[ANOTHER VIEW]Seoulites could use refresher in mannersAir filled with car exhaust and a blanket of humidity is not Seoul’s only ailment. Underneath the romantic veneer of its vibrant city life, Seoul harbors the most serious and tragic malady ― the one of manners.
With nearly 10.2 million people inhabiting this small city there is bound to be some bumping. The point in case, however, is how these clashes are dealt with afterward. As trite a saying as it may be, every cloud does have a silver lining. Yet, Seoulites seem either too busy or too irritated to grasp this lining and end up stuck in the clouds.
I am not referring to fancy sophistication, but a basic consideration for others. From the moment I landed at Incheon Airport, I sensed an overwhelming rush, an ensuing agitation, and a clear absence of “excuse me,” “sorry,” and “thank you.”
At customs, people shoved right up to my back as if doing so would somehow magically make me evaporate and give them my spot in line. I stood there in pure annoyance; a quick “sorry” failing to ring in my ears.
After about a month in Seoul, nothing has changed. Every day, I am subjected to incessant foot-stepping, highly skilled line cutting, and a deafening silence in place of “excuse me.” I’ve already seen two bus-taxi accidents; both times the drivers spit out expletives, neither having any intention of saying “sorry.” As the initial shock has ebbed I find myself becoming increasingly desensitized.
One day, after tumbling down a flight of escalator stairs thanks to a nice push in the back, I came back home and blankly stared at my scraped leg. I was angry ― not necessarily at the push but at the almost condescending demeanor with which the person walked away without an apology.
Where did this vacuum of manners originate? It could have been the Korean War, during which every man had to fend for himself. That may have made the culture an overly selfish one, where the next man’s needs always came after one’s own. Or perhaps it’s the cutthroat competition for admission to universities, for seats on the subway, even for half-price cabbages.
While finding the root of the malady of manners may lead to an eventual solution, I am not sure if there is a quick one. What I am sure of, however, is that a simple “thank you” can start a ripple effect and slowly but surely start to fill in the manner void in Korean culture.
Whenever I see someone give an elderly person a seat on the crowded subway and hear the whispered “thank you,” I am reassured that ever so slowly Seoul’s most tragic ailment is healing.
by Hur Aram