Friday, December 17, 2004

Culture shock

There are so many things to get used to here. I've been home just over a week and this place (Ontario, Canada) sure has changed. Of course, I mean that I have changed a lot and my old stomping grounds have changed a little.

I'm not just talking about hearing English in the background all the time although I am now a constant eavesdropper. With my weak Korean language skills, it was easy to tone out what others were saying around me. Even yesterday, I twitched and almost looked around at hearing English being spoken.

Korea has its share of SUVs. Even students can afford Korandos. But here in Canada, I am seeing giant SUVs and trucks. Then the vehicle parks and a giant person climbs out; not much taller than young Korean adults but much bigger. Muskoka, where I grew up, and Midland, where my mother lives now, are rural places where 4 wheel-drive is a useful accessory but I also see so many in Toronto and it's suburbs.

The tip system for waiters and the behavior it encourages is a mixed blessing. Korean restaurant staff might or might not be especially friendly (usually they are friendly) but they are also unobtrusive. At a recent visit to Boston Pizza (2 years ago, there were none but now they sprout up like Walmarts) I was asked five times how I was enjoying my meal...this with the pizza in my mouth at the time. They wandered off while I was trying to mumble around the food. They didn't really wait for an answer so I guess it's in their manuals: "periodically ask customers about the food. It shows we care."
Every restaurant we went to, the wait staff told us their names. Should I have shaken hands with them? Asked them about their families?

There are a lot of big stores in Canada. Huge boxes with parking lots that could hold a few soccer games at once. I know this is not a new phenomenon, but it still caught my eye. The E-mart chain in Korea is very western in feel still suffers from the high price in real estate. Bracebridge's Independent Grocer had aisles big enough to drive a car down them. It had a deli bigger than Yangyang's biggest meat shop, a bakery the size of all four Yangyang bakeries and a grocery area as big as the three grocery stores in Yangyang. I'm not saying this is good or bad; it is simply overwhelming to this briefly repatriated Canadian.

Bus schedules suck, the fairs are outrageous and they are as crowded or more crowded than Korean buses. A one hour ride from Toronto to Barrie (one hour, 100 km), cost as much as a trip from Seoul to Yangyang (3.5 hours, 270 km). and was so full, some customers were turned away. The bus has seats four across as opposed to the Korean long distance buses with seats three across. Anyway, I could complain more but I understand why this difference exists; everything is further apart in Canada because of the giant big-box parking lots.

Finally, it seems that many of friends have less hair than I remember from two years ago. Memory sure is a funny thing.

1 comment:

GI Korea said...

I remember the first time I went back to America after being in Korea a year and half and it felt weird being able to drive, have the freedom to go to Wal-mart if I wanted to, no MPs looking to arrest me for something like walking into a barber shop, plus staying out past midnight without the fear of being detained. I can't wait till I can take leave. Have fun being back in Canada for the holidays.