Thursday, April 11, 2013

New habits, meet my old life.

It's easy to adopt habits and mannerisms from other people. While we don't look much alike, people often ask if my best friend and I are sisters, and the only way this makes sense to me is that we have a lot of the same vocal and physical mannerisms. When you're around someone for a long time, you just sort of subconsciously take on these things.

The best part, I think, about these things is: they become the new normal. I really like the idea of a culture sneaking into your habits and instincts, leaving behind little traces here and there of your time abroad.

Now that I'm back in the States on vacation after fifteen months in Korea, I'm suddenly very aware of these subconsciously adopted habits. Often it's simply catching myself using Korean mannerisms that I've picked up from students and friends, and even more often having to pause and explain myself to the friend watching me with a puzzled expression. Other times it's having a craving for something that wasn't a staple of my American life's diet.

So here's a list, in no particular order, of the little bits of Korea that have become a part of my "normal" routine.

1. Taking my shoes off when I enter a house.
This has become a reflex to me that was actually difficult to override in my brain. (Think of how clean our carpets would be if we didn't constantly track in dirt!) While I was still trying to get myself out of this habit, I would intentionally make myself be the last one to enter the house so I didn't hold up anyone behind me. Which is something that had been happening...

Not my entryway, but mine would often resemble a shoe explosion like this one. (Photo credit.)

2. Bowing.
I'm not even always aware that I do this, actually. It isn't a full bend-at-the-waist bow, but just a small nod of the head. Always accompanied with a "thank you" in either English or Korean, this is such a simple and effective way to express gratitude that will be understood in Asia. Gestures of body language like this make a language barrier irrelevant. Once I was back in a country whose language I spoke fluently, I caught myself doing this pretty quickly and made an effort to stop, mostly because I was on the receiving end of quite a few bewildered looks.

3. Eating spam.
I am so. mad. about this one. Let me clarify: I do not buy cans of spam. I do not cook with spam on my own. I do not, ever, actively seek out spam as something to eat. But, after being in the ROK for a decent amount of time, I have become... used to eating spam. And... I recently had the shocking revelation that I actually enjoy eating spam. Not in large quantities, but a bit of spam in my roll of gimbap? Delicious. Oh, is that a bit of spam in my soup? Excellent. Now that I'm home? I'm so mad that I miss spam...

A spam giftset at a Korean grocery store, which is common and considered to be a generous gift. (Photo credit.)

4. Pushing and shoving.
Being as Korea is packed full with a whole lot of people, and subway stations can get a bit intense during those busy hours, I have gotten quite good at pushing and shoving my way through a crowd without so much as a single "excuse me." I've learned by watching the masters of this maneuver: the ajummas, who I aspire to be like someday. When I first got to Korea, I was still trying to apologize for inevitably hip-checking strangers, but now, I just plow my way through like a pro. During my time home, I've actually felt really bad quite a few times for my no-nonsense darting and weaving through a crowd. Sorry, everyone I may have cut off or bumped into at SXSW. I didn't mean to be an asshole. You were just in my way...?

You try being meek and making it through this kind of crowd.

5. Throwing up a peace sign in a photo.
Luckily, this is kind of a thing everywhere right now? So my learned instinct to automatically pose with a peace sign next to my face just had to be toned down a bit. Friends did call me out on this though... "What are we doing in this photo? Oh, are we throwing up peace signs?" "Oh, uh... sure...? *sighs* I don't even think I'm aware that I'm doing this..."

Some of the causes of my peace sign photo pose reflex.

6. Speaking in simplified English.
As is true with anyone trying to learn a foreign language, you find ways to express yourself whether or not it's grammatically correct. Sometimes, while it could technically be correct, it just isn't how people actually speak. English is a tough language, so I constantly hear little phrases from my students that sound awkward to my native English speaker ears, and yet do make sense. And, I've adopted some without meaning to. For example, I don't even know how many times I've described the number (as in quantity) of something as "very many" since being home, immediately catching myself and laughing. My students say this all time -- "Oh, teacher, there were very many people at the Big Bang concert!" It makes sense, and also doesn't.

7. Speaking in Korean/Konglish.
While I can't claim to have a strong grasp of the Korean language, like, at all, I have found myself doing a fair bit of code-switching. Ususally, this is in the form of various Korean vocab words being thrown into an English conversation. Instead of yes or no, I'll substitute the Korean equivalent. "Chincha?!" is used in place of "really?!" Sometimes it'll be more complex sentences, like an English word followed by the Korean for "give me, please." I frequently did this before going to Korea, instead with bits of Japanese, Spanish, French, or whatever foreign vocabulary happened to fit the situation. What can I say, it entertains me. I've also found myself using some Konglish that I've picked up from my kids. Strangee, not strange. Same-same, when comparing two things that are, well, the same.

8. Eating uncooked ramen.
The best part about this one is that I HATED ramen in college. I turned my nose up at it when my fellow poor college student friends would make some for dinner. This was not because I wouldn't deign to eat it, but simply because I thought it smelled terrible. Imagine their surprise when I came back from Korea and insisted we go pick up ramen from the Korean grocery store so I could eat it uncooked. While I will eat most packaged ramens uncooked (and prefer them that way), Korea has a brand that's actually meant to be eaten raw -- Ottogi's Ppushu Ppushu. And I am obsessed with it. Ob-sessed.

So. Delicious. (Though the best flavor is the BBQ.)

I'm sure there are other little ticks and quirks I've adopted, and I look forward to figuring them out. All of these "new norms" make me smile and I'm curious to see what else seeps into my habits as I spend a couple more years in Korea.

Has anyone else had an experience like this? Tell me your stories in the comments below!