Thursday, April 10, 2008

Independent Women (Throw Your Hands Up At Me)

So my car and I limped into the dealership this morning with two nearly flat tires and an alleged transmission fluid leak, and I spent half the day waiting for repairs and getting nothing done. Ugh.

Long story short, during my last oil change, the dudes at a Certain Oil Change Chain (*cough*Texaco*cough*) tried to get me to pay $100 or so because my transmission fluid was low. I'm not the greatest with cars, but I tend to have a decent idea about what's going on with mine, and I thought that sounded crazy. So I politely declined and decided to take it to the dealer. It's still under warranty, so the dealer wasn't going to try to sell me a transmission repair if one wasn't needed, because it would have been free. Anyhoo, the transmission was fine, and the oil change guys were just trying to squeeze another bit of cash out of a gullible woman driver.


Women are often socialized to always be polite, to trust authority figures or experts, to never shout or get REALLY angry in public. And sometimes, particularly at unscrupulous Oil Change Chains (*cough*Texaco*cough*), the mere idea that women are less likely to challenge authority or get all up in one's face backfires on us. (Which may be why I love writing for Intrigue so much--you can't push an Intrigue heroine around.)

Fortunately, I didn't fall for the chain's dastardly schemes. And if I ever go back to that accursed Oil Change Chain, I am totally going all ajuma on them. What's an ajuma? Let me explain....

Not too long ago, I lived in Seoul, Korea for two years with my Naval officer husband (or former Naval officer--he just retired after 20 years on March 1--WHOO!). I loved the experience (although I hated the fact that I was a complete brick about learning the language), and what I found really fascinating were the cultural differences. (Lest you think I'm stereotyping, these were all corroborated by Korean friends AND by a book I read by a Korean called Culture Shock Korea):

It's rude in Korea to use your left hand to give something to someone else. Rather like Regency-period Europe, it's rude to just start talking to someone (who is not providing customer service) unless you have been properly introduced by a third party. (This is not an iron-clad rule, especially among young people. But it is present.) It's not really considered rude to stare.

And it's rude to be really loud or overtly emotional in public. Of course, it happens--remember when those two men in the Korean Senate were in the news because they started WRESTLING in the middle of the Senate floor? But I could go on the subway or sit in a coffee shop or go to a store, and I rarely ran into someone who was yakking so loud on their cell phone, they seemed to be shouting inside my head.

This was particularly true with the women--younger women were especially soft-spoken and generally extremely polite. They are extremely careful with their diets--the average Korean woman is a size two, I read in a local Seoul magazine. My beautiful and toned hairdresser in Seoul told me her friends tell her she's fat--and she's all of a size six. On Korean Air, we noticed that this was all carried to an extreme: the female flight attendants had their hair pulled back the same way, were roughly the same (size two) weight, and wore heeled shoes of varying heights, so they all ended up being roughly the same height, with very similar makeup. It was like riding on Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" plane, but in Korea.

But then, around age 50 or 60, many Korean women apparently say to heck with all that and become what is known as an "ajuma" (ah-juh-ma). Technically, the word means elder or married woman. But according to several Seoul residents I met, it's gotten a slightly pejorative connotation in Korea that unfortunately makes it more akin to "crazy old bag." Once a woman has decided she's entered the age of the ajuma, she often cuts her hair short and perms it (A phenomenon one Korean website describes as sending the message that "I am married; please don't try to pick me up."), dresses in horrible polyester pants, gains weight. And then comes the attitude--ajumas will bust in front of you in line without a backward glance. They will literally shove you out of their way. They will get in your face if they think you have an opinion or a mannerism that needs changing. They are not quiet and soft-spoken, and they are not gentle and nurturing. They are women, hear them roar.

They're fabulous. I loved the gentle, soft-spoken women I befriended in Korea, but I also secretly loved that in a few years, they'd go all ajuma and become strong, outspoken, and magnificent. (And yes, I met some younger women who were already strong and outspoken, but were perm-free. I'm talking patterns here--not absolutes.)

That's not to say that I never ended up on the wrong end of an ajuma. We had one as a landlady our first year there, and she would literally peer into my windows to see how high I'd turned up the thermostat in the winter. If it was too high, she'd barge in and turn it down--or lecture me about turning it down, complete with grand gestures because my Korean sucked. And occasionally, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and would end up shoved against a wall while an ajuma barreled by.

But all in all, the ajumas gave me great joy. My grandmother on my dad's side has always had a bit of ajuma about her. A couple of years ago, she got a speeding ticket, and instead of just mailing in the payment, she showed up at the police station and told her to just put her in jail until they considered her debt to society paid. The police officer on duty ended up spending the better part of his day begging her to just pay the thing, because he really didn't want to put a nearly 90-year-old woman in jail. She tells this story often and with a considerable amount of glee. I have no doubt that she didn't intend to spend one minute in jail--she just wanted to see if she could get out of paying the ticket. And, I think, she might have been a little bored that day and just wanted to mess with someone.

OK, it's not about writing or reading Intrigues, really, but this all has been on my mind lately. Hope you don't mind the randomness.

Anyone get in touch with their inner ajuma lately?


Amy Jandrey said...

Hmmm, I think I hit ajuma a loooooong time ago (perm included). But them my ajuma is NOTHING compared to Sharron! bawhahahahahahahah.

Cathy in AK said...

Great post, Tracy. I so love this concept and can't wait to release my inner ajuma at someone other than my kids. Not that I'm soft-spoken or overly polite, but to get away with saying and doing what I'd REALLY like to? Ah, the freedom...

Reminds me of the elderly father of a bus driver friend who was boarding a city bus one day. Another driver, a woman I knew, was standing outside the bus door, chatting with someone before it was time to leave. As the gentleman started up the stairs, he turned to the woman and flipped open the denim shirt she wore unbuttoned over a tee shirt to see what was on the tee. The woman was totally stunned and just stood there as the man read her shirt, chuckled, dropped the front panels then continued to climb the stairs. The driver was speechless, but what was she to do? Yell at the old man? No. But I think only a person who has reached a certain age can get away with such an action. And all we can do is take it, imagining the day when it's OUR turn : )

Tracy Montoya said...

Yeah, I think all four of us (incl. Sharron) are probably the American equivalent, aren't we? : D

That bus story is CRAZY, Cathy! Only an elderly person could get away with that--I guess it's something to look forward to along with the perpetually sore joints and hot mess of wrinkles.

Jennifer McKenzie said...

OMG!!! That's hilarious! What a great post.
Um, I'm totally stealing the "going ajuma" on someone.
I already use "Be careful or I'll Office Space you" referring of course to the printer scene set to violent rap music. LOL.
LOVE this.

Tracy Montoya said...

Jen! Great to see you! I was just thinking I need to check up on you....

And I really need to watch Office Space. I'm missing out on all sorts of cultural references.

About Me

My photo
Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter