Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Multi-cultural living or the inevitability of being an a**hole.

Yesterday I was playing volleyball, like I do most Wednesdays. I am the youngest on my team and am also the best player and the only white guy. Since all the other players are forty or fifty years old this is nothing to toot my own horn over. My team wins 80% of the time. But my teammates incessantly provide me with "advice," and it is always the same advice. Without exaggeration, I am told how to hit the volleyball or where to stand on the court at least 20 times per game.

This annoys me.

I will be leaving my island this weekend, like I do just about every weekend, while most of my colleagues will not be because they have to work on Saturdays and I do not. This weekend it is likely that a storm will be coming and I may not be able to return on Sunday as I usually do. If I were Korean it is unlikely that I would be "allowed" to leave. But I am not, and so I will go.

But this annoys my colleagues.

If I were to tell my teammates to stop giving me "advice" they would be angry. Here one does not refuse the words of one's elders.

If they were to tell me that I could not leave, I would be angry. I believe an employer has no right to tell me what I can or cannot do on my days off, and am I not responsible for possible weather events.

And so on some level, and realistically, most levels, we view eachother negatively. Though we both understand cultural differences and make allowances neither one of us is willing to live by the other group's standards. In fact I have learned that becoming too close to my colleagues is a bad idea to the extent that the closer I get, the more they treat me like one of their own, which means expecting me to act as if I were a member of the Korean social hierarchy. This wouldn't be a problem except that being relatively young I am at the bottom of that hierarchy and being myself I am unwilling to subject those "below me" to what I consider ill-treatment.
And so I consciously stand apart.

Which also annoys my colleagues.

The end result is that we both on some level believe eachother to be a-holes. Because we are mature adults we manage to get along most of the time , excusing each other's behaviour rationally, or venting behind eachother's backs. But still that raw feeling that the other person is an a-hole is always lingering just beneath the surface. And because we live next to eachother it always will, unless one of us changes our minds or moves.

But then why should either of us change our minds? We live in different moral universes, both coherent, and yet opposing. Should I accept, indeed embrace, the idea that society should hierarchally arranged? Or contrary-wise is it reasonable or realistic for me to expect my 40 year old colleagues to act towards me as if I were their equal? I don't think so.

This is one of the less comfortable facts of living a multicultural life. You are inevitably an a-hole.