I was grocery shopping yesterday and saw a woman in her power wheelchair coming toward my way on my right. She seemed to stop at some point, so I decided to walk my way to the aisle in front of me, when I heard “Excuse me” coming from her. Having been long enough in the States and in Boston to learn that people are generally nicer and less rude than the ones in Korea, I was all smiles and said “Yes?”, in the eager hope that I might be of some help. Instead, what I got in return was a cold and stern look and a “You shouldn’t look in the air, you’re in my way”. I mumbled a barely audible “Sorry” and quickly disappeared behind the stack of merchandise. I wanted to tell her that I had seen her, and had decided to cross because I thought she was stopping for something. But I was left too disturbed, even for just a moment. This small incident totally bummed and upset me, to the point that even as I was feeling this enormous discomfort in my heart, I knew it wasn’t normal to feel this much hurt by something this banal.
And then I realized, the nice Americans had totally spoiled me.
Had it been in Korea, I would have shrugged and gone my way without thinking twice about it. When you have middle-aged women shoving you in the subway or in the bus so that they can get the seat you didn’t even want in the first place, without a ‘Sorry’ or an ‘Excuse me’, you get kinda numb to the lingering disrespect in the air. When a well-dressed girl with perfect make-up overtly looks at you up and down with obvious disgust (or something else I couldn’t decipher) because you’re carrying a gift bag that says “Sexy Cookie”, you just think “Oh, it’s one of them” and look away (in my defense, it was a birthday present and Koreans do have a knack for coming up with the cheesiest names for their products – in this case underwear). So once in a while, when a stranger on the bus offers to hold your humongous English Literature Anthology book when you’re about to collapse from a long day at university, you feel immense gratitude and stop yourself from hugging the person. When the stranger you just shared a cab with coming down from school because the bus just wouldn’t come kindly offers to pay for the ride, you give a bigger than average smile and you continue the rest of the day feeling this world is indeed beautiful.
Korea makes the simplest nice gestures count, because they do happen oh-so-infrequently.
But when you have people waiting for the bus with you compliment on your shoes and engage in conversations, when you have people opening and holding doors for you, when you hold the doors in return for others and they always say thank you, when you hear some “Have a great day” that do sound genuine at least once a day, you eventually get spoiled. You take kindness for granted and expect the whole population of Boston to be the same. And a simple, ordinary, not-so-nice-yet-not-totally-evil remark that you are standing in the way nearly draws tears out of you.
So please, before you break my fragile heart again, Americans, stop being nice.