Why won’t you sit next to me?

The Korea Times - - OPINION - By Lawrence McCook

Ev­ery day, I ride the sub­way to work. Peo­ple get on, peo­ple get off. I get a seat when peo­ple leave, then more peo­ple get on. Ev­ery time, the last seat to get filled is the one next to me.

I don’t smell bad, I shower ev­ery morn­ing. I am a hand­some Amer­i­can man. So why won’t Kore­ans sit next to me? Is it be­cause I’m a dif­fer­ent skin color than you? If you prick us, do we not bleed? And if you wrong us, shall we not seek re­venge?

This both­ers me be­cause it is a dec­la­ra­tion that you and I are dif­fer­ent. We all ride the sub­way to work, so get over your xeno­pho­bia, Korea, and take the seat next to me. Even when all the other seats fill up, Kore­ans would rather stand than sit next to me for fear of some myth­i­cal white male cooties jump­ing into their bod­ies through knee-to-knee con­tact.

It is such a rare oc­ca­sion that when some­one sits next to me on the sub­way, I al­most want to jump to my feet and shake their hand. So when I do have some­one sit­ting next to me, I like to make con­ver­sa­tion, get to know them and ask them why they con­sciously crossed the aisle to sit next to me. As soon as the idea for this ar­ti­cle came into be­ing, I started to in­ter­view Kore­ans brave enough to sit next to me.

The first time it hap­pened, it was a young 20-some­thing Korean male.

“Hi,” I said, “my name is Lawrence McCook. I am an Amer­i­can, and I ride this sub­way to and from work ev­ery day. Can I ask why you de­cided to sit next to me?”

He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Sorry, no English,” he said.

A few stops later, the per­son on his other side got up, and he scooted away from me so there was an empty seat be­tween us. How rude!

Se­ri­ously, Kore­ans. I’ m not go­ing to bite your head off!

The sec­ond time, in as many weeks, it was a woman maybe in her early 30s car­ry­ing a box of donuts for some rea­son.

“Aren’t you afraid the big bad ‘way­gookin’ is go­ing to eat you?” I asked.

“No Englishee!” she ex­claimed, em­bar­rassed, she spent the rest of the trip with her head buried in her cell phone.

In this day and age, be­ing a young, at­trac­tive Korean girl who can’t speak English is un­likely. Ob­vi­ously she could have tried speak­ing with me. Who knows, maybe she would have dis­cov­ered that we had more in com­mon, maybe got­ten to know me and, who knows, we could have been soul mates. She will never know.

The third time was just the other day. A 20-some­thing Korean guy sat next to me.

“Can you tell me some­thing,” I asked, “Do I smell bad?”

“Nah man, you smell al­right to me,” he an­swered in per­fect English. It turns out he was from L.A., which is prob­a­bly why he didn’t think to sit far­ther away from me. He agreed with me that Kore­ans are rude and don’t know how to act around peo­ple who look dif­fer­ent from them. He ex­plained that they can’t tell he’s not one of them so he gets treated like nor­mal most of the time, at least as long as he doesn’t open his mouth.

I sus­pect many of the other Kore­ans on the train could un­der­stand us. I hope they learned some­thing that day about how their be­hav­ior makes “way­gookin” like me feel less welcome in their coun­try.

Oh well, at least if no­body takes the seat next to me, I have enough room to manspread.

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