When disagreements occur in many cultures, there is the potential for things to get physical – or at a minimum, for nasty verbal outbreaks to occur and grudges be held. It is not at all that way in Korea. Don’t misunderstand: Koreans do disagree and it has frequently been said that they are a volatile bunch.
Being somewhat emotional can at times be a good thing. When disagreements get heated to the point that tempers flare, more often than not, it is only a war of words in Korea. Once the antagonists have expressed their feelings, it is not uncommon for the rhetoric to slowly cool down until the two opponents back away, each muttering to himself as tensions fade and things return to normal.
Let me give you one rather typical example. While on a vacation away from our normal assignment at Osan Air Base, a buddy and I wanted to get some beer. We did not know our way around the town in which we were spending the night and we did not want to wander about looking for alcohol. One of the hotel staff was kind enough to point out that we needed to go to another section of town, too far to walk, and that the cost of a taxi would not be much.
The taxi quickly got us to a convenience store and my buddy and I got out after asking the driver to wait and ferry us back to our accommodations. While we were making our purchase, the taxi driver made a U-turn in preparation for the return trip, but in doing so, he misjudged the distance between his car and one parked on the opposite side of the street. The result was a very slow-speed impact into the bumper of an occupied car.
Oh boy, the occupant immediately jumped out and began to bellow at the taxi driver who also got out to approach the fuming “victim.” With the two men face to face and only a foot or so apart, I was treated to the most splendiferous display of Korean cursing I have ever heard, and I was certain that it would soon be Fist City.
After several long seconds of venting, both belligerents took a step back and the vitriolic speech toned down considerably. I no longer recall the exact words, but the last of the exchange was something to the effect that “Your piece of junk taxi could not possibly have damaged my great chariot so I am not going to waste anymore of my time arguing with you.” The response was roughly like “I would certainly hope not, for if all it takes is a small touch to damage your movable trash-pile, then it ought not be on the street. I have a fare so I am leaving you now.”
After just a few seconds of this, both men had backed away enough to be next to their respective vehicles. After glaring once more at each other, both got in and my buddy and I cautiously returned to get into the taxi, too. As we sped off, our driver mumbled something under his breath that I did not catch. Soon, however, he turned to us and asked with a smile if we liked Korean beer. The incident was totally over.