“Please” and “Thank You” are the Magic Words?

My 19 year-old cousin from Korea came to visit me in Boston this past weekend.  She came to New York to stay with my family in March and has been studying as an ESL student in Manhattan.  She’s a curious little tourist, seeking to learn the young-people’s talk and questioning cultures and people she runs into in her daily life.  “Unnie, what is a ‘hunk’?” “Are people segregated by race here?” “In Korea, people aren’t all so free-spirited like here…”

That’s just a little taste of the questions and the conversations we have.  I really enjoy them too.  It’s not just her learning about the different cultures aside from American culture here, it’s such an exchange of perspectives between the two of us.  It never ceases to amaze me how two people can view the same thing from a different angle.

One day, as we were walking the lovely streets of Boston, she says to me, “Unnie, American people are so social but they don’t have any ‘Jung'”.  Jung.  Hmm how do I explain what that means in English.  There’s a lot of terminology describing humans in Korean that doesn’t directly translate to English. Jung means friendships take time to develop and never surfaces too quickly.  When they do develop, after time, there is such a deep devotion, sincerity, and pure heart for any relationship whether it is platonic or not.  These seem like relatively easy-to-grasp concepts, but it’s completely true.

After my cousin noted this, I noticed it everywhere.  New Yorkers are notoriously known to be “mean and cold.” Bostonians are known to be kind and nice to everyone they meet.  And I believed it too, how nice and friendly everyone in Boston was.  Then, I think about how Americans are social and they can easily approach anybody or be nice to anybody.  Anybody can be nice. Even Hitler was nice to the Aryan Race he so cherished.

My point is that everybody is nice to a certain extent but it’s never to a deeper level.  I used to like coming back to school from a long two-month+ break because everybody seemed so happy to see each other.  Everyone hugs and exclaims “Oh I’ve missed you Susie” “How are you?!” It used to make me  happy for a short moment to see how happy people were to see me and vice versa.

Now, I just see that it’s not real.  I can’t help but think people are just nice to each other out of courtesy.  Their reputation is at stake if they’re not nice.  People know how to talk the talk here, fluff their words, and know how to present themselves to sound respectable and  intelligent.  I can’t help but see past all that.  I know a good number of people in school who how to talk that talk and of course end up with very high-paying and great internships.  It’s not that they’re very intelligent or get very good grades, it’s because they know how to talk to people, socialize, and present themselves a certain way to get what they want.

Also, I think we Americans have a great way of just saying words and speaking well without realizing the gravity of their meaning.  I think we’ve all had those moments.  You met this guy Bob a few times at parties; he’s really chill, funny, and seems pretty cool.  But you don’t know him that well.  One day, your schoolmate is talking about going to the grocery store with Bob and you interject excitedly with an “Omg I loooooove Bob. He’s amazing.”  And I can’t help but question, do you really love Bob after the 10 times you met him at parties? Don’t say love then.  Just say he’s great.  We say thank you when a waiter hands us our menus at a restaurant.  But we also say thank you when we receive that brand new car from our parents for our birthday.  I don’t mean to sound like a bitter person, but think about it, why do we say thank you to that waiter? That’s his/her job, right? Thank yous should come from a place that is truly grateful for when somebody has done something more affecting than that.  Because during those moments, when you truly want to say thank you to somebody or a loved one, it holds greater meaning doesn’t it? It’s become such a protocol and reflex for us to say “thank you” even when we are not truly appreciative.  It’s such fluff to sound like a “nice person” and be “nice.”

I know this is how the world works, but I am honestly so saddened and aggravated by it.  Fluffing myself with “please” and “thank yous” has gotten me places, of course I’m guilty of it, but it’s because that’s how American society functions.

Back to “Jung.”  I feel such a lack of affection and warmth in my friendships at school.   Everyone’s friendly but nothing’s substantial.  Just …nice.  American culture is just that way.  This mindset that everyone will be nice and cordial to each other, but your space is yours and mine is mine.  Many times I realize that I feel comfortable around American people because there are so many boundaries around a person’s mentality that I constantly feel like I’m stepping on egg shells.  And I don’t think I was very cognizant of this until my cousin pointed this out.  My relationship with her and other Koreans or other cultures outside of American’s for that matter are entirely different.  They’re warmer, sincere, more comfortable, and genuine.  I hate to create this separation between races but it’s a direct result of living a dichotomic life as a Korean and American.


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