This post is hopefully going to be the first of many “Culture Shots” which I will use to detail things which have left me reeling. This week’s shot focuses on making friends.
Making friends here, as a foreigner, has been possibly one of the easiest experiences I’ve had with making friends. Mostly because my first time meeting and speaking to another foreigner here was basically the exact same as the first day in school: “Hey dude, I have no friends. Wanna be friends?”. The only differences being of course that when I was 3 and a half I didn’t actually know the word “dude” and the fact that this time I uttered the phrase in a supermarket next to some watermelons. But overall the result was the same: I made a friend. Done and dusted.
However, my native counter-parts may not have it so easy. Here in Korea being friends is either a whole lot harder or somewhat simpler depending on how one looks at it. I have been informed by my co-workers who are all Korean natives that the word “friend” in Korean is more or less the same as the word for “peer” or someone who is the same age. I had noticed this in some of my classes when I told students to look at their friend’s work and they would repeatedly insist “But he’s not my friend, I older!!”
This didn’t surprise me. Oftentimes I was the one playing the “I’m older than he is” to avoid dealing with bratty relatives (no, not you, but all the others!) and being confused with being their “friend” how much street cred could I keep being friends with someone one full year younger than me? But then when I grew up it stopped being a big deal. This is not the same for the average Korean to whom image and social standing mean quite a lot.
Therefore, by and large, Koreans are not friends with people older or younger than themselves unless there are mitigating circumstances such as one of the pair to become friends is a foreigner. This is, I am told, due to the fact that westerners are just exempt from certain social graces. And thank god for that!
My mind was literally blown when my co-workers marveled at the fact that some of my friends are even five years older than me, even more so that I have friends even older than that. Now I know this is often not the case and people usually hang around in similar age-groups back home but it is not unheard of to have friends from work or college who happen to have that bit more life experience.
Over here, that would probably not happen and if it did there would still be honorifics and specifics and all manner of other “-ifics” which impede the development of a real friendship. To me this seems somewhat horrific.
This has been your first Culture Shot. Thanks for reading!