“You Big Size!”

June 22, 2011

It’s an expression every Korean vendor dealing with a foreigner has uttered at one point or another. In my case, it’s hardly offensive – I’m not overweight (80 kg) and I’m not too much taller than the average Korean (181 cm). However, my feet are gargantuan by Asian standards. My brother, who lives in Beijing, shared a story with me a while ago. He was shopping for shoes with a friend in a market over there, looking for something his friend’s size: 14ish US, ~33 cm. When the vendor came over to inspect his feet, he took one look and shouted: “GODZILLA! GODZILLA!”

Although Koreans usually aren’t that coarse when dealing with big foreigners, they are rather blunt when confronted with those who might be a bit sensitive about their weight. My best advice for those foreigners: don’t come to Korea if you are sensitive about it. Because EVERYONE will call you on it. I didn’t really notice it during my time in Japan, but apparently some elderly people over there have no problems with it either:

In Korea, the standard response to fat foreigners is “YOU BIG SIZE!”. For some 외국인, this is almost intolerable. My recent ferry ride to Ulleungdo, while unpleasant, did reveal this behavior. I’m not in the company of overweight or even slightly overweight (by Korean standards) foreigners in my town, but even when we had a few Americans and Canadians topping 100 kg in our tour group, I didn’t think much of it. Until one of them tried to sit down in her designated seat, only to be told very loudly, in front of the entire full ferry, that she had to take a seat the attendant had “kindly” pulled up into the aisle. How was this communication achieved?


She took it a lot better than I would have in the same situation by simply ignoring the man and keeping a straight face. He didn’t let up until our guide walked over and explained the seat was unnecessary. It really was; she had no problem fitting in the bolted-down seat.

Although I thankfully don’t have to worry about getting fat anytime soon, there are still some issues with being a bigger person in Korea. What is big? Anyone with a shoe size over US10, 28.5 cm. Anyone who wears XL or is particularly tall – pants may fit your waist, but not reach down to your feet. I knew this going in, but I assumed Korea might have been a little better than Japan in providing big and tall stores for foreigners. In a sense, they do: there are a few options in Itaewon, whereas I never found anything in Tokyo.

ROKetship Comics, Luke Martin

So far, though, my best idea has been to order shoes from Hong Kong and pay the exorbitant import fees (+40,000 Won). It worked for my running shoes when I knew the brand and size I needed. But regular hiking/walking/casual shoes? I’m in trouble. ABC Mart in Itaewon has tennis shoes my size, but nothing for serious walking. Merrell has a retail store there as well, and I seriously considered paying the 179,000 Won for a decent pair; at least I could be sure they fit. But the design… well… it’s just not my style to spend money for something I don’t particularly like.

Anyone with big feet have any experience in this area? Because right now it’s looking like my only option is to tough it out until a visit to the US.

One Response to “You Big Size!”

  1. Andrea on June 26, 2011 at 4:46 am

    Such a forward culture…I have big feet for a woman (European 40) and have had a hard time finding shoes in Asian countries and parts of South America. Wish I had some tips for you but just wanted you to know that I feel your pain!

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