When it comes to Asia, there are many customs, habits that are different from the West. Even I found many things absurd since I was born in Europe and grew up here. Out of many differences the most recognizable one was the way they communicate. In this post I’m going to tell you how a conversation with an Asian goes like and what are their most common questions.
I would like to also emphasize that this is more likely the way the elders talk. When I was in Busan, Korea, I left early to visit Beomeosa temple. On the way I bought a rice bun from an auntie (ahjumma in Korean), I had to wait until it was done since it was in the early morning. There was no one on the street yet. While waiting the ahjumma started to ask me questions like “where are you from? are you travelling alone?”
Then the next question is: Are you married?
I was surprised. I didn’t know where to put this question. It felt like a thuderstorm just hit me. Then I kindly told her “no“, while still trying to get over the shock. When I asked her if that way was to go to the temple instead of answering me, she asked back: Why do you want to go there?
It was the second time I thought I did something terrible. Why did she ask me if I was married? Why did she ask me the reason I was going to the temple? Do I look like a criminal? I really didn’t know where I was. I kindly answered her I wanted to see the temple and repeated the question to what she told me “yes“.
Another situation also happened when I was at the temple. One halmeoni (grandmother) suddenly sat next to me while I was having a rest and enjoy the pray and nature. She started to talk to me. Her first few questions were “where are you from? are you here alone?”. Then her third question was “Are you married?“. I couldn’t understand why they kept asking me this question. But I felt very uncomfortable. Then later she asked me about my age, she learnt that I was still an university student. Out of curiosity she asked me “How did you get money to come here by yourself?”
In Hungary asking about age, money, love are an invasion to other’s privacy. So they are not common questions. I don’t mind being asked about my age, but money? I really didn’t understand why she asked me that. Did I do something wrong? Was I suspicious? I felt so uncomfortable and irritated. I answered here in disbelief as if it wasn’t natural that I worked myself to the bone to have money to travel.
When I went back to my accommodation and told this story to my host, she said: “Don’t bother with it. This is just a way the elders show their affection to you. They want you to feel like you are at home and they want to take care of you.”
For the part of looking after me, I agree. The halmeoni told me that they shared food at the temple and told me to go to eat. She made sure I had my bowl and food with me. That was a touching moment eating with many unknown people while I was hungry. Knowing that she made sure I had food to fill my stomach was touching.
But about making me feel at home…?? I doubted it.
Another case was when I went to eat in a restaurant and there was no one inside. Only the owner. She served me my food and sat in front of me. She kept asking me questions. First the typical ones before. Then “Are you married?” ” Do you have any brothers or sisters? What do they do? How old are they? Are they married? What does their spouse do” “What are your parents’ job? How old are they?” Any questions that you can think about and all related to your family.
When she couldn’t ask me anymore questions, she started to tell me her own life story. How many children she had, what they did etc. I felt absolutely frustrated as I wanted to eat in peace but couldn’t. Though I knew that she didn’t want me to feel bored by eating alone.
This is not just in Korea, but almost everywhere in Asia. When I was in Vietnam for work, taxis were already booked for me. I got into 4 taxis and all the 4 taxi drivers asked me if I had family. When I told them I was still young, they asked my age. I said 24. Then they asked the age of my parents’. Almost 70.
“Oh my god! Then you need to get married and give birth soon for your parents!“
I was so astonished. My parents don’t hurry me in this, then what right did that man have to tell me what to do with my life??
I felt so frustrated about this up to the point I had to ask my teacher why Asians behave like this. She explained to me and actually it made sense.
Reason for this behaviour
Asia lived under Confucianism ideology for more than 2500 years which meant they had to respect the elders, therefore hierarchy society was born. If someone is older than you, you have to call them as brother, sister, aunt, uncle. Even if they are older by one year, you have to address them. These callings create a hierarchy status.
As for the role of the women. Under Confucianism, women didn’t have a lot of freedom. They couldn’t go to school or work. They had to stay at home, give birth and become a faithful housewife and caring mother. Therefore the fact that a woman need to have family is normal. If we think about it, in the old times at age of 24, woman usually had 2-3 kids or even more.
Even though people don’t agree with Confucianism ideology, its effect is still alive. People need to know how old you are, if you are married, what your job is, so they know how to address you. Because without knowing your age, they don’t know if you are older or not. If you are older, they need to call you sister or brother (unni, oppa in Korean, anh, chi in Vietnamese). Otherwise it is considered disrespect.
Through your job if you have a high position they would respect you more. If you have low position they would also try to help you. If you are married, they would also treat you differently, mainly because they don’t want to cause any misunderstanding in your marriage. It also shows that they do want to take care of you. As people are considerate towards each other, so talking to you while eating alone is also out of their care.
If you are in Asia and realize that they are asking you so many private questions, note that it’s because they need to know how they should talk and treat you. It’s not discrimination, but it is a consequence of a more than 2500-year-old ideology that created a society like this. Respect the elders and people in higher position. This also explains why Asian people always work hard and strive for the maximum. You will only be treated as someone if you have achieved something.
For the Westerners this is an unbelievable habit, but over there this is normal. When you are there, and encounter this situation, know that this is because they want to know how they should treat you so you will feel comfortable more. This is only out of their caring nature.