I was in Incheon, South Korea, for the IALA Conference. So it was work only and I spend most of my time inside the conference building or in the evenings having social events.
One evening I went out with my colleague Jeon Minsu, who now lives with his family in Paris. He is born in Korea and lived there most of his life, he also lived 2 years in Fiji. You can imagine the cultural shocks; from Korea to Fiji and then to Paris! I already know him more then 3 years and we became good friends. We talk a lot about work, of course. But we also like to talk about life and many times we surprise ourselves about the funny small things life brings us.
It was so good to see my friend Minsu in his home country and environment. Although he works under huge pressure, certainly during a conference, he was so much more at ease being in Korea. It were subtile changes and I believe it’s important to have experienced a friend in his or her home country. It made me realise how important roots are to people. Now I understand that immigrants who left their country due to a war situation are so eager to go back, even if the situation at home is still very bad.
I always found the biggest difference between cultures the sense of humour. Minsu and I discussed this many times and we are still not sure whether this is a language issue or truly a difference. The two of us never have misunderstanding (that I am aware of) when we make jokes. We only need to look at each other to be laughing out loud. Maybe he has become more European, I don’t know. After we had a dinner I asked him if he was OK with my Instagram posting mentioning that he was not so handy with chopstick and therefore was using the scissors. He immediately understood that it was a joke, but I am careful to make this kind of jokes with other Asian people.
Actually, a joke at the wrong moment almost caused a beauty disaster during that week. I entirely forgot to go to the hairdresser before the conference and then realised I had a gala dinner. So I thought, why not go here. Via a teenager in the supermarket I found a hairdresser for ladies. She washed my hair, followed by a massage with mint oil. As my hair was wet she could probably not track anymore how it looked. She tried to find out what I wanted by giving me a book with pictures. Her English was very basic and then I made a major mistake… I made a joke… I said: “Cut it a bit shorter, as long as I don’t look like famous Kim Jong-un”. Her brain only detected Kim-Jong un, and feeling relieved at least to understand something, she smiled and while saying YES YES YES started to cut my hair!!!!
I realised a firm and immediate action was needed so I stopped her works in progress hard handed. I showed on my phone WIFI and in a split of a second she connected me to good internet. I searched for a photo of Kim Jong-un and clearly said NO. Then search for a picture of myself saying YES YES YES with a big smile. A lot of AHHHH AHHHH followed, not only from her but the whole staff and other customers who all looked with great interested to my phone. I wish I could have followed the conversations between all of them!
I am always fascinated by the high tech toilets they have in some Asian countries. In Japan I had the idea I entered the cock-pit of an airplane! Always interested in the technical systems I wanted to check what all the buttons are for. So on my knees in front of the toilet I tried the different programs. But it didn’t work. So I tried again sitting on the toilet and it worked, but then I could not see very well what was happening. Apparently the system is programmed only to work when a certain weight or pressure is on the toilet. So I restarted my exercise, on my knees putting pressure on the toilet with my elbows while looking in the pot. The only advise I can give in case you want to do the same: start with lowering the water pressure to the minimum before you push all the buttons!!!! And don’t worry the “silver” tool is not an extreme high pressure or even worse: sand blasting, it’s just a little more gentle….