You think you’re clever but you’re not….

Nice shirt... But only other 외국인 would think it is cool. BTW neither of the people in the picture are me.

Nice shirt… But only other 외국인 would think it is cool. BTW neither of the people in the picture are me.

Quick rant here. It’s become apparent that within the expat in Korea blog community (labeled by some the K-blogosphere), there are a few new terms that have come to use. Some of them are cute. Others are plain dumb. I’ll go over a few of them and give you my opinions on them. Most of them that I bother to write about are probably because they bother me.

k-logic – Also known as Korean Logic. It is used to explain a situation that seems illogical to the user, but not to the Korean person in the situation. Basically this means any nonsensical thing that any Korean does is because the person is Korean, not because the person is a moron. This is why I don’t like the term.  More after the break…

An example of K-logic from the blogosphere…  (I’m sorry, I can’t really remember where I read this one, so if it’s you, I am stealing from you.. my bad.)

(Edit!  Found on a blog called Your Daily Shot of Soju)

Situation – In a room, the heated floor is on, and the windows are open and the air conditioner is also on.  The expat asks… ‘Why is the heat on?’ the Korean answers, because it’s cold outside.  The expat then asks ‘Then why are the windows open and the air conditioner on?’ and the Korean answers ‘because it’s hot inside.’

Now, granted, this is a ridiculous and illogical situation, but understandable in some cases.  What I mean is, in some apartments, the heat isn’t controlled in the individual unit, but by the building as a whole.  If the person in charge of heating decides it’s time to turn the heat on, then it’s on for the whole building.  Therefore, as a means to control the temperature, you should open the window.  Waste of energy for sure, but not illogical.  If the person has control over the heated floor, then yes, totally illogical, but not because the person is Korean… because the person is a moron.

ajussi, ajooma – actually these are real Korean words, but for some reason, when the expat bloggers use them, they take on a slightly different meaning. In Korean, the word means middle aged men, or middle aged women, usually married. Old people would be referred to as halabeoji or halmoni (grandfather or grandmother.) HOWEVER, within the expat blogger community the words are derogatory. Ajussi almost always means an old, drunk, street spitting, foreigner kicking Korean man with a sense of entitlement. Ahjumma in its many spellings usually means a fat Korean woman in a track suit with an afro who likes to get a bargain at the store or market by pushing you out of the way. I dare anyone to try to find either word used in a good way on a K blog. I have yet to see it.

Kimcheerleader – Coined by Roboseyo… this means anyone who unquestionably defends any position that the Korean government wants people to believe regardless of if it is well founded or not. It is especially used to describe non-Koreans who do it. Probably one of the few terms I really really like.

Waygook  – and this is the term that got me to write the article in the first place. It is used as a noun when speaking English.

Example : So there I was with my friends in the bar, and we were the only waygooks around, then these drunk ajussis came over and kicked us for no reason.  When I protested in perfect Korean asking why did you kick us, he said it was because we were speaking English too loudly.  But even after he realized I could speak Korean perfectly, he continued to talk about me negatively. How’s that for klogic! (sarcasm on the perfectly part, but you’d be surprised at how many of these expat bloggers claim to be fluent in Korean when it is obvious by the way they romanize things that they are not).

An example that again, I can’t source, is one where a guy says he is talking about teaching middle schoolers and he wants to say he is smart ‘dok dok hae’ but instead he says he is ‘dak dak hae’, meaning that he is hard.  The kids start laughing and he complains that dak dak and dok dok sound too similar… when they actually don’t at all.

Anyway back to waygook.  It’s a new expat slang term that means means foreigner, and is derived from the word 외국인 (waegukin). Now it’s hard for me to describe exactly why I dislike this word, but I will try. First, in Korean, I really don’t like the word waegukin as it is colloquially used. Sure in the airport at immigration, I understand its use. Colloquially though, it means white. Japanese, while also technically foreign, would never be called waegukin, because they aren’t white. They would be referred to as Japanese. Still not convinced? Even black people from the U.S. would not be referred to as waegukin. They are hukin (literally black person). Waegukin has almost the same stigma as the word gaijin in Japanese. At least in Japan there is a polite way to refer to foreign people by using the term gaikokujin to emphasize that you mean someone who is a citizen of somewhere other than Japan. Ironically gaikokujin exactly translates into waegukin in Korean, and I am complaining about it. I guess it is because in Japan, someone using gaikokujin colloquially is visibly making an attempt to be sensitive to the hurt that the word gaijin can inflict. There is no equivalent way to do this in the Korean language, other than to use the person’s country of origin. Another way would be to use the term baek-in (white person) on equal par with huk-in… but that’s not going to happen.

So here I am bitching about words in the Korean language, so let me get back to the original rant, which was expat use of the word ‘waygook’ to refer to a person. First, ‘gook’ is a racial slur in English. I get the sense that the person who coined the word spelled it that way intentionally, as if to show that the Korean term waegukin isn’t a very nice one. Fine, but somehow the word in that spelling has spread far and wide, and is the spelling of choice, despite the fact that the word ‘waeguk’ itself in Korean doesn’t refer to a person… it refers to any area outside of Korea (including Japan). So by shortening the word, to show how derogatory the word waegukin can be, ironically, all that was derogatory has been removed from the word.

Also, a lot of expat bloggers who do this think they are clever. It’s about as dumb as naming your K-blog with a pun between soul and Seoul. um… wait.. waitaminute.


Addendum:  It appears that this particular post has sparked some controversy, so let me add a little disclaimer.  I admittedly do not frequently socialize with other expats that often.  A lot of what I am saying here is generalization based on the expat blogs that I have seen.  I have to also admit that there are a lot of expat blogs that I like, and this post isn’t directed at any of those.  However, there are some blogs that seem to do nothing other than complain about Korea all the time.  Sometimes this is done cleverly and makes for interesting reads.  Other times it’s the same old rant that if the author would simply make an effort to realize that Korea is a different country than the one he was raised in, with different social norms, then he would not complain so much.

I also admit, that I complain a lot.  You can find a lot of complaining on this blog.  That’s part of the reason why it exists, because let’s face it.  Complaining is a lot of fun.  But my complaints and concerns are far more important… so there.

I appreciate intelligent discourse from people with the opposing opinion, and I also have to admit, the discourse on this particular blog article is a lot better than some of the other ones that I have written, where I have attracted nothing but racist trolls.  So, thanks to everyone who commented and continues to comment.


27 Responses to “You think you’re clever but you’re not….”

  1. I really like your post it reminded me of one I did on the use of the word ‘ex-pat community’.

    And I also can’t stand those t-shirts. No because they are written in Korean but because most of them are stereotypical and racist.

  2. Hello,

    My blog’s name is Paul Ajosshi…

    “HOWEVER, within the expat community the words are derogatory. Ajussi almost always means an old, drunk, street spitting, foreigner kicking Korean man with a sense of entitlement.”

    “I dare anyone to try to find either word used in a good way on a K blog. I have yet to see it.”

    I’d like to think that I use this Korean word in a rather less derogatory sense than you talk about.

    I hope I have celebrated this word to a certain degree. I’m proud to be an Ajosshi, a married man in Korea. I like this word and I think that not every expat uses this term in a negative way.

    Best wishes,

    Paul Ajosshi

    • Fair enough. I often generalize about the expat community a little more than I should. I am glad that some people use the word as they should. Sorry if I offended you.

      • Thanks for the reply. I’m not offended, but I’m disappointed with your generalization. You make some really interesting points in this piece, but they are at times let down by lumping all expats together into one blob. Some of us “expats do use the terms ajumma and ajosshi in accordance with their Korean meanings, some of us don’t.

        I understand your feelings about the use of the word “waegook”, incorrect usage of language also gets my goat.

        I’d like to hear your views on that t-shirt in the photo. You don’t cover it in your piece and I’m curious as to what you think about it.

        • Well, my generalization is mainly about the writers in the K-blogosphere, and I fully acknowledge that there are lots of exceptions. However, there are plenty of K-blogs that do nothing but generalize Koreans, so much that this one post can cover a good 80% of the entire blogosphere…

          It’s quite telling that you’ll never find a t-shirt with hangul on it on a Korean, therefore any T-shirt with hangul on it was most likely made for a foreigner, by a foreigner. Some of them, are really crass, like the boji diver shirt. Some are funny, like the 뭘봐? shirt. The one that specifically says waegukin on it… hmm, how can I say this nicely…

          It makes the wearer look like an idiot. Everyone is free to disagree with my opinion, but that’s how I see it. I think the only way that particular 외국인 shirt is okay is if a Gyopo was wearing it, but then it emphasizes the airport meaning of 외국인, not the colloquial one.

  3. Eugene,
    Never heard of ‘Klogic’ before now. What you call ‘Klogic’ could just as easily be called ‘incomplete logic’. Americans (and I suspect Canadians, Australians et al.) readily understand the concept of heating being turned on for the entire building; a number of apartment buildings are done that way. They DON’T understand, and would not accept, the heat being on in the middle of June. Somewhere, a logical connection has failed, and the standard procedure has made everyone more flustered and uncomfortable than necessary. Could you kindly explain the ‘klogic’ of absentee building owners unaware of the weather?

    Further, the word ‘waygook’, as is commonly spelt by those called it, is one of the first words a foreigner often hears. Whether that person has white skin or black skin matters not; she or he is definitely not Korean, and deserving of the title ‘outside country person’. In the minds of most locals, a person is either a Korean or not. Listen to enough six-year-olds point and say ‘way-gook im-ni-da!’ and you get to know the word pretty well. The word is simply spelled how it’s heard – as you’re probably aware, ‘guk’ in English can have multiple sounds. ‘Gook’ does not.

    “Ajussi almost always means an old, drunk, street spitting, foreigner kicking Korean man with a sense of entitlement.”

    In the world most waygooks live in, that’s exactly the person we see. For better or worse, we don’t run into many young, sober, respectful married men in our circles. We ride the bus at the same time four ajumma are trying to weasel their way on in front of the line that has been waiting patiently. We go to a park during a lunch break and see two ajussi sitting next to six bottles of soju. We ride the subway at the same time an ajussi giving a young woman crap because she looked at him funny. We see an ajussi peeing on a car parked peacefully on the side of the road because… well, he felt like it. We see ajussi selling random crap from a box on the subway because he can’t be bothered to find a real job or do something substantial with his life. The only reason he gets his way more often than not is because the younger generation is still afraid of them – and even that’s changing.

    For what it’s worth, there’s a big difference between transliterating Korean into English letter-for-letter and sound-for-sound. Getting one correct means the other is significantly off. Because of your anonymity, it’s rather hard to tell if you’ve spent much time in the country dealing with foreigners that say 시 as ‘she’. Technically incorrect transliteration, but it is the correct sound.

    Glad you got your rant out of the way, and glad I did too. Now I can get back to doing something productive. Here’s hoping you can do the same.

    • Nice comments Chris. Thanks for reading…

      “Listen to enough six-year-olds point and say ‘way-gook im-ni-da!’ and you get to know the word pretty well.”

      I haven’t ever heard a six-year-old say that. And If I ever did, I would have to correct him on his terrible sentence. Directly translated that exact sentence means: It is a foreign country (respectfully niuanced). Most likely the kid is saying “Waegukin ida” Which means “It’s a foreigner (casually niuanced).” And that would proliferate the use of the word waegukin, not waygook.

      As far as my anonimity goes, I’m not anonymous. You can click the link ‘about this blog’ at the top there and see who I am and even see a flattering picture of me.

      Now as far as 시 transliterated as ‘she’ I will agree that it is close, but definately NOT the correct sound. At least when I speak English anyway ‘She’ comes out when you almost have to go into a full smile to say it. 시 can be said with your teeth together and your mouth slightly opened. I’d record them both and embed the recording, but that’s a little too much I think.

      Anyway, perhaps you are right, I shouldn’t get too angry at the spelling itself, but that doesn’t mean I should like the term.

      “In the world most waygooks live in, that’s exactly the person we see. For better or worse, we don’t run into many young, sober, respectful married men in our circles.”

      Hmm I don’t know exactly about that, but I used to work at the mall and I remember the asshole customers way more than the ones who simply buy their stuff and don’t give you a hassle.

    • This is a post where I talk about what I called the “expat echo chamber”

      Chris, you wrote, “In the world most waygooks live in, that’s exactly the person we see.”

      I’d suggest that a more accurate way to put that is as follows:

      “In the self-reinforcing world some waygooks live, confirming our stereotypes of Korea to each other, that’s exactly the person we choose to see”

      after all…

      Isn’t lumping all ajumma/ajosshis into the same pile with the street-spitters and the purse-swatters exactly the same intellectual laziness that we hate, when newspapers start railing against Korea’s unqualified English teacher problem? I mean, there MUST be a more nuanced way of looking at Korea, than through a filter of so many stereotypes and catchphrases, that it can be captured almost in its entirety by one sarcastic post from Kushibo!

      I’m going to look more carefully at my use of “ajumma” and “ajosshi” after reading this… perhaps (probably) I’ve been too cavalier.

  4. Apologies x 2.

    I should have written ‘waygukin imnida’ (외국인 입니다!) – and yes, this is unusually common amongst children. Also, I didn’t see your ‘about me’ page until just now – it’s odd, but the sidebars only appear on your home page.

    To the uneducated ear, 시 and ‘she’ would sound virtually identical. If you’ve heard it enough, you can probably tell a difference.

    I can’t say I enjoy being called a 외국인, however it’s transliterated. It seems a painful reminder that no matter how long I’ve called Korea home, no matter my standing in Korean society, I will always be viewed as a foreigner. To call me a 백인, which is itself literally correct, opens the door for even more stereotypes / undertones. Just like 백수 has both a literal meaning (‘white hands’) and a figurative meaning (unemployed), any word that refers to a foreigner would develop undertones, just as 외국인 has.

    • I’ve resented being called waegukin myself, (but that’s because I am kind of Korean, and I’m also a petty elitist!)

      Even so, I think introducing the word baekin is better because at least that’s who the people are talking about when they say waegukin.

      “It seems a painful reminder that no matter how long I’ve called Korea home, no matter my standing in Korean society, I will always be viewed as a foreigner.”

      I’m sure you are aware, but Asian-Americans who have never stepped a foot outside of the United States often feel the same way in many situations. Welcome to life as a minority…

      Of course I appreciate that it is more pronounced in the case of Korea….

      • “but that’s because I am kind of Korean, and I’m also a petty elitist”

        Then do what I do… write words in Korean. Romanization is for the weak. If someone wants to understand a word in Korean, learn the language. Just like people bitch about in America.

        • Seeing as how my blog is in English for an English speaking audience, and this particular entry is on words co opted from Korean into English, I’d say it’s the perfect time to use romanization.

        • CB Saeji Says:

          if you aren’t sure that Eugene can’t speak/read/write Korean, this wouldn’t be a good statement to make.

  5. Never heard of k-logic either but the whole k-logic idea is pretty wide circulated.

  6. The very first ajussi experience I had in Korea was when the first bus I caught closed the doors before I could get off. Two old guys yelled out and got the bus driver to open the door for me…. Daves ESL sterotype busted within a couple ofhours of arriving.

    I think your hanging arround in the wrong sphere of people if you only hear ajussi used in the negative sense from waygookins. I’m 30 and have a family so don’t spend a lot of time arround drunks but even my 22 year old rarely sober cousin uses the term positively more often than not.
    To label us all based on your encounters with people who get into bar fights wih Koreans….. feels like klogic* to me.

    As for being upset about the term Waygookins and Klogic I think your being precious. As long as the tone is playful they are fine and I’m glad rather than sulk at the racist overtones of it, the expat community has taken ownership of the word and is having some fun with it.

    If a Korean co worker puts their soup bowel on the left instead of the right I shake my head and call them a waygookin. They may be secretly plotting to kill me right now but on the face of it a good laugh was had by all.

    * I had never used that term before and can see why it’s offensive but it’s all about tone. If the K = “Korean person” it’s bad if the K = “In Korea” and we can use it on other Waygookins as well as Koreans it will evolve into something respectable.
    For e.g if someone over pack for a hiking trip that’s “K Logic”.

    Good discussion and great read.

    • This post is about k-bloggers, not all expats in Korea, so I should have prefaced it.

      Thanks for the comments though. I have to disagree with your use of waygookin in that context. The mere fact that you are shaking your head and sarcastically calling your coworker a waegukin because of improper table manners shows that you agree or at least approve of the opinion that non-koreans are inferior to Koreans, and to make a mistake in table manners equates a otherwise “good” “normal” Korean person with an uncouth, slovenly foreigner.

      I don’t think the term waygook, waegukin, or any of the derivatives should be used in English at all, because of the way it is colloquially used in Korean. Also because we already have words for it. If you don’t like saying ‘foreigner’ then just go with ‘non-korean’, ‘western’, ‘white’, ‘expat’, ‘Canadian’ etc..

  7. I dare anyone to try to find either word used in a good way on a K blog. I have yet to see it.

    I’ve used “good-looking White ajumma” as a stand-in for MILF.

    But in the K-blogs (including mine) and in much of Korea, the connotation is generally negative, even when sympathetic to the iconic ajumma. But the ajumma are trying to take it back.

    Oh, and if you’re going to promote coined words, please do so for kvetchpat.

  8. Why, then, do I feel like a racist bastard when I try to order non-Korean food and the entire menu is English-as-closely-transliterated-into-Korean-as-possible?

    If you’re “kind of” Korean, like one of your replies states, then you should only be “kind of” annoyed, anyway. 🙂 Every country has these people, every language has these little bits. You’ve never in your life, wherever you were raised, thought a foreigner was amusing for what he said or how he said it, because it was just kind of not right?

    I’d let the Koreans worry about it. I tend to use Korean pronunciations for things like Burger King, Starbucks and ice cream, even when speaking English I’ll have to use a thick Korean accent once in awhile. If I have to butcher my own language in order to communicate with people, in my language, that’s fine because I’m not in my country. If I am saying something actually ~wrong~ I’m not going to listen to someone from my country if they try to correct me (unless they’re a KOREAN professor) because they could have incorrectly learned as easily as I have.

    But I feel really, truly embarrassed when I am trying to say something and either I realize I made a mistake (화이트케익) somehow became 화이트케인) or my friend tells me I’m saying something wrong.

    • ?!??!?

      I don’t get what you’re trying to say. If you’re suggesting that I have animosity that a Korean word is spelled incorrectly or mispronounced by people who read romanization, then you’ve sorely missed the point of my post..

      What I find annoying are these words (such as k-logic, ajooma, ajussi, and waygook) which either evoke a negative image of Koreans, or evoke a negative image of non-Koreans even though they don’t know that they are doing it.

      Anyway my blog seems to bring out the best in trolls, so we’ll see how this conversation goes from here.

      • Well I’m surely no troll, I just wonder when will someone be OK with culture and language? I notice you grew up in the states but worked elsewhere in the world? Great. I grew up in the states, too. I’m from California where people complain about Mexicans, though not as often as people in Arizona, or Texas, or New Mexico. I hear “natives” of the USA complain about how they (“immigrants”) don’t want to learn English properly… well, great, so now what I see is, in effect, you, technically a foreigner (raised in USA), complaining that people from, technically, your country, not using Korean correctly.

        And someone else mentioned that, maybe they didn’t learn it right to begin with. I’ll admit I misuse “ajussi” (which, btw, is NOT how I was taught to romanize it by the Korean nationals) but not in the same sense that you mention in the blog. For some reason I see the “ajussi” as an “old man” even though I was told twice it’s not exactly “old man” but since so many people around me use it that way, it kind of becomes that meaning for some reason. Other things I’ve learned correctly, I’ve forgotten because the people around me don’t use it that way. Agossi? (presuming your strange romanizing rules apply) Where I live it’s an insult, as told to me by a korean national.

        And while I am bitching about romanizing, just because someone doesn’t know how to romanize it the way YOU do, doesn’t make it wrong. Both in the US and in Korea my professors have told me there are different romanizing rules and each professor used a different set of rules to do so. In my history (Korean History, thanks) it’s romanized still another way (which, admittedly, made for awkward reading). So whoever thinks romanizing something “incorrectly” means they don’t know Korean is just talking crap as there’s so many different ways taught and no “official” version, even though one may be preferred over another. In fact, three are legal. Do you know them? I see two of them daily, from the DMZ to Busan.

        • LOL wrote a long reply but hit cancel. I hate that.

          Here’s the short short version.

          1. In the U.S. people complain that Latin American immigrants don’t use English enough, not that they use it incorrectly. I don’t see how that coorelates. Furthermore my complaint isn’t that Korean is being used incorrectly, because we are talking about conversations and writings in English. I guess what I don’t like is co-opting certain words and assigning them a negative meaning (ajeossi, ajeumma) , or making new words that are at their very base condescending towards Koreans (k-logic).

          2. Romanization doesn’t bother me on anything other than waygook, and even then, it’s more displeasure with the term itself that bothers me, but the way it is spelled doesn’t help.

          3. The romanization forms that I am familiar with are McCune Reischauer (which I think requires someone to know hangul in order to use properly, which defeats the purpose) and the Revised Romanization sanctioned by the government. I like the revised romanization whenever possible, but for people or company names, I don’t mind. (Hyundai does not need to be Hyeondae…) But like I said again, this rant wasn’t about romanization.

          Thanks for your replies. I like discourse.

  9. I agree completely. I can’t stand it when people insert the word ajossi into a sentence. Whatever happened to the English word man? It is, of course, never a flattering description. Similarly, many others throw the word ‘waygook’ into a sentence as though they’ve cracked some secret code.

    I think many non-Koreans have the same problem that many Koreans have (no, I can’t quantify it on either side), which is to see Koreans as human beings in the same way as non-Koreans. The best example of this was from a couple of Pakistanis I met not long after I first got here.

    “Do you eat Korean food?” they asked.
    “Yeah, I really like it.”
    “Can you cook it?”
    “No, not yet. What about you? Do you cook it?”
    “No, we never eat it. They eat all sorts of strange things like scorpions and other insects. Also, the smell is really bad.”

    That was awfully rich coming from a group of people who eat pungent curry every day..

    • “I agree completely. I can’t stand it when people insert the word ajossi into a sentence. Whatever happened to the English word man? It is, of course, never a flattering description. Similarly, many others throw the word ‘waygook’ into a sentence as though they’ve cracked some secret code.”

      Yea, I was struggling to exactly cast my feelings on it, but it seems you have captured it very simply. Thank you.

    • haha Secret code. Yeah, so then when they hear a word which just slightly resembles the word 외국인 around them they assume ‘Oh they are talking about me!’. Half the time it was a completely different word!

  10. CB Saeji Says:

    I am frequently frustrated with the 외국 with the dropped 인/사람 as a noun used to refer to foreigners by foreigners. That said, so many people make this mistake in their blogs and other forums that foreigners adopt the mistake unconsciously. Although some people really don’t make the effort to understand properly, even when it has been explained to them, there are people who are just innocently replicating the mistakes of others.

    I find that many foreign bloggers show some respect towards 아줌마 ajumma as being formidable or tough or hard working, but you’re right, so many are really disrespectful of 아저씨 ajeoshi usually I think this is a combination of the manners of older Korean males (as in the inherent gruffness of many- a way of interacting that is almost the exact same to Koreans who are noticeably younger as it is to foreigners) with the butting heads of alpha males from different cultures.

    Bottom line, your foreign friends who have lived in Korea (or are living in Korea) don’t refer to themselves as 외국s or randomly talk about k-logic (new term to me) or think all ajeoshi are spitting and kicking. And who are we? People who’ve been here a long time. These short timers either will learn or they won’t last because they’re too poisoned by the thought that only their way is right to live in a foreign culture.

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