My wife and I were recently driving through a typical suburban neighborhood when we saw a blond woman pushing a stroller down the sidewalk. My wife was captivated by her to the point that our conversation stopped. Before I could ask her what she was looking at, she said something like, “우와, 여기 미국 사람 있네.” And then she laughed because she realized that obviously 미국 사람 should be here as this is 미국!
When we travelled to Korea last year we had a similar experience. We were at a museum and it was full of middle school and elementary school children visiting on a field trip. I think we were in 경주; that seems to be the place to go for extended school field trips. While my dad was enjoying saying hello to all of the students and his new found celebrity status my wife and I were commenting to each other that it was amazing to see so many Korean students visiting America! That bit of insanity only lasted a second before we both realized that we were the visitors.
But even here in America sometimes it is easy to forget my native culture and feel completely at ease in the grocery store when the bus of Japanese or Korean tourists take over on their way to Yosemite. When I lived in Korea I could spot a foreigner a mile away. They were pretty hard to miss and then I would realize with a bit of unease that, “hey, that is me.”
The diversity of America is such that people who do not know that my wife is not an American by birth assume that she has always lived here. A foreigner in Korea does not typically enjoy that kind of anonymity. Even so, I was happy to know that a Korean in America (or Korea) can feel the same cultural disconnect as I have experienced. Is it universal? Has anyone else had a similar experience?