Some 30 years ago when China was beginning to open up to foreign influence, a group of Koreans visited China. Their guide was an ethnic Korean living in China. One day the ethnic Koreans serving as guides to visiting Koreans met and discussed what they found interesting about their work. They talked about three tendencies they observed in Koreans visiting the country: pretending to be all knowing, pretending to be wealthy, pretending to be important. In the beginning there had been great curiosity in guiding the Koreans, but gradually, as they got to know them better, this interest turned into disdain. Such was the way a Korean priest in a recent bulletin for the clergy summed up the feelings of the Korean guides.
He gives another example of how certain nationalities are often distinguished. The Chinese, Japanese and Korean tourists who climb the Eiffel tower in Paris all have similar facial features, so it is difficult to distinguish one nationality from another, but it is said that from their actions it is easy to know who is visiting the tower. Those who are busy eating and talking are the Chinese. Those who are taking notes, listening to the guide, and looking over the structure of the tower are the Japanese. Those who are busy taking pictures to show on their return home are the Koreans.
The writer acknowledges that we all have an innate desire to be recognized but wonders if Koreans have more of this desire than most. They like, he says, big and expensive cars, big apartments and lavish material goods, and wonders if this is not an effort to raise themselves in the estimation of others by what they have.
Most people, he reminds us, usually like those who are humble, and care little for the proud who push themselves forward. He believes that if we do want to draw attention to ourselves the best way is to not make much of ourselves.
We Christians know that humility is the DNA of a Christian; it was Jesus' repeated theme in the Gospels. Koreans, despite the perception of many, are probably no different than others in wanting attention. Italians are considered by many to be more interested in making a good impression than other nationalities, which amounts to the same thing. Sometimes the desire to make a good impression, or to gain attention, is subtle and less immediately obvious, but this again comes down to the same thing: being too concerned with oneself and how we relate to others. Effort may not be the only thing that is needed to change this natural trait. Sometimes what happens to us, perhaps in a moment of grace, reveals the foolishness of this kind of behavior.