“Minjoo, noonchi bah!” is a phrase my mother has been scolding me with ever since I was little, little girl. While it literally translates to “watch your eye-measure,” noonchi is an incredibly important and delicate Korean cultural concept that is difficult to define as it carries on multiple meanings depending on the social situation. A quick Google search comes up with a couple of definitions that do not capture the intricacies of noonchi, but suffice:
• Wiki: “[Noonchi] describes the subtle art and ability to listen and gauge others’ moods. In Western culture, noonchi could be described as a concept of emotional intelligence…[it] is of central importance to the dynamics of interpersonal relationships…and relies on an understanding of one’s status relative to the person with whom they’re interacting.”
• Urban Dictionary: “1. To have quick wits, to be sharp, to be smart.
2. To be tactful, to be able to read another person’s intentions.”
• NKI Center of Excellence in Culturally Competent Mental Health (…who knew one existed?!): “A capacity to quickly evaluate another person or social situation.”
From my understanding, having noonchi is a possessing a social skill set that allows an individual to exercise mindfulness, sensitivity, self-awareness, empathy, politeness, and, to a degree, selflessness under any and all circumstances. Likewise, noonchi is recognizing the importance of other’s well being and trying to avoid fucking with their zenitude. The point of noonchi is to promote an environment where the individual prioritizes the well-being of the other (be it another person or a larger group) over him or herself, intricately tied to understanding ones’ positionality in relationship to the other.
For some, noonchi is intuitive. For others, noonchi is either a foreign concept or of little importance. Defined in the negative, those without noonchi could come off as selfish, unpolished, oblivious, brash, discourteous…basically socially stupid. Admittedly, as a huge space cadet who’s lost in the clouds a little more often than appropriate, I do not possess as much noonchi as much as my mother would like me to have—but when she does call me up on the phone reminding me to “noonchi bah!” I try my best.
The following are a few situations where “watching your eye-measure” could lead to a more harmonious environment and, by extension, happier people:
• As a guest at a dinner party: When you are a guest, having noonchi is a good way of showing your appreciation for your host. Your host has just busted ass preparing dinner, the least you can do is offer to help serve the food and wash the dishes at the end of the meal! If you don’t offer to help out you can come off as entitled, treating the generosity of your host as an expectation instead of act of love or kindness. (On the flip side, a host who has noonchi will try to make each of their guests comfortable and feel at home, whether that means providing the vegan tater tots for their vegetarian friend or directing more questions at their awkward, quiet friend.)
• As a friend rooming with a friend: Everyone has their little odd habits that, when tampered with, can result in a Hulk-like explosion of anger and frustration. If you are rooming with a friend (or anyone for that matter) be it short or long-term, you are sharing a very private, personal space with them. It’s of utmost importance that you demonstrate your respect for them by being mindful of their little quirks and knowing the things that tick them off, even if they are ridiculous and OCD. So for example, if you are my brother’s roommate you absolutely must take your shoes off before you enter his apartment. If you are rooming with me, you have to be OK with setting alarms on 8’s (e.g. 6:38 or 8:08), you can’t leave dishes dirty in the sink (I will wash them for you…and resent you for it!), and you can’t leave your dirty socks and underwear hanging out on the floor (other articles of clothing are fine).
• As a lover: Obviously noonchi can be useful (maybe even the saving grace?) in romantic relationships, as it seems that most couples, particularly young lovebirds who haven’t gotten a handle on the whole communication thing, fight over the other’s inability to (a) pick-up on their frustrations, needs, desires, wishes, blah, blah, blah and (b) actually do something about it. Granted this is a loving relationship where both couples are concerned with the other’s well-being at least as much as their own (see JuJuBean’s post “What Aphrodite Failed to Mention”), having noonchi may let a partner know when they need to be extra sweet and sensitive, when to grab hold of the reigns and take charge, when it’s a good time to back the fuck-up and give the other some space, or when it’s a good time to keep on holding on, to not let go.
Noonchi hinges on being cued up to the unspoken, little things that, perhaps not so surprisingly, make a huge difference. If we could all make a little more effort to be a little more aware of the littlest things, that could make the difference between making another person feel unimportant or unappreciated and loved and understood.
And to close, I leave you with an oldie but goodie (relevant in title, slightly relevant in content, always relevant in audio delight):