Korean Girls Be Scared of Me (And Every Other Dude)

Long time world!

Ok, so funny story time. The first time I came to Korea to live was back in 2005. It was less than 24 hours I got off the plane, and I was jet lagged. So I found a cafe at 6:30AM and just stood outside sipping my coffee. One of the part-time workers was outside washing the windows. She was close by, so I casually said “It’s nice weather today, isn’t it?” Now the rules of conversational etiquette dictate that the worker should have:

(a) respond about how nice the weather was, which could progress into a conversation if she so desired.

or

(b) give a short but polite reply and return to work if she did not wish to hold unnecessary dialogue.

Instead of (a) or (b), I got an ultimate death stare of universe. She didn’t say one word and just stared at me like  some crazy dude that liked talking about the weather and raping girls. She was visibly scared and weirded out. So she inched away, keeping me in her sights, and returned to work without saying a word.

That was my very first culture shock in Korea. But I later realized that it’s 1) abnormal to talk to strangers for no reason at all. And that 2) a lot of Korean girls be straight petrified of random strangers of the male kind.

Now since a lot of the fear is directed towards guys, I’m guessing it’s a rape thing. And I understand. Rape is something girls have to be aware of. It’s a serious issue, and I don’t want to make light of it. But as someone who grew up outside of this society, I think the fear might be a bit excessive.

Here’s a few “scary stories” that I’ve heard:

“Scary Story” #1

– Friend was in the elevator of her apartment building and a delivery man (with full on uniform, holding a package) was riding with her. He turned to her to ask if he was in the right apartment building. And she timidly said yes.

That’s the end of the story. Really. But she told me it was a “scary situation.” Scary enough for her to actually remember a 20 second elevator ride with a delivery man.

“Scary Story” #2

– Taxi driver takes friend home. Taxi driver has a bunch of tangerines and offers her one. She says thank you. But instead of eating it, she worries that he might have injected it with something.

She ended up eating it when she got home. And sure enough, it was a delicious tangerine.

Of course not every Korean girl is afraid of everything. But just the fact that I can quote these as examples is proof that there is a fear that exists among Korean women. Who knows. Maybe it’s all warranted. There are definitely stories about these totally normal situations that turn into shocking front page news.

I am not a girl, so there are somethings that I will never understand. But as someone that’s on the other side, it makes me not want to be nice to strangers. Because even if I am nice, I will get death stare. Your boy is mad sensitive yo and death stares are crazy scarring!

Maybe I should just be like this:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRfjLfyXYlA]
If you’re a girl, do the same thoughts run through your head? Do you think this fear is  excessive?

58 thoughts on “Korean Girls Be Scared of Me (And Every Other Dude)

  1. Sunny says:

    I’m gonna say it’s all the fault of silly television. It puts strange ideas into peoples’ heads. If it was a dark ally and you approached me and said something vaguely threatening…I’d still probably think it was cute (only because it’s you). It sounds a little excessive, but then again, I’m not sure what girls in Korea are taught growing up. Please, if you find me wandering around alone in Korea…talk to me!! I promise I won’t give you the stare of death!

  2. I gotta be honest… I do sometimes think like that. In the world we live in, girls do have to be on guard at all times. However, being raised in the south and from an Trinidadian family, I was taught to be polite and respectful. I may be cautious of someone, but still show them respect. Someone asks you a question, answer it. Especially if they have done nothing to warrant any defensive behavior. I would be a bit suspicious of anyone giving me free food if I didn’t know them, so I understand where that friend of yours was coming from with that. But to be so afraid of someone asking a basic question? Screams extreme paranoia to me. :/ That’s just my two-cents on that.
    You can still be nice to people. 🙂 Interesting blog as always Keith. Keep it up.

      • D says:

        Agreed. I understand be cautious, but then guys asking a perfectly innocent question like you feel like some kind of bad guy or something. Guys can’t even ride up an escalator nowadays for fear of being “Creepy”.

      • Agreed. In those situations, there is no need to be that scared of anyone. Maybe it’s a culture thing? I’ve never encountered people like that here in Florida. Nor have I heard anyone else encountering it either. Stay positive! Not everyone is afraid of their own shadows out there. 🙂

  3. Lindy says:

    Wow. This is interesting. I know that it’s probably the result of how the society is how you pointed out in your first experience in Korea. I grew up with 8 brothers so men don’t really scare me unless they are obvious creepers.

  4. 刘薇薇 says:

    Personally, as a girl from a Chinese background, I’ve been taught to always watch out for strangers and if a guy did come up to me and ask for directions I would quickly say I don’t know and put some distance between us. But over the years I’ve learnt not to see it as ‘stranger danger’ and put myself in their shoes. Nothing wrong with a little caution, just don’t shut the guy down immediately and run :p Good post!

      • Confucianism in China/Korea dictates that the family is closest to you, then your friends, and wayyyy down at the bottom are strangers. So it kind of IS an Asian thing.

        The worst thing to be in Korea/China is a stranger AND a foreigner. Then you are basically an alien, and not ‘worthy’ of basic chit chat.

        It’s a pretty cool system designed to keep families together and strong, but also leads to these kind of ‘social retardation’ stories, like the girl in your story.

        BTW, great customer service! She gives you the ‘rape’ stare when you make conversation?

  5. I just guess it’s based on society. While I completely understand and empathise with women in that frame of mind, I can’t see that happening too much in Australia, (not at least to the point it can be considered the “norm”). It’s far more natural to strike up conversation with a stranger than to do otherwise. Funnily enough an opposite elevator story happened with me not too long ago.

    I broke my arm in a motorbike accident and have a terrifically huge scar down my left arm. I was leaving the physio (in an elevator) and a woman came in on the next level down. She then proceeded to chat about my scar and what not.

    So you look at it, a female started the conversation and of a topic that could be a little personal for some people, (I didn’t mind in the slightest). I think it’s based on where you live (grew up too) as to how you would interact with strangers.

    • Yea def agree that Western world is more stranger friendly! Since I grew up in USA, I think it’s totally normal to talk to strangers (girls too) — in a totally non-hitting on them way.

  6. Catherine says:

    ok so these reactions are not just directed towards foreigners, I kinda presumed it was because of the language and the fear of speaking English. I have experienced this a lot and it’s not just a girl thing it’s the same with Korean guys. I find it really freaky like when I first arrived I would ask randomers about directions and subways but I soon stoped with those death stares and they way they tense up like Im gona kill them..wtf? I really miss living in a society where people just ramdomly chat to each other. It was only the other day looking around the subway I noticed the amount of hot people then wondered; if Koreans chatted to a ramdomer every once in a while they would have a lot better chance of meeting a guy or girl. I mean they spend half their lives looking for a partner, going on so many dates maybe if they openes their eyes and looked around and actually spoke to strangers they would find someone!

  7. Maria says:

    I like speaking with strangers but girls should always be aware a bit.. choosing between going a dark long road but with more people and short dark but empty road i will choose the first one for sure.. maybe you can’t understand it because you’ve never felt like “if smth happens – i can do nothing”.. and about rape – after it you can be kiiled or can lost a capacity to have children in future and anyway it’s hard to live normally after this.. so you know, i would prefer be a bit more aware to prevent it))
    but with this girl it’s strange..cause the situation couldn’t really turn into smth like this) and i don’t think you look like a criminal=))

  8. hegeshund says:

    I think it has a lot to do with the environment you grow up in. I live in Norway, in a very safe city. I don’t fear people at all. (If you look away from my fear of making a bad impression on someone xD, but that’s my social awkwardness!)
    But when I go traveling I do feel a lot more threatened when people approach me. And I think that has to do with everything we hear from the media. I read more about violence against women in other countries than in Norway.
    But if you ever visit Norway, I promise I won’t give you the death stare :p

  9. Keith, did you speak English or Korean? Maybe she freaked out from your tone? I’m from the US and i’m a white guy, so sometimes I get the opposite. Strangers try to talk to me just because I’m not Korean. Annoying, but they’re trying to be nice so I do the same.

  10. Katie says:

    As a white girl from the US, my mom tried and tried to instill in me proper “stranger danger”. She’s a worrier. I’m not. It never stuck. I don’t worry about men unless I get that creeper vibe from them, and even then I try to be polite but cautious. Still if there is a dude (of any race) walking around in a parking lot and I’m in my car and I realize I forgot to lock the doors, I’ll lock them. So there must be some fear there.

    • Yeah, that should just be called “being aware” though 🙂 Which I was not always so cautious of in college… I hate to admit :-/ There were a few occasions I walked home alone in the dark and it hit me one time when I passed a dark, bushy area that someone told me a girl was attacked there :-/ I think it’s my small town upbringing though… my friend is from a small town too and the night of my birthday party (which was at someone else’s house) it was raining. She got super drunk and started walking to our apartment… a guy picked her up while she was on the side of the road o.O I was so mad at her but weirdly enough she ended up dating the guy lol — no one should ever, ever do this though… you really shouldn’t hitchhike past circa 1970….

      You just don’t know what creeps are out there but I’ve had more of a problem guys trying to break into or peer into my house… this one summer in Ann Arbor (University of Michigan) was particularly bad… I think I felt really safe because I lived with several guys that summer but one night my friend and I were coming back from partying just over the border in Canada (drinking age is 19 teehee) and the driveway was behind the house… it was 4am, she and I talked about stuff and apparently this guy didn’t notice us in her car. He walked right up to my bedroom window and was staring in there… waiting for like 10 minutes and then he moved on :-/

      What’s stupid is both of us were so scared that we couldn’t move and the thought of calling the police went right out of our head… I ended up calling them the next day. On a second occasion a totally different dude walked by my house at the same time staring at it and then he went across the street on the other side of the house to sit on a bench and just kept staring at my house for what seemed like forever… a few weeks later someone did try to break in, I called the police and they had caught the guy but they said he tried to get in several places before he was caught. Another friend had just gotten out of the shower and was rummaging through her dresser which was next to a window and she saw someone’s hand leaning on the windowsill before she screamed and he ran away. I swear Ann Arbor is typically safe though! But it’s only a 30-45 minute drive from Detroit and 20 minutes from the bad parts of Ypsilanti which I guess is where the “bad guys” come from 🙁

  11. theredreceivers says:

    Well, I’m from the south of the u.s, where small talk with strangers is just a normal part of the culture, it’s just considered being friendly. I even suffered culture shock when I visited new York a few years ago, not that new Yorkers aren’t rude or anything hehe, but they aren’t usually as willing to hang around talking to the gas station worker for 10 minutes when they got somewhere to be haha. But as far as the rape issue is concerned, a girl can still be friendly and engage in polite conversation and still keep her guard up.

  12. So is there really nothing you can say in Korean to assure someone they don’t need to freak out or explain that Americans can be friendly with strangers?? Thankfully I am used to people not wanting to talk after living in the suburbs of Detroit for so long… people are soooo not friendly there, at least where I lived. It always felt awkward to start a conversation… except for the old ladies that worked at Hallmark in Sterling Heights, they were really nice 🙂

    • Well for you, since you’re an obvious non-korean and a girl, I think it’s a totally different experience. For me, since I’m essentially treated as a local, it’s a different story

      • Ahhh, true… poor dudes 🙁 I wonder if Korea will ever change their strategy? So, do people date online or totally rely on word of mouth or “referrals” to find a date? Ugh, work referrals are bad enough… i’m now imagining a blind date with a resume and list of referrals LOL

  13. Chantal says:

    Come on Keith you were jet lagged, looking a little rough, and perhaps your Korean was a bit awkward and “American”…lol. Before I became all worldly I too was creeped out by people randomly starting a conversation. But not to the point of the death stare. It is definitely a GIRL thing…got to be extra cautious these days.

    • stephenworldwide says:

      I’ve heard it before, be cautious of things like candy or fruit that a cab driver gives you. Accept it to be polite but put it in your pocket and throw it away later. Might be a roofie or something bad.

  14. I can understand the story involving the tangerine. Even as a guy it feels weird when people give you something to eat, I guess living in the US makes that we hear of all those weird things involving food.
    Regarding your experience, lol I have to say that you really look like a nice guy, not like some gangster looking guys in some k-dramas, I wonder how she would have reacted if it was one of those guys.

    Also, do you think korean girls are more or less afraid of foreign looking guys ? Being french, should I expect the same reaction or worse ?

  15. Rejane says:

    I smiled reading this post ’cause it reminded me of my fist day in Korea too!
    It was my first time leaving Europe and I was tired and jet-lagged too…when I met the person who’s going to host me in Korea(it was our first meeting but we exchanged mails^^), I greeted her like i do with my friends in France; a “kiss” on each cheek!
    ..I realised 0.5sec too late and her reaction was priceless XD..fortunately for me it was a girl, I can’t even imagine if it was a boy^^
    In the end, I apologized 10 times straight and told her I was a bit out of my mind.
    Now we laugh each time we talk about it!^^

    P.S:I’d answer your question by saying:I wouldn’t have minded a stranger to talk to me at a shop or in an elevator, but I wouldn’t have accepted nothing to eat from the taxi driver, furthermore if i was alone in the taxi! :)..but that’s sadly true that women have to “be aware”…

  16. Jeongha says:

    Keith, I can almost visualize her death stare when you had said something so innocent and non-sexual like 오늘 날씨 좋네요 with a cup of coffee and a mountain load of baggage fresh off the plane by your side at 6:30 in the morning. I can’t explain but her reaction is nothing strange in Korean context (which I won’t elaborate in detail, because it will reveal some of the disgustingly misogynous attitudes prevalent towards rape victims in korea and that shit is too depressing in the morning), but the story is funny as hell!!
    But see, even for a person like me – that offers to share her umbrella with strangers during the 장마 seasons when apparently they are soaking wet out on the street, and somehow ends up often being misunderstood as a female rapist or transvestite sexual offender of some sort – depending on the context I might have had the exact same reaction (but then again I would’ve at least done (a) or (b) out of courtesy. With the death stare, mind you. LOL)

  17. Inmo says:

    Good read Keith ive just got multiple death stares cuz i almost laughed out loud while reading your post on a subway ride home, and u know how crazy 2호선 can be during rush hours. Don’t know if u heard it already but i’m going to myungdong on friday for lunch with IR team! Hope u r coming too!

  18. meli says:

    nice blog post …
    i have read many articles talk about this issued… hmmm…as a girl from a Chinese background, I’ve been taught to always watch out for strangers .Hmmm… i like talk to strangers , i never feel “stranger danger”, but i still aware… actually i’m little confuse ,u talk to that girls just ordinary conversation, why she must aware and u look like a nice guy ^^….
    when i read this article, i had thought maybe korean girls afraid talk to strangers, cause many cases criminal who harmed girls, so in their mind to keep distance or alert to strangers or maybe education from parent to stay away from strangers
    i’m curious smth,’if foreign came to korea to ask direction, are they (people korean) will help us as strangers how the direction or go away ?
    i ever feel this experience when i had travel in china….when i ask some direction, they just stared at me and walk away without saying words…

  19. Hetreda Zefanya says:

    maybe most of Asian girls have been taught to always be (too much) cautious to strangers (well,not me)..or maybe they had some scary experiences with some nasty strangers..
    i once had a pretty scary experience myself..it was back when i was 9 or 10 yo,a lunatic or maniac (whatever you call it) suddenly poked my waist on my way home..i couldnt forget it until high school..but it wasn’t make me scared of strangers,moreover who was talking to me nicely.. 😛
    orrr,,in my case,i usually will do the same (as the korean girls did to you) when a goodlooking stranger approach to me and try to have a simple conversation with me..the weirdest thing i’ve done was run from the street into my class (4th floor) after a guy said hello and asked me some questions on public transport..whom later i’ve found that it was actually my senior..hahaha.. xD
    so probably it’s all about (Asian) girls’ mindset..

  20. I do all of those things( some times 😛 ), except for the delivery man. If girls are acting like this, I think it’s because of their mothers who keep saying to be careful with strangers. It’s true sometimes I’m thinking “Gosh Bella, You’re afraid of everything. He was just nice with you”.
    You can see that as the simplest explanation but that’s why their acting like that ^^

  21. Nom says:

    It’s definitely a Korean thing.. And it’s contagious. I’m generally aware, but not to the point of paranoia. However the other day in the elevator someone asked me ‘do you live here’ and I just smiled and said I don’t understand.. Afterwards i had thoughts like ‘did he see what floor i came from?’, ‘why would he want to know that?’, ‘does he think I’m a prostitute?’
    There are just so many stories floating around about rape in elevators or creepy dudes following you home. My boyfriend doesn’t want me to catch taxis, at all. Which I think is really weird! But if you’ve had people telling you your whole life that the taxi driver might rape and kill you, would you want to eat tangerine given to you by one?
    Also, in a victim blaming culture, if the girl’s seen happily chatting with some random dude who later rapes her, it’ll reflect badly on her.. Which is sick.

  22. Isn’t a big part of her reaction explained by the fact that a comment about the weather isn’t a conventional greeting in Korean? Like, if some stranger came up to you and the first thing he said, in English, was “Do you like strawberry ice cream?” — wouldn’t you start to back away a little, and strongly consider not responding?

  23. happyvirus says:

    I remember this incident in Korea where I may have gone too friendly. I was meeting a friend and as I was walking, a guy called out a word in my 1st language, which made me stop and “entertain” the guy. I was new in Korea so I thought it’d be nice to chat with him since we came from the same country. He asked for my number (!) and I gave it to him. I seriously wasn’t thinking. Haha. I really don’t know why I did that! After the exchange, I saw my friend who was watching the whole incident happening. She told me she was weirded out by what happened and nagged me for giving my number to the guy. We left and as we were in the subway, the guy started calling me. It was crazy! My friend had to block the number on my phone. I learned my lesson after that. I didn’t tell my mother this incident because she would have made me fly back home because of it.

  24. Stefanie says:

    I’m white and I have lived here for about 6 years now. I have had many people, mostly men, just start talking to me randomly. There seems to be one of 2 reasons for this happening – A. They want English help or B. They are looking for a hook up. Granted, about 2 times I was generally engaged by the Koreans since they weren’t looking for A or B and was sad when we parted ways. It is hard for long term foreigners to make lasting friendships. However, I am generally weirded out by the others.

    I had one guy follow me all the way to my apartment building to ask me to be his friend (never even seen him before). He didn’t believe me when I said my husband was waiting for me or seem to take “no” for an answer.

    Another time just happened yesterday. While watching a video on my phone a man very awkwardly asked me to have “relationship” with him after waving his hand in front of my face. After he found out I was married he said he wanted to have a relationship with me after 4 or 5 years, when I wasn’t married anymore (WHAT?!).

    I’ve had other men publicly and loudly debate about my nationality. I loudly replied to them in Korean that I was American after receiving several stares from passer bys. They then walked up to me, stared at me in the eye (not both, just focusing on the other about 2 feet away from my face), and asked if I “have anger” in Korean. They used such poor Korean I couldn’t understand it right away, neither could my husband after I repeated it. They then followed me onto the subway train and down two cars.

    Do Korean girls have a reason to be scared? I would say yes. Many men seem to think “no” just means “I’m shy!” I have even had one barely college aged kid try to cuddle with me in a both while I was desperately putting space between us without being all “FUCK YOU!!” to him. He didn’t believe me that I was married. Then when my husband did show up, he refused to believe him. That was when I learned Korean men aren’t taught “No means no” they are taught “No means to just do it anyway. She secretly wants it!”

    This is a huge problem that is spurred on by movies and women themselves. I’m not saying the women are asking for it!! But they sometimes get themselves into certain situations. I had a friend, another white American, whose first time consisted of basically being raped but she convinced herself she wanted it later. The guy, Korean, seemed to be extremely confused by her pushing him away and saying no then kissing him. That would confuse most guys anyway. To top it all off, she was in a LOVE MOTEL!! with him. I’m sorry, but if you are not interested in having sex with a guy, don’t go to a love motel with him.

    Korean women have a reason to be cautious and I’m glad they are finally learning. Do they need to break out the death stare when you are simply asking them where the bathroom is or what food they ordered because it looks delicious? No. Would they react to small talk if you were a woman, of course! They need to be a bit more selective on when to break out the pepper spray and when to smile and nod.

    I do need to add, some topics are creepy regardless. In Korea evidently it is normal to ask where I live and work. I don’t mind giving the “dong” and saying at an elementary school but when they start asking which one, or more specific directions to my house, I get super creeped out. I grew up when the internet was new and our parents were paranoid “THEY CAN FIND YOU!! DON’T TELL THEM TOO MUCH!!” I still ascribe to this. I don’t want them showing up at my work because some of them are crazy stalkers!

  25. Stefanie says:

    I also need to mention that whenever I’m with my husband, Koreans tend to stay far away. Although other foreigners will come up and ask for help since one of us obviously speaks English and Korean. My husband doesn’t mind helping people but he thinks it’s strange how friendly I am towards them. I am just being polite and reassuring but he finds it very strange.

    He also doesn’t understand how I can meet people and become friends with them without having a common link, work, school, or mutual friends. He finds it super weird but doesn’t seem to realize one of our good friends was met that way ^^

    On the flip side, when he was in the states, he was amazed at how polite everyone was. He didn’t hesitate to ask for directions or help when I wasn’t around and was surprised at how some people would go out of their way to help him. I have only seen one old man do that in Korea and he just seemed very lonely and happy to talk to anyone.

  26. d3profile says:

    It is always good to be alert of your surroudings, but I do agree with you that sometimes things get a little too extreme.

    And to be very honest, I’m on both side.

    Coming from a country where it is not as safe to trust stranger, I understand why that girl friend of yours only eats the tangerine when she got home. There were quite a few taxi-driver-turned-rapist cases using similar tactics in my country. After reading these news it is hard for us to keep our mind ‘straight’.

    However, if the stranger gives out really obvious tangible cues (the delivery man with parcel for example), I personally think that to be reacting in that way is indeed a little excessive.

    I do strike some casual conversation with strangers from time to time (that if the other party is willing to talk to me), because there’s no harm done to share a conversation or two with someone while you’re waiting for a bus, right? =D

  27. It actually makes sense to me. I guess if you live in a world where talking to strangers can result in more harm than good, it’s natural for girls to be wary. It’s unusual in America for a woman to talk to a stranger and get raped by him (I’m guessing). In South Africa, it’s cool to talk to strangers in really public places but I would definitely slink away if some guy approached me while I’m walking through a seedy deserted street. I think it’s a matter of also being able to read people. I mean, you wouldn’t think a guy in a R500 suit with a Rolex on his wrist has rape on his mind when he asks you about the weather, but that doesn’t generally happen. I digress. What I really wanted to say was…. Indian women in India have a similar mindset too. They completely avoid strange men and chatter in public settings (unless he’s like 60 years old or plus with a cane and asthma – makes rape difficult I assume). I think the distrust has escalated now after the recent bout of attacks on women. Vigilance isn’t a bad thing but some people do take it too far.

  28. adew says:

    how about the opposite, let say a girl (newcomer /stranger or tourist) ask to a korean man for something or trying to open up a conversation just to kill the time. is he going to freak out, afraid or make conclusion that the girl might be hitting on him, or might have the same reaction as the korean girls?

  29. Middle Eastern person says:

    I was always taught to, where possible, never be alone with a member of the opposite sex- who isn’t your kin – in a small closed space where there are no windows. If you absolutely have to, leave the door open so that people can peep in. This was for girls as well as guys. The reason why for girls is obvious but for guys, there have been many stories where girls have gone into a closed space with a guy, torn off their clothes (or the guys clothes, whilst the guy stares dumbfounded thinking “what is she doing?”) and then they ran out the room, crying and screaming “rape”.

    Plus there’s the other scenario where some people just assume that if you go into room and closed the doors, there’s only one thing you could be doing – otherwise why close the door?

    For a long time I thought the rules were stupid and sexist but after dozens and dozens of stories from friends who used to work in jobs like cab drivers, I can see the logic behind it.

  30. Gwyneth says:

    I know this is a relatively older post, but i happen to just come across it and simply need to comment. Sometimes I also wondered if its an asian-kinda thing to not-talk-to strangers. In Singapore, even neighbors don’t talk much to each other, just a polite nod. But, we don’t do the death-glare; if being talked to, most people will still acknowledge. For me, its more extreme, because I’m a talkative person, i once chatted with someone whom we did not even exchange names for 1/2 hr(bus journey). The content? Can’t really remember..XD

  31. I second your thought about randomly approaching people with the intention of developing a romantic interest. On the other hand, failure to do so may be yet another vestige of Confucianism, whereby match making is more acceptable as it preserves “social status” by introducing people of similar standings in society. I think it may and should change, since 1) many Koreans (esp.men) have a difficult time finding love in terms of marriage for reasons related to gender-role based expectations, and 2) because those roles are also changing, so match making may become outdated and people may start considering “randomers” as life partner material. ; )

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