foreigner faux pas

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

We've committed a social blunder, a fairly serious one, apparently.

When we were first here, we had a couple in our adult classes: a pediatrician and his wife. There are no longer any adult classes at AP, but we now live in the same building as this couple. They're some of the nicest people we've met here and we consider them friends. They have three boys of their own, so we always enjoy hearing their parenting stories, sharing baked goods with their family, etc. JonWook (our friend's given name) has examined Liam's various cuts & scrapes several times, and we really like his gentle, caring manner.

We've always intended to take the boys to JonWook's clinic, but up to this point, we'd taken them to the pediatrician at the hospital where I had Rowan, just out of convenience. Since Rowan needs to get caught up on his vaccinations, we finally took him to our friend.

As Americans, we don't want to take advantage of a friend, especially as foreigners. From our point of view, JonWook has a business to run. If he gives us a discount, we're taking money out of his pocket. That's not the Korean way, though. Koreans WANT to do things for their friends. It's insulting if their friends do not accept...which leads up to our blunder.

When Matthew went to pay for the vaccinations, the nurse quoted him a much lower price that what Matthew thought it should be. The prices of all the vaccines (which vary in price, as they're apparently not subsidized by the government like they are in the U.S.) are clearly posted on the counter. She was trying to charge him for only one. When Matthew questioned the price, JonWook stepped in to translate. Matthew pointed to the prices of the two vaccines Rowan had received and then the two of them went back and forth about how much we should pay, each trying to explain his own side.

In the end, Matthew insisted on paying the full amount, but neither the nurse or JonWook would look him in the eyes at that point. They were both embarrassed. JonWook proceeded to take Matthew on a tour of his clinic while I fed Rowan, then offered to call a taxi for us when we left.

That afternoon at work, Matthew recounted the story for our friend, Jenny, who explained more fully the Korean perspective on the situation. She said we'd probably really insulted him. Talking about the situation after Matthew came home from work that night, we realized that he probably conveyed to JonWook that we don't consider him as good of a friend as he considers us.

So next week when we take Rowan in for another round of vaccinations, we'll have to explain better the idea of "not taking advantage of one's friends." Luckily, we can play the "foreigner card," and hopefully gloss over our foreigner faux pas.

And now, some random cuteness: Rowan proudly wearing the stickers bestowed upon him by Liam, proclaiming him to be both "Fantastic" and "Well Done."


4 Responses to “foreigner faux pas”
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Why are you cooking your baby to a point of well doneness? :)

Oh, I know that's awkward. Also when Koreans want to pay for everything out at dinner...

But the gov't does subsidize the vaccinations. You have to to go a public health centre. Most of them are free. There are some that are just "recommended," and those ones you have to get at the clinic or hospital and pay for them.

That US vax program is apparently being discontinued. We'll soon have to pay for them again (if not already). Guess I'll find out in a month.

Sarah, Thanks for the info. I think I know where the public health center is.

Amber, I heard about that. Talk about bad timing...just as so many families are struggling.

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