Monday, June 29, 2009

After eleven months here, I think I should do a series of posts, let's say 10, about the differences between Canada and Korea. Let's start with age.

I went to a barbecue with about a dozen Korean two weeks ago. A lot of them hadn't met each other for the first time. When they were introduced to each other, the person introducing them would say "you're the same age". Then they could relax and talk to each other. If there is a difference in age, you have to talk up to the older person, who can, if they want, talk down to you.

The real substance isn't in how you talk, but in how close you get. I once asked a student if a student she knew in another class was her friend. "No! Not friend! Baby!" You see, my student was 7, and the other student was 6. Friends are only people that were born in the same year as you. People that are older or younger get described more specifically: co-workers, study group members, "we go to the same church" and so on. It's a big deal to meet someone that's the same age as you, people remark on it all the time, sort of like meeting someone who went to the same university.

At 22 and now 23, I've almost always been the youngest person in every situation save the classroom. Everyone I've met has asked me my age. Since I'm 24 in Korea, saying I'm 22 makes me out to be a university student. Four years of university, 20 months of military service, possibly a year studying abroad and the extra year for "Korean age" make guys 25 or 26 when they finish university. I usually just reply with '86, to which everyone gasps: students because it's so long ago; friends, co-workers and even travel agents because it was so recent.

After seeing the awkward, formal style in which people talk to those older than them, I consider myself fortunate that I'm not Korean.

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