Sunday, January 31, 2010

Scapegoating and being a good tenant

Here's the question:
I think I'm a good tenant. I separate my trash and recycling and don't make much noise, but my landlord constantly gives me bad looks. Is this normal? What can I do to make the remainder of my stay in Korea (8 months) better?
This is actually a more complex question than it seems. We're dealing with more than a rude landlord here. This touches on perceptions, responsibility and scapegoating as well as plenty of other issues.

I remember when I first got to Seoul, nobody had told me about the special trash-bags I had to buy, so I threw my trash out in a normal looking black trash-bag. That bag sat and sat until one day I returned from work to find the bag of trash in front of my apartment door with a note resting on top of the now opened bag of garbage. I brought the note into school and from that I learned about the special bags. Innocent enough and I never made the mistake again.

You would think that that would have been the end of my trash-related troubles, but it was in fact just beginning and one that I have dealt with many times since. Apparently, some of the Korean tenants knew about my trash-bag incident and decided to take advantage of it. So for the next few months, I was essentially framed by them. They would dump trash out improperly and make a big mess of the recycling and when confronted by the landlord, they would simply point their finger at me. And this scapegoating still continues today. I have a dog and when I walk him, I ALWAYS bag his shit. Sometimes I even bring water along with me to clean the piss. Yet, my landlord and neighbors always assume that the poop they see on the street is from my dog. 

I shared those stories with you because the bad looks you're getting from your landlord could be because someone is blaming you for something that you didn't do. The only thing you can do is make your trash-dumping process obvious and visible and continue being a good tenant. You could also mention this to your boss. They can't change much, but it gives you the chance to defend yourself.  If the landlord sees you doing everything correctly, eventually that image is going to stick rather than the image they have in their head of the lazy, dirty or confused foreigner. 

Koreans love scapegoating, so get used to it.

The tricky part of this whole thing is how are we, the foreigners, suppose to control or change this perception? It doesn't seem fair that we should constantly have to walk on eggshells so as not to give foreigners a bad image, but at the same time we should be responsible members of the society. The cards are stacked against us on this one and there's nothing that we can really do about it. Sure, we could volunteer or lead public awareness campaigns and even if we succeed in transforming the perception of foreigners in Korea, the scapegoating will continue. We're an easy target. 

The best way to combat it is to be a decent person in public. We stick out and will attract unwanted attention; sometimes that's good and other times it's not. All I do, as a manager, is tell my new teachers not to get too aggressive when drunk. That prevents a lot of problems.

That, or your landlord is just a cunt.


John from Daejeon said...

I’ve been golden during my four years here, especially after having my next-door neighbor kill her newlywed husband a month after I moved in for not supporting her the way he had said he would when convincing her to marry him. She would beat him mercilessly every night and no one would get involved and call the police until it was too late. I still get upset at myself for not getting involved and calling the cops, but everyone I spoke to (and I have learned first-hand since) said not to get involved because I was a foreinger.

It seems that that apartment has been cursed and the apartment owner has been unable to keep it occupied for more than a month at time since then. However, one of these foreigner haters tried setting me up by fooling around with my trash for some reason or other. They just forgot that this foreigner doesn’t use chopsticks in his home, drink beer, or eat ramen noodles—a real giveaway that the refuse wasn’t mine as the apartment manager has been in my place on numerous occasions. It also helps that I live within walking distance of Costco and the only liquid refuse in my trash is orange juice containers and empty milk jugs that I recycle separately.

Alex said...

On a similar note: how would you recommend buttering up your landlord (who lives in the same building)/3 other neighbors if I want to have a raucous party?

The Expat said...


That's an outrageous story. Is she in jail now? And does that guy still try to set you up?


Raucous party, huh? Are there children living in your building? Are you on the ground floor? I ask because heavy walking can disturb a neighbor living below you, so a party would be really bad.

I'd say that you should tell your neighbors. If you tell the landlord, they might just say 'no'. If your neighbors are cool with it, then go for it. Remember though, Koreans also call the police if a party gets too loud.

John from Daejeon said...

I don't know how the aftermath of the incident played out and what happened to the young woman, other than what my boss told me from what he could get out of the apartment building owner. As you know, a lot of disturbing things are kept out of the public eye here in South Korea. Hell, I didn't know how bad a problem missing children were until I noticed all the pictures of children (and even some adults) that adorn my electric bill each month and just recently met an individual that some of my students call the “crazy” man who wanders around the neighborhood shouting out his missing child’s name as he continues to plaster photos of her around the area as he’s gotten little help from the police.

As for the neighbor next door who tried setting me up, I heard that the family of the deceased man might have been behind his abrupt departure and all the other tenants that had rented that apartment over the last four years. It seems that the poor owner of the apartment could not pay any blood money to the family, so they have taken it upon themselves to make life miserable for the apartment owner and anyone who moves in there. It’s gotten so bad that the owner is now having trouble keeping people in the opposite apartment as well. Ah, the beauty of “face” in all its glory.

Alex said...

I live on the second floor but no one is underneath me, it's some sort of workshop that keeps regular 9-5 hours. I have 2 neighbors who I plan on bringing gifts and a note in Korean in case they don't speak any English. Neither of them have kids. However, on the 3rd floor (there are only 3) lives my landlord, his wife and his kid...