On Being Polite

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I was waiting in line the other day at my favorite sandwich shop/bakery. I happened to be third in line when suddenly, some woman skipped the line, ignoring everyone as she played with her oversized sunglasses . I gave her, the cashier, and everyone else the look and even said, “excuse me?” But everyone just ignored me and put up with the woman and her huge order of pastries. I left the shop dismayed and I don’t intend to come back again.

The one thing I don’t like more than people who skip lines are the people who don’t say anything and the clerks who put up with it. Granted, the woman was “older” and in South Korea that counts for a lot, but she wasn’t old enough not to know better, and she was not dying! In fact, the “older” people in the country should be pushing for general courtesy instead of just complaining about younger generations whenever they don’t get the respect that’s supposedly owed to them.

Now I’ve been living in South Korea for quite some time now, and this isn’t the first time people have skipped lines on me. Sometimes the clerk intervenes, but often people just ignore it. The line skipping incident is just one example of the general lack of empathy towards others or just simple lack of common courtesy that turns me off once in a while. I realize that people here tend to have a “mind your own business” approach to things, but people sometimes do it to such an extent that they’ve built a bubble around themselves and ignore the rest of humanity. That’s why people bump you in the streets of Seoul and never say a word. Why people don’t care if they poke your eyes out with their umbrellas. Why no one stands up to abuses they see on the street (I’ve been witness to some crimes and many times I’ve been told not to get involved. It’s none of my business, apparently.). This is why some people think Koreans are rude.

When I visited Japan last month. I was pleased at how polite strangers can be. I was about to attribute it to a unique Japanese attitude when I remembered that it’s the same back home in Canada. It’s also the same in my most favorite city in the world, Hong Kong. People cared about strangers and respected both their rights and personal space. People respected your space. They apologize for disturbing you and wish you well when they see you. It’s a kindness that I find missing here. Now, I’m not saying that all Koreans are rude and don’t care about others in the street. No. It’s just that in blindly following rules such as “mind your own business” or “respect (all) elders,” they make the country less pleasing and a terribly, terribly selfish place.

Maybe I’m just ranting because I’ve “lost” my favorite sandwich place. But really, it’s not a bad idea for everyone to just be a tad bit kinder to one another. Also, if someone could find me a decent deli in Seoul that uses real cheese, I would really appreciate it.

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