Random Thoughts: There's a foreigner watching

A few days ago, I was at a small fly-by-night grocery store trying to buy some fruit. A customer was complaining at the clerk. I admit that I don't know what led her to complain. She was gently but strongly complaining--and holding up the line. She noticed me, motioned in my direction as if I weren't there, and mentioned to the guy in Korean that there was a foreigner there. She seemed to be trying to defuse the situation she was exacerbating. He flipped the script on her and he started getting angry.

Assuming I read the situation correctly, from her view: "I can complain like crazy, unless there is a foreigner watching." In his case: "Hey, I'm gonna do what I'm gonna do, I don't care if there is a foreigner watching."

* * *

There are some times that it is amusing to explain some things about America when Koreans I talk to ask me what Americans think about one thing or another. I used to say, "Not all Americans think the same way," or "There is no American opinion about that" or, even more pathetically: "There are more than 300 million people in America. I am not the nation's spokesmen.At least half of the country disagrees with the president of the country--at least he was elected to that position."

I have given up that fight. Now, I respond by telling such questioners what I think or do--and presenting that as the American point of view.

"Americans love singing at noraebang, they enjoy swing dancing whenever they have time, they read and write for fun, they are greatly concerned about North Korean refugees and others being oppressed by the crime family in North Korea, and, oh--they are trying to lose some weight by playing basketball."

When people tell me that I'm wrong, that Americans don't believe or do such things, I put up a good fight, insisting that Americans do believe such things--the handful who don't are oddballs, exceptions to the rule.

* * *

Last week I came across an article on The Root. I have published a few articles on the site, back when there was more serious content and less trash. It was created by Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates in association with the Washington Post.

Drum roll please for this article: "Why White Men Are Obsessed With the First Lady's Butt."

I could just dismiss it as desperation by the Root to rile up its readers, as it strives to do so often these days, and to make news in places where such analysis is news. Even if true, so what?

Prof. Gates, what do you think about the First Lady's butt?
 I asked a few white male friends. They expressed great surprise that there was even such a discussion. Perhaps they just don't know. I suggested they were oddballs, exceptions to the rule.

If I had to explain such an article and discussion to Koreans...I couldn't even fake it in this case because I have no interest in Michelle Obama or her butt. So I can't even give the American view based on my own.

I can understand crazy talk from netizens on opinion boards, but an online publication that once tried to be respectable, talking about the first lady's butt? Uncouth. The Root has gone from profound to provocative. I guess at this point that the Root is chasing Web hits rather than the somewhat serious analysis they seemed to be after a few years ago.

And it reeks of being a "heads-we-win, tails-they-lose," argument. Either white men are obsessed with a black woman's butt or they have been socially conditioned to dislike a black woman's butt. Either way, you white guys are odd balls and guilty.

But I guess this is good news for black men--apparently this means it is okay for black men to obsess about Michelle Obama's butt.

* * *

There are some times that people outside a culture or country might not understand what is going on. So should I be more understanding about the lady pointing in my direction, and wanting to end the argument because I was watching?

It reminds me of the site "Black Out Korea." The site features photos of Koreans who have gotten drunk and passed out in various positions and locations. I suppose I should not laugh. For people who get offended and want me to denounce such photos, I would suggest that you show those photos to me about six or seven times, step out of the room, let me get my laugh on, then by the time you are ready for me to be serious, I'll be able to discuss the issue with you.

Those Koreans who get drunk and pass out in the street...should they be embarrassed they got drunk and passed out? And did so in front of an occasional expat passing by? I suspect that people who like to get drunk and pass out are not going to complain about who is watching them. Is it, "We should behave ourselves because the foreigner is watching" or "Hey, I'm gonna do what I'm gonna do, I don't care if there is a foreigner watching."

* * *

In case you hadn't heard, Koreans are not heavy drinkers. In 2010, various Korean media reported with pride: "Korean Reputation for Heavy Drinking Proved Unfair." I suppose that next there will be a study proving that Swedes love Kimchi more than Koreans do.

So clearly, BlackOutKorea is capturing just a few isolated cases, oddballs. And the people I will be stepping over in a few hours if I am out late? I'd like to ask both the lady and the clerk at the fruit and vegetable store I was at a few days ago who they think those people are.

* * *

Disclaimers and Parenthetical comments:

* Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh calls First Lady Michelle Obama "MooChelle," not "Michelle My Butt," that's another case of The Root relying on Media Matters for misinformation..
* With BlackOutKorea, I could certainly understand people not wanting to be photographed, whether or not they are drunk. And when they come to, hitting their heads on the bench as the bus stop as they sit up, I guess they can make that complaint...
* I don't mean to suggest that I am the only non-Korean who has ever had someone Korean try to defuse a situation because I was watching.

Also see:
Get rid of that watermelon, September 1, 2003
How will I know Korean culture when I see it, August 17, 2009