Old Habits Die Hard

Obviously, I’m still bowing at people.

I pretend not to notice when they’re confused. ‘Does this girl have a nervous tic?,’ they’re probably thinking. When people give me change, I bow, ever-so-slightly. When someone says ‘Buen dia’ to me, I give a head bow. When we said goodbye to our Spanish teacher for the last time, my torso was at a 30° incline before I could stop it.

You can take the girl out of Korea, but you can’t take the Korea out of the girl. It appears that two years of habit do not vanish in mere weeks.

The other day, for example, I caught myself craving kimchi.


Goindol Yeongwol, South Korea
Specifically, hot kimchi from Goindol, the best restaurant in Yeongwol. YUM.

It’s like I don’t even know who I am anymore. I squashed the craving with a hot, gooey empanada and reminded myself how nice it is to have access to cheese and bread again. But later that night, I burned the rice because who cooks rice in a saucepan, anyway? I miss having a rice cooker. At least it was brown rice, which was virtually impossible to find in Yeongwol.

But, yeah, we’re still cooking rice.

“It’s weird,” Jared said, “But sometimes I just want to eat a bowl of rice for a snack.”

We’ve almost stopped saying ‘Ne‘ (Korean for ‘yes’) altogether and are getting really good at ‘Si.’ Outside of that, our language is a weird hybrid of basic English, Korean, and Spanish. I’m not sure I’m even fluent in English at this point and often struggle to come up with basic words like ‘blanket’ or ‘safety pin.’

I’m still not convinced I’ve left Korea, but all signs indicate that I have. For 2 years I stuck out as a tall, freckled woman among a sea of dark-haired Koreans, but now I blend into the crowds (at least until I open my mouth). One day I was using chopsticks, the next day it was a knife and fork. Little kids used to light up when they saw me; now they don’t even blink.

Mafalda in Buenos Aires
Argentina. You’re in Argentina.

I scramble to make sure I always give and receive things with both hands, quickly setting my bag or camera on the counter to free up my hands. Anytime I’m caught out and have to use a single hand, I cringe inwardly for fear that the shopkeeper will think me rude.

Here’s a secret: they don’t notice. Asia is 12,000 miles away.

This morning, Jared and I got dressed to go for a run. We laced up our shoes in the hallway.

“Damn,” Jared said. “I forgot my watch.” He hesitated at the threshold between the hallway and the living room, and I could see his internal struggle:

1) Leave my shoes on and go get the watch, thus committing the vile sin of wearing shoes in the house


2) Take off my shoes, get the watch, then return to the hallway and put the shoes back on, wasting time but retaining moral dignity

Apartment in Buenos Aires
The dividing line of destiny.

No one will know (or care) if we wear our shoes in the house, but it still seems wrong. Our co-teachers would have been horrified.

In the end, he left his shoes on, but I could tell he didn’t feel good about it.

We’re adjusting.


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  1. No, I didn’t feel good about leaving my shoes on… That is certainly one legacy from Korea, but it also comes from having a mother who kept our house spotless despite the bests efforts of my father, my brother and myself.

  2. Haha I totally identify with the rice thing, and the kimchi thing, and the shoe thing. Okay, so almost all of it. The rice thing’s hard to kick since I grew up with Chinese food. I honestly miss good rice (the Uncle Ben’s boxes aren’t cutting it). I developed a love for kimchi (oh man just writing that word made my mouth water) from living in Dalian for a year, as the large Korean expat population ensured I had plenty of exposure to Korean food. And the shoe thing, well that’s obvious too given my upbringing. I carry a pair of flip-flops wherever I go (especially to hotels) to act as my ‘house slippers’ so I never wear sneakers when I’m inside a living space. I can totally sympathize with Jared on the ‘shoes off vs time saved’ dilemma.

    1. I used to think all rice was the same…now I know the truth. Some rice tastes good, some…not-so-good. There’s also something weirdly addictive about kimchi – especially if you’re exposed to it on a regular basis over time. Though you used the word ‘love.’ That’s powerful. I don’t think kimchi and I ever got that serious!

  3. After a month in Taiwan I was apparently under the impression that streets were for people instead of cars. The shop owners cram so much stuff on the sidewalk that you end up walking right down the road. It was awkward when I did that at home.

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