[Viewpoint] Resentment of foreign car drivers

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[Viewpoint] Resentment of foreign car drivers

There are suddenly foreign cars everywhere. Stylish late car models manufactured in many countries parade down the roads. According to data on the Web site of the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association, some 6,000 imported new cars were sold in October versus 110,000 local new cars sold during the same month. That means foreign cars made up more than 5 percent of cars sold here. It seems not so long ago that foreign cars were so rare they caused heads to turn in awe.

So what prompted the increase in the population of foreign cars? Car-owners give varying answers. A surprisingly large number of them say they came to distrust local cars manufactured at industrial sites that suffer frequent strikes and walkouts. Some believe foreign cars are safer while others select them for exhibitionist purposes. A few came to possess them from their businesses. Whatever the reasons, they no longer seem to fret over social criticism.

True, society has gotten much more tolerant of foreign cars, but their owners need to be mindful that many still tend to be judgmental of a person who prefers a foreign to a locally manufactured one. The driver is assumed to have money, as foreign cars tend to cost more than those locally produced. His or her driving manner can measure the sensibility and conscience of the well-off.

Unfortunately, many driving foreign cars present the wrong role model. Many tend to dash through intersections despite red lights. Pedestrians feel particularly insulted when this happens. Foreign car drivers are also among the most obnoxious drivers at intersections, shifting suddenly from the left-turn lane to race forward when light changes to green. Drivers in the back point fingers and grumble that they probably had made their money through such sneaky means. Some can be found speeding in highway bus lanes. Those watching shrug and think they probably have too much money to be bothered about fines.

These behaviors may be considered matters of small consequence. But they lead to a collective stereotype about the rich. In a capitalist society, making money is good and having money should be praised. Yet many view the wealthy in an unfavorable light. They are suspicious of the way they accumulated wealth. The driving manners of foreign car owners help to support that cynicism.

About 30 years ago while on a trip to a temple at the foot of Mount Jiri, a huge antiquarian tile-roofed house caught my eye. It sat on a spot of the mountain that witnessed fierce guerrilla battles after the war, yet remained more or less untarnished. I inquired about the house to a village elder. The old man’s answer was somewhat enigmatic. He said the owner of the house was a large estate proprietor who never roasted beef. Watching my baffled look, he added that the owner never cooked beef on an open flame, fearing the smell could permeate the hamlet, paining other neighbors who hadn’t had decent beef meal for a long time. A rich landlord with such compassion probably lived modestly among village people. That kind of compassion kept his house safe and peaceful amid turbulence.

Of course, some drivers of foreign cars also have good hearts. They obey traffic rules. Finding a pedestrian crossing, the driver stops no matter what the light says. When small cars or trucks signal, they slow to make room for them to cut in. They whisper blessings to small cars and truck owners that they, too, can one day be better off. If many driving foreign cars have such kind hearts, we will one day find ourselves in a warmer and more noble society.

*The writer is a professor of media studies at Korea University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Min-hwan
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