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Eureka: My experience conversing with Koreans Eureka: My experience conversing with Koreans
by Jay Gutman
2018-06-12 07:47:22
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Last time I talked about negotiating with Koreans, this time I'll talk about conversing with Koreans.

-Koreans tend not to remember what you did in the past as an individual nor do they tend to reflect on what you are doing at the moment. Something I find frustrating is that I tell them things about myself and what I did in the past and they don't remember anything. Nor do they remember what skills I have or the people I know. They can also call me at random times and ask for favors at random times, even when I think they would know that I'm busy.

kore0001_400-No sense of personal time. Koreans tend to have a sense of personal property and personal space, that is they wouldn't go around touching your stuff or taking it. But they tend not to have a sense of personal time. They won't be conscious that you have to go home to your wife, that you have to take that flight back home or that you have other tasks you need to handle. They won't be conscious that they are not the only thing on your plate.

-If they can't do something, or can't help you, they will just pretend not to understand. I've wasted lots of time trying to explain things to my Korean friends, either getting blank stares of having the topic changed. If they can't help you with something, they will pretend not to understand or to be confused by your suggestion, complaint or problem.

-Changing their mind frequently. We are used to consistency, but Koreans can change their mind pretty frequently. Let me give you an anecdote to illustrate this. I once interviewed for a job at a Korean company. Three days later they called me to say I was hired. Two weeks after that they asked me to provide all kinds of documents, failing which I would not be hired. Another two weeks later they asked me for another set of documents failing which I would not be hired. They then said my hiring was conditional and had to be approved by immigration. Two weeks before my job would start, I got a phone call saying immigration had rejected my application. Two days later I was told immigration had not rejected my application nor had they approved of it. One week before the job started I was told immigration approved but that the Korean Consulate in Hong Kong had to approve my visa, failing which I would not have the job. This meant I had to go to Hong Kong, at my own expense, not even sure I would have the job when I come back. Three days after the job started I obtained my visa from Hong Kong, and was able to formally work on the job. One year later I got completely banned from working in that field in South Korea.

-One-word answer questions. When Koreans ask you questions, a lot of times they expect that you answer with one word. What's your favorite drink? Coffee. Your favorite football team? One word. Your favorite city? One word. Where do you like to travel? One word. What did you do over the weekend. One word, for example, went to the café, when Koreans tend to say “café.”

-Share a cup of coffee and we're acquaintances. Share a beer and we're friends. Share a woman and we're brothers. Koreans usually only have one or two very, very, close friends and the rest are considered acqutaintances. They will tend to make minimal effort to pleaese acqutaintances. Friends are usually buddies from school who attended the same school, same university, in some cases same church. Koreans do everything for their friends. They share their car. They will share an apartment. They share their money. In some cases they share their wife. In other cases they share women. If you hurt someone, you hurt their friend too.

-You can learn a lot about a person by learning about their friend. If you're a friend and your friend brings their friend along, a lot of the stories will parallel. If the friend says he cheats, it's very likely that your friend also cheats. If the friend says they are dishonest, it's very likely that your friend is also being dishonest. If they say they like you, that usually reflects the fact that your friend likes you.

-You only get to tell stories if you're friends. To be friends with a Korean you will need to have met them several times. The first time they will be very shallow and tend to give one-word answers. As you get along, they will allow stories to enter the conversation. Koreans like to know more about other people and how you get along with other people, tend not to be very interested in events. Ideas are of minimal importance to them.

-Introducing family members. If a Korean brings family members over, it usually means that they like you very much. It also probably means that they need your help with something, as it would be very rude to refuse a request for help in front of a family member.

-Sending poems or sending gifts. If a Korean sends you a poem, they are indirectly asking you to come over and chat. If they send you a gift, it usually means that they need help with something.

-Loyalty schmoyalty. Koreans value loyalty, but unless you're best friends, they will tend to abandon you when you're in a sticky situation. I know people who failed exams and all their friends ran away and stopped picking up their phone calls. Or who had a divorce and all their friends ran away.

-The art of the deal. Koreans will tend to ask for something when they actually want something much bigger. For example I remember a friend who called and said he wanted me to “proofread” a document, and when he sent to document it was written in Korean and he actually wanted me to translate it into English. Asking for smaller favors when favors turn out being much bigger is pretty common in Korean culture.

-The art of war. If you have an argument with a Korean, reconciliation will be possible, but they will hold grudges. When I had arguments with Koreans, we tended to reconcile, but the argument would resurface later. We reconcile again, but things keep going downhill. Remember that Koreans still hold deep grudges towards Japan for colonization, and every time Japan thinks they've reconciled with the Koreans, some kind of argument surfaces.

-You represent your tribe. Koreans feel strongly about their tribe and the values of their tribe. Every little thing you do will be observed, and will be compared to the customs of their tribe. If you give them a good impression, they will have a good impression about your people. If you give them a bad impression, their impression of your people will be spoiled. If you have an opinion on an issue, they will tend to believe all your people have the same ideas on the topic.

-Warning signs. If Koreans decide to drink soda rather than alcohol, that's a sign they are suspiscious of you. If they stop talking, it usually means that you offended them. If they start talking on the phone, it usually means they want the conversation to end.

-If you buy land, they get a stomach ache. That's a Korean proverb meaning if something good happens to you, they get jealous. If President Trump gets the Nobel Peace for Korea efforts, they will feel robbed. When America or Japan gets Nobel Prizes, they feel robbed. If you win an award, get a good job or win the lottery, they will tend not to celebrate along.

-Let me be blunt. 90% conversations are about relationships. Who's dating who. Who dated who. Who married who. Why did they get married. Did their parents oppose? How much did their house cost? Are they a good match. The rest is about who got the job and why. Who did they hire? Why did they hire him? What makes his or her resume so attractive. Why didn't they hire someone else? Why did the guy get fired?

-Finally. Koreans are not shy about not liking people. If they don't like someone they will tell you, and they won't even try to make peace with the person. The person they don't like could be a colleague, a classmate or even a brother or sister or a child. You'll be shocked to hear Koreans tell you they have a favorite child and a hated child.

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