Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The "Chopstick Reaction": foreigners using chopsticks in Korea -- "WOW!!! She can use a FORK!"

I think it's safe to say that any foreign person who shares a meal with a Korean has likely experienced the "Chopstick Reaction."

The "Chopstick Reaction" is when a Korean sees a foreign person eating with chopsticks and suddenly says, "Wow! You can use chopsticks!!!"

And the "Chopstick Reaction" doesn't end there. If you are eating with a group of Koreans the news will spread like a forest fire until the entire dinner party is talking about the foreign person's chopstick skills . . .

I have talked with many foreign teachers about the "Chopstick Reaction." Reactions vary based on personality type, time and experience in Korea, and a variety of other factors.

A sampling of reactions may include,

1) I'm not an alien (although your government has given me an 'alien registration card,' lol).

2) I'm not a child. (Children in Korea use forks until they're old enough to develop the manual dexterity required to use chopsticks.) (Children and foreign people seem to often be conflated in the Korean cultural imaginary.)

3) I've been here __ (2+) years. You KNOW I've been here __ (2+) years. WHY ARE YOU REACTING THIS WAY? I've eaten hundreds of meals with chopsticks--I've been here __ (2+) years . . .

I say __ (2+) years because there are some foreign people who do struggle with using chopsticks IN THEIR FIRST YEAR. But I have NEVER seen a foreign person in Korea who has been here longer than 2 years struggling with chopsticks . . .

I mean, come on, if Nicholas Cage can use chopsticks . . .

Nicholas Cage and his Korean American wife, Alice (Yong-gyong) Kim

I think one source of the "Chopstick Reaction" phenomenon can be attributed to news articles and popular culture in Korea.

From the Korea Times, Spinal Surgery Without Scar Possible

"`Since Koreans have small hands, we can deal with more delicate operations. The fact that we use the thinnest but the heaviest chopsticks in the world is attributable to the talent too,'' he said" (my bold).

I think that there may need to be an investigation into the CAUSE and EFFECT relationship here . . . sigh.

More from the article, "Lee says the future direction of treatment will be more of no-harm, no destruction, no scar and no damage at all. ``I think the robots will do the work. Also, cell therapy will become common. When you have a problem with the spine, you will use your stem cells to cure them,'' he said" (my bold).

But ROBOTS don't use chopsticks . . . is it possible they can do the work better? (insert 'sarcasm' here).

I did a little surfing to try and find a picture of a robot using chopsticks . . . this is what I found.

Another search result came up with this,

"On November 7, lingerie maker Triumph International Japan unveiled the “My Chopsticks Bra,” which features a pair of cups that resemble bowls of rice and miso soup, and a set of collapsible chopsticks that tuck into either side. The My Chopsticks Bra is the latest addition to Triumph’s line of concept lingerie designed to boost awareness of environmental issues.

Triumph unveils the My Chopsticks Bra as Japanese consumers are becoming more aware of the negative impact that disposable chopsticks have on the environment. While it is becoming increasingly trendy for people to reduce waste by carrying around their own reusable chopsticks, Japanese consumers still go through an estimated 25 billion pairs (90,000 tons) of disposable chopsticks each year, which amounts to 200 pairs per person." Source


Triumph lingerie model Yuko Ishida

I recently figured out a great parallel example of how to explain to a Korean why the "Chopstick Reaction" is so bizarre to a foreign person.

I said, "Imagine if you come visit me in Canada. We go out for dinner with several of my friends to eat at a restaurant--a public place. Suddenly, I notice that you're eating with a FORK. You are eating with it and not having any problems. I then react with a very strong facial expression of astonishment, and in a loud voice say,

"WOW!!! You can eat with a FORK??!!!!"

After using this example I think my message was understood loud and clear . . .


No comments: