Tuesday, September 04, 2012

So I heard you wanna marry oppa?

Ugly dolls, I know...

   Better think twice, cause in Korea, you marry his whole family. 
I've watched enough of family dramas to know that I do NOT want that. I like my guys from thousands kilometres distance, unreachable... you know E. you're not exactly helping yourself. Most of all - I like myself even more.
Nice, bright but true - and probably kind of unique - story featured in the latest Korea magazine I read. Lady who wrote this is in the better position than most of the Korean women, because she's a foreigner. She was lucky her husband and his family are tolerant, but come on, not every family is like that. 

   But I bet fangirls still dream of marrying their oppars and having perfect babies. Good, everyone needs dreams once in a while.


I start with a confession. I am without a doubt Korea’s worst daughter-in-law. I know it. My husband, his family, and our local communities know it. And now you know it. By way of  background, I’m an Australian married to a Korean. We’ve been together for 12 years, married for nine years, we speak to each other
in Korean, and have three children who go to the local Korean primary and pre-schools. To gauge how truly terrible I am, you’ll need to know about widely held expectations. Traditionally, when you marry a Korean man, you cut all ties with your own family and move in to serve your husband’s (while keeping your own surname). Even today, you don’t just marry the man, you marry the family and are automatically slotted into your place in a specific hierarchy, at the bottom (unless there’s a son younger than your husband, in which case, his wife is at the bottom).
My husband is the youngest son, so I am right at the bottom. You are expected to tend to all the household needs. It was explained before we got married that I would be responsible for everything inside the house, particularly in the kitchen, while my husband would be the master of everything outside the house. I have always been an independent professional and not in the slightest bit interested in housework or cooking.
Not that I can’t do them very well (unlike my husband when I first met him: he couldn’t make a cup of tea; now he can feed our kids for weeks at a time). I simply prefer to do other things. So sharing the load, outsourcing, and dining out are my preferred options. Oops.
When it comes to holidays, you are expected to spend every day preparing food, serving
and cleaning up after an endless stream of visitors. No thanks. I prefer to rest and enjoy
the holidays. So let’s share the preparation, or go out. Oops.
Most importantly, you should do everything your mother-in-law tells you to do, including how to furnish and clean the house, shop for and cook the food, raise and educate your children, look after your husband, where to vacation, and what to wear. I have been around for a few decades and I am quite clear on what I like, what is best for me and my family, and whether my feet are cold. Criticism is apparently a staple diet. No daughter-in-law ever seems to be good enough.
I am grateful to my husband who showed me how to shut up, smile, nod and be a duck, letting the criticism and micro-management run off like water, and then go about doing what works for us. It took a few years to get the hang of it I admit, and I’m certainly no master. Some people might call that lying; I consider it kindness. No point in telling people what they don’t want to hear, and certainly no need for me to do things I know are not going to work and I don’t enjoy. So it’s win-win for everyone. And rather than letting it get under my skin, I interpret it as a particular Korean version of caring.
How does being a Korean daughter-in-law sound to you? Easy? Fun? When I arrived in
Korea as a single 34-year-old diplomat I did not have marriage in mind, but I had consciously thought I would probably not date Korean men. Not that I didn’t think some were devilishly cute. I had simply heard the rumors and thought it wouldn’t work for me.
Expectations, as they say, will always prove you wrong. And here I am, in a surprisingly
happy Korean-Australian family, despite my appalling non-efforts at daughter-in-law.
One irony appears to be that because I met no expectations and set the bar so low, now if I do anything—like the time I gave myself RSI (repetitive strain injury) by spending the whole day making mandu dumplings for Lunar New Year celebrations—I am warmly thanked. My mother-in-law also laughs and tells everyone that my Korean language ability is highly selective. I’ll understand perfectly when dinner is served, but not when she’s trying to explain how I should cook something for my husband (it’s not true; recipes can be very complicated). I am lucky that my mother-in-law has a cheeky sense of humor. So how have we thrived as a couple for so long surrounded by such strong points of view?
Four simple words: awareness, allowance, gratitude, and laughter. We are aware that we are starting from vastly different points of view, so we don’t jump to conclusions. No conclusions means open minds. We are in allowance of our different points of view, so we don’t fight to prove who’s right. We are grateful for each other’s differences, knowing what a contribution this is to our family, and give each other the space to be and do what we each enjoy. Above all, we laugh a lot, which I have noticed sometimes annoys people. Just because someone tells you you have to be/do/have something, does that make it
true? No. Your own point of view creates your reality. Our point of view is that life and having a family is an adventure to enjoy. So we smile and thank people for their points of view and get on with creating our family life as it suits us. Expectations? We replaced those with smiles a long time ago.
Is any of this limited to a Korean context? No. How many races, cultures, societies, cities,
towns, villages, and families across the world have their own version of this? Most, if not all? At least in Korea it’s clear what the expectations are.
So what’s in store for Korea? Korea is famous for its ability to change and transform at a time of crisis. It acted to develop from having a GDP per capita poorer than Zimbabwe in 1960 to now being ranked the 15th strongest economy in the world. Given that more than one third of all new marriages in Korea are now international, and even if most of these new brides are from developing Asian countries and less able to voice their views than me, change is inevitable. The one thing I appear to have done well is to bear children. Korea has an unofficial point system for children, based on how many, what kind, and in what order you have them. I had a boy first followed by two girls, so apparently I get a Gold Medal. Tradition likes a boy-child first, but Koreans know it’s the girls who will look after parents in their old age. I wonder if that’s why I’ve been allowed to be so naughty?

Author: Mary-Jane Liddicoat