Eavesdropper

“Wait so you’re Phillip?” The man standing in front of the two of them at this party had just brought over the other man with his name and intended to play a little game.

“Yes.” He didn’t really blame the guy – not only did they have the same name, but they kind of looked related, too.

“From Deutschland.” Now that was mildly surprising, hearing Germany’s name in German in Korea.

“Yeah,” the other Phillip seemed nice, though he didn’t know him well.
“And you’re Phillip from?” It was his turn now.

“From Sweden,” there was no point in naming hometowns from Sweden unless you were from Stockholm.

“Ahh Switzerland,” sadly, this man standing in front of him was not the first to cheerfully make this mistake in Korea, nor did Phillip think he’d be the last.

“No, Sweden,” Phillip’s response was friendly in tone, though straight to the point.

His companion, however, made it difficult to remain both polite and transparent, as he asked, “what’s the difference?”

What to say? Being in Korea was hard sometimes. What’s the difference? Well, nothing, really, just some water, some borders, and some history.

Truth be told Phillip didn’t really mind the countless times people got confused about where he was from. He knew it wasn’t really their fault, and he was sure there were places he was confused about, too. It was just natural. The world was a big place and Europe had a lot of little countries to keep track of.

It was wild to him how Europe mattered so much to Europeans, each individual country, yet only the continent as a whole mattered to the rest of the world. The European news always reported what Slovakia was doing, or Poland, or Italy, or Malta even. Sweden mattered quite a bit in that sense, as it was considered one of the most peaceful countries in the world. It also helped having Ikea, H&M, and, of course, ABBA, but Phillip didn’t like those stereotypes all that much. He was most proud of his country’s quality of life, and history of being an advocate for peace.

On the international scale, none of that mattered. If a few countries said they wouldn’t take in refugees, it didn’t matter how many more were taking as many as they could – the international news reported that Europe as a whole was becoming xenophobic. Some of it was these days. That was another reason he couldn’t blame Koreans for being a little ignorant themselves. At least they weren’t telling him to go home.

Sometimes Phillip wondered what it must be like to be from America; even people from small cities could most likely name their hometown and someone in the room would have heard of it, no matter where in the world this room was. At the very least everyone would have heard of that person’s state, no matter how insignificant it was. He was sure that states like Arkansas, Wyoming, and Nebraska hadn’t done nearly as much for the world as Sweden, but that didn’t really matter when America was just so loud.

In any room, in any country, Americans were always the loudest group, and they could truly be found anywhere. In some ways it was admirable: they were so proud of where they came from that it made their attitude infectious, and they were always a good time. On the other hand, they also had a tendency to make other people feel a bit uncomfortable. They wren’t all like that, of course. Since coming to Korea on exchange, Phillip had made friends with quite a few nice Americans, but he’d noticed that some others stayed in packs pretty much solely of other Americans.

What is nationalistic pride good for, anyway? As he found himself becoming increasingly annoyed with people’s ignorance towards Sweden, Phillip heard that question repeating itself in the back of his head. Sure, it made some people happy, but it also divided many. If exchange had taught him nothing else, wasn’t it that we were all just people? In the grand scheme of things, Sweden may be insignificant, but then again, borders weren’t even significant until a few hundred years ago, and why should they be?

Korea had a similar problem: almost everyone in Korea was Korean. They cared about being Korean, a lot. Though they were more quiet in nature, that could be just as isolating as the loud American pride, if not sometimes more so. Still, Phillip came on exchange to learn about this country, and so he could somewhat understand their point of view: Korea had been almost purely Korean for, well, forever. The Chinese and Japanese had both taken their stab at Korea, and those left many marks, but the peninsula was run by Koreans and inhabited by Koreans. The country wasn’t new like America or Canada, nor was it the product of colonization like, well, at least half of the world thanks to Europe. The borders in Korea were even natural – it’s a peninsula, after all.

No, Phillip couldn’t blame this man for his ignorance towards Sweden, nor could he muster enough nationalistic pride to correct him. There was more than enough nationalism at this international welcoming party to go around. If anything, being thought of as Swiss could be a compliment; the Swiss were kind of stuck up, but they were actually more neutral than Sweden at some rather low points of history. If he had to be Swiss tonight, then so be it.

“Nothing, really.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s