Saturday, March 17, 2007

Between Two Worlds

Something bothered me the other day in Mr. Pizza ("Pizza for Women"). We'd gone in to eat with a Korean friend and much discussion ensued with the waitress about the various options available, which as usual I was oblivious to. While Mr. Pizza offers a variety of half-and-half pizzas, they couldn't offer the combination we wanted, but the waitress went behind the scenes to consult further, to return for a few brief words before finally disappearing. I was told that they had agreed to do the combination we wanted, and they wouldn't normally do this but because my Korean companions were "with a foreigner" it would be a special favour. It's not the first time that some level of service was afforded to us purely because I wasn't Korean. I guess this is what goes on here sometimes.

On the flip side it's fair to be said that this is balanced up; there's much anecdotal evidence as to the various ways in which foreigners can often come off worst in the relationship with our hosts, perhaps none more so than the fallout from a foreigner-organised comedy sketch show in Busan several weeks ago, which covered life in Korea and managed to offend the Korean Establishment and leave everyone looking worse off - including the Korean Establishment.

We are not Koreans, and we are not treated like Koreans, and that has positives and negatives, so why not take advantages of the positives when they're offered? But herein lies the crux of the problem - at least for me. I come from a country which historically made conscious efforts to grant special consideration to people who were in the minority, but this only led to these favours becoming expectations, and later demands, and somewhere along the way we didn't have one admittedly broad society any more, but rather, at least two different ones, which have great difficulty coexisting. It worries me that when some Koreans start creating special rules towards foreigners over things which frankly just aren't important, it may create the expectation - knowing or unknowing - on our side, and simultaneous animosity among some Koreans on the other side who may now feel obliged to offer concessions towards foreigners which peers have initiated but which they don't agree with.

I can't expect to be treated like a Korean, especially when I can't speak the language. Frankly there are times I need all the help I can get. But when it comes to something as trivial as getting a customised pizza purely off the back of my skin colour, while the gesture might be selfishly appreciated, it feels like something may be going wrong in the fundamentals of Korean society.

1 comment:

Jon Allen said...

I completely agree with you.

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