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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tips for understanding foreigners!

Aaron has been asked to give private English lessons to a teacher at his school who will be moving to Atlanta, GA, for her husbands job.  I was looking through some documents that I made when I was teaching English to the parents and teachers at my last school and came across this one!  I had made it, because each of these things had happened to be NUMEROUS TIMES and it was my sly way of teaching them not to say or do this stuff!   This is a little glimpse into everyday life as a foreigner in Korea! :)
(The red font is just for you!)

Tips for UNDERSTANDING foreigners:
1.     Don't comment on their negative personal appearances. 
Don’t ever say:
“You look tired.”
“You look a little bit big (or fat) today.” 
“You look sick.”
“What is that on your face? (If you have a blemish)”  
(arm, hand, leg, foot are okay)
Much older men saying to younger women: “You look sexy today.”
 *** Yes, at some point, they had said each of these things to me!  They had no idea that in American culture, it's really rude."

                     Nice things to say:
                        “You have a beautiful smile.”
                        “ I like your ______ (item of clothing)”
                        “ You look really nice today!”
*** You'd think I wouldn't have to teach this, but every culture is different!

*** Even when you think you're being kind, what is acceptable in Korea may be different than what the foreigner is used to and you may receive a bad response from them. 
2.     Try to use, “You should” instead of commanding them to do something when they have a choice.
     “Go pour the Principal some soju.” (A LITTLE BIT RUDE)
“You should pour the Principal some soju.”   (GOOD!)

     “You have to wear stockings in the winter.”  (BAD)
“You should wear stockings in the winter.”   (GOOD)
3.     Always say “please” and “Thank you” 
“Open the door.” (VERY RUDE)
“Could you open the door, please?” (GOOD)

“Give me the pen.” (VERY RUDE)
“Can you pass me the pen, please?”

*** I read a story about a Korean co-teacher debating whether or not to say “please” to his younger foreign co-teacher.  In the end, he decided he did not need to say “please” because he was older.  In America, we say please all the time, regardless of age difference.  You are considered very rude if you do not say please and thank you.

4.     In America it’s considered really impolite to push people in a crowded place, bump into someone without saying “sorry,” cut in a line ahead of someone, spit inside a building, chew with your mouth open, slurp soup, and yell into your cell phone

 *** Oh man... I remember teaching this part (above) and them saying, "Oh really?!" and being super surprised that these things were rude! 

5.     Never respond to a question by saying, “It is possible.” It does not mean the opposite of impossible!  “It is possible” means “probably.”
                                            A.             Example:
A: Can you come over for dinner tomorrow night?
B: It is possible. (NO!!!)
B: Probably, but I’m not sure. I’ll look at my calendar and let 
    you know.

                        A: Can you give me a ride home today after school?
                        B: It is possible. (NO!!!)
                        B: Yes, of course!

6.     Smile for pictures with foreigners!  Not smiling in a picture in America means that you are bored, not having fun, or mad at someone in the pictures! 

*** I had SO MANY pictures of my co-workers not smiling!  This was another sly way of teaching them to smile!
7.     Never put your hands over your face and giggle if you’re embarrassed to talk to a foreigner!  BE CONFIDENT!
If you don’t understand something a foreigner says, say “I’m sorry. Can you repeat that?” or “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

 ***Most young Korean girls between the age of 12 - 25 put their hands over their faces and giggle like this!  They're extremely shy, and think it's really cute to do that!  Being cute is basically the equivalent of being hott in America!  Every girl wants to be called "cute"!

8.     The X symbol you make with your arms when you're saying "No" or "I don't have any", is VERY RUDE to a foreigner who doesn’t know what it means! 

9.     In America, it is okay to show your shoulders and cleavage at work, but if you wear a skirt, or dress, above your knees, it’s considered too sexy.  
*** I am currently wearing a dress that is 6 inches above my knees, and it's TOTALLY fine, but since it has a v-neck, I'm wearing a tank top underneath!  My co-workers said they love my outfit today!  Go figure!

10. Older people are not given special treatment in America. 
* There are no special places on buses or subways for them to sit.
* Families rarely take in a sick grandparent. They usually move them into a “home” for old people and they stay there until they die.
* Older people are usually considered a nuisance in American society.

 *** We definitely have something to learn from Koreans here!  The elderly are regarded as really important, wise and the matriarch of the family! 

11. If you are 21 years old (or older) and are still living at home with your parents, you are considered a loser.
* People assume you are irresponsible and play video games
all day! 
*** Koreans live at home until they get married!  I currently have a 40 year old co-worker who STILL lives at home! 
12. Sixteen (16) is the legal driving age in America.
* If you are 18, without a driver’s license, you are considered to be lazy or irresponsible.
* High School parking lots are usually filled with cars, owned by Juniors and Seniors. 
*** My 35 year old female co-worker JUST got her license last week!  It was a huge deal, as most Koreans don't drive, but rather take public transportation!

           13. You don’t have to pay for grocery bags or carts at the supermarket in America!
*** Want a grocery bag or cart in Korea, you're gonna have to pay for it! LOL!

Hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse into my life in Korea and the funny cultural differences that I experience on a daily basis! 


  1. It's all so true!!! Great job Jill!!

    Also last year I was told by some co-workers that I looked really pretty because I was so pale that day (it was a few hours before I got sick with the flu)

  2. Hi!I have been following your blog for about a week now. It's so funny and interesting! I read them whenever I get the chance haha. Actually I came across your blog when I was watching tv with my husband and saw Adam Levine (sp?) and remembered how my sister said that he loves Korea because of the Korean audience (singing every word to every one of his songs)! Anyway, I googled to check out the videos and one of the results brought me to your blog.
    Anyway, my name is Jane. Korean, originally from Seoul, but now I live in LA. I've been living here for about 4 years now. I am a teacher also and in fact I used to teach English for awhile when I was in Korea. Well,I just wanted to comment on how great your blog is and how sweet of a person you seem to be! Thanks for the great blog! ^^

  3. so great. made me laugh out loud a few times :)

  4. It's funny that you taught them what you thought they were doing that was rude or unusual. I get the very blunt comments from my Korean friends also. Is there something that you have found foreigners do in Korea that Koreans particularly find rude?