For a Canadian English teacher, one of the most challenging moments of living in Korea comes every morning in the changing room of the gym near his home. The Korean men in the shower often glance at his lower body, and some stare with explicit curiosity at his private parts. He feels "like a monkey" in a zoo whenever it happens, he says.
Adjusting to life in Korea isn't always clear sailing for many foreigners. A housewife from France complains about Koreans who touch her children, saying how cute they are. She was upset when a woman stroked the face of her four-month-old son in the waiting room of a hospital two years ago. "I know they mean no harm and it's part of Korean culture to compliment the children of strangers, but people wouldn't touch attractive adults, and children deserve the same respect," she insists.
Eating can be a major source of frustrations. Another Canadian brings homemade food whenever he goes out because he doesn't want to deal with Korean restaurants that can't accommodate his vegetarian eating habits. Last fall he ordered bibimbap without beef and egg from a restaurant in Gwanghwamun, but they just left them in. When he complained, he was told the kitchen was "too busy." They unhelpfully suggested that he eat it anyway, since it tastes much better with beef and egg.
One U.S. serviceman stationed in Korea was forced to leave a restaurant after complaining about unwanted egg in his fried rice. He asked the restaurant to make it again without the egg, but instead the owner kicked him out and sprinkled salt in front of the shop -- a traditional Korean act to dispel bad luck. "The experience was so insulting I was angry all day long," he recalls.
Quite a few foreigners are vegetarian for religious or other personal reasons, including about one percent of all Americans and Europeans. Those who come here grumble that Koreans often don't sufficiently respect or understand that choice. One Australian vegetarian here says Koreans "should understand that there are people who live differently from them."
An American woman is unhappy when Korean passers-by brush against her. She feels her personal space has been invaded, although she concedes that Seoul is a busy and bustling city. "In Western culture, people don't like being touched by strangers," she says. An American-English teacher at Korea University complains, "Koreans don't apologize when they brush against strangers and don't express appreciation when somebody opens a door for them." According to a British-English instructor in Youido, an English guidebook on Korea cautions about Korean people who brush against or bump into you in public places.
And an Australian banker who came to Korea last year says he felt awkward when he faced "a stream of personal questions" about his education background, marital status and parents' occupation at the first after-work dinner with Korean colleagues.