Tag Archives: privacy

First post from my Seoul apartment

A lot has happened since i got here on the 25th—some good, more bad.  There are so many things i have trouble with when it comes to Korean culture, and i’ve already been a victim of them for the past four days.  That’s the thing:  it might just be the “culture,” but when it’s something you are so unfamiliar with, it feels like a threat.  Anything unfamiliar is a threat when encountered against your will.

If i had to pick the one thing that is making me most miserable right now, i would have to say that it’s the complete disregard for privacy.  I think i’m always so tense and tired because i know there are people monitoring me from every corner, trying to find out everything possible about me.  The administration office manager, who lives across the street from me, asked me the other day why i wasn’t home at night.  My lights were off, she said.  It was quite a nasty shock, but at least she had the decency to let me know that she can see my window.  One of the English teachers who picked me up on the day i arrived here with the other Native English Teachers has been taking care of me and helping me sort out administrative details like getting my Alien Registration Card and finding office supplies for me.  I have nothing to do with her—she’s a 3rd grade teacher and i don’t teach any 3rd graders—but she’s over 50, unmarried, lives close to me, and has nothing better to do.  Sometimes i’m touched by all the things she voluntarily does to help me get settled in, but other times, i can’t help but suspect that she only does it to get information out of me.  Every little thing i tell her, even the most mundane details, spreads through the entire school like celebrity gossip.  Lunchtime is basically catching up on everything that the entire staff found out about me the day before.  Gossip here is such a threatening invasion of your privacy, and not only do i feel uncomfortable being dissected and broadcast that way, i don’t like having to partake in it.

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Filed under korea, seoul

Privacy across cultures

I hear so many visitors say that New Yorkers are unfriendly.  I remember reading one particularly resonant (but stupid) comment:  “New Yorkers are so unfriendly—they don’t even look at each other on the street!”  Really?  So you’re unfriendly if you don’t look up at everyone who passes by?

I grew up in Seoul, South Korea, a suburb of D.C., and Central Jersey before moving to New York City for college.  (I consider the Jersey suburb my hometown.)  I didn’t find the city or its people overwhelming or off-putting at all, but then again, i did grow up in a fairly large and developed suburb.  On the contrary, i actually found New Yorkers to be much friendlier than Jerseyans.  I found myself in many an argument with those who complained about the unfriendliness of New Yorkers.  

In the end, it comes down to this:  it’s a matter of privacy, not friendliness.  New Yorkers, like all inhabitants of big cities, work hard to stay inside their individual bubbles.  Everyone is constantly bumping into one another, but they’re all encapsulated in their own dedicated bubbles, so they bounce right off of one another and keep on truckin’ along.  But once the bubble is broken—and they do break, whether by accident or purpose—they’re the same human beings as all the other human beings in the world.  (For a similar take on this, read these excerpts from E. B. White’s Here is New York.)  We need those bubbles; otherwise, we’d all go crazy from the constant contact and interaction!  We’re already overstimulated.  

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Filed under culture, new york