- They all like kimchi. Not too long ago, I saw an ad in a Korean magazine for a small refrigerator specifically for kimchi. Since it said “#1 best seller,” I’m guessing it sells a lot. Still, it’s kind of like saying all Americans love hamburgers, isn’t it?
- They all know Tae Kwon Do. I know Tae Kwon Do; I’m Japanese-American. My half-Korean, half-German friend does judo. For Koreans and all other Far East Asians stereotyped in this manner, consider responding, “Do you want to find out?”
- They like golf. I’m going to let Margaret Cho answer this one. Regarding the stereotypes that Koreans all like golf: “Well, everybody does but me. So, there is one Korean person who doesn’t.”
- They eat dogs. Yes, many of us have grown up with Fidos and Lassies, but the truth is that so have many Koreans, especially of the newer generations. When it comes down to it, a dog is an animal like any other that is technically edible and is valued differently in the older Korean culture than in the American one. Eating a dog in America would be similar to eating a beef steak in India—a huge no-no. Today, while some Koreans eat dogs, it might be safe to say that it’s a minority of the population. The overall attitude in recent years seems to have gone from “personal choice” to “unnecessary cruelty” (and the issue of sanitation also comes into play). The dogs that are eaten are supposedly killed by an electric rod rather than being beaten to death, so the issue of cruelty is as debatable as cow slaughter in America.
- They work too much. I came across a transcript to a KBC 9.9 podcast between 4 participants who talked about misconceptions of Koreans. In it, the overall consensus seems to be that while Koreans do hang around the classroom or office long before and after working hours, their time isn’t always spent productively. Whereas some Koreans consider Americans lazy and inconsiderate for “working” from only 9 to 5, Koreans see themselves as dedicated members of the workplace. They arrive early so they’re not hurried before a class or meeting, and they stay late in case the boss needs someone to do something. Meanwhile, many of them can be seen playing with their cell phones or browsing the web. The issue here is availability and dedication, not always quality of time spent.
- They’re terrible drivers. When judged by North American standards, Korean drivers are rude. Consider this, though: there are 47 million people in a 100,000 square km country. There’s not a whole lot of space. Those three inches between your car and the Korean guy who cut you off? That was nothing. Moreover, Daniel (on the KBC 9.9 podcast) says that Koreans are taught to drive that way in driving school. They’re taught to drive “by instinct and that’s what they do when they get on the highway.” When asked whether the concept of right of way has ever occurred to them, Daniel says that Koreans don’t have it in their culture, and it’s all about who steps on the gas first. This isn’t rude. It’s different.
- They’re rude. While we’re talking about rude, many non-Koreans complain when they go to the peninsula that nobody apologizes or thanks them for anything. Let’s remember that 47 million people are crammed into a country the size of Tennessee. If you apologized to everyone you bumped into or couldn’t hold the door for, you’d never get to the office before noon. Perhaps Koreans can be found to be less friendly than “Western people” (although this statement, made by Chance on the podcast, is itself iffy, since many Americans find Brits unfriendly, and so forth). Still, once you get to know a Korean, he or she is a friend like anyone else, yes?
- Insert misconception here. See Misconception 10.
- Insert misconception here. See Misconception 10.
- They’re jingoists. This one is sticky and long-winded, and because it plays into every other stereotype (and why I’m only writing on 8 instead of a clean 10), I’ve listed it last.
Let me elaborate. Until now, I didn’t know any Korean stereotypes. As a Japanese-American, I’ve seen both sides of my heritage screw over Korean heritage pretty badly. I should be full of ideas for stereotypes, right? Wrong. After a two-hour search on Google, I could gather no more than these 8 misconceptions of Koreans. Here’s why.
In the June 30, 2002 article of the New York Times titled, “Soccer Must Keep The Ball Rolling,” the writer elaborated on a controversial referee call in the match between South Korea and Spain on June 22 in the FIFA World Cup of that year. “Some fans and national officials see these questionable calls as part of a plot favoring South Korea, a blend of jingoism and paranoia that is quite unbecoming.”
If the writer intended to be subjective, fine, but let’s not pretend he’s calculated Korean history into his judgment that a) there was a plot, and it showed a blend of b) jingoism and c) paranoia that was d) unbecoming. He might consider them “jingoistic” because he’s not used to a country stomped on for so many centuries utter a cry for unity.
On June 25, a writer of the Associated Press ends the article “Record crowds watch South Korea lose semifinal to Germany” by saying, “The success has been a huge boost in this land of 47 million that has long suffered from an inferiority complex, being squeezed between China and Japan, who often invaded and subjugated the country.”
Korea is often referred to as “the shrimp that gets caught in the middle of whales.” China and Japan have both chewed on it. But dear Associated Press writer, let’s not forget that whole Korean War bit. The Korean Peninsula is the only remaining place in the world that remains divided since the Cold War thanks to the U.S. and Russia, according to Kosuke Takahashi, a journalist born to Japanese parents and raised in Koreatown near Tokyo.
Many people in the western world would dismiss Korean nationalism as jingoism because it’s been a long, long time since North America and England have been stepped upon by an outside empire. Because Korea is often dismissed as a subjugated nation that influenced no country save its own (a crippling and false accusation), it lacks in resounding stereotypes, at least that a non-Korean and my sometimes-friend Google could find. Most other “misconceptions” applied to Far East Asians in general, like enjoying rice and not being able to see out of squinty eyes. If you feel the need to enlighten me, please do so. I’d welcome a mature response.
Bio: Lisa Shoreland is currently a resident blogger at Go College, where recently she’s been researching disability grants as well as comparing student loans. In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing, practicing martial arts, and taking weekend trips.