Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A quick note about "louts" on a train...

I will really try to make this quick, though really - I could go on. Let me preface this by saying that I am usually the first person to be embarrassed by the behaviour of fellow foreigners here in Seoul. I am one of the ones who likes to try to blend in, as much as a freckled and skinny white guy might in this here metropolis.

This blog post was brought to my attention the other day and I was asked what I thought about it. (You'll need to read the linked blog post first) Here goes...

1) From what I can tell, this group of foreigners wasn't hurting anyone. They were taking up too much space and being unnecessarily conspicuous (as most foreigners are at the best of times anyway), but they were playing a card game, and drinking. I'm guessing they were having fun. You can buy beer on subway platforms.

2) I understand that some might see the behaviour as rude or unacceptable for patrons of public transit. I honestly mostly see it as "different behaviour." Sometimes, different here is bad, and honestly, many old-school Koreans look for any excuse to label foreigners as "louts". You can buy beer on subway platforms.

3) The foreigners who decided to sit on the floor of the subway are brave souls indeed, as chances are that same floor, within the previous 24 hours, had likely been pissed-on, vomited-on, or been the unwitting recipient of a fair number of farmer's blows coming straight from the nostrils of any drunken Korean male over the age of 55. You can buy beer on subway platforms.

4) On the way to a movie theatre last year for my birthday, I boarded the train with a group of my (mostly foreign) friends and we continued a game of Taboo for the 40 minute journey including transfer. We must have appeared a bit odd to the Koreans on the train - holding cards, and saying strange words while someone stood next to us with the buzzer. It was a busy train, people talking to each other or talking on the phone, and others not. I remember many people looking at us with curiosity and some of them smiling as it did seem that we were indeed playing a game. We weren't that loud.

5) My friends and I also sang Christmas carols on a busy subway car on Christmas Day afternoon while wearing Santa hats.

6) I'm admit it's possible that #s 4 & 5 may have pissed-off one or more Koreans. I maintain that we weren't harming anyone.

7) I wasn't there, so I can't say what these card-playing foreigners were really acting like or not, but I'm going to throw out a guess: that they were simply playing a card game, having a few drinks, and having fun - though I admit they shouldn't have taken-up the space or the extra seats. I'm guessing that they thought they might raise a few eyebrows, or even get a few amused laughs from some.

8) 5 undesireable behaviours I've seen foreigners exhibiting on the subway: a) swearing, b) wearing culturally unacceptable attire in summer, c) speaking far too loudly about personal things assuming nobody can understand them, d) complaining about Korea e) not giving-up a seat to an elderly person. Likely responses to this behaviour? - an article in the next day's newspaper. I also once saw 3 black American teenagers sitting on a subway floor late at night - probably because they were tired and had no qualms about it. Imagine the Korean witness tongue-wagging that went on that night. I know that foreigners have done worse, I'm just commenting on the things I've seen with my own eyes.

9) 5 undesireable behaviours I've seen Koreans exhibiting on the subway (in addition to all of the above): a) being drunk and sleeping across 5 bench seats, b) being drunk and vomiting on a fellow passenger's shoes, or releasing a Turner & Hooch style farmer's blow onto the floor in front of the bench they are sitting on, c) being drunk and loud as f#$@ as they hold a high decible conversation with the person sitting right next to them, d) cursing-up a storm (mostly middle school students), e) roaming the subway with a bible and casting scorn upon anyone who doesn't believe in Jesus - an act which one Korean grandmother didn't take kindly to, so she promptly started beating the man with his own bible. Likely responses to this behaviour? - Nothing, aside from athiest granny gone wild. I guarantee that "Han" would not have considered calling transit security about any of these behaviours from his fellow Koreans. He'd probably just go back to his iphone game.
I know that Koreans have done worse, I'm just comenting on the things I've seen with my own eyes. You can buy beer on subway platforms.

10) I've been told that it is unacceptable to eat on the subway, though, when one considers #9, it's easy to see why nobody would even want to. It is a dream of mine, however, to one day bring a wicker picnic basket onto the subway. I will then take from it a red & white checkered table cloth and fold it over my lap. Then, a white china plate, upon which I will put a hot serving of whole wheat spaghetti, topped with a steaming helping of four mushroom tomato sauce from a different thermos. Ideally, a friend would come along to offer me a glass of Pinot Noir poured from their white-gloved hands, and another friend will come along and accompany the scene on accordian. I would like to do this because it's unexpected, it should offend no one, and it might make people laugh. You can't buy Pinot Noir on subway platforms.

11) I also like to be the last one into an elevator so that I can stand with my back to the closed door, facing everyone. That's fun, too.

12) Beer, soju, and Maekeoli is readily available in Korea - everywhere... at all times of the night (and on subway platforms). It is beyond socially acceptable to be as drunk as Falstaff and beligerent as hell in public. All the better if you are wearing a 3-piece suit at the time and kudos to those able to hold onto their briefcase and stumble home.

Anyway, what's the big deal? We all know foreigners are capable of worse, as are Koreans, and for those that commented on the original blog that drunken Koreans wouldn't be allowed to play Go-stop on the floor of a subway in New York - yeah, you're probably right, but then the only pattern I see here is that it's apparently okay to poo-poo the breaking of public transportation taboos if they are broken by "foreigners" - wherever you might find yourself being considered one. For all of the shit I've seen Koreans pull on the buses and trains, I've seen nobody tell them off - except for that grandmother who went all revenge fantasy. Had a foreigner done that, it would be in every newspaper and all of us foreign teachers would be asked the next day by our co-teachers what we thought about foreigners who beat elderly mean with bibles. My answer at this point would likely be, "quite highly".


Andy Irwin said...

I completely agree with you Dave and it's a shame your blog doesn't have a higher readership. You should repost this blog as a comment on the original page, it'd do some people some good.

I had already read the original article and though I'd agree with the original that they probably shouldn't have been playing cards in the middle of the floor and taking up seats and drinking, they also shouldn't be classified as 'foreign louts'. How about just 'louts'.

Yes, Korea isn't as multicultural as Australia or America, but we foreigners need to stop classifying ourselves and our behaviour as such if we wish to be accepted as a part of Korean society whilst we're here. It behaviour in question is not changed by being or not being a foreigner.

Finally, though I have seen foreigners do a lot of stupid things in Korea, the worst examples I can think of have always been committed by Koreans. Why is this? Well, there's more of them and thus, more louts, bullies and loonies. Enough said.

George Bailey Sees The World! said...

Thanks, man - maybe I will. And you're right about the fact that the math is perhaps a little unfair. There are more drunk Koreans mostly because they outnumber us foreign folk about 500-1. But hey, you gotta call 'em as you see 'em :)

Alex said...

I'm amazed that singing Christmas carols on the subway would have offended anyone on Christmas day. Well, maybe 'amazed' is the wrong word. More like 'disappointed.'

In my opinion, live music is always welcome on the subway. I remember a day in New York when I decided to follow around a Mariachi band as they traveled the underground - I also remember another day where a vocalist's performance of Donna Summer's "On The Radio" changed my whole outlook regarding my living situation.

And the spaghetti situation is awesome. It's a shame these surrealist pranks don't get lived out more often - our half-hearted attempt at Home Plus (with a 30-second bow at the entrance) resulted in an embarrassing medical consultation. Somebody needs to tell Koreans to lighten up.

Oh, but in New York City you get beat up for trying to eat spaghetti on the subway. Or maybe you beat people up. I dunno.

George Bailey Sees The World! said...

Dude - your name's "Alex"...