|(Note that handsome chaebol heirs, like this one from Protect the Boss, will always be a “yes, please.”)|
Last week I wrote about how much we Americans have to learn from the world around us, if only we pay attention to it. I’ve also been thinking about the flip side—that some beliefs and ideals are so specific to a time or place that they just don’t relate to the experience of living elsewhere.
Here are some drama standbys that don’t exist in the West, possibly for good reason.
Curing indigestion with a needle. Whenever someone in dramaland has an upset stomach, they ask a friend to prick their thumb with a needle. Maybe it really works—there’s always the placebo effect, or maybe an open wound on your thumb would distract you from the pain in your stomach. Heck, maybe the invisible energy of chi is somehow involved. I have no idea, but I do know that Alka Seltzer works like a charm and has been sufficient for Americans for quite some time now.
Terrifying nosebleeds. Korean dramas use nosebleeds as shorthand—they’re either a sign that a character is tragically overworked (as in Boys over Flowers) or a foreshadowing of an imminent cancer diagnosis (as in Autumn in My Heart). The American alternative seems more sensible to me: nosebleeds are what happen when somebody gets punched in the face.
Hospital humidifiers. In an entire lifetime’s worth of visits to American hospitals, can you guess how many times I’ve seen a humidifier in use? That’s right: none. But in every single Kdrama hospital scene, there’s one inevitably puffing away on a bedside table. This might actually be related to previous item on this list—if you want someone to stop having nosebleeds, sitting them next to a humidifier would be a good start. The second most common cause of American nosebleeds is irritation caused by dry air.
|Personally, I prefer my pop idols acting—even if they’re not that good at it.|
Kpop. I can see why Kpop’s Svengalis want to crack the American market: there’s a lot of money to be made here, as well as a lot of prestige to acquire. (It’s no accident that the performance that kicked off Dream High was in Los Angeles at the Grammys, not at a Korean awards show.) Kpop is every bit as polished and enjoyable as any American music, but as the expat blogger at Roboseyo explains, the language difference is a killer. Pop music is an industry of cool—to quote Cameron Crowe quoting late, great American music critic Lester Bangs—and you can’t be cool in a language (and culture) you don’t understand. My prediction is that Kpop will forever be a curiosity on the American music scene: beloved by a small group of diehards, but uninteresting to the masses.
Couples outfits. I just can’t see these catching on in America—and unlike the ladies over at Kdrama Fighting, I am completely happy about that. We experimented with them during the Justin and Britney years; the results were not pretty.
|Another chopsticks-only dish: Sannakji, or live octopus, as shown in this scene from My Lovely Sam Soon. (P.S.: Not a convincing reason for Westerners to adopt chopsticks.)|
Chopsticks. Korea may have the world’s most useful spoons, but I’m less convinced about the whole chopstick thing. There’s certainly a time and a place for them—chopsticks are great for things like sushi and kimbap and they allow for the high-precision grasping of smaller foods. (Once you’re good at using them, anyway. I knew I’d finally arrived when I could use chopsticks and watch subtitled Korean drama at the same time.) But I don’t see how they’re any more useful than the forks we Westerners are already using, or why switching over to chopsticks would benefit us.
This quote from the 2010 Insight Guide to South Korea, and everything it stands for. “Women take second place to men in Korean society, and can expect to get served last when standing in a queue. This can be galling, but a pithy two-minute lecture delivered at top volume is not going to help.”
|Scent of a Woman: Sam Soon saves a dog destined for the stewpot.|
Dog meat. Americans can be hypocritical on this front—many of us happily eat pigs, cows, and chickens, but find it deeply upsetting when people eat companion animals. In contrast, dogs, cats, and horses are all occasionally on the menu in Asia. I certainly won’t be the one to judge this practice. I ate a yummy hamburger for lunch that included two animals: one that’s worshipped by a huge chunk of the world’s population, and another that’s officially banned for members of two major world religions. What we can hope for is humane treatment of all food animals (and maybe the personal strength for vegetarianism). For a long, thoughtful discussion of this topic, check out Ask a Korean. (I might as well save that sentence as a macro—I seem to be typing it an awful lot lately.) In any event, I don’t think Westerners are going to need to recipe for dog stew anytime soon.
Fan death. Although unheard of essentially everywhere else on the planet, it’s considered common knowledge in Korea that you might die if you sleep with an electric fan running in a closed-up room.
(This isn’t something that comes up much on television, but the general menace of fans is obvious: every shady business deal, kidnapping, and gangster battle takes place in sight of an exhaust fan.) Snoopes doesn’t buy fan death, but Ask a Korean actually makes a case for it being possible under very specific circumstances and notes that cases are regularly reported in the news. Even if fan death really does happen, the odds of experiencing it are probably just slightly lower than the odds of winning the lottery while simultaneously being struck by lightning—which is why other cultures haven’t observed a relationship between fans and death.