If only one older Korean could prove me wrong…

I try to like most people.  I really do.  Because God knows, i have my flaws, and i should be understanding of other people’s.  But there’s one thing that irks me—probably more than it should—and that’s unsolicited advice.

I went to my grandmother’s yesterday for Chuseok, and she had some unexpected guests:  my mother’s cousin, his wife, his son, and the son’s family.  I don’t remember them from my childhood, but i think i remember the cousin and his wife (now in their late 60’s or early 70’s) from when my grandfather died.  Only i couldn’t point it out with my grandmother there, because my grandfather’s death anniversary just passed and she tends to get emotional about these things.

At several moments of the evening, i noticed the cousin (let’s call him Mr. TOK, or Typical Old Korean) surveying me with a judgmental eye, the way older Koreans always do when meeting a younger Korean for the first time, or for the first time in a long time.  Koreans are always trying to get a read on people.  That makes me uncomfortable.

An hour into their visit, Mr. TOK started dishing out random pieces of advice for me.  I didn’t catch a lot of what he said.  I speak a very particular kind of Korean—my parents’ Korean—because i’ve only ever used Korean with my parents since moving to the States.  Not that my parents’ Korean is any different from your typical educated middle-aged Korean’s Korean, but an individual’s speaking style is colored by his or her personality and way of thinking, and my parents’ particular speaking style is what i grew up on and have heard and used for the past 13 years.  This causes a lot of problems when i communicate with any other Koreans, but i’ve gotten better at opening my ears to other speaking styles since coming here to live.  This man, though—Mr. TOK—didn’t only use convoluted expressions i wasn’t used to, but he also rambled in a haughty and self-righteous manner.  And i tend to immediately tune out such people, no matter what they might be saying and how relevant it might be to my life.

But i bit my tongue and summoned what little patience i have to begin with to hear him out, because he was family, and the gist of what he said was that 1) i should search online for information on how to become a museum tour guide, because i could probably easily get one of those jobs with my bilingual skills, and i could learn about Korean culture while i get paid, and 2) i should join some of the student clubs at my school to get to know the students and be more active in the school community.  I’ll just give you a list of all the things i wanted to say to him in response but withheld from doing so:

Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute, Mister.  Did i ask you for advice?  No.  So why are you giving me any, where is it even coming from, and do you know anything about my current teaching situation and lifestyle?  I teach writing to over 180 girls, most of whom can’t even follow simple instructions or form sentences in English, and whose essays and journals take me over 20 hours a week outside of school to read, correct, and grade.  It takes me another 5 hours a week to come up with interesting and engaging material for my conversation classes.  Do you know that i’m also supposed to be preparing to go to grad school next year?  That i have a ton of philosophy reading to do?  What makes you think i have the time for a part-time job or after-school bonding time with students?  I bond with my students enough; they pour their souls out in the journals they hand in to me every week, and i give them a part of me in return, in the form of scrawled notes in the margins.  They already love me, and i love them.  And why do you keep telling me that i should look for things online?  I happened to have majored in Communications; if anything, i probably know more about web surfing than you do.  I know the Internet has the answer to everything, okay?  It’s what keeps me up at night while you’re probably up out of misery because no one would befriend your conceited ass.  Except your equally conceited and obnoxious wife.

This is why i hate visiting family.  I already hate my family enough; i can’t handle meeting other, potentially more unpleasant people at these gatherings.  I’ve got better things to do with my time.I don’t know how much shit i’d get for this, but the next time something like this happens, i’ll have to cut the conversation short and find a way to leave or make it understood that i will not tolerate any more unsolicited advice.  Not unless they can prove to me beforehand that there’s a point to any of it other than confirming their status as an all-knowing, older Korean.  I have another death anniversary coming up in October, and a family wedding, too.  I gotta arm myself somehow so i don’t have to endure this again.


Filed under culture, korea

4 responses to “If only one older Korean could prove me wrong…

  1. Matt H

    Matt: Ohh, I don’t run right now, I busted up my knees while jogging when I was in Canada.
    Co-teacher: Oh, maybe your knees would stop hurting, if you lost some weight.
    Matt: -_____-;;; *awkward silence

    Agreed – unwanted advice.
    As well seeing family is amazingly awkward on some counts, it pays to look different though, they accept that you can’t be lectured like the other full korean cousins….especially when you make fart sounds with your armpit during their serious lectures at the age of 22 ^_^ (I am such an asshole haha)

  2. Daniel Liu

    hmm. I just realized I get those a lot from my relatives when i went back to Taiwan this past summer.

    I don’t know why I didn’t get too pissed off about it though. I even remember thinking the same things that you did, but I think it’s because
    a) I like them too much to hold it against them and
    b) I like to think of them as poor little narrow-minded people who aren’t at fault because they haven’t seen how wide the world can truly be, and that they are such a small part of it that they can’t even see how small they are. (I’m talking about the kind of people who employ a maid who doesn’t know what or where America is, even if I use the chinese name for it and explain it to her)

    Wow, when I put it that way, I’m kind of an asshole to think that. 😦

    Besides, don’t you have that empty glazed-eyed look down pat yet? I usually throw that on and agree with what they said, they usually just trail off and acknowledge that they can’t really do much without forcing their views a little more aggressively, which would put them morally in the wrong and therefore immediately invalidate all their views to me.

    I apologize in advance if my post offends you by how I treat my kind relatives -__-; I still think about what they say time to time, but their suggestions are really wasted upon me…. 😦

    • n

      haha, Dan, i wish i could be as cold-hearted as you… I’m incapable of ignoring people when they’re speaking directly to me, and i think i’m a little too good at feigning interest. I only listen to be polite, but everyone thinks i’m genuinely interested! It’s sad to say this, but i think most Koreans wouldn’t consider it a moral crime to aggressively push their ideas on people. Actually, that’s not fair. It’s more that they can’t even imagine that someone else might think differently than they do, and that that someone else might be uncomfortable because of that. Of course, this mostly applies only to the older generations. This particular man isn’t really narrow-minded—he’s actually studied a lot about everything under the sun and has traveled widely, as far as i know—but the Neo-Confucianism in this society is so deeply ingrained that no matter how much you know about other cultures, you always operate under Neo-Confucian precepts. And it’s actions, not thoughts, that affect other people, right? So the principle these people are working under is that if you’re older, you need to teach, influence, and protect whoever’s younger. And in an antagonistic situation, you always have the upper hand, if you haven’t already won by sheer virtue of your age. For me, it’s a lose-lose situation, because i don’t want protection from anyone—at least not the superficial kind from someone i have no meaningful relationship with—and i can’t win just because i’m younger. I think your tactic of listening but also communicating that they’re not getting through to you is really the only way out of it; maybe with practice, i’ll get better. 😉

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