Sunday, March 15, 2009

Reverse Culture Shock

Let the reverse culture shock begin! And, it's begun in earnest for me. It's just the little things for the most part. I'll just talk about a few because they're the ones that are resonating the strongest with me right now.

I notice that I'm much friendlier than I used to be before I moved. I think it's because no matter how much people yammer on about how rude Koreans can be, no one can deny that you would usually get a few people being really nice to you because you were a foreign face. So I got very used to smiling a lot and greeting strangers as they walked past. I was out shopping today with a cousin of mine at Ikea in Emeryville and I noticed how many sour faces and scowls people had. I'm not saying there isn't that in Seoul. There most certainly is, in addition to the little old Korean ladies who'll knock you over lest you get in front of them getting on that bus. However, most people aren't scowling in Seoul (well, unless you count the cross foreigners in Seoul). I'm also more confident. I'm not as quick to put on a sour face because I know I can defend myself, so I'm friendlier and a bit more confident. I notice that I smile as I pass and some people look at me like I've lost my ever loving friendly mind.

Eh, better them than me.

Also, there are other little things.
The pace of San Francisco is so much slower than the pace of Seoul. Seoul is this bustling metropolis with 20 million people in Seoul proper and the surrounding province of Kyeonggi-do. It's a madhouse and I have to say I miss it and its fast pace. But I'm probably going to move on to the ultimate of bustling metropolises, so this won't last long.

In Seoul, people keep quiet on the bus and subway, for the most part. Even in Seoul, sometimes people talk. But they're not having full on, full voiced conversations. I wish I could say the same for San Francisco. Everyone is so intent on making sure you hear all their business. I've got to say I'm happy I've got my iPod player because folks really need to keep it down. I know it's not going to happen, and I know I'll get used to the volume over time, but grrrrrrrrrrrrr.
It's funny because I realize I never really ever bought stamps in Korea. When I needed to mail something like a package, I'd go to the post office and just mail it. In fact, the one time I wanted a stamp instead of the electronic label they print out and put on the envelops you give them, it was a huge production. She had to get up, go to another window, get a couple of stamps and acted like it was the oddest thing in the world. In a way, I guess it is there.

However, being back home, I owed a friend some money. We're going on a cruise soon and last year I was the lead passenger. So everything was in my name. This year, she's the lead passenger. I paid up but she overpaid a few hundred, so I owe her. Now, in Korea your friend would just give you their bank name and account number. If you have Internet banking you could just transfer that money to them from your account no matter if you bank at a different bank. In terms of fees, you'd get maybe a thousand won and some change and that's a little over a dollar at the current exchange rate. If you didn't have Internet banking you could just go to an ATM and do an account transfer there. Here, um, no way. It's either PayPal, which charges someone to withdraw the funds put into their PayPal account, or you're writing a check or giving them cash.

Ohmygod. How antiquated. This friend lives on the other side of the country, the best option for her under these restraints from the dark ages was just for me to mail her a check. Um, minor problem. I've not bought a stamp in ages and I wasn't even sure where the nearest post office was AND it was something I'd remember at the end of the day. However, I wasn't up for doubling back once I realized where the closest post office to me is located. I asked someone and they told me I could get stamps at Walgreens drugstore. Then my memory lit up, yeah. I could buy stamps at the grocery store or drug stores. Cool. But then I needed an envelope...grrrr, I might as well go to the post office for that because I do recall that they sold prestamped envelopes at the US post office. Okay, back to square one. I finally got it all done yesterday. I was at Union Square and there is a Walgreens there and a Borders Bookstore that I could go into, sit in the cafe area, write this woman a check and address and stamp the envelope. Then I just had to find a mail box. I managed that, but, wow, what a lot of steps to take when what I'm used to is getting someone's account number and a few keystrokes later they're paid.

I told this story over dinner last night and my friend's girlfriend looked at me like I was nuts. I'd forgotten to add that I'm used to just transferring someone money online. She asks me if I'm THAT tapped in to the net and technology that I can't use a phone book. Well, of course I can, but I'd rather not if I've got my Blackberry handy. I'm still just irritated that I can't do a damn transfer through my online banking account!!!

But yeah, it's those little things that are tripping me up. Big things like transit passes, signing up for employment agencies, shopping, etc. no problem. Little things like buying stamps are minor drama and annoyances for me.

It's pretty much the most exciting thing going on with me now right now, so I'm glad there is something to talk about ;)

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