“YOU ARE HANDSOME” my middle-aged cab driver announces in English once she drops me off at my apartment and I am a good 20 feet from her cab. I awkwardly turn around and half-shout a thank you in Korean. Despite the extreme awkwardness of this specific encounter, this is in no way a strange experience.
They think all white people are beautiful or handsome and they will let you know. Strangers will tell you this as they pass you on the street. Students will tell you this in class (mind you, sometimes students will think they are being clever with their flattery and overcompliment you when they want to play a game.). You will hear it in restaurants, the store, the market, anywhere. If you are white, they think you are stunning.
That being said, it is clear that these compliments have nothing to do with one’s unique features. Many Koreans think that all white people look the same. During the week that Josh and I were both in the classroom, we had multiple students tell us that we have the same face. Mind you, we look nothing alike, aside from our whiteness and possibly general face shape.
So, at times, it can feel very flattering to be foreign in Korea (despite the awareness that many of the compliments are quite empty); however, in a future post, I will talk about how Korea is not the place to be if you have body image issues. Believe me, they make sure to balance out all of the “you are handsome” comments.
So, until next time, I miss you all.