[Letters] Too much respect on trains?

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[Letters] Too much respect on trains?

My parents live in Gumi, Korea and my parents-in-law live in Meschede, Germany. There are lots of opportunities to take trains when visiting my in-laws.

Whenever I take trains in Korea, I feel uncomfortable around the attendants. They stand at the front of the train before departure. All of them wear uniforms like those in other countries, except that the female attendants in Korea wear skirts and have the same hairstyle. Passengers recognize them immediately and can ask them for directions to their train, car and seat.

In Korea, male and female attendants bow very politely to passengers walking to their trains. After boarding they bow again, this time to the passengers when they are seated, and again when they are leaving the train. I don’t know how to respond to their bows. Should I reward them with a bow in return, standing up and bending my torso? Should I react to each bow?

Once aboard, I want to sleep or concentrate on my reading. Against their best intentions, they make me uncomfortable. Feeling awkward, many passengers pretend to ignore their bows by looking out the window or keeping their eyes on their mobiles. Additionally when I have a question, like “Is this the 10:30 train for Gwangju?” I need to wait for them to finish bowing.

After boarding, no passenger even looks at them any more. They don’t need to bow to passengers who are sleeping, playing with their mobiles, talking with friends, or reading books.

Being treated with too much respect, passengers may even feel entitled to neglect anyone who goes out of his way to be polite or friendly. What they should be doing is to look after their passengers, recognize whether anyone is lost or feels sick, and try to answer questions immediately. There is a difference between excessive politeness and real kindness and comfort.

Aryong Choi-Hantke,

a yoga master in Seoul
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