Sunday, August 22, 2010

Compliments in Korea

I get complimented a lot in Korea. Especially by people whom I've only known for a short time. Sometimes, often, it is excessive. This doesn't happen to me in other foreign countries. I've often wondered why in Korea I am apparently such an amazing person. Leaving aside the obvious answer (I really am awesome) there must be some interesting, and specifically Korean, culture reasons why this happens that have nothing to do with my greatness. I can think of a few but there must be better ones.

1. I speak some Korean. Because it is unusual for a foreigner to do so this surprises and delights most Koreans.

2. I don't speak enough Korean, or do not know enough about contemporary Korean culture and society, to have an interesting conversation about Korean politics, or society, or the latest Korean drama. This lack of common space between me and many Koreans means we just don't have a lot to talk about, and so giving compliments fills and otherwise uncomfortable void.

3. Koreans are trying to place me somewhere in their relationship hierarchy depending on how I react to their compliments. Though I admit that I don't have any idea how my reactions in this regard contribute to my placement ( If anyone can elaborate on this one I'd love to hear about it.)

4. Koreans simply consider it a form of hospitality to compliment people they meet, i.e. "Oh your so handsome!" = "Nice to meet you."

Can you think of others?

But for any Koreans who might be reading this blog, allow me to offer a little advice. Westerners are not used to being complimented very often, and very rarely by people that they are meeting for the first time. One or two restrained compliments("Oh I like your shoes" or whatever) is fine if you really like something but any more than that tends to feel fake and strained to a Westerner. If you don't know what to say and have to make chit-chat, the weather or complaining about work are probably better options.



  1. If you speak enough Korean, you don't need to know much about Korea. You'll get interviewed about all things relating to your country. I spend a lot of time discussing salaries in Canada, as well as how it differs from America. I have to say I'm consistently impressed with how much people know about Canada.

    You must receive some compliments (rightfully so) for doing what you do, which is unusual. I've never heard of the place where you live.

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