Walk Like a Korean

A well known ‘problem’ foreigners have in Korea is predicting at what speed and in which direction a Korean is going to walk near you on the street. They are notoriously erratic in their travel from A to B and one must always be wary. I have become mostly numb to this specific issue (except for the occasional krazy who walks AT me at Home Plus).* But that is because all my anger is used up in another daily Korea walking conflict: Getting from Office to Cafeteria.

See, this can never happen in a normal manner and it never ceases to enrage me. I’ve wanted to write about these ten minutes for a long time because it is a daily fight. But it makes me so mad that I can actually feel my blood pressure rise and I don’t know how to write it nicely. The best I can do is present the situation factually and reflect on each part.

Usually (70% of the time)

12:29: I descend from my 4th floor private classroom office to meet with the subject teachers on the 2nd floor, where I used to reside.

Thoughts: We are supposed to eat at 12:30 every day. And by ‘supposed to’ I mean that is about what time we left when I lived in that office and that was the time I was instructed to meet them now that I’ve been exiled. Lunch is the only reason I go to that office.

12:33: I have arrived three minutes ago and am still waiting, literally twiddling my thumbs, staring at the ceiling, and sighing loudly (universal signs of exasperated boredom), while they sit with their backs to me, absorbed in their computers. One person may be finishing up a spreadsheet, two people drooling in front of the Naver homepage, and one person just beginning to stand up to go to lunch.

Thoughts: This behavior is absolutely infuriating. If it looked like they were harried to finish something important, I would understand. Not emotionally, because it’s lunch time, but logically, I could see how three minutes might pass unnoticed when you are trying to get something done real quick. However, it seems that no one is doing anything important at all (staring at Naver home screen is not fucking important) and that they cannot tell time. Further, my arrival, which is always at the same time every single fucking day, rarely triggers a, “Oh! It must be lunch time because Megan is here! For that is why she comes down at the same time every day! Perhaps I should lift my ass from my chair and proceed to the cafeteria now!”

Since this situation occurs before a meal, my threshold for this kind of nonsensical bullshit is tragically low. The three to five minutes I spend waiting for them to stand the fuck up feels like 25 minutes and I react as if it were. I’m fucking hungry and you said 12:30.

Like a pissed off cat.

12:33-12:36: Finally, something will happen, maybe one of them will say, “Other teachers, let’s go eat,” and the other teachers begin to stand up. No one looks at the clock, surprised by the time, as if they hadn’t noticed the hour. No one acts surprised that I am there, as if my arrival had gone unobserved and that’s why no one’s moving.

Thoughts: It’s like there is some *Magical Mystery Alert* for lunchtime, meant only for Koreans. This signal is not my arrival. It is not a number on a clock. It is not the same person standing up every day to announce lunchtime. I have looked for it, desperately, to no avail. I want to understand so that I can maintain some bit of sanity, but I am not Korean and thus not privy.

12:35-37: I am pushed out the door with cheery Let’s eat!s.

Thoughts: The problem with being pushed out the door first is that I am left to set my own pace/the group pace to the cafeteria. When this happens, I inevitably turn around to find all the other teachers about twenty five feet behind me, walking slower than you have ever in your life imagined a human can walk. This used to happen a lot when I first got here and I felt like an ass. Now I know that if I get pushed out the door first, I must act Korean. Linger by the door, pretend to see something interesting out the window, act like there’s something on my shoe, anything that delays progress, while everyone else slowly and fucktardedly files out, recongregates by the door and waits, once again, for the *Magical Mystery Alert* to begin the journey.

12:36-38: We start the physically-short but prolonged walk crawl to the cafeteria. To get to the cafeteria we must go down a flight of stairs. I have paced myself with the Koreans, and before you step down to the next stair, you should pause and count to two. Pause. One. Two. Step. Pause. One. Two. Step. Pause. One. Two. Step

Thoughts: I am not embellishing for effect.** This is real. And they all do it in the most maddeningly careless way possible. If you filmed someone walking backwards and put it in slow motion, that person would still be moving faster than my coworkers.

12:37-39: I am still deliberately dawdling down the hallway, but now trying extra hard to avoid running into things (children, adults, benches, walls).

Thoughts: Lately I’ve been hanging out with a contract English teacher who is young and really enjoys speaking English with me, unlike everyone else. She will walk a bit quicker with me (because even when I am committed to grannywalking with the pack, habit gets the best of me). But her company presents the second agitating aspect of walking with Koreans: they like to walk in your Bubble.

No way Jose. (It has been called to my attention that the person on the left is probably a dude. But he has the girliest hair in the world so you still get the idea!)

Groups/pairs of Korean women can be seen walking down the street holding hands or with their arms linked. Most of the time it appears that one of them is actually leaning on the other for support, like an oversized clingy toddler. As a Westerner with space/anxiety issues, I find this behavior reprehensible and never fail to remark to Erin when I see it that, “I would beat the ever living shit out of you if you tried to hang on me like that”.

But my Korean friend does not know my sentiments and when we’re walking down a five foot wide hallway, she walks just right of the center and I walk on her right like I’m trying to hump the wall. It doesn’t start out that way, but as she’s chatting she is drawn to me. We gradually start bumping shoulders, our arm hairs rubbing in the grossest way possible, until I can’t bear it and I inch over and inch over, finally able to inch no more. Then the problem of the bench presents itself as I am now on a direct path of collision and I am forced to move closer to her so we’re basically sharing the very same Bubble, her arm on my boob, in an effort to avoid shattering my kneecap on the furniture. To all of this my friend is completely oblivious.

12:38-40: I finally arrive at lunch and get in line with my coworkers.

Thoughts: I bet you hoped it would end here. But it doesn’t. Oh no. Because now, now my friends, the Koreans are in A MOTHERFUCKING HURRY. As in, “Girl, you best scoop your rice up real fast, sweetie, or I’m gonna pummel you in the butt with my tray and splash soup all over your back!”

It is these inconsistencies that make the ten minutes so blood boiling. Like the surprise of the sudden fucking rush to get food on their trays, sometimes they’ll behave normally. Some days, they’ll be standing and ready to go when I get there at 12:30. Some days, they’ll get right out of their chairs when I arrive. And, occasionally, they’ll collectively bust ass down the hallway for lunch. I’ll ask, “Oh is the schedule different today? That we’re trying to get there quick?” and my coteacher will look at me confused and say, “No?”

No. No, Megan, there is no rhyme or reason to our conduct. Let’s move like snails? Okay! Let’s run? Why not?! We are unpredictable! It’s all about whimsy!

44 days.

*This could be because I don’t leave my igloo for longer than 5 minutes anymore. Ever.

** Erin and I describe this blog as hyperbolic, which is why this might sound like a Boy Who Cried Wolf kind of story, but I am not exaggerating.

15 responses to “Walk Like a Korean

  1. Haha so true! These days, as soon as people start getting ready to go for lunch, I go for a piss and tell them i’ll meet them in the cafeteria. I go into the toilet (er… bathroom. Restroom?) and loiter there hoping no students walk in and catch me looking like a pedo.

  2. I think that’s a boy in that pic! (Judging by the deep cut of the shirt without any boobs and manly man hands) But I know what you mean…

    • Oh my god, hahaha. I didn’t even look that close. I saw the hair and rolled with it! I think you’re right! Bahahahaha.

  3. Its funny how this situation can probably apply to all teachers going to lunch. I barely have enough time to load up my tray with kimchi before someone pushes me along! Why they dish the food in such a hurry even though they arrived at the line minutes after me it so bizarre! Im down to 33 days and they can’t go fast enough :)

  4. Funny and Awesome as always!

  5. Hilarious ending! “It’s all about whimsy!” :-) I’ve never understood friends holding hands; it’s such a romantic gesture to me! Not to mention that in Korea holding hands means that you’re suddenly incapacitated – ha! Thanks for sharing!

  6. i dont understand… if it annoys you so much why dont you just go down to the cafeteria by yourself? why do you have to wait for them?

    • Haha, fair question.
      Because it would be cultural/social suicide (at least at my school). People don’t eat solo here, it’s all about the group. Detaching myself would be super rude. I would be choosing to eat lunch alone rather than wait for the group that has been designated to me by our shared status as subject teachers.
      And while those ten minutes are profoundly irritating, in the grand scheme of things ten crappy minutes is an okay sacrifice to maintain my primary social interaction with the people I work with it.
      Plus it’s too late now.

  7. Mine, for whatever reason, follow the opposite pattern.

    I barely get the last of the kids out the door before lunch before one of the other teachers has burst from the adjacent office, switched off the lights and projector, and flees down the hall calling, “Let’s go for lunch!” over his or her shoulder as they disappear down the hall.

    If I manage to catch up to them, that’s when we begin the gentle amble towards the caf. And there, after we put food on the trays, is where the true meandering begins. When I first arrived, my coworkers blasted through their lunches, as though the chairs would be electrified after more than 15 consecutive minutes of use. Now they dawdle, and eat individually plucked grains of rice, and look vaguely surprised when I get up and go on my own after staring at my completed tray for several minutes.

  8. Are you done posting? I want to read more entries!

  9. Are you guys dead? Miss the blogging.

  10. have you seen this video about walking in Seoul?

  11. “I would beat the ever living shit out of you if you tried to hang on me like that”.
    ^LMFAO

  12. Thoughts: I bet you hoped it would end here. But it doesn’t. Oh no. Because now, now my friends, the Koreans are in A MOTHERFUCKING HURRY. As in, “Girl, you best scoop your rice up real fast, sweetie, or I’m gonna pummel you in the butt with my tray and splash soup all over your back!”
    ^OMG you are SOOOOO RIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! URGHGHGHGHGH

  13. OMG! This was the funniest thing! ROFLOL! I know that feel bro!

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