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What Happens When You Ask Assholes to Be Polite (In Yeokgok, At Least), And How to Get Better at Doing It

I swore to myself that I wouldn’t write bitching rants about Korea anymore, since they do nobody any good. So… I’m not. You might think I am, below, but stick with me: it comes around.

Miss Jiwaku and I had a pretty nice day out today… well, mostly.

(We saw the only decent film playing in a 5km area of our home, which was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and, well, I have to say: there’s no point in watching a good film — something without a techno music soundtrack, or a plotline even a monkey could follow — in a CGV cinema in Korea. Inevitably, the people who sit behind you will be eating giant tubs of popcorn, chewing with their mouths open, and cell phones will ring, and so on. I actually had to turn around and tell someone to shut up, but that’s par for the course in a CGV I guess.)

But when we got back to Yeokgok, we ended up going to a small place in the neighborhood which has great mung bean pancakes (nokdu bindaetteok) and decent rice beer (makkeoli). The problem was, half the groups in the place were couples, and quiet; the other half were insanely, atorciously loud. Like, way beyond the level of what you would excuse for a group of people drinking and having fun.

Miss Jiwaku and I put up with it until we left, at which point I politely told the one remaining loud group that they were annoying the other customers, and asked, could they be quiet, for the sake of those people?

They apologized, and then started talking shit to me — what we in the English speaking world call the non-apology apology. Sorry, but we’re drinking so we’re loud, so what?

The problem is,  I’ve spent most of my time in Korea quietly putting up with shit from strangers, so I’m not used to pushing people to be polite. (Also, since nice people here almost never say anything to call assholes on their behaviour, they’re not used to it, and so more average people end up acting in ways that would be “brazen asshole” in Canadian terms.) So after a little shit talk, I got pissed off and started cursing them out, which is the wrong approach, I know. Utter politeness is a much more powerful tool in dealing with people when you’re asking them to behave decently in public, for the sake of others.

(Even though, as Miss Jiwaku pointed out, the girl who criticized my use of the F-word was the same one who’d been shouting the Korean equivalent at the top of her lungs for over an hour, in every possible instance. That shut her up… for about half a second.)

But as I say, I’ve spent a decade quietly doing nothing while people act like absolute dickheads in my presence. So I’m not used to the blowback, and I didn’t keep my cool. The reason the interaction went badly is not because of the assholes — though these kids were certifiable assholes — but because I’m not used to standing up to asshole strangers in public. You’d think I would have stumbled upon it, except I suppose I was so busy conforming to Korean social norms… which seems to involve a lot more putting up with crap from strangers than I ever had to do in Canada, though I’m not sure it’s not just a greater abundance of assholes here. (Miss Jiwaku noted that the last time she politely asked someone to be polite in public, the reaction was over the top too.)

The solution to my own problem in handling the reaction is simple: I need some practice. So I am going to call people on their shit, directly, every time I am confronted with it, from now until we leave. It’s a form of exercise, something way out of my comfort zone… but like exercise, I think it will be good for me.

My goal is that, when we’re leaving Korea, I’m going to be as cool as Rube from Dead Like Me, when he stood up to that rude-as-hell woman in the post office:

I could beat myself up over it, but that kind of cool takes practice. Still… that’s how I’m going to be, when it comes time for us to leave Korea. Thankfully, it’s a skill I’m pretty sure I won’t need half as badly if we end up in a halfway decent place… but hey, still a nice skill to have, since there are assholes everywhere. (Not as thick on the ground as in Yeokgok, maybe, but they do have ’em everywhere.)

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