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Vera Hohleiter controversy

August 24th, 2009 . by Matt

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.

4 Responses to “Vera Hohleiter controversy”

  1. comment number 1 by: koreanrumdiary

    ‘Good foreigner’ and ‘Bad foreigner’… It’s sad we’re judged that way. Makes people lie about life here.

    It’s a shame people report so negatively on the book. It might indeed be terrible, it might reflect Korea positively, but it’s probably going to remain largely unread over here. The netizens just want something to whine about.

  2. comment number 2 by: Silberdrache

    Sorry, here is my whole comment, please delete the other:

    First: I’m German, I’ve been working in Seoul as IT-specialist some months,
    I’ve visited south Korea several times, I’m engaged with a Korean woman,
    I’ve lived together with average and high class Korean families. So I’d say I
    already gained some insight concerning the south Korean society. I read
    Vera Hohleiter’s book and was really disappointed. The ONLY positive things
    she can tell about south Korea is: It’s interesting, never getting boring, and it
    offers chances to foreigners they’ll never get elsewhere (like taking part in a TV show…).
    And last but not least her Korean boyfriend “Joe”. And that’s ALL positive.
    So if someone is telling that the book accounts very positiv to south Korea / Seoul
    did not understand the meaning or has a very negativ impression towards south Korea,
    too. Here is my very own and subjectiv recension of the book:

    The book is published at first sight like a collection of negative experiences.
    This certainly also corresponds with the only subjectiv feelings of the author.
    It’s not a matter to tell the reader a subjective opinion. But exactly this circumstance
    would have been supposed to be explained at least at the beginning of the book, though.
    But the impression is that there’s nothing positiv in Seoul/South Korea to report.

    It primarily depends on the character of one’s own whether one feels comfortable
    in a “strange world” like South Korea or not. Sentences like “Kimchi smell is like a
    highly-poisonous cloud of smog” reflects only Veras very own opinion. Someone
    else would say “Kimchi smell is strong and you have to get used of it ”

    A longer and more intensive preparation time before the long stay
    in Korea would have prevented the author from some negative experiences for certain.

    I also have experienced much which Vera has experienced. But my feeling subjectively
    was apparently completely differently: Far more positive !

    She should have been aware that she is a representive of Germany in the Korean TV.
    Telling positiv things in the show but very negativ in her book is the worst she could do.
    Instead she should have been just honest. Hopefully the korean people don’t judge all
    Germans now for her behavior, ’cause somehow I feel ashamed for her.

  3. comment number 3 by: Errol

    Two-faced foreigners? Why do many Koreans believe that foreigners have ulterior motives?

    Why can’t we make a simple observation and from there progress? It’s the whole basis of western empiricism and scientific method. Laying on an emotion laden guilt trip slows down any real interaction with foreigners.

    Korea’s old motto remains: 1500 years of history, 15 years of progress.

  4. […] of Korea. Some Koreans reacted with hurt and anger, and accused them of being two-faced.[1], [2], [3], [4] However, every foreigner in Korea learns soon after their arrival here that even the smallest […]

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