A few thoughts about owning a dog in Seoul
|Give me food.|
(Note: MsCaroline's experiences are based on owning a smallish dog in an international neighborhood in Seoul. It is likely that, if she had a larger/smaller/cuter/uglier/different breed dog and lived in a different part of Korea, her experience might well be completely different. If you are thinking about owning a dog in Korea, do not take her experience as the final word. Everyone's experience is different - this has been hers.)
As most of you know, we left our beloved Yellow Dog with my cousin in Canada when we moved to Seoul. We had some serious doubts about his ability to adjust happily to life in a small apartment on the 14th floor of a high rise, as well as his ability to adjust to the general traffic and constant noise of a big city. While it turns out that plenty of people do bring their big dogs to Korea and successfully make the adjustment to apartment living, we realize now that, despite all that, it probably would not have worked for him, and we made the correct decision. He is now living a life that most of us would envy, starting with the fact that my cousin makes him a cooked breakfast every. single. morning.
Just let that sink in for a minute. Every. single. morning.
Anyway, the point is, before we moved to Korea, we heard a lot of conflicting information about dogs in Korea: how they were treated (badly), how they were perceived(Koreans hate dogs, don't have them as pets, etc,) what it was like to own a dog in Korea (challenging), and how hard it was to find landlords who permitted pets. Now that we've lived here for 3+ years and have experienced dog culture in Seoul ourselves, we have come to our own set of conclusions, which have occasionally fit with what we'd heard, but more often, did not.
Most of you know that, after 2 years in the high-rise, we moved to a new apartment which permitted 'small dogs,' and, 4 months later, brought home a small, flat-faced dog, which was represented to us as being either a French Bulldog or, possibly, a Boston Terrier. Or, possibly, some of each, which is probably the most likely scenario.
|I may or may not be a French Bulldog. Or Boston Terrier. You won't know for a few months.|
In any case, Merlot (our other dog is named after beer) joined the household, and the learning curve began.(Note: It is not a coincidence that MsCaroline's posting frequency dropped drastically after Merlot joined the household. When she wasn't trying to exercise the dog enough to get it to sleep, she was trying to engineer a pen that would contain it. It was a dark time.)
Over the past year, we've learned plenty about having a dog in Seoul, some of which confirmed the 'myths' we'd heard, and some of which made us realize that things have been changing even in the 3 short years we've been here. Here's what our experience has been:
Not all Koreans are scared of dogs: Before we moved to Korea, we read plenty of blogs and forums that told us that Koreans - who have not traditionally kept dogs as pets - were scared of all dogs and that the mere act of walking down the street with one could cause grown men to shriek like little girls and leap off the sidewalk. The truth is, yeah, there are a lot more people who are scared of dogs in Korea than there are in North America - even more so if you have a large dog, I'm sure. MrL and I have personally observed grown adults flattening themselves against a wall, pale with terror, as Merlot ( or, "9 kilos of raging fury" as MrL calls her ) trots pleasantly by on heel, hoping for ear scratches. Yes, I have seen mothers pull their children behind them when we walk past; I have seen people deliberately step off the sidewalk or cross the street, just to avoid possible contact with the dog; I have seen schoolchildren scream (yes scream) and run away. It happens at least a few times a week on our daily walks.
|Striding down city sidewalks, terrifying all in her path....|
However, in all fairness, there are many more people who love our dog and stop to pet her, admire her, or ask about her. As it happens, the flat-faced, big-eyed, goblinlike appeal of Frenchies and Boston Terriers is extremely high at the moment, and many hip young Koreans view our girl as a bit of a trendy fashion accessory, sort of like a pair of Doc Martens. In any case, we rarely complete a walk without at least one lovely young Korean woman stopping to exclaim, "Oh, gwiyoun!" (sounds like 'key-oh!' and means "Oh, cute!") Merlot is so familiar with this now, that if someone says, 'gwiyoun!' in her hearing, she immediately assumes they are addressing her and turns to the speaker.
|Goofy and ridiculous, yes. Some days, the word 'cute' is not exactly applicable.|
I should also add that in many places we take her, she is a virtual Rock Star, attracting actual crowds. While I would like to think this is a result of her innate charm, the truth is, one sees very few flat-faced breeds over here, so it's more like taking a 3-toed sloth for a walk. Hey, what's that? -I don't know, I think it's one of those things I saw on the Discovery Channel. Let's go look at it! - People gather around her, ask to take photos with her or to have her photo taken with their kids (sure, she's cute, but - a photo? Whatever. Go ahead) . The day we took this photo on top of Namsan Mountain at the Lighting of the Beacons Ceremony, there had been a crowd around her for the past half hour, documenting everything she did with their camera phones, including her photo op with one of the guards (who struggled to maintain his gravitas):
|Go on. You know you want to laugh.|
Initially, we thought this was an older -vs. - younger generation thing, with the younger generation becoming more westernized and more familiar with the concept of dogs as housepets, but since some of Merlot's biggest admirers in our own neighborhood are elderly - and since plenty of schoolchildren still shriek and run away when they see me coming with Merlot (securely fastened to her lead) - the evidence doesn't support that assumption at all.
Plenty of Seoulites have dogs as pets: When we got here 3 years ago, the dogs we saw most were the tiny, frou-frou types: chihuahuas, Yorkie-poos, miniature poodles and mini dachshunds - basically, anything under about 5kg that could be carried in one of those dog purses. They are still very popular - often dressed in tutus, smoking jackets, onesies, dresses, and shoes. They have dyed hair (pink is probably the most popular at the moment,) polished fingernails, and quite a few have raincoats and boots. I have seen them carried in front packs (like an infant) and even doggie strollers. So, yes, Koreans do keep dogs as pets. Lately, we have been seeing more medium-to-large sized dogs in our neighborhood, and a Korean friend of mine told me that larger dogs (Dobermans, Labs) are starting to be seen as something of a status symbol: if you live somewhere with enough space to keep a large dog, you must therefore have a substantial income. I should also note that I know many people who keep dogs in their apartments, which disproves our earlier belief that Korean landlords do not allow pets. For every landlord who doesn't, there is likely one who does. Space, however, is still an issue, especially if you live in apartment, as most expats do. If you do not mind taking your dog up and down an elevator every time it needs to do its business (or teaching it to do its business indoors on absorbent pads) you should be fine, as long as your dog can adjust to living in an apartment and does not absolutely need a big yard to run in in order to be happy.
|Sometimes a dog needs space to roam. And sometimes a dog thinks she is a cat.|
|Merlot's primary interaction with the restaurant industry is not as an ingredient, but as a customer. She is well-known at a number of cafes in our neighborhood.|
Clucking/tsking/kissing noises: If you ever want a perfect example of a cultural difference, this would be it. (This is by no means a 'right' or 'wrong' thing, but simply a difference in how we communicate, and it's kind of fascinating, if a bit annoying at times.) In North America, when we make these noises at dogs, we do it with the intention of enticing the dog to come toward us - sort of a, "here, nice doggie" sound. It follows, then, that western dogs who hear this kind of sound respond by heading in the direction of the person who is summoning them. The problem is that when people in Korea make this noise at a dog, it just means, 'this is a noise I make at dogs' or, possibly, "Oh, that's a nice dog," - but it does not necessarily mean that the sound-maker wants the dog to come anywhere near him. As you can imagine, this leads to daily
Petting them differently: When a Korean person wants to pet Merlot, it's sometimes an interesting - and different - cultural approach. In the US, typically if you want to interact with a dog, you hold out your hand. The dog sniffs it, decides whether or not to continue the relationship, and - if the dog approves - you pet it. By 'pet,' I mean, you do some gentle patting, stroking, or scratching - and if it's a really big dog - maybe give it some gentle whacks on the side, like a cow.
In Korea, this is not always the case. In the first place, we run into a lot of people who approach the dog by 'chucking' it under its muzzle. (This is sort of like what you would do to yourself if you were a middle-aged woman who was hoping against hope to pat away a double chin. Not that MsCaroline would be familiar with this gesture.) It's not painful or violent or anything - in fact, it seems more like rhythmic tapping - just under the chin, which is (in North American culture, at least) not a typical place for petting dogs. The other thing that is interesting is when people go to pet Merlot and - before they get their hand to the top of her head - she sniffs or licks their hand. More often than not, there is either a rapid pulling back of the hand, or a little squeal of alarm, as though the petter fears that she will tear their hand off. While MsCaroline concedes that an immaculately-behaved dog(which we can all agree Merlot is not) would probably remain perfectly still while being patted on top of the head, she also does not feel that it is completely out of the realm of reasonable behavior for a dog to sniff or lick a hand that is petting it. However, it is possible that Merlot is the canine equivalent of one of those dreadful children who get away with murder because their soft-headed and weak parents instill no discipline in them. It could very well be that MsCaroline - as is so often the case with doting parents - is just the last to accept it.
But I can't help it. She's so.....gwiyoun.
|You gonna eat that all yourself? MsCaroline knows - we're working on table manners....|