Tonight Julianne and I took our recycling down to the apartment building bins.
As we walk over to the recycling area an ajumma (middle-aged married woman) walks past us and as we pass her the ajumma-radar begins tracking Julianne, and following her. The ajumma's body turns, following its target, and she stops walking towards the elevators in order to fully engage the foreign target she has acquired.
Julianne and I begin putting our stuff in the bins. I say to Julianne, "I bet she comes over here when we leave to see what we put in." Julianne makes facial contortions of disapproval, and I say, "You wait. It's gonna happen."
And sure enough, as we're walking outside to the second location where we have to put the special plastic bags full of trash you buy from the grocery stores here, I see her walking over to the bins and she begins lifting up the lids and peering inside, and moving stuff around with her hands to see what we put in.
I stop, and say to her, "Wey boseyo?" with a slight tone of disgust and disapproval.
She grins, oblivious to my disapproving tone and look. She picks up a glass bottle (KGB, a kind of cooler), and taps the top of the bottle with her finger and says something in Korean. She then returns my garbage to the bin.
Seriously! There's gotta be some kind of cultural taboo against taking someone's trash out of a bin, examining it, and making comments to their face in public--is this normal for Korean culture? Or is it a personality thing? I think some of the more bizarre cultural experiences I've been through in Korea can be attributed to personality--but in this case, I don't think so.
I'm going to ask my 6 month training course in-service trainees about this in my next class. I suspect that most will protest that this is not "Korean culture" . . . and then I'll have to decide whether or not to tell them that this is also a fairly common experience for foreign teachers living in Korea--if not an experience that EVERY foreign teacher has the 'delight' of going through at least once during their time here.
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