am i a hypocrite?

I've been working at a Korean office for over eight years now. Some people, mostly Koreans, wonder how a white girl like myself could manage spending nearly a quarter of her life in such a culturally bizarre environment. I tell them my eggification happened long before my first job out of college, it started my freshman year of high school, when I met my best friend. Loud voices, hot pots, and removing my shoes before entering one's residence was something that quickly became quite comfortable to me. Josephine is what you'd call 1.5 generation, though she's always been far more "American" than I. It was not she, but her Chinese family that gave me the rice envy.

So you could see, I was yellow inside before starting my job. But since I've been working here, my outside has been changing as well. The most apparent modification has been my hair, it went from kinky Mediterranean to sleek and chic. My clothes have gone from college girl to company woman. I no longer carry backpacks, but handbags. Though I'm proud to say I still can't bring myself to pay over one hundred dollars for a purse. Hell, I'm so Korean that when I'm in the throes of passion I yell, "Ai Goh".

You can imagine then how crushed I was when a Korean friend recently called me a hypocrite. She also confessed that she couldn't trust me because I am always complimenting everyone, telling people their skin looks good or their hair cut is cute or how their new outfit is flattering. She just doesn't buy it.

I recalled some of the blandishments I've extended over the years. Did I mean what I said, or was I merely being ingratiating? Had I said something to another party to negate the kind words that I initially imparted? So yes, I've done it before, and it's not because I'm a phony, it's because I'm a people pleaser. But before I get too apologetic, I have to look at the contrary, which would be the stereotype of the Korean person being brutally honest.

In fact, it's likely that I've lasted as long as I have at my job only because I am bit of a masochist. I can handle the criticism once I get over the initial pain, because ultimately it makes you grow. Still I can't bring myself to ever be as forthright as my Korean and Korean American counterparts.

What does this mean that I can take it but not dish it out? Isn't it usually the other way around? Am I the ultimate hypocrite? Are my pleasantries indeed meaningless? And then I consider my other non-Korean friends, and they are actually worse than I. But what's worse than them being worse is that I am repulsed by them being worse. I can't trust them. Is this how my Korean friends think of me?

Come to think of it, when I want an honest opinion about something I'm wearing or a hair style, I go to my Korean pals. When I feel the need for positive reinforcement my Caucasian friends come in handy.

Consider the dining experience at an American restaurant like Chili's versus a Korean place in a similar price range. As soon as you walk through the doors at the former establishment you are bombarded with friendly faces, lots of questions and saccharine smiles. Whereas at the Korean restaurant, no matter how frequent of a customer you are, you'll be lucky if you are greeted with a strident yet cheerful "Uh so oh sae yo." One behavior isn't really preferable;the Korean style allows you to eat without stress, and you rarely feel subtly bullied to tip more than 10-15 percent because the waitress just complimented your sweater. The American way, on the other hand, makes you think you just made a new friend, when all the server really wants is a big gratuity.

Maybe rather than figure out how I can be more scrabbled than uncooked, I should accept the differences and appreciate the influence that Korean and other North East Asian cultures have had on my life. I don't think I could ever tell someone their perm makes them look like an "ajuhma" or their new dress makes them look fat, I might be thinking it, but I prefer to keep it to myself. Does this make me a hypocrite or just plain American?

No comments: