I tried a new experiment this morning while on my first run in too many months, and started saying hello in polite or very polite Korean to every single person I passed who stared at me—and in my flushed, sweaty state of hideous, stinking foreignness, that is to say I said hello to nearly everyone. The results were remarkable. Nearly every Korean in Busan seems to think that foreigners are physically incapable of uttering even the simplest phrases in Korean, and nearly every foreigner in Busan is the daily subject of a barrage of unending glares from the sizable middle-aged population here. Saying hello to these people in our host country’s native language is the quickest and easiest way I can think of to bridge the gap between our two cultures, and since I got a resounding 네!!!!! (yeeeeeeeeeesssssss!!!!) from every Korean I spoke to I can consider this quick operation a success and plan to continue implementing it for as long as I remain here.
I like it much more than simply averting my gaze and nurturing all kinds of nasty thoughts, and then writing about these thoughts on my blog, which is what I’ve been doing for over a year now without much to show for it except a poisonous, corrosive resentment eating away at my mind like a hissing splash of bubbling acid. So: what better way to humanize a stranger except to politely give or receive a salutation? As I’ve said a thousand times (and I am condemned to repeating myself and being myself) I think the moment we leave our home countries we become ambassadors and representatives of those countries—as an American I become America when I am abroad, and I believe that being a general nice and respectful guy is probably the best path to pursue if I am going to be the American and show the world that even if our government is an evil empire our people are as nice as anyone else. The weird dances and air guitar solos I do on the subways will probably have to stop as well as a number of other selfishly provocative acts meant purely to amuse fellow foreigners and provoke a rise from the resident populace, which already thinks we are loose and barbaric enough as it is.
So I recommend it to fellow waygookin here or potential waygookin considering a move to the Land of the Great Han: Let’s Say Hello. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain when you take the time to say 안녕하세요 or 안녕하십니까 to some old guy who maybe thinks you don’t care about his culture.