The Korea Times
Why won’t you sit next to me?
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.