Sunday, April 28, 2013

In Korea: "You're Too Fat"

Just in case you were planning on visiting, or in case you didn't know already.

And it's culturally okay for Korean people to tell you you've gained weight, especially if they're older.

 Recently, I was able to attend a good friend's wedding. 

This is a Korean friend I had met before coming to Korea, so when I arrived she was the only person I knew. I had a chance to meet many in her family when they invited me over for Korean Thanksgiving, one year... but that was several years ago.

So I arrived at her wedding, not having seen her family members in years. It was a very joyous and beautiful wedding. I walked around saying "hi" and shaking hands of so many people I hadn't seen for so long - told them it was great seeing them again and how nice they looked.

Then my girlfriend and I took our seats, and an older Korean lady who was sitting in front of me turned around.

"Chris?" she asked in Korean. I recognized her! It was my friend's aunt.

"Oh! It's great to see you again!" I told her, smiling and greeting her with a subtle bow.

"You've gained weight." she said. And she turned around again as the wedding started.

Inwardly, I was shocked. Well... okay, she was right. I had gained some weight. But it's been 3-4 years! She didn't even greet me... just... "you've gained weight"?! Well that's just from my perspective, because it's SO contrary to my culture. But in Korea... that's how they roll!

I was mentally reflecting on this encounter during the wedding, and verbally afterwards. My Korean girlfriend was sitting right next to me when it happened, but it didn't phase her at all... because it's totally normal. People can and do say that to you.

"You've gained weight." - Who You Hear It From

1. An older person.
They've earned the right to say what they want.

2. A Boss.
It's quite common among bosses. They can say what they want.

3. A Korean parent
They are concerned about your health and appearance.

4. A Korean boyfriend or girlfriend
They are concerned about your attractiveness to them, and how you come across to their friends and family.

5. A Korean friend
Ironically, it's least common to hear it from a friend, but sometimes they might.

How should you respond?!

I asked my girlfriend about the proper way to respond to that because I was quite speechless. The answer is just to say, "yes", and smile.

Korean society is pretty harsh on fat people,
especially if you're Korean and not a foreigner, 
but whether you're a guy or a girl...

Korean people are generally quite thin.

There isn't one simple reason why, but a large part of that is because of their diet. That'll be a future blog post, but as a preview: Korean food is quite healthy, generally speaking. It often contains ingredients of of rice, vegetables, and seafood eaten raw or cooked by boiling.

Unfortunately for me, I'm not conditioned to stomach a normal Korean diet, day-in and day-out.

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