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The Foreigner Card – pros and cons of using it in Korea

Preferential Treatment.

Clearly, I’m not talking about a green card. I’m talking about preferential treatment when faced with an unpleasant situation. It’s a time when cultural or linguistic negotiation has failed (or will fail) and the foreigner makes an ace-in-the-hole plea. Think: Come on buddy cut me some slack, will ya? but in a foreign land.

It’s not just Korea, obviously. Expats in South America and China also have pondered this point (although some literally have a card). Pulling the foreigner card is vital to an expat’s survival but it’s not to be overused. Perhaps it shouldn’t be used at all?

Like any card game, the Foreigner Card has it’s time and place when to use it. You wouldn’t want to use it when the outcome could adversely affect you.

Kc101 Korea Korean foreigner card 외�인

Yeah it gets you out of going to 회식 with coworkers you don’t like. Sure it allows you to leave the lunch table before your boss. It even lets you sit in the senior citizen bench on the subway. Granted you’ll get stared at like no one else before you but at least you’ll be the youngest person sitting. Thanks Foreigner Card!

But do you really want to be that guy? The one who has the rules bent for him? The guy who gets away with murder at the office? The one that has special privileges and less responsibility than the rest of the staff? You actually want to be that guy?

Well, yeah. Sometimes. Sure. It’s nice to be able to do things that other people don’t do. It’s nice to get out of some boring meetings that others have to attend. It’s nice not having to do anything other than smile when asked for a report. But, it excludes one from the group. It further alienates one from one’s coworkers. It darkens the line between ‘외국인’ and ‘one of us’.

Perhaps you were never part of the group in the first place? Perhaps others played the Foreigner Card before you and set you up to be treated differently from the rest. Regardless of the reason, as a foreigner living in Korea, it has it’s ups and downs.

I personally try my best to do whatever is expected of me. Outside of extreme embarrassment, I try not to pull the Card. Not only do I feel that it’s the polite thing to do, I have a particular affinity for Korea so I try to include myself whenever convenient (and frequently, inconvenient). Like everyone else here, I do some things here that I would never do back home. I could get out of them by pulling the Card but many times I choose not to do so.

So when should I? When must someone pull the Foreigner Card? Personal space invasion? Excessive alcohol consumption? Forced solo singing at 노래방? Eating with chopsticks? Not drinking water? Speaking Korean instead of English? Corporal punishment?