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Rude Koreans, Rude Westerners

January 5, 2009

The Concept of “Rudeness” Viewed as a Social Construct

In conversation, several Koreans have taken great pains to explain to me their drinking culture, where everyone pours for each other, thereby demonstrating their care by making sure their drinking companions’ glasses are never empty. They tell me that their drinking culture is a good example of how polite Koreans are as a people.

However, these attentive, caring people will also stop in a doorway to have a conversation with a friend, jamming up the 25 people right behind them who planned on walking through that doorway. These same “polite” people are the same people who will push past me as I’m trying to exit a subway or an elevator, because they are too impatient to wait 5 seconds until the people getting off have had a chance to do so. They chew with their mouths open, smack their lips while they eat, and the older men pick their noses, fart, and sometimes pee in public.

The truth is you can’t hang a label on a group of people–or even one person–and expect it to fit. Are you polite? If you answered “yes,” then my next question is: have you ever been impolite? If so, then in that moment someone may have labeled you as such. So we can see that labels don’t really fit. People are how they act in the moment, and how they act from moment to moment changes, so first let’s drop the labels, okay? Koreans, Americans, Icelanders, Patagonians, Earthlings are neither “a polite culture” nor an “impolite culture.” They’re just a group of people responding to their environment the way they’ve been taught how. Discussions of whether or not labels fit are for armchair sociologists on anonymous forums. Let’s dispense with that here.

Okay, moving on to the meat of the issue, we basically view behavior through our own cultural lenses. We’ve been socialized from birth as to what is is irritating and what is pleasing. This is why what is irritating to one person may not be to another. Our emotional responses to stimuli are socially acquired and conditioned as well. Case in point: at my second hagwon job, when the Korean staff would begin eating in the lunchroom, one of the American teachers would leave, because the sounds of their mastication so enraged him that he “couldn’t take it.” At the time, it bothered me somewhat, but not nearly to that degree. His emotional response was a lot stronger than mine to the same stimulus (lip smackin’ loud-chewin’ munchin’). So we have an unfortunate combination there: one culture conditions its members to become irritated about something another culture sees as normal. Is one culture right and the other wrong? I think most people would say no, because if you say yes, the Koreans are rude, then you also have to say we’re cold, insensitive bastards for not pouring each others’ drinks in our own country.

So if you agree that this isn’t a case of who is right and who is wrong, then you have to apply that same logic to all interactions: Koreans aren’t wrong for stopping in heavily trafficked places to talk and forcing the foot traffic around them. They aren’t wrong for bumping you in the checkout line because they’re older than you and they think you’re moving too slowly. They’re not wrong for trying to give you workout advice in the gym that you didn’t ask for. They’re not wrong for pushing past you on the elevator. Or for any of the other things they do that may irritate you. And if they aren’t wrong, then they aren’t deserving of the blame for your irritation. So who is?

You may be thinking, “Screw this guy, he’s saying its my own fault that things bother me.” That’s not exactly right; I’m not placing blame either. I’m deconstructing this situation so you can identify all the moving parts. We’ve ditched labels and we’re coming to understand that this isn’t a case of who is right and who is wrong. Now we’re ready to talk about what’s really happening inside you and outside you when that 60-year-old lady hits you with her shopping cart to get you to move over a couple feet. Oh, did I say “you?” I meant “me.” That’s right, it happened to me.

I was at Home Plus looking at some tofu, trying to figure out which was firm and which was extra firm, not knowing the Korean translations of either of these words. As I stood peering at the tofu, I was hit in the hip with a shopping cart. Not grazed, but struck head-on, albeit lightly. I looked up and saw an older woman at the other end of it. She was looking at my feet. I thought maybe it was an accident and turned my attention back to the tofu. Then she hit me again. Harder. I looked at her askance, letting her know the contact wasn’t appreciated. Looking me dead in the eye, she backed the cart up half an arms-length and rammed me again. At this point it actually occurred to me to grab the other end of the cart and push it into her hard enough to knock her down. Fortunately, my initial anger was quickly overtaken by my sense of propriety and I moved away. She moved the cart to where I had been standing and started to look at tofu herself. I was so angry, I made sure to talk about the incident to my students, letting them know that such behavior in the USA might get you yelled at, or worse.

When that happened, I was in my first year in Korea. Now I’m in my third, and something similar happened to me a couple months ago. I got hit with a suitcase a woman was carrying, specifically to get me to move out of her way. I had a half-second flash of irritation, and I moved out of her way. Ten seconds later I’d pretty much forgotten about it. Why was my internal response so much different than last time I got deliberately hit with an object? Because I’ve got a better understanding of the Koreans and of myself. Now let’s take this situation apart.

The first time, when I was hit with the shopping cart, I viewed the experience through the eyes of an American: nobody hits or touches me without my permission. I saw her as an offender, breaking my cultural rules deliberately Surely anyone would be similarly offended by such an action! (Actually not; that was ethnocentrism kicking in. Koreans do things like that to each other as well, and they don’t fume over it: “She’s old, she wants me to move..eh, that’s fine, whatever.”) A major reason we get so angry when someone offends our cultural sensibilities, is because they know we will be offended, inconvenienced, or hurt by their actions, and they don’t care. Showing that kind of disdain for one’s fellow man is infuriating. When I’m in the States waiting for a parking space someone is pulling out of, and a guy on a motorcycle zips in quick, he knows he’s shafting me and he doesn’t care, and its that lack of basic respect is what pisses me off. If I could see that he didn’t know I was waiting, I might be irritated that I lost the spot, but I wouldn’t be rolling down my window to bitch him out (as I once watched my father do). The second time a woman “forcefully nudged” me, I knew that the woman had no idea that I’d be furious over her actions. She was just communicating in a language she’s accustomed to using in her country: ajjumma body-language.

If the idea that they don’t know the impact they are producing because they don’t know your culture helps ease your emotional burden, please apply it to the following situations: When the a woman pushes past you to get on an elevator before you can get off, she has no idea that her behavior is irritating. When an old man picks out a booger on the subway and then flicks it on the floor, he likely knows he’s being gross, but he also knows that because he’s really old, he’s afforded some extra latitude by his society, and hey, if you’re still stressing about seeing a booger 15 minutes after it has happened, then you’re wound a little too tight. If a Korean tells you to be quiet on the subway because you’re talking too loudly, he doesn’t know that you’re visualizing choking him to death. Older people say things like that to younger people, and the younger folks may disagree, but that doesn’t need to be voiced.

If you’re still with me, we’ve ditched labels and blame, and we’ve come to realize that Koreans aren’t telepathic and can’t know how their common cultural practices will affect people from cultures they don’t know well. But you’re saying “Even knowing all this, it still frustrates me when they do some of these things.” Yeah, well, we’re not Korean! I did say that the second time I got bumped, there was a passing flash of irritation. Why? Because I’m American. I have over 30 years of socialization that says you do not touch me if you do not know me. That can’t be erased, nor do I want it to. However, I do recognize that that’s my thing, my issue, my conditioning/programming/hard-wiring. Because I know its mine, its mine to let go of, and I let go pretty fast. I don’t like being bumped, and I don’t like hitting my head either, but when I hit my head I’m not angry about it for fifteen minutes. So why should I be angry about something that doesn’t really hurt? I’ve chosen to adjust my filters.

Now when I hear brand-new expats complaining about how they can’t handle it when Koreans do this or that, I listen supportively, because I’ve felt that way myself. When they ask me if those things bother me, I tell them “not really,” and they usually attribute it to my personality, as if I’ve got some sort of Teflon coating for cultural irritants and stressors. Its not my personality (well, maybe my personality positioned me to learn what I needed). Its what I’ve learned in the three years I’ve been here.

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27 Comments leave one →
  1. Ed Wise permalink
    January 7, 2009 7:58 am

    Well, also, you’re American. There’s a certain amount of anti-US sentiment being expressed in different ways in daily life at different times. You must admit that anti-US sentiment has been stirred up more lately. (What was all that protest against trade in US beef about, anyway?–resistance to US domination is a common feeling, stronger in some regions than in others.)

    While some Koreans invite foreigners into Korea, others do not. Foreign teachers are uninvited as far as many Koreans, particularly proud older ones who have lived through hardship brought on by foreign incursions of one sort and another. Some Koreans may feel that they are experiencing hardship because of the “Western” foreigner–like, maybe the family has to spend a lot more money on little Jun’s English language education, and that means more work and less enjoyment for the members of the family that have to support him and his education; like, maybe someone feels their business isn’t doing so well because of a flood of foreign imports or the establishment of more foreign businesses that jacks up the competition and the prices; like, maybe they can’t get steady work and resent foreigners getting good steady jobs when they can’t; like, maybe they’re poor and feel that (white)Americans in general are living the good life at other peoples’ expense…

    I’m just saying that sometimes the apparent rudeness is rudeness deliberately targeting particular people for particular reasons. Not to say that there aren’t different concepts of good manners. To take a situation about eating, the lip smacking diner with his or her mouth open can be trying to impress the people feeding her or him in order to convey gratitude for and enjoyment of the meal that has been provided.

    I also alert you to gender difference, which you may be muddling with cultural difference at times.

    Furthermore, I wish to take up the fact that you mention older people as perpetrators of the alleged bad manners. Travelling on the buses and going to educational institutions, I see young people being very bad mannered all the time in failing to give up a seat for an older person, talking too loudly, and such.

    I suggest that one of the conflicting value questions that Korean youth are experiencing has to do with the high value of education instilled by lingering ideas that stem from the old Confuscist code. Older gernerations were deprived of a lot, including university education. They work hard so that the younger generations can get better educated and have better prospects regarding jobs, income and status. I see young people taking this for granted and expressing scorn towards older people. Many are snobbish towards older less educated poor people. Could it be that the older generation is acting out a backlash against this decline of the respect for the elders? It could be that sometimes bad manners are deliberately inflicted against younger people in retaliation in circumstances where they have little control over the younger folks’ behaviour (i.e., no clout as family or company ranking member). My response to ill behaving youth is to to express disapproval when I have an opportunity and I think they may understand my use of English, which isn’t often. Like, I’ll often tap a kid who’s ignoring the lame elderly person carrying shopping bags who is forced to stand because they won’t rise to rise and let the elder person sit down. I use the authority I have as a teacher and middle-aged person in certain social circumstances. ANd, if a youth tries to jump queue ahead of me, I’ll certainly push them back and step ahead if I can. How dare they do that to me?

    • tonyhellmann permalink*
      January 7, 2009 8:27 am

      The anti-US beef protests weren’t primarily directed at the US for sending “tainted” meat to Korea, they were directed at the government for not carrying out the people’s wishes. The people very clearly wanted US beef to stay banned, and the government lifted the ban. People were pissed!

      Gender differences are cultural, which is why gender differences vary by culture.

      That “lip smacking shows appreciation” thing is something found in guidebooks and it is about 30 years out of date.

      In Korean culture, older people don’t have to adhere to social conventions as much as younger people. You see this both in their behavior and in reactions of the younger people (both behavioral, and listening to them talk about it). We see older Koreans do that to other Koreans and foreigners alike.

  2. Jeff permalink
    January 9, 2009 4:33 am

    I have to agree with Tony on the US Beef issue. It was anger directed by Koreans at the Korean government. Had the beef been Australian, it would have been anti-Australian beef protests.

  3. Harry permalink
    July 15, 2009 12:24 am

    I still find it hilarious that foreigners, especially Americans, travel abroad to work or study and expect that the whole world is exactly like America.

    To be honest, I feel that there is anti-American feelings globally. I know here in Australia, some of us don’t particularly like Americans and I know that many people are deliberately rude to them just because they have an American accent. It’s funny though, that if we realize the person with the accent is actually Canadian, all the hard feelings seem to fade away instantly.

    The reason a lot of Australians don’t like America and Americans is because Americans seem to travel the world thinking that they come from the richest, most powerful nation, so that everything that is done differently is inferior. An American classmate once said to me when I asked how America and Australia was different, “Australia is what America was 20 years ago, but don’t worry, you guys will catch up soon.”

    I was so offended by his comment. If the catching up he was talking about involved increasing our obesity rates, lowering our health system’s standards or increasing violent crime, then I sure as hell do not want to ‘catch up.’

    The point is, Americans seem to travel abroad and compare everything to home. I notice it here, in Australia, but I noticed it even more in South Korea.

    I have been to South Korea 4 times, I learn the language, and enjoy the culture. But when I go there, I go there knowing I am an outsider. I am white, have blonde hair, and definitely stand out in a crowd. I have Korean friends, but know that I would never be truly accepted by them, and you know what, that is find with me because I have my Australian friends and to be perfectly honest, none of my Korean friends would ever be truly accepted by my Australian friends either. But we can still get along, and that is all that matters.

    When you go to Korea, don’t get annoyed that someone has pushed you, just look at it as an interesting situation that you have probably never had to endure, when you can’t join a loyalty program because you are not Korean, just get over and go to another store. When someone treats you rudely, be the ‘better man’ (if that is how you need to think of it) and ignore it and move on.

    Most importantly, remember that it was your choice to go there, and nobody is forcing you to stay. You are, and always will be an outsider. Embrace it, the good, the bad and move on.

    Finally, everyone is an individual. There are Bogan Americans and bogan Koreans, there are rude ones and polite ones, educated and uneducated. It’s easy to blame negatives on being Korean, but stereotyping an entire race will just bring you down, the Koreans don’t care what you think, so why should you?

    • Tomek permalink
      March 31, 2010 8:21 pm

      …your comment about Americans, spot on! 😉

    • Jay permalink
      June 20, 2010 5:00 am

      “I have Korean friends, but know that I would never be truly accepted by them, and you know what, that is find with me because I have my Australian friends and to be perfectly honest, none of my Korean friends would ever be truly accepted by my Australian friends either.” Perhaps in certain aspects this is correct, but Australian is not a race but a nationality comprised of different races. South Korea is a much more older society therefore more homogenous than Australia although things are now beginning to change as more foreign nationals are moving there in this globalized society.

    • Bburke permalink
      October 29, 2012 6:53 pm

      Ive experienced a similar situation as the main text here, in regards to the shopping cart issue. Immediately your initial impulse is to get kind of angry. It is a natural reaction in us, as we have been conditioned to see it as an instigation. But then you do have to remember it is a different country and they do things differently.

      I am Canadian, but I don’t agree with you completely about all American’s being arrogant ethnocentrists. Making that kind of statement is doing what exactly what you think they are doing. You said yourself that there are great and shitty people in all cultures. Maybe its just the shitty American’s that happen to travel, but from my experience, that hasn’t always been the case.

      In response to Korean culture as a whole, Id like to share an experience that happened to me recently. I was on the subway a week or so. Some korean girl stepped on my foot and looked at me apologetically and used the phrase Mian Hayo (Sorry) which took me aback, because its not something im used to here. But its the perfect example that its not everyone. I feel its just the older generation, which I know exist in Canada and the US as well. Ive dealt with alot of shitty old men there that have been extremely rude and demanding because they felt the younger generation owed them something.

    • rubyroachford permalink
      October 15, 2013 4:37 am

      i totally agree with you! Sometimes I feel ashamed that people from other countries don’t like Americans because we act as if we are better, but you know what, I’m different and i want to show others that I don’t believe that my country is the best at all. me personally i love other countries and believe there is no country that is better than another. I’ve been studying Korean for two years and plan on moving there when i get in collage, I also want to change Koreans minds about African-Americans because i hear that some think of us as what they may see on TV.

  4. Han permalink
    October 25, 2009 2:32 pm

    I’m Korean American and have been living in Korea 2 years now. I find many Koreans to be rude, hostile, arrogant with nasty attitudes. I find this true especially for younger females in their 20s, 30s. Not all of them are like this. I’m saying there’s a certain segment of them.
    Fe days ago I went to a bar in Itaewon. I was waiting in line with my friend to pay our bill at the bar register. I was in line right behind my friend. Suddenly a waitress comes and tries to push and separate me from my friend with both her hands in order to pass through. There was no one behind me, so all she had to do was walk behind me, but she felt the need to cut me off. I let it go, although I was irritated by her rudeness.

    Later I went up to her and asked her a question in English. She didn’t even look at me and replied in Korean that she couldn’t hear me. So I politely repeated my question again. Once again she replied back in English that she couldnt hear me. Remember that the whole time she wasn’t even looking at me, but had the stony, unpleasant expression.
    I asked her again in English. She finally deigned to look at me and replied, this time in English “Sorry, but I don’t speak English. I really believed she couldn’t speak in English and walked away. Only later did it occur to me that she replied to me in English and so must’ve understood me the whole time. And on top of this, the bar where she works is 95% foreigner/westerner so why is she working there (apparently as the manager) if she cannot speak English?!

    A few minutes later I was on my cell phone near the bar area talking to a friend and pacing back and forth. The same waitress and I bumped into each other. She elbowed me, but at that time I didn’t realize it. And then a little later we bumped into each other again. This time I was aware of her rudeness and decided I wasn’t going to go out of my way to move for her. Neither did she. So we bumped into each other and at this point she screamed at me and hit me in the chest! All this happened in front of a fully packed bar of westerners.
    I was so pissed off that she would assault me that I slightly shoved her. Nothing hard, but just a slight shove since she was a woman and since I knew her colleagues and security were all there. Well she hit me again. So I shoved her gently again. Then she kicks me! At this point the two security guards roughly grab me and shove me out of the bar.
    I have no idea why this woman was so rude to me from the start. Why was she so hostile?

    I’ve had similar experiences of this sort of hostility and anger directed towards me in the past.
    One time I was trying to walk through a turnstile at an office building. As I was walking towards it, a young woman in her 20’s was walking towards me as she went through the turnstile. As she saw me coming directly towards her in order to go through, she stares at me with hostility and then bares her teeth at me.
    As I said, I find that there is a certain segment of the female population here in their 20’s, 30’s that seem very hostile, arrogant, angry, defensive and snotty. I don’t understand where this nasty, ugly attitude comes from. What is wrong with these people. It reminds me of some of the nasty attitude one encounters in NYC from certain postal workers, store clerks etc.

  5. Mike permalink
    November 4, 2009 4:35 pm

    Han,

    Today’s young people in Korea all go to university for the hope that they will get a job in a field of their choice. Unlike most Americans, these young Koreans want to work in a cubicle-type job, knowing that they will have benefits and at least a little guaranteed vacation. Many Americans work in the corporate world and dream of getting out of it. Many Koreans dream of getting into it. The teality is that there are very few jobs that aren’t restaurant or clerk jobs. The promise of gainful employment after university is an empty one. When women (and men) are finally forced to get a job, usually in their late twenties, because mom and dad finally demand it, they often end up in unsatisfying jobs and are bitter about it. They know they will most likely never get to realize any dreams of travel and wealth. You, by virtue of being an American in Korea, are doing something they may be envious of. Regardless of your financial situation, you are seeing the world, eating at a decent restaurant, and they aren’t. Bitterness is everywhere in Korea after the simplicity and carefree world of Korean universities where membership training is often more important than studying. Good luck.

    Mike

  6. Han permalink
    November 5, 2009 1:41 am

    Dear Mike, thanks for that very astute as well as understanding reply. I will definitely give your reply serious thought, but at the same time many of those who have been rude, hostile and belligerent have been young women in their early 20’s. Ie, before they get that hopeless job. Another example is when I was walking aroung Chongro 3 ga. Some early 20’s female was walking towards me. As I was walking and hugging the right side of the road, she suddenly veers off of her course and walks into my line/direction. Meaning she suddenly got in my way and expected me to move out of my way for her. The streets were empty as it was a queit alleyway. I thought this was rude but didnt say anything. I just got out of my way for her, but just looked at her for a very short few seconds. As she passed me she gave me this hostile “what the F..k are you looking at” look. Its things like these that really get me. When I’ve simply minded my own business, these young girls/men get into my face and then are really hostile and nasty about it. Before I came here, I wanted to embrace my roots and find a spot within the society with “my people.” But when I’m confronted by such arrogance and hostility, it just makes me feel really disappointed as a Korean even though I was raised in America my whole life.

  7. March 26, 2010 10:13 am

    It is with almost amusement that I read this article and the comments that followed, only to quickly come to my senses, and all the humor disappears immediately. I moved to New Zealand two years ago and joined a company owned by a youngish Korean gentleman. I have not been exposed to their culture before and at first found myself very inquisitive and willing to learn more, but soon discovered that it would be to my detriment!
    The owner of the company, on face value, comes across as a very genuine and polite person, and I still believe this is the case. In the office we had four more Koreans in various levels of the hierarchy. This is where I got lost when it quickly became apparent that if you are not of the correct background, you are nothing, and are treated as such by the ones of perceived social standing. This only dawned on me when the youngest, and very hardworking Korean, left the company making it very clear that he will never work for Koreans again in his life. What an eye-opener this was for me!
    In the office we have a Korean woman (I almost made the mistake of using the word lady), that, although being in a junior managerial position, totally spins out of control when the “boss” leaves the office. She demands, throws tantrums and totally overwhelms the rest of the staff. I am still trying to figure it out after all this time!
    What annoys me the most is the inconsistency of their personalities! You never know from one minute to the other what to expect, and this is very frustrating in any business environment. I also quickly learned that what is law today isn’t necessarily law tomorrow. It all depends on the direction the wind blows!
    The bottom line is that I find the Koreans (and I know I am generalizing here), demanding, rude, false, petty and self-centered. Please proof me wrong!

  8. Bill permalink
    January 5, 2011 10:44 am

    Hello,

    I am going to start with an apology. An apology for a long post in reply to what you said.
    My sole aim here is to discuss this topic and resolve any issues.I Dont want to upset anybody, so please read my whole post before replying!
    (Because, I know at times its harsh) Im up for criticism as long as it’s constructive!
    About a week ago I was really angry and looking for a vent for my anger at Korean culture and the lack of mannerisms Ifeel I see consistently.
    Then I found your post, I read it and chewed it over for a while.
    I have to admit your post has provoked much thought and in a positive way.
    I have been in Korea for 2 years and have renewed my contract for a third and final year.
    To be honest, I have had a hard time with Korean culture and being amongst it.

    So below is a post I wrote about a week ago,whilst really angry: Im not proud of it, but it highlights how I feel and what I’m up against if I want to change.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    I have been fortunate enough to travel and have seen many different cultures. It is very easy to stay a culture is rude because they dont aspire to the standards and mannerisms we set as a standard. What we expect back home is just not the norm in some countries.
    However, and its a ‘big’ however, there are certain things that as humans we should all do to maintain respect to our fellow man, no matter his age, creed or culture.
    I have lived in Korea for two years and have never witnessed such lack of basic respect for fellow man. Cue jumping(because they dont understand your status-oh please), pushing and shoving-(oh becauue theres so many people-really. I lived in India for 1 year and there were far more courteous manners there-and far more people)Coughing and not covering their mouths(spreading disease), driving through red lights-even though there are a large amount of school children crossing the road. Racism towards poorer Asian countries, especially South Asian countries. I should know, my girl is here and shes Thai.
    Ive tried to right the above off the above to cultural differences but I cant.
    And even if it was excepted as just a culture ‘thing’ I could say that in some middle Eastern countries female circumcision is the norm, does that make it right? Nope
    And now a online/tv advertisement highlighting the rudeness of Korean’s in the light of other cultures.
    So tell me, if there not rude why is there such a advertisement? Why are Koreans informed of manners before becoming tourists to other countries? Because there are rude, period.
    Why can they not reunify with North Korea? Because Koreans can’t lose face, they cant back down, they cant admit to being wrong.Theres no difference between North and South Korean people, only ones governed by a democracy.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Now, as you can see, thats a pretty stark contrast to ‘wanting to change my thoughts’

    After reading your post, I realised its my problem and I must change.
    Be more open minded and relax.

    But I do have questions and points:

    Although I accept the points you have made I struggle with these:

    I feel there are certain things that as human beings we should relay to fellow human beings no matter what the culture.
    Such as courtesy for older people on a bus.Getting off your butt and letting them sit down no matter their creed, color or age.
    The poor level of driving, through red lights when children are crossing.
    The racism towards poorer Asian countries.Ive witnessed it first hand.How can that ever be tolerated?

    These points are a small fraction of some of the things I struggle with.
    I hope anybody who reads this post,see’s it as positive becasue that whats intended.
    If anybody has any points I would love to her them and especially from the author of this article.

    Thanks

    Regards

    Bill

    how I feel about it and what I want to accomplish.
    I have always thought of myslef as a well mannered chap who tries to respect others.
    Now, I have been lucky enough to travel many countries and appreciate many different culture. I’ve seen things I Dont agree with, Ive seen things I dont like.
    But is it my job to judge..Think not!

    Like you said we have been brought up with a set of manners and ideas of what is right and wrong and its hard to except what doesn’t fit inside these norms.
    Sometimes its real hard.

    I have found my attitude towards Koreans to be poor and I am not proud of it.

    What we see as wrong may be right to another culture.

    Being in my late thirties has made it even harder to accept what I see to be rude and if you like ‘backwards’.
    But I come to realise, Im viewing everything through my eyes and what I expect.

    Theres only one person losing out and that me, Its me that gets upset, its me that gets angry.

    Turn the other cheek if something upsets you and im saying this to myself more than anybody else.

    Personally Im not so sure

    • January 5, 2011 4:53 pm

      Wow, I really appreciate your comment. Things do get hard, and I found that I had (and still have) “layers” in terms of letting go of ethnocentric assumptions. Just when I think I’ve really become able to full appreciate a culture, I learn there’s a whole new set of nuances that challenge MORE assumptions I didn’t realize I had.

      Some of what you’re discussing, regarding female circumcision, for example, is (in my opinion) about the world’s movement toward a global culture. I used to have my students debate this topic in class. Even though there will always be local cultures, a “macroculture” is forming, with a history that can be traced from the beginnings of the concept of human rights, to institutions like the UN, through the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and into the future. But I think it is important to say that “macroculture” is composed of the elements all cultures agree are universal…if its something that 70% of cultures agree on, then the other 30% are having something forced on them if judged by the cultural standards of the 70%. But the way cultures interact is a lot like individual species. There is co-mingling, extinctions, etc. So that 30% will either maintain their diversity, or they’ll lose it one way or another over time, or maybe the 70% will lose theirs. Europe once wasn’t super-well populated, and now Western culture is world dominant…

      Anyway, getting back to your more interpersonal issues:

      >I feel there are certain things that as human beings we should relay to fellow human beings no matter what the culture.
      >Such as courtesy for older people on a bus.Getting off your butt and letting them sit down no matter their creed, color or age.

      Isn’t letting older people do whatever they want, including push past you in a grocery store or cut in line in front of you another way of showing courtesy?

      >The poor level of driving, through red lights when children are crossing.

      But they have a different understanding of traffic “rules” than you do. I think what happens with Westerners is they see these Western symbols: the red light, the crosswalk, etc, and because those things have a specific meaning in America or Britain, one thinks they have the same meaning here. But they simply don’t. A red light doesn’t mean the same thing in Korea as it does in the West. In the West it means “You must stop, else you may get a ticket, or worse, cause an accident, or both.” But it doesn’t mean that in Korea, or China, or other countries I’ve been to… And to be honest, your evaluation of their driving as “poor,” is interesting, because they way they drive, I find it MUCH more likely for a Westerner to get into an accident in Korea because they simply do not have the skillset to prepare them for driving in much of Asia. So it seems to me that the Westerners are the poor drivers here.

      >The racism towards poorer Asian countries.Ive witnessed it first hand.How can that ever be tolerated?

      Well, the UN agrees that it shouldn’t be tolerated…and so does Korea, which is why they are a party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. But every country has its own domestic problems, right? If I was a judgemental outsider, America wouldn’t look too stellar, what with drugs, domestic violence, hate crimes, and lots of other problems…right?

      Sorry, I know that was a long comment you wrote, and it deserves a longer reply, but I’ve got to run for the moment…

  9. Bill permalink
    January 6, 2011 7:50 am

    Hello again,
    Thank you for prompt and informative reply.
    Some more interesting points raised.
    This time, to some off your points I will present an argument.

    Firstly. regarding the comparison of seating for older people and them knocking into you/queue jumping.
    Well, I hear what your saying and a good point but if i offer my seat Im am being respectful and thoughtful beacsue his or her legs are most likely more tired than mine!
    It is a choice I make to do what I think is right.
    On the opposing thought, an older person pushing past has avoided an interaction/offer from me assuming its their right.
    Now from your point I see what your saying…… they are just assuming its the right and the only difference between the pushing queue jumping and the seat giving is one is offered and one isnt.
    hmm…..! jurys out on that one.

    Regarding the driving, I certainly agree that Westerners lack the skillset to drive here.
    It is much more progressive.

    However!

    Surely basic common sense dictates if a car drives through a red light and a child is walking across that crossing, surely anybody can envisage that is dangerous and create a common sense action like STOP!!!

    As for ‘racism’…
    As many countries and bodies are trying to outline ways to eradicate racism in societies and create a better more understanding culture. Surely this is a issue that is not acceptable no matter the culture?

    As for your point on domestic problems in every country, I certainly agree with that.

    I look forward to your reply.

    I think this will be a good vent for my anger……

    • January 6, 2011 4:12 pm

      >Firstly. regarding the comparison of seating for older people and them knocking into you/queue jumping.
      >Well, I hear what your saying and a good point but if i offer my seat Im am being respectful and thoughtful beacsue his or her legs are most likely more tired than mine!
      >It is a choice I make to do what I think is right.

      You are doing what your culture has taught you is respectful. Different cultures see things so differently, that what can be a sign of respect in one culture can be an insult in another. I’m not saying that’s the case here, but I am saying that your comment about “being respectful” is culturally based. In a book about cultural differences, a Korean professor tells a story about being a grad student at an American university, and being asked to stand and make remarks at a dinner for a distinguished professor, and mentioning that (female) professor’s “advanced age,” in order to (in his culture) show deference and respect since the professor was old. He wrote that he had no idea why she grimaced (at the time it happened) and was very embarrassed when it was explained to him. He could say “Well I’m just being respectful, and it is basic common sense that older people should be treated that way.” But if he did, he’d be wrong (at least in America).

      >On the opposing thought, an older person pushing past has avoided an interaction/offer from me assuming its their right.

      They have avoided an interaction with you? That’s your perception, not theirs.

      >Regarding the driving, I certainly agree that Westerners lack the skillset to drive here.
      >It is much more progressive.

      However!

      >Surely basic common sense dictates if a car drives through a red light and a child is walking across that crossing, surely anybody can envisage that is dangerous and create a common sense action like STOP!!!

      I disagree. I challenge the notion of “basic common sense” across cultures. Westerners may say that is basic common sense. I asked a Korean friend and he said “It is basic common sense to miss the child, and if you don’t have the skill to do that, you shouldn’t be driving.”

      >As for ‘racism’…
      >As many countries and bodies are trying to outline ways to eradicate racism in societies and create a better more understanding culture. Surely this is a issue that is not acceptable no matter the culture?

      Acceptable to whom? Because in every culture (that I am familiar with) there is racism. And its pretty well acceptable to the rascists, most of which would never identify (nor think of themselves) as such. Many things are acceptable to cultures, but not to their governments.

  10. Bill permalink
    January 7, 2011 8:20 am

    Thank you Tony for your post and replies to my questions.
    Although a week ago I was extremely agitated living here and found Koreans to be extremely rude and manner less I am now trying to look from a new perspective.

    If I am able to ‘look through my new glasses’ and not expect things and except what i see then I am sure life will be much easier as I relax and don’t get wound up.

    I thank you for an interesting post that challenged my views and it was also very agreeable that the disagreements we had were all handled respectively.

    Thanks

    Regards

    Bill

  11. Bill permalink
    January 17, 2011 9:39 am

    Hello again,

    Your comments to my questions really helped me last time:
    to calm down and look from a wider perspective,life has become much easier and far less confrontations.Its a win win situation.

    I appreciate the topic below is ‘off topic’ but I would appreciate your thoughts and opinions.
    How this could be justified in anyway is beyond me:

    However as a keen animal lover(although I do eat meat, I am concerned with horrific acts like the one below)

    http://animalrightskorea.org/news-articles/government-buries-pigs-alive-refuses-to-vaccinate-for-fmd.html

    Comments please:)

  12. January 17, 2011 11:11 am

    Um, I’ve ran a red light and been stopped by a police officer for doing so. While I agree with your basic idea in your original writing, I believe that in this case, there is an excuse being made. I did not insert my Western values and make judgment in this situation. The police officer told me that going through the red light was wrong and I must stop. (This doesn’t mean I always stop by the way.)

    I’m glad I’ve come across this. It is a very interesting debate. I would like to add that although I agree with you, I think that this can not be used in all situations.

    Thanks for your time.

    • January 17, 2011 3:51 pm

      Most every Korean will tell you that you have to follow traffic laws WHEN the cops or a camera are present. And most every Korean will selectively follow those laws (or not) when the former are not present…

  13. March 14, 2011 12:48 pm

    You would feel differently about accepting this behavior if the Korean woman who rammed her cart into you lived at your house for many months and was rude 24/7 in the ways you described in your post, plus 100 other ways! Yes, my Korean mother in law knew she was rude. She enjoyed being rude. Yes, I imagined her falling off the balcony several times a day–just to make myself feel better! It was a living nightmare!

  14. Youngjik permalink
    May 19, 2011 11:19 am

    This blog is so deep and telling. It’s the first ever blog that I’ve found that I want to subscribe to.

    This is good stuff.

  15. Robert Anderson permalink
    May 22, 2011 11:41 pm

    I find it outrageous for anyone to ram a trolley into the legs of someone else regardless of age, colour, race, culture. In addition for the personn being hit to accept that behaviour shows they doesn’t respect themselves.

  16. Jalie permalink
    April 15, 2012 12:45 am

    It took me about a month in Korea to realize I was being “rude” on a habitual basis. I was ignorant of the custom of using my right hand when exchanging objects (such as cash). I just used whatever hand was free. I often wonder now, if the clerk at the Family Mart next to my apartment thought I was a douche at first because of that simple lack of knowledge. Of course, being a foreigner, many Koreans will overlook such things (so it must suck for Kroean Americans who may be just as ignorant of the subtleties of Korean culture as I am but don’t look the part). Anyway, my point is, I’ve often read that short-time travelers to Seoul have rated it as one of the rudest cities in the world –how much of that was a mere misinterpretation? Getting bumped by passerbys on a crowded city walkway seems obnoxious by American spacial standards, but happens frequently in Seoul and few Koreans give it a second though. Handing over cash with your left hand seems obnoxius by Korean standards, but Westerners would never dream of differentiating between proper hands when paying a cashier. In the end, it’s all just a big misunderstanding.

    PS I was mildly offended/irritated by Harry’s little America rant. Harry, I disagree with you wholeheartedly on that issue. And what’s more, I’m tired of hearing that worn out speech (especially from Aussies).

  17. Aileen permalink
    July 18, 2012 12:43 pm

    I enjoy reading your blog 😉

  18. chloe permalink
    February 18, 2013 3:19 pm

    I’m appalled. Ramming into someone on purpose is rude and ‘a different culture’ doesn’t justify the act. Unless she is vocally impaired or a child who hasn’t yet been taught manners. Korea’s economy is catching up with the rest of the world and the so-called rudeness will be more glaring once they become a first world country with people who still have third world manners.

    * I’m Asian and in my country some old men do pick their nose and spit in public etc. and some old women do push others to get on the bus etc. These are the less educated ones from when our country wasn’t yet considered developed and are a dying breed. So no, it’s a matter of lack of proper education and upbringing.

  19. Gram permalink
    July 14, 2014 11:16 am

    I understand all of this when I am in Korea. But very tired of the rudeness by same here in US!!! Absolutely no respect!

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