I posted it on Facebook, but I’m wondering enough to ask it here. I’m in a Starbucks by a bookshop that Miss Jiwaku decided we should go to, because she knows how I am with bookshops, and because we needed coffee, and the cinemas nearby are showing crap.
(Incidentally, as with a number of places in Asia, the movie cinema industry is not quite a monopoly, butit’s heavily dominated by a few big companies, meaning your selection is often quite limited. Given a choice between the new Travolta film and the new Mel Gibson, we decided to give moviegoing a pass.)
So we’re sitting here, both happily online and sipping our coffees, and there’s a Korean couple not far away. They’re having a conversation so loud I can almost follow it, even with the music and the distance. That’s because they’re practically shouting at one another, though with smiles on their faces.
When I go to coffeeshops in other countries, I’m always struck by how most of them — not all, but most — are really quiet, comfortable places. Going there with company means a conversation can be held without shouting.
This is not how it is in Korea, or in any coffeeshop anywhere that Koreans happen to be. People reading my blog regularly might have noticed my recent rant about the topic, but now I’m going to ask the question a little more gently: why are conversations often held at such a high volume among Koreans?
Background: for some reason, a large proportion of (younger and middle-aged) Koreans who go to coffee shops seem to think that all conversations in such places should be conducted very loudly. One gets the sense that they go home needing a drink of lemon water to soothe the strain on their voices.
It doesn’t help that seating in cafes in Korea is almost invairably crammed, to maximize space but also, I suspect, because of the common attitude in Korea that places that look empty are unpopular and are “bad” while places that looked crammed full of people are popular and “good.”
In contrast, I remember the Second Cup I used to hang out in back on Rue St. Laurent, in Montreal. There were these big, open spaces between a lot of the different seating areas, and the music wasn’t cranked up. I remember reading there, a lot, without headphones. The space inside was, of course, much bigger than almost any coffee shop I’ve been in here in Asia, but it was also more comfortable than any I’ve visited in Asia.
Going to a coffeeshop in Korea is a headphones-non-optional outing, unless you’re with company. How and why did this happen? After all, the coffee shop boom happened among young women, and even today, it’s rare for men to go to such places with only men.
(I note this because Korean women, like women everywhere, tend to be just a little quieter than Korean men, even — or especially? — in big groups.)
I don’t know if it’s the aesthetics of behaviour for bars and pubs being mapped onto coffee shops, or whether it’s just part of thhe general desire to be “active” in their interactions that leads people to behave this way. I’d be really curious to see what others think about this.
Speaking of which, I’ve had a few interesting discussions about etiquette, manners, and so on with Miss Jiwaku and others. One of the interesting things that came up was a comparison of how Westerners developed the etiquette of politeness and gentility that we (at least some of us) hold so dear.
The answer is, etiquette manuals. But that’s the subject for another post… one into which I will be able to work in Robo Taekwon V, too!
Now I know you’re just dying to see it. Well, the loud couple has long gone, and Miss Jiwaku is awake again from the nap she took, so I think I’ll end this here…