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Sitting On a Bus
Before I moved to Korea, I tried to learn about the culture, so that I could avoid offending anyone. I read books about Korean customs, searched websites about living in Korea, and so on. Among all the information I acquired, there was one theme that recurred more often than the others. Koreans, I learned, have a special respect for their elders. And the one practical example of this respect that occurred most often in my research was that a young Korean will give up his or her seat on a bus for an older person.

I liked this idea. In the past, Canadians were also raised to show this courtesy to older people, but most young Canadians have become too self-absorbed to show any respect for their elders. Therefore, I was looking forward to seeing this “old-fashioned” morality in Korea. Unfortunately, I was quickly disappointed. While I did notice the occasional young person giving up a seat as an old man or woman got on the bus, I discovered that most young Koreans are now as ignorant as their Canadian counterparts. Too often, I have seen the following situation. A young student and an old woman with shopping bags are standing on a crowded bus. A seated passenger rings the bell, and gets out of his seat. Immediately, the student rushes into the seat, leaving the grandmother standing with her bags.

Recently, however, I have begun to see this behavior in a new light. I enjoy hiking. Every time I go hiking, I observe that most of the other people on the mountain are older than I am. In fact, many of them are older than my father.It is very unusual to see students, or other young people, on the mountain at all, unless they are with their parents or grandparents. Putting this observation together with the increasing popularity of western-style junk food, such as fried chicken, soft drinks, pizza, and hamburgers, I think I have made a discovery about Korean bus behavior. Traditionally, Korean young people gave their seats to the elderly because they were healthy and strong, while their elders were unhealthy and weak. Today, however, the old people are the healthy and strong ones, while the young people are out of shape and lazy. The roles are reversed. Today, it is polite for old people to give their seats to young people. The young people are the ones who need to take a rest.

Daren Jonescu  d_jonescu@yahoo.ca

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