Saturday, 5 December 2009

Judge Not, Lest Ye...

So today, I was on the subway, and after boarding, I waited for the doors to close. As they were closing, I glanced at the sliding doors one spot over from the ones I'd entered, just in time to see a surprisingly ajumma-ish shape take a full swan-dive onto the subway floor as the doors closed on her legs.

The first thing that went through my head, I'm not proud to say, is "How typically ajumma. She was probably running to catch the train and got caught. Or maybe she was so focused on the empty seat where she planned to throw her handbag, that she didn't notice the doors closing on her." This ungenerous thought, along with the usual "slow down for a car crash" impulse led me to crane my neck a little to see a bit more of the lady causing the commotion.

It was an older Korean lady, but as she got up, she was hunched so far down in her wine-colored coat, that I realized she was a lot older than that robo-ajumma who occupies the stereotype in my mind. Not only that, but her shamble belied a fair bit of pain in one of her legs, and the speed at which she moved toward a seat that someone courteously offered her (yay Korea!) made me realize that, even without a hurt leg, she wouldn't have been able to do that ajumma-sprint I'd imagined had led her to getting stuck in the door.

She got stuck in the door because she was old. And she moved slowly. And I realized how quickly I'd judged her.

It gets really easy to judge people on the other side of a language barrier. Really, really easy. And yeah, sometimes we foreigners catch the short end of that stick... I won't venture to say how often either side catches the long or short end, but I'll definitely say that if we want to have any foot to stand on at all, when we complain about discrimination and judgement and getting hairy eyeballs and all that stuff, let's make sure we're not alienating the Koreans around us at the same time, by treating them as less than human, simply because we can't understand them.

I still remember the growing awkward, and then hostile, feeling on a subway car, when I was riding with a girl who spent a whole 25 minute trip slagging Korea viciously in her "outdoor voice," when I looked around and realized that several people on the car understood every word she said.

Don't let's be that kind of foreigner, hey? Especially at Christmas, I guess.

Ask The Expat has a similarly-themed post in which he coins the term KDS, or Korean Derangement Syndrome. Worth the read.

Chris in SK also makes the point with a photo.

7 comments:

The Sanity Inspector said...

I'm 198 cm tall, and look like the love child of Abraham Lincoln and Mr. Spock. I didn't blame Koreans for staring at me, when they rounded a corner in a residential neighborhood and there I was. If any old person stared at me longer than I thought seemly, I just bowed to them, and that brought them back to their manners.

The Sanity Inspector said...

I still remember the growing awkward, and then hostile, feeling on a subway car, when I was riding with a girl who spent a whole 25 minute trip slagging Korea viciously in her "outdoor voice," when I looked around and realized that several people on the car understood every word she said.

Classless. It's been said that character is what you do when no one's looking. I guess it's also whether you think having "others" looking is the same as no one looking.

Anonymous said...

Bah! If they can run, they can stand. I'll stand up for elderly people who have trouble standing, but I'm not giving up my seat to anyone capable of sprinting.

- Bryan

An Acorn in the Dog's Food said...

I'm not sure if Chris in SK is such a good example to use. However, it is nice that you highlighted an issue that should be obvious to people, but apparently isn't.

2세 said...

Good to know to you reflected upon this moment. Is this the first time you've caught yourself in the moment? Maybe, maybe not?

Anyways, this is something I've seen over and over. Non-Koreans see something in Korea that doesn't conform to their perspectives and quickly make a snide, arrogant judgment about how all Koreans are. That somehow Koreans need to learn from others.

Kudos to yourself for writing about it and reflecting upon this experience.

Roboseyo said...

2세: I've seen it go both ways. I've seen foreigners deal out snap judgements, but I've also seen them be victims of snap judgements. I really think it's unhelpful to broadly characterize either side, but I'd sure love if Koreans gave non-Koreans the benefit of the doubt when they're going through culture shock (such generosity certainly wasn't offered to 2PMs Jaebom, for example), and if in return, foreigners worked to think about individuals, rather than simply "the Koreans".

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