Clone attack: No escape from couple culture“So Steve, do you have a girlfriend?”
“Really? Why not?”
I’ve had this conversation scores of times since arriving in Korea earlier this year. And it’s not just middle-aged women looking for a prize catch (me) for their daughters. Everybody wants to know, from grandparents all the way down to my 12-year-old cousin, who, upon hearing my response, bragged that she has a boyfriend ― he just doesn’t know it yet.
Once Koreans learn that I’m single ― by choice, mind you ― they start speaking in hushed tones, presumably so as not to draw attention to my unfortunate situation. They look me up and down, searching for the flaw that keeps me from landing a steady girl. Finding no readily apparent problems, they inevitably offer to set me up on a blind date. When I politely decline, it’s as though I’ve crossed the line from unlucky to all-out insane.
Koreans, it seems, are completely obsessed with couple culture, which is inescapable here. Walk down any street on a sunny Sunday afternoon in an area where young people gather and you’ll see a staggering number of people wearing matching shirts. No, they’re not all twins, they’re couples. Many of them, I’ve been told, even wear matching underwear. Like all things couple-related in Korea, matching his-and-her underwear sets are hot items.
Most aspects of the couple culture I’ll never understand, but there is one couple fashion accessory I appreciate: the couple ring. A precursor to the dreaded engagement and wedding rings, the couple ring indicates that someone is taken, but not yet to the cleaners.
I believe it could become the most useful item to hit the American bar scene since rest room condom dispensers. For years single guys like myself have been looking for a good way to tell which girls we could, well, hit on. The couple ring is a quick, easy way of letting us know if our time, energy and portfolio of great pick-up lines will be wasted on a particular girl. It also simplifies things for single women who want to be left alone by eliminating the need to drag that male friend to the bar to ward off unwelcome advances.
So while Koreans might find my lack of a girlfriend odd, I find that rather than trying to appease them I need to focus on more important things ― like finding out if that girl in the corner is wearing a couple ring or not.
by Steven Lee
The writer is a junior at Cornell University in upstate New York.
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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