Thursday, January 04, 2007

Status anxiety

Returning to the U.S. I become, in the name of "stocking up," a crazed consumer. Things are so cheap here! I spend a lot of time in Target, Safeway, Starbucks, Whole Foods, the toy store, etc. And as I eavesdrop on conversations in the name of research, I hear a lot of status anxiety. No one NEEDS to talk loudly about their new car or vacation in Cabo while in line at the register. Coming from a place where status anxiety is all out in the open, displayed through designer handbags and Prada loafers, I was surprised to find status anxiety all over the place here, in every casual conversation. People don’t seem to know how to behave towards others, especially towards clerks and salespeople. My knee jerk theory is that in Korea, status is all out in the open, and interactions are guided by status designations -- titles, verb endings, gestures, even the display of emotion. But in the U.S. everybody is suppoedly equal, and we're not used to dealing with strangers, and no one gives you props for being ... whatever you are. So I go to Target and see people (especially women) fighting over the crumbs of status, trying to get some recognition, trying to subtely and perhaps subconciously one-up the poor woman at the cash register and the other standing in line.


Kathy said...

enjoyed your write-up on Status anxiety back at home. you are so right... at least Koreans are down right transparent about it. Only logged into your blog today for the first time... pretty impressive. Will try to visit more often.

Kathy Scalabre

Corey said...

Oh this is just so true! Status, status everywhere. It nauseates me to the utmost. Perhaps I am just jaded but it seems like things have been moving more and more from "inconspicuous consumption" to "conspicuous consumption" over the years (could it be partially tied to who is in the government?). Not that one is better than the other. It's just that the latter seems to give a big OK to consumption... the more you have, the better you are, the more you show off, the more American you are. However, compared with your description of Korea, I can see what you mean, especially with the verbal status. The subtle statement that actually digs deep because it hits us in our subconscious. It isn't until we get home that we realize why we feel slighted or snubbed.

It always bugs me when we are in Germany that people are so obvious about what is on their mind. If they think you should be doing something differently, oh they will tell you! I have never gotten used to this but when we are back in the US, I wonder if the "under the breath" comment and eye-rolling are any better?

It is so great to read through your blog! Your attention to these cultural idiosyncrasies is simply captivating!

By the way, we need to get you in Multilingual Living Magazine again! Any interest in a column for our May-June issue... something around 200-500 words?