The World is Your Safari

Welcome to the world. I hope you have your cargo pants.

In an effort to unshelter the students towards non-Korean cultures, my grade 4 text-book has included various animated clips detailing cultural practices called “Around the World.” A vignette plays, showing how things are in Korea, and then contrastingly how things are in different places. A hog-nosed sprite then hopefully appears via puff of smoke in safari-garb, DSLR in tow, to wax philosophical on the differences (hilariously, the Korean translation often delineates the differences to “Korea” and the slightly wide-net “foreign countries”). She has helpfully come to explain the bizarre monkey cultures of those strange foreign peoples, and she appears outside of the frame, as though a zookeeper explaining why, exactly, the bonobos hump and then fling poop all over the place.

Let me qualify first: this is an improvement. For one, it’s a nice hat tip to diversity and cultural expansion, and it’s better than what came before. My grade 6 text includes an entire chapter on “Thanksgiving” (which, as a Canadian, I begrudgingly teach about in November, as the curriculum has synchronized it to the American date, like, way to play into Manifest Destiny, Korea). The gist of this chapter is as follows: FOREIGNERS WEAR THEIR SHOES INDOORS LIKE TURKEY LIKE HAMBURGER EAT WITH FORK BAD WITH CHOPSTICK. My children were drilled with the dialogue, made to repeat over and over again: “It’s okay! Don’t take off your shoes! We wear our shoes indoors!” As this cartoon blonde strumpet recited these words, my students slyly looked upon me with disgust, imagining me tromping around my mud-slick shitroost of a home, feet firmly, filthily, slobbishly encased in my outside shoes. (For the record, as a Canadian that lived in about 6 annual months of snow, road salt, and slush, I have never worn my shoes indoors and would be physically pained if someone suggested it to me.) Onwards!

That textbook is more than a year old? How do you learn?

Here, it is explained that foreign children must share their textbooks through the ages, scrawling their names in the front cover. My kids receive new texts every year, which they generally put through horrific beatings. I doubt they have ever seen a gently-owned textbook. I imagine they see this and wonder about the foreign children, the poor little urchins, running shoeless through the streets made of broken beer bottles and horse feces, reading from their hand-me-down texts first published in the 1950s. I remember being a kid myself. The year the new textbooks came, the year your name went in first, was the year it meant you got to crack the spine. That was the year you got to make things crappy for all the stupid kids who had the misfortune of being born later than you, just like all your predecessors had done to you every grade before. Nostalgia!

Next, we travel to show common “Don’t [x]!” signs around the world, lest our Korean students go abroad and interpret the bold text and giant red slash as a suggested tourist activity sign.

Get out of here with your swim cap.

Don’t swim to the Statue of Liberty! Alternative joke: Don’t swim to freedom!

Why would you take photos of paintings anyway?

Don’t take pictures, you damned foreign shutterbugs!

No jackals on the landmark!

Don’t let Anubis anywhere near the Sphinx (to best enjoy this joke, be a mythology nerd).

In America, it's bizarro' clock!

A simple one: people around the world live in wacky times different from the one in Korea! Chumps.

"Why does he hate me?"

Here, a little Korean girl trails behind her Yankee teacher, calling out plaintively. “Teacher, teacher!” Capriciously, cruelly, he ignores her anguished cries. A boy several feet ahead calls, “Hi, Mr. Baker!” and is responded to brightly, cheerfully. The girl tenses in confusion. Our helpful anthropolopixie explains that while calling your teacher “teacher” in Korean is cool, doing it in other countries is not cool: you need to use their last names. Simply shouting “teacher!” as loudly as your little lungs can muster is actually considered annoying as crap.

The students looked to me in horror. I worried that that this was another one of those, “You foreigners are effing bonkers” kind of stares, to which I am generally accustomed. It became clear, though, that they wanted to know if they had been offending me the whole time, calling me not only “teacher,” but also addending it with what they were just now realizing to be my first name only (in Korean, my name is first name is pronounced with three syllables, which Korean names commonly are). One boy raised his hand with a quiver and asked me if we also used Mr./Mrs./Ms. in Canada, or if they had just skated by unknowingly degrading my honour.


Not pictured: when you give a gift to a Korean, manners dictates that you demurely accept, turn away, and never open the gift within sight.  Pictured above: when you give a gift to an American girl, she will develop a tic disorder and begin throwing her body around the room in apoplectic euphoria. When we did a roleplay after, my coteacher asked my kids to react to me giving them a present. They proceeded to act like a deep-South Revivalist Church congregation, throwing themselves into the air, screaming my praises, frothing and nearly speaking in tongues in their devotional fervour.

Shake it - multiculutrally, that is!

Many of these clips are a little too dense in Korean for me to understand everything, so I usually decipher from the cartoon and the context. This one, though, I got pretty easily. Essentially: “People dance differently around the world! In Korea, we dance like this! In France, they do the Can-Can! In Hawaii, the Hula! In America, the Jive! In Argentina, the Tango! Dancing ‘round the world!”

Help us for whatever reason!

I never really deciphered exactly what was going on in this clip. Basically, the wobbly headed blonde people get stuck in a natural disaster. They call out for help. Two plucky Koreans appear in vests, and oblige. Enlightening!

Buon compleanno, apparently!

I chose this not because of the subject, because it’s cool that they’ll know about birthday celebrations. My more pressing concern is that the above picture, according to the narration, is occurring in Italy. Italy: land of the Maple Leaf. And land of large English language banners.

Finally, and most importantly, the hot dog. This clip shows a plucky young Korean boy in America asking for a hot dog. He receives a weird tube of meat between some bread, slathered in gelatinous yellow slop, and is left bewildered. Meanwhile, in Korea, at the exact same time!!!, a little blond American youngster approaches a street meat vendor. He asks for a hot dog. Plopped into his hands is a giant, phallic torpedo of batter, a tiny sliver of meat impaled on a stick surrounded in a gauzy corona of deepfried crunch. You see, two different road-side meat cylinder ingestibles are called by the same name in different countries! This video served to ward my kids from ever ordering a hot dog abroad, and also to make me miss the street food of home. Home is where the hot dog is.

Have these videos enlightened my students any? Are they more open, more thoughtful, more accepting of different cultures now? Maybe. I like to think of them on their first trips abroad. They are 18, maybe 20. On the road. They are going to find themselves. They get off the plane, and make it to their hostel. In their head, they’re rehearsing phrase after phrase, hoping their English is up to snuff. They want to make friends, to meet people. They shake hands with the person in the bunk above them. They refer to them only by Mr./Ms. last name, which the other person finds quaint. They’ll ask their new friend to go out for hot dogs, and then they’ll carefully explain, in horrifyingly precise and extensive detail, the differences in hot dog culture. The other person will pay, and give them the hot dog, and they will throw themselves to their knees, weeping in joy, thanking them for the kindness of the gift, as they believe is customary. My young students, all grown-up and out in the world, will then ask their new foreign friend if they want to swim somewhere approved by the government, or if they’d like to jive the night away in this strange timezone. Bon voyage, young world explorers. I’ve prepared you as well as I can.

18 thoughts on “The World is Your Safari

  1. Michael, your “natural disaster” frame likely refers to Red Cross and the fact that no matter where you go in the world, if you are somehow in a natural disaster that Red Cross people will be there to help. Anyway, it does not look like much has change for when I met Koreans and Japanese in Europe in 1970 when I was hitch hiking around it was like they were reciting everything they had been taught by rote and indeed they were ever so polite.

  2. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now. It makes me die of laughter just about every time (fortunately, my re-spawn point is near my laptop). This one was especially good. Makes me want to go learn English in Korea, even though I am ostensibly an American (my family is from Montreal, so my allegiances are a little imprecise) and have been speaking English since shortly before my big sister learned to say “BE QUIET!”

  3. Good stuff, good stuff!

    I’m planning on embarking on my own English-teacher-in-Korea excursion sometime next year, and it’s great to get a look at the country through a non K-pop/K-drama lens.

    Love your sense of humor, by the way. (As a fellow mythology nerd, I salute you for that ‘No Dogs’/Anubis joke.)

    • Yeah, when I was working out what my blog was going to be, the niche of “Talk about your life, be funny” was the one that was only slightly less crowded out than people taking things seriously, or people going at it via Kpop and Kdrama.

  4. I’ve been reading for awhile (always interested in the witty blogs of fellow travelers) but humor on what we teach our children just begs for comments.

    The alternative joke on the “no swimming” is the best one. When in doubt, mock Americans for our obsession with an ambiguous idea of “freedom.”

    Also, I love how the blue-eyed kid is perpetually cross-eyed. Are your students concerned for his vision?

  5. Darn it, and here I thought I had the whole “Go to Korea. Explain escapades in a hilarious manner” market cornered. I’m leaving for Korea in 3 days to do the whole teaching English thing, and I was so tired of reading blogs that just go about their Korean travels in as mundane a way as possible. It’s so refreshing to see some humor brought into the mix for once.

    Jealousy aside, your writing style is superb. Jealous not aside, I am totally jealous.

  6. Haha, the textbooks here have me laughing out loud in class, I need to start watching the clips before so I am not shocked when inevitably something weird or creepy happens! Great post 🙂

  7. Pingback: The World is Your Safari II: The First Journey « Stupid Ugly Foreigner

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