Monday, February 11, 2013

Changing Habits

When you first arrive in Korea, it feels like everything is foreign - because it is. The language, the people, the skyline. You are accosted with a hundred different sensory experiences and it can feel overwhelming. I remember wondering how I would ever adapt, get used to all these news things. Korea really is an adventure for your senses: your eyes find the flashing lights and colours that abound every street..your nose picks up the amalgamation of Korean cooking and sometimes street sewers which is not hear the taxis hooting, the music blaring and the language surrounding you that you know so little feel the humidity or cold flush against your skin - the air feels different taste the many flavours of new foods and drinks which linger with you long after the meal is over. It's an explosion for your senses. There are new customs you need to learn and new habits you form while leaving old ones neatly packed inside your suitcase, waiting to be reopened when the time is right. I was thinking how I have changed this year, not just in the way I am but in the things I do. I thought I'd make a list (gotta love the lists) of some of the habits I've picked up here and some which I have had to leave behind.
  • Taking off my shoes at school and home has become second nature to me and I actually think this is something I might continue to do at home. It's clean and it feels unnatural to walk inside a house with shoes on now.
  • Walking through swinging doors in Korea has been interesting. When I first got here, I would wait if it looked like someone was coming out, I would hold the door open for the person behind me (and expect the same in return) and would just be courteous about how I navigated in and out. What that got me was a whole lot of doors in my face and weird looks. Now, I just walk. The door swings closed and I don't worry about whether or not someone was behind me (unless I'm with foreigners obviously). Each one for themselves out here. 
  • I also have learned that lines in Korea are a loose concept and pushing in is not something frowned upon. The number of times I've been blatantly pushed out of the way (and I mean shoved) or had someone cut a line is ridiculous. I've had to forget about personal space and stand right behind the person in front of me if I want to ever make it to the front. 
This is what getting to the front of anything looks like
  • I tend to wave with both hands, especially around my kids.
  • I have learned to speak slowly, and add a little American twang when needed if I'm trying to talk to someone Korean. Maybe my way of speaking has changed completely? I also accentuate my speech with lots of hand gestures.
  • I can use chopsticks like a pro and actually prefer them to a knife and fork sometimes. 
Maybe I'll start feeding my cat like this? 
  • I don't tip - something I need to remember to do when I get home.
  • The bowing - I bow to anyone older than me and sometimes my kids if I forget. I just bow, all day every day as I'd rather be the foreigner who bows too much than the rude girl. This I know I'll struggle to stop doing at home; it's become such second nature.
This is how we do! 
  • I've become used to not worrying about my belongings - at dinner, out and about, wherever we are it is not a concern to leave my bag around. I don't really worry about walking alone at night. I'm used to living in a country where burglar bars, electric fencing and barbed wire are not a necessity. I need to get my act together when I get home or I'll be penniless. 
  • I've tried to pick up the taking/giving things with 2 hands but I do forget that sometimes, so I've failed a bit there
  • Not saying 'bless you' when someone sneezes, and not being surprised when no one says it to me. This was a hard one to break. 
  • Speaking softly, or at least more quietly (is that even English?) in public. I've had enough dirty looks and we've been told to be quiet enough for me to just shut up on public transport. 
Every ajjuma, on every train. 
  • Swiping my card for as little as \1000. No card charges here means I very seldom carry cash (a pain in the ass for everyone when it comes to splitting dinner). 
  • Using a squatter toilet and not having a mini panic attack when I see one.
  • Picking up on social cues and body language, mixed with the words I do know, to try and understand what's going on around me. I've gotten pretty good at this I think. 
  • Sitting on the floor to eat - although something quite normal now, I still really don't like it. 
  • I've picked up some sayings and words from my foreign friends and Koreans alike, which now colour my speech. Includes things like the Korean words for hello and thank you which have become my go to greetings. 
  • I've also had to change some of the words I use: traffic lights, sweater, garbage etc. It's not uncommon for me to use a word that no one understands which I then need to "Americanize'.
  • I've gotten into the habit of expecting fast, free, easy internet access everywhere. It's going to be quite an adjustment coming home to the connection problems that are inevitable.
  • Drinking coffee through a little straw - so weird at first, and still an odd concept but I enjoy my coffee with a straw. Go figure. 
  • Using public transport, or my legs, to get everywhere. 
  • Eating quickly and not worrying about stretching over people, having people eat off my plate or try to feed me. 
  • Using scissors to cut meat - chopsticks don't cut (duh) so often we use scissors to cut the meat into bite sized pieces. 
  • I've managed to get the hang of the roads and don't freak out when a bus nearly takes me out or we seem to just drive through red lights. Okay that's a lie. I will never understand/be comfortable with the Korean roads.
This is how I feel on the roads of Korea 
  • On that note - I check every where several times before crossing any roads. You need your wits about you if you're going to survive. 
  • I've picked up the bad habit of simply zoning out. So much goes on around me that I just don't understand so often that I've gotten pretty good at just 'checking out'. I better snap out of that once I get home and am expected to be aware of what's being said around me. This includes just smiling, nodding and saying 너ㅣ (yes) even when I have no idea what was said. 
All. The. Time. 
  • This is more a 'I'm a worker now' and less a Korea thing but earning money and living with such a comfy salary has made me spend before thinking on a number of occasions. I need to get that under control, soon. 
When in Korea...
  • Learning to keep your emotions in check. Aint nobody got time for tears little girl, suck it up. Lesson #1 in Korea. 
I have to send with dear Sweet Brown. 

Did you enjoy my little motivation GIFs? Wanted to keep you entertained!! I think I could keep going for ages but these are the main ones. I've really just learned to not be surprised by a lot of what goes on around me. We adapt, we change, we learn to fit in where we are. I'm sure I'll pick up my old habits pretty quickly and slip into the way things are back home but I've really loved being immersed in a completely foreign space this year. There's something exciting about it and as my time here draws to an end, I'm a little sad about going back to what's 'normal'. 

Do you have any habits you've acquired or had to leave behind? Let me know in the comments section! 

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