Saturday, April 25, 2009


A professor at a university in Seoul wrote in our Diocesan bulletin that recently he was giving out leaflets at the entrance to a subway station in Seoul. It was busy with people going to work and he wondered why they all seemed to have a rigid look about them. He would smile at them, giving out the leaflets, and greet them but they would remain with their very stiff facial expression. It was rare he said to find anyone with a kind and gentle expression. Nobody is planning to harm them or threaten them he thought, so why the somber facial looks? He quoted a foreigner as saying all the Koreans look as if they are angry. He agreed with this assessment.

He mentioned that the Japanese, the Americans and other foreigners do smile and look you in the eye and greet you with a short greeting such as Hi and the like but with Koreans that is not the case. I am not sure that his evaluation of the situation of the Koreans was correct and so different from the rest of the world . He did go on to say the reason for this is the education that they are given as children.. Koreans are told to be kind to people they know but people you do not know you don't act as if you know them. Consequently when those we do not know smile at us, according to our culture he said we tend to misunderstand it and it causes anxiety. Is that person kindly disposed to me?Does that person know me from somewhere? We are left with a feeling of anxiety.

For the Korean it seems that they are much more at peace when they do not greet the ones they do not know for there is no anxiety. He concludes the article that we should not have a double standard for those we know and those we dont . He mentioned that in another culture a refined person would even be gentle and kind to the person who he or she had divorced. He concluded that we are still discriminating between those we know and those we dont and he feels this should change.

I read the article with a feeling that I as an American am not much different from the Koreans. I also have a double standard and would not find it easy to treat those I know and those I do not in the same way. I would like to be less self-conscious but I would not find it easy to smile and greet those I passed on the street. Would that not be considered strange? That possibility he did not mention.

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