Archive for July, 2012

Beyond culture shock: he blew his nose in class

A fun story from one of my students:

When I first went to America there were many things i wasn’t familiar with. The most shocking story of all happened during my first day in American school. A kid sitting next to me stood up in the middle of class, walked all the way to the back, took a Kleenex from the box, and he started to blow his nose.

It was beyond culture shock. I couldn’t even imagine this ever happening in a Korean school, but no one was surprised. It’s one of the most embarrassing things you can do and should never be done in class. Like farting real loud in the middle of class.

In Korea, people sniffle to avoid blowing their nose in class. It was the other way around in America. I got used to this pretty quickly and I started to love it. But one time I blew my nose in class in Korea. Everyone looked at me as though I had just farted. I learned it’s important to know when to switch my gear.

Toilet paper at the kitchen table

Here’s a cultural difference that a student of mine noticed:

I went to an American university for one year and lived in a dorm with my American roommate. I used to cook Korean food for us and we enjoyed eating together. However, he was shocked and disgusted when I wiped my mouth with toilet paper after the meal.

Interestingly, I noticed this when I came to Korea and saw toilet paper where I didn’t expect it. In Korea, people use toilet paper for all kinds of things. In a lot of restaurants you’ll see rolls of toilet paper on the tables. Koreans use toilet paper in the bathroom and in the kitchen or on restaurant tables. For some it takes a little getting used to.

Lunch with a Canadian friend from a Korean perspective

Consider this story from one of my students:

When I met my Canadian friend, I suggested we get lunch together. When she showed up for the lunch date, my Canadian fried had brought her friend along – a total stranger to me.

In Korea, this kind of arrangement is between the inviter and the invitee. However, in Canada it’s relatively easier to get along with strangers and make new friends so they easily bring their friends with them.

When I asked the rest of the class, about 50% said it would bother them if a friend brought a stranger along to this kind of lunch that was supposed to be between two friends. More Korean women than men said they would find it uncomfortable or offensive.

In America and Canada, I think fewer people would find the situation awkward, especially since this was a casual, friendly meeting as opposed to a business lunch. When we get together to chit chat or hang out, we often feel ‘the more the merrier’.

The contrast is that, in Korea, being placed in a situation where you have to socialize with strangers is fairly awkward. For an example of what I mean, one thing that surprised me about Korea is that on the first day of class, students would be quiet – as if they were taking the final exam. They didn’t want to introduce themselves to the strangers sitting around them.

Personality question: Who was your favorite Beatle?

Believe it or not I had a boss who would always ask people who their favorite Beatle was. If they said John he considered them radical or left leaning, if they said George they were moderate centrists and if the said Paul he considered them more conservative or right leaning. If someone said Ringo he felt they had something to hide or where just trying to impress him with a different answer as no one really liked Ringo. While it might seem very wierd, it always seemed to provide a pretty accurate brief analysis of the individual as we found out after they were hired.

I’m just relating a unique question one of my former bosses (I’m retired) used to ask and how he interpreted some responses. Obviously anyone who would think a final hiring decision was made based on the response is an idiot. However, it was a good question to throw people off their game a little during the interview process and often got some interesting conversations going as they tended to relax more and talk more about themselves. I say whatever works!

Notice how the emphasis is on getting the interviewee off their game and getting an interesting conversation going. When you get interview questions, one of your main goals is to make the conversation an interesting one. Interesting people get hired because the interviewer would probably like to work with interesting people.

So don’t get too thrown off your game by these types of questions. Be yourself and be interesting. Let your personality show and be likable.

And, since the person who asks this question probably likes the Beatles, you should have a favorite and at least appreciate their music. Don’t say that the Beatles suck and everyone who likes the Beatles is a tool. Name one, and say what you appreciate about him. And be willing to have a friendly conversation.

Great question. (smile) I’d have to say Paul is my favorite. The thing I admire most is his work on A Garland for Linda – it’s just such a beautiful tribute album and Paul did a piece on there and I’m sure that his influence helped get the other great artists to write for the album. And it shows real love, something I think we have to admire.