A Sense of Entitlement

November 15, 2010

I’m all for respecting your elders. In Asia, that usually means a slightly longer bow, or letting them board a bus or subway before you rush on. To say nothing of children who continue to live at home and help their parents. People are often surprised when I tell them this: in the west, moving out of your parent’s home is a sign of independence. The parents want it. The kids want it more. To be living with your family beyond a certain age is a definite stigma (not to mention explaining it to your date).

In most Asian countries, the opposite is true. Even children who are very well off stay in the family home, or have their parents live with them so they can support them. To do otherwise would be disrespectful. I imagine you’d have to explain to someone why you’re not living with your parents, the same way you’d have to explain why you are in a country like America. Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule, e.g. children who have no choice but to work in cities far away from the family home.

My point being, the older generation is given more respect, no matter in which country they reside. In Korea, they even go so far as to feel they are entitled to change the world according to their whims. This is a little confusing to Korean newbies (hadn’t really thought much of it until this weekend). Let me give you a few examples I’ve read about on blogs and heard from residents:

– A girl is walking with her boyfriend along a street in Seoul. An ajumma (older woman, 아줌마) randomly approaches and informs her she should change skirts immediately, that hers was too short. Not a suggestion, mind you. More of an order.

– Michael Hurt, a blogger over at Scribblings of the Metropolitician, tells his stories of being verbally and sometimes physically assaulted by drunk ajeossi (older man, 아저씨).

To really appreciate it (and perhaps provide some “shock and awe”), check out this video which went viral some weeks ago:

A teenager girl was riding a subway car when she accidentally brushed against an ajumma‘s shoe. What you see on the video is what followed: screaming, pushing, hitting, hair pulling… And no one doing a thing. Why not? Maybe they didn’t want to be involved. But more than likely, they have a hard time telling someone older she’s doing something wrong, even when it’s obviously cruel. It’s only towards the end of the exchange that you can make out a man saying something like “stop that.” The ajumma felt she was entitled to say and do as she wanted to this poor girl, and with the silent onlookers (one obviously taking the time to videotape it), how would she think otherwise?

I haven’t had much experience in this area. My corner of Korea, Uljin, is almost entirely populated by ajumma and ajeossi. They’re friendly, and I respect them. I only got a taste of this entitlement this past weekend in Busan. I was buying my bus ticket back to Uljin at the intercity ticket window. Now, I should point out my town, Bugu (부구), isn’t exactly a name the ladies manning the booths expect to hear. I was trying to explain the bus does indeed stop there, at this ghost of a town north of Uljin, when an ajumma stepped right in front of me and placed her ticket order as though I weren’t there. Luckily, the attendant was on my side.

“Please wait. I’m helping him now.”

At this point, I give up on explaining where my town is and just ask her for the next ticket to Uljin. I can always catch a local bus from there, no problem. But again, this request having been understood, the ajumma leans closer to the window, and places her order again.

“Please wait. I’m helping him now.”

She butted in one more time before I finally received my ticket and stepped away.

Now, I probably would have let that lady get her ticket in front of me, had she been waiting at the same time I was. But she wasn’t. I waited in line like a normal person and went to the counter when it was my turn. She, on the other hand, felt she deserved to go ahead of me. Whether that was because I was a foreigner, a guy taking too long, or someone younger than her, I’ll never know. But it was rude, and uncalled for.

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