A complete stranger: “Hello!”
Me: “안녕하세요.” (Hello.)
Stranger: “오! 한국어 잘 하시네요!” (Wow, you speak Korean very well!)
White, pretty, female privilege. What does it look like?
Two laborers, doing construction work: “Would you like some Makgeolli?” (Korean rice wine)
Me, walking past them on my way home: “No, I have to drive later. Thanks!”
How much of it is privilege and how much is simply a welcoming, kind culture?
Me, at the local coffee shop: “One waffle and one Americano.
“Owner: “One thousand Won, please.” (About 95¢)
Are discounts because I’m foreign? Are they because I’m pretty? Are they because I’m white? Are they because I’m a “guest” in Korea, expected to leave within a year or so? Are they because I’m a girl? Is it simply because the shop is new and it’s my first time coming here?
A coworker’s mother-in-law’s funeral. As my coworkers each put money into an envelope for the family of the deceased, I realize I don’t have any cash.
My coworkers: “Oh no, you don’t need to give any money.”
Me: “Are you sure?”
Coworkers: “No, no, no. It’s fine.”
Should I feel grateful or ostracized, knowing that others likely won’t get the same treatment?
Walking around with my Korean boyfriend in Seoul. No one spits at, grimaces or insults us. No one assaults us. We are served a free soft drink at dinner, just because.
Which part of my foreign, female, and pretty identity exempts me from the idea that foreigners “dirty” the Korean race? Why do Western men and Korean women get treated differently, disdained while I walk around, unscathed?
An acquaintance of my boyfriend sees us together. Behind my back, he gives my boyfriend a thumbs up.
What part of my identity makes me a plus as opposed to a negative? If I was fatter, would the reaction be the same? If I was skinnier and less pretty, what then? What does it take to flip the scales and push me into “unwanted foreigner” territory? What if I was really from Russia, but looked the same? Would anyone notice?
My coworker: “Oh my gosh! I forgot to tell you about the staff picture! You aren’t in it!”
When should I insist on being treated the same, when it affects me negatively or when I’m served free food and drinks for my skin color? (Or is it my long eyelashes?) When I’m forgotten in the staff photograph or forgiven for missing the school assembly? If I put my foot down on special treatment, will that offend the Koreans I work with? The Koreans I meet? Would they listen?
I don’t take put any kimchi on my plate during lunch. No one says anything.
Can I ever be anything other than just an “other”, even with my culturally desirable white skin, skinny body, pretty face and fluency in English? I spend time understanding Korean culture and learning Korean, but is it enough to be accepted? If I speak fluent Korean, will that be enough?
I fear not.
Should I be upset about it?
Those that came before me:
Understanding Racism in Korean on Seoulistic
A Huge Cloud of Shiny Whiteness: On Being White and Privileged in South Korea on The Unlikely Expat
“Because you’re foreign…” Western, White and English privilege in Korea by Sarah Shaw
“Be White” on Scribblings by The Metropolitician
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