Vera Hohleiter, a German woman that has appeared on the chattering beauties talk show in Korea, has been criticized by Korean netizens for looking down on Korea. Some interesting posts on the topic appear on Brian Deutsch’s blog and also on Korean Rum Diary, so go there for a description of what is going on.
I am not surprised that the Chattering Beauties show is scripted, because I always thought the show existed merely to stroke Korean pride. However, I don’t think that a script is strictly necessary to keep the girls on the show saying how much they love Korea (and sometimes Korean men) because foreigners that know Koreans are aware that Koreans are excessively vain, prideful, and easily manipulated by praise of Korean racial or national characteristics.
Koreans are never going to hear what most foreigners really think about them and their society, because just as Koreans are willing to lavish attention on foreigners that stroke the Korean ego with their unconditional praise, they react extremely to any minor criticisms, or what they believe to be criticisms. Foreigners clamp up and just tell Koreans what they want to hear. It is something I have seen time and time again. I have also seen foreigners do it in a very manipulative manner – and Koreans fall for that kind of sycophancy every time. An example – I know a white guy that breaks into Korean groups of mixed men and women while out drinking. His opener is to basically talk to the Korean guys and tell them how great Korea is and how great Koreans are and how it is so much better than his own country and so on. He lays it on thick and he is invariably invited to sit with the group, but they have been suckered because he was targeting the girls in the first place.
Praising Koreans in this manner gets the praising foreigner the ‘good foreigner’ label. Foreigners that are circumspect and real with Koreans end up with the ‘bad foreigner’ label. It is easier for a foreigner to lie to Koreans about what they think, rather than tell them the truth, because the Koreans react so badly to even minor criticisms. The result is that people tell Koreans one thing, then rip into them later.
By all accounts (I have not read the book but others have described it’s contents) Vera Hohleiter’s book is a largely positive account of her time in Korea, with a handful of negatives that are being focused on by the Korean media. However, the Korean media is correct when they say her criticisms of Korea are inconsistent with the kind of praising statements she made while she was actually in Korea, on Korean TV. However, there is very little reflection by the Korean media that there are no incentives for foreigners to be real with Koreans, and in fact there is considerable negative-incentive not to do so, just as there are positive incentives to lie to them.
Vera Hohleiter is not even the first foreign TV celebrity on Korean TV to go back home and write negative things in a book about Korea. Shunpei Mizuno was a Japanese man that became a TV celebrity in Korea. He was known for his fluency in the Korean language and his deep knowledge of Korean customs and culture. He was on Korean TV telling Koreans what they wanted to hear, and never offered up an honest criticism, even though he was eminently qualified to do so. Why? Because he knew Koreans well enough to know that Koreans cannot handle criticism – any criticism.
The result was that Mizuno vented what he couldn’t say on Korean TV by writing books under a pen name that were extremely critical of Korea. Eventually Koreans found out about it and were shocked that a foreigner that had been so unconditional in his praise actually had thoughts about the negative aspects of Korea.
Vera Hohleiter and Shunpei Mizuno simply reacted to the positive and negative incentives created by Koreans to behave like that. For that reason Korean’s don’t have a right to complain about these two foreigners, or any foreigners, being two faced at all.