Customs are the basis of a society. Customs are the routine of a people—the proper etiquette of a shared land. We learn in sociology about these things and how they are not to be compared to or judged by your own customs. We are taught that, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Don’t take your idea of proper behavior farther than your own country. Adjust when traveling and enjoy the differences around the world. There are some things that don’t make sense and others that are wonderful departures from your own ideas of appropriateness. In the Arab world and some African countries, people only eat with their right hand, and wipe their bottoms with their left. This probably began before anti-bacterial soap was invented, and it just stayed with them. Most customs are old. They drive on the left in England and their former colonies due to the old tradition of right handed people wanting to have their sword at easy grasp of passing strangers on their strong handed side. Napoleon was left-handed and therefore, continental Europe fell under his strong handed side.
Korea has its own customs, such as elder worship, chopsticks, relative silence on the subway, taking off your shoes inside and sitting on the floor. I understand respecting your elders, but does age really deserve full obsequiousness, are old people incapable of rudeness? I understand chopsticks for certain food, but never using forks? I understand quiet adds to a peaceful transit, but burying yourself in an Iphone instead of conversation with friends to maintain decorum? I understand taking off your shoes in a private residence, but wearing socks in a poorly mopped restaurant? I can handle these quirks, but I will never understand sitting on the floor for meals. I heard it is because you cannot eat as much when sitting in that position, and as an over-eating American, this appeals to me very little. My long, knobby, skinny legs don’t appreciate being crossed for an hour or longer. My tiny, bony behind doesn’t appreciate being sat on without pads for any amount of time. My crampy back doesn’t appreciate lack of a support system. Chairs have been around for centuries, how can this possibly persist and be popular with anyone? I don’t like that one. I also don’t like having to take off my shoes for everything. I have to take off my shoes to get on the mats at the gym. This way I can stretch in the scents and impressions of someone’s sweaty gym socks instead of their supposedly filthy shoes. I’ve walked the streets of Korea; they are much cleaner than say Bourbon Street on Sunday morning, or South Philly after an Eagles game and we don’t take off our shoes to eat gumbo or a cheesesteak. Long ago, when people walked in mud instead of paved sidewalks, this would have been an appropriate gesture. But, don’t let me judge, they believe in it and I am in “Rome.”