A Cultural Ambassadeering Slice of Life

I am coming home from work and I transfer to line 1 at Sindorim station around 7:45.  I choose not to get on an insanely overcrowded train and wait one minute for the next, absurdly sparsely populated train.  At Guro a short, ruddy man gets on the train and immediately crumples up a paper cup and throws it on the ground by the door.  Without thinking I pick it up.

Now I have a paper cup in my hand.  I don’t know it yet but it’s leaking all over my fingers.  I think of what the best next step would be over the next several minutes.  I seriously consider sticking the cup in his shirt pocket right before I get off and saying “It’s people like you that make this country city as dirty as a garbage can.”  I realize the most effective thing to do would be nothing, just say nothing and throw it out later.  Leave a good impression of foreigners.

After a few minutes the man, who had been reading a small slip of newspaper, turns and taps me on the arm.  I look to find that he was offering me the crumpled up paper he’d been reading.

“Are you going to take it?”

“Why?  If I don’t take it are you going to throw it on the floor?”

“Cleaners will clean it up.  They make money.  It makes jobs.”

“So you’re doing a good deed by throwing your garbage wherever you want?”

Now at this point this guy had sized me up and I’d sized him up and we both realized that the other was not about to get into a fight about this issue.

“I only do that once a year.” he says.  “Just about once a year.  I’m not that kind of guy usually.”

“Did I say anything?  I’m not judging you,” I lied.

“I’m just sick and tired, you know?  tired of life.”

“Hey, me too.  In this economy you have a right to be.”

“Are you American?”

“I am.”

“I admire you Americans.  You live life wide awake. That’s very nice, the way you picked up the garbage.”

“. . . “

“Wow your Korean is really good, how long have you been here?”

“Six years.”

“You Americans, you’re very considerate.  You didn’t even think before you picked up that cup, did you?”

I confirmed that I did not think before acting, and he and the crowd of people that had formed around us to hear our conversation muttered their approval.

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~ by Joe on September 17, 2008.

12 Responses to “A Cultural Ambassadeering Slice of Life”

  1. With you as goodwill ambassador the world will soon forget that whole “Iraq War” thing. Keep up the good work, Citizen!

  2. […] Mondello of The Joshing Gnome had a little incident on the subway that could have turned into a fight but ended up in a little admiration of foreigners in this […]

  3. I am trying to figure out why you don’t think you got treated in a condescending manner. He handed you his old newspaper. You let him treat you like a bitch. Stand up for yourself like you are a man. If you have skills enough toconverse with him at that level, you should have said out loud when the crowd was there that it is people like him that will continue tpo ake this country a worldwide laughing stock and a not very nice place to live. Instead, you got punked. I really enjoy reading your blog. But you are afraid to really stand up to Koreans.

  4. I couldn’t disagree more. If I had done that I would have lost all credibility. No one respects an angry prick foreigner lecturing them. They mob up, get defensive, they wouldn’t have heard a word I’d said.

    Think about it again for a little while and then let me know if you still think that that would have been a better course of action. I’m curious to see what you think that would have accomplished.

  5. I’m with you, Joe. Taking the high road has always worked best in situations I’ve seen and heard about. In fact, it earned you “Blogger of the Month” for September at Roboseyo. Throwing the paper in the dude’s face, NB (sorry bud, but you’re wrong) would have reinforced every negative “foreigner” stereotype out there.

  6. I really like what he said about whether you thought or not to pick up the cup. Because I think you did think before you picked up the cup.

    I also love how the crumpled up cup became the instigator for this whole clash of cultures.

  7. Well done, Citizen Joe.
    I’ve been here six years too, and I take this story as an example as to why I need to continue with upskilling my language ability. I’m still not even 50% capable of holding a conversation of this depth. And that’s if I had ‘nads chill enough to think about it enough – or not – to pick up the cup and then follow through without getting uppitty about it all.
    So yeah, definately: well done.

  8. […] how would others handle this situation? I think Joe handled it quite […]

  9. Well done!

  10. Way to go Joe! You handled it very well, some folks would have done the angry guy thing but what you did was right. Remember that we Americans are judged by the actions of a few when on foreign soil.

  11. Love to hear stories like this. I believe we are all ambassador’s of our countries . Even in the eyes of our fellow foreigners. Its something we should remember. Nicely handled.

  12. […] A Cultural Ambassadeering Slice of Life Joe Mondello cleans up the trash […]

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