Controlling spitting

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Controlling spitting

Here’s this week’s tip on Korean language and customs:

Q:
I see so many people of various ages, from school children to middle-aged men in suits to old ladies, spitting everywhere ― in the street, in the subway, in the bathroom, etc.

But from my observations in Korea, oddly enough, the sight of spitting doesn’t necessarily belong to immature, tough-acting hustlers, but rather well-dressed young women who stop and spit in the middle of the street. I find this especially shocking.

These spitters rarely spit into the trash can or into the toilet; they often make disgusting guttural noises and spit right onto the street or floor. While there is some discretion, what should be a private moment frequently becomes public. I come from a country where spitting in public is not so common, so I might have overgeneralized about Korean behavior, but it is horrifying to imagine I could possibly be stepping on those gooey blobs of mucus sometime.

Where does this habit come from?

A:
Spitting is one of the collectively yet almost unconsciously learned behaviors among Koreans; in fact, many Koreans don’t even realize that they have a habit of spitting in public. When asked about spitting in public, quite a number of Koreans abhor such a practice, considering the act lacks concern for others.

As for how spitting became so prevalent within Korean society, nobody seems to know.

Some say the majority of habitual spitters are smokers, who claim that spitting can “cleanse” the bitter aftertaste left by smoking, while others say spitting out “stale” saliva can freshen their breath.

For the past few years, Korean city officials and building management have implemented “no spitting” rules.

However, compared with the Korean government’s nationwide campaign to stop discarding unwrapped gum a decade ago, little headway seems to have been made to discourage this habit.
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