Friday, 27 May 2005

The Seoul Experience: Smiley Happy People

I tend to judged a country by how helpful it's people are to foreigners, especially those who don't speak a single word of the local language.

A country is only as popular as it's people, I always say, and in some of the countries I've been to, I found that I liked going back there more if the people were friendly, and didn't shout at you just for stepping into their shop on a rainy day.

I disliked China because the service was bad, the people were mostly rude and inconsiderate, and they always sounded like they wanted to pick fights with you. I liked Thailand too, because the people seemed so friendly and chatty. I liked Poland because the people were friendly and always wanted to know more about my country, and wanted to know if I spoke Japanese.

Now, I can add Korea to the list of countries I'd like to come back to.

I like it here. The language may be alien, and everything may be three times more expensive than in Malaysia (in Seoul, that is), but the people here are the nicest bunch of people I've ever met.

It's nice to be here, you don't feel intimidated by the alien language at all, because the people just seem so... happy.

I was in a taxi yesterday, and while waiting for a traffic light, another car pulled up beside us and asked for directions. The two complete strangers chatted for three minutes, not moving even when the light turned green. Strangest thing was, there was no a peep or a honk from the cars behind us.

I had no qualms about going up to just about anyone on the street and asking for directions. If they didn't know what I was talking about, they'd at least smile and bow, and say they don't know. Everyone I've asked so far has given me the smile and bow routine, whether or not they helped me.

In China, whenever I went up to someone for directions, I'd be greeted most of the time with a glare and a cold shoulder, or worst, a dismissal in a very loud voice. Even if I was speaking Chinese.

When I was walking around in my Liverpool jersey yesterday, at least three total strangers came up to me and congratulated me.

Even the security guards at the event venue were polite. Instead of roughly waving me away when I blundered into an off-limits zone, they stopped me, checked my credentials, pointed me away, smiled, apologised, and bowed.

A little politeness DOES go a long way. And when a whole country is like that, it goes a REALLY long way.

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