Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years

Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years: Version 2.0!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Understanding the intricacies of Korean social custom is a must for any waeg if they want to take their job seriously in the ROK.  If you really want to get a lot done, stepping on too many toes is not the way to do it since you end up at best being ignored, at worst meeting straight out resistance and maneuvering aimed at bringing you down.

Waegs do have a bit of an advantage in some ways, since learning even a few of the subtleties of fitting Korean social behavior can get you far indeed.  One of the most important and obvious lessons any wet behind the ears waeg will know is of course how to act based on age and position, but I digress.

One of the most important things to consider is flattery.  Flattery is a cheap and seemingly inoffensive gesture,  and noticing even small details about coworkers or superiors and commenting positively is a standard practice in many countries.  But giving in and accepting flattery can be a much bigger problem in the Korean context than elsewhere.

If you respond positively to flattery, the flatterer gains some currency or leverage to act in a way that is beyond their position or age.  Some expert flatterers will get some superiors wrapped so tight around their finger that they'll begin to slack off, speak to equals or other superiors of lesser rank in an unfitting manner, or worse start pretending to speak on their behalf.  This can cause a shit tsunami in the normal pecking order, resulting in inefficiency when dealing with other departments, whose members may feel slighted by someone identified as close to you.   While brown nosers can cause issues anywhere, the damage they can do in the Korean context is amplified, where maintaining healthy, respectful relationships is paramount.

The general F5Waeg rule of thumb?  Flattery should be used and accepted judiciously.  You should not flatter too much, and if someone is excessively flattering you, nip it in the bud by ignoring it.  While you do want things to be copacetic in your work environment, maintaining the necessary distinction between civility and friendship is crucial.  In normal circumstances, it is possible to develop true, meaningful friendships with coworkers, but caution should definitely be exercised when acting in authority.

Besides, do you really think you look like Brad Pitt or some random actor / rockstar?  

Enough babbling about common sense stuff.

Time for coffee.

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