Living in a foreign country makes me realize various cultural differences. I work to embrace all cultural differences as natural and try to meet various demands as a guest. However, there is one difference that I frequently face lately, and I’d like to address it as it could aggravate Koreans’ relationship with foreigners.
How Koreans criticize others may offend foreigners. While I used to take it for granted, I experienced it three times in one day and had to give it a thought.
When things go wrong, Koreans often give criticism right away. Some may directly say, “Why did you mess it up? So stupid!” while others would sarcastically say, “You are not very good.” Or, some may even tell others, “Did you see how clumsy he was? He was so bad!” Especially in the last case, being criticized in front of other people may result in considerable embarrassment and discomfort.
The sentiment is understandable, as many Koreans don’t find criticism so offensive and mean it as a way to assure better outcomes in the future. However, I want to point out that such open criticism can be interpreted quite differently to Westerners. In Western culture, such straightforward criticism is very rare. If there are things to improve, people would mention what had gone well first and then add what was lacking. It is the culture of respecting one another. So when a Korean tells a foreigner, “You didn’t do a good job,” directly, his feelings would be hurt, and the relationship could suffer.
How about we replace the open criticism with kind advice? When you use kind language to mean the same encouragement for improvement, it could become a great motivation. No one in the world is perfect. When you say, “You didn’t do a good job,” he may say, “What about you? Are you perfect?” How about saying, “You did a good job but can improve this in the future. Then, it would just be perfect.” Then he would say, “You are right, I will try to fix it and make it better.” Kind advice is socially more appropriate and important than direct criticism. When people use kinder and respectful language, society will become more considerate for the honor and dignity of all members.
The author is a TV personality from Germany who appears on the JTBC talk show “Non-Summit.”
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 10, Page 32
by DANIEL LINDEMANN