Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy: Awkward Questions in Korea

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I’m not the most private of people, but I was raised on the idea that there are certain topics that are accepted as taboo in casual conversations: religion, how much money you make, weight, politics, etc. Unless speaking to a close friend, I’ve always avoided these topics out of a combination of politeness and a horrible fear of insulting someone. But everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked I moved to Korea.

I’ll give some examples of questions that no longer shock me.


I’m not the most private of people, but I was raised on the idea that there are certain topics that are accepted as taboo in casual conversations: religion, how much money you make, weight, politics, etc. Unless speaking to a close friend, I’ve always avoided these topics out of a combination of politeness and a horrible fear of insulting someone. But everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked I moved to Korea.

I’ll give some examples of questions that no longer shock me.

1. How old are you?

For children, I suppose, this question is par for the course. “I’m five and three quarters!” they will proudly proclaim. But as you get older, the question seems a bit more…personal. Especially as a woman. Now, I’m not suggesting that I’m old, but it’s hard to shake the habit of never asking a woman her age. However, in many conversations, this is the second question I have to answer, right after “Where are you from?” Knowing a person’s age in Korea is important. It colors your interactions, even changes the way you speak to each other, so I fully understand why this question is important. But still…

2. Are you married? Boyfriend? Why not?

This is one of those questions I always assumed you only asked if you were interested in someone. But since I am apparently at an age where I need to be thinking about marriage, this is the big issue on everyone’s mind. The worst part, for me, is trying to answer the “why?” part. I promise you, random taxi driver man, if I had an answer to that, I’d be a genius. On a related note…

3. What do you think of Korean men?

How do I even answer this? “…um…they’re…great…?” Somehow I can never explain to people why this is such a difficult quesiton to answer. It’s like asking, “So, what do you think of food?” Though actually, my response to that question would be the same.

4. Did you lose/gain weight?

There’s a running joke in my office that anyone who stays in this office will gain weight, because people are always bringing in snacks. Yesterday, my coteacher Mr. Lee asked me if I’d gained weight. When I said that no, I’ve actually lost weight since coming to Korea, my weight became a popular office topic. When I don’t eat all my rice, someone will inevitably ask if I’m on a diet.
I’ve heard again and again that Korea is very focused on image and beauty, and I suppose that’s true; I’ve had people straight up tell me I look tired or sick, just because I didn’t do my makeup so well that day. Come to think of it, though, that happens in the US too. Maybe it’s a universal thing?

 

5. What is your religion?

Maybe this is common in some places, but I grew up in Liberal/politically correct/hippie central. Maybe, just maybe, you might be asked if you are religious (usually to clear the way for a religious joke). Even then, it seems like a bit of an awkward topic. Your religion is your own business. But since I moved to Korea? I’ve been asked multiple times, and I never quite know what to say. I’m not Christian, or Catholic, or Muslim, or any of the easy answers I could give, but I’m not an Athiest either. It’s hard to say “I believe in something bigger than myself, but I’m not sure what” when your language level is comparable to a 5-year old.

Those of you who are in Korea, any other questions you get a lot, that used to shock you but no longer do? I’m curious.



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