Korean Logic

This phrase has been coined by many expats teaching, working and living in South Korea. The struggle is real, and Korean Logic is a phenomenon that all foreigners experienced to some extent. What is it? If it was easy to explain, it would not have been a thing. Korean logic refers to a number of things you will find in Korea, things that does not make sense and cannot be logically explained. I will do my best to provide you with some examples of how and where I have encountered Korean logic at its best.

It’s impossible.

The phrase ‘it’s impossible’ is the root of all Korean logic issues. In Korean culture it is extremely important that hierarchy be respected and followed, so when a suggestion or change gets proposed it needs to go through a whole list of people to get approved. This takes time, and a lot of effort. A way for your Korean coworkers or supervisor to avoid going through all the trouble is to say ‘it’s not possible’. No explanation, just one sentence and the issues has been dealt with (according to Koreans).

 The phrase also gets widely used when something out of the ordinary get requested. For example, ‘Can I have some extra mayo to go with my fries?’. Answer? ‘It’s not possible’. Why? Because it has never been done before, and I don’t want to be the one who breaks outside of the norm. This stems from the Korean group mentality. In Korea you are part of a group, and you have a role to play. Don’t break the ranks, don’t think outside of the box, always follow orders and never question anything.

Change

 At the camp where I work each student gets a number which corresponds to their locker number, bunk number and closet number. We have the capacity to host 60 students in the dorms. When we have a smaller group, some of the dorm rooms will be empty. Logic predicts that the students will get numbers starting from 1,2,3…etc. and that those numbers will then correspond with the numbers of their dorms. Oh no, not in Korea. Students will still get numbers starting from one, but will then be assigned to dorm rooms with numbers which does not match their allocated student number. I tried to explain, I begged, I plead, I prayed, but no – students still gets assigned different dorm numbers as their student numbers. Why? Because change is not possible.

 Saving electricity/energy and living green

 Our school is absolutely anal about saving electricity. When you leave your classroom for ten minutes and come back, the PC will be switched off. Korean teachers will just turn things off as they go, which is a good policy – BUT again, Korean logic. We are trying to save energy, but teachers will have their cell phones on charge the whole day, sit at their desks and watch youtube videos, have on the AC and a fan, leave their cars running for 10 minutes with the AC on so that they don’t have to get into a hot car and numerous other examples of not living green or saving energy.

 The other thing Korea loves to do is preach about recycling. Yes, preach is the right word to use here. You can get fined for not doing recycling correctly- and you have to buy special recycling bags from your local government in order to get your trash taken away. You would think this is a good thing, right? Guess what? Korean logic! There are not trash cans in any of the towns/cities we have been to. People just drop their garbage on the sidewalk or on the street corners. No recycling needed now? How does that make any sense? The other thing about living green, and we all know the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle), is the Korean packaging situation. You can get a bag from the store, but it is not encouraged. Instead stores will have a special space where you can pack all your groceries into a box. They supply tape, boxes and whatever you need. Again, you would think that this is a good thing! And along came Korean logic… every single thing you buy will be packaged to hell and gone. Buying a book? It is wrapped in plastic. Buying a box of cookies? Each cookie will be individually wrapped. Fast food? Your burger will be wrapped; the fries will be in a carton, which will also be wrapped. The drinks will be packed, wrapped in tape, and then packed into a sealed bag to avoid spillage. Not green at all. Oh, Korean Logic! Sigh.

 Tourism

 When you hear the word tourism, you would think it refers to people from a different country coming to travel in your country. Nope, in Korea tourism is focused on the Korean tourists, not the foreigners. For all touristy things we did so far, we were surrounded by Koreans. Maybe you will see one or two other foreigners, who would be just as lost as you. All signs, brochures and guides will speak Korean first, and then English (if you’re lucky). Perfect Korean Logic.

 Translation

 Korea has a lot of money. International brands are widely available. So why, I ask you with tears in my eyes, would they not hire a proper translator for advertisement? You will find that most stores have English names, or books will have English titles, products will be named in English and then it turns out to be Korean. Why advertise in English, if you are clearly Korean and want to attract Korean customers? Because English is cool. If you can read and understand a bit of English, however skew, it is better than not understanding at all. Here are two prime examples of Korean English Branding:

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My next post will be on transportation in Korea. Useful tips and tricks on using the bus, the subway and buying/recharging your T-money card.

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