[Campus Commentary]Where have our manners gone?“A nation of courteous people in East Asia.”
Koreans are used to hearing this line many times during the school day ― it is supposed to epitomize the well-mannered Koreans.
Everyone who has been educated in Korea was taught this. Ethics was one of the classes we stayed up for all night to get a perfect grade. So, are we behaving with perfect decorum?
This story demonstrates how important courtesy can be in Korea. A few days ago, a club of which I am a member hosted a banquet. We invited all our alumni to the party. The party looked to be a success and all the members and guests had a lot of fun.
Close to the end, however, as we prepared to move to another venue, a senior ― an alumnus 13 years older than me ― called me to the door quietly. Then he said, “We were so disappointed with your group. It shouldn’t be like this. When your guests arrived at the party, your officers at least have to stand up and greet us, seniors ― that’s what we do in Korea.
“However, today, almost no one stood up except you. Even when an important senior came in the door, your group did not greet us. What is worse, some just stared and did not stand up.”
As he talked, I blushed, deeply embarrassed. He was right about being polite in Korean terms. We were supposed to stand up to show respect when seniors entered the room.
Because I was the leader of the group that organized the gathering, I apologized to him about my group not observing the minimum etiquette for seniors.
In Korean society lately, people seem to set much value on manners or etiquette according to Western culture. However, while we follow international customs and manners, people seem to forget about Korean propriety. Afterall, there is no difference between Western and Korean etiquette.
But Korean university students seem to admire and follow only Western formal etiquette without understanding its origins.
It is funny that most young people know how to put bread and a cup of water on the table in the right place.
When Korean students go to a Western-style restaurant with their friends, if one makes a mistake using the many different spoons and forks, he’ll hear criticism about not knowing essential table etiquette. Some will call him “ill-mannered.”
But at the place where I had my party, none of my friends criticized those who had actually been ill-mannered.
It is time the young reflect on themselves.
I ask those people who know perfect Western manners while not practicing even basic Korean etiquette: Please think of your nationality, if you have a hard time remembering your manners.
A dictionary definition for the word “propriety” is “the quality of being socially or morally acceptable.”
The word “etiquette” is defined as “a set of customs and rules for polite behavior, especially among a particular class of people or in a particular profession.”
We seem to be going down the wrong road now.
* The writer is the editor-in-chief of the Yonsei Annals, an English newspaper at Yonsei University.
by Cho Eul-ah