Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Korean Creep


There’s a trope in American entertainment that involves a caveman/alien/other foreigner sitting down to watch a couple of episodes of Sesame Street and ending up as a speaker of polished, perfect English. This might be possible if said caveman/alien/other foreigner is a lot smarter than me, but even with more than 30 dramas under my belt, I still have a Korean vocabulary of about five words. On the other hand, I keep finding that weird little Koreanisms are involuntarily bleeding into my real life.

The first red flag was what’s now called “Korean drama face” around my office. Before last summer, I never would have guessed that facial expressions were culturally specific. But watching a block of four or five recent Kdramas proved otherwise: the side-eyed lip-curl of disgust is a thing of beauty that Americans sadly lack. On the other hand, this may not be true for long, as the expression has proven to be highly contagious. It may have felt bizarre the first time I tried it out—as if I’d discovered a whole passel of muscles I’d never used before—but now I can’t seem to stop doing it, no matter how slight the prompting annoyance. I didn’t realize the full extent of my problem, though, until I noticed that the expression was starting to rub off on the people around me. When I saw my boss do it in the middle of a meeting the other day, I found myself suspecting that there might be trouble ahead.

The “Korean drama face” in its natural habitat

I’m also helpless in the face of the close wave. In the West, waves are generally reserved for long-distance situations, e.g., the queen riding by in a parade. When people do wave in everyday life, it tends to be a casual, low-key gesture to acknowledge someone’s presence when they’re too far away to speak to. The Korean drama wave, on the other hand, is energetic and enthusiastic enough to cause wrist sprain, and often done by two people in such close proximity that their waving hands practically bump. I’m now doing the close wave all the time—when I run into somebody I know at the supermarket, when I’m entering a room full of talking people, when I need to get a salesclerk’s attention at a store.

But the ultimate example of Korean drama’s siren song happened last Friday. I’ve been putting off getting a haircut for ages, both because I’m lazy and because the salon I normally go to was pretty much wiped off the planet during tropical storm Irene last summer. But I finally got tired of hair that was either wet all day if I tried to air-dry it, or puffed up into a giant halo of frizz if I approached it with a blow dryer. So off I went. And can you guess whose picture I took with me as a guide? Why yes, that would be Park Shin Hye, with her modern bob from Heartstrings. Although the stylist didn’t bat an eyelash, it’s hard to imagine that this wasn’t the first time a thirty-something white woman came into her rural salon asking to be made into a teeny-bop actress from Korea. (Alas, while it is possible for me to have Park Shin Hye’s haircut, it is not possible for me to have Park Shin Hye’s hair. Instead of falling in cooperative, glossy waves, my hair has decided to emulate Little Orphan Annie’s rats’ nest of sloppy curls.)


I wanted to look like this...
...but ended up looking more like this.


As if to add insult to injury, I stopped by the bank after my haircut to drop off a sheaf of papers about refinancing my mortgage. It didn’t even occur to me until I was walking out the door that I had presented to papers to the teller using both hands, with what could only be considered a small bow.

Clearly, I need to find a new obsession before I turn into a complete foreigner in my own country.

13 comments:

  1. Funny but true. I started doing the lip-curl (so handy) and bow all the time before I thought of learning Hangul. I keep saying "Aishh" or "Ottoke". I even do the soju face while drinking wine.
    Still, I don't really want to exchange this for another obsession. :(

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    1. Clearly, I'm a failure at Kdrama watching, because I can't think of what the soju face looks like. (Nor can I find any soju around here, in spite of my best efforts.)

      I'm also a big user of "Fighting!" these days—tragically, there's really nothing analogous in English.

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    2. Heavens no, you are not a fail. It's because I didn't describe it well enough, but I'm sure you've seen it. I just made up "soju face" to describe the scene when characters drink soju, and they make the hissing sound after throwing back the shot. Some say it helps the medicine go down. :)
      I found soju at restaurants and at Asian markets. I've tried JINRO CHAMISUL FRESH SOJU, and I like its milder taste. Makgulli though, I haven't tried. When I watched Cinderella Sister, I wanted to try it. I guess I'm a big sissy and not quite the drinker.

      I use "gambatte" more than "fighting." How about "break a leg"? or "get it, gurl!" hehehe.

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  2. LOL...the lip curl was the first thing I started doing too! I've always done the close wave to a much lesser degree (it's more like a quick hand raise), but I hope it never gets to drama proportions. I've managed to stop myself from bowing even though I do feel the urge to do it, but I have started holding and pouring stuff with two hands almost all the time. Just yesterday I noticed myself holding my cup in one hand and supporting it lightly with the other as I was filling it up at the sink. I couldn't help but laugh. Pretty soon I'll be turning my head when I drink in front of an elder.

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    1. Clearly, drama is a brainwashing tool developed by the Korean government. There are probably subliminal messages demanding that viewers do the lip curl. ;)

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  3. I did have to stop myself from saying 'Fighting' to someone the other day, but the only thing that has consistently bled over into my real life is that when I'm in the throes of a drama obsession I DREAM in Korean. The problem is, while I understand quite a bit more than 5 words at this point, I wouldn't say I could follow along with a conversation unaided...so it's a bit frustrating that my subconscious mind is producing entire conversations in a language I don't actually know and yet cannot see its way clear to provide me with SUBTITLES.

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    1. That has happened to me too! Usually when I decide to do a drama marathon. I thought it was just me. :)

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  4. I recently find myself saying "Aigoo" when I'm finally sitting down after a long day. I don't even say it normally, but like an old grandma. Haha
    The 2-handed cup holding I do, too!
    Also, sometimes when I'm annoyed, the word "Aish" comes out of my mouth. Darn you, Coffee Prince.

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  5. Just discovered your blog, and I'm already convinced that this a match made in heaven. What's (almost..) better than watching Kdrama for hours on end? Finding and reading well-written and, Most importantly, humorous reviews on Kdrama! *insert slight Korean bow with hands pressed together*

    You're right. The words, the phrases - even my husband knows now how to recognize my mood swings with that slight lip curl and (occasionally) 12-yr old girlish attitude. Even more addicting though? The food! I found myself making spicy ramen - a staple in our home - and having watched Lee Shin's character from Heartstrings just this afternoon drop an egg in his finished version, I did the same.. guess what! It tastes amazing!

    I must admit though - I've learned more than few Korean phrases. I even taught myself how to read the entire Korean alphabet... Helpless, I just know I'm helpless...

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    1. Leraning the entire Korean alphabet is awesome, not helpless ;)

      I saw one drama that featured an aquarium full of fish, with each one named after a Korean letter. I was all..."Yay! I'll finally be forced to learn the alphabet!" Only they didn't talk about the fish enough for it to sink in =X Someone should create a Sesame Street-esque educational drama geared toward painlessly teaching newbies Korean.

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  6. Haha. You have to add a "you want to die?" in a hushed/mumbled voice to the the side-eyed lip-curl of disgust to make it 100% effective and oh so satisfying.

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  7. 'Aish' has now become part of my daily vocabulary....

    And if I am feeling particularity lost for words I might even insert an 'Aigoo'.

    Loved the post! Incredibly amusing and awesome, thank you!

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