Sunday, July 29, 2007

Watching Eyes

This is a small oddity from our recent trip to Seoul uncovered while doing our accounts. The receipt of the restaurant we went to the night before our ill-fated trip to the British Embassy has the following information:

내국인 (native persons - i.e. Koreans, 2)
외국인 (foreigners - 0)

I don't think I'm suddenly being mistaken for a Korean, even if it was dark in there, but I find there's something slightly unnerving about the idea that people are watching and keeping count of racial differences in this way. Perhaps it says a lot about Korea that anyone thought this could be done in the first place - back home it's sufficiently multicultural that it's impossible to tell on sight who was born in Britain and who wasn't.

Korean keywords: 외국인, 레스토랑, 계산서


Anonymous said...

That's really odd. I've never seen anything like that in China where I lived for 2 years, nor on my visits to Korea (though since I'm of East Asian extraction, maybe I'm not as obvious a foreigner...).

I showed the photo to My wife, who is from Busan. She thought it was really odd as well.

Anonymous said...

Since I can't speak Korean, my name is entered in as "foreigner" on the local pizza place's computer.. but I'm Asian so the delivery guy does a double take when they come by.

Also, Mike could you tell us what kind of resturant/where it was? I doubt a mom and pop shop would care about those stats.

Mike said...

Mark - it was 'La Bottega' in the 'SFC Mall' below the Seoul Finance Center. Not really a mom and pop place though I'm not sure it's part of a chain either.


daeguowl said...

Since you posted this I've been checking my lunch receipts but to no avail. However, today we went to a burger place that is a chain and although they hadn't split us into Foreigners and Koreans, they had split us into men and women...

Mike said...

I haven't seen a receipt that's split us into men and women yet - but I have been to a restaurant in Korea where after ordering we were asked which dishes the women would be eating... so they could be given smaller portions! Cue stunned looks all round.

Skylar said...

I am interviewing for a job as a conversational english teacher in ROK but I cannot speak any Korean, is this a problem when living there for a year or two? Also, they want me to choose between Seoul or Busan, but I do not know anything about either or which one is safer for foreigners. Any ideas?

Mike said...

Skylar - plenty of foreigners get by without being able to speak Korean when they arrive - and I suppose it's possible to keep getting by without ever learning - but I feel the more time a foreigner spends here without making an effort the more disrespectful it becomes to our hosts, so try to learn some. I think that the more Korean you learn the more you'll get out of your experience in the country and the better you'll be treated, so apart from the work involved it's a win-win on that front. I know time can be short but at the very least I'd recommend learning to read Korean characters - with determination and a few hours work you can get the hang of them and then you can reinforce that by reading the signs here everyday. Even though important signs in stations tend to include English, you won't regret learning to read Korean.

Even as a foreigner, Korea feels a lot safer than where I come from; it's relatively safe to walk the streets at night for example. I believe there have been some attacks against foreigners in Seoul although there are more foreigners up there so perhaps it's a statistical thing. If you have a choice between Seoul and Busan, you'll probably make it based on issues such as culture, climate difference, number of foreigners and so on rather than safety. Most foreigners probably gravitate towards Seoul for a reason but I suspect no matter how long I spent up there I'd prefer Busan. Even though there's over four million people here I think it retains a friendlier feeling than Seoul - where people seem to have that leave-me-alone zone around them that people in capitals usually have. Email me if you have any specific questions - although I'm no expert on Seoul.

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