G20 meeting and international manners
In the past few weeks, citizens of Seoul have seen a variety of posters, billboards, television advertisements, website banners, and so forth encouraging Koreans to be on their best behavior for the upcoming G20 meeting.
Particularly incendiary was the request that residents in Seodaemun, central Seoul, refrain from throwing out food trash during the dignitaries' stay in Korea.
This is all well-natured social conditioning aimed at improving Korea's national image, and will remind most Koreans of similar efforts, particularly in 1988 and 2002 for the Olympics and World Cup, respectively.
However, some attention is misdirected; for example, I do not see the purpose of encouraging Korean netizens not to post inflammatory comments on websites, as I saw in a subway advertisement a few days ago.
Most tragic for us living in Seoul, both Koreans and non-Koreans alike, is the government's refusal to address a serious issue that still plagues Seoul: public spitting.
I assure you that the G20 members will see this behavior on the streets, subways, and alleys of Seoul, and they will not be impressed with the Korean attitudes toward hygiene, public health, and manners.
This is a public health issue, and partly explains why South Korea has the highest level of tuberculosis amongst OECD members. I wish the government would have taken advantage of the G20 to address this issue, just as I wished that they had addressed it during the swine flu scare of last year.
Instead, they have chosen to bury their heads in the sand, probably because they want to believe South Korea is a modern, first-world nation with modern, first-world habits. It isn't, and will not be until this disgusting and dangerous habit stops.
Professor of English literature