Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Unexpected Cultural Differences

Today I went into the office to talk to Andrew, the director of the school's General Affairs about my oh-so-hideous, purple squiggle wallpaper. It was an interesting case of cultural difference.

I wasn't even sure if I'd be able to get permission to paint my walls, because as I said before, it's just not something Koreans do. One day, when I was feeling particularly whiny about my revolting wallpaper, I asked my Korean friend Mi Ok why they choose decor like squiggles and checkerboards instead of painting their walls pretty colours.

"Because," she said, "whatever colour you picked might look good in autumn, but it wouldn't look good in winter. You'd have to wait a whole year for the colour to look good again."

I guess this goes to show a real difference in mindset between Koreans and Westerners. For one, I would never consider a colour choice to correspond to a season of the year -- to me, it corresponds to a mood, regardless of whether it's spring, summer, fall, or winter. For another, even if the colour didn't match the season, I would rather have that than boring blah wallpaper that looks awful all year round.

So I approached Andrew with some trepidation. He looked at me with that expression Koreans always get when they're trying to figure out what the hell foreigners are thinking, and said, "When do you have time? I will send people to give you new wallpaper."

I had horrific visions of new, equally unbearable wallpaper replacing the stuff I already hate. "It's okay," I said hurriedly. "I can do it myself."

He looked at me in obvious surprise. I had known that this would shock him, because that's another big cultural difference -- the DIY interior decorating craze that rages in North America is not common here. Koreans are not about DIY home improvement. "You can do that?"

"Sure," I said. "I've done it before. I'd like to paint, actually."

"Wow," he exclaimed, genuinely impressed. "You are okay to do that?"

"Yep. I'll just strip the wallpaper, sand it down, prime the walls, and paint them."

He pondered this for a minute. "I have seen Westerners do this in movie," he said. "I think it is something foreigners like."

"It is."

"Ah. Very different from Korea," Andrew commented, but his tone sounded amused rather than forbidding, and I knew he was going to let me do it. "Be sure if you paint, then new people in your apartment can put new wallpaper on."

"Sure, no problem!" I exclaimed, delighted.

I went down to lunch and excitedly told Glau we'd been approved. My friends were dubious. "You're going to take the wallpaper down yourself without a steamer?" Stephanie asked, her eyebrow arched.

"It will be easy," I said, which is true. The benefit of Koreans not really liking home decor is that their wallpaper is not the best quality. I've already started pulling strips of it off without even wetting it down, never mind steaming it.

The next problem to tackle is finding the necessary materials. If I was in Canada I could just amble down to Home Depot and pick one of eighty thousand colours, but hardware stores are non-existent here, so I may have to scout. I still have to decide what colour to paint the living room. I'm thinking yellow might be nice...

Anyway, I may soon find myself in over my head, but I don't even care. Just anything to get rid of the purple squiggles.

1 comment:

meg.kat.art said...

I had no idea other cultures had such a lack of desire for DIY!

Good luck with the painting. Remember - good ventilation is the key to sanity :)