Do you know someone who’s suffered at the hands of FIG?

Muffins (Photo credit: isaacgriberg)

There’s a muffin shop near where I work that’s part of a big chain of muffin stores throughout Seoul. It’s my favorite muffin store and whenever I’m sad, The Canadian One will invariably trek to the nearest one, a subway stop away, and buy me a muffin. When I first got this job, I was slightly more excited about having to pass this muffin shop every day than I was about the actual job. So much so, straight after my interview, while on the phone to The Canadian One, I was ordering a muffin and explaining how the interview went.

NOW, however, I go out of my way to avoid the muffin shop.


The staff.

There’s an epidemic over here which we’ll call the Foreigner Interaction Giggles, or FIG, for short.

FIG happens when a foreigner comes in the midst of a Korean staff member, usually an under-25 member of society, and said staff member does nothing but giggle.

Loudly and often.

This is what happened between me and the muffin store worker. Everytime I went there, he laughed. I ordered IN KOREAN and he laughed. He laughed at me so much that the three people behind me in the line one day were starting to look a little uncomfortable and the  man in front of me, who already had his coffee and muffin, came back to say something to the worker. This seemed to be the cure for this man’s FIG as he solemnly handed over my muffin and charged me for my order.

Another case of FIG happened at the weekend with me and The Canadian One. In line at Kyobo purchasing a book, some highlighters and ink for the printer, we come upon not one but TWO staff members, a girl and a boy, whose discovery of us not being able to understand them had them giggling and talking amongst themselves. When I made a disgusted face at them and leaned back slightly, a manager promptly appeared out of what seemed like nowhere. Words were spoken (I don’t know what) and the boy padded away while the woman rang up our goods in silence. The smiley manager packed our bags for us, thanked us, I had to ask the girl to give me my receipt as she was just standing there and then we stomped off.

Another outbreak of FIG happened at the bank once, the post office, the reception of a doctor’s office (several times, my doctor’s receptionists are…) and during too-many-to-count subway rides where people spot a foreigner amongst them and they feel the urge to chuckle.

Although in saying that, a breakout of FIG is a lot more pleasant than an outbreak of FIY, Foreigner Interaction Yelling.

I’ve experienced FIY in crowded post offices, crowded clinic receptions, on the street, on the bus, on the subway, waiting for the subway, in the coffee shop, this morning at the pharmacy, the list goes on.

Sometimes, it’s innocent nervousness that causes the giggles or sometimes it’s frustration that causes the yelling. Both of those, I can understand.

I take issue with the small section of the population that giggle, talk about you, look at you and giggle again or the ones that yell at you, yell at you again, and then yell at you a third time deliberately slowly like you’re suddenly going to understand them and that all this time, volume has been the problem.

Or the staff members that see a foreigner and run the other direction…literally. Like at the pension office recently or the bank or several times at restaurants and more often in coffee shops for some reason.

On the other side of the scale, there are the really excited members of society who want for nothing but to talk to you about everything. Like the taxi driver who told me about his wife’s drooping breasts and his growing disappointment in them. Or the old man on the train who wanted me to go hiking with him. Or the middle-aged woman who came up to my sleeping friend and I on a train to ask us to correct her English homework. ON THE TRAIN!

I just don’t understand it. If I saw a foreigner at home, I wouldn’t feel the need to laugh at them or yell at them or shout ‘Hello’ in their language at them and laugh like it’s the funniest thing anyone’s ever said ever or point at them or stop them in the street for no reason because I’m sure they have better things to be doing than to be harassed by me.

Like take the train and read their book sleep off their hangover in peace.

Or get to work on time.

Or pick up a prescription.


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