On Thursday night, the blogger who identified herself as “a Korean student studying in Germany” posted a piece on a popular Korean Internet web forum. She said she bought a book, titled “Sleepless Night in Seoul” written by Hohleiter and gave it to a German friend as a gift.
Not long after, her German friend came back to ask her: “Is everything written in the book true?”
Realizing something went wrong, the Korean student read the book. “I am convinced that she wrote the book with a clear intention of dissing Korea,” she was quoted as saying by JoongAng Ilbo on Saturday.
The story was broken, apparently, by a Korean netizen living in Germany. Anyway, the Herald article, via Extra! Korea, includes some of the controversial parts of her book:
"Korean girls are obsessed with keeping up popular trends by wearing mini-skirts. But when they walk up stairways in subway stations they make every possible effort to hide their exposed bodies. I don't understand why they even wear mini-skirts";
"As a well-mannered and well-educated European, I put a great deal of effort to appreciate the social customs of Korea, but everyday I encounter something that prevents me from doing so";
"Koreans have a bad taste for gossiping about foreigners. When they spot them in a public place such as in the subway, they delve into a very detailed criticism of their appearance and do it in a loud voice."
She says the quotations were, unsurprisingly, taken out of context, which they'd have to be to get worked up about those three passages.
But Hohleiter emphasized that the concept of her book wasn't about criticizing Korean culture or its people and that the book was written with the German market in mind, where travel literature or diaries like her book are popular.
"I cannot imagine a country on earth that you cannot find flaws in," she said. "I don't think Korea should hide its shortcomings."
"Before I came to Korea, I had a difficult time finding books on the country and that's how I came to write this book. After the book was published in Germany, I received fan mail from readers saying they wanted to visit Korea after reading my book. They have asked me various questions on which language institutes to go to in order to learn Korean, where to seek room and board, and places to go here."
After the press conference, she told The Korea Herald about some of the positive aspects of being a foreign resident.
The original post on this site lead to an interesting back-and-forth among readers including some who had read the book. From Martin:
Have to chime in here. I've read this article in Korean yesterday and it came as sort of a surprise to me. I am German and have read Vera's book a few weeks back. When I bought it, I thought it would be the usual crap that we normally get from books about Korea but it was a decent read and the picture she draws of Korea is VERY positive. The few negative aspects she points out do not stand out at all, though I'm not surprised that some random Korean netizen picks up on them and the Korea Time publishes a story based on that person's opinion/interpretation. Unreal.
Having said that, I'm not out to defend Ms. Hohleiter. I think it's highly hypocritical to categorize all German guys in Korea as "losers back home", who apparently just have to step off the plane at Incheon to get hundreds of girls just because they're "tall". Especially so, when noone in Germany has ever heard of you and you sure as hell would have never been on a TV show.
Well folks. It's all just so much hype again. I've read her blog and what she says about the accusations levied against her by Koreans. Her reaction is utter disbelief and sadness at being misrepresented by the Korean press and Korean netizens.
I don't like the fact that in the English speaking Korean blogosphere, there's always a trend to protect "us foreigners" against the evil Korean media and/or netizens. This is so unreflected and generalizing, and it reproduces exactly what the "Korean media" does to "us, the foreigners".
Now about the book. I'm German, I've read her blog, I've read the first part of the book, and I have to say, it is not what you would call high literature. It is written very simply, and it's all about her following this boy to Korea, without much thought and preparation. Now, from what I gather, people who have high standards of literature generally think the book is shallow, childish, unreflected and other things. Those who might have lower standards think it's okay. There's probably a bit of ambivalence in the way she wrote the book.
That being said, the problem is that she really did say in the book that she doesn't like Korea all that much -- which is clearly NOT what she said in the shows. This is where the Korean public feels betrayed. That's where the trouble originated, not in the mere fact that she said some not so nice things about Korea.
I read her book too and I love it! It is very amusing and well written. And I also have a very good taste in literature, Gitte, don't believe you are the only literature expert here. It just sounds like you're angry that Vera got a book deal with one of the major publishing houses in Germany. And don't put it like she got the book deal because she is on misuda. In Germany only very few people (only Kyopos, acutally) know about that show.
She did not even write much about the show. In my opinion, the book is neither extremely positive nor extremely negative. She just expressed opinions that I've heard from about 80 percent of all foreigners in Korea.
I also didn't find a huge difference between what she said on TV and what she wrote in her book. She was never one of the misuda girls who seemed to be over-excited about living in Korea. She was always rather critical. It's not really fair to compare Vera to Mirja and Taru. Those two have been living in Korea for about 10 years. Their Korean is a lot better, that's why they can express everything they want to say.
I bought a second copy because I found Vera's description of her initial Korea sensation so close to my own experiences that I had to give one book to my Mom as a shortcut to answering the "how are you" question.
Few people seem to consider the purpose of this book. It is NOT a Lonely Planet replacement. It is NOT the definitive guide to Korean culture and history. It does NOT make a claim to be balanced and objective.
Quite the contrary, it is very clear from the book's cover and blurb that here we have a blog-style, very subjective description of one person's initial experience with a new culture, a diary rather than an encyclopedia. The book works only in this style. Had Vera written "but today of course I know better", the book might have been twice as thick.
The book is also entertainment. What is more entertaining: a description of the correct procedure to use chopsticks, or anectodes of personal chopstick mistfortunes (Vera apparently had no problems with eating tools, unlike myself)? So, there is no reason at all to expect a postive, or even fair review of Korea. Yet people keep complaining that after 3 years in the country, she should know better. Of course she does, but the book is about her first year!