What, Do You Eat Burgers in a Barn?


Today is April 3rd, although by the looks of it, one would guess it’s sometime in late October.  The day is dark and grey, high winds making the rain come in at an angle as though the ground has been slanted.  The air is so cold it stings my hands; I’m just coming down off a really bad fever and as I stand at the streetlight, waiting to cross the road, holding a bag of groceries in one hand and an umbrella in the other, I curse out loud, like a crazy drunken hobo.  “Fuckin’ Korea!” I say.  “It’s April!  It’s not supposed to be like this, Korea!  What kind of forsaken land do I live in!”

Things have gotten to that point.  I have begun to realize that Korea is wearing me down.  I’m extremely irritable with everything.  Often times I find myself making huge generalizations about the Korean people, about things that are silly and stupid and obviously not generated by race or culture.  The other day one of my students refused to use a perfectly good pair of scissors because, quite simply, she wanted to use the other pair of scissors.  “These Koreans are driving me crazy,” I thought.  “They’re so fucking meticulous.  OCD.  Everything has to be done one particular way.  I can’t take it anymore!”

Why did I have this mini-breakdown?  Because a nine year old girl would only use the red scissors and not the blue ones.  To me, at the time, this spoke volumes about the people of South Korea.

Really, it’s like George Orwell’s “double think,” kind of.  I know that my thoughts are completely idiotic.  Obviously one little girl being stubborn is not indicative of an entire country.  I’m very aware that I’m being dumb and racist.  At the same time, I can’t help thinking it.  Everything that goes wrong has to be the fault of this place.  Why is it miserably cold on April 3rd?  Because it’s Korea.  Why is a tiny girl in pigtails screaming at me?  Because she’s Korean.  Duh.

I think partly being sick has made me lash out at the poor, innocent Korean people.  Last Saturday, I hit up Lotteria before meeting my girlfriend.  I was hungry and needed lunch.  The weather was much better on Saturday than it is today, but it still wasn’t really warm out.  I got my hamburger and sat down to eat it.  Two minutes after sitting down, I realized I was freezing.  I looked around.  People seemed happy, eating their food.  I noticed, though, that almost everyone had their coats on.  Taking another bite of my burger, a cold draft came across the back of my neck.  I turned my head to see that the front doors were propped open, as though somebody opened them to leave and then didn’t shut the doors behind himself/herself.

“Fuck man!” I said to myself, pissed.  “These Koreans always leave the damn door open.  They never shut the door.  What, do they live in a barn?!”

That’s a phrase I grew up with.  When somebody leaves the door open, you say, “What, do you live in a barn?”  I thought everyone said this.  A few months ago, I said it to Sis, who stared at me blankly.  “Do I live in a barn?  What the hell are you talking about?”

“It means, close the door, Sis.”

“What does that have to do with a barn?”

“I dunno.  People say that.  What, do you live in a barn?  Close the door.”

“I’ve never heard that in my life.”

“Trust me, it’s a common expression.”

“Do people who live in barns leave the door open a lot?”

“Yeah, it smells of manure.”


“I think so.  Plus the animals have to go in and out.”

“It sounds like you’re making this up.”

“No, seriously.  And if you go to a barn and you close the door, the person will say, ‘Open the door!  Jesus!  What, do you live in a house?!’”

Anyways, this is what I was thinking, staring at the open doors at Lotteria.  I was thinking that these people must eat burgers in a barn.  Five or six different groups of people came in, as the Lotteria was busy on Saturday, and not one of them closed the door behind them as they entered.

I was furious.  Capital F.  Furious.  I wish I was exaggerating.  “I’m fucking sick,” I ranted in my head, “and these idiots walk in here like there’s no door on the hinges.”  Then I got up, walked over to the front doors, and closed them myself.

Not five minutes later, the doors were open again.

“Damnit!” I cursed, storming out of there.  Soon later, I met up with my girlfriend and voiced my displeasure.  “They were probably very warm,” she said, “so they opened the door.”

“Here’s an idea,” I said, in full asshole mode, “if you’re warm, how about taking the fucking parka off.  Ever think of that, genius?  I know they’re attached to their stupid North Face coats, but guess what, homeboy?  You’re indoors.  Not climbing a fucking mountain.  Put the coat on the back of your chair and stop freezing the Westerner.”

My poor Korean girlfriend.  She’s the sweetest.  I couldn’t stay grumpy for long around her, especially since I was spewing hate towards her people and knew that was bad.  I let the door thing slide and we had a nice day together, although I kept coughing, wheezing, and blowing my nose the whole time.

For the first time in my life, I am a minority.  Maybe that’s what’s getting to me.  It’s not that I’m sunk by Korea, so much as I’m feeling different and alone.  That’s part of the expat experience, I suppose, and I should savor it.  I’m learning.  I just wish I could be a little warmer while doing so.



26 thoughts on “What, Do You Eat Burgers in a Barn?

  1. It is super common here in Oklahoma. I was always told it was because we were raised civilized and not as animals. If we wanted to eat with our fingers, leave doors open, have the 5 second rule, not flush the toilet, etc then we could live in the barn with the rest of the animals. Who knows though! I like your spin on it!

    Congrats on the girlfriend! Sounds sweet if she managed to have a great date with you after the tangent!

    • It’s a fun phrase. Barns are kind of funny. Do people live in barns? I thought you were referring to the people living in bars, not the animals, when you use the phrase. Can sheep close a door? I dunno!

      Thanks! She’s cool. : D

    • Haha – I hear you! Hasn’t been the greatest week. Can’t seem to shake this illness…plus it’s making me miss time at the gym and my tiny muscles are turning to zilch!

      Anyways, thanks Myth. May your day not suck.

  2. Sometimes it happens…some people are inconsiderate with others. I wish they would also consider other people’s benefits.

    I keep in mind whenever I am having a bad day, “when it rains, it pours.” But then, rain does not fall on one roof alone. 🙂

    I hope you’re feeling better and I hope you have a great day (of what is left). 🙂

    • Hey girl! What is left of it??? I just got to work – unfortunately there’s a lot left of it! I love Tuesdays though because I only have 4 classes (as opposed to my normal 7 classes). So Thank God!

      I hope it’s not raining on you today. Have a marvelous one!

  3. I hear the equivalent Korean expression is translated as, “You must have a long tail.” Like, they left the door open because their tail is still on its way through. I learned it as, “Were you raised in a barn?”, and I’ve taught it to a few classes as needed..

    • Eric! This tail thing is bizarre. Strange image…picturing a Korean kid walking around with a big tale like a rat dragging behind him. Disgusting.

      By the way, if the recovery from illness is complete by the weekend, I should be in Incheon Friday night. It’s been awhile. I’ll be in Bups – think about comin’ out man!

  4. I’ve heard that phrase before! I mean, I’ve not heard it with my ears… I’ve read it in Archie comics.

    Anyway, I agree with the whole door closing thing. Here in Singapore, it’s hot all the time. There is no reason to keep the door open, because it just means air-conditioning is leaking outside and will the place to be warmer and it’s also a waste of electricity.

    But why do people leave the doors open? Cos they shove it open like they’re making a grand entrance, and don’t bother looking behind them.

    Same people also leave their greasy fingerprints on the glass when there’s a perfectly good door handle to use. Fuckers…

    • Whoa Drew! You’re even more passionate about this door thing than I am. The fingerprints on the glass…sounds like you have some pent up aggression going on. And you’re right about the grand entrance thing.

      Lastly, I’m glad Archie comics are teaching Western culture to the masses. I have The Archies Greatest Hits downloaded on my computer. They have to be one of the finer cartoon bands in rock history.

      • I used to work in a video store, and part of my duties involved wiping the fingerprints off the glass door. Fuckers would actually plant their stupid oily palms on the door WHILE I was wiping it down.

  5. Whoa, I remember that exact feeling when I was a Peace Corps volunteer back in 1982. I just hauled out my old journal, and found this: “Why can’t these stupid Antiguans EVER just calmly get on a bus? Ever heard of a line? Jeez, I think Antigua is wearing me down.”

    I think I’ve felt guilty about writing that for 30 years, but now I do believe I’ll just let it go…

    • Haha – Yeah, I mean, it’s hard, right? Hey, you volunteered for the Peace Corps and that rocks, so you deserve to vent a little bit. And the line…oh God…don’t get me started on the line thing. They don’t really do the line here. I mean, there IS a line that forms, but people just go right to the front of it anyways. This has led to tons of passive aggressiveness on my part.

      Good to hear from you Westerner54. Peace!

  6. still not sure how i ended up here (its been that kinda morning. lol!) but i’m glad i did. this was a brave post. its clear you’re not racist but i love that you are having this honest conversation with yourself–and it’s funny to boot! 😀 take care over there in Korea.

    • Hi! I’m glad you ended up here too. Yeah, trying to fight being a racist. It seems irresistible sometimes. But thanks, because I think that’s the idea – being able to express oneself openly when it comes to race. It doesn’t always have to be offensive and mean – it can be funny and curious too. Or something like that.

      Take care! I will be going to your blog to see what you’re all about just as soon as I get a second to breathe! (long day of classes today)

  7. My mom would always yell “WE’RE NOT FOOTING MOTHER NATURE’S HEATING BILL HERE!” This of course would crack us the hell up, which would just add to her irritation. Classic.

    I can definitely empathize with the overall message of this piece. Even living in England (which coming from Canada isn’t all that different) I would go completely bonkers. I once publicly lost it on someone for sticking their garbage in a bush.

    • If Mother Nature has a heating bill, let me tell you, she’s spent nothing whatsoever on Korea the last three months. Fucking freezing every day. Anyways, your mom sounds like good people. Irritability is always an affable quality to me.

      I’m glad you lost it publicly. Canada needs some bad overseas press.

  8. My mom is the queen of bizarre sayings. “Do I look like I just got off the bus with a chicken under my arm yesterday?”‘I did not just fall off the turnip truck.” “Did you just take out stock in Dominion Power? CLOSE THE DOOR!” “Why are you wearing a shirt with a hole in it? You look like a ragamuffin.”

    My parents have been divorced for nearly 20 years and my dad still talks about it.

    I feel crazed by the coat thing. “Teacher I’m hot.” “Then TAKE OFF YOUR COAT!”

  9. First thing: that turtle? Don’t really know what that’s in this post, but it is adorable. Bizarre and tacky, yes, but also cute. Nice

    Secondly. When did you get a girlfriend?? I tell you, I stop reading wordpress for three days and this is what happens.

    • Hi Set In Motion! Yeah, that turtle is dope, isn’t it? It vaguely ties in with the fact that hamburgers are mentioned in the post, and it looks like a hamburger. Really, I put it in there cause it’s awesome.

      Um, I got a girlfriend about a month ago. I think I slyly slipped it in somewhere. Didn’t want to make a big thing of it. Everything going pretty well so far, so fingers crossed. : D

      I think you should reconcile with the Pluto guy. He sounds nice and sensitive.

  10. NC Coot

    Fascinating. The etymology of an idiom previously unchallenged, while feeling ill and isolated. I’ve been ill too, with some kind of similar flu or something. This rang true for me and left me wondering how far-flung this flu really is.

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