Seoul Survivor


by Brian Heuvel

Foreign Friends

These days it seems every Korean person I know wants to have a foreign friend. Foreign friends are chic now. And it's been popularly decided that in order to really learn English you simply must have one. I'm so popular now that I have complete strangers coming up to me on the bus or subway asking to be my friend. In fact, the burning question in most Korean minds (at least those who study English) is "How can I make a foreign friend?". As a

public service I have composed a small list of "Do's" and "Don'ts" for those seeking international companionship.

First, sincerity is a must. Generally speaking, any westerner who has been here more than a month will not respond well to the phrase "I want to make a foreign friend". We interpret this as "I want free English lessons.". True friendship takes time. Saying you want a "foreign friend" within 30 seconds of meeting someone will definitely raise questions about your motives.

Second, talking about food is boring. If the most interesting thing you can think of to ask your foreign friend is "Do you like kimchi?", then your friendship won't last long. I don't know why so many Koreans are dying to know my opinions about various local dishes, but I really have no interest in discussing the merits of bulgoki vs. a cheeseburger.

Third, take the hint. If you start talking with a foreigner and they continually answer you with one or two word responses, then they probably don't feel like talking with you. Give up and try again with someone else. To continue to try and force a conversation is only going to make the person more irritated.

Fourth, not everybody loves noraebang. Going to a small room and singing in front of people you just met is a little uncomfortable for most westerners. Try to suggest activities that both of you enjoy. Going for a cup of coffee or a beer is usually a winner. Other suggestions might be a trip to Insa-dong or a movie.

Finally, don't expect too much. A western person is not going to be your new best friend in a day. Take it slow and respect your friend's time and privacy. This means not trying to push them into activities they don't want to do or asking overly personal questions. Being easygoing and flexible will make life easier for you and your new friend.

I hope these tips are helpful. International friendships can be fun and exciting, as well as educational. Good luck and happy hunting!

Other columns by Brian Heuvel

dining with kids

a day in the life . . .

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