Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ajumma to the rescue

The much maligned Ajumma- hot-tempered, married woman sporting loose floral print pants and tight perms- has her uses.
As this blogger so aptly puts it:

Ajumma can apply to any Korean woman over 30. By the mid-fifties, because they've "paid their dues," I guess, some behave a little less politely than most other Koreans, and care a little less about the general courtesies that are either the grease that keeps the wheels of society turning, or the B-S- that keeps people from acting out who they really are.
... ajumma is the one most likely to shove you as she dives for a seat on the subway; she's the one most likely to be rude to you in a restaurant, to touch your white skin, poke your curly hair, grab your love handles (out of sheer curiousity -- look at how big those cheese-smelling foreigners get!), comment that you're writing in your journal with the wrong hand (I'm a lefty), and you'll sometimes do what they say, however unnecessary, just so they'll leave you alone. This is the impression many foreigners get of Korean ajummas. Some of us carry a downright bitterness and resentment of the mature set.
Although the butt of jokes among the expat community here, the government has different ideas.
As this news article  notes, the government is hoping that the friendly faces of thousands of middle-aged women will improve the public response to this year’s national census.
Statistics Korea will concentrate on hiring women in their 30s and 40s to conduct the door-to-door surveys in November, the state-run agency announced yesterday. The preference for ajumma, as middle-aged women are known in Korea, reflects the belief that people feel more comfortable opening their doors to female strangers rather than males, while middle-aged women tend to be more persuasive in dealing with households that are reluctant to respond.
The national census, which takes place every five years, will be conducted from Nov. 1 to 15, with 95,000 census takers asking households simple questions about their living conditions.
Hiring for the survey agents will begin in August, with each paid 42,000 won ($37.39) a day. They will be required to wear state-issued identification tags.
“It has become harder to make people open their doors and respond because of so many crimes happening out there,” said one Statistics Korea official.
In previous years, census takers had typically been young college students and housewives hoping to earn extra money by taking temporary work.
But officials believe that the ajumma will prove more effective.
“The college students give up as soon as a household refuses to let them in. But these ajumma are more persistent, trying harder to persuade a homeowner to open the door and answer questions,” said the Statistics Korea official.
“People feel that ajumma are more approachable and so they tend to be more willing to answer their questions.”