An American Watches Korean TV

We rented a Korean movie last night called 우리형 "My Older Brother." My husband liked it because it was set in the city he grew up in during the same decade he was in high school.

Generally, I'm not a TV watcher at all. American TV is usually just too obnoxious for me to handle and not too educational. A waste of time, I'd call it. Not that I'm the most efficient person walking this earth but if God hadn't taught me to be more patient and less task oriented I might well be one of the more efficient people in my corner of my world.

I've come to enjoy Korean dramas and movies because they improve my cultural understanding and my listening skills. I can convince myself that I'm using my time wisely while I'm watching TV. If you didn't know, Korean produced shows are super popular over here in East Asia. Japan loves them and spends lots of money importing them. China and countries further south in Asia like Korean TV too. I can't see it becoming big in American, unfortunately, even if everything was dubbed in English, the cultural differences are so big and are so central to the story lines that they just wouldn't make sense to the Western mind.

Huge Difference #1: Apart from the rampant alcoholism, Korean TV would be in the "family friendly" section. They are virtually void of any sexual content or violence, and have no special effects and rarely any crime or mystery element. My husband said the Korean networks used to censor American movies so heavily that he had a hard time following the story line once they aired. He said "Conan" ended up being about one hour long. There are few legal thrillers, crime shows, cop shows, science fiction shows, or sarcastic sitcoms that I have seen. Instead there are "dramas" that consist of the lives of extended families, or rather strange love stories, or historical dramas that consist of serious men with long hair in fantastically elaborate costumes engaging in battles and arguing about ancient politics.

Huge Difference #2: Upper middle-aged and elderly people have prominent roles in just about every episode of every drama that I've seen. And they're playing well-developed characters with diverse personalities. Many people here live with their parents until they are married (which is usually in their late 20's or early 30's) and if that person is an eldest son, he often lives with his parents until they die. The strong Confucian traditions of Korea honor the elderly even by showing them on TV as real people with diverse feelings and interests. I like it.

Huge Difference #3 The way alcohol is portrayed is interesting too. People, including nice little grandmothers and respectable businessmen, are frequently guzzling straight from a bottle of soju (which is 25% alcohol) and then passing out in public or wherever they are. There are a few scenes here and there of young people partying together with alcohol, but they are rare. Generally, people are drinking alone out of depression and then revealing their inner selves after becoming drunk. Or they are drinking with their coworkers. Maybe times are changing, but even I have seen plenty of people here publicly drunk. It's fairly acceptable, even for people with wealth and status.

My husband struggles when he goes out with coworkers because he doesn't like to drink to excess but it is customary for junior Koreans to be obligated to drink whatever is served to them by their senior--even if it's eight or ten shots of hard liquor. This is exceedingly common. One things I hate (sorry to use such a strong word) about the culture here is that the work is not just 9-5, or even 8 AM-9 PM. No, it also requires a ridiculous amount of time spent with coworkers drinking.

I am fortunate that my husband now works for an American company with an international team of people, several of whom are Hindus and don't drink. He is also on contract and thus has no need to impress his employer in order to get promoted. His previous employers required extremely frequent dinners out which are always drinking sessions. To me, it's a huge waste of time. But Korean culture views human relationships within the company as very important. Thus coworkers are expected to spend most of their free time socializing together. We're talking every night, every night, every night. And socializing seems to always mean getting roaring drunk.

Hmm. This post has wandered from its original topic. Perhaps I should take this as a sign that it is time for me to go to bed now. Good night!

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