For several years, I enjoyed close relationships with South Korean people in Montreal. I had the pleasure of counselling and teaching public speaking to young South Korean doctors, scientists and religious leaders.
While teaching them, I learned so much - about my students, their homeland, their culture, their values - and, as happens so often when you teach, I learned that I had acquired much more knowledge than I ever realized.
I was a cornucopia, pouring out advice about living in Canada, about relationships, daily life, love, marriage and so much more. You never know how much you know until you need the information. I was delighted when I found myself acting the role of "Canadian Mom", tour guide and mentor. I formed deep and lasting relationships with some of my students from South Korea, China and Japan.
So, my interest in Asian people endures, and I follow news reports from Asia on NHK and MHZ TV.
The other day, I caught a news segment about young South Korean school children who are being taught to be sensitive and respectful of their neighbours, specifically when it comes to making noise.
That hit home. The children were being taught to understand that when they stamp on the floors of their apartments, the noise causes grief to the neighbours downstairs. I was delighted to see this, because, as a child, I was the problem.
I would run down the hallway in my third story home wearing a bed sheet over my shoulders and taking great leaps, flying through the air - like Wonder Woman. I did not understand that poor old Mr. and Mrs. Bistritsky downstairs were suffering from my fantasies, my two point heavy landings, and my parents were suffering too because Mrs. Bistritsky was ringing our doorbell and complaining and threatening us with eviction.
I did not understand that, when I was bouncing my lacrosse ball on the brick wall of the Schacter's house downstairs, my fun was causing grief to the family in that home.
I apologize retroactively to the Bistritskys and the Schachters. I did not understand. I was a child.
And so I salute the South Korean schools that are teaching their youngsters to be sensitive to their neighbours. A little noise goes a long way toward making life miserable for people.
Here is some insight into South Korean etiquette.
When you meet and mingle with the locals in South Korea, keep in mind that special rules apply. For instance, you should wait for your friends or colleagues to introduce you to a third party at social gatherings. South Korean men usually greet each other with a slight bow and a handshake. In this case, the younger person should be the first to bow, while the older one should be the first to extend his hand.
Elderly people enjoy a lot of respect in South Korea and you should always speak to them first. Make sure to pass objects with both hands and compliment them on their good health. But remember that physical contact is very rare and considered inappropriate unless it's between friends and peers. Do not touch people's arms or back, even if it is in a friendly manner.
South Koreans are very polite folks. They lower their voice when talking or laughing in public, and criticism should only be communicated in private. Blowing your nose and pointing the soles of your feet towards other people is considered extremely rude and even vulgar. Try not to cross your legs, especially in front of an authority figure, and if the spicy food makes your nose run, briefly leave the table.