Tuesday, November 18, 2008


So I'm riding the subway this morning and this older gentleman strikes up a conversation with me in English. Things go politely and well until, as we pull up to our mutual stop, he asks me to guess his age.

Now in the US, the generally polite thing to do in this situation is to lowball; older folks usually like to believe that they look younger and more youthful. Apparently that's not the case in Korea, because when I guess 55 he freaks out; he tells me that he's actually 75, and that I have made him "very upset" by guessing such a low figure. I apologized but he'd already given me his back and walked off; he was really pissed about it.

Does that tie into Confucianism? Specifically, Koreans and East Asians in general really venerate older folks, which is why, for example, Ajummas get away with so much here. Naturally, someone like that comes to believe that they have earned their status, and a low estimate of age might be seen as figuring a lower social rank than they actually merit.

Lesson learned, I suppose.


sun December 5, 2008 at 4:44 PM  

I am Korean and in Korea, the generally polite thing to do in that situation is to lowball too.
That old man was weird one.

My dad is 65 and he looks younger(about 7 years) than his actual age and everytime when he hears that from people, he has always
big smile on his face. :o)

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