bowels or bladder, it has been a successful night and you will be rewarded for it with the fame and popularity your story of the evening will bring (though you may regret it later).
Even those of us who do not drink, or just drink and behave themselves, must share in the responsibility of improving matters. We can do this by not popularizing the stories of the morning after the night before. When someone brags of their exploits of defecating in a sink, being arrested, getting in a fight or worse, we need to stop laughing and meet it with derision and bring shame on the person who did it. This is the only way we will begin to cure this sickness of our culture.
People have been enjoying drinking alcohol for thousands of years and I am not suggesting everyone be teetotal or for prohibition. It is clear that fun times can be enjoyed when drinking without being irresponsible, but until we start admitting to ourselves that there is a problem with our culture we will continue to have a bad reputation with those countries outside our culture and specifically with Asian countries. There are many cultural differences that also cause conflicts but our drinking problem is something we could and should do something about not only to improve how others see us but for our own cultural health and prosperity, too.
MBC’s reporting may have been a prejudiced shambles but many Korean conservative people do think this way about the Westerns visiting their shores. What is so troubling about this is the fact that most of these visitors are teaching their children. Perhaps we can understand why they are a little less willing to give us the benefit of the doubt on such matters. Like a werewolf on a full moon, there is an alarming difference between how our culture behaves during the day and the change that occurs on a night out. It is these nights out in the cities all over Korea that are giving Western men the tarnished reputation of having loose morals with Korean women. The students do not have the experience of seeing us in our wolf-like state and this could be the reason behind our glowing reputation with the young, but our poor reputation with the old.
This undoubtedly has much to do with American soldiers in the past and present also, but we are still not helping. I have seen, first-hand, enough examples on the few nights out I have been on this year of general unsuitable behavior and poor moral judgment specifically related to the treatment of Korean women. These include two instances of fellow teachers cheating on their Korean girlfriends, obvious plans by Western men on making Korean women drunk in order to sleep with them, a man urinating out of the balcony of a 17th floor apartment complex, and threatening actions towards Korean passers-by on a street–all this in just two nights out.
It is easy to compare the possible treatment of women by Western men and Korean men and decide that because of the traditions in Korea, Korean women can potentially have a more equal and more pleasant relationship with a Western man, and it is easy to see why they are attracted to the idea.
Yet instead of focusing on comparisons and Korean men’s attitudes, maybe we should be focusing on ourselves and getting our own house in order. Until we do this there will always be some justification, even if it is just a sniff of justification, from those Korean conservatives that helped make and sympathize with MBC’s awful program.
Christopher Smith is an Englishman currently living in South Korea with his Korean wife. They live in a small city called Suncheon in the far south of the country, away from the more westernized hubs of Seoul and Busan which has given him a unique insight into the culture of South Korea. He first moved to Korea four years ago and has been here on and off ever since. He and his wife eventually plan to move back to England to live permanently.
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Good reporting but some points missing. Like who hired these people. The Korean gatekeepers of jobs. These gatekeepers hired people based on age. The younger the better . Under 30 Under 35 or Under 40. Teaching is not that difficult but living in another country can be. It was perhaps a fatal mistake by these gate keepers. Also from your photo you look closer to 40 then 30 , I am in the same boat. When I was early to mid 20s i was chasing the skirts and gettin drunk. Korean people of that age are gettin drunk and sleeping on the street too and chasing the skirts tonight too .
I am in Pusan . You are talking about Seoul , Some Koreans view Seoul as another country not Korea . More like Japan. Seoul is a cest pool . Most Koreans move from other cities to Seoul so they are out of view of their parents so they do whatever they want. I heard Seoul is 10 years ahead of pusan .
Korean men do the same or worse in other countries like Vietnam , Phil , Or Thailand .
Do you have Korean male friends ? If you do are they spending alot of time at church. ? Korean men and Society are not that much different then the Westerners they are daming. People are people. My Korean male friends whether they are married or single chase the skirts and get drunk and some of them sleep on the street .
Westerners are being made out to be devils. Korean men are far from being angels.
Korean women are tired of Korean men drinking , smoking and womanizing. Worse thing is the married men chase the skirts more then the single men.
While we foreigners do have our drunken moments, I’ll take 20-year-living-abroad-rowdiness to Korean company culture of getting trashed on soju any day. Blackoutkorea.com was ample evidence of this with drunken businessmen sprawled out in the public often times in a pool of their own vomit. Of course, the Korean government petitioned to take the site down.
I will also take your anecdotal stories of Western guys cheating on their girlfriends or getting Korean girls drunk with stories of massage parlors and mass prostitution. Or of a Korean male friend saying he doesn’t like the new iphone because with videochat his wife can see where he is.
As for Thailand, it has and continues to market itself as a party destination with full moon parties, drugs, and a plethora of other nefarious activities. It’s not evil foreigners destroying islands and asking the locals to come clean up. It’s an economically depressed country choosing to deal with drunk westerners for money.
My point, however, is not, ‘hey we’re bad, but they’re worse,’ and I agree to a certain extent that we are all ambassadors for our own countries when we’re out traveling. But many of us our young people that want to party all night, skinny dip in the ocean, challenge the social standings, and not be too concerned with rules.
And I don’t feel bad about that at all.
I have lived in Korea for a lot longer than four years, and I have lived in urban and rural areas. If we are to call ourselves a community, we do need to police ourselves and control this ridiculous behavior. However, it is more than encouraged by many Koreans, and it is occuring in a country that has one of the highest rate of alcohol consumption in the world. There are a number of foreigners here that are only here to party, but by continuing to associate all English speakers as somehow connected, this is also playing into predjudices.
My point is that there is not a communitty here. I do no think that I have a lot in common with most 20somethings, and I am not sure if anyone would associate me with them. I am a native English speaker, and I never would have written such generalizations about Koreans or the varied members of the English-speaking communitty here. Does that mean that I should email you about your misconceptions of Korean culture? Or that the youngings who come here are acting like youngings all over the world (Korea included?).
If this is a general call to action regarding social behaviours, then I applaud it. But I am not sure that would justify the generalizations you use to suppport your points.
We are not responsible for how Korean's view us. Korean's let us in so if anything, they should be setting the example. But drive around at night and tell me what you see, though-Korean men coming out of room salons, motels, bars, and singing rooms drunk out of there face. They urinate wherever and have a total disregard for common courtesy. It is diplorable behaviour-if you think there is some standard of actions people should abide by while living their own lives. This means, freedom is not to be wasted-no pun intended. As long as you are not hurting others and are merely a passing eye-sore, then all good I think. But this goes for us, too.
That said, I rarely see foreigners acting like this. Yes, some get drunk and pass out but mostly, like mentioned above in other posts, it is a young guy who is just having fun. I never see 40 year old foreign guys passed out on some park bench. It is 40 year old Korean guys-the people the younger generation look up to. No one is looking to us for examples in morality. We are barely tolerated, never mind being role models. Mostly, younger people are just being what they are-young. We all are or were so I dont see anything out of the ordinary in what we are doing here. To say we have to sent some example here in South Korea is comical. Honestly, I think we do. It may be because we no rights here but still, we act pretty decently.
If Korea wants foreigners who act more like a church-going grandmothers, they should increase the pay for teaching, put us up in accomodations that are not like dorm rooms at a university, and hire older, more "mature" teachers. Teaching should not be about age, but here it is because it is a money making biz first, and then about the teaching. That is not by accident so you reap what you sow. We are part of the circus so clown around I say.
As mentioned on so many other threads, Korea has many problems-foreigners being here and having fun is not one of them. You or some people in Korea may try to make it look that way, but that hardly makes it so.
When I lived in Taipei my Chinese landlord did not rent to Korean men since they would drink too much . make noise at night , and fight .
When I was in Bangkok I saw many people enjoying the nightlife with ladyboys , transgendered , normal bar girls . Yes the Korean men took these people to their hotels . That can explain how Korean housewifes got Aids from their husbands .
Sometimes those you think are angels are devils and those you think are devils are angels .
Men are men . Dont fool yourself . Their is nothing special about a Korean man . Just ask Korean women who would rather date and marry a westerner even they have no house and money in the bank .
If someone wants to judge me by other people's actions, so be it. I for one think that it is useless comparing foreingers and Koreans. Just focus on your own life and leading one that you can be proud of, whatever it may be.
Is it a crime to be drunk in Korea? If so 90 percent of people would be doing jail time. I would rather see a person sleep in the subway station then do drunk driving. Koreans drive like zombies anyway. When I was in USA if I was too drunk to drive I would sleep in my car until morning. I hate drunk drivers I do not hate people who are drunk .
Do Koreans hate drunk westerners more or Drunk drivers?. People driving drunk murdering people sould get the death penalty however people sleeping of wine should get a good nights rest.
I have no problem with this story since its just repeating information that other media has reported. But its only a few people who do that. If they do who cares. Are they killing someone ? Drunk drivers do . Many Koreans and other countries people have blood on their tires however drunk young people dont have blood on their beer bottles. Brainless people try to think whats important.
Teachers gone wild..
IT has nothing to do with being drunk. It has to do everything with the fact that most of these immature rejects are TEACHERS! Teaching used to be a professional position that was respected and revered (Country dependant) and here it is just a white person stumbling around and making excuses for why they cant act their age. If i were a korean i would feel ashamed to have most of these people in my country.
Some people just dont get it. Most are not teachers. Most are kids getting out of university looking for some fun and fullfilling the need of hagwon owners who have no experience running a biz or teaching english and just want to make a buck. Get over yourself. Koreans set of this system-not us. Go back to my post a few before about if Koreans want more professional people, they need to pay more, have better places for us to stay...
Hey ease up everyone and stop dog piling the teachers .The same age Korean people are doing the same thing as them or worse .
Anyway like us or hate us . Korea has no options . It needs native teachers and factory workers . If you got eyes and they work I am sure you noticed all the old people ( greying society ) . Korea needs us since we pay tax and into the pension . Who is going to pay for the care of the old people . THings will not get better for maybe 20 years . Now more babies are being born but usually people dont work till the 20s . But in the last decade Korea had one of the lowest birth rates . So everyone chill out Korea needs us and factory workers too .
Korea will also have to raise the tax rate . Its too low to support all the oldies but goodies .
Raise the tax rate, it is already at stupid levels, 10% tax is the highest i have ever heard for sales. You dont build a great country by gouging your citizens, but rather by using them as resources and allowing them to build the country. And yes, pay more and have higher standard and the drunken moronic party teachers will dissipate.
I saw an interesting tv show this morning. It showed nice Korean policemen helping drunk young people. It showed the police help a westerner who was drunk and hit his head and was bleeding. They took him to the station and gave him treatment and called his friends to pick him up. He even vomited in the station. It also showed drunken koreans getting help from police too.
As someone who is closer to 50 then 30 I remember and smile what i did when I was in my early 20s. Let people have fun regardless of race .
Its not a crime to be drunk. I saw a report some Koreans opened a hooker business in New York in a singing room in Koreatown. That is a crime. I do not know of many crimes commited by native teachers in Korea .
Remember this saying When in Rome do as the Romans
When in Korea do as the Koreans
You can't harness young people regardless of race. Just watch them and smile and remember if you can what you did when you were young .