Actually, these kinds of incidents are quite common in Korea. Bumping into somebody, saying some short swear words instead of apologies, and leaving. After this short incident, these two people may feel bad for at least two or three minutes, wondering why the person who stepped on his foot did not apologize. What a waste of time and emotion!
I have never thought this kind of incident to be strange or is something that needs changes. However, when I went to California – my first time travelling to a western country – I was blocking someone’s view who was trying to take a picture. Noticing I was blocking his view, I quickly apologized, worrying that the guy would get angry at me, which would have been the norm in Korea. To my surprise, however, he gave me a big smile and said that it was fine.
Later in my other trips to other western countries, I unconsciously watched peoples’ attitudes in the public spaces. Overall, Westerns generally have more smiles on their faces than Koreans do. Also, whenever I asked Westerners questions, unlike Koreans who would have avoided me or would have given me short, bland answers, they answered me in a very detailed manner.
These experiences left a vivid impression on me. I felt warmth and thankfulness inside my heart towards these generous people when I made mistakes. Especially, their kind attitudes toward me made me think of the typical attitudes Koreans would show in similar situations.
After I came back home to Korea, I started to observe how people here act in the public. From my observations, I learned that most people wear serious faces and are ignorant to others. People walk down the streets with their headphones in their ears or concetrate on their smartphones. No one really tries to communicate with each other.
Also, I found that Koreans are less generous to those who make mistakes. When someone makes a mistake, people get really mad and try to distinguish what is wrong and right as if mistakes are tolerable. On online networks, the anonymous characteristic of internet makes people fiercer and more aggressive. People do not hesitate to speak words that can hurt others.
Watching their cold and aggressive attitudes, suddenly, I felt that we, Koreans, are so rigid and edgy. Why do we get angry over petty things? Why couldn’t we just try to understand other’s mistakes? I started to feel shame on the way Koreans act. We are so uptight and try to blame others for every trivial mistake they have make.
Maybe it is because of our 40 year history of fast economic growth. In the past 40 years, we were so obsessed with results. So we tried to accomplish our goals as soon as possible and in that process not a signle mistake can be admitted. Having gone through these periods, I guess we became intolerant and irritable to others.
However, we are not living in the 70s or 80s, and we do not have to be obsessed with the results anymore. Perhaps this can be a good time to change our old habits, be more patient with others and restore some peace in our minds.