중앙데일리

Korea: Never having to say you’re sorry

Bumping into someone doesn’t merit an apology

Oct 26,2003
The following is a tip on traditional Korean language and customs in response to a query from a Ms. James, who wrote to us from Seoul:

Q. Ms. James:
How come Koreans never say they’re sorry on the street? Especially in crowded areas, when they push someone or step on their foot, they totally ignore it. They don’t seem to care about their rude behavior. What’s wrong with them?

A. IHT-JAD:
Koreans in general are used to living in crowded spaces and regard a “minor offense to others,” such as bumping into a stranger or stepping on their toes, as unimportant. This doesn’t mean that they are not sorry or that they don’t care about others, however. It just has to do with the norms of this society.

Koreans traditionally attach great weight to the profound meaning of words. If you say “Thank you” or “I’m sorry” too often or too casually, you’re seen as a flighty or dishonest person. Many Koreans are taught to express gratitude or apology only on serious occasions. Simply put, Korean culture doesn’t have adequately casual expressions to address such small incidents that occur far too often.


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