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South Korea: Once the worst place to hang out with old people... but now the best?!


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So you’re in South Korea and you’ve got to answer that age old question: should I hangout with young people or old people? ‘Cause we all know you can’t do both. Not at the same time, anyway. This isn’t This is England. You know how Banjo and Meggy hang out with all those kids? But this isn't the 80s. And it isn't an unidentified drab Northern town. It's Korea!

When meeting new Koreans, the first thing you have to do, before introducing yourself, before bowing, before saying ‘annyeonghaseyo’ (hello) (Yeah, I know), is find out how old they are. Specifically, their date of birth. This information is likely to affect how the rest of your night turns out. In South Korea, the elder always has to pay for everything in a social setting. Even if you’re on a date with someone you’re really trying to impress. If it turns out you’re both the same age, then you need to get down to specifics, whip the birth certificates out and find out exactly when they were born. I should stress that I don’t think this still applies when you go out with a Korean you met down Pudding Mill Lane. It’s strictly a Korea-based thing.

Anyway, this whole thing has led to a real escalation in demand for fake ids that say you’re younger that you actually are. Maybe. It’s the 11th richest country in the world but a free pint is a free pint. Apparently the Korean adaptation of ‘Superbad’ was about six minutes long.

Ok, so you’ve got the date of birth and bloody ‘ell, you and the Korean you’re with were both born the 1st of June 1990. Do not fret. Koreans born on the same day of the same year as us are actually a year older, as they consider themselves one year old when they’re born. Bit weird, but whatever. This is the place where there’s a special ‘shaming’ holiday for single people: (April 14th) ‘Black Day’ where singles have to sit on their own somewhere and eat sticky black noodles. Which are apparently the worst ones. Also, all the other ‘14ths’ of the months are couple-based days. On February 14th, the female in the relationship has to buy her bloke some chocolates. But on March 14th, the man has to buy her something worth three times as much as those chocolates. So you better bloody hope your other half doesn’t go to Thorntons.

Not that one ya silly sod!

So anyway, it’s expensive being a Korean. Unless you just hangout with old people.

Up and down the country, everyone is hanging out with old people because it’s always their round. Some say this is just the way the culture is but I think it was a secret government initiative to stop South Korean pensioners from feeling so lonely. Imagine if young people in the UK were dying to go out for a drink with old people? But no, that’s the opposite of what happens. The old lady next door in the UK falls in a bush on Christmas Day and no one even notices until the Spring. South Koreans go hunting in bushes just to see if there are any stranded old people knocking about (who want a pint).

But this wasn’t always the place to be if you loved old people. Oh no! South Korea has a hierarchical culture, so if someone a bit older or senior to you does something wrong, you’re not supposed to say anything. Which is a bit different to the UK, where, if a senior colleague messes up, we just slag them off to everyone until they eventually overhear one day and get the point. Not saying our way is perfect but it works for us.

Anyway, in the late 90s, Korean Air (a Korean airline) posted one of the most dismal safety records since aggressive teenage wannabe pyromaniacs started playing The Sims. In the 90s, there was a crash involving a Korean Air plane at a rate of at least one a year which led to the loss of hundreds of lives. This is where the hierarchical culture starts getting a little messed up.

This sounds like I made it up but The Wall Street Journal reported in 1999 the reason for Korean Air’s awful safety record is due to ‘cultural legacy’. Which is a nice way of saying ‘you can’t bloody disagree with anyone who’s older or in charge even if it means every one’s going to die imminently’. This ‘cultural legacy’ made pilots too deferential to disagree with the other pilots’ obvious shortcomings. I mean, there’s being disarmingly deferential in the workplace and then there’s this. An attitude so obedient that people died rather than contradict a colleague. I mean, I’ve let a boss think he’s right and I’m wrong before even though I know I’m the one who’s right. Partly because it’s easier that way, and then partly because it made him look like even more of a fool in the long run. But I probably would’ve had second thoughts about doing that if it meant 230 people would die as a result.

Nowadays, though. Nowadays, it’s all fine. They didn’t manage to change the way they think or anything, it’s just the law now states that you now have to speak English in the cockpit. And if there's one thing we know about English, it's that it doesn't pay much heed to cultural legacy.

So, if you were here in the 90s, then I probably wouldn't have recommended hanging out with older Koreans. But now? It's smooth sailing.

Although one thing I’ll hold against elderly Koreans is, I was with one when he suggested I try ‘라이브 문어’, which ended up being an actual live octopus whose tentacles suctioned themselves onto the roof of my mouth. Not good.

Then, one of the times I ended up eating with a young Korean, they organised McDonalds delivery. After you’ve finished eating, you can leave you McDonalds-based rubbish outside and the delivery guy comes back a couple hours later to clean it up! 

Fancy Korean McDonalds!

Overall, old people win. The McDonalds thing is kind of cool but doesn’t swing it.

I mean, you can hangout with young people, but be prepared to pay for stuff. Also, a lot of them seem to wear fake glasses so that’s not too cool. There was even a TV show made about how wearing fake glasses can positively affect your life. Also, so many young Korean people (about four) said something along the lines of ‘I drink a beer within two minutes to cool down. I don’t understand how foreigners take 30 minutes to drink a beer’ to me in the pub.

First off, it’s about 20 minutes. Secondly, the more often you keep downing your pints in under two minutes, the quicker I’m getting the impression that maybe you don’t want to hangout with me anymore. I just paid for you to have four pints in eight minutes. You sir, have used me good and true.

(Hang out with old people.)

Daniel is travelling in South Korea with ESL - Language Travel. 

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