Life as an Expat, Living in Korea

Smile and Nod, Or Don’t

This morning I came across a fascinating article by Dr. Jeremy Dean, “Which Culture Most Controls Their Facial Expressions?

Along with Russians and the Japanese, South Koreans go to great lengths to control the way they outwardly express their emotions. Unsurprisingly, Americans sit at the other end of the spectrum, being those who least control their facial expressions.

Essentially, Dr. Dean explains, it all comes down to the distinction of collectivist cultures, like Japan and South Korea, versus the individualist culture that pervades the West. Americans are less concerned with “fitting in” and playing nice, and more about their own social standing.

South Koreans are just the opposite…but only on the outside. In the presence of others, they hide emotions of surprise (especially men) or disgust (especially women). But once they’re alone, they let it all hang out.

Truth be told, I see flaws on both sides. Americans’ uninhibited expressiveness can damage relationships quickly and easily from the outside-in. But South Koreans, and their way of stifling disdain or resentment, can corrode social connections from the inside-out.



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