It doesn’t matter how much I travel, or how long I’ve been away from home, there are certain aspects of myself I don’t want to change. Additionally, the longer I am gone the tighter I cling to characteristics of where I’m from. The more places I visit, the more I appreciate my home. (You can read more about my reflections about travel and how it relates to my home, here.)
This might sound very contradictory and confusing, and in fact, it is. The feeling “I love where I’m from but I don’t choose to live there” is one that I’m sure doesn’t resonate with a lot of people.
As you can see, the balance between travel and home is something I think about a lot. My identities as an expat, a traveler, and a Southern Californian sometimes get mixed-up together. Recently, I’ve been reflecting about the little ways these identities have been blurring, and how sometimes I lose sight of what my ‘normal habits’ and characteristics used to be.
It’s all very confusing!
It can be really hard to look at yourself and see how you’ve changed sometimes. But below I’ve done my best to analyze these “new normals”, some of which I accept, while others I consider an embarrassment.
“After 21 Months In Korea It’s Now Normal for Me To…”
The Silly Ones
8. Pay way too much for basic life necessities
To clarify basic necessities I mean: bread, cheese, wine, vegetables (hearty delicious ones, not ones that look like they came from the side of the road), and Mexican food. Yes, I consider all of those above basic life necessities, and yes, I spend way more on them than I would at home. Though I’ve recently tried to limit these purchases in Korea, I have gotten completely used to paying $7 for an awful bottle of wine, $10 for a burrito, or $5 for some cherry tomatoes. It’s sad, but it’s all in the name of survival.
7. Take pictures of anything and everyone (including myself).
Whether it’s from seeing so many Koreans either take pictures of me, or each other, of themselves or of inanimate objects, I now find it normal to do the same. Do I want to take a picture of that couple in matching outfits? Ok, I will. Do I want to take a picture of that cute baby? Done. Do I want to take a few minutes and take a picture of my ice cream before eating it? Why not?
Do I want to take a ‘self-shot’ in public because it’s completely acceptable here? Check.
I no longer have shame. (and maybe too much vanity)
6. Wear skin colored tights
Before I left California for Korea, I swore these were only for people over 60. Now, whether it is to help cope with chilly days, add an extra layer under jeans for freezing ones, or to even to hide non-shaven legs (sad but true), these babies make an appearance. Never would I dare to bring these out at home, my friends might put me in a nursing home.
The Korean Ones
5. Call out for a waiter
In Korea it is perfectly acceptable, and encouraged, to call out to get a waiter’s attention. Hollering “chogiyo” or “yeogiyo” across five tables to get in your beer order is usually the norm. At home, this would be so rude. We might quietly huff and puff at our tables to show we are annoyed that we aren’t being served, but we never holler or yell for attention. Though in Korea I still don’t like doing it myself, I will if I must. I also don’t bat an eye when others do, or even when it seems the whole restaurant is doing the same at the exact same time.
I guess it does make sense though, waiters can’t read minds.
4. Take my shoes off right when entering a building
Today I take off my shoes when entering an apartment or house faster than I can put down my purse. Most shoes I wear allow for this to easily happen, and it’s almost second nature to do so. What I find strange now is actually the fact I never did it before. Why do we wear our shoes through our homes? We even sit on the couch with them on. Sometimes, even beds! Why?!
It’s kinda gross, but before I came to Korea I never thought twice.
The Unwanted/Embarrassing Ones
3. Push and not say sorry
Combine the crowded subways and streets,with head strong old Korean women, and expect to be pushed around a bit when in Korea. Pushing to get past someone without saying an ‘excuse me’ or ‘sorry’ is just the norm. While I’ll never get used to being pushed, I just straight out don’t like it, I’ve sadly gotten used to no one saying anything to me when they do so. I also am used to pushing through people myself without saying anything.
This makes me uncomfortable. I hate that this has become normal, and I hope I don’t carry this trait with me. If you bump someone, no matter where you are, the second nature reaction should be a quick apology or a polite ‘excuse me.’
2. Eat weird food combinations.
Yes, I now will eat kimchi with anything. Kimchi on a burger? Doesn’t sound bad. Kimchi in my curry? why not. Weird, I know.
What’s almost worse is another new habit: mayonnaise. Most Southern Californians find mayo unappetizing especially in large quantities. I must be a push over with food, but because of Simon (my English boyfriend) introducing this to me, I will dip my pizza or grilled cheese sandwich in a little mayo. I should have never started this habit. It’s unhealthy and it’s weird. But it does in fact taste good!
Honestly, I almost didn’t include this one here because it will embarrasses me when my friends read it.
1. Konglish and British-isms. The most embarrassing of them all.
I’m not sure when it started. If I had to guess it was from month 14-18, when I least expected it. For my first year in Korea I fought hard to stick to my own lingo, preserve the way I spoke without inviting in new, unwanted vocabulary. Then all of the sudden, people started to tell me the worst: I sound British. THE HORROR. Not that sounding British is bad. It’s not. But it’s the fact that I don’t sound like ME.
Simon (from Northern England) and I have been dating for over a year now. And while in the beginning I could barely understand the conversations between him and his friends, today our differences in accents are barely noticed between each other. We switch from British TV to American TV almost as easy as changing a channel would be at home. Sometimes, we still debate on word usage, or I get confused by a new British slang word I previously was unaware of. It’s all so normal that in fact: I’ve started to speak like him without even knowing it. Supposedly saying, “Want to come over to mine?” or “I’ll pop over later” are all things foreign to my once Californian vocabulary.
I know I haven’t completely “lost the plot” yet and there is hope for me. Every time I “can’t be bothered” by something, I hold my tongue and revert to “couldn’t care less”.
What’s even worse, is the Konglish I am also adopting. The term Konglish refers to English words that Korean people have taken and now use themselves. Often times, these words are not being used appropriately at all. Sometimes, when my co-teachers ask me for the word for something, I can’t even think of it because it has been so long since I heard it. For example, the term “announcer” is often used for professions in which people do news broadcasts or other news related shows. When my co-teacher asked me if this was correct, I almost couldn’t think of the adequate alternative. News anchor? News broadcaster? What the hell do we call those people?
My saddest moment came when a student said goodbye to me and I responded with a “see you!” I grabbed my mouth instantly, wishing I could reverse those last new horrid moments. Not even, “see ya!” or “see you later!” but the dreadful “see you.” The awkward term from my 6th grade English textbook.
What this means..
Half those things up there embarrass me a bit. Even more so if you are reading this and personally know me from home. But don’t give up hope on me. I still love the beach, wearing sandals in winter, eating burritos at 2am and drinking coffee (not tea) more than anything in this world. Yes, the whole world.
So when I’m at home and I act a little funny, don’t give me too hard of a time, just remind me of what’s normal and I’m sure I’ll slide right back into it.
How has travel changed your habits? Has it made you weirder too? I’d love to hear!
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