[NOTEBOOK]World Cup can give a global liftThe World Cup is more than just a soccer competition. Several countries that have held the World Cup have improved their image and achieved economic success.
Spain and the United States are two examples. By holding the 1982 World Cup, Spain broke away from the image of being dictated for 40 years by Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
Because of the World Cup, Spain was able to resolve conflicts between central and local governments and between various regions, and the country became more united.
The 1994 World Cup for the United States was a financial success that brought more than $4 billion to the American economy. In addition, a U.S. professional soccer league was formed after the World Cup, which helped overcome a slump in the sports industry.
The 2002 FIFA World Cup is six months away. The construction of 10 stadiums in Korea is almost completed, and the Korean national team has been steady, led by coach Guus Hiddink.
It's very possible that the Korean team will play well. In fact, Korea might even break into the top 16, a dream for many Koreans.
But can Korea also succeed as a country in ways other than through soccer games? I'm not as hopeful, especially after what I recently experienced in a restaurant in Insa-dong, Seoul.
A foreigner, sitting in one corner of the restaurant, was complaining to a waitress and pointing at a roll of toilet paper on the table. "Toilet paper is supposed to be in a restroom," the foreigner said. "Why is it here? Fetch me napkins."
But the waitress responded, "What's wrong? You can still wipe your mouth, can't you?" The waitress could not see the difference between napkins and toilet paper.
From a Westerner's point of view, many things in our dining culture need to be fixed. When restaurant employees cut meat, they often use scissors found in factories or in stationery stores. Or they leave soiled clothing lying unattended on a table.
Our dining culture is not the only troubling area for tourists.
Though taxi rates have gone up, some drivers still refuse to stop for certain passengers and continue on to take others.
Incomprehensible traffic signs are displayed even in central Seoul, and rude and even violent drivers are still common sights.
In fact, these kinds of problems can be resolved through major campaigns to increase people's awareness. Before the World Cup arrives, some social systems need to be rebuilt quickly and new laws need to be established.
There is also the problem of illegal aliens. During the World Cup, more than 100,000 Chinese, including Korean-Chinese, and Southeast Asians are expected to enter Korea.
Local governments are making efforts to attract more tourists, but with Korea's sloppy management of immigration control, many of the tourists will stay on and become illegal immigrants after the event.
In fact, following the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the number of illegal immigrants increased sharply.
And of course there's the controversy over eating dog meat. Though a French actress's ill-mannered criticism of the consumption of dog made Koreans angry, we should not just fume about the "impudence of Westerners."
If we stopped to explain our custom with "cultural relativity," a rational Westerner would likely understand it. In order to make the consumption of dog tolerable, the government should ban the private slaughtering of dogs and establish distribution standards.
Jeremy Rifkin, an American economist, wrote in his recently published book, "The End of Work," that the 21st century is the age of communications and cultural industries.
Mr. Rifkin means that cultural industries will lead our society, instead of information technologies and biotechnologies. Culture-related industries cannot develop in a country with an immature culture.
Spain improved its image and the United States made a fortune through the World Cup. Likewise, Korea needs to lift its culture to match those global standards.
The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Kyu-youn