I have been in Korea for a few months now and I am really enjoying it. One thing bothers me though. I am from Canada. There, when you make eye contact, it is expected that you give some sort of recognition to the other person –even a nod. Here, on the subway, I find people sometimes just stare into my eyes with no expression at all. It feels really awkward. What gives??
Dear Eye Candy,
You are suffering from a severe case of most clinicians call TPL (Take a Picture it Lasts longer) syndrome. The main cause of TPL syndrome is a deficiency of contact with foreigners by the Korean people around you. It’s less common in Seoul where foreigners are almost omnipresent, and it is reaching crisis proportion in Korea’s countryside areas where staring is often accompanied by other symptoms such as spontaneous laughing, arm-hair strokes, lock jaw-dropping, compulsive camera phone picture taking and the occasional stone being thrown. The symptoms are more severe amongst obese or excessively tall patients. There are several treatments:
1. Aggressive treatment:
Walk up, extend your hand and say, “Hi, do you speak English?” You will see symptoms usually disappear immediately. However in a small amount of cases, this will result in a conversation in English, which can have positive side effects like securing a private lesson or a friend.
A variation on this treatment involves a good-looking Korean woman or man. In such cases, the patient asks, “Do you have a boyfriend?” Nam-jah Ching-gu ee-sum-nee-kah??? ?? ????? Or “Do you have a girlfriend?” Yaw-jah ching-gu ee-sum-nee-kah?? ?? ?? ????? The positive side effects are self-evident. In my case this method is successful in treating the TPL, but has rarely resulted in positive side effects.
2. Less invasive therapy:
Another treatment is to stare deeply (and coldly) back into the offending person’s eyes. It takes a while longer and at times seems ineffective. Just continue to stare, and eventually you will see the symptoms dissipate
What all sufferers of TPL syndrome must understand is that there is no cure, only treatments. The longer you stay in Korea, the more comfortable you become with the staring. Korea is a mono-ethnic society and Koreans are curious about “the others”. Try not to be offended by this cultural phenomenon. They mean no ill will towards you. They are usually just too painfully shy to act out on their curiosity. If symptoms become unbearable, consult a travel agent.
Have a question for Professor Gus: firstname.lastname@example.org